The book of Psalms is a collection of more than 150 ancient Hebrew poems, songs and prayers that come from all different periods of Israel’s history. Many of the Psalms were written by King David. Others were written by Solomon, some of Israel’s priests and other worshipers. There’s even a Psalm written by Moses (Psalm 90). Still another 49 Psalms were written anonymously.
The Psalms were written over the course of more than 1,000 years and were compiled mostly during the reign of King Hezekiah and after the Israelites returned from exile.
While many of the Psalms came to be used by choirs that sang in the Temple, the book as a whole is not a hymnbook. Rather, it is a collection of works, compiled in a time when Israel had no Temple, to unify the people of Israel in worship and to remind them of the most-high God, who is worthy of all praise.
Psalms is divided into five “books” (chapters 3-41, 42-72, 73-89, 90-106 and 107-150), and each book ends with a similar closing statement or doxology: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and Amen.”
Psalms begins with a sort of prologue in Psalms 1 and 2.
Psalm 1 reflects on the importance of obeying God’s Word. The Psalms’ five inner books parallel the Torah, or the first five books of the Bible, and many Bible teachers believe that the Psalms were compiled as a “new Torah,” not to replace the original, but to teach the people of Israel about the importance and practice of prayer as they commit to follow the commands of the Torah.
Psalm 2 reflects on God’s promise to King David in 2 Samuel 7: a Messianic King would come from David’s line, defeat evil and rule over all the nations forever. Psalm 2 says that those who take refuge in this coming Savior King will be blessed.
These Psalms set the stage for the rest of the book. The Psalms are the prayer book of God’s people, who strive to faithfully obey God’s commands as they eagerly await the coming Messiah.
The rest of the Psalms further unpack these two themes. They are full of praise, emotion, complex metaphors, personification and parallelism, unique literary design and a call to faithfulness in the almighty God of Israel.
There are two major types of poems presented in Psalms: lament and praise.
Poems of lament recognize evil, injustice and brokenness in the world and call upon God to do something about it. Poems of praise are full of joy and celebration, thanking God for who He is and what He does. The first three “books” in the Psalms are dominated by poems of lament, while the final two books are dominated by poems of praise.
The book closes with five Psalms dedicated to praising God and calling all the nations to worship Him with a resounding “hallelujah.”
Prayer: The book of Psalms is designed to show the reader a framework for prayer. If read from beginning to end, the book follows a pattern of being honest about what is wrong with the world, asking God to intervene and praising Him for all He has done and all He will do for His people. The book teaches the people of Israel how to pray to God as they remain faithful to His Word and hope for the coming Messiah.
Psalm 1:1-2: “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.”
Psalm 148:13-14: “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens. And he has raised up for his people a horn, the praise of all his faithful servants, of Israel, the people close to his heart. Praise the Lord.”
HOW DOES THIS FIT INTO GOD’S STORY?
The book of Psalms emphasizes the tension of prayer: the world is broken, but God is still worthy of being praised and the hope of the Messiah has come in Jesus.
His Word is still good, and King Jesus is seated on the throne.
The Psalms are a beautiful reminder of the intimate relationship we can have with God and the hope we have in Jesus.