The book of Psalms is a very interesting and detailed book, composed of a collection of psalms and praises to God. It could also be called ‘the book of praises.’ Have you ever wondered that many of the children’s Sunday school songs and classic hymns sung in churches come from this wonderful book of Psalms? The Psalms presents to us some different perspectives and angles. One of these is the expression of the Old Testament believer going through trials, or seeing the wicked people seemingly succeed, or expressing their thanks and gratitude to God who delivers them out of trials and praising God. Another aspect is prophetic, and points to the Lord Jesus Christ. These psalms are referred to as ‘Messianic psalms,’ and are of most importance and significance for personal study. Comparing the psalms quoted in the New Testament is also a healthy study.
It is only an attempt to provide a brief outline, or overview, of the book of Psalms. The reader will note that the psalms are not chapters as we have in the rest of the books of the Bible, but these are just psalms, so we have, for example, Psalm 1, Psalm 2, are part of the divine Word of God. The headings we see in some of the psalms are also part of the divinely inspired Word of God. In fact, some of the headings take us back to various events that occurred in the life of David, for example, Psalm 51, Psalm 52.
The book of Psalms is divided into five sections, referred to as ‘books,’ which correspond with the first five books of the Bible. The five sections all have a similar conclusion of blessing to God, amen, and hallelujah (end of the fourth and fifth book).
The first book is from Psalm 1 to 41, and it presents the principle of separation of the godly from the ungodly among the people of God. The name for God used in the first book is ‘Jehovah’, which appears approximately 275 times. The first book answers to Genesis, the first of the five books of Moses.
Book 2 is from Psalm 42 to 72, which is the ‘Exodus section’ of the Psalms. In this book we find the sufferings of the godly people and live in great trials, and cry to God in their distress. The name for God used in this section is Elohim, mentioned about 200 times.
The third book is from Psalm 73 to Psalm 89, which is the ‘Leviticus section’ of the Psalms. This is the shortest section, and focusses on being brought into the sanctuary and beholding the holiness of the Lord. Asaph has a collection of psalms in this section, where nearly every psalm speaks about the sanctuary, congregation, approaching the Lord. This ‘book’ also describes the return of Israel as a nation and God’s mercy towards them.
The fourth book is from Psalm 90 to 106, which presents to us the ‘Numbers section’ of the Psalms. The name for God in this section is Jehovah, used about 100 times. This book presents the prophetic Psalms which show that the times of unrest and wanderings will cease when the Lord comes to reign and when all will worship Him. Numbers presents to us the wilderness wanderings, so this fourth book of the Psalms present the characteristics of wilderness wanderings.
The fifth book is from Psalm 107 to 150, the ‘Deuteronomy section’ of the Psalms. In this section, the Word is magnified, and this book contains the summary of Jehovah’s ways with his people Israel, and also the praise that is due to Him for His mercy and goodness. It is therefore fitting that this book ends with five psalms containing ‘Hallelujah’ and is the hallelujah chorus of completed redemption.
It is striking that the Psalms begin with the word ‘blessed’ and ends with ‘hallelujah’! In between, there is Hebrew poetry, like in Psalm 119, which is the subject of the Word of God. This particular psalm has 22 sections of 8 verses, which represent the 22 Hebrew letters, and the eight verses in each section begin with the same Hebrew letter, i.e. verses 1-8 start by the letter ‘Aleph’, verses 9-16 start by the letter ‘Beth’, and so on.
Nearly half of the Psalms are written by David, which are 73 psalms. The other writers of the psalms are: Asaph, who wrote psalm 73 to 83. It is generally believed that he wrote psalm 1, although there is no heading. The children/sons of Korah wrote 11 psalms, Psalm 43-49, 84, 85, 87 and 88. The sons of Korah experienced grace and mercy and did not perish with their father who rebelled against Moses in Numbers 16. Psalm 88 was written by Heman the Ezrahite, Psalm 89 by Ethan the Ezrahite and Psalm 90 by Moses, which is a prayer.
