Psalms – An Introduction
The way in which YHWH communicated to his people is important, and spoken or sung Hebrew poetry would communicate differently from spoken Hebrew prose. Likewise, spoken and sung poetry will communicate differently to a people for whom that is their normal way of communicating with each other, while many people are used to reading in order to learn. Hebrew is a spoken and sung language – not a written and reading language.
The Psalms are sung poetry, and need to be approached as such. Poems plus music equals songs, and songs appeal to the imagination and reach in to touch the will, the emotions, and to draw people into a closer and more intimate relationship with YHWH.
The Psalms are the Tehillim – the praise book – of Israel, and they are meant to be sung. The Hebrew root of the word Tehillim means to ‘jump’ or ‘dance’ in the way that light jumps and dances, and therefore in the way that it can ‘shed light on’ something. The Psalms shed light on life, and that light is the light of God’s purpose in life.
Poetry is often difficult to define as there are language and cultural differences in poetry at any given time, and the passage of time certainly alters the form and use of poetry. This is especially true of Old Testament Hebrew poetry where form and content are both important, and where figurative language is also used, especially metaphors, and where different kinds of rhythm are employed.
Under the old covenant, YHWH always spoke to his people through poetry, and that was sophisticated Hebrew poetry – and not what we in the West know as poetry with rhyme and meter. Poetic devices used in the Hebrew Scriptures include: Parallelism, Repetition, Ellipsis, Chiastic Structures, Inclusio, Acrostic, Imagery, Simile, and Metaphor.
Examples of Acrostic psalms are: 9:1-20, 10:1-18, 25, 34, 37, 111, 112, 119, and 145. Repetition is used extensively in the Psalms (as well as in the rest of the Old Testament) and is a way of reinforcing a point in the way that parents will do with their children. YHWH often reinforced what he said to his children through repetition.
Hebrew poetry has sense rhythm – not sound rhythm – and this is translatable into other languages. Hebrew, Akkadian and Ugaritic poetry employ sense rhythm, though the relationship between the lines is not always the same.
IDENTICAL or SYNONYMOUS PARALLELISM
This is where two (or more) lines have similar meaning (34:1,3,5,13).
This is where two lines provide a contrast (34:10)
This is where the second (or subsequent) line supplements or complements the first line (34:2,4,6,7,9). This type is difficult to maintain and it has differences and similarities to other parallelism, and has been discredited by some scholars.
For example, what kind of parallelism is found in Psalm 103:7? Sense rhythm encourages us to think, and the second line of a couplet is often more precise or specific than the first line. The second line drives us back to line one again to get the fullness of the idea being expressed. The meaning of the couplet is found in the interpretation of each line in the light of the other. So Psalm 34:1 leads from blessing to the specific of speaking, while Psalm 34:13 leads from evil to the stress of deceit. There is also a lot of word play in Hebrew poetry, and Psalm 93 uses the theme of immovability.
Many figures of speech and metaphors are very evocative and convey far more meaning than mere abstract statements about God. (Consider ‘God loves you’ compared to the descriptions of his love throughout the Psalms. See also Psalm 23:1). Nevertheless, the figure of speech should not be stretched further than the author intended. Psalm 23:1 says that God is a shepherd, but the Old Testament shepherd led the sheep to slaughter! Don’t make Scripture teach your own ideas!
How do we decide what is literal and what is figurative? Consider Psalms 18:4,5,16 and 22:6,12,13,16,20,21. Where imagery changes to convey some thought or meaning, then it would suggest metaphorical use. A series of metaphors may suggest progression. Is Psalm 64:2–4 and the rock, refuge, tower, tent and refuge an intimate progression, or separate pictures?
Psalm 103:11–13 speak of the heavens, the east and the father; this suggests an intimate progression. Figurative language in the Psalms can also be enriched from other Old Testament Scriptures. Psalm 61 speaks of a rock, and so do Deuteronomy 32:4, 15, 18, 30, 31 which are five instances that speak of God as a rock. See Genesis 49:24. Consider Psalm 18:2,31,46 and also Psalm 16:5,6 where the portion of verse five becomes the cup of verse six. The thought of spiritual (rather than land) inheritance is found in Deuteronomy 10:9 and Psalm 16:5, 6.
