Book Overview - Psalms
by Arend Remmers
1. Author and Time of Writing
The book of the Psalms is probably the best known part of the Old Testament (OT). It is a collection of 150 poems or songs by various authors and it is divided into five books (similar to the Pentateuch).
David wrote 73 Psalms. They are mainly to be found in the first, second and fifth book. Twelve Psalms bear the name of Asaph, the conductor of David's choir of the temple (1 Chronicles 16:7; 2 Chronicles 29:30). Asaph's Psalms are Psalms 50; Psalms 73; Psalms 74; Psalms 75; Psalms 76; Psalms 77; Psalms 78; Psalms 79; Psalms 80; Psalms 81; Psalms 82; Psalms 83. Ten Psalms are written by the sons of Korah (Psalms 42; Psalms 44; Psalms 45; Psalms 46; Psalms 47; Psalms 48; Psalms 49; Psalms 84; Psalms 85; Psalms 87), two by Solomon (Psalms 72; Psalms 127), one each by Moses (Psalms 90), Ethan (Psalms 89) and Heman (Psalms 88). The remaining 50 Psalms bear no author's name.
The following Psalms are also ascribed to David in the New Testament (NT): Psalms 2 (Acts 4:25) and Psalms 95 (Hebrews 4:7). Together with the Psalms that bear David's name they add up to 75 , which means David has written exactly half of all the Psalms.
David was very suitable for this. He was an able poet, player (of an instrument) and singer (1 Samuel 16:18; 2 Samuel 23:1). He was filled with the Spirit of God (1 Samuel 16:13; 2 Samuel 23:2) and had gone through many experiences with God in his life of faith. Many references of Scripture tell us that David was very active in spiritual poetry and music (e. g. 1 Samuel 18:10; 2 Samuel 1:17-18; 2 Samuel 6:5; 1 Chronicles 6:31; 1 Chronicles 16:7; 1 Chronicles 25:1; 2 Chronicles 7:6; 2 Chronicles 29:30; Ezra 3:10; Nehemiah 12:24; Nehemiah 12:36; Nehemiah 12:45; Amos 6:5).
In some places David mentions the occasion or the reason for the composition of a Psalm in the heading: Psalms 3; Psalms 7; Psalms 18; Psalms 34; Psalms 51; Psalms 52; Psalms 54; Psalms 57; Psalms 59; Psalms 60; Psalms 63; Psalms 142. One of these occasions is described in 2 Samuel 22. This is where we find a nearly word-by-word parallel to Psalms 18.
Psalms 90 is probably the oldest psalm: "A prayer of Moses the man of God". Moses lived in the 15th century BC. Most of the Psalms however have been written at the time of David who introduced the singing in the temple (1 Chronicles 25). At the time of Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 29:25-30) reference is made to that (".according to the commandment of David") and to the Psalms of David and Asaph. These psalms therefore had already been joined to a sort of collection. The last Psalms were written in the days of Ezra (5th century BC). Psalms 137 clearly refers to the Babylonian captivity. According to many researchers it was Ezra, the priest and scribe, himself who completed the final collection of the Psalms (Ezra 3:10).
2. Purpose of Writing
The book of Psalms is the first and main book of the third part of the Hebrew Bible, of the "writings" (hebr. ketubim). The reference in Luke 24:44 "psalms" probably means the whole third part of the OT. The Hebrew title is "tehillim" (hebr. hillil, which means "to praise"; compare hallelujah) and signifies "praises". The name "psalm" for a singular praise originates from the Greek and means "singing with instrumental accompaniment" or "playing a stringed instrument".
