The Psalms

by Arend Remmers

150 Psalms

  1. Author and Time of Writing
  2. Purpose of Writing
  3. Peculiarities
  4. Overview of Contents

1. Author and Time of Writing

The book of the Psalms is probably the best known part of the Old Testament (OT). It is a collection of 150 poems or songs by various authors and it is divided into five books (similar to the Pentateuch).

David wrote 73 Psalms. They are mainly to be found in the first, second and fifth book. Twelve Psalms bear the name of Asaph, the conductor of David's choir of the temple (1 Chron. 16:7; 2 Chron. 29:30). Asaph's Psalms are Psalm 50 and 73-83. Ten Psalms are written by the sons of Korah (Ps. 42; 44-49; 84; 85; 87), two by Solomon (Ps. 72 and 127), one each by Moses (Ps. 90), Ethan (Ps. 89) and Heman (Ps. 88). The remaining 50 Psalms bear no author's name.

The following Psalms are also ascribed to David in the New Testament (NT): Psalm 2 (Acts 4:25) and Psalm 95 (Heb. 4:7). Together with the Psalms that bear David's name they add up to 75, which means David has written exactly half of all the Psalms.

David was very suitable for this. He was an able poet, player (of an instrument) and singer (1 Sam. 16:18; 2 Sam. 23:1). He was filled with the Spirit of God (1 Sam. 16:13; 2 Sam. 23:2) and had gone through many experiences with God in his life of faith. Many references of Scripture tell us that David was very active in spiritual poetry and music (e. g. 1 Sam. 18:10; 2 Sam. 1:17-18; 6:5; 1 Chron. 6:31; 16:7; 25:1; 2 Chron. 7:6; 29:30; Ezra 3:10; Neh. 12:24, 36, 45; Amos 6:5).

In some places David mentions the occasion or the reason for the composition of a Psalm in the heading: Psalm 3, 7, 18, 34, 51, 52, 54, 57, 59, 60, 63, 142. One of these occasions is described in 2 Sam. 22. This is where we find a nearly word-by-word parallel to Ps. 18.

Psalm 90 is probably the oldest psalm: "A prayer of Moses the man of God". Moses lived in the 15th century BC. Most of the Psalms however have been written at the time of David who introduced the singing in the temple (1 Chron. 25). At the time of Hezekiah (2 Chron. 29:25-30) reference is made to that (".according to the commandment of David") and to the Psalms of David and Asaph. These psalms therefore had already been joined to a sort of collection. The last Psalms were written in the days of Ezra (5th century BC). Psalm 137 clearly refers to the Babylonian captivity. According to many researchers it was Ezra, the priest and scribe, himself who completed the final collection of the Psalms (Ezra 3:10).

2. Purpose of Writing

 

a) General

The book of Psalms is the first and main book of the third part of the Hebrew Bible, of the "writings" (hebr. ketubim). The reference in Luke 24:44 "psalms" probably means the whole third part of the OT. The Hebrew title is "tehillim" (hebr. hillil, which means "to praise"; compare hallelujah) and signifies "praises". The name "psalm" for a singular praise originates from the Greek and means "singing with instrumental accompaniment" or "playing a stringed instrument".

The Psalms particularly speak to the Bible-reader because the sentiments of God fearing men are expressed more than in other books of the Scriptures, be it in prayer, in confession, in praises or in grief. In many of these situations the Bible reader finds himself and therefore is especially attracted and spoken to by the Psalms.

b) Prophetic Character of the Psalms

But this does not yet exhaust the substance of the Psalms. For the psalmists not only described their own feelings. The Spirit of Christ was working in them and was sharing in their distresses and joys and was at one with them (compare Is. 63:9; 1 Pet. 1:11). This is why we find Christ everywhere in the Psalms and not only in the so-called "messianic psalms", e. g. Ps. 16, 22, 24, 40, 68, 69 and 118. Christ is very distinguished in the "messianic psalms" but many psalms are referred to Him in the NT (and these are not the so-called messianic psalms). The following Psalms ought to be mentioned especially:

Many more references could be added. Nearly half of all messianic references in the NT originate from the Psalms.

If we see this spiritual link of Christ with the believing Israelites (who wrote the Psalms) the true character of the book, which is a prophetic character, opens up before our eyes. The Spirit of Christ unites with the experiences and feelings of these believing Israelites. This is why the sufferings of the Lord and His feelings as true and perfect man are described in the book in such touching manner, for they are a proof of His interest in His earthly people.

