The Gospel in The Psalms

The Psalms: Good News That Never Goes Out of Fashion

For example, "prayers of the individual" may include prayers of the king in his special capacity as king or even prayers of the community speaking in the collective first person singular. Nevertheless, it is helpful to study a psalm in conjunction with others of the same type.

Attempts to fix specific liturgical settings for each type have not been very convincing. For those psalms about which something can be said in this regard see introductions to the individual psalms. Of all these psalm types, the prayers both of the individual and of the community are the most complex. Several speech functions are combined to form these appeals to God: Though not all these appear in every prayer, they all belong to the conventions of prayer in the Psalter, with petition itself being but one usually brief element among the rest.

When beset by wicked adversaries, the petitioners appeal to God for a hearing, describe their situation, plead their innocence "righteousness" , lodge their accusations against their adversaries, and appeal for deliverance and judicial redress. When suffering at the hands of God when God is their adversary , they confess their guilt and plead for mercy.

Attention to these various speech functions and their role in the psalmists' judicial appeals to the heavenly Judge will significantly aid the reader's understanding of these psalms. It should be noted that reference to "penitential" and "imprecatory" psalms as distinct psalm "types" has no basis in the Psalter collection itself.

The former "penitential" refers to an early Christian selection of seven psalms 6 ; 32 ; 38 ; 51 ; ; ; for liturgical expressions of penitence; the latter "imprecatory" is based on a misconstrual of one of the speech functions found in the prayers. What are actually appeals to the heavenly Judge for judicial redress function 8 noted above are taken to be curses "imprecation" means "curse" pronounced by the psalmists on their adversaries. See note on 5: The Psalter is from first to last poetry, even though it contains many prayers and not all OT prayers were poetic see 1Ki 8: The Psalms are impassioned, vivid and concrete; they are rich in images, in simile and metaphor.

Assonance, alliteration and wordplays abound in the Hebrew text. Effective use of repetition and the piling up of synonyms and complements to fill out the picture are characteristic.

It is much more likely that the alphabet -- which was relatively recently invented as a simple system of symbols capable of representing in writing the rich and complex patterns of human speech and therefore of inscribing all that can be put into words one of the greatest intellectual achievements of all time -- commended itself as a framework on which to hang significant phrases. Assonance, alliteration and wordplays abound in the Hebrew text. For those psalms about which something can be said in this regard see introductions to the individual psalms. Literary Features The Psalter is from first to last poetry, even though it contains many prayers and not all OT prayers were poetic see 1Ki 8: This summary of the book of Psalms provides information about the title, author s , date of writing, chronology, theme, theology, outline, a brief overview, and the chapters of the Book of Psalms. By God's covenant, Israel was to live among the nations, loyal only to her heavenly King. Most poetic lines are composed of two sometimes three balanced segments the balance is often loose, with the second segment commonly somewhat shorter than the first.

Key words frequently highlight major themes in prayer or song. Enclosure repetition of a significant word or phrase at the end that occurs at the beginning frequently wraps up a composition or a unit within it. The notes on the structure of the individual psalms often call attention to literary frames within which the psalm has been set.

Hebrew poetry lacks rhyme and regular meter. Its most distinctive and pervasive feature is parallelism. Most poetic lines are composed of two sometimes three balanced segments the balance is often loose, with the second segment commonly somewhat shorter than the first.

The second segment either echoes synonymous parallelism , contrasts antithetic parallelism or syntactically completes synthetic parallelism the first. These three types are generalizations and are not wholly adequate to describe the rich variety that the creativity of the poets has achieved within the basic two-segment line structure.

When the second or third segment of a poetic line repeats, echoes or overlaps the content of the preceding segment, it usually intensifies or more sharply focuses the thought or its expression.

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They can serve, however, as rough distinctions that will assist the reader. In the NIV the second and third segments of a line are slightly indented relative to the first.

The Gospel According to the Psalms

Determining where the Hebrew poetic lines or line segments begin or end scanning is sometimes an uncertain matter. Even the Septuagint the pre-Christian Greek translation of the OT at times scans the lines differently from the way the Hebrew texts now available to us do. It is therefore not surprising that modern translations occasionally differ. A related problem is the extremely concise, often elliptical writing style of the Hebrew poets.

Book of Psalms

The syntactical connection of words must at times be inferred simply from context. Where more than one possibility presents itself, translators are confronted with ambiguity. They are not always sure with which line segment a border word or phrase is to be read. The stanza structure of Hebrew poetry is also a matter of dispute.

Occasionally, recurring refrains mark off stanzas, as in Ps ; In Ps two balanced stanzas are divided by their introductory oracles see also introduction to Ps , while Ps devotes eight lines to each letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

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For the most part, however, no such obvious indicators are present. The NIV has used spaces to mark off poetic paragraphs called "stanzas" in the notes. Usually this could be done with some confidence, and the reader is advised to be guided by them. But there are a few places where these divisions are questionable -- and are challenged in the notes. Close study of the Psalms discloses that the authors often composed with an overall design in mind.

