The Book of Psalms is both God’s revelation of himself to Israel and of Israel’s response in faith Him. The Psalms encourage us to witness how God’s chosen people related to Him in the past. They can serve as God’s remedy for a complacent church, because through it he exposes how great, amazing, glorious, wise, and awe-inspiring he is.
In a practical sense the Psalms represent emotions. These emotions are in line with what the writer may be experiencing at the specific time of writing. So, it is no wonder that the Psalms are songs, prayers or poems offered to God that express a wide range, if not the full range, of human emotions. For example, there are Psalms of joy, Psalms of faith, Psalms of happiness, Psalms of anger and frustration, Psalms of thankfulness, Psalms of despair and loneliness, Psalms of fear and grief and the list goes on. They represent the span of human emotions that range from the positive to the negative emotions but are all unified by one element: the one and only God.
John Calvin said it well when he wrote, “I may truly call this book an anatomy of all the parts of the soul, for no one can feel a moment of the spirit which is not reflected in the mirror. All sorrows, troubles, fears, doubts, hopes, pain, perplexities, and stormy outbreaks by which the hearts of men are tossed have been depicted here to the very life.” C.S. Lewis writes, “Most emphatically the Psalms must be read as poems; as lyrics, with all incense and all formalities, the hyperboles, the emotional rather than the logical connections, which are proper to lyric poetry.” What these men are saying is the Psalms are meant speak to the heart more than to the brain. They are not meant to be read merely as intellectual observations as much as they are to are read and to some extent feel the raw emotion spoken through them and they in turn speak to our souls. Many Psalms leave little doubt as to how the writer is feeling at the moment of writing.
In our study we will note that there are five types of Psalms represented in the Bible.
Many of these Psalms reflect or stir up various emotions and we can easily relate to many of them. However, we do need to be careful in reading, interpreting, and applying certain Psalms to our everyday life. It is important to keep our emotions in check. We cannot allow our emotions get the best of us. We need to pay particular attention in regard to imprecatory Psalms which call down curses on the wicked, because many of them were written specifically for the Jews and were appropriate only for the Jews but were not intended for believers of this Church age.
The Happy Life
This is a Psalm of celebration, happiness, and joy. Personally, I believe this Psalm could easily define true happiness in life. It is safe to say that we all desire happiness. Our Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” This document declares that every American has the unalienable right the pursuit of happiness. But what is happiness? We all want it and all of us do pursue it in various ways, but do we know what kind of happiness we are pursuing? People inside and outside of the body of Christ thinks that happiness can be found in some THING. Some believe they would be happy if with a good paying job, a nice house, a new car, a better Pastor, etc. Some seek happiness in a person… a spouse, a boyfriend or girlfriend, children, friends, family, etc. The previous mentioned all can bring a great deal happiness and joy but they are not the true and final source of happiness.
Psalm 1 tells us exactly how true happiness is found.
Vs. 1: “Oh the Joys…” The word in most of your Bibles is “Blessed” which means happy, or happiness that flows from a sense of wellbeing and rightness. A happy person is one who does not walk in the ways of the world or in sin. Sin cannot and does not bring happiness; it may seem fun for a fleeting moment but eventually misery follows.
Seeking the “Counsel of the wicked” means taking advice or advisement from the ungodly or those hostile to God. How can a person find happiness from a person who doesn’t have happiness? Happy is the person who does not seek wisdom or direction from the ungodly or the worldly ways. The happy person does not take up residence with people who are proud, boastful, mockers, or those who get off on deriding people of joy. This does not mean we isolate ourselves from world or from wicked and ungodly people. We are to steer clear of the influence of the ungodly. We are called to love the sinner; but we are not called to let the ungodly influence who you are, what you do, and how you live your life.
Vs. 2: True happiness comes from the instruction of the Lord. Some believe this to mean that the only way we can be happy is if we read the Bible all the time and memorize the laws of the Bible and follow every letter of the law to the “T”. This is not what is meant in this verse. Sure, we experience great joy when we read the word of God and hold it in our hearts; but a truly happy person is one who is influenced by and completely submitted to God and his ways because they are the right way. Our source of happiness and joy should come from God. True happiness is found in God and living a life grounded in obedience to him. What does happiness look like? Does it mean that if we follow God’s ways we will be skipping, smiling, and soaring through life without a care? Of course not! We will always experience anger, frustration, despair, and all sorts of negativity throughout life, but we will always have the source of happiness (Jesus) in us. We can still be happy and be miserable all at the same time. Why? Because our happiness is not based in a person, place, thing, or situation; Our happiness is grounded in God, and we can truly be happy even when life does not seem so good.
Vs. 3: Not only will a submitted person be happy, but she will also live a fruitful life. The one who is rooted in God (through Jesus Christ) will be like a tree that is well nourished, cared for and producing abundant and healthy fruit in due time. God will bless the person who is rooted in Him. We will be blessed, we will prosper, and we will be filled with joy and happiness all according to God’s purposes. This can mean we may not always FEEL like we are blessed, prosperous, joyful, and happy but we are because God has promised this and has given all for us.