The literary features of a psalm must be the servant of its meaning. The expression itself is not just an experience of appreciation, but must help to convey the intended meaning. Beauty serves truth through meaning. See Psalm 68:15-18, Psalms 84, and 110.
SCHOLARS AND THE PSALMS
Scholars have seen the Psalms in different ways. Here are some of the ways that some scholars approached the largest book in the Scriptures:
- Wellhausen saw the Psalms as devotional material for use in personal piety and didn’t classify them.
- Duhm was more concerned with dating the Psalms rather than classifying them, and saw them as late and not Davidic.
- Gunkel saw each Psalm in its life context and was a great classifier of the Psalms.
- Mowinckel held the Psalms as used in Israel’s worship and he built on the work of Gunkel. He also saw the Psalms as dating from much earlier than Duhm did.
- Wieser was similar views to Mowinckel, but saw the Psalms as having festival use.
Kraus saw the Psalms as coming from the festivals recalling the capture and establishment of Jerusalem – including some Jebusite traditions.
Seybold thought that the Psalms were composed with fasts in mind, and came from the exile and post-exilic period.
Westermann related the Psalms to people’s joy and God’s intervention in the affairs of the nation and the individual. Some Psalms thank God for his intervention, while laments arose at concern over God’s apparent non-intervention.
Gerstenberger moved away from the influence of the Psalms at the temple and saw them as related to domestic home rituals. He was interested in the pastoral function of small communities and the use to which they put the Psalms.
Brueggemann identified Psalms of orientation (1), disorientation (44) and reorientation (73).
The biggest current interest is to see the book of Psalms a whole unit. There is also a renewed interest in the return to using them for personal piety. Psalms of lament have generated a great deal of interest since the mid-eighties. However, the interest in the Psalms is not in trying to criticise and source the text, but rather in the text itself.
Each Psalm should be read as a complete text in itself, set in the wider context of the five books of Psalms, then in the even wider context of the Book of Psalms as a whole before seeing the Book of Psalms in the context of the whole Old Testament.
SCHOLARS AND THE TYPES OF PSALMS
There are generally seen to be two kinds of thanksgiving Psalms: Declarative and Descriptive. Declarative psalms tend to be individual (30, 40) and thank God for something specific that he has done. Descriptive psalms focus in on God himself and are concerned with who and what he is.
Some are communal, some are individual. Some of the saddest Psalms are communal (44, 74) and there are different types of lament. Some deal with sickness (6, 31, 38), some of the psalmists are accused (7, 17, 26, 27), some are about the oppressed (3, 10, 13, 35), and some are psalms of the penitent (38, 39, 41).
Some Psalms deal with royal enthronement (2, 72, 101), marriage (45), impending battle (21), post-battle (18, 144), and royal laments (89).
The recognised core wisdom Psalms are 1, 37, 49, 73, 112, 127 and 128. There are three types of wisdom Psalms. Question Psalms ask ‘why’ and search for meaning and other quests. Blessing Psalms extol the virtue of living a life after God (1, 32–34, 40). Teaching Psalms are designed to convey a message, and especially through the overall view of the five books of Psalms.
These are oracles similar to those of the prophets (36, 45, 49), they refer to previous prophecies (132:11-18, 2 Samuel 7), and they deal with the word of God and the law (1, 19, 119).
Quite a lot of Psalms start as laments and end with thanksgiving (77). These Psalms are true to spiritual experience (22). A few start with praise and end as laments (89).
Tournay (among others) introduced a useful threefold classification of Psalms – Prayer, Praise, Teaching. Nevertheless, Psalms do cross categories and we should be careful not to try to straitjacket them into one type.
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.
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:
(50 and 73 to 83) Compare 2 Chronicles 29:30
- SONS OF KORAH
(42 to 49, 84, 85, 87)
(72 and 127) See 1 Kings 4:29-34.
