Watch the above video by The Bible Project which gives an overview of the book of Psalms.
What are your first reactions to Psalm 91? Write down (or make explicit verbally) the questions or confusions or consolations which are raised for you to consider carefully.
Read through Psalm 91 and identify who is speaking to whom about whom at different points through the text. What are they saying about such a person? How does this model of communication inform our understanding and practice of encouragement, where we actively speak to strengthen faith in others?
How would you summarise the key message and intention of this psalm?
Describe what a person’s life would look like if their behaviour is shaped in the ways the psalmist desires.
If we recognise that the final form (version) of this psalm was preserved by Israel during or after their exile in Babylon, and all the disaster which this represented, how should we understand all the promises of protection given by the psalmist, and how would these have been heard by the people of Israel at that time?
Consider Jesus’ experience of testing in the wilderness; his responses to the Satan’s quoting of this Psalm; and how Jesus’ subsequent life-journey (his ‘exodus') is a model to all who follow him in his way.
Read 2 Timothy 4:14-18. How does Paul understand God’s protection, and how is it seen in his life?
Like all psalms, the poem of Psalm 91 was to be sung and heard as a song. This psalm in particular is like a sung sermon, intended to instruct and shape us. It does this with lots of metaphors. It makes us feel. Paul, in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16, says we are to sing to one another in just this way. How should this understanding shape our gathering together as church? What does obeying this instruction ask you to do?
There are many contemporary songs based upon Psalm 91. Listen to this version (below), where it seems self-consciously enacted as divine communication through a human voice.
What feelings does listening produce in you?
How does this experience of hearing Scripture affect you?
Reflect upon how encountering Scripture or a message from God in this way suggests how we might do this more generally, and consider of there is something you can commit to in this regard as you go forward from today.
Note anything in this psalm which is calling you to act, or which prompts questions you wish to investigate.
What understanding does verse 3 give us about the nature of true faith, and how is this understanding of faith demonstrated in the rest of the psalm? Compare this to what is said in the psalm about Moses and Phineas. Note especially what is said in verse 31 (you might compare this to Genesis 15:6; and James 2:14-26). What does this say to us about our faith?
Why does the psalmist include himself in this history of sin, e.g. saying ‘we’ in verse 6? What does this teach us about the shared impact of and responsibility for wrongdoing, even over many generations?
Look through the psalm for verses which speak of people forgetting, rebelling, or failing to change. Can you think of examples in your life where you have seen the same behaviours, and what reflections can you draw from why you did this at those times?
Two commentators on the psalms help us to respond to Psalm 106 as God’s word to us in Scripture. J.L. Mays writes, ‘The stories of the ancestors are also about contemporary Israel.’ John Goldingay adds, ‘The story of Israel is also the story of the church’. What message do you hear from Psalm 106 to the church in Australia today?
Imagine you are acting as a ‘spiritual director’ for a fellow-Christian. What method is the psalmist using to bring change and growth to those in dialogue with his psalm, as they hear it and then sing it themselves? (Make sure you look at the whole psalm, and its various sections and movements). What does this teach you about your task?
Grow in your appreciation of issues facing Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Australians today by watching this short video, noting your feelings, thoughts, questions, and the prompts to action you experience:
The Journey of Health and Wellbeing
Here are two prayers to use. Pray them slowly. Pray each several times. Let them lead you into your own words of prayer.
We who have come from every land give thanks for our country Australia.
This earth that feeds us,
The shores that bind us,
The skies that envelop our freedom,
We give our thanks and praise.
Let us look back with courage;
See the truth and speak it.
Let us look around with compassion;
See the cost and share it.
Let us look forward with hope;
See what can be and create it.
Reconciliation Prayer (TEAR Australia)
Almighty and loving God, you who created all people in your image,
Lead us to seek your compassion as we listen to the stories of our past.
You gave your only Son, Jesus, who died and rose again so that sins will be forgiven.
We place before you the pain and anguish of dispossession of land, language, lore, culture and family kinship that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have experienced.
We live in faith that all people will rise from the depths of despair and hopelessness. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families have endured the pain and loss of loved ones, through the separation of children from their families.
We are sorry and ask Your forgiveness.
Touch the hearts of the broken, homeless and inflicted and heal their spirits.
In your mercy and compassion walk with us as we continue our journey of healing to create a future that is just and equitable.
Lord, you are our hope.
National and Torres Strait Islander Ecumenical Commission
What do you notice about the way Israel’s history is framed when you read Psalms 105 and 106 alongside each other?
Are there experiences you have had where at the time what was happening was unclear, and only afterwards you were able to see where God was at work? E.g. in God's
promise-keeping (v7-11, 44)
protection from evil (v12-15)
preparing you for the future (v16-22)
rescuing you (v23-38, 43)
provision in a place of barrenness (v39-42)
What is the psalmist saying, and what are they not saying (this is an important distinction to make), in attributing everything in this psalm to God?
