A Psalm is a poem which is typically set to music. In fact, some of the psalms give instructions for the musician (ie. Psalm 4:1, “To the Chief Musician. With stringed instruments. A Psalm of David.).
There are 150 psalms in the book of Psalms. Several of them are labeled as psalms of David (73), the “…sweet psalmist of Israel…” (2 Samuel 23:1). Others are associated with Asaph (12), the sons of Korah (11), Solomon (2), Moses (1), and Ethan (1). The other 50 psalms do not have names linked to them.
The Psalms touch on a wide array of information and topics. They recount historical events, reveal prophecies, and focus on the gamut of the human experience. They explore various characteristics of God and His relationship to humanity. They look at man’s trials and troubles and the loneliness and despair one might experience, but also the elation of praise and worship before God in whom we can trust and find refuge. Several of David’s psalms begin with anguish, gloom and sorrow, but end with comfort, joy and victory.
Several of the psalms are messianic. They foreshadow our Lord’s death and resurrection; they speak of the establishment of the Lord’s kingdom and focus on His triumphant reign; they promise the hope of immortality.
Understanding the nature of Hebrew poetry is helpful in reading and appreciating the psalms. Have you ever noticed how repetitive the psalms are? Words and thoughts are duplicated. That is known as parallelism, which is used heavily in Jewish poetry. In English we typically rhyme with words, in Hebrew the poets rhyme with thoughts. It is also important to realize Jewish poets often use figurative language. You will find similes, metaphors, hyperbole and more. The psalms were not intended to be interpreted literally—they are poetic.
The book of Psalms contains both the longest and shortest chapters in the Bible. Psalm 117 is the shortest, just two verses. Meanwhile, Psalm 119 is the longest, 176 verses long. The 176 verses of Psalm 119 are divided into 22 stanzas, one for each of the 22 characters in the Hebrew alphabet. The Psalm is presented in a chiastic structure, which means a sequence of ideas are presented and then repeated in reverse order.
The Jews traditionally divide the Psalms into five books. It has been speculated the division is based on the books of the Torah. They are presented as an anthology, so there is not a particular narrative to follow through each section. However there key themes which appear in each of the sections.
Book One (Psalm 1-41) are primarily psalms of David and identify God as the deliverer of those who fear Him. Time and again the psalmist seeks God’s protection from his enemies.
Book Two (Psalm 42-72) focuses on the Lord as our Judge and King. He executes justice for His people among the nations.
Book Three (Psalm 73-89) contain the psalms Asaph’s family. This section focuses on God’s relationship with His people, emphasizing the Lord’s faithfulness throughout generations.
Book Four (Psalm 90-106) reveals the Lord as the ruler over all the earth. There are several psalms of praise and worship in this set.
Book Five (Psalm 107-150) are primarily psalms of praise for the Lord who is our Saviour and Redeemer.
Next week we continue with Proverbs…