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Is praise the Psalter’s theme?

November 9, 2008

Over on his blog Bob MacDonald argues that the theme of the Psalter is praise rather than “the ideal Joshua-like warrior and king who through divinely given authority vanquishes his enemies” (R. Cole). Whilst it is undeniable that the Psalter moves from lament to praise, I find the final form to have been canonically shaped with the overarching theme of Yahweh is King, Yahweh will rule through his Davidic king, this king will come and conquer all nations, all nations shall praise Yahweh.

Hence, the enthronement psalms that declare that Yahweh has become king through redeeming his people (the Isaianic second-exodus) brings forth the imperative of “sing a new song” (i.e. convert to Yahwism and take the praise of Yahweh upon your lips) and culminates in Psalm 100 with the evangelistic sermon, “Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth” and “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.” Through this ‘preaching’ nations are conquered and the new heavens and new earth are described in Psalm 150 where the whole creation praises Yahweh, “Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD.”

Hence the importance to take on board Mitchell’s position: the king comes (Psalm 45), Israel is gathered in (Psalm 50), the nations gather for war (Psalms 73-83), the king is cut off (Psalm 89), rescue by the messianic king (Psalm 110), paeans of messianic victory (Psalms 111-118), and the ascent of all Israel to celebrate the feast of tabernacles (Psalms 120-134).

Of course using Zechariah 14 we should note that all nations shall go to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of tabernacles,

Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD Almighty, and to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. If any of the peoples of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD Almighty, they will have no rain. If the Egyptian people do not go up and take part, they will have no rain. The LORD will bring on them the plague he inflicts on the nations that do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. This will be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles.

So, yes praise is a dominant theme of the psalter, but this is grounded upon the theme of “the ideal Joshua-like warrior and king who through divinely given authority vanquishes his enemies”. It is because we know that our king will come that we can praise.

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