At a Glance
Author: Multiple authors, including David, Solomon, Asaph, the prophetic singers of Korah’s clan, and Moses
Audience: Originally Israel, but the Psalms speak to humanity in general
Date: From the monarchy to the postexilic era
Type of Literature: Poems, which reflect several types: wisdom, lament, prayer, praise, blessings, liturgy, and prophetic oracles
Major Themes: Praise, prayer, wisdom, prophecy, and Jesus Christ
Outline: The book of Psalms is really five books in one. Moses gave us the five books of the Law called the Pentateuch; David gave us the five books of the Psalms. Each division ends with a doxology that includes the word “Amen!” The last division ends with Psalm 150 as the doxology, forming an appropriate conclusion to this “Pentateuch of David.” These five divisions have been compared to the first five books of the Bible:
Psalms 1–41 (Genesis) — Psalms of man and creation
Psalms 42–72 (Exodus) — Psalms of suffering and redemption
Psalms 73–89 (Leviticus) — Psalms of worship and God’s house
Psalms 90–106 (Numbers) — Psalms of our pilgrimage on earth
Psalms 107–150 (Deuteronomy) — Psalms of praise and the Word
I have loved the Psalms for over forty years. They have been my comfort and joy, leading me to the place where worship flows. When discouraged or downcast, I have never failed to take new strength from reading the Psalms. They charge my batteries and fill my sails. In fact, they seem to grow even more powerful as I grow older. Their thunder stirs me; their sweet melodies move me into the sacred emotions of a heart on fire. The dark rain clouds of grief turn to bright rainbows of hope just from meditating on David’s soul-subduing songs.
The Psalms find the words that express our deepest and strongest emotions, no matter what the circumstances. Every emotion of our hearts is reflected in the Psalms. Reading the Psalms will turn sighing into singing and trouble into triumph. The word praise is found 189 times in this book. There is simply nothing that touches my heart like the Psalms. Thousands of years ago my deepest feelings were put to music—this is what we all delightfully discover when reading the Psalms!
A contemporary name for the book of Psalms could be Poetry on Fire. These 150 poetic masterpieces give us an expression of faith and worship. They become a mirror to the heart of God’s people in our quest to experience God’s presence. Much of Christianity has become so intellectualized that our emotions and artistic creativity are often set aside as unimportant in the worship of God. The Psalms free us to become emotional, passionate, sincere worshipers. It is time to sing the Psalms!
The Psalms are clearly poetic. They are praises placed inside of poetry. Everyone who reads the Psalms realizes how filled with emotion they are! You will never be bored in reading the poetry that spills out of a fiery, passionate heart. These verses contain both poetry and music that touch the heart deeply, enabling you to encounter the heart of God through your emotional and creative senses.
Author and Audience
Most of these poetic masterpieces come to us from David, King of Israel. He wrote them during specific periods of his life: when he was on the run from Saul, grateful for the Lord’s protection and provision, scared for his future, mournful over his sin, and praising God with uplifted hands. Other authors include David’s son Solomon, Moses, Asaph, and the prophetic singers of Korah’s clan.
While they were written during specific periods in the history of Israel—from the monarchy to the postexilic eras—they connect to our own time as much as they reflect their time. So in many ways these poems are written to you and me. The original audience was the children of Israel, but the Psalms reflect the hopes and dreams, fears and failures of humanity in general.
Poetry of Praise. The Psalms are pure praise, inspired by the breath of God. Praise is a matter of life and breath. As long as we have breath we are told to praise the Lord. The Psalms release a flood of God-inspired insights that will lift heaviness off the human heart. The Psalms are meant to do for you what they did for David: they will bring you from your cave of despair into the glad presence of the King who likes and enjoys you.
Poetry of Prayer. Mixed with intercession, the Psalms become the fuel for our devotional life. Each psalm is a prayer. The early church recited and sang the Psalms regularly. Many contemporary worship songs have been inspired by this book of prayer-poetry!
Poetry of Wisdom. The Psalms unlock mysteries and parables, for within the purest praise is the cryptic language of a wise messenger. The wisdom of God is contained in these 150 keys; you have a key chain with master keys to unlock God’s storehouse of wisdom and revelation. It is the “harp” (anointed worship) that releases divine secrets. Read carefully Psalm 49:4: “I will break open mysteries with my music, and my song will release riddles solved.”
Poetry of Prophecy. Prophetic insights rest upon the Psalms. David’s harp brings revelation and understanding to the people. Singers who tap into the insights of the Psalms will bring forth truths in their songs, which will break the hearts of people and release divine understanding to the church. Prophets must become musicians and musicians must become prophets for the key of David to be given to the church.
Poetry of Jesus Christ. As with every part of the Old Testament, we are called to read the Psalms in two ways: (1) as the original audience heard them in their ancient Hebrew world; and (2) as the fulfillment of messianic prophesies, submitting by faith that these poems point to Jesus Christ. Therefore, at one level, these poems are all about him. There are 150 Psalms, and each of them reveals a special and unique aspect of the God-man, Christ Jesus. We could say every Psalm is messianic in that each finds its fulfillment in Christ. Looking backward in light of Christ’s revelation, we see they all point to our Lord Jesus, whom God has chosen as King over all.
Since these songs are all about Jesus, one of the keys to understanding the Psalms is to look for Jesus within its pages. Luke 24:44 says: “I told you that everything written about me would be fulfilled, including all the prophecies from the law of Moses through the Psalms and the writings of the prophets—that they would all find their fulfillment.” There are many secrets about Jesus waiting to be discovered here!
Poetry on Fire
The Genesis Psalms
Psalms of man and creation
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Psalms About this book
About this book
The book of Psalms is the longest book in the Bible. Psalms are poems that can either be sung as songs or spoken as prayers by individuals or groups. There are 150 psalms in this book, and many of them list King David as their author. They were collected over a long period of time and became a very important part of the worship of the people of Israel.
Some of the psalms tell the music leader what instruments should be used and what tunes should be followed. For example, look at Psalm 4 and Psalm 45.
Many of the Bible's main ideas are echoed in the Psalms: praise, thankfulness, faith, hope, sorrow for sin, God's loyalty and help. And at the heart of all the psalms there is a deep trust in God. The writers of the psalms always express their true feelings, whether they are praising God for his blessings or complaining in times of trouble.
In ancient Israel the psalms were used in several different ways: (1) to praise God, as in Psalm 105; (2) to express sorrow, as in Psalm 13; (3) to teach, as in Psalm 1; (4) to honour Israel's king and pray for fairness in his rule, as in Psalm 72; (5) to tell of God's power over all creation, as in Psalm 47; (6) to show love for Jerusalem, as in Psalm 122; and (7) to celebrate festivals, as in Psalm 126. Of course, many of the psalms could be used for more than one purpose.
Jesus used the psalms when he preached and taught, and they were often quoted by the writers of the New Testament. The earliest Christians also used the psalms in worship, teaching, and telling others the good news about what God has done through Jesus Christ. A verse from Psalm 118, for example, is directly referred to six times in the New Testament:
The stone that the builders
has now become
the most important stone.
A quick look at this book
The book of Psalms is divided into five sections or “books”. Most of the psalms in Books 1 and 2 were written by David, while many in Book 3 were written by either Asaph or the people of Korah. Psalms 120-134 are all “celebration psalms”. The five sections of the book of Psalms are:
Book 1 (1—41)
Book 2 (42—72)
Book 3 (73—89)
Book 4 (90—106)
Book 5 (107—150)
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© British and Foreign Bible Society 2012