By Justin Borger with assistance from Generous Giving staff
The Psalms teach us that God is the Creator and King of all the earth. As such, he is the absolute owner of everything (24; 50). Composed in response to hundreds of urgent situations, the Psalms teach us that God is our Refuge and Rock, our only source of safety and security (16; 46). We learn of God’s special concern for the poor and the powerless and his love of generosity and justice (72; 112). Finally, as a book of praise and poetry, the Psalms teach us that God alone is to be longed for as our ultimate source of satisfaction (42). Accordingly, we are called to praise the Lord with all we have—including our material possessions (150).
Our study of Psalms consists of two parts. In the first section, readers will find our stewardship study notes. These notes analyze, in a passage-by-passage fashion, the implications of the book’s teaching for Christian generosity and related issues. The second section consists of short essays describing the book’s major stewardship themes. These notes and essays are not intended to be comprehensive explanations of the authors’ goals in writing this book, nor do they exhaust the book’s possible applications in matters related to stewardship and generosity.
While Generous Giving’s Bible study material will aid anyone who is searching the Scriptures for guidance, they may prove especially useful as sermon helps for pastors and as a resource for teachers, advisors and lay leaders interested in obeying and teaching the message of Scripture in matters of generosity and stewardship. We readily acknowledge our fallibility in writing these study notes, for they are the work of humans, not God. Please search the Scriptures (Acts 17:11) as you read this material critically, carefully and prayerfully. May God bless you in your studies.
Passage-by-Passage Study NotesClick here for notes on Psalms 1-72.
Psalm 82 — Defend the Weak: God presides over the powers of this world. The “gods” are on trial for the injustice they have caused. God condemns them for neglecting the hallmarks of godly government—justice and mercy (see key passage Psalm 72; Proverbs 31:3-5). Commentator Artur Weiser notes that the Old Testament does not conceive of the righteousness that God requires as something “formal and legal.” Rather, “righteousness consists in ‘doing justice’ to the misery of the poor, the afflicted and the forlorn by helping them effectively” (Artur Weiser, The Psalms, 559). See James 1:26-27. See Psalms theme essay Worship with Possessions.
Psalm 84 (Key Passage) — Hearts Set on Pilgrimage: Like Psalm 42, this psalm speaks of the longing which God has placed inside every heart. Far from being appeased with less satisfying foods, the psalmist refuses to be filled with anything other than God (Psalm 119:19-20, 57). Yet in his single-minded devotion, the pilgrim recognizes that there can be joy in the journey. We see the tension between “being in the world but not of it” most clearly in verses 5-7. The “blessed” are those whose “strength is in you” (Psalm 84:5a). They have not settled to accumulate power and possessions. Instead, they have “set their hearts on pilgrimage” (Psalm 84:5b). They have “packed light” not because their desire is weak but because it is so strong and concentrated that everything else is an intolerable distraction. Less is more because “stuff” gets in the way on a journey. Still, they find pleasure in their pilgrimage. Verses 6-7 makes this clear, and the life-giving imagery in these verses reminds us of our role in this world (Genesis 12:2-3). Even as we pass through this world to the “new heavens and new earth,” we are called to cultivate kindness and generosity at each turn. As in the valley of the shadow of death in Psalm 23, the power of Christianity is seen in the life that comes out of death. For us today, this means embracing the cross as we travel (Hebrews 11:16, 24-26; Colossians 1:24). We gain life by giving our lives away because we have been promised a life that is better than that which we can grasp for a fleeting moment in this present world (Psalm 84:11). See Hebrews theme essay Throw Off What Hinders. See Psalms theme essay Satisfaction.
Psalm 106:13-15 — The psalmist now recounts how the Israelites forgot God in the wilderness—right after he delivered them from slavery in Egypt—and thus were punished with a plague. The psalmist describes their craving for food as “wanton” (ESV), or unjustifiably extravagant. They were impatient for God’s promises and did not want to wait on his timing. This attitude overlaps with the attitude of the greedy: They want to have their riches right away and give no thought to God’s ways or timing. God sent the Israelites manna, but he also sent them a plague to punish them for their sin. See Psalms theme essay Satisfaction.