The Psalms particularly speak to the Bible-reader because the sentiments of God fearing men are expressed more than in other books of the Scriptures, be it in prayer, in confession, in praises or in grief. In many of these situations the Bible reader finds himself and therefore is especially attracted and spoken to by the Psalms.
b) Prophetic Character of the Psalms
But this does not yet exhaust the substance of the Psalms. For the psalmists not only described their own feelings. The Spirit of Christ was working in them and was sharing in their distresses and joys and was at one with them (compare Is. 63:9; 1 Peter 1:11). This is why we find Christ everywhere in the Psalms and not only in the so-called "messianic psalms", e. g. Psalms 16; Psalms 22; Psalms 24; Psalms 40; Psalms 68; Psalms 69; Psalms 118. Christ is very distinguished in the "messianic psalms" but many psalms are referred to Him in the NT (and these are not the so-called messianic psalms). The following Psalms ought to be mentioned especially:
Psalms 2:7 - "Thou art my Son: this day have I begotten thee" (Acts 13:33)
Psalms 8:6 - "Thou hast put all things under his feet" (Hebrews 2:6-10)
Psalms 41:9 - "Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me." (John 13:18)
Psalms 45:6 - "Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever." (Hebrews 1:8)
Psalms 110:1 - "The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand."(Matthew 22:44)
Many more references could be added. Nearly half of all messianic references in the NT originate from the Psalms.
If we see this spiritual link of Christ with the believing Israelites (who wrote the Psalms) the true character of the book, which is a prophetic character, opens up before our eyes. The Spirit of Christ unites with the experiences and feelings of these believing Israelites. This is why the sufferings of the Lord and His feelings as true and perfect man are described in the book in such touching manner, for they are a proof of His interest in His earthly people.
Describing the history of the Jewish remnant in the last days reflects the prophetic character of the Psalms. But again not the outward events are described but the inward feelings. This would also explain the pleas for punishment or for vengeance on the enemies (e. g. Psalms 137:9), which are difficult to understand for many a reader. The feelings explained in these Psalms are feelings of believers but not of Christians living in the household of grace (compare Romans 12:17-21). They are feelings of believing Jews living in the coming last days. These Jews will await God's salvation and the just punishment of their oppressors, and especially of the Antichrist.
c) Structure of the Psalms
Taking the prophetic viewpoint we will find a fairly clear division of the book. All other divisions are more or less unsatisfactory. The similar structure of the Psalms and of the Pentateuch is also remarkable and one can state certain parallels. The first Psalm of each book contains so to speak the "heading" and the last Psalm of each book concludes with praises.
The first book of the Psalms puts forward the principle of separation of the just from the unjust among the people of God. Connected with it the Messiah is seen as Son of God (Psalms 2), as Son of man (Psalms 8), as suffering servant (Psalms 22) and as true offering (Psalms 40). The prevailing name of God in this book is His covenant name Jehovah (which is mentioned approximately 275 times).
In the second book we find the sufferings of the just ones, who - separated from any blessing - live in great tribulation and who cry to God (Elohim is mentioned roughly 200 times) in their distress.
The third book describes the return of Israel as a people and God's mercy towards His people.
The fourth book begins with the reign of Jehovah (app. 100 times) after introducing the firstborn into the habitable world (JND translation). With this begins the reign of the glorified Son of man in the Millennium after the salvation of the whole of Israel.
The fifth book contains the summary of all Jehovah's ways with His people Israel as well as the praise, which is due to Him for His mercy (Psalms 111; Psalms 112; Psalms 113; Psalms 146; Psalms 147; Psalms 148; Psalms 149; Psalms 150).
a) Hebrew Poetry
Rhyme, rhythm and metre as well as partially the division into verses play an important role in classical European poetry. The Hebrew poetry is entirely different. Rhyme and metre are totally unknown. A division into verses, as we know it today is entirely unknown. Nevertheless we find a sort of division in Psalms 119 , which 22 paragraphs of eight verses each are beginning with the same Hebrew letter continuously, that is verses 1-8 are starting by the letter aleph, verses 9-16 by the letter beth, etc. (acrostic).
