Introduction to the Psalms

(All bible quotes from The Holy Bible, New International Version)

 INTROUCTION TO THE PSALMS

SONGS AND POEMS OF THE KINGDOM

 Why study the book of Psalms?

My answer is simply why not study the Book of Psalms when you consider:

  • The book of Psalms is quoted in the New Testament more than any other Old Testament book (Psalms quoted 54 times, Isaiah 48).
  • The book of Psalms teaches us more about the nature of God than any other Old Testament book.
  • The book of Psalms has had the biggest impact of any Old Testament book on church writers and thinkers throughout the ages. From Paul, Chysostom, Augustine to Luther, Psalms have been their preferred book.
  • The Psalms has had the biggest influence on Jewish and Christian worship than any other book in the bible.

This impact of the Psalms does not mention how countless Christians throughout the ages have found comfort and inspiration from their reading of the Psalms. Making Psalms the book both Jews and Christians have committed to memory the most.

This amazing book of the bible is in fact 5 books or five collections of poems and songs, which were written and made into its final form over 1,000 years.

In this introduction I will answer the following five questions:

1. What are the main theme’s of the five books of Psalms?

2. Who wrote the Psalms?

3. How and when were the five books of Psalms composed?

4. What are the types of Psalms?

5. How do we interpret the Psalms?

  1. 1.    WHAT ARE THE MAIN THEME’S OF THE FIVE BOOKS OF PSALMS   (SONGS OF THE KINGDOM)

Book 1. Psalms 1 to 41 : THE STRUGGLES OF THE ANOINTED KING AND HIS FOLLOWERS (PART 1)

The central and binding theme of both book 1 and 2 is the struggle between God’s true King and his followers and the false King and his followers. I call this struggle “The highs and lows of the King and his followers” because most of the Psalms start with the writer feeling very down and out and by the end of the Psalm the author is high and rejoicing God for his help in the midst of his conflict.

Most of these are Psalms written by David after some kind of critical event took place in his life. A lot of these events can be determined and offer a wonderful backdrop to the original poem or song.

Considering the original setting of the Psalm has helped me understand the Psalm so much more.

Even when the original setting of the Psalm is unknown a good working knowledge of David’s complex and difficult life sheds much light on what David is often getting at.

Book 2.  Psalms 42 – 72 :   THE STRUGGLES OF THE ANOINTED KING AND HIS FOLLOWERS PART 2

The struggle of book 1 continues and intensifies in the second collection or book of Psalms. A big change in this book is that the covenant name for God “Yahweh” in book 1 changes to “Elohim” in book two. “Yahweh features 272 times to Elohim 15 times in book 1 while “Yehweh is only used 15 times and Elohim 207 times in book 2.

“Elohim” is the more general name or term for God, which we first come across in Genesis 1: 1

(All bible quotes from The Holy Bible, New International Version)

“In the beginning God (Elohim) created the heaven and the earth”

 So if Elohim is the general name or term for God Yehweh is his special covenant name that was given to Moses who was told it means “I am who I am” and became such a Holy and special name for the Jews that they did not write down the vowels and we only have the Hebrew consonants YHWH which has the Greek technical name “The Tetragrammaton” which means “The four letters”

 Michal Hunt wrote this about YHWH in 2003,

“Throughout history, God’s Old Covenant people treated God’s name with great reverence, declaring it too holy to be spoken aloud.

 Speaking God’s divine name was restricted to the priests worshipping in God’s Temple in Jerusalem, and so with the destruction of the Temple His holy covenant name was no longer spoken and correct pronunciation of the name was lost.”

 The dramatic move away from Yehweh to Elohim in the second book could be partially explained by the problem of speaking the covenant name of God out loud as the heavy emphasis on the covenant God (Yahweh) in the first book is moving towards a more personal private and public pleading with God (Elohim) as the struggle to uphold the true King of God intensifies.

 Book 3.  Psalms 73 – 89 :   WORSHIP OF THE KING OF HEAVEN

 This book starts with Psalms written for worship in the Temple (written by Asaph and Sons of Korah, chief musicians and choir leaders in the time of David) and ends with Psalm 89 which deals with the exile of Judah to Babylon and its return and ultimate restoration. This book moves away from the Psalms of David who only wrote Psalm 86 in this section.

Book 4.  Psalms 90 – 106 :  THE REIGN OF GOD’S PROMISED KING TO COME

 Book 4 features the concept that Yahweh is the true King of Israel and the concept of the Messiah King being glorified and reigning in heaven.