Vs. 4: This is a contrast of the happy life. A happy person who is rooted in God will be healthy, fruitful, and prosperous but the person who seeks happiness in anything other than God will experience fleeting or temporal happiness. This is a type of happiness that may bring momentary happiness for a season but when the storm of life picks up so goes their happiness. This is the one who has no faith in God but believes he is happy and fulfilled. This person’s happiness is grounded in things that will let you down and disappoint. If your happiness is grounded in situations, things, or careers you will be let down eventually. There will always be better jobs, bigger homes, newer cars, more money, and more stuff to buy but when they fail you or ceases to bring happiness then it does not take long for the world to turn bleak and depressing, so you either wallow in your misery or you go out and try to find something else to bring a fleeting joy which will let you down again. True happiness is found in the one who is grounded in God.
This is a song with mixed emotions ranging from crying out in despair and anguish to having joy and hope. This Psalm was likely penned at a low point in David’s life; some have suggested he was fighting a life-threatening illness and others have suggested it was penned when David was fleeing from the pursuits of King Saul who was trying to kill him. We read that he is in utter despair and at the end of his rope.
Vs 1 - 2: He begins his song by asking God “How long?” four times. The repetition shows that David is at a point of being unable to bear or endure the situation(s) he is facing. He asks God, “O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way? How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day? How long will my enemy have the upper hand?” Initially one would think David is having a crisis of faith moment as he wonders if God is even around or if he even cares. I believe David is not questioning the existence of God, nor does he literally think God has forgotten about him (Remember this is a poem or a song which is intended to express a pure feeling or a raw emotion). His song is not intended to be a theological treatise of God in any sense; he is just being genuine, transparent, and open to God with his emotions and feelings.
Questioning God was something many men and women of the Bible practiced over the centuries and many still do today. Abraham and Sarah questioned God when He promised Abraham’s wife would one day bear a son. Job questioned God when he lost everything that was precious to him. Elijah questioned God’s whereabouts when he fled for his life from Jezebel. The Israelites continually questioned God in times of calamity. It may seem disheartening to read about the struggles these all faced but their questions should also bring comfort. Why? Because we see some of the greatest men and women of faith having struggles and they had the courage to cry out to God with their tough questions and at times lack of faith to express their true emotions to God.
There are people who believe questioning God or voicing their true emotions and complaints to God is wrong, disrespectful, and irreverent. I could not disagree with them more whole heartedly and the Psalms back my disagreement up. God is not taken back, intimidated, nor offended when we bring our raw unfettered emotions to him. In fact, He welcomes our cries of despair and raw emotions that we express to him. Yes, we read time and again when God does get frustrated with His people who lack trust and faith in Him, especially in the times where he has assured his faithfulness. There are many accounts in both the Old and New Testament where God and Jesus respond to peoples cries of despair in exasperation saying, “How many times do I have to prove myself faithful to you?”
David, the Psalmist, is voicing his question to God by asking, “How long do I have to endure before you will intervene and take control of the situation?” He feels alone and isolated from God (and he still knows He’s there) and in despair as he faces his enemy; and the last thing anyone wants to feel during a trial, calamity, or despair is the feeling of being alone and abandoned. Yet this is how David feels and he is begging for God’s divine intervene.
Vs 3 – 4: David continues by asking God to “turn and answer me”, pay attention, or look favorably upon his request. In other words, he is saying, “God, hear my prayer! I have made my request known and I implore you to give it consideration. Give me hope to know that I will emerge victoriously over my enemies for your name’s sake; lest my enemies think they have won.” These first three verses can be seen as complaints filed against (How long O LORD?), a request being made (turn and answer me), and now the Psalmist waits with great expectation. He does not have a shallow hope that God may pull through for him; he is expecting God to hear his prayer and respond in the appropriate manner.
Vs 5: The Psalm now takes a turn from lament to confidence. David is faced with a choice; he can choose to continue in one of two ways…
We can have happiness, joy, and trust in God through Jesus Christ. Through Jesus we can know, and experience true happiness and we can know and experience true joy. Because of Jesus we can completely understand that apart from God the worldly mindset of happiness essentially has nothing to offer us. Apart from God the government, your marriage, your family, your relationships, your work, your status, and the materials things of the world can’t bring life-giving all satisfying happiness. We can only find true happiness in life when we allow the source of our joy and happiness be found in God through Jesus Christ. When we do allow our source of joy be in Jesus Christ Then and only can we be truly blessed; and in so doing will we find pleasure in the life as we delight in the Lord and His Word and become healthy, fruitful, and prosperous followers of Jesus Christ in this world.
Jeff has been in ministry for well over two decades. He currently serves as Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Southside Campus in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). Both are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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