I have told my class several times as we go through these first five lessons, “Yes, you can understand the Psalms without all this specialized knowledge. You can read a psalm and make sense of it without knowing its genre, without understanding Hebrew poetry, certainly without knowing the difference between a miktam and a maskil. But guess what? You will not get as much out of that psalm as you will if you go to the trouble to do the research and learn a little about a foreign culture and its poetry.”
In the past I approached Psalms the same way I approach poetry, which is seldom. I am not a poetry person. I much prefer reading and writing prose. To me, and to anyone from our culture, poetry is about emotion, about attitude, about the “better felt than told.” Because of that you are not going to find pure fact in poetry. Poetry is “feel-good-fluff” to me and I really don’t have much use for it.
Now re-read that last paragraph and insert the word “Western” ahead of every reference to “poetry.” You see, our attitude toward poetry is the opposite of the Oriental’s. Orientals believe that the function of poetry is to instruct. Did you hear that? Poetry is a teaching method. Its very form aids in memorization—short lines of roughly equal length and abbreviated word count. Their poetry is reserved for subjects of the highest order, especially the Divine.
My Western view may say, “This is poetry. It’s all emotion, very little, if any, fact. Don’t take it too seriously.” But the Oriental mind says, “This is poetry. These are the most important, most profound subjects you will ever read. Pay attention and think about it.”
Do you think that hasn’t changed my approach to the Psalms? And how do you think I learned that? From taking the time to research a foreign culture. From going beyond the minimum in my Bible study. Because of that I now know even more about the Word that is supposed to be guiding my life.
How much time do you spend in the Word of God? How much extra effort do you go to? If the doctor told you that you have a disease, would you spend time looking it up? Would you care enough to know as much as possible, instead of being satisfied with the doctor’s explanation? Would you want to have hands-on control of your life, or would you just sit back and be happy with the briefest scan of a medical dictionary?
You do have a disease—sin. You do have dangers in your environment, things just as deadly to your soul as secondhand smoke to your lungs. You need to be aware of every aid, every pitfall, everything that can possibly affect the outcome of your life.
Do you care enough to learn the Word of God as completely as possible, or will you trust someone else with your soul and hope a verbal vitamin a day will take care of it?
Blessed is the man that walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stands in the way of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of scoffers:
But his delight is in the law of Jehovah;
And on his law doth he meditate day and night.
And he shall be like a tree planted by the streams of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also doth not wither;
And whatsoever he does shall prosper. Psalms 1:1-3