Introduction to Psalms

Psalms

Psalms is a collection of songs and poems written by different authors over an extended period of time (Between the time of Moses until the time of the Babylonian Captivity (1400 BC to 586 BC).

At the beginning of most of the Psalms is a note about who the author was and sometimes the inspiration event that prompted the Psalm. Sometimes you are left to use clues within the Psalm to try and figure out what events were occurring. Sometimes you can’t really piece it to a particular time.

King David has at least 73 attributed to him (either by him, about him, for him or dedicated to him)
Asaph has 11
The Sons of Korah have 12
Moses has 1
Solomon has 1
Heman has 1
Ethan has 1

These were used for personal worship and liturgical worship in the Temple. Since this collection took place over a long period of time, it is believed that the Temple priests maintained a collection of Psalms for worship like a hymnal, or hymn book.

“Thus the present book, which took shape during the postexilic era (most likely compiled by Temple personnel in the third century BC), can be thought of as a final edition in a long series of temple ‘hymnbooks'”. – Archaeological Study Bible by Zondervan, “Introduction to Psalms”

It helps to know the setting of each Psalm in the historical sense. So it helps to read and study the historical Old Testament books before starting the Psalms. If you do a non-stop read of Genesis to 2 Chronicles, this will give you a good overview. Next, I advise, a slower read of the same books and take some notes creating your own summary, or timeline, especially starting with Moses in Exodus through 2 Chronicles. Read your Study Bible’s introduction to get some background or historical references. Keep a list of the Kings (of the United Kingdom under David and Solomon, as well as, the divided Kingdoms of Israel and Judah). 

You may even want to do a little research on the history of the Israelites. Maybe do a Google search or use Wikipedia.

I know you don’t have to do all this prior study in order to enjoy reading the Psalms but I guarantee you it will be worth the effort you put in when you begin an indepth study of the Psalms. Remember, your Bible study time is liking digging deeper and deeper for priceless nuggets of WONDER and AWE.

I would add, you might want to do a little research on Biblical prophecy. Biblical prophecy usually has more than one realization. For instance, Isaiah may be prophesying about a time that will happen in HIS future, while he is still alive. This proves that his prophecy was God-given. I.e. It gives his prophecies credibility. But there may be other fulfillments in history, long after he is dead. And there is usually always the ultimate fulfillment through Jesus Christ. So you have layers of fulfillments. When you read the Psalms (and the Books of the Major and Minor Prophets, it helps to know the same historical context we talked about above but also how Biblical prophesies were fulfilled, have been fulfilled, are being fulfilled or will be fulfilled).

There are Chronological Bibles. These are Bibles that take the Books of the Bible and arrange each verse in a chronological order. Let’s say you are reading about the death of Saul and the rise of David to King. The story is told in 1 Samuel 31 and 2nd Samuel 1 and 2. But it’s also retold in 1 Chronicles 10 and 11. And it’s possible that King David wrote Psalms 2 and 18 inspired by the events of his coronation. So a Chronological Bible would arrange all these references together in the right order of time. One day I want to read and study with a Chronological Bible but that’s for another day.

 

The Psalm Collections are:

Book I (Psalms 1-41)

Book II (Psalms 42-72)

Book III (Psalms 73-89)

Book IV (Psalms 90-106)

Book V (Psalms 107-150)

 

The Psalms can also be categorized under types:

Psalms of Lament

Hymns of Praise

Hymns of Thanksgiving

Wisdom Psalms

Hymns Celebrating God’s Law

Songs of Confidence

Royal Psalms

Historical Psalms

Prophetic Psalms

Penitential Psalms

Imprecatory Psalms

Songs of Ascent (Psalms 120-134)

Egyptian Hallel (Psalms 113-118)

There are various poetic techniques used in the Psalms as well. One you may have heard about is an acrostic poem where each verse or stanza begins with a letter of the alphabet. In the Psalms it would be the Hebrew alphabet. We lose that in our translations but it was a technique to help the people memorize them.

