Psalms – An Introduction 2

LINKS TO THE OLD TESTAMENT

Many Psalms are linked to other parts of the Old Testament, such as historical narrative (78, 105, 106) and these Psalms teach lessons from history. There are autobiographical and testimony Psalms of the individual’s experience which teaches lessons to others (34, 73).

There are prophecy Psalms relating directly to Old Testament prophets, and links with other Old Testament wisdom literature. Psalms such as 19 and 119 reflect on the law. Consider Abraham and compare Psalm 3:3,8 with Genesis 15:1.

There are many laments elsewhere in the Old Testament such as Job and Jeremiah. There are praise passages in the prophets such as Isaiah 12 and links with praise Psalms such as 2 Samuel 22 to Psalm 18.

AUTHORSHIP

The titles (superscriptions) of the Psalms are actually a part of the Biblical text, but there is no consensus of opinion as to the reliability of those headings. They were found in the Septuagint and have been part of the Biblical text at least since then. Therefore, they were in the Scriptures that Jesus had, and should be taken seriously. Nevertheless, some scholars canonise the titles, some do not.

The New Testament takes the Psalms seriously (Mark 12:25-37 and Psalm 110). Psalm 137 is certainly after the exile, and 107 is probably so. Historical Psalms concentrate on the early period of Israel’s history of the exodus and entry into the promised land. There are no echoes of Greek or Persian periods, this suggests an early date for the historical Psalms.

There are 73 Psalms ‘of David’ but the Hebrew could have a number of different meanings such as written by David or about David. There could also be more Psalms ‘of David’. Compare Psalm 2 with Acts 4:25 and also Psalm 95 with Hebrews 4:7. Holladay thinks that Psalms 2, 18 and 110 are the only Psalms actually written by David. The authors of Psalms include:

  • ASAPH

(50 and 73 to 83) Compare 2 Chronicles 29:30

  • SONS OF KORAH

(42 to 49, 84, 85, 87)

  • SOLOMON

(72 and 127) See 1 Kings 4:29-34.

  • JEREMIAH

(31, 35, 38, 40, 55, 69, 71)

  • ASCENTS

(120 to 134)

  • EXILIC

(102 and 137 and the post-exilic Psalms 85 and 126)

Forty-nine of the Psalms are not attributed to a specific author, although stylistic comparisons may be made. Authorship of the Psalms certainly spanned over a thousand years and, according to some, that authorship spanned around three thousand years.

STRUCTURE OF THE PSALMS

The five books of Psalms share a thematic order similar to that of the Pentateuch. The presence of doxologies – Psalm 41:13; 72:18-20; 89:52; 106:48 – separate the books, and they appear to be insertions that differ from the composition of the Psalms themselves. Compare 1 Chronicles 16:36. There are five Hebrew words for worship in the Psalms and they can be summarised in this way:

  1. Seek God and come closer.
  1. Bow in humility before your Creator.
  1. Know the awe (fear) of the Lord and turn to him for protection.
  1. Worship is obedience, submission and commitment.
  1. Praise the amazing God.

The following structure is an old one that is found in Greek translations from before 250BC, and it is also found in early Hebrew manuscripts. The work of collecting and organising (editing?) the Psalms was probably done by the Levites. The current structure of the Psalms is often attributed to Ezra some time after 537BC, and he may even have written one or two of the Psalms.

BOOK ONE

Psalms 1 to 41.

Corresponds to Genesis.

BOOK TWO

Psalms 42 to 72.

Corresponds to Exodus.

BOOK THREE

Psalms 73 to 89.

Corresponds to Leviticus.

BOOK FOUR

Psalms 90 to 106.

Corresponds to Numbers.

BOOK FIVE

Psalms 107 to 150.

Corresponds to Deuteronomy.

The single psalm is the primary unit of the book and each one was composed separately. Psalms 42 and 43 were originally one psalm, and Psalms 9 and 10 are one psalm in the Septuagint. Psalm 147 is two psalms in the Septuagint (1-11 and 12-20). 

There are also different kinds of groupings for the Psalms. For example, by author – Davidic psalms (book 1), Korah psalms (book 2), and Asaph psalms (book 3). Grouping by themes or types can also be done: Book 4 groups YHWH enthronement psalms together (93, 96, 97, 98, 99) and Psalms 113 to 118 are Egyptian hallel psalms associated with the exodus. Songs of ascents are the largest grouping with Psalms 120 to 134. Great hallel psalms are 120 to 136, and final hallel psalms are 146 to 150. Some themes in the Psalms:

  • Thirsting after God (Psalms 42, 43, 63).
  • Rejoicing in God (Psalms 23, 37, 73, 91)
  • Joy in God’s house (Psalms 84, 122, 137).
  • God in nature (Psalms 19, 29, 104).
  • Love of God’s word (Psalms 19, 119).
  • God’s care (Psalms 16, 49, 65, 121)
  • God our refuge (Psalms 46, 61, 62).