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Psalms

A Library of Inspired Songs

The Psalms constitute one of the high points of the revelation of God and His character in the Old Testament. It preserves for us the ancient prayers and the praises of the people of God, the deepest expressions of hearts reflecting the Lord. This library of inspired songs was used as the temple songbook of the Kingdom Period, and stands as the longest, most oft-quoted, most diverse book of the Old Testament. The Greek title for the book is Psalmoi, which denotes songs accompanied by the plucking of strings. But the original Hebrew title is Tehillim, which simply means ‘praises’. Whatever label we assign to it, the book contains divinely inspired songs supremely purposed to worship God. The Hebrew title more appropriately draws attention to the content and purpose of the songs, which is precisely where our focus ought to be since only the lyrics are preserved as Scripture and not any musical notation. They are songs of praise to God, sometimes expressed in the form of prayers. The types of expressions vary and include remembrance, acknowledgement, lamentation, petition, confessions of trust, and declarations of praise. Subcategories include songs or ‘hymns’ to God (Ps 24; 29; 33; 100; 103; 105; 111; 113-4; 117; 135-6; 145-50), enthronement songs (Ps 47; 93; 95-9), and royal songs (Ps 2; 20-1; 45; 72; 89; 101; 110; 132; 144).

 

Pervasive Purpose

The writings of Hebrew wisdom present the theme of human life in relation to God, particularly identifying with the individual. The most pervasive purpose in the Psalms is the worship of God, extolling His name above all else. The Psalms are for both the individual and the congregation. They are for both inward and outward knowledge and expression. Fundamentally the Psalms look back to the Torah, to the foundational revelation of God to the people of God, and both appeal in petition and rejoice in praise over the truth and trustworthiness of God and His word. The Psalms look also to the former prophets, in the history books of Israel, and recount both the victories that the Lord had accomplished on behalf of Israel and the unfaithfulness of Israel. In this the Psalms mourn the unfaithfulness of man and extol the faithfulness of God. The Psalms also look to the latter prophets and cry with anticipation for the coming Kingdom of God, in all its richness. The Greater David, the coming Messiah, is foretold and anticipated. The coming of His reign and glory, and the shalom and righteousness that He will bring to earth.

Essentially, then, the Psalms address how the godly person is to live between the foundational revelation of God (torah), in the midst of fallenness, unfaithfulness, and sin (former prophets), and the coming King and His Kingdom (latter prophets). Jesus Christ summarized this grand and pervasive purpose of the Psalms when He taught His disciples the first principles of prayer: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:9-10).

The Psalms connect every other portion of Scripture in one intersecting collection, its most central purpose being worship through the wisdom of living between the revelation of God and the anticipation of God’s future Kingdom. This is what makes the Psalms so immediately applicable to the New Covenant Christian. The response of the righteous must be: trust and wait—faith and perseverance. In the midst of evil, wickedness, unfaithfulness, temptation, sin, injustice, suffering, pain, and dark despair, the Psalms express, with the deepest of human emotion and thought, God’s faithfulness and our need to trust and wait for Him. This is only rightly realized in praise, which underscores the overarching theme of the entire collection.

Augustine captures this point well when he writes, “Let us sing alleluias here on earth … even here amidst trials and temptations and anxiety … not in order to enjoy a life of leisure, but in order to lighten our labors.” There is a peculiar balm of healing in the true experience of praise, ironic as it sounds. When directed to delight in God, the human heart is uniquely afforded strength in the midst of pain and lifted above clouds of darkness.

This motif of right living between the revelation of God and His coming is expressed and exemplified in a heart that praises God throughout the shifting vicissitudes of life. This is exemplified in the words of King David in Ps 19:14, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.” So one of the most clearly articulated purpose statements of the Psalms is found in Ps 145:21: “My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD, and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.” Finally, an expanded expression of the same is concisely captured in Psalm 100: “Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth! Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”
 

Major Themes

The Psalms, by virtue of being a collection of many different writings, are more diverse and extensive in scope than any other book of Scripture. Consequently, the Psalms convey a variety of major themes, all related in some manner though distinct in focus and circumstance. The Psalms most often express an intimacy between the infinite and holy Creator God and the finite and sinful creature, who repents and trusts in the Lord (cf. Ps 8, 33, 50, 64, 95, 104, 148, etc.). Though the Psalms often portray an intimacy between God and man (cf. 34, 42, 63, 139, etc.) and even appeal to the practical human experience and need in life (cf. Ps 3, 5, 7, 10-13, 17, 22, 25, 39, 40, 43, 46, etc.), the overarching theme of the Psalms is God.

