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Getting to Know the Bible: Psalms Overview

Updated: Feb 16, 2022

Peace & Blessings Beloved,

TGBTG for allowing us to see another day. I pray all is well with you and yours, and that your week has been fruitful & blessed thus far.

Those of you who have been with me over the last year or so are aware that I've selected Wednesdays to share a chapter from the book of Psalms, as a means of midweek encouragement. This has been well received, and as such will continue into 2021, as planned. However, in light of this platform and the opportunities it provides, we're going to start from the beginning. But before we get to Psalm 1, i want to ensure we have a baseline understanding of the book of Psalms. This way we can have a full appreciation for the exquisiteness of the entire book, as well as each individual psalm.

And so, in that spirit, see below for a comprehensive overview of the book of Psalms, as we prepare to behold and discern Psalms, beginning with Psalm 1 next week.

Authors: David, Asaph, the Sons of Korah, Solomon, Heman, Ethan, Moses, and unknown authors. (see below for details)

Two of the psalms (72) and (127) are attributed to Solomon, David’s son and successor. Psalm 90 is a prayer assigned to Moses. Another group of 12 psalms (50) and (73—83) is ascribed to the family of Asaph. The sons of Korah wrote 11 psalms (42, 44-49, 84-85,87-88). Psalm 88 is attributed to Heman, while (89) is assigned to Ethan the Ezrahite. With the exception of Solomon and Moses, all these additional authors were priests or Levites who were responsible for providing music for sanctuary worship during David’s reign. Fifty of the psalms designate no specific person as author.

Date of Writing: A careful examination of the authorship question, as well as the subject matter covered by the psalms themselves, reveals that they span a period of many centuries. The oldest psalm in the collection is probably the prayer of Moses (90), a reflection on the frailty of man as compared to the eternity of God. The latest psalm is probably (137), a song of lament clearly written during the days when the Hebrews were being held captive by the Babylonians, from about 586 to 538 B.C.

Theme: The book of Psalms contains ancient Israel's favorite hymns and prayers, which were used in their worship of God, the Great King.

Original Language: Hebrew

Genre: Poetry

Title: This book is referred to as both Psalms & Psalter. Both titles come from the Septuagint (the pre-Christian Greek translation of the OT), where they originally referred to stringed instruments (such as harp, lyre and lute), then to songs sung with their accompaniment. The traditional Hebrew title is tehillim, meaning praises, even though many of the psalms are tephillot , meaning prayers. In fact, one of the first collections included in the book was titled The prayers of David son of Jesse (72:20). Every Psalm except Psalm 88 contains praise. While we no longer know the tunes, we need to remember that the Psalms were set to music.

*Note: When you refer to an individual psalm, use the singular, as in Psalm 23; when you refer to the whole book or to more than one psalm, use the plural, as in Psalms 23 and 24, or the Book of Psalms.

Timeline: Between the time of Moses (probably about 1440 BC) and the time following the Babylonian exile (after 538 BC).

Purpose of Writing: The Book of Psalms is the longest book in the Bible, with 150 individual psalms. It is also one of the most diverse, since the psalms deal with such subjects as God and His creation, war, worship, wisdom, sin and evil, judgment, justice, and the coming of the Messiah.

Summary: The book of Psalms is a collection of 150 ancient Hebrew prayers, poems, and hymns that focus the worshiper’s thoughts on God in praise and adoration. Parts of this book were used as a hymnal in the worship services of ancient Israel. Think of the psalms as entries in a diary; they reflect people’s most intimate encounters with God. Watch for figures of speech, exaggerations, and repetitions.

Overview: Psalms of lament express the author’s crying out to God in difficult circumstances. Psalms of praise, also called hymns, portray the author’s offering of direct admiration to God. Thanksgiving psalms usually reflect the author’s gratitude for a personal deliverance or provision from God. Pilgrim psalms include the title “a song of ascent” and were used on pilgrimages “going up” to Jerusalem for three annual festivals. Other types of psalms are referred to today as wisdom psalms, royal psalms (referring to Israel’s king or Israel’s Messiah), victory psalms, Law psalms, and songs of Zion.

The psalms are organized into five books or collections. They were probably collected gradually, as corporate worship forms developed along with temple worship. It is likely that by the time of Ezra, the books of the Psalter were organized into their final form. Each section concludes with a doxology, with the entire Psalter capped by Psalm 150, a grand doxology.

The psalms include unique Hebrew terms. The word Selah, found seventy-one times, is most likely a musical notation added by worship leaders after the Israelites incorporated the psalm into public worship. Scholars do not know the meaning of maskil, found in thirteen psalms. Occasionally, a psalm appears with instructions for the song leader. For example, we see instructions such as “For the director of music” (occurring in fifty-five psalms); “To the tune of ‘Lilies’” (similar references found in Psalms 45, 60, 69, 80); “To the tune of ‘The Doe of the Morning’ ” (Psalm 22); “To the tune of ‘Do Not Destroy’ ” (Psalms 57–59, 75). These and others can refer to melodies used with the given psalm or perhaps to suggestions for liturgical use.

Foreshadowings: God’s provision of a Savior for His people is a recurring theme in the Psalms. Prophetic pictures of the Messiah are seen in numerous psalms. Psalm 2:1-12 portrays the Messiah’s triumph and kingdom. Psalm 16:8-11 foreshadows His death and resurrection. Psalm 22 shows us the suffering Savior on the cross and presents detailed prophecies of the crucifixion, all of which were fulfilled perfectly. The glories of the Messiah and His bride are on exhibit in Psalm 45:6-7, while Psalms 72:6-17, 89:3-37, 110:1-7 and 132:12-18 present the glory and universality of His reign.

Application: One of the results of being filled with the Spirit or the word of Christ is singing. The psalms are the songbook of the early church that reflected the new truth in Christ. God is the same Lord in all the psalms. But we respond to Him in different ways, according to the specific circumstances of our lives. Throughout its many pages, Psalms encourages its readers to praise God for who He is and what He has done. We can bring all our feelings to God—no matter how negative or complaining they may be—and we can rest assured that He will hear and understand. The psalmists teach us that the most profound prayer of all is a cry for help as we find ourselves overwhelmed by the problems of life, coupled with an acknowledgement of just how great our God is. No matter your circumstance, the psalms contain a corresponding word that will help you share your heart with the Lord.

In summation, the Psalms illuminate the greatness of our God, affirm His faithfulness to us in times of trouble, and remind us of the absolute centrality of His Word. The portrayal of worship in the Psalms offers us glimpse after glimpse of hearts devoted to God, individuals repentant before Him, and lives changed through encounters with Him.

I pray you receive this with the love intended, and apply it to wisdom.

May the joy of the Lord continue to be your strength.

Love you much.

Stay Safe, Stay Healthy, Stay Blessed!

-Humble Servant

P.S- If you have not given your life to Jesus Christ, I implore you to take the time to do so right now. Use John 3:16 & Romans 10:9-10 as a foundation for making your confession of faith. And use Ephesians 2:1-10 to provide proper context for your salvation.

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