In saying this we have already mentioned one style of Hebrew poetry, which is alliteration. Alliteration means that the beginning of words is similar and not the ending of words. One variety of alliteration is to have each verse begin with the successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet, as we find it in Psalms 9; Psalms 10; Psalms 25; Psalms 34; Psalms 47; Psalms 111; Psalms 112; Psalms 145 as well as in Proverbs 31:10-31 and Lamentations 1; Lamentations 2; Lamentations 3; Lamentations 4 (compare also Psalms 119). The often very pictorial comparisons are a further element of Hebrew poetry (see Psalms 1:3; Psalms 22:12-16).
The most important characteristic however is parallelism. Parallelism means that a statement is stressed or extended by repetition. One distinguishes three kinds of parallelisms:
a) Synonymous parallelism, for example Psalms 49:1 "Hear this, all ye people; give ear, all ye inhabitants of the world." - The same thought is expressed twice with different words.
b) Antithetic (contrasted) parallelism, for example Psalms 1:6 "For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish." - The thought of the first sentence is stressed by the contrast in the final clause.
c) Synthetic (connecting) parallelism, for example Psalms 22:4 "Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them." - The final clause completes and expands the thought of the first sentence.
b) Heading of the Psalms
With the exception of a few Psalms all Psalms bear a heading. The 34 Psalms without heading are: Psalms 1; Psalms 2; Psalms 10; Psalms 43; Psalms 71; Psalms 91; Psalms 93; Psalms 94; Psalms 95; Psalms 96; Psalms 97; Psalms 99; Psalms 104; Psalms 105; Psalms 106; Psalms 107; Psalms 111; Psalms 112; Psalms 113; Psalms 114; Psalms 115; Psalms 116; Psalms 117; Psalms 118; Psalms 119; Psalms 135; Psalms 136; Psalms 137; Psalms 146; Psalms 147; Psalms 148; Psalms 149; Psalms 150 (The words "Praise ye the Lord" are not headings but belong to the text).
The most important headings are:
Maschil 13 Psalms bear this heading (Psalms 32; Psalms 42; Psalms 44; Psalms 45; Psalms 52; Psalms 53; Psalms 54; Psalms 55; Psalms 74; Psalms 78; Psalms 88; Psalms 89; Psalms 142). Maschil probably signifies teaching or instruction.
Poem Psalms 16; Psalms 56; Psalms 57; Psalms 58; Psalms 59; Psalms 60 are headed "poem" (hebr. michtam).
Song of Degrees Psalms 120; Psalms 121; Psalms 122; Psalms 123; Psalms 124; Psalms 125; Psalms 126; Psalms 127; Psalms 128; Psalms 129; Psalms 130; Psalms 131; Psalms 132; Psalms 133; Psalms 134 are songs of degrees that is songs of going up. It is assumed that they were to be sung either on journeys to great feasts in Jerusalem or going up to the hill where the temple stood.
To the Chief Musician 55 Psalms of David's time bear this indication in the heading. The chief musician was certainly the conductor of the choir in the temple. In this we may see a hint to the Lord Jesus who Himself will sing praise in the midst of the assembly (compare Psalms 22:22; Hebrews 2:12).