The covenant name of the Lord, Yahweh, is employed 635 times in the Psalms, which is the greatest number of times His name is used anywhere in Scripture (except when we consider the Torah as one unit, which employs Yahweh 1555 times between the five divisions). Quantitatively more than any other portion of Scripture, the Psalms communicate the attributes and personal nature of Yahweh, extol His character, praise His worth, meditate upon His works, and express ardent trust in His word. He is exalted as the Creator, Sovereign Ruler, and Sustainer of the universe. He is praised and extolled as the God of Israel and of the nations.

In light of the repeated theme of the greatness of God, and the oft-related greatness of man's need, salvation, redemption, and deliverance are corollary themes that are prominent within the Psalms. The repeated phrase "my salvation" is an example of this conspicuous theme and relates both the intimacy and certainty the faithful has in trusting God for the salvation of his soul (cf. Ps 27:1, 9; 51:14; 62:1, 2, 6, 7; 118:14, 21). The concept of salvation is also related to physical deliverance from harm or death (cf. Ps 18:1, 17, 48; 31:15; 59:1; 143:9). The topic of salvation is sometimes accompanied by the subject of judgment and in particular God's judgment against the treacherous, violent, and wicked enemies of those who love the Lord—who are declared enemies of God himself (cf. Ps 21:8; 37:20; 68:1). This gives rise to the occasional imprecatory petition (Ps 58, 109, 137), which is essentially an appeal to the Lord’s faithfulness to His covenant promises to Abraham, namely “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:3). This relates to another major theme represented in the cry for justice and vindication of the Lord and those who fear Him. Other themes related to righteousness, wickedness, faithfulness, trust, hope, refuge, protection, loyalty, devotion, praise, singing, rejoicing, and worship are replete throughout the Psalter.

In addition to the personal and individual petitions, supplications, and praises to God, the Psalms also feature major themes of Yahweh's covenant relationship to the nation of Israel (cf. Ps 25:10, 14; 50:5, 16; 78:37; 103:18; 105:8-10; 106:45; 111:5, 9) and His particular provision, anointing, and covenant with David and his descendants as king of Israel (cf. Ps 2; 21; 24; 63; 78, 89; 132). It is in the context of this theme that a number of Messianic allusions and forecasts are expressed (cf. Ps 2, 89, etc.).

As a whole, the Psalms fundamentally serve to direct worship and praise to, and cultivate dependency and trust in, Yahweh. This includes the function of modeling trust through extensive prayer and supplication. Crying out to the Lord in times of need and expressing trust in His character and word. It also includes a significant feature involving the King and His reign on the earth, in peace and righteousness—in answer to the repeated cries for justice and fulfillment of God's promises.
 

Structure

The Psalms are an anthology, an organized anthology of God’s revelation in the lives of His people. Their order and organization were arranged with purpose. Below is a table that identifies how the Psalms are organized into ‘books’ in general representative themes.
 

Book 1
 
Book 2
 
Book 3
 
Book 4
 
Book 5
 
Genesis:
Man and Creation
 
Exodus:
Deliverance and Redemption
 
Leviticus:
Worship and Sanctuary
 
Numbers:
Wilderness and Wandering
 
Deuteronomy:
Scripture and Praise
 
1-41
 
42-72
 
73-89
 
90-106
 
107-150
 


Summaries

 