This is true of the alphabetic acrostics, in which the poet devoted to each letter of the Hebrew alphabet one line segment as in Ps , or a single line as in Ps 25 ; 34 ; , or two lines as in Ps 37 , or eight lines as in Ps In addition Ps 33 ; 38 ; each have 22 lines, no doubt because of the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet see Introduction to Lamentations: The oft-voiced notion that this device was used as a memory aid seems culturally prejudiced and quite unwarranted.

Actually people of that time were able to memorize far more readily than most people today. It is much more likely that the alphabet -- which was relatively recently invented as a simple system of symbols capable of representing in writing the rich and complex patterns of human speech and therefore of inscribing all that can be put into words one of the greatest intellectual achievements of all time -- commended itself as a framework on which to hang significant phrases.

Other forms were also used. Ps 44 is a prayer fashioned after the design of a ziggurat a Babylonian stepped pyramid; see note on Ge A sense of symmetry is pervasive. There are psalms that devote the same number of lines to each stanza as Ps 12 ; 41 , or do so with variation only in the introductory or concluding stanza as Ps 38 ; 83 ; Others match the opening and closing stanzas and balance those between as Ps 33 ; A particularly interesting device is to place a key thematic line at the very center, sometimes constructing the whole or part of the poem around that center see note on 6: Still other design features are pointed out in the notes.

The authors of the psalms crafted their compositions very carefully. They were heirs of an ancient art in many details showing that they had inherited a poetic tradition that goes back hundreds of years , and they developed it to a state of high sophistication. Their works are best appreciated when carefully studied and pondered. The Psalter is for the most part a book of prayer and praise. In it faith speaks to God in prayer and of God in praise.

But there are also psalms that are explicitly didactic instructional in form and purpose teaching the way of godliness. As noted above Collection, Arrangement and Date , the manner in which the whole collection has been arranged suggests that one of its main purposes was instruction in the life of faith, a faith formed and nurtured by the Law, the Prophets and the canonical wisdom literature.

Accordingly, the Psalter is theologically rich. Its theology is, however, not abstract or systematic but doxological, confessional and practical. So a summation of that "theology" impoverishes it by translating it into an objective mode.

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Furthermore, any summation faces a still greater problem. The Psalter is a large collection of independent pieces of many kinds, serving different purposes and composed over the course of many centuries. Not only must a brief summary of its "theology" be selective and incomplete; it will also of necessity be somewhat artificial. It will suggest that each psalm reflects or at least presupposes the "theology" outlined, that there is no "theological" tension or progression within the Psalter. Manifestly this is not so.

Still, the final editors of the Psalter were obviously not eclectic in their selection. They knew that many voices from many times spoke here, but none that in their judgment was incompatible with the Law and the Prophets. No doubt they also assumed that each psalm was to be understood in the light of the collection as a whole.

We read, pray, and sing the Psalms. But how to we preach and teach Jesus Christ and the gospel from these chapters of the Bible? I posed. Editor's Note: The Gospel Coalition's council, staff, and several thousand of our Matthew's gospel unveils the Psalms as key to Jesus' own.

That assumption we may share. Hence something, after all, can be said concerning seven major theological themes that, while admittedly a bit artificial, need not seriously distort and can be helpful to the student of the Psalms. Unquestionably the supreme kingship of Yahweh in which he displays his transcendent greatness and goodness is the most basic metaphor and most pervasive theological concept in the Psalter -- as in the OT generally.

It provides the fundamental perspective in which people are to view themselves, the whole creation, events in "nature" and history, and the future. All creation is Yahweh's one kingdom. To be a creature in the world is to be a part of his kingdom and under his rule. To be a human being in the world is to be dependent on and responsible to him.

To proudly deny that fact is the root of all wickedness -- the wickedness that now pervades the world. God's election of Israel and subsequently of David and Zion, together with the giving of his word, represent the renewed inbreaking of God's righteous kingdom into this world of rebellion and evil. It initiates the great divide between the righteous nation and the wicked nations, and on a deeper level between the righteous and the wicked, a more significant distinction that cuts even through Israel.

In the end this divine enterprise will triumph. Human pride will be humbled, and wrongs will be redressed. The humble will be given the whole earth to possess, and the righteous and peaceable kingdom of God will come to full realization. These theological themes, of course, have profound religious and moral implications. Of these, too, the psalmists spoke. One question that ought yet to be addressed is: Do the Psalms speak of the Christ? Yes, in a variety of ways -- but not as the prophets do.

