Believers Church Bible Commentary: Psalms
Believers Church Bible Commentary The influence of Psalms is immense, both in terms of the worship of God’s people and in the spiritual experience of countless individuals. James H. Waltner aims to help readers find their way through Psalms, encounter God, and be led into obedience and praise.
The Believers Church Bible Commentary series makes available a new tool for basic Bible study. It is published for all who seek to understand more fully the original message of Scripture and its meaning for today—Sunday school teachers, members of Bible study groups, students, pastors, or other seekers. The series is based on the conviction that God is still speaking to all who will hear him, and that the Holy Spirit makes the Word a living and authoritative guide for all who want to know and do God’s will.
The desire to be of help to as wide a range of readers as possible has determined the approach of the writers. No printed biblical text has been provided so that readers might continue to use the translation with which they are most familiar. The writers of the series have used the New Revised Standard Version, the Revised Standard Version, the New International Version, and the Today’s New International Version on a comparative basis. They indicate which text they follow most closely, as well as where they have made their own translations. The writers have not worked alone, but in consultation with select counselors, the series’ editors, and the Editorial Council.
Every volume illuminates the Scriptures; provides necessary theological, sociological, and ethical meanings; and in general makes “the rough places plain.” Critical issues are not avoided, but neither are they moved into the foreground as debates among scholars. Each section offers explanatory notes, followed by focused articles in “The Text in Biblical Context” and “The Text in the Life of the Church.” This commentary aids the interpretive process but does not try to supersede the authority of the Word and Spirit as discerned in the gathered church.
The term believers church has often been used in the history of the church. Since the sixteenth century, it has frequently been applied to the Anabaptists and later the Mennonites, as well as to the Church of the Brethren and similar groups. As a descriptive term, it includes more than Mennonites and Brethren. Believers church now represents specific theological understandings, such as believers baptism, commitment to the Rule of Christ in Matthew 18:15-20 as crucial for church membership, belief in the power of love in all relationships, and willingness to follow Christ in the way of the cross. The writers chosen for the series stand in this tradition.
Believers church people have always been known for their emphasis on obedience to the simple meaning of Scripture. Because of this, they do not have a long history of deep historical-critical biblical scholarship.
This series attempts to be faithful to the Scriptures while also taking archaeology and current biblical studies seriously. Doing this means that at many points the writers will not differ greatly from interpretations found in many other good commentaries. Yet basic presuppositions about Christ, the church and its mission, God and history, human nature, the Christian life, and other doctrines do shape a writer’s interpretation of Scripture. Thus this series, like all other commentaries, stands within a specific historical church tradition.
Many in this stream of the church have expressed a need for help in Bible study. This is justification enough to produce the Believers Church Bible Commentary. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit is not bound to any tradition. May this series be an instrument in breaking down walls between Christians in North America and around the world, bringing new joy in obedience through a fuller understanding of the Word.
Encountering God in the Psalms
The influence of the book of Psalms on Jewish and Christian traditions, both in terms of the worship of the community and the spiritual experience of countless individuals, is immense. Some psalms had a fixed place in the great Jewish festivals. The daily morning service in the synagogue today includes Psalms 145–150, and the Sabbath morning service contains a sequence of psalms culminating in 92 and 93 (Davidson, 1998:1).
The Gospels tell of Jesus and the disciples singing “hymns,” likely the so-called Hallel psalms at the beginning of the Passover meal (113–114) and at the end (115–118). The early church was enjoined to “sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God” (Col 3:16). Within Christian tradition, many different churches have nurtured worship through the psalms, spoken or sung as invocation, adoration, confession, hymns, chants, and responses.
Beyond the liturgies of synagogue and church, the psalms have been woven into the richly varied experience of countless men and women across the centuries. Martin Luther referred to the Psalter as “a little Bible.” Thomas Merton, a Roman Catholic, wrote that the psalms are more than language. “They contain within themselves the silence of high mountains and the silence of heaven. . . . The Psalter only truly begins to speak and sing within us when we have been led by God and lifted up by Him, and have ascended into its silences” (Merton: 160).
This grand collection of psalms is a treasured hymnbook inviting and expressing the people’s praise to their sovereign God. Here is also a prayer book, voicing the needs of individuals and the community in times of trouble. Finally, the book of Psalms serves as instruction book, as indicated in the opening psalm’s invitation to “meditate day and night” on the life-giving word of God’s instruction for living (1:2; cf. Pss 19; 119).
The reader of these sacred poems soon discovers that a psalm speaks for itself. While the commentary may provide some helpful background, alert the reader to linkage with words and themes, and stimulate the imagination for application, it will not replace repeated readings of a psalm in order to hear God speak through the psalm’s own distinctive structure and world of words. Only through reading the psalms, slowly and reflectively, will we find ourselves in these ancient Hebrew Scriptures, which draw us into the presence of the sovereign God. As these texts become our prayers and heart-songs, we will come to know ourselves more fully and to know God more surely.
The psalms, in their rich diversity, confessional uncertainties, and perplexities, invite us to join Israel in worship. The psalms invite us also to draw on the rich experience of their use in the Christian church through the years. The utilization of the psalms in liturgical settings is not well-known in believers church congregations that generally eschew prescribed rituals. Psalms for specified liturgies are included in this commentary in order to help readers appreciate the diverse and highly meaningful use of psalms in private or public worship in the long history of the church.
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