Psalms: Book 2 (Pss 42-72)
Psalm 42 is a song of desire for God. The psalmist speaks of longing and thirsting after God. People prod him, asking, “Where is your God?” This prodding brings him sadness, and he declares it. But despite their prodding, the psalmist reflects on worship with the people and takes comfort, placing his hope in God. In prayer, it is acceptable to proclaim why we are sad and to declare our hope. Prayer involves being real with God. Then, in Ps 43, which is one and the same with Ps 42, but for some reason it has been separated, the psalmist asks for vindication. He declares that it is in God that he takes refuge. Yet, he bluntly asks God why He has cast him off. In prayer, we can be real, open, frank, and honest. We can inquire. We can declare. We can request.
Psalm 44 begins by retelling some basic points from the psalmist’s national history. He proclaims that it was by God’s mighty hand that his people won the land. The psalmist declares that God is their king and it is in Him that they boast. However, despite the blessed state of affairs from their past, at present the Lord is not applying his mighty hand towards their efforts. The psalmist laments their present condition, being like sheep led to the slaughter. But he declares that he and the people have neither forgotten the Lord, nor the covenant. He asks God to remember them and to aid them in their affliction, to redeem them because of his steadfast love. Here we see a mixture of prayer types, just as we have seen before. There are elements of declaration, request, praise, and lament. And, again, we see an element of genuineness. It is important to note that one should not sugar coat prayer, but rather one should be blunt and honest.
Psalm 45 is a song and not a prayer as it is about the king. But if it teaches us anything about prayer at all, it is about seeking God’s blessing for the king in his endeavors with the nations.
In Ps 46, God is proclaimed to be our refuge, strength, and help. Even if the earth should change, earthquakes occur, waters surge, we will not fear. Indeed, the psalmist proclaims the victory of God who is in the city of Israel; the nations cannot overcome the Lord with weapons of war. The psalmist is praising God for the victory. In prayer, it is acceptable to praise God for our victories that he grants us.
In Ps 47, the psalmist praises God, dwelling on the glory of the Lord. He calls everyone to praise. He proclaims that God has made his people successful. He callus everyone to praise God who is the king of his people as well as of the whole earth. Specifically, the psalmist calls for everyone to sing praises to God with a psalm. Interesting that psalms were tools for singing praises. After all, the Psalms are a collection of praises. Prayer itself can be praise and adoration and not only request.
Psalm 48 praises God, declaring that he is in Jerusalem, in the temple, on Mount Zion. The psalmist declares that the kings of the nations trembled at the sight of God being in his temple. Then the psalmist transitions into addressing God directly. He contemplates the wonder of God’s steadfast love, name, and power, and he calls the people to rejoice because of God’s judgments. In the end, the people are addressed and called to consider Zion and its features so that they might be able to declare to the future generations that God is their eternal guide. Prayer can contain a narrative element, but, again, it need not be a request as it can be praise. It can be a call for others to do things and is not necessarily a call for God to do something.
Psalm 49 is a wisdom psalm and is similar to Ps 1. It is not a prayer. It discusses inclining the ear towards a proverb. It speaks of death for the wise and the foolish. It identifies that wealth does not extend beyond the grave.
In Ps 50, God the divine judge is given a voice. It bears a prophetic style and tone. God rebukes Israel and puts her on trial. God gives the people a choice to shape up or he will tear them apart. It seems that Ps 50 is not a prayer, but a prophecy, that is, a divine message from God.
Psalm 51 is a penitential prayer. The psalmist asks for mercy and for his transgressions to be blotted out. The psalmist asks for a thorough cleansing from sin. He declares that he has sinned against the Lord. He asks God to create in him a clean heart and to put a new spirit in him. He asks God not to cast him away or to take his spirit from him. The psalmist asks for salvation to be restored and for God to sustain a spirit within him. Then he declares that as a result he would teach transgressors the way of the Lord and cause sinners to return to God. He asks for deliverance from bloodshed, and in return his tongue would sing of it. He asks the Lord to open his lips and then his mouth would declare praise. He declares, as though it were on the back of Ps 50, which depicts God saying that he does not want sacrifice, that sacrifices are not what God wants, but rather he wants a broken and contrite spirit. In an odd twist, the psalmist then asks God to do good to Zion, to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, and then he would delight in right sacrifices. Here we see an exemplary penitential prayer. It contains elements of confession, forgiveness, mercy, and declaration. It does make a request, but its focus is on penitence.
In Ps 52, the psalmist contemplates the difference between the unrighteous from the righteous. The unrighteous are those who do mischief against the godly. They love evil and lying. They are a deceitful tongue. But they will be broken by God. The righteous will laugh at the unrighteous and comment that they are foolish for having not taken refuge in God, but rather placed trust in wealth. Unlike the unrighteous, the psalmist identifies himself with the righteous who is in the house of God and trusts in the Lord. He declares that he will be faithful and he will proclaim the name of the Lord. This prayer is one of declaration and contemplation. It does not offer anything that we have not already seen.