There are a number of psalms that are Maschil, meaning instruction. Easton’s Bible dictionary provides a good explanation. “It denotes a song enforcing some lesson of wisdom or piety, a didactic song”. One other thought is that the instruction in these psalms may mean that for a person far away from the Lord, to come back to Him, or for a person to remain close to the Lord. A number of these are written by the sons of Korah. The Maschil psalms are Psalm 32, 42, 44-45, 52-55, 68-69, 74, 78, 142.
There are also a number of psalms that are titled ‘song of degrees’, or song of steps. This title is given in 15 psalms, 120-134. Easton’s Bible dictionary mentions that the “probable origin of this name is the circumstance that these psalms came to be sung by the people on the ascents or goings up to Jerusalem to attend the three great festivals (Deuteronomy 16:16). They were well fitted for being sung by the way from their peculiar form, and from the sentiments they express. “They are characterized by brevity, by a key-word, by epanaphora [i.e, repetition], and by their epigrammatic style…More than half of them are cheerful, and all of them hopeful.” They are sometimes called “Pilgrim Songs.” Four of them were written by David, one (127) by Solomon, and the rest are anonymous.”
One other feature in the book of Psalms is the word ‘Selah,’ which means pause. This can refer to a change in the tone of the psalmist. It is used 71 times in this book and three times in the book of Habakkuk. Note that the psalmists were using musical instruments when composing the psalms, so Selah was used for a pause or change in the musical tone or tune.
I will present some features of the Psalms before closing, for more personal study. Psalm 1 presents the godly and righteous man as Christ Himself, and in Psalm 2 we have before us Christ as the righteous King who will rule in Zion and in righteousness. In Psalm 8 we see Christ as the One who will be exalted in the millennial kingdom and all things will be put under His feet (Hebrews 2:8). Psalm 16 presents the perfect life of Christ on earth, corresponding with the meal or grain offering of Leviticus 2. Psalm 21 speaks of Christ as the risen One and His glorification. Psalm 22 speaks of Christ’s sufferings on the cross from the hand of God, corresponding with the sin offering of Leviticus 4. The psalm that follows is the famous Psalm 23, presenting Christ as the risen Shepherd caring for His sheep, while Psalm 24 presents Christ as the King of glory. Psalm 22-24 is a flow and present Christ in His sufferings, death, resurrection and His coming again to reign on the earth. Psalm 40 speaks to us of Christ who came to do the will of God (John 17:1-5; Hebrews 10:7), corresponding with the burnt offering of Leviticus 1.
We come to Psalm 45, presenting Christ as the Great King. The psalm particularly touches on Christ’s humanity, deity, holy life, death, resurrection, exaltation, and coming in judgment. Psalm 68 speaks of Christ the conqueror, scattering His enemies. Then we have Psalm 69, another picture of Christ’s sufferings on the cross. While Psalm 22 presents Christ suffering from the hand of God, Psalm 69 presents Christ suffering from the hands of men who hated and rejected Him. This psalm corresponds with the trespass offering of Leviticus 5:14-6:7. Psalm 72 presents the blessings of Christ’s kingdom reign.
Psalm 89 presents Christ as the true Son of David, then Psalm 91 speaks of abiding in Christ. When Christ was on earth, Satan quoted Psalm 91:11-12, though he did not quote it correctly. Psalm 92 presents the path of Christ and gives the Messianic promises. Again, Satan misquoted one of the promises to Christ when tempting Him. From Psalm 95 to 100 we have a picture of Christ reigning in the millennium and His glorious kingdom. We come to Psalm 102, another psalm giving the feelings and sufferings of Christ when He was on earth. In particular, Psalm 102:25-26 is a quote, God’s promise, where we find in Hebrews 1:10-12 a similar passage, “And, Thou in the beginning, Lord, hast founded the earth, and works of thy hands are the heavens. They shall perish, but thou continuest still; and they all shall grow old as a garment, and as a covering shalt thou roll them up, and they shall be changed; but thou art the Same, and thy years shall not fail.” Again, Psalm 110 presents Christ and is quoted in Hebrews 1 and 5. For a reference, see Psalm 110:1 and Hebrews 1:13; also Psalm 110:4 and Hebrews 5:6.
Easton’s Bible Dictionary. Author Matthew George Easton, published 1893.