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Psalms

Psalms Bible Walk 

December, 2004 and January, 2005

Sepher Tehillim “Book of Praises" Israel praises, prays to, and ponders God, or, Man responds to God and His work

  • Psalm 150:6. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord!

Theme: Israel Praises, Prays to, and Ponders God.

  • The Psalms were Israel’s God-inspired temple hymnal and poetry book. They were religious lyric poetry.  Lyric poetry employed images, symbols, figures of speech, and emotional language that expressed the authors deep feelings. Furthermore, the word pictures used help the reader to experience the same feelings that the author had (e.g. Psalm 22; 23; 32; 42; 46; 91; 121).
  • The Psalms reveal on the one hand God’s character, His lovingkindness, His plan for history, and His acts in history; and on the other hand they reveal Israel’s loyalty, faith, emotion, worries, sins, confessions, and pleas directed to the Lord God, the creator of heaven and earth.
  • The Psalms represent the experiences of Israel’s struggles to survive and prosper as God’s people and her struggles to witness to God and to God’s redemption. She was an agricultural nation, a military nation, and the priest nation. Her history was laden with wars to conquer her land and to preserve her freedom, her land, and her spiritual heritage. She often failed, and sometimes succeeded. The Psalms reflect this.
  • Israel wrote, recited, and sang of God’s past deliverances and blessings, of God’s word as her source of comfort, strength, and guidance, and of her future. This psalm writing, singing, and reciting was a part of the day to day life of the Hebrew people. The Bible records Moses’ psalm of praise in Exodus 15. Deborah praised God with a psalm about the defeat and death of Commander Sisera of the Canaanite forces (Judges 5). Hannah praises God for her son Samuel. Mary did the same, in Luke 1:46-55, about the coming birth of the Savior.

Overview Outline of the Psalms

  • Book 1: Psalms 1-41 ends with “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel” (Psalm 41:13).
  • Book 2: Psalms 42-72 ends with “Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel” (Psalm 72:18).
  • Book 3: Psalms 73-89 ends with “Blessed be the Lord forever (Psalm 89:52).
  • Book 4: Psalms 90-106 ends with “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel” (Psalm 106:48).
  • Book 5: Psalms 107-150 “Praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6).

