In Interpreting the Psalms: Issues and Approaches, I found a couple of new observations that shed some light on how the Psalms use the history of the Israelites to motivate them to be faithful to Yahweh.
In a chapter entitled “The Ethics of the Psalms”, Gordon Wenham explores how the “the law in general (see Pss. 1; 19; 119) and individual laws in particular are so important in the Psalter” (p. 179). However, he remarks, “it is surprising how rarely the law-giving at Sinai is mentioned. In fact, in the long psalms reciting Israel’s history it is usually omitted” (p. 179). He indicates that Sinai is only mentioned in Ps. 68:8, 17.
Wenham teaches, “though the law-giving may not be mentioned at the most appropriate place in the historical sequence, it clearly is presupposed” (p. 179). For example, he shows that Psalm 105 ends with a focus on law: “And he gave them the lands of the nations, and they took possession of the fruit of the peoples’ toil, that they might keep his statues and observe his laws” (vv. 44-45) (ESV, italics mine).
To me, the implication is that the God of the past is the God of the present. This Psalm reminds the readers that God gave their ancestors the land He promised to give them in His covenant with the expectation that they would obey His laws. They have inherited these blessings, and need to keep God’s statutes as well.
Later, Wenham shares: “These reviews of Israel’s past are thus designed to produce a sense of gratitude and therefore willingness to observe the law (Ps. 105), or to highlight Israel’s treachery in failing to keep it (Ps. 78)” (p. 180). This the first time I have read where a commentator has pointed out that the goal of reciting God’s faithful acts of deliverance throughout Israel’s history in the Psalms was to produce in God’s people gratitude or regret, or both, which should lead to a greater commitment to obey. This is a major point worth reflecting on.
Lastly, Wenham brings up another history psalm, one that I had listed in my first post. In verse 10 of Ps. 81, the writer directly quotes the beginning of the Ten Commandments found in Ex. 20:2, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” I did not realize that it was a direct quote when I read it initially. I also did not recall that this prologue to the Decalogue starts with a reminder of the exodus, which is significant. Before giving the Israelites these basic requirements that they need to do for Him, God reminds them of what He had already done for them. Right in the midst of law, we see evidence of God’s grace.
As I reflect on what has been shared above, I am reminded that God has always been the one to act on my behalf by His grace. I have not been given a literal promised land. However, He has delivered me from bondage through the cross and has brought me into an abundant life in Christ. This fills me with gratitude for all He has done, which motivates me to respond in faithful obedience by the power of His Spirit.