Psalms – An Introduction 5

PSALMS AS SCRIPTURE

While the Psalms are great literature, their primary value to us today is that of being Scripture. There are many links with other parts of the Old Testament, but it is sometimes difficult to know which is the primary source and which is the secondary. Consider, for example:

  • Genesis 1:1-3 with Psalm 33:6.
  • Genesis 14 with Psalm 110.
  • Exodus 15 with Psalm 77.
  • Numbers 10:35 with Psalm 68:1 and 132:8.
  • 2 Samuel 7 with Psalm 89 and 132.
  • Isaiah 11 with Psalm 72.
  • Isaiah 52 and 53 with Psalm 22 and 69.
  • Jeremiah 17:5-8 with Psalm 1.

New Testament writers often saw abiding principles in the Psalms, and justification by faith in Romans 4:6-8 is found in Psalm 32:1,2. In Acts 17 Paul is preaching to pagans who did not know Old Testament Scripture, so he does not quote the Old Testament at all. Nevertheless, the language of Acts 17 is full of Psalms phraseology and ideas. Therefore, compare:

  • Acts 17:24 with Psalm 136:5-9.
  • Acts 17:25 with Psalm 145:15,16.
  • Acts 17:29 with Psalm 115:4.
  • Acts 17:30 with Psalm 9:8, 96:13 and 98:9.
  • Acts 17:31 with Psalm 16:10 and 17:31.
  • Acts 17:24,25,30 with Psalm 50.
  • Romans 7:22 with Psalm 1:2 and 119.
  • Ephesians 4:26 with Psalm 4:4.

There are elements of typology in relation to prediction in the Psalms. They are Similarity, Difference, Finality and Intent. Therefore:

  • David is like Christ, but he is not
  • Christ is not only later than David, but greater than David.
  • David was intended to foreshadow Christ.

Psalms 22 and 69 are used several times in Passion narratives and the Psalms can therefore be seen as typological. The Royal Psalms are set at important structural points in the Psalter – Psalm 2, 41, 72, 89. The wisdom literature frame was superimposed on the kingly frame – Psalm 1, 73, 90:11,12: 107:42,43: 145:19,20. (It may be that Psalm 73 was inserted later at the start of book 3 as the seam’s wisdom psalm).

Psalms 1 and 2 present a double introduction to the Psalter and set the tone for the rest. Link also Psalms 50 and 51; 105 and 106. Psalm 1 shows the power of choice and of the consequences that follow. Psalm 2 insists that the choice be made. The right choice does not guarantee a trouble free life, and Psalm 2 makes that clear. The king’s life also makes that clear – particularly David’s!

DAVID

David knew YHWH’s leading (2 Samuel 23:2,3) and this was recognised by Peter (Acts 1:16), by Paul (Acts 13:29-37), and by Jesus himself (Matthew 22:43 and Mark 12:36).

David was a skilled musician (1 Samuel 16:23) who invented new worship instruments (Amos 6:5) and he was an impressive poet (2 Samuel 1:19-27) who expressed tenderness and high moral values.

While David was certainly impulsive, had strong feelings and a huge imagination, he was also motivated as a friend of God with deep and enthusiastic conviction and commitment. David’s psalms were often written with reference to his own personal situation at that time. For example:

  • Compare 1 Samuel 30:6 with Psalm 6.
  • See 2 Samuel 22 as a record of David’s personal reflection on his own life and what God had done for him.
  • David gave Psalm 18 to the Temple singers for use in worship.
  • Psalm 51 is David’s reflection on his position before God having ‘sinned with a high hand’.

MARY

Mary’s song (‘Magnificat’) quotes extensively from the Psalms as the teenage girl (aged around 14 to 16) sang the praises of YHWH from the Psalms that she knew well from school. The cross references from the Psalms to Luke’s gospel are as follows:

  • Luke 1:47 – Psalm 35:9
  • Luke 1:48 – Psalm 138:6
  • Luke 1:49 – Psalm 71:19 and 111:9
  • Luke 1:50 – Psalm 103:17
  • Luke 1:51 – Psalm 98:1 and 33:10
  • Luke 1:52 – Job 5:11
  • Luke 1:53 – Psalm 34:10
  • Luke 1:54 – Psalm 98:3
  • Luke 1:55 – Psalm 132:11

The early church used the Psalms to express its theology, its Christology, its view of faith and life in various situations. The Psalms are the most quoted part of the Old Testament in the New Testament. Time reading, studying and reflecting on the Psalms is time invested in YHWH and our life of faith walking with him.

SELECTED WORKS FOR FURTHER STUDY

Brueggemann, W., The Message of the Psalms, 1984, Augsburg, Minneapolis

Childs, B.S., Introduction to The Old Testament As Scripture, 1979, Fortress, Philadelphia

Grogan, G., Prayer, Praise & Prophecy, 2001, Christian Focus, Fearn

Gunkel, H., The Psalms: A Form-Critical Introduction, 1967, Fortress, Philadelphia

Holladay, W.L., The Psalms Through Three Thousand Years, 1996, Augsburg, Minneapolis

Kraus, H.J., Theology of the Psalms, 1986, Augsburg, Minneapolis

Lewis, C.S., Reflections On the Psalms, 1958, Geoffrey Bles, London

Longman III, T., How to Read the Psalms, 1988, IVP, Leicester

Mowinckel, S., The Psalms in Israel’s Worship, 1962, OUP, Oxford

Webber, R.E., Ancient-Future Faith, 1999, Baker, Grand Rapids

Westermann, C., Praise and Lament in the Psalms, 1981, T and T Clark, Edinburgh

White, R.E.O., A Christian Handbook to the Psalms, 1984, Paternoster, Exeter

Wright, C.J.H., God’s People in God’s Land, 1997, Paternoster, Michigan