Some were sung and this also helped the Israelites memorize them for worship much like our hymns today. The old hymns and new songs should be written to not only worship God but help us learn good doctrine and memorize scripture. We don’t want a catchy tune but bad doctrine because we are learning and repeating it in our heads and we can be led astray.  We want a catchy tune that will help us remember but words of scripture, good doctrine and true encouragement so we are learning as we sing. It gets ingrained in our minds and written in our hearts. There are some secular and popular songs that have such catchy tunes but trashy words and I HATE getting those stuck in my brain. I’ll be humming, whistling or singing crap all day. When I seem to get something like that stuck in my brain I will try 2 techniques to get rid of it. First I will try singing Christian lyrics to the tune. Satan usually can’t stand that and will finally leave me alone as I force myself to sing praise to God to that tune. If that doesn’t work, it’s time for the big guns and I pull out my Bible and begin an indepth study of something so that I’m deep into it and I find my mind being washed of that trashy tune.

“Formal, metrical poetry takes advantage of received poetic forms (sonnets, rondelets, limericks, and the like) as well as metrical patterns of verse (iambic pentameter, double dactyls, and so on) to create rhetorical and aural structure that sets up an expectation in the reader (or, really, in the listener, as all poetry is really meant to be heard). The craft of such poetry is to effectively build those structures and expectations; the art is to satisfy, foil, or play off those expectations. In this way, the form of a poem really does convey more than the words alone.” – by baudetetheology, https://bltnotjustasandwich.com/2012/05/20/psalm-1-and-poetic-forms/, 5/20/2012

Some of this we are going to lose in translation from Hebrew to American English 2022, LOL. But there are some that still come across such as parallelism. There is a continuous use of parallelism that exposes the power of repetition. For instance, Psalm 1 uses threefold parallelism with walk/stand/sit; counsel/way/session; wicked/sinners/scorners.

The Psalms also use personification, simile, symbolism, hyperbole, apostrophe, metaphor. There are visual images the Psalmist presents that we can’t forget. There are emotions described that we relate to. We connect with these images and emotions. There are Psalms of laments and Psalms of joy, Psalms of victory and Psalms of fear or anger. The Psalmists capture the human experience within the historical time but it also reaches through the ages to us and our own experiences. Some of the Psalms, or part of a Psalm, will be a prayer.  Thus these Psalms cover a wide range of emotions and experiences and give God’s people the words to express these before God. Even “bad” thoughts and emotions can be expressed to God for Him to use to shape us to gain more of His perspective and therefore come out more like Him. For instance, the Psalmist will express his utter despair, or his anger with those who attack him, or confusion over why wicked people seem to get ahead… all of these are the same questions we may have for God, the same feelings. But the Psalmist takes his feelings, emotions, questions TO GOD! He presents them TO GOD! And, in dialoguing with God, he usually comes to a place of a better perspective. At times the Psalmist hurls accusations and prays curses down on others (in Imprecatory Psalms) BUT, he is taking these things TO GOD and asking GOD to bring about the justice the Psalmist imagines. The Psalmist doesn’t take revenge and vengeance but leaves it to God to do what is right. Ex:

Psalm 94:1-2 (NLT)  O Lord, the God of vengeance, O God of vengeance, let your glorious justice shine forth. Arise, O judge of the earth. Give the proud what they deserve. How long, O Lord? How long will the wicked be allowed to gloat?…

“Throughout history God has been fashioning a people for Himself who will love and obey Him, and who will express and nourish their corporate life in gathered worship. The Psalms served as a vehicle for the prayers and praises of God’s people in Israel, and Christians today, who have been grafted into the olive tree of God’s ancient people (Roman 11:17, 24).” – ESV Study Bible, pg 938, Introduction to the Psalms, History of Salvation Summary

The Psalms gives us a photograph moment with each Psalmist where he utters what’s on his heart to God. No matter what his emotions are, or the situation is, he can go to God with his problems and come out a better person with a stronger faith. Sometimes the Psalm will start out with a statement of faith, go on to express his feelings and pain, but then end on a note of worship and faith again.

Since the Psalms were written, Jesus was born, lived, was crucified and raised from the dead. We now live in the Church Age which will last until Jesus comes back to rapture His people to Heaven and the Age of Tribulation will begin. The people of God are no longer just the Jews, one particular nation. Believers by faith in Jesus Christ are now also considered People of God. We are Gentile Believers and have been grafted, or adopted, into God’s true Family. We can also use the Psalms as praise, worship, prayers, and vehicles of understanding God’s love for His People.

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