4. Overview of Contents
First Book (Psalms 1-41): Separation of the Just from the Unjust
|Psalm||1||The Just and the Unjust|
|Psalm||2||God's King: the Messiah|
|Psalm||3||David's Confidence in the Unchangeable God|
|Psalm||4||David's Confidence in the Special Care of God|
|Psalm||5||Jehovah Hears the Cry of His People|
|Psalm||6||Plea for Mercy|
|Psalm||7||Prayer for Just Punishment of the Oppressor|
|Psalm||8||Reign of the Son of Man|
|Psalm||9||Praising God for Victory over the Enemies|
|Psalm||10||Plea for Salvation from the Wicked|
|Psalm||11||The Just in the midst of Wickedness|
|Psalm||12||The Confidence of the Just in the midst of Wickedness|
|Psalm||14||General Ruin of Mankind|
|Psalm||15||Marks of the True God-Fearing|
|Psalm||16||Christ as Perfect Man|
|Psalm||17||Prayer of the Just for Protection|
|Psalm||18||Praise of God|
|Psalm||19||Testimony of God in Creation|
|Psalm||20||Help from the Sanctuary|
|Psalm||21||Royal Song of Victory|
|Psalm||22||Christ's Sufferings and Glory|
|Psalm||23||Christ, the Good Shepherd|
|Psalm||24||Christ, the King of Glory|
|Psalm||25||Plea for Salvation and Forgiveness|
|Psalm||26||Prayer of an Upright Man|
|Psalm||27||Desire for God's Presence|
|Psalm||28||Cry in Distress|
|Psalm||29||God's Might is Above Everything|
|Psalm||30||Praise for God's Help|
|Psalm||31||Salvation from the Enemy|
|Psalm||32||Blessing of Forgiveness|
|Psalm||33||Worship of the Creator|
|Psalm||34||Experience of Those who Love God|
|Psalm||35||Cry for Help of the One in Distress|
|Psalm||36||Mind of the Wicked and the Goodness of God|
|Psalm||37||Confidence in God in the midst of a Wicked World|
|Psalm||38||Sufferings of the Believers for their Sins|
|Psalm||39||Every Man is Vanity|
|Psalm||40||Christ the Obedient Servant of God|
|Psalm||41||Confidence, Betrayal and Triumph|
Second Book (Psalms 42-72): The Sufferings of the Just
|Psalm||42||Desire of the Just for God|
|Psalm||43||Continuation of Psalms 42|
|Psalm||44||The People of God in Distress Cry for God|
|Psalm||45||Christ, King and Bridegroom|
|Psalm||46||God is Refuge and Strength|
|Psalm||47||God's Reign as King|
|Psalm||48||The City of God|
|Psalm||49||Vanity of Earthly Riches|
|Psalm||50||The Just Judgment of God|
|Psalm||51||Confession of Sins and Repentance|
|Psalm||52||Condemnation of the Wicked|
|Psalm||53||Apostasy of the Wicked|
|Psalm||54||The Cry of the God-fearing for Salvation|
|Psalm||56||Confidence in the Faithfulness of God|
|Psalm||57||Confidence in the Salvation of God|
|Psalm||58||God Reveals Himself in Judgment|
|Psalm||59||Help for the Helpless|
|Psalm||60||Lamentation in Great Distress|
|Psalm||61||God is the True Refuge|
|Psalm||62||God Only Saves|
|Psalm||63||Thirst for God|
|Psalm||64||The Fate of the Enemies|
|Psalm||65||The Rich Blessing of God|
|Psalm||66||Acknowledgement of Just Intervention of God|
|Psalm||67||Outlook on the Blessing|
|Psalm||68||Liberation is Accomplished|
|Psalm||69||Lamentation of the Rejected Messiah|
|Psalm||70||Cry for Salvation|
|Psalm||71||Revival of People of God|
|Psalm||72||Announcement of Reign of Peace|
Third Book (Psalms 73-89): Return of the People and God's Goodness
|Psalm||73||An Enigma and its Solution|
|Psalm||74||Destruction of the Sanctuary|
|Psalm||75||God's Coming into Action by Judgment|
|Psalm||76||Victorious Might of God|
|Psalm||77||Retrospect in Faith|
|Psalm||78||God's Dealings in the History of Israel|
|Psalm||79||Prayer at Destruction of Jerusalem|
|Psalm||80||Prayer of the People in Their Distress|