Book 1

Psalm 1: The great contrast between the righteous and the wicked as a matter of heart for God's word
Psalm 2: Praise of blessing upon those who trust in the Anointed of God, indeed His Son
Psalm 3: Prayer of thanksgiving, trust, and peace—to, in, and because of the Lord protection
Psalm 4: Prayer of gratitude and gladness for the peace of the Lord
Psalm 5: Prayer to the only holy and righteous God who judges the wicked; request for protection
Psalm 6: Prayer entreating grace and mercy on the basis of God's character and David's distress
Psalm 7: Prayer for divine deliverance from enemies with an appeal to righteousness of God
Psalm 8: Praises to the Lord for His works and ways and particular care, interest, and blessing of man
Psalm 9: Prayer of thanksgiving and praise for security and salvation and declaration of God's justice
Psalm 10: Prayer of entreating God's justice upon the wicked and vindication of the afflicted
Psalm 11: The Lord is a refuge for those who love righteousness and a judge of the wicked
Psalm 12: Falsehood and flattery prevail and the godly cease; a request and declaration for help
Psalm 13: Entreaty for help and preservation; resolution to trust in the Lord's character
Psalm 14: Depravity and consequent folly of man; the Lord is the refuge of the afflicted
Psalm 15: The character of the man who has fellowship with, and worships, God
Psalm 16: Declarations of comfort and joy in the inheritance of the saint
Psalm 17: Petition for favor and protection from the wicked, from the men of this world
Psalm 18: Celebration of praise to the Lord for His faithfulness in giving deliverance
Psalm 19: Declarations of the Lord's revelation, both by creation and by word; delight in His word
Psalm 20: Prayer for victory through the Lord over the enemies of Jacob
Psalm 21: Praise for deliverance from enemies and eternal salvation
Psalm 22: Cry of anguish from affliction and a call for praise from those who seek the Lord
Psalm 23: Declaration of the Lord as the psalmist's Shepherd
Psalm 24: The lordship, holiness, truth, and righteousness of the Lord; praise to the King of glory
Psalm 25: A plea for protection and deliverance from shame, guidance, forgiveness, and mercy
Psalm 26: Petition for redemption and grace by appeal to integrity within
Psalm 27: Declarations of trust and delight in the Lord, patience and a longing to behold the Lord
Psalm 28: Prayer to keep the psalmist in the path of righteousness; Praise for the Lord's answer
Psalm 29: Proclamation of the glory of God as Lord over all, who give strength and peace
Psalm 30: Thanksgiving and praise to the Lord for He hears the cries of His people and is a helper
Psalm 31: Cry of distress, a plea for grace, and a request for recompense upon the wicked
Psalm 32: The life giving peace and blessing of forgiveness by faith and trust in the Lord
Psalm 33: Praises to the Creator who is faithful, righteous, and full of lovingkindness
Psalm 34: Praises of blessing and declaration of the Lord's goodness and a call to fear Him
Psalm 35: Prayer of entreaty for the Lord to contend with those who contend with the psalmist
Psalm 36: The character of the wicked and the character of the Lord
Psalm 37: The security and inheritance of those who trust in the Lord in contrast to the wicked
Psalm 38: Petition of earnest request for forgiveness and soundness of soul and body
Psalm 39: Prayer of petition for forgiveness and peace with God in light of the brevity of this life
Psalm 40: The blessed greatness of the Lord's mercy to the repentant; Prayer to be sustained
Psalm 41: Cry for recovery in the midst of illness and an acknowledgement of sin and need for grace
 

