This Sunday (June 11, 2023) marks the beginning of Providence’s journey through the Book of Psalms. The book is a collection of 150 songs from perhaps 1,000 years of Israel’s history, and it ranges from joyful meditations on God’s faithfulness and the blessedness of those who are faithful to him, to laments of loss, grief, and anger. The whole range of human emotion is represented in the Psalms, and as a collection, they invite us not only into a historical witness to the life of Israel’s worship in millennia past, but also join in that worship with our whole being – mind, body, emotions.
Often at Providence, we have a song or two that serve as a recurring theme during a teaching series. Since we usually teach through whole books of the Bible, and we often take months or years to do so, it can help give us an anchor point when we return to a song that reminds us what the big idea of a book of the Bible is.
As I sat down to think about what song might serve this role during the Psalms series, I had a little bit of a crazy idea: what if we had one song that covered the whole journey of the Book of Psalms from beginning to end. That initially seemed a little unrealistic – after all, this is the third longest book in the Bible, and there are 150 individual Psalms. But a little time looking at the structure of this incredible collection revealed a way to it. We could sing the whole thing, at least in a representative way, in one song.
What I came up with was Then Sings My Soul (The Psalms). The title is shared with our teaching series, and it comes from a line of a classic hymn – How Great Thou Art. In the chorus of this song, I borrowed and built upon the melody from this original hymn. If you happen to be a church kid from way back, you’ll probably get that nostalgic feeling of familiarity.
Like its namesake, Then Sings My Soul is a song of response. Meditating on the works of God, how can we help bursting in to praise that envelops our whole being? How does the song manage to cover the whole book of Psalms though?
The Psalms were written, edited, and collected over time, and in its final form the collection is divided into five books. Flip through your Bible, and you’ll probably find the beginning of each book is marked for you – Book 1 (Psalms 1-41); Book 2 (Psalms 42-72); Book 3 (Psalms 78-89); Book 4 (Psalms 90-106); and book 5 (Psalms 107-150). I started by reading the first and last Psalm in each book, and I was surprised by what I found!
Each book of the Psalms starts and ends with similar ideas – thematic and emotional echoes that create a rhythm across the whole. Here’s a short theme statement for each of these bookends – the first and last Psalm of each of the five books.
Book 1: (1-41)
Psalm 1: Delight in the law of Yahweh and become like a flourishing tree by the water.
Psalm 41: I know Yahweh delights in me because he preserves me.
Book 2: (42-72)
Psalm 42: God is the water of salvation when my thirsty soul despairs.
Psalm 72: God, preserve your King and glorify Your name among the peoples of the earth. (The prayers of David, son of Jesse, are completed.)
Book 3: (73-89)
Psalm 73: It doesn’t always look like the righteous flourish – but they will.
Psalm 89: It doesn’t look good, but Yahweh will be faithful to his covenant with his anointed King, David.
Book 4: (90-106)
Psalm 90: Satisfy your servants, O Yahweh (a prayer of Moses)
Psalm 106: Israel’s history shows: we are not faithful, but Yahweh is faithful to his covenant.
Book 5: (107-150)
Psalm 107: Yahweh satisfies the hungry and the thirsty with his steadfast love.
Psalm 150: Let everything that has breath praise Yahweh.
Notice the echos: in the first Psalm of each book, the main idea is about flourishing – how to grow and be blessed; how to flourish even in despair; keeping hope when it looks like the righteous don’t flourish and the wicked are; a prayer to be satisfied in God; a promise that God will indeed satisfy the hungry and the thirsty. Water, life, satisfaction, strong and healthy trees – these are the images.
In the last Psalm of each book, it’s about God’s faithfulness to his covenant King and people. When I feel his presence, he is faithful; he will be faithful to bring justice through his chosen King; he is faithful even when it doesn’t look good; he is faithful even though we are not; let every living thing praise him.
So this is how the song works: there are five verses, one for each book of the Psalms. In each verse, the lyrics sum up the bookends, and the chorus reminds us what the Book of Psalms is trying to do: to get our soul to sing. This is not a book to read through once, check the box, and say “I did it.” This is a book to read over and over, considering it anew each time. Letting each Psalm lay bare the joys, fears, victories, defeats, sins, anger, hope, frustration, and trust that define life as a human. Reflecting on how these are all answered and given meaning for every follower of Jesus in the Kingdom of God. This is what Psalm 1 means by “meditating on his law day and night.” Read it, pray it, sing it, ponder it. Do it again. And again. All your life.
This is the inspired songbook of the scriptures. And there’s only one fitting response: SING!