Book of Psalms

Boyd’s Bible Dictionary:

(play a stringed instrument). In Hebrew, “Praises.” The collection of one hundred and fifty lyrics which compose the nineteenth O. T. book. The liturgical hymnbook of the Hebrews, and accepted by early Christians. Authorship of seventy of them ascribed to David. The most perfect specimens of Hebrew poetry extant.

Concise Bible Dictionary:

This book has been called the heart of the Bible. It expresses sentiments produced by the Spirit of Christ, whether of prayer, sorrow, confession, or praise, in the hearts of God’s people, in which the ways of God are developed, and become known, with their blessed issue, to the faithful. The book is distinctly prophetic in character, the period covered by the language of the Psalms extending from the rejection of Christ (Psa. 2; Acts 4:25-2825Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? 26The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ. 27For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, 28For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done. (Acts 4:25‑28)) to the Hallelujahs consequent on the establishment of the kingdom. The writers do not merely relate what others did and felt, but expressed what was passing through their own souls. And yet their language is not simply what they felt, but that of the Spirit of Christ that spoke in them, as taking part in the afflictions, the griefs, and the joys of God’s people in every phase of their experience. This accounts for Christ being found throughout the Psalms: some refer exclusively to Him, as Psalm 22; in others (though the language is that of the remnant of His people), Christ takes His place with them, making their sufferings His sufferings, and their sorrows His sorrows. In no part of scripture is the inner life of the Lord Jesus disclosed as in the Psalms. The Psalms may be called “the manual of the earthly choir.” They commence with “Blessed is the man,” and end with “Praise ye Jehovah.” Man is blessed on earth, and Jehovah is praised from earth.
1 Chronicles 16 and 2 Samuel 22 are examples of the immediate occasions on which psalms were composed, and in the headings of the psalms other instances are mentioned; yet these things in no way hinder the Spirit of God from leading the psalmist to utter things that would be fully accomplished in Christ alone. David said, “The Spirit of Jehovah spake by me, and His word was in my tongue” (2 Sam. 23:1-21Now these be the last words of David. David the son of Jesse said, and the man who was raised up on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet psalmist of Israel, said, 2The Spirit of the Lord spake by me, and his word was in my tongue. (2 Samuel 23:1‑2)). Great pains have been taken sometimes to arrange the psalms in a supposed chronological order, but the effect of this is to spoil the whole, for God has Himself ordered their arrangement, and in many places the beauty of the order can be seen.
It must not be forgotten that the Old Testament prophets did not grasp what “the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify” (1 Peter 1:1111Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. (1 Peter 1:11)). David’s experience could not have caused him to indite Psalm 22. But being a prophet, it was clearly the Spirit of Christ that was in him that furnished words which would be uttered by Christ on the cross. We have in it a plain instance of a prophetic psalm, and doubtless the spirit of prophecy runs through all.
If this is the main characteristic of the Psalms, they have an aspect entirely different from that in which the book is regarded by many, namely, as a book of Christian experience. The piety that the Psalms breathe is always edifying, and the deep confidence in God expressed in them under trial and sorrow has cheered the heart of God’s saints at all times. These holy experiences are to be preserved and cherished; but who has not felt the difficulty of calling on God to destroy his enemies? What Christian can take up as his own language such a sentence as “Happy shall he be that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones” (Psa. 137:99Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones. (Psalm 137:9)). And how can such a sentence be spiritualized? But such appeals are intelligible in regard to a future day, when, apostasy being universal and opposition to God open and avowed, the destruction of His enemies is the only way of deliverance for His people.
Unless the difference of the spirit of the Psalms from that of Christianity be observed, the full light of redemption and of the place of the Christian in Christ is not seen, and the reader is apt to be detained in a legal state. His progress is hindered, and he does not understand the Psalms, nor enter into the gracious sympathies of Christ in their true application. When the attitude of the Jews at the time the Lord was here is remembered, and their bitter opposition to their Messiah, which exists to this day, light is thrown upon their feelings when, under tribulation, their eyes will be opened to see that it was indeed their Messiah that they crucified. Great too will be their persecution from without, from which God will deliver a remnant and bring them into blessing. Into all their sorrows Christ enters, and He suffers in sympathy with them. All these things, and the experiences through which they will pass, are found in the Psalms. But these experiences are not properly those of the Christian.
As the Psalms form a part of holy scripture, their true place and bearing must be seen before they can be rightly interpreted. The writers were not Christians, and could not express Christian experience; though their piety, their confidence in God, and the spirit of praise may often be the language of a Christian, and even put a Christian to shame. Christ must be looked for everywhere, either in what He personally passed through, or in His sympathy with His people Israel, which can only end in His bringing them into full blessing on earth, when He will be hailed as “Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Father of Eternity, Prince of Peace.”
