More about the Psalms
Copyright 2019 by Joan Berry
Martin Luther said of the psalms that they formed a little Bible (Wright, p. 28). John Calvin went a step further and said they were the anatomy of all parts of the soul. “He was in touch with how profoundly the psalms had touched him; and how the psalms reflected our emotions. The psalms have endeared themselves to the hearts of God’s people throughout the centuries” (Futato, p. 59). The Psalms, also known as the Psalter, comprise 150 poems/songs that are placed into five main categories and each end with a doxology. Some of the psalms are very ancient originating from 1000 years prior to the Jesus Movement. It is thought that the Book of Psalms was closed in the fourth or third century B. C. Approximately one third of the 360 quotes from the Old and New Testaments are taken from the Psalter (Sabornin, pp. v-vi, 164).
The five main categories the psalms fall into are Hymns, Laments, Songs of Thanksgiving, Divine Kingship Songs, and Wisdom Songs. Considered to be Royal Psalms are 2, 18, 20, 21, 45, 72, 89, 101, 110, 132, and 144. Psalms also appear in the books of Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Song of Songs, Isiah, Minor Prophets except Jonah. In addition some appear in Exodus 15; Judges 5; and 2 Samuel 18 (Futato, p. 18).
According to Wright (2011), “A good poem uses its poetic form to probe deeper into human experience than ordinary speech or writing is usually able to do, to pull back a veil and allow the reader or hearer to sense other dimensions. Sometimes, we are shocked or have to admit that we never considered that view before.”
Psalm 23rd is considered to be one of the finest in the psalter because of its simplicity. It also breaks all the patterns of ‘form history.’ Being a pure psalm of confidence, it cannot immediately be classified under any of the categories or type of style history. It is a created poem that has its own form type” (Sabornin, p. 271).
Purpose of the Psalms
It may be suggested that the Book of Psalms is a manual, guide/model for individual’s devotional needs; one reason is that it was influenced by wisdom tradition. Many psalms were believers’ praises and prayers to God, but once The Psalms became a canonical book, the texts became God’s word to the believers to teach us how to pray and praise Him (Futato, pp. 59, 68).
The word “psalms” comes from the Greek that denotes stringed instruments; “psalter” also comes from the Greek meaning stringed instruments, most likely the lyre. Accordingly, this indicates that many of the psalms were written for congregational worship. Churches throughout the centuries have used psalms as lyrics for hymns as well as liturgy for recitation (Creach, pp. 1, 2). Furthermore, there are two important characteristics that Creach (1998) brings to the forefront of this topic: 1) “They were not prayed privately or in isolation. When an individual speaks in a psalm, he or she prays from within a congregation, or on behalf of a group; 2) Many psalms speak about great suffering and persecution” (Creach, pp. 1,2). Americans residing in the United States have freedom of religion; however, it is correct to pray on the behalf of others who are poor and oppressed in the world. Recently, as most of us know, there is a war on Christianity in all parts of the world and yes, here too.
Note to new Bible students
Be sure to interpret text in its original historic content, although some of it appears to relate to all ages.
Creach, J. F. D. (1998). Imprecation Bible Studies: Psalms. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.
Futato, M. D. (2007). Interpreting the Psalms: An Exegetical Handbook. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.
New King James Study Bible. (2nd.ed., 2007). Nashville, TN. Tomas Nelson, Inc.
Life Application Study Bible (2012). Carol Stream, IL. Tyndale House
Sabornin, S, J. (1979). The Psalms: Their Origin and Meaning. New York, NY: Alba House Publications.
Wright, N. T. (2011). The Case for Psalms: Why They are Essential. New York, NY: Harper One.