Psalm 106:16-18 — This passage describes how Dathan and Abiram sinned against God by rising up against Moses while the Israelites were still in the wilderness. God killed them for their sins by opening up the ground beneath them so that they were swallowed up in the earth (Numbers 16). Their actions reflect unrepentant and faithless hearts and show that such hearts may be punished severely, even with death. See Exodus theme essay Plagues of an Unyielding Heart.
Psalm 106:19-23 — Here the psalmist recounts the Israelites’ sin of idolatry in the wilderness. When Moses had been gone a very long time receiving the law from God on Mount Sinai, the Israelites lost their faith and sought a new god. Since God’s promises had not yet come to fruition, they decided to put their trust in something that was immediate, something that they could see and could touch. And so they made a golden calf to worship as their god, even calling it the god who delivered them from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 32; c.f. Hebrews 11:1). The Israelites’ sin of idolatry here is actually a lot like the sin of greed. Money and riches tempt us with a similar comfort and hope. We are tempted to think that money in the bank is somehow more secure than God’s promises (c.f. Luke 12:13-21). The psalmist points out the absurdity of their action when he writes, “They exchanged their Glory for the image of a bull, which eats grass” (Psalm 106:20; c.f. Romans 1:21-23). Trusting in riches rather than God is equally foolish, for riches, too, are fleeting and give no true security and comfort (Proverbs 23:4-5; Ecclesiastes 5:10-15). God, on the other hand, owns all things (Psalm 24:1) and is able to bless richly those who seek him (Romans 8:32-33; 1 Timothy 6:17c). Loving and trusting him for all things and in all things is the wisest thing we can do. God would have destroyed the Israelites entirely for their idolatry had Moses not intervened on their behalf (Psalm 106:23). See Deuteronomy theme essay Prosperity Idols, Daniel theme essay Resisting Idolatry and Colossians theme essay Idolatry Is Worthless.
Psalm 106:24-27 — In the wilderness the Israelites did not trust God’s promises but grumbled against him instead. God punished them for their mistrust by barring them from entering the promised land until the next generation. It is tempting to question God’s promises and to seek comfort in worldly things when life is hard, but we must remember that God’s perfect timing is not our timing, and in all things we must give him the praise and obedience that he deserves. Nothing should come between our love for God and trust in him, but often our hearts are polluted by the sins of idolatry and greed. The apostle Paul said that greed is idolatry (Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5), and we would do well to keep in mind how God punished Israel for their idolatry. When we give ourselves over to greed, we commit a sin as weighty as Israel’s idolatry—bowing down before another god—and it deserves God’s wrath and just punishment. See Psalms theme essay Satisfaction, Deuteronomy theme essay Prosperity Idols, Daniel theme essay Resisting Idolatry and Colossians theme essay Idolatry Is Worthless.
Psalm 106:28-31 — The Israelites continued their fall into sin by worshipping and serving the false god Baal. Of course, this idol-worship angered the Lord, so he justly punished them with a plague. When the priest Phinehas intervened on Israel’s behalf, God relented, but not before 24,000 people had died of the plague (Numbers 25:9). This passage adds great weight to the apostle Paul’s charge that greed is idolatry (Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5), for we see here the gravity of the sin reflected in the extent of its punishment. See Ezekiel theme essay God’s Jealousy.
Psalm 106:32-33 — The Israelites again grumbled against the Lord and doubted his provision. God told Moses to speak to the rock to bring forth water for the thirsty people, but when the time came for Moses to carry out this task, he was so angry at the people that he struck the rock with his staff instead of speaking to it. In doing this, he sinned against God by disobeying his clear instructions and doubting his provision. As a result, God would not let him lead the Israelites into the promised land (Numbers 20). Here we see further illustration of Israel’s unfaithfulness and the terrible consequences of not trusting God.