(31, 35, 38, 40, 55, 69, 71)
(120 to 134)
(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:
- Seek God and come closer.
- Bow in humility before your Creator.
- Know the awe (fear) of the Lord and turn to him for protection.
- Worship is obedience, submission and commitment.
- 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.
Psalms 1 to 41.
Corresponds to Genesis.
Psalms 42 to 72.
Corresponds to Exodus.
Psalms 73 to 89.
Corresponds to Leviticus.
Psalms 90 to 106.
Corresponds to Numbers.
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).
The Psalms in the New Testament:
- 2:1,2 – Acts 4:25,26
- 2:7 – Acts 13:33
- 2:9 – Revelation 2:27
- 5:10 – Romans 3:13
- 8:3 – Matthew 21:16
- 8:5 – Hebrews 2:6
- 8:6 – 1 Corinthians 15:27
- 10:7 – Romans 3:14
- 14:1 – Romans 3:10
- 16:8 – Acts 2:25
- 18:50 – Romans 15:9
- 19:5 – Romans 10:18
- 22:2 – Matthew 27:46
- 22:19 – Matthew 27:35 and John 19:24
- 22:23 – Hebrews 2:12
- 24:1 – 1 Corinthians 10:26
- 32:1,2 – Romans 4:7,8
- 34:13 – 1 Peter 3:10
- 35:19 – John 15:25
- 36:2 – Romans 3:18
- 40:7 – Hebrews 10:5
- 41:9 – John 13:18
- 44:22 – Romans 8:36
- 45:7,8 – Hebrews 1:8,9
- 51:6 – Romans 3:4
- 68:19 – Ephesians 4:8
- 69:10 – Romans 11:9,10; 15:3 and John 2:17
- 69:26 – Acts 1:20
- 78:2 – Matthew 13:35
- 78:24 – John 6:31
- 82:6 – John 10:34
- 89:20 – Acts 13:22
- 90:1 – Matthew 22:34
- 91:11,12 – Matthew 4:6
- 94:11 – 1 Corinthians 3:20
- 95:7 – Hebrews 3:7
- 97:7 – Hebrews 1:6
- 98:22 – Matthew 21:42
- 102:25 – Hebrews 1:10
- 104:4 – Hebrews 1:7
- 109:3 – John 15:25
- 109:8 – Acts 1:20
- 110:1 – Matthew 22:24; Mark 12:30 and Luke 10:27
- 110:4 – Hebrews 5:6
- 112:9 – 2 Corinthians 9:9
- 116:10 – 2 Corinthians 4:13
- 117:1 – Romans 15:11
- 118:6 – Hebrews 13:6
- 118:22,23 – Matthew 21:42
- 140:4 – Romans 3:13
In addition to these direct New Testament quotations from the Psalms, there are themes and concepts that are found in the Psalms and are picked up on in the New Testament. The Psalms of Lament may be arranged into three groups:
- INDIVIDUAL LAMENTS
3, 5, 6, 7, 13, 17, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 35, 39, 41, 42, 43, 51, 54, 55, 56, 57, 61, 64, 69, 71, 86, 88, 102, 109, 130, 140, 141, 142, 143
- COMMUNAL LAMENTS
12, 44, 60, 74, 79, 80, 83, 85, 90, 126, 137
- ‘PENITENTIAL’ PSALMS
6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143
The Psalms of praise and thanksgiving may be grouped as follows:
- PRAISE (HYMNS)
8, 29, 33, 65, 95, 100, 103, 104, 114, 117, 134, 135, 136, 145, 146, 147, 148, 149, 150
- INDIVIDUAL THANKSGIVING
9, 10, 30, 32, 34, 92, 116, 118, 138
- COMMUNAL THANKSGIVING
67, 107, 124
There are also ‘Kingship’ Psalms that declare that YHWH himself is the sovereign ruler over the whole of creation over which he reigns. Those Psalms are: 29, 47, 93, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99.