These Psalms apart from Psalm 90 (written by Moses, the oldest Psalm in the collection) and Psalms 101 and 103 written by David were probably composed at the time of Ezra. When Israel had returned from exile.

Book 5.  Psalms 107 – 150 :  PRAISE TO THE KING OF HEAVEN WHO OFFERS MERCIFUL LOVE TO HIS FOLLOWERS

 The final book of Psalms features a summary of all of Yahweh’s dealings with his people and end with a number of praise psalms for his mercy and love. This seems to be a fitting way for the editors of the Psalms to bring the collection of Psalms to its high point and conclusion.

2. WHO WROTE THE PSALMS

 As I have already stated the Psalms where written and came together as 5 books over 1,000 years. From the time of King David to, some scalars believe, the first century (the time of Christ or just after this).

We have some idea of the authors of the Psalms from the headings the original collectors of the Psalms put on them.

These are not considered by us to be part of the inspired text of the Psalms but merely as guides to understanding a Psalm when a heading seems to shed light on the teaching in the Psalm. Many of the instructions in the headings are still a mystery to the modern reader as they refer to ancient tunes etc. However from these headings we have the following list of authors of the Psalms :

  • David wrote 73 Psalms and the New Testament attributes 2 others (2 and 95) which are said to have been written by David.

(see : 2 Sam. 23 : 1)

  • Asaph wrote 12 Psalms. Asaph is David’s worship choir conductor.

(see : 1 Chron. 16 : 7 and 2 Chron. 29 :30)

  • The sons of Korah wrote 9 Psalms (Levite or priestly musicians at the time of David and probably Solomon). (see : 1 Chron. 6 : 31 – 38)
  • Solomon wrote 2 Psalms, 72 and 127 (but also had a big hand in writing The Book of Proverbs, Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes

( see : 1 Kings 4 : 32).

  • Moses wrote 1 Psalm, Psalm 90
  • Ethan the Ezrahite, 1 Psalm, Psalm 89
  • Heman wrote 1 Psalm, Psalm 88, Both men are mentioned as contemporary’s of King Solomon (see 1 Kings 4 : 31)

So we know then the authors of about 99 Psalms leaving 51 as unknown authors.

I believe most of the Psalms were edited as time went by and this accounts for many of the 9 acrostics Psalms (alphabetically ordered verses and each first word commencing with each Hebrew letter of the alphabet in turn, from 1 through to 22) loosing some of the Hebrew alphabet words through changes. This does not diminish the biblical authority of these Psalms as all the writings in the Old and New Testament had some form of minor editing unto the two cannons of scripture were finalized. Poems I wrote 40 years ago still get the occasional touch up as I edit them from time to time and most writers do this as well.

3. HOW AND WHEN WERE THE FIVE BOOKS OF PSALMS COMPOSED OR COMPILED

 This is something biblical scholars are still discovering and debating. I would like to give you a summary of what I found on this interesting subject.

Books 1,2 and 3 seem to have been known and together in their present form for some time during the history of Israel.

This was proven when the famous “dead sea scrolls” were found and the material relating to the Psalms shows clearly books 1,2 and 3 collected and together, as we know them. These ancient manuscripts perfectly preserved date back some 200 years before Christ. They however only have fragments of books 4 and 5 suggesting these 2 books were still being formulated as a final collection.

In a recent publication called, “Interpreting the Psalms”, Gerald H. Wilson writes, “Investigation of the contents of these texts (Dead Sea Scrolls) and their arrangements reveal no significant variations in the first three books.

In contrast, the last two books demonstrate widespread differences in content and arrangement in manuscripts as late as the middle of the first century” (page 231)

So we will now look at how :

1.    How Books 1, 2 and 3 might have come together

 2.    How Books 4 and 5 might have come together

 

1.    How Books 1, 2 and 3 might have come together

 BOOK 1.

 It is clear that most of the Psalms of David are found in books 1 and 2. There are 37 or 38 if you include Psalm 2 in book 1 out of a collection of 41.

The final Psalm 41, which acts as a concluding Psalm to the collection is attributed to David suggesting David had a hand in the compilation of the collection. Psalm 2 is an introduction to the first book of Psalms while Psalm 1 seems to be an introduction to the entire five books of Psalms.

BOOK 2.

 Many Bible Scalars note that Psalms 42 – 72 and some say 42 – 89 (covering books 2 and 3) seem to be a separate collection they call “The Elohistic Psalter” because of the heavy emphasis on the Elohim name for God over Yahweh. The breakdown of Elohim to Yaweh in book three is Elohim 63 to Yahweh 44.