Psalm 106:47-48 — Here the psalmist concludes in the same place where he began the psalm. He prays to God for deliverance and salvation so that Israel may worship him and give him praise (Psalm 106:47), and he then gives praise to God (106:48).The psalmist asks for deliverance so that Israel may praise God, yet then he praises God—before the deliverance has taken place—because he knows that God is good and always deserving of our praise. Just as the psalmist here, the apostle Paul learned to give thanks to God and to be content no matter what his circumstances (Philippians 4:10-13). See Psalms theme essay Satisfaction.
Psalm 107:4-9 — In the first episode the psalmist tells of wanderers in the desert wastelands who are hungry and thirsty. Their lives are said to be ebbing away (Psalm 107:5). In their distress they cry to the Lord, and he hears them—“for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things” (Psalm 107:9). Themes of divine protection and provision for the poor and powerless are common in the Psalms (e.g. Psalm 68:5-10). Commentators point out that these episodes of rescue and reversal are not merely meant to impart figurative knowledge about Israel’s struggles in history but also are given for us to identify with at a personal level. They teach us to abandon self-reliance and cry out to God when we are in situations of need and distress. See Psalms theme essay Safety and Security.
Psalm 107:10-16 — In the second scene the psalmist speaks of prisoners who are released from their bonds.
Psalm 107:17-22 — The third episode speaks of fools who make themselves sick; so much so, that they even loath food. Given the movement and thrust of the psalm, it is not unlikely that their sickness is due to overindulgence of some kind. Many who are given to excess loath the things they once craved. “He who is full loathes honey, but to the hungry even what is bitter tastes sweet” (Proverbs 27:7). God’s mercy extends to who don’t deserve it, and because of this our mercy also must be given in the same direction. Psalm 107 shows us that God is able to save not only people who lack food (Psalm 107:5) but those who loath it as well (Psalm 107:18). Only he can satisfy.
Psalm 107:23-32 — The fourth episode speaks of people who are shaken and storm-tossed whom God saves. See Psalms theme essay Safety and Security.
Psalm 107:33-43 — The final section speaks of a radical reversal. Psalm 107:41-42 tell us that the wealthy are afflicted and the needy are lifted up. This shift is reminiscent of the way God’s wisdom is explained in 1 Corinthians 1:28-29, where Paul says that God “chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” God expresses special concern for those who are poor and powerless (Luke 1:53). But he opposes the proud (Luke 1:51). And so, the last verse in Psalm 107 invites the wise to “heed these things and consider the great love of the LORD.” Of course, to “heed” entails more than just understanding. We must act. To understand this radical reversal means to participate in it ourselves. Especially when we encounter needs, those of us who are wealthy must humble ourselves and give just as Jesus humbled himself and gave to us (Philippians 2:5-11; 11 John 3:16-18). See also Luke 6:20-26. See Psalms theme essay Prayers of the Poor.
Psalm 109 (Key Passage) — God Stands with the Needy: Much could be said about this difficult psalm. Rather than attempting to explain any of the complicated questions it raises, we will content ourselves with the most obvious observation. As the last verse declares, this psalm is an emphatic reminder that God “stands at the right hand of the needy one, to save his life from those who condemn him” (Psalm 109:31). Whatever difficulties this psalm may raise, God’s special concern for the poor and oppressed is made as abundantly clear here as it is elsewhere (c.f. Psalms 9:12; 10:18; 12:5; 22:24; 32:21-22; 34:18; 76:9; 109:31; 140:12). Shocking and severe as this psalm is, it remains consistent with God’s longstanding insistence that he will hear the prayers of the powerless and protect the poor and oppressed. We have been warned (Exodus 22:22-24; Proverbs 22:22-23). Turning aside from God’s commands will ultimately bring us to ruin—this psalm seems shocking, but God will quite simply destroy us if we oppress others, or even if we ignore those in need (Matthew 25) and choose to focus solely on ourselves (Luke 12, 16:19-31). See Psalms theme essay Prayers of the Poor.
