GENERAL FACTS ABOUT THE BOOK OF PSALMS
The Book of Psalms was the Old Testament hymnbook, prayer book, and liturgy book. It was continually used by worshippers at the temple and even as they were going up to the temple to worship. Today also the Psalms are a part of our hymn life, prayer life, and our liturgy. Many of the Psalms are the basis for our hymns; we can use the Psalms as our personal prayers; and part of our liturgy is taken from the Psalms. (Cf. the words that the congregation speaks or sings after the sermon, and Psalm 51:10-12.) The Hebrew name for the Book of Psalms is “Sepher Tehillim,” or “The Book of Praises.” Our word “Psalm” comes from the Greek and means “a song sung to the accompaniment of a stringed instrument.” Within the 150 Psalms in our Bible, there are actually five smaller books of Psalms. The five books are as follows:
Each one of these sections ends with a doxology or statement of praise, such as “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and Amen.” All of Psalm 150 is a doxology to close the whole Book of Psalms. An ancient Jewish tradition says that the Psalms are divided into five sections or books in order to correspond to the Five Books of Moses. The idea is that the five books of God through Moses are balanced by man’s five-fold response in the Psalms.
SUPERSCRIPTIONS OR TITLES OF THE PSALMS
116 of the Psalms have titles or superscriptions at the beginning. (The 34 Psalms that do not have titles are sometimes called “orphan” Psalms.) The titles give us such information as: 1) who the author is, 2) the circumstances when they were written, 3) to whom they were addressed, or 4) musical directions. Some information in the titles we simply do not understand because the Hebrew words are mysterious to us. Look at the titles for Psalms 3-6 to see some information the titles give us. The authorship of over 100 Psalms is given in the titles. David’s name is listed in the titles of 73 Psalms; this may mean that he is the actual author of all of those 73 Psalms, or in some cases it may mean that the Psalm was dedicated to him. The titles tell us also that the following men wrote Psalms: Moses (one), Solomon (two), Asaph and the Asaphites (twelve), the Sons of Korah (twelve), Heman (one), and Ethan (one).
THE PSALMS ARE A COLLECTION
It is obvious from the many human authors of the Psalms that they were not written at the same time. They were written over a span of time stretching from Moses until after the Babylonian Captivity. (Psalm 90 was written by Moses; Psalm 137 tells of the Captivity.) That means they were written over a period of about 1,000 years. The Holy Spirit saw to it that each human author was carried along by Him so that each of them wrote God’s intended words. Jewish tradition says that it was Ezra the Scribe who finally collected all of the 150 Psalms and gathered them into one book.
VARIOUS KINDS OF PSALMS
There have been many attempts to classify the Psalms according to their various kinds or types. As we read the Psalms, we can notice common themes that run through them. It is those themes that allow us to classify the Psalms into kinds or types. We will list some of the kinds of Psalms that are commonly noted:
- HALLELUJAH PSALMS
Praise to the Lord is the main theme in this kind of Psalm. “Hallelujah” is Hebrew for “Praise the Lord.” The word is found many times in these psalms. (Psalms 106, 111, 112, 113, 117, 135, 146, 147, 148, 149, 150)
- PENITENTIAL PSALMS
These psalms give expression to the sinner’s repentance over his sins. Confession and a plea for forgiveness is the theme that runs through these psalms. Psalm 51 is an excellent example of a Penitential Psalm. Be sure to note the title of the Psalm before reading it. (Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143)
- DIDACTIC PSALMS
The word “didactic” means “teaching.” These psalms seek to teach lessons for godly living. Psalm 1 is an example. (Psalms 1, 5, 7, 15, 50, 73, 94, 101)
- IMPRECATORY PSALMS
In this kind of psalms, God is called upon to bring punishment on unbelieving enemies so that evil may be stopped and God may be honored. The word “imprecatory” means a “calling upon.” Note Psalm 35 as an example of an Imprecatory Psalm. (Psalms 35, 58, 59, 69, 83, 109, 137)
- MESSIANIC PSALMS
Psalms of this kind tell about the coming Messiah. It is the New Testament that tells us that many of the psalms spoke clearly of Jesus, the Messiah. For example, Psalm 22 vividly describes Christ’s suffering as he hung on the cross. It even prophesies his very words from the cross. (Psalms 2, 8, 16, 22, 23, 24, 31, 40, 41, 45, 68, 69, 102, 110, 118)
A BOOK FOR ALL NEEDS
Believers over the centuries have known that the Book of Psalms has divine words that fit virtually every human need. Therefore the Psalms have been among the most read and most loved portions of Scripture. Do you need words for repentance? Turn to a Penitential Psalm. Do you feel the need to praise God for some special blessing? Read a Hallelujah Psalm. Do you have some great fear and need God’s comforting
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