Psalm 53 is a contemplation prayer. The psalmist is thinking about corrupt fools. He acknowledges that God looks down on the earth and searches for those who are wise, but the wise have fallen away, and there is no one who does good. He declares that the wicked will be punished by God. In the end, the psalmist cries out in hope for deliverance to come through Zion. It is not a request or a petition. But it is a hopeful desire expressed through contemplation. Prayer can be such contemplation. It need not be thanksgiving, request, petition, or decree.
However, Ps 54 is a request. The psalmist asks for God to save him and hear his prayer. The psalmist declares that he is under persecution. Yet, he declares, God is his helper and will uphold his life. It is God who will repay his enemies. The psalmist assumes that God will answer him and save him, for he declares in the end that he will offer up a freewill sacrifice to the name of the Lord for delivering him from every trouble. We have seen this kind of prayer before in which a request is made and the answer to that request is explicitly assumed. Prayer can have this sort of request-response element.
In Ps 55, the psalmist cries out to God, seeking help in distress. The wicked, he declares, are bringing trouble upon him to the point that it troubles his heart. He is afraid of death. He wants to fly away to the wilderness to find shelter. He asks God to confuse his enemies. He declares that the city is filled with trouble. He declares that it is not with enemies or adversaries but with his friend, equal, and companion that he keeps company with. He longs for death to come upon his enemies. He declares that he will call upon God, and he will be answered. He expects that he will be saved from harm. His companion laid hands on him, violating their covenant, seeking war. But the psalmist says to cast your burdens on the Lord and he will sustain you. Finally, he says that God will cast them down, the evil ones, but he, the psalmist, will trust in God. In prayer, it is acceptable to offer up a lament, a cry of despair, and to seek divine retribution.
Psalm 56 is a lament psalm requesting deliverance. In it the psalmist identifies his demise and then places trust in God’s deliverance.
Likewise, Ps 57 follows in the same wake as the preceding psalm. Here the psalmist declares his devotion to praise and give thanks to God in connection with his trust for deliverance.
Then comes Ps 58. If the Psalms teach us how to pray, or even what to pray, this one should be preached more often. The psalmist asks God to break the teeth of the wicked and be swept away. The righteous, he says, rejoice when they see vengeance done, they bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked. What a gruesome celebration! What a graphic prayer! The psalmist is seeking and praying for God’s utter victory over the unrighteous. Here we see that it is okay to be graphic and to be honest before the Lord, even when we are angry.
Deliverance is again sought in prayer in Ps 59. It is another contemplative prayer that seeks divine protection, and, in return, he would praise God his strength.
Psalm 60 seeks restoration and deliverance. Trust is placed in God that he will indeed step in and defeat their foes.
Psalm 61, which identifies itself as a prayer, contains these same elements of protection resulting in praise.
Trust is the key theme of Ps 62, which is not unlike what precedes it. The psalmist places his trust in God who is his fortress, rock, salvation, hope, and refuge. This psalm is a prayer affirming God’s qualities in relation to the psalmist.
Psalm 63 is a prayer expressing desire or “thirst” for God. The psalmist contemplates his desire for God. But he also expresses desire for his enemies to be given their just deserts.
In Ps 64, the psalmist prays for deliverance from his enemies. He asks God, based on the law of retribution, to shoot them down with his arrow, which will cause all who look upon God’s punishment on them and think about what he has done. Prayer here is seeking divine retribution as well as deliverance.
Psalm 65 is a prayer about prayers fulfilled. It is about praising God with a thankful heart for what he had done with their crops and flocks. Prayer can be thanksgiving for success in the fields–for bountiful provision.
The psalmist both praises God and gives a prayer of thanksgiving in Ps 66. God is identified as the one who is awesome and powerful, and it was he who turned the sea into dry land allowing them to pass through the river on foot. It’s a contemplative prayer in this way as well as thanksgiving, for the psalmist also thanks God for not rejecting his prayer.
Psalm 67, like Ps 65, thanks God for bountiful provision. Indeed, it calls the whole earth to praise God for his provision. Here we see, as we have before, that praise and thanksgiving are often intermixed.
God is seen as a warrior, a father, and a protector in Ps 68. He is seen as salvation, and he is seen as victorious. The psalmist calls everyone to sing praises to God and to give him power. Psalm 69 steps in with a prayer of deliverance and praise. The psalmist asks to be saved from his enemies; he asks God not to let those who hope in Him be put to shame because of him. He identifies that his prayer is offered to God at just the right time, and he asks God to rescue him. He asks God to give him an answer, and he qualifies it on the basis of God’s steadfast love. He asks God to draw near and redeem him. He asks God to punish his enemies. And then he states that he will praise the name of God with a song, he will magnify God with thanksgiving. In the end, the psalmist seeks for heaven and earth to praise God. Prayer can be rather diverse, and, as we see in Ps 69, it can include elements of contemplation, request, praise, and thanksgiving.
In the wake of Ps 69, Ps 70 seeks deliverance, since God is great and He is a help and deliverer. And Ps 71 seeks deliverance and protection, even in old age, with the result that he will praise God.
Psalm 72, the last psalm of book 2, seeks justice and righteousness. The psalmist requests prosperity and deliverance. He requests long life and blessings, along with an enduring legacy. In the end, the psalmist blesses the Lord and seeks for his name and his glory to reign. As we have seen elsewhere, prayer can be request as well as praise and blessing.