History and Organization 

  • The 150 different Psalms were written over approximately 1000 years. Moses lived from 1520 to 1440; he wrote Psalm 90. The last Psalms were likely written and collected during the Ezra and Nehemiah era (400s BC). Psalms is in the third section of the Hebrew OT, the writings. The history and organization is technical, but demonstrates that the Hebrews took their hymn book seriously and used it often.
  • The name “Psalms” comes from Codex Vaticanus, a fifth century copy of the Greek translation of the OT. The Hebrew word is mizmor, (מִזְמֹ֖ור) which indicates lyrics accompanied by stringed instruments. It is found in 57 Psalm titles (e.g. Psalm 30; 31; 75).
  • The Psalter was formed over a period of a thousand years through  gradual stages. One can see principles of arrangement throughout the Psalter: same author, similar or contrasting life situations, words and phrases linking psalms.
    • Individual authors, (Moses (90) and David (105), wrote poems. Some were then used in the worship by Israel. First Chronicles 16:4 indicate that Levites in David’s time prepared psalms for worship services.
    • Next, there would have been some type of collection in groups and these were included in the books that we now have. Psalm 72:20 indicates an older collection of David’s prayers. Second Chronicles 29:30 suggest that Hezekiah had two collections of poems for singing. The Qumran scrolls have the same five book division as our present Hebrew text.
    • These smaller collections were likely arranged into the books that we now have.
    • An editor apparently arranged the books in the present order. Psalms 1 and 2 are fitting beginning to the Psalter and Psalms 145-150 are the “grand finale” to the Psalter.
  • The Psalms have been organized into five books. Each book ends with a doxology, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel” or a slight variation of that. Psalm 150 then is the doxology for the entire Psalter.
    • Book 1: Psalms 1-41 ends with “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel” (Psalm 41:13).
    • Book 2: Psalms 42-72 ends with “Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel” (Psalm 72:18).
    • Book 3: Psalms 73-89 ends with “Blessed be the Lord forever (Psalm 89:52).
    • Book 4: Psalms 90-106 ends with “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel” (Psalm 106:48).
    • Book 5: Psalms 107-150 “Praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6).
  • The headings of the individual chapters are part of the Hebrew text and as such are inspired and accurate (e.g. 23, 49, 72, 90, 92, 100, 102, 120-134, 145). Fourteen Psalm titles refer to some historical event. Some of the historical references are clear and some are not so clear as to the specific event or events referred to.
    • Psalm 3 has Absalom’s rebellion against David recorded in 2 Samuel 15-18 as the history.
    • Psalm 7 possibly goes back to 1 Samuel 23:24-29 where Saul was chasing David in the wilderness of Maon, but Saul had to turn back because the Philistines raided his own land.
    • Psalm 18 is almost the same as 2 Samuel 22. David sings to the Lord because God delivered him from Saul.
    • Psalm 34 goes with 1 Samuel 21:10-22:2. David escaped from Gath and went to the cave of Adullam.
    • Psalm 51 is David’s prayer of confession after he admits his sin with Bathsheba to Nathan recorded in 2 Samuel 11-12.
    • Psalm 52 has its history in 1 Samuel 22.9. Doeg told Saul that David went to Ahimelech, the priest.
    • Psalm 54 goes with 1 Samuel 23:15-23. David was in Ziph and the Ziphites tried to surrender him to Saul, but failed.
    • Psalm 56 has its history in 1 Samuel 21:10-15 where David went to Gath and acted like a madman.
    • Psalm 57, like Psalm 142, likely refers to 1 Samuel 22 and 1 Samuel 24.  David hides in a cave at Adullam and En Gedi.
    • Psalm 59 has 1 Samuel 19:11-17 in mind. Michal helped David escape from Saul.
    • Psalm 60 finds its history in 1 Chronicles 18:9-12 and 2 Samuel 8:8, and 13. David defeated Hadadezer of Zobah, the Arameans, and the Edomites.
    • Psalm 63 may have its background in 2 Samuel 8:13 (David’s battles with the Arameans), 2 Samuel 15:23 (Absalom rebellion), or 1 Samuel 22 and 23 (David’s troubles while Saul pursued him).
    • Psalm 30 may have it background when David wrongly numbered the people, then bought the threshing floor from Ornan the Jebusite and built an altar to the Lord on it as recorded in 1 Chronicles 21 and 22.
    • Psalm 142, like Psalm 57, likely refers to 1 Samuel 22 and 1 Samuel 24.  David hides in a cave at Adullam and En Gedi.
  • The Psalms have technical names that identify the kind of psalm or that refer to some event or use of the psalm.
    • Psalm (mizmor), 57 psalms, is a “song accompanied by the plucking of the strings of an instrument.”
    • Song (shir), 12 psalms, means a song.
    • Maskil, 13 psalms, is a contemplative poem.
    • Miktam is in the heading of six psalms. The original meaning is unknown, but it was later known as an epigram, an inscribed poem, or a poem with pithy sayings.
    • Prayers (tepillah), is used for five psalms and Habakkuk 3.
    • Praise (tehillah) heads Psalm 145.
    • A song of Ascents (Psalm 120-134) likely were psalms sung or used when Israel went up to Jerusalem for her festivals (Exodus 23:17; Psalm 42:4; Isaiah 30:29). These could be classified with the thanksgiving, praise, declaration psalms.
  • The numbering of the Psalms varies a little, with the Greek and the Vulgate slightly different from the Hebrew. The English translations that depend more on the Greek and Latin differ from the English translations that depend on the Hebrew text. For example, Psalm 131 in the Greek text is Psalm 132 in the Hebrew and English.
  • The verse numbers also differ between the Greek and the Hebrew texts because the Hebrew superscriptions or titles are not numbered in the Greek and English versions, and therefore the Hebrew verse numbers will often be one or more numbers higher than the English or Greek.
  • The Psalms have at least three text types—Massoretic Hebrew, Septuagint Greek which is inferior to the Hebrew, and a text type found among the Dead Sea Scrolls (11QPsa ), also inferior.
    • The Massoretic Text (MT) is the Hebrew text; it is the best text. This is the text of the standard published Hebrew Bible.
    • The Septuagint text is the Greek text. This is inferior to the Hebrew text. It became the basis for two of Jerome’s translations-revisions of the Old Latin Psalter. The Latin Vulgate also follows the Greek text.
    • The Dead Sea Scrolls is the third major text type and demonstrates the accuracy of the MT.