|Psalm||81||The People Gather Fresh Hope|
|Psalm||82||God's Judgment of the Judges|
|Psalm||83||Prayer at the Attack of the Enemy|
|Psalm||84||Taking Pleasure in the Sanctuary of Jehovah|
|Psalm||85||The People of God Enjoy the Promised Blessing|
|Psalm||86||The God-fearing Soul in Humble Prayer to God (This is the only Psalm of David in the third book.)|
|Psalm||87||Zion, the City of God|
|Psalm||88||A Prayer coming from Deepest Distress|
|Psalm||89||Covenant of God and His Faithfulness|
Fourth Book (Psalms 90-106): Jehovah's Government in the Millennium
|Psalm||90||The Eternal God and Mortal Men (of Moses; probably the oldest Psalm)|
|Psalm||91||Exemplary Confidence of Man In God|
|Psalm||92||Song of Praise in the Sanctuary|
|Psalm||93||Jehovah Reigns in Majesty|
|Psalm||94||Cry for Justice and Vengeance|
|Psalm||95||Praise of Jehovah as Creator and Saviour of His People|
|Psalm||96||Praise of Jehovah as Creator and Judge of the Earth|
|Psalm||97||Appearing of Jehovah as King|
|Psalm||98||Praise of Jehovah, the King|
|Psalm||100||Worldwide Worship of Jehovah|
|Psalm||101||Principles of Jehovah's Government|
|Psalm||102||God Revealed in Flesh|
|Psalm||103||Israel's Praise over Ways of God|
|Psalm||104||Praise of Creator-God|
|Psalm||105||Historical Retrospective: God's Faithfulness toward Israel|
|Psalm||106||Historical Retrospective: Israel's Unfaithfulness toward God|
Fifth Book (Psalms 107-150): Summary of Jehovah's Ways with His People
|Psalm||107||Jehovah Saves Out of Every Difficulty|
|Psalm||108||The Coming Salvation|
|Psalm||109||Hostility to Christ|
|Psalm||110||Christ as Priest and King|
|Psalm||111||Praise of the Wonderful Works of Jehovah|
|Psalm||112||Jehovah's Blessing for the God-fearing|
|Psalm||113||Praise of the Name of Jehovah|
|Psalm||114||The Might of the God of Jacob|
|Psalm||115||Honour Is Due to God Only|
|Psalm||116||Praise of God for His Help in Distress|
|Psalm||117||Praise of the Nations (This is the shortest Psalm.)|
|Psalm||118||Israel Recognises the True Corner-stone (This Psalm is the one most frequently quoted in the NT.)|
|Psalm||119||Praise of the Word of God (the longest Psalm)|
|Psalm||120||Solemnity of the God-fearing|
|Psalm||121||God as Protector of Israel|
|Psalm||122||House and City of God|
|Psalm||123||Israel's Fountain of Help in Tribulation|
|Psalm||124||Salvation in Distress|
|Psalm||126||Sowing in Tears and Reaping with Rejoicing|
|Psalm||127||Blessing over the House|
|Psalm||128||Blessing over the Family|
|Psalm||129||God's Mighty Hand|
|Psalm||130||Repentance and Forgiveness|
|Psalm||131||Rest and Satisfaction|
|Psalm||132||Habitation of Jehovah in Zion|
|Psalm||133||Blessing of Brotherly Fellowship|
|Psalm||134||Worship in the Sanctuary|
|Psalm||135||Knowing and Worshiping the True God|
|Psalm||136||Praise of God's Eternal Mercy|
|Psalm||137||Reminiscences of the Exile|
|Psalm||138||Praise of God for His Salvation|
|Psalm||139||The Heart-searching Presence of God|
|Psalm||140||Jehovah, the Fountain of Help for the Just|
|Psalm||141||Prayer of the Just amidst the Wicked|
|Psalm||142||Jehovah, the Refuge of the Lonely Ones|
|Psalm||143||Prayer out of Deepest Distress|
|Psalm||144||The True Fountain of Strength|
|Psalm||145||Praise of God in the Millennium|
|Psalm||146||Personal Praise of the Just|
|Psalm||147||Praise of the People of God|
|Psalm||148||Praise of the Whole Creation|
|Psalm||149||Praise by a New Song|
|Psalm||150||End: Summary of God's Praises|
the First Week of Advent