What does v45 tell us (which is what this whole psalm leads to) about God’s purpose in promising, protecting, preparing, rescuing, and providing? What does this mean for the way we are being led by this psalmist to respond?
Psalms 105 and 106 frame similiar stretches of Israel's history using different events to make distinct points. Both frame the events in different ways as appropriate responses to God. What the Psalmist does in Psalm 105 is a helpful reframing to use when navigating and processing difficult situations ourselves. Here is how you might do what the psalmist was doing.
Think about a specific situation or problem that you are facing now, and write down:
Your thoughts about that situation,
Your feelings connected with the situation,
Three (or more) alternative ways to view the situation and the feelings you are experiencing, based on who you know God to be,
A prayer that outlines the process you went through, and the changes you experience as you reframe this event.
Speak or sing what you have written as a song of praise to God.
What situation is verse 3 picturing? What feelings are invoked? What contemporary examples come to mind?
What is being affirmed in verses 1 & 2? How does this connect with what is being observed as pictured in verse 3 of the rivers rising up destructively? What understanding does this give of how God exercises his sovereignty in the world, particularly in respect to natural disasters?
What response is being invited by verse 4? Can you think of examples in your life at the moment where this situation is being experienced, and where faith is being tested?
Why does the psalmist make the jump from speaking of God’s sovereignty in the world in verses 1-4 to speaking of God’s decrees and qualities of being in verse 5? What implications are being drawn for our behaviour?
How does the belief expressed in verse 1 that the ‘world’ (here meaning the life of humanity) will be preserved by God, connect to the observed threat of destruction posed by nature? What does this mean and not mean for responsible human behaviour in nature, especially in our environmentalism and response to climate change?
EXTRAS for personal study and activity:
Digging deeper and wider:
Examine the parallel understanding of God taming creation, especially the waters, in Genesis 1:6-10, 9:11; Psalm 24:1-2; Job 38:8-11; and Mark 4:39 where Jesus tells the waves ‘be muzzled’. Compare this with what is said about how God controls the nations in Job 12:23; Psalm 47:7-9; and Acts 17:26. Consider the actions of the nations over the centuries, where they have come and gone, swelled or receded.
What common theological understanding emerges about God’s sovereign rule in nature and history from these passages, and how does that shape your faith in him in the circumstances of life today?
Preparing for action:
Eugene Peterson, in Where Your Treasure Is, writes on Psalm 93:5:
‘Thy decrees are very sure. The waves are subdued by decrees. The violence of the seas is not countered by violence from the skies. “Force is no attribute of God,” said Ignatius of Antioch. This is an amazing, but thoroughly biblical, assertion. The means by which God’s rule is put into effect is word not muscle, decrees not armies, creative speech not coercive act. These decrees, which can be so casually ignored and so twisted, continue to be spoken age after age by prophet and priest, king and wise man, apostle and disciple. By means of the decrees the rule is maintained… Prayer is not a patient wait for the rule to come into effect at the end of history, it is a patient participation in the present rule.’
John Goldingay in his commentary adds wisely:
‘Humanity may therefore live in confidence about the world’s stability (though this might carry no implication that humanity itself could not fatally undermine this).’
What does this suggest to you about how we experience and can share in God’s rule in the world? What actions does this involve on our part?
Listen and reflect:
A great book to read is Creation Untamed: the bible, God, and natural disasters by Terence E. Fretheim. Watch this teaser to some of his thought drawn from an earlier article, but I would recommend the book!
This is the only psalm written for the Sabbath day. So as you read the psalm, read it with Sabbath in mind: Psalm 92
What is your current engagement with a weekly Sabbath / day of rest from work?
What motivates you to practice Sabbath, or keeps you from practising Sabbath?
What enables the psalmist to practice Sabbath, despite the worries (e.g. his enemies) and pressures (e.g. the wicked flourishing) that they face?
Reflect together on this quote by Jewish Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (from his book The Sabbath):
"When we celebrate the Sabbath we adore something precisely we do not see... The Sabbath is the presence of God in the world, open to the soul of man."
In what ways can Sabbath open us up to the presence of God?
v12-14 links imagery of fertility (palm) and strength (cedar) with the Jewish temple (itself a depiction of Eden where God dwells with humanity). In light of this, the Jewish Talmud (a collection of writings that unpack the Jewish Law) says of this psalm:
"It is a psalm and a song for the era to come, for the day that will be entirely Sabbath, for everlasting life."
How can we understand Sabbaths in our time as a foretaste of the Sabbath to come?
In reflection on this psalm and your discussion as a group, what is the importance and priority for Sabbath for you? Is this different to your current practice?
Extras for Personal Study / Reflection:
Watch the video above on Sabbath which highlights the link between Sabbath and the number seven (noticing that this psalm uses the name of God "LORD" seven times, with v8 at its centre).
Read this blog post titled: Keeping the Sabbath: Is it Still Relevant to Christians Today?