Book 2

Psalm 42: Cry of thirst for God and a mourning over the memories of being near your presence
Psalm 43: Prayer for deliverance from an ungodly nation and return to the Lord's holy hill
Psalm 44: Prayer of thanksgiving for the Lord's favor in past deliverances, and a plea for now
Psalm 45: Praises and thanksgiving for the King and His throne
Psalm 46: Praise that the Lord, who is all-powerful, is a refuge & strength to those who worship Him
Psalm 47: The Lord is the great King over all the earth
Psalm 48: Rejoicing praise to the Lord and praise for His city Jerusalem
Psalm 49: The importance of the eternal perspective, trusting in God and the futility of man's efforts
Psalm 50: The transcendent God of all creation is the holy judge of all people
Psalm 51: Prayer of a contrite and broken heart seeking true forgiveness and reconciliation
Psalm 52: The folly and wickedness of boasting and trusting in riches rather than God
Psalm 53: The foolishness and abounding corruption of men and prayer for salvation out of Zion
Psalm 54: Prayer for deliverance and vindication against enemies
Psalm 55: Prayer for relief from those who seek to kill and petition for their destruction
Psalm 56: Prayer for security from the treacherous and trust and thanksgiving for the Lord's faithfulness
Psalm 57: Prayer pleading for grace and refuge in distressing persecution and praise of the glory of God
Psalm 58: Prayer for true justice and imprecation against the unrighteous in heart
Psalm 59: Prayer for deliverance and imprecation against those who are treacherous in iniquity
Psalm 60: Prayer of lament over military defeat and a petition for restoration and deliverance
Psalm 61: Prayer for preservation and protection
Psalm 62: Declaration that God alone saves and He alone is the reliable rock, stronghold, refuge, & hope
Psalm 63: Cry of deep inner thirst and the delight of satisfaction in God
Psalm 64: Prayer for preservation and deliverance from enemies with evil purposes in secret
Psalm 65: Praise of thanksgiving and joy for the Lord's abundant blessings upon man and creation
Psalm 66: Praise to the Lord for His awesome works and life giving provisions and answers to prayer
Psalm 67: Prayer for grace and blessing with praise for grace and blessing even unto the nations
Psalm 68: Praise to Almighty God who is holy and fearful while also the Deliverer
Psalm 69: Prayer of desperate need in severe distress and reproach & imprecation upon adversaries
Psalm 70: Prayer for help in a serious time of need and persecution & praise to Lord with patience
Psalm 71: Prayer for deliverance from the hand of the wicked as an elderly saint who praises the Lord
Psalm 72: Prayer for the wisdom, righteousness, and reign of the king
 

Book 3

Psalm 73: Praise of God's goodness, sovereignty, and might; contrasting the end of the saved & wicked
Psalm 74: Cry of desperation, for vindication and restoration, in the wake of destruction of the temple
Psalm 75: Thanksgiving and praise to God for He alone abases the proud and exalts the humble
Psalm 76: Praise of the majesty and might of the Lord
Psalm 77: Cry for help in stark trouble that is comforted by remembering the works & deeds of the Lord
Psalm 78: The testimonies of yhwh in the history of Israel, of His faithfulness and their unfaithfulness
Psalm 79: Prayer of lamentation over the destruction of Jerusalem, a request for help, and thanksgiving
Psalm 80: Prayer of entreaty to God to shepherd and care for Israel
Psalm 81: Praise and a call for rejoicing in the Lord, God's deliverance of Israel and their waywardness
Psalm 82: Prayer of petition for just judgment by the Lord within the congregation and beyond
Psalm 83: Prayer of entreaty to God of imprecation against His enemies and the enemies of His people
Psalm 84: Praise to God and an expression of desire to worship, even at the temple of the Lord
Psalm 85: Prayer of reflection and request for blessing upon the nation of Israel
Psalm 86: Prayer of supplication, praise, thanksgiving, dependence, and faith in the Lord
Psalm 87: Praise to God for Zion the city of God
Psalm 88: Prayer of serious petition for deliverance from ongoing distressing circumstances of life
Psalm 89: Prayer of remembrance of the Lord's lovingkindness and covenant to David & petition
 

Book 4

Psalm 90: Praise of God's eternality & acknowledgement of man's temporality & prayer for favor
Psalm 91: Praise to God for His faithfulness as a shield and bulwark to those who trust in Him
Psalm 92: Praise to God for His lovingkindness, faithfulness, works, and righteousness
Psalm 93: Praise to God for His majesty, strength, testimonies, and holiness
Psalm 94: Prayer of entreaty to God for vengeance against the wicked
Psalm 95: Praise and worship to the Lord as Creator and God & a reminder to not harden the heart
Psalm 96: Praise and worship to the Lord for His salvation and works
Psalm 97: Praise to God for His righteousness, justice, and might
Psalm 98: Praise to God for His many attributes of righteousness, strength, and salvation
Psalm 99: Praise to God for His lordship and holiness, forgiveness and justice
Psalm 100: Praise to God with joyful song and glad service because He is God and is good
Psalm 101: Prayer and profession to be committed to the Lord in righteousness
Psalm 102: Prayer for an afflicted as a cry for help and blessing upon Zion
Psalm 103: Praise to the Lord for His forgiveness and salvation, His lovingkindness and strength
Psalm 104: Praise to God as Creator and Sustainer who is sovereign over all creation
Psalm 105: Praise and thanksgiving to God for all His wonders and works among the nation of Israel
Psalm 106: Praise and thanksgiving to God for His everlasting lovingkindness in spite of Israel's rebellion
 