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The Psalter was never numbered among the "prophetic" books. On the other hand, when the Psalter was being given its final form, what the psalms said about the Lord and his ways with his people, about the Lord and his ways with the nations, about the Lord and his ways with the righteous and the wicked, and what the psalmists said about the Lord's anointed, his temple and his holy city -- all this was understood in light of the prophetic literature both Former and Latter Prophets. Relative to these matters, the Psalter and the Prophets were mutually reinforcing and interpretive.

When the Psalms speak of the king on David's throne, they speak of the king who is being crowned as in Ps 2 ; 72 ; -- though some think is an exception or is reigning as in Ps 45 at the time. They proclaim his status as the Lord's anointed and declare what the Lord will accomplish through him and his dynasty. Thus they also speak of the sons of David to come -- and in the exile and the postexilic era, when there was no reigning king, they spoke to Israel only of the great Son of David whom the prophets had announced as the one in whom God's covenant with David would yet be fulfilled.

So the NT quotes these psalms as testimonies to Christ, which in their unique way they are. In him they are truly fulfilled. When in the Psalms righteous sufferers -- who are "righteous" because they are innocent, not having provoked or wronged their adversaries, and because they are among the "humble" who trust in the Lord -- cry out to God in their distress as in Ps 22 ; 69 , they give voice to the sufferings of God's servants in a hostile and evil world.

These cries became the prayers of God's oppressed "saints," and as such they were taken up into Israel's book of prayers. When Christ came in the flesh, he identified himself with God's "humble" people in the world. He became for them God's righteous servant par excellence, and he shared their sufferings at the hands of the wicked. Thus these prayers became his prayers also -- uniquely his prayers. In him the suffering and deliverance of which these prayers speak are fulfilled though they continue to be the prayers also of those who take up their cross and follow him.

Similarly, in speaking of God's covenant people, of the city of God, and of the temple in which God dwells, the Psalms ultimately speak of Christ's church. The Psalter is not only the prayer book of the second temple; it is also the enduring prayer book of the people of God. Now, however, it must be used in the light of the new era of redemption that dawned with the first coming of the Messiah and that will be consummated at his second coming. Summary Summary of the Book of Psalms This summary of the book of Psalms provides information about the title, author s , date of writing, chronology, theme, theology, outline, a brief overview, and the chapters of the Book of Psalms.

Title The titles "Psalms" and "Psalter" come from the Septuagint the pre-Christian Greek translation of the OT , where they originally referred to stringed instruments such as harp, lyre and lute , then to songs sung with their accompaniment. Collection, Arrangement and Date The Psalter is a collection of collections and represents the final stage in a process that spanned centuries. Authorship and Titles or Superscriptions Of the psalms, only 34 lack superscriptions of any kind only 17 in the Septuagint, the pre-Christian Greek translation of the OT.

Psalm Types Hebrew superscriptions to the Psalms acquaint us with an ancient system of classification: Literary Features The Psalter is from first to last poetry, even though it contains many prayers and not all OT prayers were poetic see 1Ki 8: Introduction The Psalter is for the most part a book of prayer and praise. Major Themes At the core of the theology of the Psalter is the conviction that the gravitational center of life of right human understanding, trust, hope, service, morality, adoration , but also of history and of the whole creation heaven and earth , is God Yahweh, "the Lord"; see Dt 6: He is the Great King over all, the One to whom all things are subject.

He created all things and preserves them; they are the robe of glory with which he has clothed himself. Because he ordered them, they have a well-defined and "true" identity no chaos there. Because he maintains them, they are sustained and kept secure from disruption, confusion or annihilation.

Because he alone is the sovereign God, they are governed by one hand and held in the service of one divine purpose. Under God creation is a cosmos -- an orderly and systematic whole. What we distinguish as "nature" and history had for the psalmists one Lord, under whose rule all things worked together. Through the creation the Great King's majestic glory is displayed.

He is good wise, righteous, faithful, amazingly benevolent and merciful -- evoking trust , and he is great his knowledge, thoughts and works are beyond human comprehension -- evoking reverent awe. Is it focused on me rather than God? Is it driven more by emotion than by truth? I wonder if our correctives to unhealthy trends in worship music have gone so far that we have become more fear-driven than gospel-driven in our song selection. Take a look at Psalm This psalm talks more about the psalmist than it does about God.

For many of us, we would have difficulty signing these words today without some kind of qualification or explanation. If all Scripture is God-breathed, useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness 2 Tim. If the Psalms were the songbook for the people Israel and the early church, we would be foolish to neglect their wisdom today.

Psalms for the Whole Person Not only do we need to sing the Psalms, but they should also inform and inspire the way songwriters write songs for the church. We need songs that address the whole person—head, heart, and will. We need songs that reflect the literary diversity found in the Bible: If you took the list of songs that a church sings over the course of a year, you should find that they fall into similar categories.

A version of this article originally appeared on Medium.