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Exploring the Psalms
Psalms Home
Why Are They Unique?
How Should We Use Them?
The Power of the Paraphrase
Getting Started
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Coupling With Prayer
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Going Deeper
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Then What?
Psalms Categorized

 Exploring the Psalms (cont'd)

Extending a theme 

The underlying richness of a Psalm is often waiting for you to think on it just a bit more deeply. Many times a theme extends further through a Psalm than is obvious on the first or second reading. Getting into the thought pattern of the Psalm and looking for extended themes can yield rich truth about the character of God or some other topic. For example, look at Psalm 50. It is a psalm carrying God’s warning to His people about offering insincere sacrifices. In verse 8 He tells them that He wasn’t reproving them for the offering of sacrifices. “After all,” He might have added, “it was my idea and requirement that you do so! But,” He goes on to say in verses 9 through 13, “I have no reason to come to you and ask for an animal to meet some need I have. After all, I already own them all and could take as many as I wanted at any time, without asking your permission!” The clear indictment from God is that the people had come to the point of believing they were creating an obligation on God’s part when they brought these animals, that somehow He was dependent on their generosity. 

Then God tells the people in verse 14 to bring an offering – a sacrifice – of thanksgiving, and to fulfill their covenant vows to Him as His people. There is a clear contrast between an offering brought to incur His obligation and one brought out of a sense of thankfulness. God then goes on to exhort them to call on Him when they are in trouble, and He promises to rescue them, for which they will honor Him. 

These are simple but significant truths. But as I thought about this portion of the psalm, two closely related underlying themes seemed to come out to me, obligation and need. Who has obligation (and to what) and who has need?

 Obviously, the obligation on the part of the people of Israel, and by extension to us as His people in the church era, is to see ourselves in His debt. He has created all things for our use; He has provided the means for us to secure His forgiveness and fellowship. But what obligation does He have, if any? Clearly there is nothing physical that either we or the people of Israel can bring to Him that incurs any obligation on His part, as we see in verses 9-13.

 But the question came to me, is the theme of obligation also carried further in the psalm? I think it is. I believe God is saying, in effect, “No, you can’t make me obligated to you by physical sacrifices (9-13), but I have already obligated Myself to all who come to Me with a thankful heart, recognizing that the need is all on their part (14-15). Be faithful to Me in humble recognition of your total and desperate need of not only the physical provisions but also the grace and forgiveness that I offer, and I will be faithful to answer you in your time of trouble. I will rescue you, and you in turn will give me glory because you know that I and I alone have been your rescuer.” 

Let this roll over in your mind as you recognize the almost unbelievable fact that the God of the universe, Who needs nothing from me or anyone else, would willingly incur an obligation for my care, now and for eternity! For me, who has nothing to offer Him but my sin! Of course this theme isn’t limited to the text at hand, so I haven’t created a new doctrine by reading something into the text that isn’t there, but fresh meaning thrills my heart as I read these words. I believe this is partly because it is juxtaposed against the scene of bulls and goats, burning sacrifices and cattle on a thousand hills. When I place a picture in my mind from the Psalms, I should automatically ask myself what is the related spiritual truth that God wants me to see from this scene.

A Principle
 To make this idea more clear, let me state it as a principle. When exploring a psalm, look for themes and the possibility that they may extend beyond their immediate context. The idea that a particular theme may still be in mind as the text seems to take somewhat of a turn will probably not be obvious the first time through the psalm. It takes a little time to begin to place yourself in the position of the writer before these kinds of relationships appear. Often you will end up concluding that you can’t be sure of the psalmist’s intent, of course, but as you allow the Spirit to reveal truth to you, He is faithful to show you what He has for you to carry into your day.



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