Book 5

Psalm 107: Praise and thanksgiving to God for His deliverance from many and various troubles
Psalm 108: Praise to God for His salvation and entreaty for help against adversary
Psalm 109: Prayer of imprecation against adversaries and vengeance against those who afflict
Psalm 110: Praise to the Lord for the Lord of the king, who is also a priest who judges
Psalm 111: Praise to God for His great works & wonders because of His character
Psalm 112: Praise to God and a declaration of security and prosperity to those who fear the Lord
Psalm 113: Praise to God who is highly exalted and who exalts the humble
Psalm 114: Praises in recalling the miraculous wonders of the Lord seen in Israel's deliverance
Psalm 115: Praise and glory to the Lord who is the only true God, Making of heaven and earth
Psalm 116: Praise and thanksgiving for the Lord's deliverance from death and salvation of the soul
Psalm 117: Praise the Lord for His lovingkindness and truth
Psalm 118: Praise and thanksgiving to God for His lovingkindness is everlasting and righteousness saves
Psalm 119: Prayers, meditations, and reflections upon the word of the Lord and His salvation
Psalm 120: Prayer to the Lord for deliverance from those who are deceitful and hate peace
Psalm 121: Praise and declarations concerning the Lord and His faithfulness to keep Israel
Psalm 122: Prayer for the peace of Jerusalem and prosperity within her palaces
Psalm 123: Prayer of entreaty to the Lord for His grace
Psalm 124: Praise to God for His deliverance from adversaries and a declaration of help in Him
Psalm 125: Prayer and praise to God for His protection and the peace of Jerusalem
Psalm 126: Praise and thanksgiving in recalling the Lord bringing back the captive ones of Zion
Psalm 127: Declarations regarding the blessings of prosperity from the Lord
Psalm 128: Declarations of blessing concerning those who prosper and fear the Lord; peace to Israel
Psalm 129: Prayer of imprecation against the wicked who persecute Zion
Psalm 130: Declarations and praise for the Lord's forgiveness, lovingkindness, and abundant redemption
Psalm 131: Expressions of humility and hope with a child-like faith
Psalm 132: Prayer for the Lord to bless worship at the temple and bless the covenant made to David
Psalm 133: Declarations of the goodness of brotherly unity
Psalm 134: Praises of blessing unto the Lord for those who serve by night in the temple
Psalm 135: Praises to God for His character & mighty works over all things; the vanity & futility of idols
Psalm 136: Thanksgiving to the Lord for His lovingkindness is everlasting; His goodness to Israel
Psalm 137: Prayer of imprecation and mourning in exile over the destruction of Jerusalem
Psalm 138: Thanksgiving to the Lord for His lovingkindness and truth
Psalm 139: Prayer and praise of the majesty of God's knowledge and presence; supplication for purity
Psalm 140: Prayer for deliverance and preservation from, and imprecation against, violent & wicked men
Psalm 141: Prayer of worship & request for renewal of heart and sanctification and protection from harm
Psalm 142: Prayer of desperation for help, refuge, and deliverance from persecutors
Psalm 143: Prayer of entreaty upon the Lord's grace, for deliverance from persecutors, & guidance
Psalm 144: Prayer & praise for God's strength who is a refuge, request for deliverance from the deceitful
Psalm 145: Praises to God for His greatness and abundant goodness, for His salvation and righteousness
Psalm 146: Praises to the Lord for His salvation, for His manifold attributes and reign
Psalm 147: Praise to the Lord for His multiple blessings of favor and lovingkindness toward Israel
Psalm 148: Abundant praise to the Lord as Creator and Sovereign and God of Israel
Psalm 149: Praises to the Lord who is the true King of Israel
Psalm 150: Jubilant and abundant praise in various forms of expression

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