The Book of Psalms is in the Hebrew divided into five books, each of which has its own prophetic characteristics. The more these are grasped, the clearer it becomes that God has watched over the order of the psalms. Each book ends with an ascription of praise or doxology.
BOOK 1 extends to the end of Psalm 41, and is occupied with the state of the Jewish remnant of the future (Judah), before they are driven out of Jerusalem (compare Matt. 24:1616Then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains: (Matthew 24:16)). Christ is largely identified with this. The book recalls much of the personal history of the Lord, when He was here, though the bearing of it is future. The light of resurrection dawns for the faithful in this book, Christ having gone through death into fullness of joy at God’s right hand (compare Rev. 6:1111And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled. (Revelation 6:11)).
In Psalm 2 (and Psalm 1-2 may be said to be introductory to the whole) we have Christ rejected by Jew and Gentile, yet set as King in Zion, and declared to be the Son of God, having the earth for His possession, and judging His enemies, the nations. In a wider sense Psalm 1-8 are introductory; from Psalm 3-7 giving the principles that follow on the rejection of Christ in Psalm 1-2, and Psalm 8 giving His exaltation as Son of Man, ending with “O Jehovah our Lord, how excellent is Thy name in all the earth.” Psalm 16 brings in the personal excellence of Christ and His association with the “excellent in the earth.”
In some places the appropriateness of the sequence of the psalms, as already remarked, is very apparent, as for instance Psalm 22- 24. Psalm 22 pictures the sufferings of Christ in the accomplishing of redemption. In Psalm 23, in consequence of redemption being accomplished, the Lord becomes the Shepherd and takes care of the sheep. In Psalm 24 is celebrated the entry of the King of glory through the everlasting gates. In Psalm 40 there comes forth from God One divinely perfect—the true ark of the covenant—who was competent to bring into effect the will of God in all its extent; and at the same time able (by the offering of Himself) to take away the whole system of sacrifices, in which God had found no pleasure.
BOOK 2 embraces Psalm 42 to the end of Psalm 72. The remnant are here viewed as outside Jerusalem, and the city given up to wickedness; but Israel has to be brought back. In Book 1 The name of Jehovah is used all through, but now God is addressed as such: the faithful are cast more entirely on what God is in His own nature and character, when they can no longer approach where Jehovah has put His name: Antichrist prevails there. In Psalm 45 Messiah is introduced, and the remnant celebrate with gladness what God is for His people. Though resurrection may be dimly seen by the faithful in the circumstances of this book, yet what is before them is the restoration of Zion (Psa. 45-48 and Psa. 69:3535For God will save Zion, and will build the cities of Judah: that they may dwell there, and have it in possession. (Psalm 69:35)). God shines out of Zion (Psa. 50:22Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined. (Psalm 50:2)). Psalm 69-71 speak of the humiliation of the remnant, and Christ with them: some of the verses clearly point to Christ personally, as in the reference to the gall and the vinegar (Psa. 69:2121They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink. (Psalm 69:21)). At the close of this book the Psalmist in the doxology arrives at, “Let the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen and Amen.” To which he adds, “The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended.”
BOOK 3. contains Psalm 73 to the end of Psalm 89. It widens out to the restoration of Israel as a nation, whose general interests are in view. The sanctuary is prominent. The thought is not so much limited, as the previous books, to the Jewish remnant, though faithful ones are spoken of. In this book we have but one psalm with David’s name as writer. They are mostly “for, or of” Asaph and the sons of KorahLevites. In Psalm 88 is the bitter cry of a soul expressive of being subject under a broken law to the wrath of God; and in Psalm 89 praise is rendered for Jehovah’s unchangeable covenant with David, extending to the Holy One of Israel as their King. It celebrates the sure mercies of David, though David’s house had utterly failed and was cast down.
BOOK 4 embraces Psalm 90 to the end of Psalm 106. It begins with a psalm of Moses. In this section the eternity of Elohim, Israel’s Adonai, is seen to have been at all times their dwelling place, as declared in the first verse. It is the answer to the end of Psalm 89 (compare also Psa. 102:23-2823He weakened my strength in the way; he shortened my days. 24I said, O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days: thy years are throughout all generations. 25Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of thy hands. 26They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed: 27But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end. 28The children of thy servants shall continue, and their seed shall be established before thee. (Psalm 102:23‑28) with Psa. 139:44-45). In Psalm 91 Messiah takes His place with Israel; and in Psalm 94-100. Jehovah comes into the world to establish the kingdom in glory and divine order. It is the introduction of the First-begotten into the earth, announced by the cry of the remnant.
BOOK 5 contains Psalm 107 to the end of Psalm 150. This book gives the general results of the government of God. The restoration of Israel amid dangers and difficulties is alluded to; the exaltation of Messiah to God’s right hand till His enemies are made His footstool; God’s ways with Israel; their whole condition, and the principles on which they stand with God, His law being written in their hearts; ending with full and continued praise after the destruction of their enemies, in which they have part with God. For Songs of Degrees, see DEGREES.