The Psalms, associated primarily with David but are written by authors as diverse as Moses, Solomon, Ethan the Ezraite, the sons of Korah and the sons of Asaph. Typically the Psalms are subdivided into 5 books and the book as a whole was compiled over several centuries.
Book 1 — Psalm 1-41
Book 2 — Psalm 42-72
The first two books of the Psalms deal with episodes from David’s life though not in chronological order.
Book 3 — Psalm 73-89
Much of book three is taken up with events surrounding the fall of Jerusalem. Esp. Psalm 89.
Book 4 — Psalm 90-106
Book 5 — Psalm 107-150
These books seemingly respond to the tragedy of the fall of Jerusalem and the Davidic line with a call to trust in the Lord and not human rulers. Some scholars see especially books 4-5 as Psalms of a future David.
It is interesting that each of these five books are by a doxology. The first doxology marking of the first book of Psalms is at the end of Psalm 41.
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting!
Amen and Amen. (Psalms 41:13 RSV)
We will speak more about the breakdown of these 5 books later.
I.) Psalms In Context
For now we should note that as we read the Psalms we must keep before us that often the Psalms are providing commentary on a storyline from the OT. So, we are not to read the Psalms in the abstract but keep before us that they are often helping to give us insight to some divine event or record.
Example — 3 2Sa 15:29 On David’s flight from Absalom
4 2Sa 17:29 During the the flight from Absalom
5 2Sa 17:29 During the the flight from Absalom
9 1Sa 17:4, or 1Ch 16:43 On the victory over Goliath
16 1Ch 17:27, or 1Sa 27 On the delivery of the promise by Nathan to David
17 1Sa 22:19 On the murder of the priests by Doeg
31 1Sa 23:12 On David’s persecution by Saul
32,33 2Sa 12:15 On the pardon of David’s adultery
Psalm 51 needs to be read in the context of David’s repentance over his sin of adultery and murder
So as we read the Psalms it would be quite profitable to read them in the probable historic context to which they apply thus making them even more meaty. This is not to say that they can’t be read abstracted from their historical narrative context without profit. It is merely to contend that we will get even more out of them if we read them as informed by their history.
This teaches us that for the Hebrew children they lived all their lives coram deo — before the face of God. Their worship of God wasn’t restricted to the sabbath but rather all their lives were contextualized by their sense of being in God’s presence. In their trials, in their laments, in their despair, in their joy, in their confusion you see they have a sense of God’s presence. In all times they are turning to God.
II.) Psalms as Theocentric
Further, as we read the Psalms we will discover that they are telling the story of God’s majesty in the context of life events. The Psalms are given to us not to place man as the star in the storyline but in order to reveal the person and work of God.
James Luther Mays, Author of a book on the Psalms reminds us,
“The Psalms themselves …. contain more direct statements about God than any other book in the two Testaments of the Christian canon …. The works of God and the attributes of God are the constant agenda of the Psalms.”
So the Psalms teach us of God’s character. If we want to know the character of the God we would spend time in the Psalms.
** God is Omnipotent (All-powerful)
Psalm 147:5 – “Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.”
Psalm 135:6 – “The LORD does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths.”
** God is Good
Psalm 25:8, “Good and upright is the Lord; Therefore He instructs sinners in the way.”
Psalm 119:68, “You are good and do good. Teach me Your statutes.”
** God is Forgiving
Psalm 86:5, “For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon You.”
Psalm 67:1, “God be gracious to us and bless us, And cause His face to shine upon us— Selah.”
** God is Patient
Psalm 86:15, “But Thou, O Lord, art a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth.”
** God is Eternal
Psalm 90:2, “Or Thou didst give birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God.”
** God is Holy
Psalm 99:9, “Exalt the Lord our God, and worship at His holy hill; for holy is the Lord our God.”
So, a good practice in reading the Psalms would find one writing God’s attributes in the margin as one came across them. This would serve to encourage us in becoming familiar with the Character of God so that we in turn, as they did before, live life turning to God in all our settings, and in all our highs and lows.
III.) The Human Element In The Psalms
The Psalms demonstrate for us real people with real sins and a real gamut of emotions. A fake record might desire to whitewash the saints so that they all were presented to us as those who could arise to every occasion and who could overcome every obstacle without fail.
This is not what we find in the Psalms We find real saints like us. Saints who deal with the gamut of emotions but who continually take their emotions before God knowing that God can handle them.
Sundry dispositions of man’s heart are reflected in the Psalms.
If you are fearful, read Psalm 56 or Psalm 91 or Psalm 23.
“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”
If you are discouraged, join in with the Psalmist in Psalm 42
“3 Mine tears have been my meat day and night, while they daily say unto me, Where is thy God?
5 Why art thou cast down, my soul, and unquiet within me? wait on God: for I will yet give him thanks for the help of his presence.”
If you happen to be feeling lonely, then I would suggest Psalm 71 or Psalm 62.
How long will all of you attack a man
to batter him,
like a leaning wall, a tottering fence?
If you are convicted, and sense your sin, there are two psalms that echo that: Psalm 51, Psalm 32,
For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up[b] as by the heat of summer. Selah
5 I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah
If you are worried or anxious, I’d recommend Psalm 37 and Psalm 73.