The ‘Royal’ Psalms present a humanly kingly figure who is anointed by YHWH and designated with royal approval for a specific role in the unfolding of God’s redemptive purposes. Those ‘Royal’ Psalms are: 2, 18, 20, 21, 45, 72, 101, 110, 132, 144.
The Psalms regarded as ‘Messianic’ are: 2, 16, 22, 34, 41, 69, 72, 110. The ‘Songs of Ascent’ are Psalms 120 to 134.
There are also the ‘Imprecatory’ Psalms that are considered to contain curses. They are: 5, 6, 7, 11, 12, 35, 37, 40, 52, 54, 55, 56, 58, 59, 69, 79, 83, 137, 139, 143. These psalms are frequently cited in the New Testament. Psalm 109:6-20 is even quoted in Acts 1:20 with regard to Judas. The New Testament also contains imprecations. ‘Anathema’ is expressed in Galatians 1:8,9; 2 Timothy 4:14 and 1 Corinthians 16:22.
STUDY OF THE PSALMS
The Psalms developed from:
- Samuel’s political and religious reforms.
- New sense of national unity with David’s successes.
- Religious patriotism.
- Importance of music in the prophetic schools.
Any serious study of the Psalms needs to be fuelled by a wide reading of the scholars’ work that has been done on the book. A comprehensive bibliography is at the end of this paper. When studying the Psalms, it is important to take into account:
- Historical background.
- Culture background.
- Read what the text actually says in Hebrew.
- Use your imagination.
- Social history of the Old Testament people.
- How did the people use the Psalms?
- Family worship.
- Group worship.
- Choir-led worship.
- Congregational worship.
EXPERIENCE THE PSALMS
There are two Hebrew verbs in relation to faith in the Old Testament. The first is that faith rests (BTH – BarTacH) which is found fifty-two times in Psalms, and the other is faith as a refuge (HSH – cHaSaH) which is very frequent in books one and two.
We need to be real, and the writers of the Psalms did not sweep reality and its problems under the carpet! There are a large number of individual laments, especially in books one and two, as well as communal laments. These deal with tragedy and the problems of life in a down-to-earth way through faith.
Faith is of crucial importance and faith-realism is found throughout the Psalms. Psalms is a book of faith written by people of faith for people of faith who bring everything to God. All experience drives the psalmist to God.
All Scripture has a background of faith, even in complaints and laments – since it is the fact of faith that causes the lament. Great objective certainties underpin the book of Psalms (and the Old Testament) which are expressed explicitly or implicitly in the Psalter.
- The first certainty is God’s created order. Compare Psalm 104 with Genesis 1, and see Psalms 74 and 89. The psalmists fall back on the fact of God’s created order.
- The second is God’s redemptive order, and the psalmists often dwell upon God’s supreme act of redemption in the exodus from Egypt (no Christian perspective possible!), and this is where many psalms begin.
- The third is God’s covenantal order. The psalmists rest on God’s covenants. Abrahamic (105:8-11), Mosaic (111:5-9), Davidic (132). Where there is puzzlement in the midst of one covenant, the psalmist directs us back to an earlier covenant. Psalm 89 begins with faithfulness in the covenant with David (1-37) before changing to rejection and wrath and puzzlement; while Psalm 90 points back to the Mosaic covenant through Moses’ own psalm.
- Fourth is the moral order which begins in Psalm 1 where two ways to walk are spoken of. Psalm 15 speaks of the spiritual requirements of worship, and all the psalms relate to the moral order and contrast good and evil.
Brueggemann identified Psalms of orientation, disorientation and reorientation. Orientation psalms affirm and rejoice in God’s order and stability for there is a God in heaven. Disorientation psalms agonise and raise questions about God’s order based on the difficulties being experienced, even to questioning God’s order. (Book 3 largely consists of disorientation psalms). Reorientation psalms examine the conflict between the first two types and affirm again God’s lasting order.
The Psalms speak of the many-sided experiences found in life with God. We worship the same God as the psalmist and also depend on God’s revelation of himself to us. The Psalms are a melting pot of emotion that we can relate to. As the psalmist relates to friends, enemies and God, so can we; for life is all about relationships. Life is an extended exercise in trusting God!