The Psalm Headings: (Superscriptions) Have Notes That Indicate Author, Music, Director, and Instruments

  • Ninety Psalms name their author, while 60 Psalms are anonymous.
    • Moses wrote Psalm 90.
    • David wrote 73 Psalms, mainly in Books I and II.
    • Asaph wrote 12 Psalms: Psalm 50 and 73-83.
    • Heman the Ezrahite wrote Psalm 88
    • Ethan the Ezrahite wrote Psalm 89.
    • Solomon wrote Psalm 72 and 127.
  • Many of the Psalms have beginning notes to indicate the director or performer.
    • For the choir director in 55 Psalms (e.g. 4, 5, 6, 20, 22).
    • For the sons of Korah were likely the musical performers (42, 44-49, 84, 87-88).
    • Jeduthun, who was one of David’s music directors in 1 Chronicles 16.41 (39, 62, 77).
    • Alamoth possibly means “maidens” or a song sung by female voices (46).
  • Some Psalms have beginning notes about the instruments. I have listed important ones.
    • Stringed instruments or instrument (4, 6, 54-55, 67, 76).
    • Eight stringed lute, lyre, harp (6, 12).
    • Flute (5).
    • Gittith may mean wine song or an instrument from Gath (8, 81, 84).
  • Melody indicators are also placed in the superscription or heading and indicate “to the tune of.”
    • To the lily or lilies, shoshannim (45, 60. 69. 80).
    • To the doe of the morning, Aijeleth Hashshahar (22).
    • To the silent dove of the distances, Jonath elem rehokim (56).
    • Do not destroy, Al-tashheth, (57-59, 75).
    • The meanings of the tunes of 9, 53, and 88 are disputed. Psalm 9, Muth-labben means the death of the son.
    • One exception is Selah, which is found 71 times in the Psalms, but not in the heading. It may be a pause to tell the worshippers to lift up their voices. It was an editorial addition.

The Psalms Were Written With Meter (Rhythm) and Parallelism 

  • The meter has not been determined with any confidence. Most scholars simply count the accented words or groups of words to arrive at a meter. Parallelism in the Psalms is parallelism of expression or ideas. Most parallelism refers to ideas within a verse. There are a number of kinds of parallelism.
  • Synonymous parallelism. The two consecutive lines are very close in thought or a term. Examples include 1:2, 3:1, 7:17, 22:18, and 105:23.
  • Antithetical parallelism. The two consecutive lines contrast thought. Examples include 1:6 and 90:6.
  • Emblematic parallelism. One line is a truth and the other line pictures the truth or gives an emblem clarifying the truth. Examples include 1:3, 23:1, 42:1, and 103:13.
  • Synthetic parallelism. Here the second line develops or expands the first line. Examples include 1.1 and 95:3
  • Climactic parallelism. The first line makes a statement and the second line repeats the statement and completes the thought. Psalm 29:1 and 96:7 are examples.
  • Alphabetic or acrostic Psalms. In these psalms each line begins with a letter of the alphabet in order from aleph (the first Hebrew letter) to tav (the last Hebrew letter). Psalm 119 has each section divided according to letter. For example, 119:1-8 is the aleph section and each line begins with aleph. There are 22 sections corresponding to the 22 letters (sin and shin count as the same letter, so 22 sections, not 23) of the Hebrew alphabet. This alphabetizing aids in memory. The acrostic psalms are 9-10 (taken together), 25, 34, 37, 111, 112, 119, and 145.

There Are Different Categories of Psalms Based Upon Their Themes 

  • The Chronicler wrote that David appointed some Levites to minister before the ark of the Lord, to celebrate and to thank and praise the Lord God of Israel (1 Chronicles 16:4). There are also different kinds of Psalms. The classification varies with different scholars. This is a simplified classification. As a note of caution regarding what are called messianic psalms, we must be careful not to read into a psalm more than the author understood or meant. The NT author under inspiration used psalms for his purpose, but this use was often different than the original author understood.
  • Imprecatory psalm in which the author asks God (not man) to judge sin, condemn the wicked, and show his righteousness (e.g. 7, 35, 55, 58, 59, 69, 79, 109, 137, 139).
  • Lament psalms, individual and national, in which a person or the nation asks God for help during a failure, testing, or disaster (e.g. 3, 12, 13, 44, 85).
  • Messianic psalms, in which the psalmist speaks in some way of the coming messiah (110). Messianic predictions are based in the hoped for ideal Davidic king. Some refer to the historical scene at the time of writing but apparently also have a clouded reference to the coming messiah. These do have historical reality, but the Messiah is the one through whom the ideal Davidic ruler is completely realized (2, 22, 45, 72, 69, 132).
  • Penitential psalms, in which one confesses sin to God and desires forgiveness and blessing (e.g. 6, 32, 51).
  • Royal psalms proclaim God the king (e.g. 2, 72, 93, 97, 99, 132).
  • Thanksgiving, praise, and declaration psalms (e.g. 19, 92, 103-106, 112, 113, 135, 136, 145-150).

Key Words and Phrases (There are many. I have selected some.)

