On Fear and Wisdom

Today’s reading is Psalm 34.

I understand why we do it, but I sometimes wonder if the modern attempt to classify psalms doesn’t miss the boat. “This psalm is a communal lament.” “That psalm is an individual praise.” “This other psalm is a Messianic psalm.” “That one is a wisdom psalm.” It is amazing to me the number of times the commentators have to say, “This psalm is hard to classify. It has some qualities of this kind of psalm, but also some qualities of that kind of psalm.” Honestly, it’s almost like they have forgotten that the Psalms didn’t come with a guide book explaining the various kinds of psalms and all their characteristics. From beginning to end all those systems of classifications are man made. They don’t tell us so much about the psalm we are studying as they tell us about our modern penchant to need to organize, classify, systematize, and order. If we are not careful, we may end up reading the psalms through our modern eyes and missing what the original authors intended.

This is another one of those psalms we classifiers struggle with. Is it a praise psalm or is it a wisdom psalm? David praises God, he calls all of his readers to praise God with him. It’s a praise psalm, right? But wait, based on the praise he teaches his audience how to live. It’s a wisdom psalm, right? Maybe it’s both. Or maybe, we just have to realize God didn’t label these psalms, and we don’t have to either.

I’ll tell you what we can see in this psalm no matter what we label it. David says, “Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord” (vs. 11, ESV). In our modern day, we struggle with being taught to fear the Lord. However, ancient wisdom said we should fear the Lord, and we need to be taught how. Apparently, despite our modern conceptions of fear, it isn’t a natural reaction to the power of God, it is a learned response to the truth of God. Proverbs 15:33 says the fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom. Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7, and Proverbs 9:10 all claim the fear of the Lord is the beginning of the wisdom.

What does fearing the Lord look like? I can tell you this: it doesn’t look like cowering in your closet, hoping the Lord will ignore you or forget you are hiding there. It looks like keeping your tongue from evil and deceit, turning away from evil, doing good, seeking peace and pursuing it. For more on this, you might want to read the New Testament letter from James.

Tomorrow’s reading is Psalm 34.

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