The Book of Psalms - An Overview, Part I of III
- "The Book of Psalms is a limpid lake which reflects every mood of man's changeful sky. It is a river of consolation which, though swollen with many tears, never fails to gladden in fainting. It is a garden of flowers which never lose their fragrance, though some of the roses have sharp thorns. It is stringed instrument which registers every note of praise and prayer, of triumph and trouble, of gladness and sadness, of hope and fear, and unites them all in the full multichord of human esperience" (J.Sidlow Baxter- Explore the Book). It is an experiential book. Ever since they were written, the Psalms have played a large part in the life of God's people. The ancient time Hebrews used them in the temple worship; and Jews today still use them in the synagogue. The Christians of all denominations use them today in their worship service (Col.3:16; James 5:13).
The word "psalm" comes to us from the Greek word 'psalmos' (psalmoi -plural), which meant "a poem to be sung to a stringed instrument." It was in the third century B.C., in the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scripture into Greek, the word 'Psalmoi' was first used; and from there to Vulgate and to the English version as 'Psalms'.
The name of Psalmoi is certainly appropriate, for many of these poems are undoubtedly 'odes' written to be set to music, as it shown that fifty-five (55) of them are addressed to "the Chief musician", that is to the choir-leader or preceptor of the Hebrew religious worship. Many of them are 'lyrics' the poem expressing the individual emotions of the poet and intended for accompaniment by the lyre or harp or "stringed instrument." Because of this the Book of Psalms is known as Psalter, from the Greek word 'pslalter' ; that is, a harp or stringed instrument. The usual Hebrew name for the book is 'Tehillim', which means 'praises'. Another Hebrew title is 'Tephiloth' means "prayers" and this title taken from such verse as 72:20 where we read "The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended." In New Testament the title 'Psalms' endorsed in Luke 20:42; Acts 1:20; 13:33.
COLLECTION AND FORMATION
The Book of Psalms is obviously a collection of poems. The superscription's in the Hebrew text ascribes to different authors. David --73 ; He was Israel's "beloved singer of songs" (2 Sam.23:1) and he who organized the temple ministry, including the singers (1Chro. 15:16; 16:7; 25:1).
The Sons of Korah - 11 ; who served as musicians in the temple (1Chro. 6:31; 15:17; 2Chro. 20:19).
Asaph - 12 ; King Solomon - 2 (Pss.72 & 127) ; Ethan -1 (Ps.89); Moses - 1 (Ps.90) This makes a total of One hundred (100). The other fifty (50) anonymous or known as 'Orphan Psalms.'
Either by a single editor or by several, these poems were written by different persons at different times, were brought together into one volume gradually. It is likely that a first collection of the Davidic psalms was made soon after David's death, the Korahite psalms were added a little later, the Asaph psalms still later, and the anonymous psalms much later; while probably King Hezekiah and Ezra the scribe had much to do with the bringing of them together into the present arrangement.
The book of Psalms is divided into five books, perhaps in imitation of the Five Books of Moses (Gen-Deut); 1-41; 42-72; 73-89; 90-106; 107-150. The end of each group being marked by a doxology. The first three books/groups ends with a double "amen," the fourth ends with an "amen" and a "hallelujah," and the last book closes the entire collection with "hallelujah. '
It seems likely that the first group was collected by Solomon, The second group by the Korahite Levites, the third by King Hezekiah, the fourth and fifth by Ezra and Nehemiah. Thus, the formation and completion of our "Book of Psalms" took over five hundred years.
The Hebrew poetry is based on "thought lines" and not rhymes. Some of the poetical structures are as follows:
Synonymous Parallelism - If the second line repeats the first line in different words, "The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it,"- first line: "the world, and all who live in it", - second line ; the second line repeats the first line in different words (Ps.24:1-3).
Antithetic Parallelism - If the second line contrasts with first line, "For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous," - first line, look 'righteous'; "but the way of the wicked will perish", - second line, look 'wicked', contrast. (Ps.1:6; 37:9).
Synthetic Parallelism - When the second line explains and expands the first line, "The law of the Lord........." (Ps.19:7-9), look for the words, law, statutes, precepts, commands, fear, ordinances.
Climatic Parallelism - When the second line completes the first line, "Ascribe to the Lord,O mighty one", - first line, "ascribe to the Lord, glory and strength. - second line completes the first line. (Ps.29:1).
Iterative Parallelism - The second line repeats the thought of the first line, read Ps. 93 for example.
Alternate Parallelism - the alternate lines carry the same thought, as in Ps.103:8-13. You must read the reference Psalms in order to understand the meanings and the Hebrew parallelism in the Book of Psalms.
Some of the psalms are individual and national laments to the Lord, written by people in dire circumstances. There are messianic psalms that point forward to the Jesus Christ. There are also psalms of praise and thanksgiving, royal psalms, wisdom psalms, psalms of affirmation and trust, penitential psalms, and even imprecatory psalms calling down God's wrath on the enemy.
Primarily, the psalms are about God and His relationship with His creation, especially His believing people. The psalms reveal the hearts of those who follow Him, their faith and doubts, their victories and failures, their hopes for the glorious future God has promised. In this book we meet all kinds of people in a variety of circumstances, crying out to God, praising, confessing their sins and seeking to worship Him. In the book of Psalms, we meet the God of creation and learn spiritual truth from birds and beasts, mountains and deserts, sunshine and storms, wheat and chaff, trees and flowers, and also we learn all sorts of creation of God such as, horses, mules, dogs, snails, locusts, bees, lions, snakes, foxes, sheep, and even worms. The psalms teach us to seek God with a whole heart, to tell Him truth confess to Him, worship Him because Who He is, not just because of what He gives. The God in the Book of Psalms is both transcendent and immanent, far above and yet personally with us in our pilgrim journey. He is 'God Most High' and 'Immanuel- God with us'.
Continue Pt.II.......(This article based on the work of Dr.J.Sidlow Baxter -Explore the Book).
Fr.Dr.V.C.Varghese, Sugar Land, Tx.