It seems that this Elohistic Psalter features the Psalms of “The Sons of Korah”, Psalms 42 – 49, Asaph Psalm 50, another collection of David Psalms 51 – 65, 68 – 70, two Psalms simply said to be “for the director of music” Psalms 66 and 67, one unknown authored Psalm, 71 and the final Psalm by Solomon, Psalm 72.

It has been speculated that part of the Elohistic Psalter (Psalms 42 – 71) existed around the same time as Book 1 of Psalms and Solomon decided to pull it together as the second book of Psalms, which explains his writing of the final Psalm and his final words of that Psalm: 72: 20,

“This concludes the prayers of David son of Jesse”

 Which he believed to be true at the time of the second books compilation this was all of the Psalms of David that was known. Of course there are 17 more Psalms of David spread out in book 3, 4 and 5.

Book three also contain another set of Sons of Korah Psalms, Psalms 84 – 85, 87 – 88, and Asaph Psalms 50 and 73- 83, David Psalm 86 and Psalm 89 written by Etham the Ezrahite.

Interestingly The Sons of Korah and Asaph were Levites and worked as part of the priestly team in the Tabernacle in David’s time and the Temple in Solomon time and would have been aware of the restrictions on pronouncing the covenant name of God Yaweh outside of the Temple. We will learn more about each of these men’s roles in the Temple when we look at their Psalms. Maybe they sought to help the people say and or sing their prayers and songs outside of the Temple by using the more general name for God Elohim.

One final fact is the repeat of Psalm 14 in the first book of Psalms in Psalm 53, which differs by the change of the name of God from Yaweh in Psalm 14 and Elohim in Psalm 53. There is a slight changing of words in verse 5 of Psalm 53.

Why is Psalm 14 in the first book repeated in Psalm 53 in the second book?

One explanation for this is that Psalm 53 was originally part of a separate book of Psalms we call the Elohistic Psalter.

This means Psalm 53 is an Elohim Psalm and was able to be recited or sung outside of the Temple. Maybe as time went along Psalm 14 was the version recited or sung in the Temple and Psalm 53 was the one recited or sung outside of the Temple.

BOOK 3.

 That leaves book 3, which seems to be mainly a collection of songs for temple worship leading up to a very interesting concluding Psalm (Psalm 89) which seems to conclude with reference to the fall of Judah and the ending of the line of David/ Solomon Kings.

It was David who set up Temple, or as it was in his day Tabernacle worship as we read in 1 Chron. 25 : 1 – 7.

Here we read of Asaph and Heman who are principal priestly or Levite musicians and singers whose psalms feature in book 3.

This event is also alluded to in the time of Hezekiah in 2 Chronicles 29 : 25 and 26. This brings us up close to the Babylonian take over of Judah and the end of the Physical line of David / Solomon Kings.

This suggests that from the time of David to the time of Hezekiah book 3 was around and developing.

Finally there is an interesting reference to this same kind of Temple worship in the book of Ezra.

We read in Ezra 3 : 10,

“When the builders laid the foundation Temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbols, took their places to praise the Lord, as prescribed by David King of Israel”.

Maybe book 3 had another bit of editing in the time of Ezra. We do not know for sure and can only speculate.

The known fact is all three books are set as they are now by at least one to two hundred years after the time of Ezra, owing to the evidence given to us by The Dead Sea Scrolls.

2.     How Books 4 and 5 might have come together

 Much speculation exists surrounding the bringing together or editing of the final two books of Psalms.

The things we know for certain are :

  • It happened after the return from exile in Babylon.
  • It was complete by the first century.
  • Book 4 is an attempt to gather up any previous known works of people like Moses and David. Also many of these Psalms are songs for corporate worship as indeed most of book 5 is.

Some biblical scalars have speculated that these final collections of Psalms started to come together in the time of Ezra as there was a renewed need for temple worship.

The final thing I would like to comment on here is the fact that there are five books of Psalms the same number as the books of the Law known as the Pentateuch.

Some bible scalars have even suggested the five books of Moses mirror the theme’s and teachings in the five books of Psalms. I find this idea interesting but cannot see this from my study of the Psalms particularly book one which suppose to mirror the central teaching of the book of Genesis.

However I don’t think it is a coincidence that there are five books of the Law and five books of Psalms. Maybe the final editors of book 4 and 5 made sure the final collection was five books long so that Jewish people could see the inspirational value of the Psalms as they would have already accepted for the first five books of Moses known as the book of the law or the Pentateuch.

