As of this free day we have completed reading Book 1 of the psalms and we have begun reading book 2. We have already seen several different kinds of psalms and today I would like to take a closer look at what different kinds of psalms entail. The first type of psalm is a royal psalm. All these psalms have some reference to the king, the nature of his rule, and his relationship to God. There are 12 psalms that are classified as royal psalms. Belief in God’s kingship is the foundation the royal psalms and we saw this in psalm 2. Every king in David’s dynasty served as a messianic agent, meaning he represented God’s kingship. And as God’s representatives they were expected to uphold the godly qualities of justice, righteousness, faithfulness, and peace. These psalms express the hope for the Davidic line but there was widespread corruption and failure, and the Davidic dynasty came to an end with the exile into Babylon in 586 B.C. However, there was still hope for a future king who would rule on David’s throne. In this sense these royal psalms are also Messianic because they look to a future Messiah. Psalm 2 is associated with Israel’s king, the descendant of David. Psalm 45 is a marriage psalm for one of the Davidic kings, possibly Solomon. But this psalm also speaks of a permanent ruler. Psalm 110 is the most frequently quoted messianic psalm.
Four of the 150 psalms are psalms of suffering. They are sometimes called passion psalms and they address the deep distress experienced by God’s servant. Psalm 22 is the most remarkable of these psalms. There is no suggestion of any sin here, so the psalmists suffering appears to be completely unjustified. There is no prayer for vengeance despite bitter persecution, and we see that Jesus even prayed for those who executed Him.
Some psalms are called wisdom psalms. These psalms make a case for the primary importance of wisdom, or they instruct readers in dealing with questions, issues, and doubts that arise in life. Other of these psalms contain elements of wisdom teaching. In the other nations of the ancient Near East, wisdom had to do with ordering life and society, pleasing God and other people, and carefully observing life, society, and nature. In Israel, wisdom shares these concerns but is distinct in the centrality it gives to the fear of the Lord. For Israel, God alone is at the center and focus of life and the proper fear of Him opens the path of wisdom. Fear of the Lord is part of absolute submission to and trust in the Lord. This leads to purity of life. Psalm 34 defines the fear of the Lord as a search for abundant life. This begins by seeking the Lord.
The way of wisdom is the way of godliness. Psalm 1 invites all readers of the psalms to delight in God, His revelation, and the lifestyle that that results from His care for the wise. Wisdom enlarges a person’s perspective on life. A wise person desires to see life from God’s point of view. This search means living in submission and trust under the Sovereign King who maintains the order and harmony of creation. Seeking God encourages an orderly and peaceful life, and it motivates obedience. The wise imitate God and their lives are full of joy even when they are suffering hardship. They praise the Lord amidst all circumstances of life, and they face life confidently because the Lord is with them. The way of the wise is often contrasted with the way of the fool or the wicked. These folks see themselves as powerful, and continually boast of their accomplishments. They do not accept limitations, they have no fear of the Lord, and the poets of Israel repeatedly warned the people to be wary of the path of folly lest God’s judgement overtake the foolish.
The Hebrew title of the Book of Psalms means “Praises” and that title accurately defines a large number of the psalms. God is praised for his nature and for His great acts in creation and history. Praise psalms were written for both individuals and for the worshiping community. When we look at individual psalms of praise, it was customary in temple worship for people to give verbal thanks in front of the whole assembly whenever they made a vow offering or a thank offering. We see this In psalms 22:22-26, 66:13-20, and 116:17-19. Such opportunities for personal praise and testimony must have added warmth and significance to worship. Each act of rescue and every experience of God’s mercy became part of the cumulative, ongoing story of salvation. Worship then was not just a recital of God’s deeds in earlier centuries. When the community gathered, they praised the Lord in song for His acts in history. Psalm 103 is an example of this. They also praised Him for specific and recent manifestations of His mercy. We see in these psalms the frailty of humanity contrasted with God’s constancy. God’s universal and absolute rule merits universal praise.
Many of you have asked questions about the five books found within the psalms so let me take a few moments and talk about these books. The psalms, like all of scripture are inspired and given by God to a human author. They are intended to be prayers and praise given to the Lord. And as you have already seen, they are diverse. Each of the five books ends with a few verses of a doxology except book five. Doxologies are simply short hymns of praise to God. Book 1 is comprised of mostly psalms of David, while book 2 is a collection of psalms by various authors. Some of these authors include David, Solomon, Asaph, and the sons of Korah. This represents a transition from David as the sole role model and teacher to other perspectives. At the end of book 2 the editor comments ‘this ends the prayers of David, son of Jesse.’
Book 3 shares its preference for the name Elohim for God with book 2. There are also a variety of authors represented in book 3. Book 2 closed out with psalm 72 which is a magnificent vision of the messianic kingdom. But book 3 opens with psalm 73 which questions God’s justice and power. This same kind of questioning returns in psalm 89 at the end of book 3. The psalms of book 4 wrestle with questions raised at the time of the Exile, when it seemed that God covenant with David had been dissolved. In response to this crisis, several psalms encourage individual growth in character and godliness. Most psalms in this book present God as the true and faithful king whose kingdom extends to every part of creation. He still loves His people, the flock of His pasture, but they need to listen to Him. God is the source of forgiveness, and His compassion assures His exiled people that the Lord still cares for them. History up to the point of the exile is explained as God’s wisdom and Israel’s folly. The benediction or doxology of psalm 106:48 is also included in 1 Chronicles 16:36. This may indicate that Book 4 was completed in the postexilic era when Chronicles was compiled.
Book 5 includes a number of smaller collections. Psalms 113-118 contain the Egyptian Hallel. Hallel simply means praise. Psalm 119 has 276 verses. It is an alphabet acrostic, containing 22 stanzas, because there are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet. In essence Psalm 119 is giving us the complete A to Z reasons for delighting in the Lord. The great Hallel or praise is found in psalms 120-136. This includes the song of ascents (120-134). There are eight psalms of David, 138-145. Psalms 146-150 are the five concluding psalms of praise. Book 5 sets out the thematic progression of affliction, lament, God’s rescue, and praise.
The psalter promises Christ’s death and resurrection so clearly that it might well be called a little Bible. We find a wide range of life’s emotions splashed across the psalms. Many of the psalms were written for specific situations but because they really describe the human experience, they still express the prayers and praise of people today. Scripture is a living and breathing Word. Many of these psalms have been set to music and are included in our worship today. Today’s picture is spectacular. It is taken from inside the rings of the planet Saturn.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W