For the Lord is good. His loyal love endures, and he is faithful through all generations.
The five Books of Poetry bridge the past of the seventeen Books of History with the future of the seventeen Books of Prophecy. One-third of the Hebrew Bible was written in poetry. The five Poetical Books deal with the present experience of the authors in ways that speak to the experiential present of believers of all time. Though they come from an ancient culture they are timeless in their application. They do not advance the timeline of the nation Israel. The poetry erupts from the hearts of God’s people going through some of the eras and experiences documented in the Books of History.
At least seven authors contributed to the book of Psalms. These rich writings were compiled over a period of 1,000 years of Israel’s history—from the time of Moses (Psalm 90) to the return from Exile in Babylonia (Psalm 126). The term “Psalm” comes from a Greek word meaning “a song sung to the accompaniment of a plucked instrument.” Used as the temple hymnbook of the Kingdom Period, the Psalms express the spectrum of human emotion—praise to God in good times, fear of enemies in bad time, and an overriding confidence in the character of God.
Written to different audiences under many circumstances the psalms cover a vast historic and topical range. This makes them relevant to every reader of every generation. The five books were written over several centuries. As individual psalms were written, some were used in Israel’s worship. Over the years various leaders including David (1 Chronicles 15:16), Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 29:30) and Ezra (Nehemiah 8) collected groups of Psalms into small anthologies. Finally these collections were united and edited into the five books themselves.
The psalms were used in the two temples and some were part of the liturgical service. They also served as an individual and communal devotional guide. The Book of Psalms is quoted more times in the New Testament than any other book. The Lord referred to the Psalms often during His earthly ministry. And the singing of psalms was a regular part of worship in the early church (Ephesians 5:19):
More than any other book in the Bible, Psalms reveals what a heartfelt, soul-starved, single-minded relationship with God looks like. The psalmists present Yahweh as king of the universe who is establishing His just rule on earth in and through His people, Israel. They pray for the realization of His rule over all Creation and encourage praise and trust in Him. They are journals of people who believe in a loving, gracious, faithful God in a world that keeps falling apart. Some of these people are: DAVID: 73 psalms cite David as author. The New Testament adds Psalms 2 and 95 to the list. David’s wide experience as the warrior-shepherd-king, and his deep love of God combine to produce some of the deepest thoughts in Scripture. ASAPH: Israel’s worship leader under David and Solomon wrote 12 psalms (50, 73-83). His style is distinctive, forceful, and spiritual. He is called a prophet and poet (2 Chronicles 29:20; Nehemiah 12:46) SONS OF KORAH: This guild of singers and composers wrote 10 psalms. SOLOMON: Israel’s most powerful king and the wisest man of history wrote 2 psalms (72, 127). MOSES: Psalm 90, the oldest psalm was written by Israel’s great deliverer. DAVID’S MUSICIANS: Two of King David’s favorite musicians penned two psalms (Heman, 88; Ethan, 89). ORPHAN PSALMS: The 39 remaining psalms are anonymous, though some of these are traditionally attributed to Ezra.
Messiah: Several psalms anticipated the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus, the One who came centuries later as Israel’s promised Messiah (anointed one). Every specific messianic prophecy in the Book of Psalms was fulfilled in Christ.
Four rules of interpretation should guide modern readers of these rich treasures of wisdom:
1) When the superscription gives the historical event, the psalm should be interpreted from that historical perspective. But when it is not given, never speculate trying to reconstruct the historical occasion of the psalm.
2) Some of the psalms are associated with definite aspects of Israel’s worship (5:7; 66:13). This can help greatly in understanding those psalms.
3) Many of the psalms use definite structure and motifs. Three types of psalms follow definite patterns of construction.
a) Praise Psalms such as 150 revolve around the word “praise” or the joyous “hallelujah.” Psalm 117 follows this pattern of an introductory call to worship, the reason for praise, then the recapitulation or a renewed summons to praise God.
b) Thanksgiving Psalms such as 48 are a public acknowledgment of God’s activity on behalf of the nation Israel or the psalmist. Psalm 138 follows this pattern of an introduction where the worshiper announces his intention to give thanks, a main section recounting the worshiper’s experience, and then a conclusion which again testifies to God’s gracious act.
c) Lament Psalms such as 22 begin with a direct cry to God. They are really expressions of praise—praise offered to God in the time of His absence. Psalm 22 follows this form very closely: Address to God, Complaint, Confession of Trust, Petition, Words of Assurance, Vow of Praise.
PSALMS AND YOU: “Of all the books in the Old Testament the Book of Psalms most vividly represents the faith of individuals in the Lord. The Psalms are the inspired responses of human hearts to God’s revelation of Himself in law, history, and prophecy. Saints of all ages have appropriated this collection of prayers and praises in their public worship and private mediations.” (Allen P. Ross, “Psalms,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, p. 779)
When we walk with God through life, the Psalms will become our hymnbook, our prayer book, our refuge in times of deepest anguish. Why? Because the inspired words of the original poets express every redeemed heart’s feelings toward God—our praises, doubts, anger, anguish, trust, rest, and joy.
A. Read the Psalms for spiritual benefit.
1. They are your guide to worship.
2. They help you relate honestly to God.
3. They must be read devotionally.
B. Read the Psalms unafraid of your emotions.
1. The poetry is messy and disordered, just like life.
2. The poetry is spiritual therapy.
3. The poetry gives us a category of lament to express our disappointment in God.
4. The poetry gives us a category of cursing to express our emotions to God—but always as prayers!
May your reading of these songs of trust bless your heart as you relate to the God whose love is always loyal and whose glory is always to be revealed…to those who trust!