Describing the history of the Jewish remnant in the last days reflects the prophetic character of the Psalms. But again not the outward events are described but the inward feelings. This would also explain the pleas for punishment or for vengeance on the enemies (e. g. Ps. 137:9), which are difficult to understand for many a reader. The feelings explained in these Psalms are feelings of believers but not of Christians living in the household of grace (compare Rom. 12:17-21). They are feelings of believing Jews living in the coming last days. These Jews will await God's salvation and the just punishment of their oppressors, and especially of the Antichrist.

c) Structure of the Psalms

Taking the prophetic viewpoint we will find a fairly clear division of the book. All other divisions are more or less unsatisfactory. The similar structure of the Psalms and of the Pentateuch is also remarkable and one can state certain parallels. The first Psalm of each book contains so to speak the "heading" and the last Psalm of each book concludes with praises.

Book I

The first book of the Psalms puts forward the principle of separation of the just from the unjust among the people of God. Connected with it the Messiah is seen as Son of God (Ps. 2), as Son of man (Ps. 8), as suffering servant (Ps. 22) and as true offering (Ps. 40). The prevailing name of God in this book is His covenant name Jehovah (which is mentioned approximately 275 times).

Book II

In the second book we find the sufferings of the just ones, who - separated from any blessing - live in great tribulation and who cry to God (Elohim is mentioned roughly 200 times) in their distress.

Book III

The third book describes the return of Israel as a people and God's mercy towards His people.

Book IV

The fourth book begins with the reign of Jehovah (app. 100 times) after introducing the firstborn into the habitable world (JND translation). With this begins the reign of the glorified Son of man in the Millennium after the salvation of the whole of Israel.

Book V

The fifth book contains the summary of all Jehovah's ways with His people Israel as well as the praise, which is due to Him for His mercy (Ps. 111-113; 146-150).

3. Peculiarities

 

a) Hebrew Poetry

Rhyme, rhythm and metre as well as partially the division into verses play an important role in classical European poetry. The Hebrew poetry is entirely different. Rhyme and metre are totally unknown. A division into verses, as we know it today is entirely unknown. Nevertheless we find a sort of division in Psalm 119, which 22 paragraphs of eight verses each are beginning with the same Hebrew letter continuously, that is verses 1-8 are starting by the letter aleph, verses 9-16 by the letter beth, etc. (acrostic).

In saying this we have already mentioned one style of Hebrew poetry, which is alliteration. Alliteration means that the beginning of words is similar and not the ending of words. One variety of alliteration is to have each verse begin with the successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet, as we find it in Ps. 9, 10, 25, 34, 47, 111, 112, 145 as well as in Proverbs 31:10-31 and Lam. 1-4 (compare also Ps. 119). The often very pictorial comparisons are a further element of Hebrew poetry (see Ps. 1:3; 22:12-16).

The most important characteristic however is parallelism. Parallelism means that a statement is stressed or extended by repetition. One distinguishes three kinds of parallelisms:

a)     Synonymous parallelism, for example Ps. 49:1 "Hear this, all ye people; give ear, all ye inhabitants of the world." - The same thought is expressed twice with different words.

b)     Antithetic (contrasted) parallelism, for example Ps. 1:6 "For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish." - The thought of the first sentence is stressed by the contrast in the final clause.

c)     Synthetic (connecting) parallelism, for example Ps. 22:4 "Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them." - The final clause completes and expands the thought of the first sentence.

b) Heading of the Psalms

With the exception of a few Psalms all Psalms bear a heading. The 34 Psalms without heading are: Ps. 1, 2, 10, 43, 71, 91, 93-97, 99, 104-107, 111-119, 135-137, 146-150 (The words "Praise ye the Lord" are not headings but belong to the text).

The most important headings are:

Maschil                             13 Psalms bear this heading (Ps. 32, 42, 44, 45, 52-55, 74, 78, 88, 89, 142). Maschil probably signifies teaching or instruction.

Poem                               Psalms 16 and 56-60 are headed "poem" (hebr. michtam).

Song of Degrees                 Psalms 120-134 are songs of degrees that is songs of going up. It is assumed that they were to be sung either on journeys to great feasts in Jerusalem or going up to the hill where the temple stood.

To the Chief Musician          55 Psalms of David's time bear this indication in the heading. The chief musician was certainly the conductor of the choir in the temple. In this we may see a hint to the Lord Jesus who Himself will sing praise in the midst of the assembly (compare Ps. 22:22; Heb. 2:12).

