This summer, Westminster will engage with the Psalms in a summer sermon series. We will collect resources here on our website to help you learn more about their background, and the role they play in the Reformed Tradition. We have also pulled books on the Psalms from the WPC Library as additional learning resources (see "Library Alert" on page 4 of the May 30 WPC Newsletter). Check one out from the display in the Mission Center Lobby. Read on for a brief introduction to the Psalms and an explanation of how we’ll approach them in the coming months.
"The book of Psalms," Walter Brueggemann writes, "provides the most reliable theological, pastoral, and liturgical resources given us in the biblical tradition. In season and out of season, generation after generation, faithful women and men turn to the Psalms as a most helpful resource for conversation with God about things that matter most." The Psalms are often understood as the hymnal of the Second, and likely the First, Temple period – the sacred poetry of ancient Israelite and Judean worship.
The Psalms, like much of the Hebrew Scriptures, seek to address the central crisis of this period: the exile. The exile was a historical crisis that began with the deportation of Judeans to Babylon in 597 BCE; continued with the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BCE; and lasted until 539 BCE when Cyrus of Persia allowed the exiles to return.
The exile was also an ongoing theological crisis for the Israelites. They had seen their government, their land, and their temple destroyed, which forced them to rethink who they were as God’s people. How were they to understand their relationship with God?
While countless scholars have tried to organize and group the Psalms in many ways, this summer we will be looking at the Psalms through Brueggemann’s lens of orientation-disorientation-reorientation. He bases this scheme on the philosophy of Paul Ricoeur, who understands the dynamic of life as a movement in between these three seasons.
Seasons of orientation come in times of well-being that evoke gratitude for the constancy of blessing from God. These psalms articulate the joy and delight in God’s goodness and reliability. Seasons of disorientation come in the most difficult times of hurt, alienation, suffering, and death. These evoke anger and frustration, reaching into the raw depths of human experience. Seasons of reorientation come when joy breaks in through despair. This transformation never comes easily. These psalms speak boldly about a new gift from God, a new reality, a sovereign God who puts humanity in a new situation.
This series is intended as a season for all of us to be invited into the world of the Psalms through sermons, music, and liturgy, supplemented with web resources. "The Psalms," John Calvin writes, "can incite us to lift up our hearts to God and move us to ardor in invoking and exalting with praises the glory of [God’s] name."
The Psalms have traditionally been organized by theme, language, and time of appearance, into five books: Book I: Psalms 1-41, Book II: Psalms 41-72, Book III: Psalms 73-89, Book IV: Psalms 90-106, Book V: Psalms 107-150.
Books I-III document the failure of the Davidic covenant, which is made clear by the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BCE and the subsequent exile. Thus, these books call out for a response, which is offered by the proclamation of God’s reign, which is prominent in Books IV-V. The Psalter as we have it may have taken its final form in the fourth to third centuries BCE, but books IV-V may not have been solidified until the second century BCE.
Psalms in Hebrew
HebrewPsalms.org – Sung and streamed and set to music!
Mechon-Mamre.org – Click on the links at the top of the page to hear a rabbi reciting the Psalms in parallel Hebrew and English
Commentaries & Reflections
CCEL.org – John Calvin’s Commentary on the Psalms
Click here for resources to help you learn more about the specific Psalms we’ll be focusing on each Sunday.