Fret not yourself because of evildoers;
be not envious of wrongdoers!
2 For they will soon fade like the grass
and wither like the green herb.
If you are angry, try Psalm 58 or Psalm 13.
O God, break the teeth in their mouths;
tear out the fangs of the young lions, O Lord!
7 Let them vanish like water that runs away;
when he aims his arrows, let them be blunted.
8 Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime,
like the stillborn child who never sees the sun.
9 Sooner than your pots can feel the heat of thorns,
whether green or ablaze, may he sweep them away!
If you are resentful, read Psalm 94 or Psalm 77.
O Lord, God of vengeance,
O God of vengeance, shine forth!
2 Rise up, O judge of the earth;
repay to the proud what they deserve!
3 O Lord, how long shall the wicked,
how long shall the wicked exult?
4 They pour out their arrogant words;
all the evildoers boast.
5 They crush your people, O Lord,
and afflict your heritage.
6 They kill the widow and the sojourner,
and murder the fatherless;
7 and they say, “The Lord does not see;
the God of Jacob does not perceive.”
If you are happy and want some words to express your happiness, try Psalm 92 or Psalm 66.
It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
2 to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
and your faithfulness by night,
3 to the music of the lute and the harp,
to the melody of the lyre.
4 For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work;
at the works of your hands I sing for joy.
If you feel forsaken, so did the Psalmist (Psalm 88).
Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
12 Are your wonders known in the darkness,
or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?
13 But I, O Lord, cry to you;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
If you are grateful join in with Psalm 40.
16 But may all who seek you
rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who love your salvation
say continually, “Great is the Lord!”
17 As for me, I am poor and needy,
but the Lord takes thought for me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
do not delay, O my God!
The failure in the Christian life is not in having difficult and even negative emotions. The failure in the Christian life is thinking that God has never seen those emotions before and wouldn’t know how to handle them if you brought them before Him. In the Psalms we see a wide range of human emotions set in the context of prayer and praise.
Thus far we have seen then that while the Psalms are Theocentric / Christocentric they also demonstrate how to not get lost in our emotions. This is important to note. Modern man has become almost an exclusively emotional being. He is completely conditioned and blown about by his emotion. This sense of no anchor for the uninformed and macro-contextual-less emotions makes for a reckless instability in man. The Psalmists reveal where to find an anchor for our emotions. The anchor is found in the Character of God. Whatever the emotion … whatever the turmoil … whatever the joy … the Psalmist takes it all before God in Prayer and / or praise. He allows the character of God to be an anchor to his emotion unlike the Modern who allows his emotion to be his God. The Christian thus allows the Character of God to be the context in which his emotion is conditioned and so finds meaning as opposed to the Modern whose emotion is like a loaded pistol in the hand of a 3 year old.
Well, back to the breakdown of the book of the Psalms. We will look at the breakdown of Book 1 this morning and then continue with looking at the breakdown of books 2-5 next week.
Some have contended that the 5 book breakdown of the Psalms parallels the Pentateuch so that,
Book 1 Psalms 1-41 (corresponds to Genesis)
Psalm 1, like Genesis 1, opens with the Blessed man and in Psalm two, as in the beginning of Genesis, you find the intended revolt of man against God’s rule in Psalm 2.
Why do the nations conspire,
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and his anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds asunder.” (Psalms 2:1-3 RSV)
Book II Psalms 42-72 (corresponds to Exodus)
Slavery, bondage and freedom
Book III Psalms 73-89 (corresponds to Leviticus)
Book IV Psalms 90-106 (corresponds to Numbers)
Book V Psalms 107-150 (corresponds to Deuteronomy) Deliverance and victory
Reading book 1 Psalm as corresponding to Genesis is an intriguing lens but I would submit that there may be a another organizational way to read book 1 of the Psalms.
A recent book has been written that suggests that much of what goes on in the Psalm book 1 is an attempt by those who put the Psalms together to move God’s people to recognize the intimate connection between God’s Law and God’s King. The argument goes that the Psalms are written so as to draw attention to the Deuteronomic Kingship law (Dt. 17:14-20) which required the King to have intimate knowledge of God’s law. Further, in connecting God’s law to God’s Kingship through through the Psalms what happens is that the people are shaped in terms of their expectation of what the Messiah King would look like. (He would be one who adhered to God’s law.) Also, in this understanding what happens at the same time is that the people themselves are shaped unto a piety that every believer should emulate—that is … the king as exemplar for the people of God.
In this reading Psalm 1 and 2 introduce first the centrality of the law of God and then the centrality of God’s blessed Messiah King. Combined these first two opening Psalms give us a messianic King who will enforce God’s law. The rest of book 1 of the Psalms thus can be read in such a way as to see how the King takes God’s law to apply it to enemies both external and internal. This motif is highlighted again in book 1 in chapters 18-21 where once again the Messiah King and God’s law are highlighted in these 4 Psalms.
The other Psalms would then, as read in the context of their historic narrative concentrate on how God’s King and God’s Law put down enemies internal and external.
Obviously when we talk about God’s King in the Psalms this introduces us to the idea of the importance of how the Psalms are Messianic. The Hebrew Kings were to be typological for the later great Messiah and as such the Psalms are often pointing to the coming Christ who is the perfect fulfillment of God’s great King who implements God’s great law.