Any further expressions have no need of special explanation or are explained in the various editions of the Bible.

4. Overview of Contents

 

First Book (Psalm 1-41): Separation of the Just from the Unjust

Psalm

1

The Just and the Unjust

Psalm

2

God's King: the Messiah

Psalm

3

David's Confidence in the Unchangeable God

Psalm

4

David's Confidence in the Special Care of God

Psalm

5

Jehovah Hears the Cry of His People

Psalm

6

Plea for Mercy

Psalm

7

Prayer for Just Punishment of the Oppressor

Psalm

8

Reign of the Son of Man

Psalm

9

Praising God for Victory over the Enemies

Psalm

10

Plea for Salvation from the Wicked

Psalm

11

The Just in the midst of Wickedness

Psalm

12

The Confidence of the Just in the midst of Wickedness

Psalm

13

Ditto

Psalm

14

General Ruin of Mankind

Psalm

15

Marks of the True God-Fearing

Psalm

16

Christ as Perfect Man

Psalm

17

Prayer of the Just for Protection

Psalm

18

Praise of God

Psalm

19

Testimony of God in Creation

Psalm

20

Help from the Sanctuary

Psalm

21

Royal Song of Victory

Psalm

22

Christ's Sufferings and Glory

Psalm

23

Christ, the Good Shepherd

Psalm

24

Christ, the King of Glory

Psalm

25

Plea for Salvation and Forgiveness

Psalm

26

Prayer of an Upright Man

Psalm

27

Desire for God's Presence

Psalm

28

Cry in Distress

Psalm

29

God's Might is Above Everything

Psalm

30

Praise for God's Help

Psalm

31

Salvation from the Enemy

Psalm

32

Blessing of Forgiveness

Psalm

33

Worship of the Creator

Psalm

34

Experience of Those who Love God

Psalm

35

Cry for Help of the One in Distress

Psalm

36

Mind of the Wicked and the Goodness of God

Psalm

37

Confidence in God in the midst of a Wicked World

Psalm

38

Sufferings of the Believers for their Sins

Psalm

39

Every Man is Vanity

Psalm

40

Christ the Obedient Servant of God

Psalm

41

Confidence, Betrayal and Triumph

Second Book (Psalm 42-72): The Sufferings of the Just

Psalm

42

Desire of the Just for God

Psalm

43

Continuation of Psalm 42

Psalm

44

The People of God in Distress Cry for God

Psalm

45

Christ, King and Bridegroom

Psalm

46

God is Refuge and Strength

Psalm

47

God's Reign as King

Psalm

48

The City of God

Psalm

49

Vanity of Earthly Riches

Psalm

50

The Just Judgment of God

Psalm

51

Confession of Sins and Repentance

Psalm

52

Condemnation of the Wicked

Psalm

53

Apostasy of the Wicked

Psalm

54

The Cry of the God-fearing for Salvation

Psalm

56

Confidence in the Faithfulness of God

Psalm

57

Confidence in the Salvation of God

Psalm

58

God Reveals Himself in Judgment

Psalm

59

Help for the Helpless

Psalm

60

Lamentation in Great Distress

Psalm

61

God is the True Refuge

Psalm

62

God Only Saves

Psalm

63

Thirst for God

Psalm

64

The Fate of the Enemies

Psalm

65

The Rich Blessing of God

Psalm

66

Acknowledgement of Just Intervention of God

Psalm

67

Outlook on the Blessing

Psalm

68

Liberation is Accomplished

Psalm

69

Lamentation of the Rejected Messiah

Psalm

70

Cry for Salvation

Psalm

71

Revival of People of God

Psalm

72

Announcement of Reign of Peace

Third Book (Psalm 73-89): Return of the People and God's Goodness

Psalm

73

An Enigma and its Solution

Psalm

74

Destruction of the Sanctuary

Psalm

75

God's Coming into Action by Judgment

Psalm

76

Victorious Might of God

Psalm

77

Retrospect in Faith

Psalm

78

God's Dealings in the History of Israel

Psalm

79

Prayer at Destruction of Jerusalem

Psalm

80

Prayer of the People in Their Distress

Psalm

81

The People Gather Fresh Hope

Psalm

82

God's Judgment of the Judges

Psalm

83

Prayer at the Attack of the Enemy

Psalm

84

Taking Pleasure in the Sanctuary of Jehovah

Psalm

85

The People of God Enjoy the Promised Blessing

Psalm

86

The God-fearing Soul in Humble Prayer to God (This is the only Psalm of David in the third book.)