Psalm 112 (Key Passage) — Generosity and Righteousness: This wisdom psalm describes how the fear of the Lord is worked out in the life of the righteous. It focuses on practical application of God’s law. Accordingly, Psalm 112 reveals generosity to be the epitome of biblical righteousness (c.f. Psalm 37:21; James 1:27; 1 John 3:16-18). This claim is strengthened not only by the way Psalm 112 seems to reduce God’s commands (Psalm 112:1) to works of mercy, justice and generosity (Psalm 112:4-5, 9) but also by Psalm 112’s relation to the previous psalm, 111. Commentator James Luther Mays points out that the relationship between these two psalms is “obvious and close ... Words, phrases, and even an entire clause from Psalm 111 are repeated in Psalm 112. ‘His righteousness endures forever’ from Psalm 111:3 occurs twice in Psalm 112 (Psalm 112:3, 9), in Psalm 111 said about the LORD and in Psalm 112 about the one who fears the LORD, a major clue to what is going on in the repetitions” (James Mays, Psalms, 359). See Psalms theme essays Safety and Security and Satisfaction.
Psalm 112:1 — This verse clearly indicates that this is a wisdom psalm. The subject is the blessedness of the man “who fears the LORD” and obeys his word. Accordingly, the rest of the psalm unpacks these two ideas: (1) what it means to be blessed and (2) what it means to obey.
Psalm 112:4 — This verse reveals the fact that graciousness and compassion are not merely obligations. They are beneficial, for even in adversity or “darkness” compassion brings comfort. Because God is with the righteous in their own adversities (Psalm 23:4), the righteous are able to bring relief to those in distress (2 Corinthians 8:1-5; Isaiah 58:6-12). See Psalms theme essay Safety and Security.
Psalm 112:5-6 — Here we learn about the wisdom of generosity. We often think of generosity as an obligation, but here it is viewed as an opportunity. And while this may seem paradoxical to those of us who believe a tight fist rather than an open hand will lead to gain, the Bible goes to considerable lengths to show this to be a lie: “A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed” (Proverbs 11:25; cf. 11:24-27). “Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again ...” (Ecclesiastes 11:1). “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted...” (Luke 12:33). “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously ...” (2 Corinthians 9:6). “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:18-19). See Psalms theme essay Satisfaction.
Psalm 112:7-8 — These verses tell us that the generous man won’t be afraid. “His heart is secure, he will have no fear” (Psalm 112:8). While this may also seem paradoxical, Jesus taught in the gospels that we should be generous when we are tempted by fear (Luke 12:32-33ff). This leads us to the next verse. See Psalms theme essay Safety and Security.
Psalm 113 (Key Passage) — Mighty and Merciful: This psalm centers on a comparison between God’s greatness and God’s grace. Verses 1-5 focus exclusively on the greatness of God, who is “exalted over the nations” (Psalm 113:4). However the psalm shifts gears in verse 6, when God stoops down and “raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap ...” (Psalm 113:7ff). God’s might is seen in his mercy! The height of his power is seen in coming low. Similarly, Romans 12:16 tells us to associate with the lowly. The idea is patterned after the example of Jesus Christ. Jesus associated with the lowly by becoming human and interacting with sinners. We are called to do the same—not merely for the sake of remaining low or “wallowing in the mud” but for the purpose of raising others up and bettering their situation (2 Corinthians 8:9). See Psalms theme essay Worship with Possessions.
Psalm 115 (Key Passage) — Idolatry: This psalm compares the inactivity of idols and the living God who made heaven and earth (Psalm 115:15). Although we tend to laugh at the idea of bowing before physical statues, it is important for us to recognize how similar the fertility gods of Israel’s neighboring nations were to the materialistic gods of our own. Fertility gods played a key role in ancient agricultural economies. They were powerful symbols of prosperity and economic vitality. The people didn’t serve idols because they liked it. They served idols like Baal because they were symbols of economic security in a volatile world—a tempting source of safety for oneself and one’s family. Similarly, today we are tempted and distracted by the gods of affluence and materialism, seeking to acquire or hold onto vain and lifeless things that cannot make us safe or happy. The apostle Paul labels this idolatry in Ephesians 5:5 and Colossians 3:5, and it is no less deadly or absurd than the idols of the ancient world. American materialism may be different in form, but it is no different in substance. And our materialism is no different in result: Those who worship them “become like them” (Psalm 115:8), mute, paralyzed and blind, unable to appreciate or participate in God’s world because we are blinded and crippled by our own greed. See Psalms theme essay Satisfaction.
