The Psalms and Their Meaning for Today

By Samuel Terrien | Go to book overview
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I
WORSHIP OF THE LORD OF NATURE

ONLY two poems of the Psalter bear the title "Psalm of Praise" ( Pss. 100 and 145), but the whole hymnal is called in Hebrew Tehillim, "Praises." Yet the psalmists on the whole prayed and begged much more than they praised. They lamented and confessed more often than they thanked. They queried and complained and even cursed more violently than they blessed. They argued and meditated more obstinately than they adored. Why is it then that such a title imposed itself on tradition for designating all the poems now included in the Psalter?

The answer lies in the fact that all the prayers of the hymnal, whatever may have been the tortures in the midst of which they were at first whispered or sobbed, came to be used in the services of public worship, first in the Temple of Jerusalem, then in the synagogues of the Dispersion. Thus they received the new meaning of a liturgical context which always represents the triumphant faith of the community.

The highest level of Biblical worship is reached when man, overcoming the obsession of his guilt or of his needs, places himself resolutely before his creator, judge, and saviour, and responds in lyrical contemplation to the grace of life that sustains him in his distress. The name "Praises" may not be comprehensive enough as a title for the Psalter, but its use reveals that the psalmists succeeded in transmuting all their moods and attitudes into an act of adoration. Even in their sorrow and despair they sensed that God sought them. And in reply to that divine search they turned their regrets into aspirations, and their failures into resolves. Even the

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