Archives For Psalms

The untranslated Hebrew word “selah / סֶלָה” found 71 times in the Psalms, reminds us that the Psalms are poetry and were often accompanied by musical instruments.

This summer I am preaching from the Psalms. The Psalms are precious to Christians. They teach us to pray, how to lead our emotions, how to express ourselves to God. If you are looking for help understanding the Psalms, you cannot go wrong beginning with Derek Kidner’s wonderfully concise two volume commentary: Psalms 1-72 (Kidner Classic Commentaries). For a series of short devotions on the Psalms, Tim Keller’s recent, The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms, is wonderful.

I am preaching Psalm 3 tomorrow and that requires a short explanation of the term “selah.” “Selah” is used three times in Ps (vv 3, 5, and 9); in the Book of Psalms as a whole, it is used a total of seventy-one times and a further three times in the psalm of Habakkuk (Hab 3:3, 9, 13).

Craigie surveys the options for our understanding of “selah” in the Psalms:

  1. A pause or musical interlude or even “louder”
  2. It means “for ever” . . . The implication would be that a benediction or chorus was to be sung at this point in the psalm.
  3. Points at which the congregation prostrated itself

The final analysis is that we do not know for certain which option is best. However, it seems best to accept the traditional view that “selah” references a musical pause or rest. Craigie (Psalms 1-50, Volume 19: Second Edition (Word Biblical Commentary) writes:

With respect to the interpretation of psalms in which the word is used, it must be admitted that in the light of current knowledge no precise significance can be attributed . . . However, it may serve as a useful reminder to the modern reader of the Psalms that many psalms were initially sung with musical accompaniment. And in terms of probabilities, the tradition [of understanding “selah” to be a pause or musical interlude] should probably be considered as providing the most likely significance of the term. (Craigie, 76-77)

Kidner (36-37) agrees that the first option is the best.

Parents grieving and concerned for their childrenConcerned and broken parents are some of the most tired people I know. Sunday’s sermon on Psalm 3 will consider how God sustains his people even when they are brokenhearted for their children and full of regret over their own mistakes that may have contributed to their children’s situation. Join us Sunday at either 9 or 10:30 at the Red Brick Church. You can now listen to the sermon here.

It is difficult to imagine a more heart wrenching context than that of Psalm 3. The heading reads, “A Psalm of David, When He Fled From Absalom.” Which is to say, that David’s son was trying to kill him and Psalm 3 is David’s inspired reflection on that terrible time.

The sequence of events that led up to Absalom’s attempt at a coup is full of sin and pain. The account can be picked up at 2 Samuel 11.

  • It includes David’s adultery and subsequent murder of Uriah (2 Sam 11).
  • The death of David and Bathsheba’s baby.
  • David’s son, Amnon’s rape of David’s daughter Tamar (2 Samuel 13).
  • Absalom’s murder of Amnon (2 Sam 13:23-39).
  • Absalom’s treachery (2 Sam 15).
  • Absalom’s defeat and death (2 Sam 18).
  • David’s unspeakable grief (2 Sam 18:33).

So Absalom’s rebellion followed David’s own horrific sin and culminated in Absalom’s execution.

Thankfully, I have never been the pastor for someone in a situation as devastating as King David’s. Yet, I have talked with so many parents who are leveled by their children’s rebellion. I published a post in 2008, “How Should Parents Unpack Forgiveness With Rebellious Adult Children?” As of today, it has 287 comments. The comments for that post are a catalog of pain.

Given the pain of hurting parents, I am deeply thankful for the presence of Psalm 3 in the Bible. If you are a hurting parents, I would strongly encourage you to:

But also meditate on Psalm 3! How was it that David was able to keep his sanity amid such a mess? Sunday I plan to preach on Psalm 3 on Sunday (6/12/16). The audio should be posted soon on our church web site.

Be assured, even for devastated parents, God’s word revives the soul (Psalm 19:7).


Update: Listen to my sermon on Psalm 2 here.

north_korea_11Those of us disillusioned and discouraged about the moral and political landscape of the day would do well to meditate on Psalm 2. In savoring the second Psalm, we move from a place of disillusionment with the “kings” of our day to sweet reverence for the one true King.

As I’ve previously explained, Psalms are about being moved from one place to another. The Psalms combine rich theology, imagery, and verse.  Christians who prayerfully quote and mediate on the Psalter – – or better still sing the Psalms like my Covenantor ancestors – – find that they travel from places of noisy disillusionment to peace and rest in Christ.

Sunday I plan to preach on Psalm 2. I won’t get ahead of myself by giving the sermon outline in a blog post, but I hope that many of our people will prepare for the sermon by reading Psalm 2 aloud and reflecting on the imagery. Here are some suggestions for meditating on Psalm 2. You still have to come to church. But these tips will help you get ready.