 4. TYPES (OR CATEGORY)  OF PSALMS

 I have come up with twelve types / category of Psalms :

1.    Wisdom Psalms

 2.    Royal Psalms

 3.    Lament Psalms

 4.    Messianic Psalms

 5.    Acrostic Psalms

 6.    Praise Psalms

 7.    Songs of Zion Psalms

 8.    Historical Worship Psalms

 9.    Pilgrim Worship Psalms

 10.  Entrance Worship Psalms

 11.  Judgment Worship Psalms

 12.  Trust Psalms

 NOTE : I have given all Psalms a classification and for most Psalms this is straightforward however some Psalms appear in more than one classification. This could be for a number of reasons. Some Psalms are in one classification and are also in the Messianic Psalm section like Psalm 8. Others appear in more than one type because they are also acrostic like Psalm 119. Finally some Psalms are a mixture of two classifications like Psalm 19, which starts off as a Praise Psalm, but its second half is a wisdom Psalm.

* Only Psalm 112 appears in three classifications this is because it is acrostic,

wisdom and praise Psalm in one Psalm.

 1.    Wisdom Psalms

 Wisdom Psalms get their name from the “Wisdom” biblical literature like The Book of Proverbs. They set out the way of God as apposed to the way of the wicked. They are about choice, a choice between God’s way and what it leads to and the choice of the wicked way and what it leads to. Psalm 1 is the classic example of a wisdom Psalm.

Other Wisdom Psalms are : 1, 10, 12, 15, 19, 32, 37, 49, 53, 73, 78, 82, 91, 92, 94, 112, 119, 127, 128, 139.

 2.    Royal Psalms

 Royal Psalms deal with the spiritual role of Kings in the worship of God. The king is a key concept in many Psalms and Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the many promises God gives David and his descendants. The best example I know of this type of Psalm is Psalm 2.

Other Royal Psalms are 2, 6, 7,18, 20, 21, 45, 72,99, 101, 110,132 and 144.

3.    Lament Psalms

 Lament Psalms are prayers uttered by the author to God usually with a complaint against some kind of problem particularly an injustice the author has experienced. These psalms often start from a very low point but usually rise by the end of the Psalm with the promises of God ringing in the minds of the reader.

There are two types of Lament Psalms :

1.    Personal

 2.    Corporate

 1.    Personal Laments :

Are as they are called, personal requests to God for help in a very real difficult situation. Psalm 3 is a classic example of this type of Lament. In Psalm 3 we know David cried out to God for help and justice after he had to flee from his rebellious son who sought to kill him and his household so that he could become king.

Other personal Laments Psalms are : 3,4, 5, 11,13, 14, 17, 25, 26, 27, 28, 31, 36, 38, 39, 41, 42, 43, 51,52, 54, 55, 56, 57, 59, 61, 62, 63,  64, 69, 70, 71, 77, 86, 88,89, 116, 120, 129, 139, 140,  141, 142, 143.

2.    Corporate Laments :

 These laments are not personal prayers but prayers prayed for the people of God as they face a very real difficult situation. Psalm 12 is a great example of this type of prayer to God for the people by David as they faced a vicious propaganda war of words from the enemies of God’s people who sought to destroy them with their lies and false accusations.

Other corporate Laments are : 44, 60, 74, 79, 80, 83, 85, 90, 94,124, 126, 129, 137.

4.  Messianic Psalms

 These are the Psalms that refer to the life and work of the Lord Jesus. He is the only one who for fills the things referred to in these Psalms.

Psalm 2 is both a Royal Psalm and a Messianic Psalm and we know this for sure as the NT quotes part of this Psalm as referring to the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. Psalm 22 describes 700 years before Christ what Christ suffered on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. It starts with the very words Christ cried out on the cross, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me”.

Other Psalms claimed as Messianic by the New Testament are : 8, 16,22,34, 35, 40, 41, 45, 68, 69, 89, 102, 109, 110 and 118.

5.   Acrostic Psalms

 As I said before acrostic Psalms are Psalms with alphabetically ordered verses and each first word commencing with each Hebrew letter of the alphabet in turn, from 1 through to 22.

There are 9 of these in the Psalms and best example I know is Psalm 9 which seems to commence the 22 letters of the alphabet but is continued and completed in Psalm 10 suggesting that one day these two Psalms might have been one Psalm.