PSALMS AS WORSHIP
Worship is an important Old Testament theme. Genesis has the setting up of altars where God revealed himself, with offerings and prescriptions for worship such as places and people (etc). 2 Samuel 7 (and the books of Samuel generally) quote the psalms, and kings were evaluated by worship criteria (not justice or cruelty, etc). They were measured by loyalty to YHWH, and the prophets condemned insincere and shallow worship.
The temple was a very busy worship area and the Psalms are connected with the temple and entry to it (cf: Psalms 15 and 24). The Psalms speak of moral and spiritual qualifications (rather than genealogical) and focus around the worship calendar. (See Numbers 28 and 29, Exodus 29:38-46, 1 Kings 18:36 and 2 Kings 16:5).
The Psalms were used in daily worship, weekly worship, monthly worship and annual worship. Psalm 24 was read on Sunday, then 48, 82, 94, 81 93 and 92 for the rest of the week respectively. Weekly Psalms are referred to in Numbers 28:9,10 and 2 Kings 11. Monthly (new moon) psalms are mentioned in Numbers 10:10, 28:11-15, 1 Samuel 20:5, 2 Kings 4:23 and Hosea 2:11.
Psalms were used at annual feasts linked to agriculture (Creator) and history (Redeemer), Unleavened (Barley) Bread and Passover. The Pentecost Wheat Harvest (seven weeks after Passover) later became associated with the giving of the law. Psalms were also linked to the Feat of Tabernacles and the Day of Atonement.
The Zion psalms (46, 48, 76, 87, 125) focus on Zion as the place of true worship and were probably sung by the crowds who came to the festivals. Pilgrimage Psalms such as 42 and 84 were used on the pilgrimage to worship, and the Songs of Ascents (120 – 134) were also Psalms of pilgrimage that may have been used at the entrance to the temple.
There were some special acts not associated with calendar feasts (especially in Chronicles). (Thanksgivings, penitence, re-dedication, renewal of covenant). 2 Chronicles 29 speaks of Hezekiah’s return, see also Nehemiah 8 and 9. Zechariah 7 refers to fast days associated with the destruction of Jerusalem.
Public worship was very stylised and different types of Psalms were used as appropriate. For example: Psalm 113 on Oppression, 114 on the Exodus, 115 on Idols, 116 on Thanksgiving, 117 on Covenant faithfulness of God, 118 on Thanksgiving.
Worship must have a theological dimension. Gunkel distinguished Psalms (individuals finding God’s way out of a situation from hymns (communal focus on God). Westermann used different terminology. He spoke of declarative psalms of thanksgiving – what is proclaimed, and hymns of teaching – what is taught. Praise begins with what God has done for his people and must have God-content and be based in who and what God is and what he has done.
This has an emotional dimension – praise must come from the heart and be geared to life’s realities. (92:1-4, 147:1, 98) The Psalms represent spontaneity in Old Testament worship, and some of them show spontaneity in their form.
There is also a physical dimension to praise in the Psalms. (23:4 – stand, 42:4 – leading, 47:1 – clap, 63:4 uplift, 95:6 – bow, 95:6 – kneel, 150 – dance.) Furthermore, there is a necessity of praise in which all that is in me – the core of my being – cries out to praise. This involves the surrender of the will in the life of worship (40:6-8).
There is a corporate dimension, too, and the psalmists frequently call on others to join them in worship. See Psalms 22, 34:3, 98:4 and 148. The Psalms have long been used in worship and have a special place in many cultures, being used in chants, metrical form, prayers, hymns, songs and readings.
The people who led the sung worship in the temple had full-time jobs, unlike some of the other priests, who were part-time. (See 1 Chronicles 9:33,34). The instruments used in the worship are listed in 1 Chronicles 15:16-22; 16:4-6 and 16:42. David invented new instruments for worship. (See Amos 6:5).
There were twenty-four choirs that each consisted of twelve men. That was 288 people involved in leading public worship.
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 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’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
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