DISCOVERY for TEACHERS: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Psalms

Psalms

Book IV of The Psalms

source for questions

Psalms 90:1 through 106:48

key verse for memorization

“As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more. But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children.” (Psalm 103:15-17) 

background

Psalm 90 begins Book IV of the Psalms, which continues through Psalm 106 and includes both the royal praise psalms (95-100) and the historical psalms (104-106), as well as others. This cluster of seventeen psalms is the shortest of the five sections in the Book of Psalms. Collected about two to three hundred years after the first three books, it probably was added during the time when Israel returned to the land under Ezra (458 B.C.) and Nehemiah (445 B.C.). Only seven psalms in the group are titled, and all are anonymous except for Psalm 90 (ascribed to Moses) and Psalms 101 and 103, which were written by David. 

According to its superscription, Psalm 90 — the first psalm in this section — is a prayer of Moses. This makes it the oldest in the entire Book of Psalms, as none of the other psalms were written prior to the time of David. It is the only psalm ascribed to the great leader of Israel who delivered God’s chosen people from bondage in Egypt. Since the psalm is primarily a plea for God to restore the Israelites to favor, it likely was composed as the forty years of wandering in the wilderness came to a close. The psalm emphasizes the brevity of human life, and for that reason, it is often included in funeral programs.

Psalms 93 through 99 are considered by Bible scholars to be prophetic, foretelling some of the works of the coming Messiah. 

According to the Jewish tradition, this fourth book compares to Moses’ fourth book, the Book of Numbers. These psalms frequently highlight Israel’s failure and time spent in the wilderness, echoing the theme of the Book of Numbers. The Book of Numbers deals with Israel’s relationship to other nations, and Book IV also alludes to God’s Kingdom in relation to other nations. The most frequently used name for God in this section is Jehovah (Lord).

Suggested Responses to Questions
  1. In Psalm 90:12, we are admonished to “number our days.” What do you think this phrase means, and what will numbering our days accomplish?

    Your students will likely respond that to “number our days” means to pay attention to the fact that the days of our lives are passing by. The literal translation of this phrase is “Make us to know the number of our days.” Doing so will help us “apply our hearts unto wisdom” — we will be aware of the brevity of life and the importance of making our moments count. (James 4:14 is a verse in the New Testament that also alludes to the fleeting nature of life.)

    Ask your group what evidence will be seen in our lives when we have applied our hearts unto wisdom. They should conclude that our focus will be on God rather than temporal pleasure and gain; we will live with eternity’s values in view. We will understand the necessity of aligning our lives to Scripture, and will make choices that have positive spiritual impact on our lives and the lives of others.

     
  2. Psalm 91 gives many wonderful promises to those who dwell “in the secret place of the most High” (verse 1). Define this secret place in your own words. 

    Descriptions should bring out that the secret place refers to the intimacy of God’s presence. To “dwell” there indicates that we live in a spirit of constant surrender, worship, and communion with God, rather than turning to Him only in times of trouble or temptation.

    Ask your students to name the benefits described in the remainder of this psalm which are promised to those who dwell in the secret place. They should note that God promises:

    • To be a refuge

    • To deliver

    • To give freedom from fear

    • To provide victory over enemies

    • To protect from evil

    • To send angelic guardians

    • To answer prayers 

    • To bless those who dwell in Him with eternal salvation

    What a beautiful hope for those who have turned to God for their security and safety!

     
  3. Psalm 95:7-11 is a warning not to harden our hearts as the Children of Israel did in the wilderness. How would you describe a hard heart? How can we avoid this condition?

    A hard heart is resistant and unyielding toward God. It rejects truth, follows its own way, and repeatedly spurns the promptings of the Holy Spirit. It is the opposite of a heart that is receptive, pliable, and easily shaped by the Master’s hand.

    Discussion of the second question should focus on the importance of being sensitive to the promptings of God’s Spirit and quick to obey Him. Point out that a hard heart does not happen overnight; it is the result of a series of choices to disregard or reject God’s will and way. These lead to a gradual desensitizing of our spiritual receptivity. Hebrews 4:5-11 offers New Testament insight in how to avoid hardness of heart.

     
  4. There are many ways we can praise and honor God. What method of glorifying God is identified in Psalm 96:3? What are some other ways we can glorify Him?

    Psalm 96:3 specifies that we should “declare” His glory. In the original Hebrew, this word means “to enumerate” or “recount.” One of the best ways we can declare the greatness of God is to give our testimonies. The results of salvation are miraculous, positive, and something even sceptics cannot deny. In addition, our personal accounts of deliverance may give hope to captive souls. Relating other blessings in our lives such as healings, protection, provision, and guidance not only magnify the greatness of God, but can also encourage others to seek Him. 

    Class discussion of the second question will likely identify observable ways we can glorify God such as through corporate worship, singing, and instrumental praise. However, you should also encourage your students to consider methods of glorifying God that are less observable outwardly, but are also vital ways of giving honor to Him. These include careful obedience to Biblical teachings, self-denial, submission of our wills, arranging our priorities to honor Him, etc. 

