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

Thanksgiving psalms are appropriate for celebrating God’s kindness to us.

Many psalms involve celebration and affirmation of God’s works on behalf of one’s people. Some psalms emphasize God’s enthronement (Pss 24, 29, 47, 93, 95-99); we can use these to praise God’s might and reign. Psalms that celebrate the rule of Israel’s king (2, 18, 20, 21, 45, 72, 89, 101, 110, 132, 144) are useful for our celebration of our Lord and king, Jesus the Messiah; in non-royal cultures, we need to be reminded of what it means to celebrate our Lord’s rule over us. Some emphasize the holy city (46, 48, 76, 84, 87, 122), we can use these to celebrate the promised New Jerusalem and the grace God has shown us in both our future and our heritage in the holy city.

The work of the biblical historians, prophets, and sages is compatible with psalms as well. Some psalms celebrate God’s work in our heritage in Israel’s history (78, 105, 106, 135, 136); some sound like the messages of the prophets, including a covenant lawsuit summoning God’s people to obedience (Ps 50); some are wisdom psalms, sounding like the teaching of the sages (1, 36, 37, 49, 73, 112, 119, 127, 128, 133). We can teach and learn through our worship (Col 3:16).

Psalms can also express our passionate devotion to God, a devotion that we confess based not always on feeling but which we reaffirm in the very act of confessing it.

Psalms can also express our passionate devotion to God, a devotion that we confess based not always on feeling but which we reaffirm in the very act of confessing it. When we sing to God that he matters to us more than anything else, we reaffirm our devotion to him (e.g., Ps 42, 63).

The psalms provide ways for us to express anguish, sorrow, hope, despair, and joy in prayer to God. Some psalms are for mild distress; others, that end on a note of despair (Ps 89:49-51) are encouraging only to the person who is in great despair and needs to express his or her pain fully to God. Even though we know that God ultimately will deliver us—in life or in death—we need to express our feelings before him. Imprecatory psalms, such as Ps 137 (announcing blessing for one who kills the babies of Babylon as Babylon has done with Israel’s babies), fall into this category (see also Pss 12, 35, 58, 59, 69, 70, 83, 109, 140). Instead of pressing the literal meaning as far as possible, we should consider the rhetorical function of these psalms: they are prayers for swift vindication of the oppressed, for God to act with justice quickly. The oppressed does not take vengeance for himself or herself, but cries out for vindication the way Abel’s blood did (Gen 4:10; Matt 23:35; Lk 11:51; Heb 11:4; 12:24). This practice also appears in the New Testament (Rev 6:10; cf. 2 Tim 4:14), though Jesus wants us ultimately to forgive and love so fully that we pray good for our enemies (Matt 5:44; Lk 6:28).

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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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