Psalms: Book 3 (Pss 73-89)
As we review this portion of the Psalms, we will see a darker overtone come forth.
In Ps 73, the psalmist laments the success of the wicked but vows to remain faithful to God. This psalm is contemplative. It ponders on the two ways–wickedness and righteousness–and determines in the end that the way of the wicked will perish. Prayer, it seems, can be contemplation.
In Ps 74, the psalmist laments the fall of Zion and the Temple. He recounts the events of the fall while asking when God will take action. The psalmist resolves in prayer to declare that God is his king, and he recounts the mighty deeds of the Lord. He asks the Lord to remember how the wicked enemy scoffs; he asks the Lord not to forget His poor forever. Furthermore, he asks the Lord to have regard for the covenant, not to let the downtrodden be put to shame. The psalmist calls the poor and the needy to praise God’s holy name. He callus upon God to rise up and remember the wicked enemy’s scoffing. Prayer can be contemplation. It can involve asking God questions, like, “When will you act? Why are you tossing me aside?” But it digs deeper. It expects God will act and that God is going to do right. It calls upon God to act according to his righteousness, his just ways. At times prayer is an earnest call for justice.
Psalm 75 is about the victorious justice of God. The psalmist here contemplates the wondrous deeds of the Lord, who will judge the earth. The psalmist declares he will rejoice forever and sing praises to the Lord. Again, we see contemplative prayer concerning the way of the wicked.
Psalm 76 praises God for his awesomeness over oppressors. Here the psalmist praises God who is known and great in Israel, who dwells in Zion. He alone is glorious and majestic, and his rebuke flattens the warrior and his steed. No one can stand before the Lord when he is angry. The earth was afraid when God arose to establish his justice and save the oppressed. The psalmist calls everyone to make vows to the Lord and perform them, to bring gifts to the awesome One. Prayer here is also contemplative but may include vows.
The psalmist laments in Ps 77. He calls out to God, asking the Lord to hear him. He is in trouble. He will not be comforted. He questions,
“Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?
Has his steadfast love ceased forever?
Are his promises at an end for all time?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?”
He realizes that it is his grief that the Lord has changed. He resolves in his mind to recount the deeds of the Lord. Then he asks, “What god is so great as our God?” He realizes that the holy God works wonders. Prayer is contemplative, pondering both one’s own present circumstances alongside God’s previous deeds.
Psalm 78 recounts Israel’s history, thus contemplating on the deeds of the Lord. Despite Israel’s disbelief and disobedience, God was faithful to provide and work wonders. Ultimately, he rejected the tribes of Israel save Judah, and he chose David. Prayer again can be contemplative.
Psalm 79 recounts the fall of the Temple. It bears no repentant tone. It demands justice. The psalmist starts by stating what has happened to the Temple. He then asks, “How long, O Lord? Will you be angry forever? will your jealous wrath burn like fire?” He asks God to bring justice upon the nations that destroyed the Temple. He asks God to forget his people’s iniquity. He asks God for help, salvation, deliverance, and forgiveness on account of His holy name. He asks God to return sevenfold the deeds of their enemies. In return, God’s people will give thanks to Him forever. Sometimes prayer can be an intense lament in which we recount our dire circumstances and plead to God to bring justice.
In Ps 80, the psalmist laments the fall of the Northern Kingdom. God is stated to be enthroned on the cherubim and he calls God to shine forth before Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh. He calls upon God to save them. He calls upon God to restore them. He asks, “O Lord God of hosts, ho long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?” He laments their condition. The people are replete with sadness. The psalmist asks God to give success to their king, and in return they would never turn away from Him. He asks God to give them life, and in return they would call on His name. Prayer is seen here to be more than contemplation. No, here it is full-fledged request based on dire circumstances. It’s okay to approach God in times of distress and ask Him for help.
