Beyond the Lectionary Text: Reflections on Psalms 15-24

by Scott Hoezee

Comments and Observations

Scholars and pastors have long known that the Book of Psalms is not a random, haphazard collection of Israelite poetry. Rather, the book was thoughtfully edited and ordered. Psalm 1 lays out the most basic rudiments of the worldview to be reflected throughout the Psalter. Psalm 1 teaches that in this world there are two kinds of people: the righteous who root themselves deeply in God and so find stability and fruitfulness and the wicked who reject God and so lead lives that are tossed about by the wind, lacking substance or stability.

After Psalm 1 we find pious poetry that, taken together, manages to encompass every conceivable season of life. . “Our prayer life is our autobiography” C.S. Lewis once observed. As the prayer book for Jews and Christians along the ages, the Hebrew Psalter likewise includes psalms for all of life’s ups and downs, good times and bad times. And precisely because all of life can be brought to speech before the holy and compassionate God of Israel, the Psalter concludes on the rousing notes of praise found in the final psalms, capping it all off with Psalm 150’s riot of worship in which everything in creation is mustered to give God his due praise. A big part of the praise due to God as the Psalter concludes stems from the fact that all of life got included in the 149 poems preceding 150’s capper. Our God is a great God because nothing is excluded from his love and care.

The Book of Psalms has an overarching order and purpose. Thus it should be unsurprising to learn that within the Psalter there are likewise patterns among the poems that are likely the result of the editor’s intentionality so as to teach God’s people key truths about the nature of God, creation, and their relationship. Some have detected such a pattern in Psalms 15-24.

If we take the well-known Psalm 19 as the focal point of this clustering of poems, then we can see that flanking that 19th psalm are psalms with corresponding themes (this is a chiastic structure, to invoke the exegetical technical term, and to learn more about the scholarship behind all this, see the “For Further Reading” items at the end of this article). We begin with an initial approach to God (the key theme in Psalms 15 and 24) that then leads to ardent statements of trust in God (Psalms 16 and 23). But those who live before God and trust him know that trials come, too, and so we find a reflection of life’s crisis moments when we wonder if our trust was misplaced after all (Psalms 17 and 22) followed by a return to confidence in God’s providence and salvation (Psalms 18 and 20-21). At the climax of it all is the 19th psalm where believers who have been through a lot in life celebrate the gifts of Creation and Law, finally resting in God’s presence with a prayer that all of life will be acceptable in the sight of the “Rock and Redeemer” of all.

Cognizant of what this pattern among these ten psalms has to teach us, what follows is a series of brief reflections. These thoughts could become the rudiments from which sermons on these psalms could be built or occasions for a devotional/worshipful approach to the God whose goodness and mercy in all seasons of life are the substance of these prayers.

Psalms 15 & 24

Psalms 16 & 23

Psalms 17 & 22

Psalms 18 & 20 - 21

Psalm 19

For Further Reading