Psalm 119 (Key Passage) — Love for God’s Law: This extended psalm of praise for the perfection and beauty of God’s law should cause us to meditate upon that law. When asked, Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love God and love your neighbor has yourself, for “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:34-40). These two laws provide our rule of thumb for obedience with our money and possessions. First of all, we must love God with our whole being. This means having only one God and refusing to serve anything besides him, whether that is power, money or anything else. Second, the way in which we actually work our love for God out in our lives is by loving our neighbor as ourselves. The radical reversal from love for self to love for others which God’s law commands inevitably will lead to a radical shift in the way we use our money as well. Since our hearts always follow our money (Matthew 6:21), God’s law requires us to spend our money on others in the same way that we spend it on ourselves. Just as we want our needs to be met and show our self-love by carefully using our resources to secure the things that we need, God’s law teaches us to use our resources for others—especially the poor —by helping them to enjoy the same material blessings we want for ourselves (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:9).
Psalm 127 (Key Passage) — Unless the Lord Builds the House: This psalm makes it very clear that satisfaction and success belong to God alone. They are not just mechanically produced by human effort or elbow grease. With one of the Psalter’s most beautiful stanzas, the first verse of this psalm reminds us that we cannot gain (Psalm 127:1a) or retain (Psalm 127:1b) anything without God’s help—and verse 2 insists that “trying harder” won’t change this reality. The idea of “guarding” or “keeping what you’ve got” in verse 1b is very important for us to understand. It shows that even if we wear ourselves out for wealth and run ragged for riches, we can lose it in the end (cf. Proverbs 23:4-5). For “Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain” (Psalm 127:1b). Jesus put it this way, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36). Dependence is far more desirable than a spirit of independence. See Psalms theme essay Satisfaction.
Psalm 135 (Key Passage) — Historic Generosity: This is one of several psalms that praise God for his generosity in the past (e.g., Psalms 78, 103, 105, 136, 145). Such psalms remind us of how God has generously blessed his people, even in spite of their historic disobedience. For example, Psalm 78 recalls the Israelite’s grumblings in the wilderness: “They spoke against God, saying, “Can God spread a table in the desert? When he struck the rock, water gushed out, and streams flowed abundantly. But can he also give us food? ... He rained meat down on them like dust, flying birds like sand on the seashore ...” (Psalm 78:19-27). Psalms like these remind us of how patient and persistent God is in his generosity. They remind us that we can trust his generosity in the future because he has been so faithful in the past. Beyond this, however, these psalms instruct us in the way we ourselves should practice generosity. How can we refuse generosity to others when God has been so generous to us? Even when people are ungrateful and irresponsible, we must seek opportunities to help them in the same way that we have been helped. See Psalms theme essay Worship with Possessions.
Psalms 148-150 (Key Passage) — Let Everything Praise: “Psalms” means praise, and so it is seems fitting that the Psalter ends with the words, “Let everything that has breath praise the LORD” (Psalm 150:6). The thrust is on the idea of comprehensive—even cosmic— worship; everything must be put to the use of God’s praise. Certainly, this includes our possessions. The psalmist recognized that worship should be expressed in concrete material form when he said, “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering and come into his courts” (Psalm 96:8). Similarly, Jesus’ himself taught us that it is impossible to separate our worship from the things that we have (Matthew 6:21). Most people will acknowledge that it is impossible to worship without using our hearts; if this is true, Jesus’ words show us that is equally impossible to worship without using possessions. See Psalms theme essay Worship with Possessions.