     
  5. In Psalm 101, David listed several standards of behavior he wanted to follow in life. What two standards are mentioned in verse 2, and what do you think is the significance of the descriptive word he used in both of them?

    The two standards David established in verse 2 were that he would behave himself wisely in a perfect way, and would walk within his house with a perfect heart. As your students discuss the word perfect, you may wish to point out that in the original language, the word has a sense of both “complete” and “morally pure and without blemish.” It does not imply we live without human error or never have a moment of weakness, but rather that we keep God as the center of our lives. Clearly, David’s purpose was to please God by living blamelessly before Him, and that should be our desire and purpose as well.

    Ask your students why they think David specified that he would walk within his house in this manner. The point should be made that how we live at home really portrays what is in our hearts. Courtesy, thoughtfulness, and respect should not be limited to friends and associates outside the home; we want our interaction with family members to show the same care and consideration. 

    Ultimately, integrity and character are best measured by what we are and do when no one is observing. If we keep a careful watch on our behavior when we are alone or in the seclusion of our own homes, the same behavior will be manifest outside our homes where all the world can see. 

    This leads directly to the next question, which is taken from the same psalm
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  6. In this same psalm, why do you think David said in verse 3 that he would set no wicked thing before his eyes? How can we apply this principle in contemporary society where we are bombarded with images that do not align with Christian values?

    David wanted to please and honor God; this is established by verses 1-2, which provide the basis for the specific purpose stated in verse 3. He understood that keeping his mind pure was part of pleasing God, and that what he looked at would influence him, for the eyes are a gateway to the mind. We need to do more than simply avoid participating in evil behavior; we should also refrain from viewing anything that presents evil in a positive light or increases exposure to evil in ways that could be avoided. 

    Charles Spurgeon wrote of this verse, “I will neither delight in it [in evil], aim at it, or endure it. If I have wickedness brought before me by others I will turn away from it, I will not gaze upon it with pleasure. The psalmist is very sweeping in his resolve, he declines the least, the most reputable, the most customary form of evil — no wicked thing; not only shall it not dwell in his heart, but not even before his eyes, for what fascinates the eye is very apt to gain admission into the heart.”(1)

    As your group discusses the second question, they should recognize that we live in a day of relentless assault on Christian values, and this influence will eventually take its toll unless we carefully guard against it. It may be helpful to ask your group to identify specific challenges that face believers in our society with regard to the “gateway” of the eyes. They should recognize that television shows often include objectionable viewing content and off-color humor. Advertising promotes materialism and a self-centered mindset. Many movies contain immorality, immodesty, and/or extreme violence. Internet pornography is a growing industry and is easily accessed. 

    Obviously, we cannot entirely avoid seeing wickedness, as it is all around us. However, David was speaking of areas in which he had a choice. As Christians, we want to make viewing choices with caution and discernment, avoiding anything that would contaminate our thoughts or distract us from our primary purpose of serving and glorifying God

     
  7. Psalm 103 is a song of praise to God which has been universally acclaimed for its beauty of expression. While it is apparent that David had experienced God’s goodness personally, the benefits he cites are available to all who fear God and keep His commandments. What specific benefits are mentioned in verses 3-6?

    Verses 3-6 indicate that God forgives our iniquities, heals our diseases, redeems us from destruction, crowns us with lovingkindness and tender mercies, satisfies us with good things, and executes justice on behalf of the oppressed.


    Ask your class how many of these benefits we deserve. The answer is obvious: none! Not one of us has any right to claim these benefits based on our own merit; they are provisions we receive only because of God’s abundant goodness toward us. Since we are so undeserving, the only proper response is unceasing praise and grateful remembrance — the very activities that David calls us to in verses 1 and 2.

     
  8. Many of the Psalms record words of individuals who cried out to God for help in times of great distress or need. However, in Psalm 105:4, we are told to seek the “face” of the Lord. How does seeking God’s face differ from seeking His help in time of need? 

    When we seek God’s help, we are asking Him to provide a specific benefit or answer to prayer that we desire. There are times when it is right to petition God for the needs of ourselves and others — Jesus himself did so in His model prayer (see Matthew 6:11-13). However, a deeper seeking of the Lord occurs when we seek His face (the word “face” can also be translated “presence”). We are not looking for a particular provision or benefit, but are seeking a closer and more intimate relationship with the Giver himself. This is a place of beautiful communion and fellowship.

    As we seek the Lord, whether for a specific need or a closer walk, we should never become discouraged because we feel we have not yet attained. Nor should we think that we have all of God we need after He has answered our prayers. Verse 4 tells us to seek His face “evermore,” or continually. We can never draw too close to God, and continually seeking His face will keep our connection with Him in its proper place as life’s highest priority.
conclusion

As we come before God with praise for His many benefits, and spend time getting to know Him personally, our desire to live in a manner that pleases Him will grow.
 

 

1. Charles H. Spurgeon, “The Treasury of David,” <http://www.spurgeon.org/treasury/ps101.htm> 21 July 2015.