Up until this point, in many respects things have been rather bleak. But Ps 81 is the shining light amidst a dark book. The psalmist calls the people to sing to the Lord and make music for Him. The psalmist recounts the Lord’s commandments. From the perspective of the Lord, the psalmist also recalls that Israel did not follow His commands, but, if they had, then He would have quickly subdued their enemies and fed them with fine wheat and honey. Okay, so this psalm is still bleak, but not nearly so as the previous ones we have encountered thus far. Still, prayer is seen as a way of contemplating the way of the Lord.
Psalm 82 depicts God as a righteous judge who judges the gods. The psalmist asks God to give justice to the weak, the orphan, the lowly, and the destitute, to rescue the weak and the needy, and to deliver them from the hand of the wicked. God, the psalmist writes, judges the gods and condemns them to a mortal’s death. Then the psalmist asks God to rise up and judge the earth, because all the nations belong to Him. Psalm 82, like others before it, shows that prayer can request divine judgment.
In Ps 83, the psalmist laments the dire situation of the nation. Their enemies conspire, hoping to wipe them out. The psalmist asks God to blow them away like dust, to consume them with fire and press them with stormy weather. Ultimately, he asks God to shame them with the result that they would seek his name, but he still asks that they would perish in disgrace. Prayer can be a request for divine judgment and retribution.
The psalmist then gives a lovely prayer in Ps 84. This prayer contemplates longing for God and His Temple. He recounts the way of the Lord and the blessings that are given to those who trusts Him. Again, we see prayer as contemplation.
Psalm 85 returns us back to the darker tone of Book 3. The psalmist declares that God has shown favor to them and forgave their iniquity. Now he asks for God to restore them and put away His indignation. He asks,
“Will you be angry with us forever?
Will you prolong your anger to all generations?
Will you not revive us again, so that your people ma rejoice in you?”
He asks for God to show them His steadfast love and grand them His salvation. The psalmist expects that God will give what is good and prepare the way of the righteous. Again, prayer as contemplation, but here also with request and expectation.
In Ps 86, the psalmist prays for deliverance from his enemies. He asks the Lord to hear him, to preserve his life, and to save him. He asks the Lord to be gracious to him. The psalmist declares that God is good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love. Again, he asks God to hear his prayer, expecting that when he calls in distress the Lord will answer him. He declares there is none like God. He asks the Lord to him him His truth and way. He declares that he will give thanks to and glorify the Lord, because God has steadfast love for him. The psalmist humbly asks the Lord to be gracious with him and to show favor upon him. Psalm 86 shows us that it is acceptable to ask for help in times of distress.
Psalm 87 is like Ps 84–it’s a breath of fresh air. The psalmist praises Zion and Jerusalem, especially for those Gentiles who convert to the Lord through the holy mountain. Prayer as praise. Here is a rarity in Book 3.
Psalm 88 is unlike Ps 84. The psalmist asks God to listen, and then states that his life is full of trouble. He even asks, “O Lord, why do you cast me off? Why do you hide your face from me?” He states that the Lord’s wrath has swept him and he is shunned. There is no happy note here. There is no resolution to thanksgiving. The psalmist is dismayed. Prayer may sometimes be the dismal contemplations of one severely pressed.
The last psalm of Book 3, Ps 89, starts off by praising God, then it discusses the Davidic Covenant, and finishes with a lament. The psalmist praises God for his steadfast love and faithfulness. He reminds the Lord of his covenant with David. He calls the heavens to praise the wonders and faithfulness of the Lord. Indeed, the psalmist notes, no one is like God. Furthermore, God’s blessing is upon his chosen one. Yet, the psalmist declares that he has been spurned and rejected, and he is feeling the full wrath of the Lord. He asks, “How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire?” Still he asks, “Lord, where is your steadfast love of old, which by your faithfulness you swore to David?” He asks the Lord to remember how he was taunted and insulted. The psalm is over, but as a seam psalm it bears the doxological ending, “Blessed be the Lord forever. Amen and Amen.” What we see here is that prayer can mix praise with lament. It can involve reminding God of who he is, what he has done, what he has promised, and praising him for all of that but then asking him to fulfill his promises and take action amidst dire circumstances.