The Hymns and Prayers of Israel

We humans live in space and time, and we create space and time for what is important to us. The God of Abraham did this for Israel through the introduction of times of worship in holy spaces.

Through weekly, monthly, and annual festivals, God provided Israel with a rhythm of worship and prayer that included times of celebration and joy as well as times of lament and repentance. Out of the chaos of their lives, God ordered time and space through various rituals in order to remind Israel who God was, celebrate their life with God, hear the story of God again, and bring the stuff of real life into God’s presence.

The Psalms, the hymnbook and prayerbook of Israel, express the fullness of their life with God from its joys to its hurts. And for centuries Israel prayed and sang these words in the presence of God, and Jesus the Messiah, along with the church that followed him, also prayed and sang these life-giving and sometimes desperate words.

The Psalms mirror the soul and give expression to intense feelings of lament and praise. They express confidence in God and our desire to worship the Creator as well as our commitment to follow God’s Torah. They express our deepest moments of despair and doubt. They confess sin, and they also question God’s faithfulness in the midst of injustice and pain.

The Psalms are a collection of diverse hymns, songs, and prayers that reflect the continuum of life. They move from confidence to lament to praise. They retell the history of God’s people, pray for God’s deliverance, and offer thanks for God’s redemptive acts. These prayers have sustained the people of God through despair and triumph, through good times and bad.

Lament and praise are constants throughout the Psalms.  Almost half of the Psalms are laments. They lament injustice, death, sickness, sin, and oppression. They ask God gut-wrenching questions like, “Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” Or, “How long will you hide your face from me? Will you forget me forever?” Or, “Why, O Lord, do you reject me?”

The suffering is real, and so are the questions. The laments are honest prayers about real life, and they reflect the deep sorrow that life often brings. We are invited to pray these laments with Israel. Jesus prayed them, even on the cross. God invites us to speak our hearts, and God promises to hear, just as God heard Jesus and answered his prayer through deliverance.

Praise is the other half of Israel’s hymnbook. Sometimes this praise expresses quiet confidence like, “The Lord is my shepherd” or “God is our refuge and strength, we will not be afraid.”  At other times this praise shouts with joy and thanksgiving. “I love the Lord,” the Psalmist shouted, “because God has heard my voice.” Or, “Enter God’s courts with thanksgiving!”

The constant throughout all the Psalms, even in the Psalms of lament, is the steadfast love of God and the hope that God will save. This is the confession of Israel. We bring our lives before God in worship, and God is faithful. God will hear, and God will deliver.

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