  • The voices of Psalm 2Picture the rage of the vain plotting of our day.
    Whether it is the punk in North Korea and his goose stepping army on parade – – or boorish boasting we hear in the politics of the United States, we don’t have to work to hard to find reason to listen to Psalm 2 in our own day.
  • Read Psalm 2 aloud to your family. There is something about saying the words of Scripture. Read carefully. Interpret as you go. Consider reading it twice with two different people taking to a turn.
  • “Listen” to the sounds of Psalm 2. If the images of the Psalm were multi-media, what would you hear? Who would you hear boasting? Who would you hear laughing? Peter Craigie’s commentary prompted me to make the table to the right so I could consider who is “talking” at each point in the Psalm. But don’t just focus on speech. Listen also to the imagery of smashing pottery. What does wrath quickly kindled sound like?
  • Consider the kingdom boundaries proposed by Psalm 2. How large does the LORD say the domain of his kingdom is?
  • Reflect on the New Testament usage of Psalm 2. The New Testament leaves no doubt as to how the claims of Psalm 2 will be fulfilled. Our summer intern (the esteemed Ben W.) helped me prepare the table summarizing a sample of the quotation and echoes of Psalm 2 in the New Testament. If the table is hard to read, look up Acts 4:24-26, Revelation 2:27, Revelation 12:25, and Hebrews 1:5).

Quotations and Echoes of Psalm 2 in the New Testament


I know many in our church are discouraged about the state of American politics. I’m with you! But God has made provision for our disillusionment and discouragement. Psalm 2 is the refreshment we need to move from places of disillusionment to refreshment in Christ.

Psalm 22 - Summary of New Testament UsageCharles Spurgeon believed Jesus may have repeated Psalm 22 word for word on the Cross. If you review the New Testament usage of Psalm 22, you will understand why Spurgeon thought so.

Psalm 22 is a psalm with application in David’s life (circa 1000 B.C) but it is prophetic and fulfilled completely only by Christ. Hence, it is sometimes called the 5th Gospel account of the cross.[1] Spurgeon says that this Psalm is beyond all others:

The Psalm of the Cross. It may have been actually repeated word by word by our Lord when hanging on the tree; it would be too bold to say that it was so, but even a causal reader may see that it might have been . . . O for grace to draw near and see this great sight! We should read reverently, putting off our shoes from our feet, as Moses did at the burning bush, for if there be holy ground anywhere in Scripture it is this psalm.[2]

 Regarding Psalm 22, Kaiser writes:

David did experience unusual suffering, but under a revelation from God he witnesses suffering of one of his offspring, presumably the last in that promised line, that far transcends anything that came his way.[3]

The Psalm’s essential message is summarized in verse 24. In spite of God’s awful delay in answering prayer, he answers and upholds ultimate justice.”[4] So, someone has said, that while Psalm 22 begins with a “sob”, it ends with a “song” in anticipation of the resurrection.[5]

Derek Kidner:

No Christian can read this without being vividly confronted with the crucifixion. It is not only a matter of prophecy minutely fulfilled, but of the sufferer’s humility – – there is no plea for vengeance—and his vision of a world-wide ingathering of the Gentiles. The Gelineau translation entitles it ‘The suffering servant wins the deliverance of the nations’.

 No incident recorded of David can begin to account for this Psalm. It is prophetic of the Cross.[6]



[1] Peter C. Craigie, Psalms 1-50, ed. David A. Hubbard et al., Word Biblical Commentary (Waco: Word, 1983), 202.

[2] {Citation}

[3] Walter C. Kaiser, The Messiah in the Old Testament, Studies in Old Testament Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 113.

[4] Waltke, Bruce K., Houston, James M., and Erika Moore, The Psalms as Christian Worship: A Historical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 398.

[5] “Psalms Studies – Book 1,” accessed March 27, 2012,

[6] Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72, ed. D.J. Wiseman, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1973), 105.

See also:

What Happened Each Day of Holy Week : This post gives a summary of what happened each day of Holy Week.

The people involved in the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ: Have problems keeping track of all the Marys and the other people involved in Holy Week? Here’s a summary.

Places Associated with Holy Week: Calvary is the same as Golgotha and other helpful facts about Holy Week places.

Robbi Cary’s new book, No Matter What, It’s A Good Day When, is out. It features Patricia Hunter’s beautiful photography.

If you are someone who struggles to find time in the day to relax and think of God’s goodness, you will enjoy this book.
I just received a copy today. Tonight we looked at it together as a family and then talked about ways we see the glory of God in Creation.

Painted buntings have long been Patricia’s poster child and her tradition continues with this book.

A Patricia Hunter picture of a male painted bunting.

No Matter What, It’s a Good Day When is a perfect book for your coffee table, family devotions, or to give as a gift.

You can find out more about the book at

Why You NEED to Take a Walk Today

Chris —  September 9, 2013

Read Psalm 8 and take a walk.


The Lauterbrunnen Valley in the Swiss AlpsDuring times of danger, Psalm 121 is a great comfort. Say it to yourself. But when you do, be like the lady from my church. Speak up enough for the doctors and nurses to also hear.