Psalm

87

Zion, the City of God

Psalm

88

A Prayer coming from Deepest Distress

Psalm

89

Covenant of God and His Faithfulness

Fourth Book (Psalm 90-106): Jehovah's Government in the Millennium

Psalm

90

The Eternal God and Mortal Men (of Moses; probably the oldest Psalm)

Psalm

91

Exemplary Confidence of Man In God

Psalm

92

Song of Praise in the Sanctuary

Psalm

93

Jehovah Reigns in Majesty

Psalm

94

Cry for Justice and Vengeance

Psalm

95

Praise of Jehovah as Creator and Saviour of His People

Psalm

96

Praise of Jehovah as Creator and Judge of the Earth

Psalm

97

Appearing of Jehovah as King

Psalm

98

Praise of Jehovah, the King

Psalm

99

Jehovah's Reign

Psalm

100

Worldwide Worship of Jehovah

Psalm

101

Principles of Jehovah's Government

Psalm

102

God Revealed in Flesh

Psalm

103

Israel's Praise over Ways of God

Psalm

104

Praise of Creator-God

Psalm

105

Historical Retrospective: God's Faithfulness toward Israel

Psalm

106

Historical Retrospective: Israel's Unfaithfulness toward God

Fifth Book (Psalm 107-150): Summary of Jehovah's Ways with His People

Psalm

107

Jehovah Saves Out of Every Difficulty

Psalm

108

The Coming Salvation

Psalm

109

Hostility to Christ

Psalm

110

Christ as Priest and King

Psalm

111

Praise of the Wonderful Works of Jehovah

Psalm

112

Jehovah's Blessing for the God-fearing

Psalm

113

Praise of the Name of Jehovah

Psalm

114

The Might of the God of Jacob

Psalm

115

Honour Is Due to God Only

Psalm

116

Praise of God for His Help in Distress

Psalm

117

Praise of the Nations (This is the shortest Psalm.)

Psalm

118

Israel Recognises the True Corner-stone (This Psalm is the one most frequently quoted in the NT.)

Psalm

119

Praise of the Word of God (the longest Psalm)

Psalm

120

Solemnity of the God-fearing

Psalm

121

God as Protector of Israel

Psalm

122

House and City of God

Psalm

123

Israel's Fountain of Help in Tribulation

Psalm

124

Salvation in Distress

Psalm

125

Perfect Security

Psalm

126

Sowing in Tears and Reaping with Rejoicing

Psalm

127

Blessing over the House

Psalm

128

Blessing over the Family

Psalm

129

God's Mighty Hand

Psalm

130

Repentance and Forgiveness

Psalm

131

Rest and Satisfaction

Psalm

132

Habitation of Jehovah in Zion

Psalm

133

Blessing of Brotherly Fellowship

Psalm

134

Worship in the Sanctuary

Psalm

135

Knowing and Worshiping the True God

Psalm

136

Praise of God's Eternal Mercy

Psalm

137

Reminiscences of the Exile

Psalm

138

Praise of God for His Salvation

Psalm

139

The Heart-searching Presence of God

Psalm

140

Jehovah, the Fountain of Help for the Just

Psalm

141

Prayer of the Just amidst the Wicked

Psalm

142

Jehovah, the Refuge of the Lonely Ones

Psalm

143

Prayer out of Deepest Distress

Psalm

144

The True Fountain of Strength

Psalm

145

Praise of God in the Millennium

Psalm

146

Personal Praise of the Just

Psalm

147

Praise of the People of God

Psalm

148

Praise of the Whole Creation

Psalm

149

Praise by a New Song

Psalm

150

End: Summary of God's Praises

 Arend Remmers

Expand All | Collapse All

God
Bible
Christianity
Christian Living
Marriage & Family
Church
Rapture
Prophecy
Topics by author
Commentaries
Overview
Old Testament
New Testament
Index by Author
Lectures
E-Books
Magazine
Audio Teaching
Meet Christians
Study Meetings
In the Hall
In the Home
Study Meetings in UK
Conferences
Plumstead Conference
Children's Corner
Links
Site Updates

Copyright © Biblecentre.org :: Free for personal use
Publication only with prior permision from Biblecentre