SURVEY OF THE BOOK OF PSALMS
The Book of Psalms is quoted in the New Testament more often than any other book of the Old Testament. Approximately 263 Old Testament passages are quoted in the New Testament. One-third of these quotations are found in the writings of Paul, and one-fifth of his quotations come from Psalms. Through God's divine inspiration & providence, the Book of Psalms grew into a final collection of psalms over a period of 1,500 years.
The 150 psalms that make up the book were songs, supplications, or devotional thoughts for the Israelite or Jew. Abundant references are made throughout them to praise, prayer, and petition to God. As you read the psalms, you are actually looking into the songs & prayers which were sung & prayed by the devout believer of the Old Testament Age.
The latest psalm was written almost 2,500 years ago, and the earliest psalm was probably written about 3,500 years ago. Times change, and people change; yet the psalms are still relevant.
Who wrote the psalms? According to the subtitles which stand before the psalms in the Hebrew Bible & in our translations, they were written by several authors: 73 are ascribed to David, 12 to Asaph, 10 to the sons of Korah or descendents of Korah (Psalms 42; 44-49; 84; 87; 88), 2 to Solomon (72; 127), 1 to Heman the Ezrahite (88), 1 to Ethan the Ezrahite (89), and 1 to Moses (90).
The book is an end-product of a process of writing, collecting, and arranging which covered five hundred to one thousand years. The writings range from Moses' to David's to Ezra's time, around 500 B.C.
The psalms were composed primarily for the Israelite nation.
Psalms is divided into 5 books. If your Bible does not indicate this, check the last few verses in each section. Each book closes with words similar to these: "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel . . . "
Book I (1-41)
Book II (42-72)
Book III (73-89)
Book IV (90-106)
Book V (107-150)
The Hebrew Bible entitles the entire collection of psalms "The Book of Praises" or simply "praises."
There are many interesting sections & types of psalms. There are acrostic psalms (such as 25, 34, 37, 111, 112, 145); in these psalms, the first word of the first line begins with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and each line begins with the next letter. Psalms 90 through 100 may have been the original hymnbook of the Jews. The Hallel (or "Praise") Psalms (113-118, 136) were used at the Passover feast (these would have been sung by Jesus and the disciples at the Last Supper). The "Degree" (or "Ascent") Psalms (120-134) were sung by pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. The book closes with the Hallelujah Psalms (146-150). "Hallelujah" means "praise Jehovah."
The psalms are often studied by categories: royal psalms (such as Psalm 2), historical psalms (66), creation psalms (8), psalms that glorify God's Word (119), penitential psalms (51), psalms of thanksgiving (103), etc. The Book of Psalms is written in poetry. The poetry of the Jews was not written with rhyme, but with rhythm. Their poetry used parallelism. Two of the more common types of parallelism were synonymous parallelism (where two lines say the same thing in different words; note Psalm 19:1-2) and antithetic parallelism (where one line expresses a thought and the next line gives the other side of the coin; note Psalm 1:6).
The Book of Psalms is a varied book. We move from the highest joy to the deepest grief, from incredibly short poems (117, with two verses) to extremely long ones (119, which has 176 verses). Almost every human emotion is expressed or touched on somewhere in the book.
The psalms were written for different purposes & in different settings. Some originated in northern Israel (for example, 90); some originated in southern Israel (48:2, 11, 12). Some celebrated military successes (18), and others called upon God for victory in war (20). Some were cries for help in individual or national crises (137). Some were written by individuals who were stricken with severe illnesses (38). Some were penitent cries for forgiveness (51).
A unique characteristic of the earlier part of the book is that laments outnumber praises. As you move toward the end, praise overtakes laments until, at the very end of the book, you have a virtually continuous anthem of praise. The major purpose for the psalms was that they might be used in the private & public worship of the devout Israelite.
Although the psalms were composed for different purposes, they all teach us one basic spiritual lesson: We are to trust in God regardless of our circumstances.
LESSONS FROM THE PSALMS
As you read the psalms, keep in mind that they were written in the Old Testament period. This understanding will help you in realizing which teachings of the psalms can be applied to the Christian's life & which ones cannot. For example, offering sacrifices to God is mentioned often in Psalms. We understand that these references cannot apply to the Christian. We know that Jesus, God's Son, has gone to the cross & offered His blood for our sins, once for all time, and our salvation rests upon His completed work at the cross. Therefore, the passages in Psalms that discuss the need to offer sacrifices to God are irrelevant to the Christian. A good safeguard to use in interpreting a psalm is to find a New Testament passage which assures us that the teaching of the psalm should be applied to the Christian today. If the teaching of the psalm is for a Christian, the New Testament will confirm it.
Someone has suggested that the psalms should be experienced, not just read. Psalms is more of a devotional book than a history book. It has been said that this book was meant to be read on one's knees.
The Book of Psalms teaches us much about the spirit of worship. True worship is not mere ceremony; it is based on a relationship with God and a life with God (Psalm 84). Of greatest importance are the Messianic references. Among other things, the psalms tell us of the sonship of Jesus (2:7), His ministry (40:7, 8), His zeal (69:9), His rejection (118:22), and His betrayal (41:9). His death is described in Psalm 22, with details given in 34:20 and 69:21. References are also made to His resurrection (16:8-10), ascension (24:7-10; 68:18), glorification (110:1), and reign (8:6).
We hope that by visiting this web page, you have been blessed.Sid Womack, webmaster, Dover Church of Christ