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Rightly Understanding God’s Word: Context of Genre, Part 2, by Craig S. Keener

Israel had always used songs in worship (Ex 15:20-21), and these could be used for inspired or Spirit-directed worship (1 Sam 10:5; 2 Kings 3:15; Hab 3:19; 1 Cor 14:15); God could also use prophecy to direct the nature of worship (2 Chron 29:25). In the Spirit, a worshiper could move back and forth between speaking to God and hearing from God (2 Sam 23:1-2; Ps 46:1, 10; 91:2, 14). Most significantly, God appointed an orderly but Spirit-led worship in the temple (1 Chron 25:1-7); the New Testament develops further the importance of depending on God’s Spirit to empower us for worship worthy of the Lord (Jn 4:23-24; Phil 3:3).

Some Christians today think that we should never admit that we are discouraged; biblically, however, we should openly express our hurts to God.

Psalms on the whole may be meant less to be interpreted than to be prayed and sung. Once a person is full of the psalms, they also provide models for our own spontaneous worship to God. Because the musical and poetic culture of the ancient Near East did affect the way the Psalms were presented, we might write our psalms somewhat differently today; cf. 1 Cor 14:26; Eph 5:19. The Puritans used only the biblical psalms as their hymnbook, but we seek God to provide us contemporary songs in the music of our own cultures as well.

Thus it is helpful for us to summarize some different kinds of psalms and their uses. Douglas Stuart, co-author with Gordon Fee of How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (Zondervan, 1993), 194-97, lists several types of psalms. We have followed and adapted much of his listing here, though they overlap and one could divide many of these categories differently. Over sixty of the psalms give individuals or groups examples how to express our discouragement, suffering or sorrow in prayer to God; these are often called “laments.” Some Christians today think that we should never admit that we are discouraged; biblically, however, we should openly express our hurts to God. These psalms often follow a consistent structure; most include a statement of suffering, an expression of trust in God, a cry for deliverance, the assurance that God will deliver, and finally praise for God’s faithfulness. Prayers like this help us deal with our suffering rather than allowing it to crush our spirit.

We can teach and learn through our worship.

Thanksgiving psalms are appropriate for celebrating God’s kindness to us, and are thus in some sense for different situations than laments (James 5:13); ancient temple worshipers may have sometimes used these during thank offerings (Lev 7:7-11). Stuart lists sixteen thanksgiving psalms, some for individuals and some for God’s people as a whole (Pss 18, 30, 32, 34, 40, 65-67, 75, 92, 107, 116, 118, 124, 136, 138); these normally include an introductory summary, a note of one’s distress, an appeal that the psalmist made to God, a description of God’s deliverance and praise for God’s deliverance. In addition to these are many psalms Stuart calls “hymns of praise,” which worship God without such focus on particular matters for thanksgiving (8, 19, 33, 66, 100, 103, 104, 111, 113, 114, 117, 145-50). Others emphasize trust in the Lord (11, 16, 23, 27, 62, 63, 91, 121, 125, 131).

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Category: Biblical Studies, Summer 2005

About the Author: Craig S. Keener, Ph.D. (Duke University), is F. M. and Ada Thompson Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He is author of many books, including Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (Baker Academic, 2011), the bestselling IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, Gift and Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today, and commentaries on Acts, Matthew, John, Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, and Revelation. In addition to having written more than seventy academic articles, several booklets and more than 150 popular-level articles, Craig is is the New Testament editor (and author of most New Testament notes) for the The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. He is married to Dr. Médine Moussounga Keener, who is from the Republic of Congo, and together they have worked for ethnic reconciliation in North America and Africa. Craig and Médine wrote Impossible Love: The True Story of an African Civil War, Miracles and Hope against All Odds (Chosen, 2016) to share their story. sites.google.com/site/drckeener

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