  • Anoint, anointed. = messiah. 12x. Noun mashiyach 10x, 2:2; 18:50; 20:6; 28:8; 84:9; 89:38; 89:51; 105:15; 132:10, 17. Verb mashach 2x, 45:7; 89:20. Psalm 23:5 is a different word.
  • Bless, blessed, blessing(s), 108x. 1:1; 5:12; 32:1
  • Enemy, 75x. 3:7; 23:5; 83:2; 92:9; 143:9.
  • God’s Power, 21x. 21:3; 54:1; 59:11; 62:11; 63:2; 78:26; 106:8; 145:6, 11.
  • Heart, 130x. 4:4, 7; 13:5; 14:1; 19:8; 40:8; 73:26; 111:1; 139:23.
  • Israel 62x. 14:7; 68:35; 78; 81; 98:3; 103:7; 105; 114:1-2; 135; 147.
  • King, 68x. 2:6; 5:2; 10:16; 47:7; 74:12; 145:1
  • Praise, 166x. 7:17; 9:11; 48:1; 69:34; 89:5; 113:1, 3; 148:13; 150:6 “halelu yah”
  • Prayer, 28x. 17:1; 54:2; 66:19; 102:17. Pray, 4x. 5:3; 32:6; 122:6.
  • Righteous, 66x. 7:11; 11:7; 19:9; 32:11; 68:3; 119:137; 148:8.
  • Salvation, 61x. Noun yeshu`ah Strongs 3444. 3:8; 9:14; 118:2. Noun Yesha` Strong 3468, 27:1; 51:12; 79:9; 95:1. Noun teshu`ah Strong 8668, 146:3.
  • Thanks, 52x. 9:1; 52:9; 100:4.
  • Trust, 47x. Verb batach Strong 982, 4:5; 9:10; 37:5; 44:6; 56:11; 115:11; 146:3. Noun mibtach Strong 4009, 40:4.
  • Word, 87x. 12:6; 33:6; 56:4; 119:11; 119:50; 138:2. Also law 35x, testimony 31x, precepts 24x, commandment 41x, and judgments 29x as in Psalm 19.
  • Worship, 14x in NASB; 17x by Hebrew word chavah in the eshtaphal stem, to bow down, to prostrate oneself, to worship. Strong’s 7812 says from shachah. New research based on the Ugaritic language has corrected this. 5:7; 22:27; 29:2; 66:4; 72:11; 99:5, 9. Psalm 2:11 has `bad, to serve.

Key Doctrines With Example Scripture

  • War against God and God’s people, 2; 59
  • Dispensation of Israel, 78; 114
  • Divine attributes, 19, 33, 139, and 145
  • Encouragement, 13, 23, and 31
  • Faith and rest, 37, 91
  • Fellowship with God, 27, 34, 40, 42,
  • Forgiveness, 32, 38, 86, and 51
  • God’s faithfulness, 23, 91
  • God’s word, 19 and 119
  • Messiah, 110
  • Praise, 145-150
  • Suffering, 22, 86
  • Worship, 66, 99

Lessons for Today

  • God is the creator, sustainer, and redeemer. He alone is unique. We ought to listen to God, believe him, praise him, worship him, and serve him. 115
  • God is trustworthy and faithful to his word and to his people. We ought to trust him and obey him. 91
  • God’s word is the truth. It is the ultimate source of knowledge about God, man, sin, salvation, righteousness, blessing, the future—about whatever is important. We ought to study it, meditate in it, and delight in it. 119
  • Mankind sins. Sin has consequences—directly from God or simply from bad choices—and God forgives. God disciplines his people to correct and to bless them, and to honor himself. God also freely forgives sin. The psalms give case histories of sin, consequences of sin, confession of sin, and forgiveness. We ought to listen to the psalms and experience the forgiveness, blessing, comfort, refreshment. 51
  • God has created, chosen, blessed, and covenanted with Israel that they are his people and they have a wonderful future through the Messiah. God will bless and rule the world through Israel. We ought to bless Israel and pray for her restoration. 78
  • The world is at war with God and with God’s people, Israel and the Church. Satan leads his forces against God, Israel, Jesus Christ, and the Church. The angelic conflict plays out through God’s will verses man’s will, sin verses righteousness, grace verses works, Israel verses anti-semitism, God’s Word and the biblical worldview verses human viewpoint or the non-biblical worldview. The psalms clearly depict this constant warfare with the pitfalls, defeats, sources of strength and encouragement, and the short term and long terms victories. We ought to be informed, prepared, and fight with God’s power and God’s weapons. 2
  • The psalmist desires and seeks Fellowship with God. We find this scattered throughout the Psalms. It is especially noted when sin has interrupted fellowship with God, when adversity has struck and the psalmist longs for God’s fellowship or presence, and when the psalmist is especially aware of God’s greatness. We also ought to desire close fellowship with God every day of our lives—to live as friends of God. 42