I called on one of our ladies today who has surgery later this week. Rather than pick out a Bible verse myself, I asked her. “When you face something like this Scripture, what is a Scripture you like to remember?”

She immediately replied, Psalm 121. She quoted, “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth (Psalm 121:1-2).”

She went on to tell me that once during a cataract surgery she was quoting the Psalm loud enough that the doctor and nurses had to ask her to be sure and hold still.

So I read Psalm 121 aloud to this lady and her husband. She knew almost every line before I read it. She’ll be ready to quote it again before her surgery on Thursday.

Sooner or later you will face a dark trial. You may be tempted to be afraid. If you are, quote Psalm 121 to yourself. Maybe quote it loud enough for the people around you to hear also.

1       I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
2       My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.

3       He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
4       Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

5       The LORD is your keeper;
the LORD is your shade on your right hand.
6       The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.

7       The LORD will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
8       The LORD will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore.

 Psalm 84:11 reads:

For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.

Reflect on the picture that God is a “sun” and “shield.”  The idea of God being the sun symbolizes power.  To even look at the sun hurts our eyes.  God is an atomic explosion.  All power, light inaccessible hid from our eyes.

And, yet, the sun also brings the idea that God is not simply power in isolation.  He shines into the lives of His people and as the verse says, offers us favor, or a better translation would be “grace,” and “honor,” or “glory.”  The light of his goodness shines into every corner of His creation.

Not only is God a sun, but he is also a “shield.”  So many different things can threaten our well-being.  Most who read this will spend time in a car today.  And, we know that over 40,000 people will probably die in car related accidents this year.  Think about that: 40,000 people.  Yet, God is a shield for those who know Him and trust in Him.  As Psalm 91 says, “a thousand may fall at our side, ten thousand at our right hand, but it will not come near us,” and God commands his angels concerning those who fear Him.

Even when we do meet with tragedy or disaster, we can be sure that God is a sun and a shield for those whose walk is blameless.

No wonder the Psalmist says in the same Psalm:10, 10 Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked

Meditate on Psalm 37 in order to consider what it means to be meek and inherit the earth.

Have you noticed that when Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5),” he gave the thesis or central thought of Psalm 37?

Isn’t the “big idea” of Psalm 37, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth?”


  • Psalm 37:9 – “those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.”
  • Psalm 37:11 – “but the meek shall inherit the land”
  • Psalm 37:22 – “for those blessed by the LORD shall inherit the land, but those cursed by him shall be cut off”
  • Psalm 37:29 – “the righteous shall inherit the land and dwell upon it forever”
  • Psalm 37:34 – “Wait for the LORD and keep his way, and he will exalt you to inherit the land”

So do this.  Read Psalm 37 carefully.  And meditate on what Jesus meant when he said, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.”  Do this prayerfully (Psalm 119:18), and you will surely be motivated to be meek.

Only God stills the “Wild Things” of life (Psalm 67:7).

When our children were young, Where the Wild Things Are was a favorite.  I can still quote most of it.

The story is simple.  Max mouths off to his mother and gets sent to his room.  To occupy himself, he imagines that his room is a far away land infested with terrifying “Wild Things.”

The Wild Things are a scary bunch.  They roar their terrible roars, roll their terrible eyes, and gnash their terrible teeth. 

Max is having none of it.  He says, “Be still!” and tames them with the magic trick of staring into their yellow eyes without blinking once.  After that, Max and the Wild Things are friends and the wild rumpus begins.DSC_0005

Max has sold more books than Houghton-Mifflin.  Where the Wild Things Are has been made into a movie and it all goes to show that something about the story strikes a chord with people.  (As a lover of books, making a good book into a movie strikes me as positively Canaanite.  It is what it is, as we say). 

So, what is it about this children’s story that resonates?  I wonder if what it is that we like about Where the Wild Things Are is that we all like to imagine ourselves as Max.  We like to dream that we can tame the terrifying problems of life by saying, “Be still,” in a commanding voice.  It’s satisfying to pretend that we are in charge.

Yet, it’s only a children’s story.  If we had known only one person with terminal cancer or studied one war, we have learned that it doesn’t work for us to tell the problems of life to be quiet.  We have no magical powers.  The more we insist on being able to command all the chaos of life, the more fatigued we will find ourselves.

Yet, there is hope.

Psalm 67:7 assures us that only God who established the mountains (v. 6) is the one who can quiet the roaring seas and the tumult of the people.If right now there are some wild things in your life, understand, that it is the God of Heaven and earth can say, “Be still.” 

So, if you are sent to your room without supper, rather than issuing mandates to the wild things, be still and know that God is in control.  Ponder the power of the One who by his strength established the mountains being girded with might (Psalm 65:5), and yet chooses to atone for our transgressions (Psalm 65:3-4).  Rest in God, and when you finally are released from the confines of what has been troubling you, your supper will still be hot.