Other Acrostic Psalms are 25, 34, 37,111, 112, 119 and 145.

 6.   Praise Psalms and Thanksgiving

The last type of Psalm are the numinous praise Psalms sometimes called Praise and Thanksgiving Psalms. The title used in the Hebrew Bible for the entire book of Psalms is “Tehillim”, meaning, “Praise Songs.” Therefore praise and thanksgiving Psalms do feature throughout the entire collection.

These Psalms focus on who God is and when referring to what God has done they direct the reader to some aspect of God’s character particularly his love and mercy for his people Israel.

In New Testament terms, God’s people are the true church of God the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.

These Psalms where used in the worship services of the ancient Israelites. Psalm 19 is an excellent example of this type of Psalm as it points us to God’s glory in creation and his word as we praise him for who he is and what he has done for us.

Other Psalms of Praise and Thanksgiving are : 8, 19, 29, 30, 33, 47, 65, 66, 67, 75,87, 92, 93, 95, 96, 97, 98,100, 103, 104, 107, 108, 111 , 113, 114, 115, 117, 138 and Psalms 145, 146, 147, 148, 149, 150.

7.   Songs of Zion Psalms

Zion and particularly “Mount Zion” is the Jebusite name for the fortress that stood on the highest point of Jerusalem, (see 2 Sam. 5 : 7) . After David captured Jerusalem defeating the Jebusites, Zion became one of the names for Jerusalem with particular spiritual meaning once the Temple was built upon it. As Jerusalem became the unifying capital of Israel Zion became a word that represented, Israel the people of God. In the New Testament it became the name that referred to God’s Spiritual kingdom and the new heavenly Jerusalem as we read in Hebrews 12 : 22

These Psalms then would have been principally used in Temple worship.

Theses Psalms  include : 48, 76, 84, 87, 122, 133, 134.

8.   Historical Worship Psalms

 Worship in ancient Israel and modern Jews today feature’s the use of litany.

A litany is where a leader, in ancient Israel a Levite priest, would recite or sing a set of words, which the general Israelite congregation would respond to, with a different set of words. Parallelism (rhyming thought as I call it) lends itself to this kind of responsive praying or singing. The first kind of worship Psalms is what I call The Historical Worship Psalms that recount Israel’s History in this responsive style.

Historical Worship Psalms are  – Psalms  81,105, 106, 131, 135, 136.

9.   Pilgrim Worship Psalms

 Psalms 120 to 134 all have the heading of “A song of ascents” these are believed to be songs happy Israelite pilgrims would sing on their journeys to Jerusalem and the temple. As they came to Jerusalem they would gradually climb up to Mount Zion where the temple stood thus the name “Songs of Ascent”. Many of the Psalms in this section fit better in other categories.

But two Psalms seem to particularly have a Pilgrim Worship style are:

Psalms 121, 123.

10.   Entrance Worship Psalms

 All aspects of Ancient Israelite worship was worked out with procedures and musical accompaniment  including processions into the Temple for worship. We believe Psalm 24 was written by David for the entrance or ascension of the Ark of covenant into Jerusalem and up to Mount Zion the Temple site.

At least two Psalms seem to fit into Entrance Worship : Psalms 15, 24

11.   Judgment Worship Psalms

 The concept of God’s judgment coming down on Israel’s enemies appears in many Psalms. Sometimes we read what is called “Imprecations” which is the theological term for invoking evil or judgment on someone else.

Jesus of course taught us to love our enemies and pray for them Luke 6 : 27 – 29 and not to judge less you be judged Mathew 7 : 1. However the Psalmist in the Old Testament saw God alone as the judge and his coming judgment certain so they merely sought that judgment to come on those who they believed deserved it namely their enemies who opposed the one true God of Israel.

Two Psalms fit neatly into this Judgment Worship Psalm : Psalms  36, 50,58,

(Many others Psalms fit into this category in some parts of them as well)

12.  Trust Psalms

 The last type or category of Psalm is those that communicate a great faith or trust in the Lord. The most famous of this type of Psalm is Psalm 23 where David writes in verse 4:

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, your rod and your staff, they comfort me”.

Many of the Psalms speak of this same trust but Psalms that stand out as solely devoted to this are:  Psalms – 23, 40, 46, 125, 130.

5.   HOW DO WE INTERPRET THE PSALMS

 Many Christians would say that the Psalms are part of the inspired word of God and therefore every word should be taken literally as God’s word. However this would lead us to interpret a verse like

Psalm 17 verse 8, “hide me in the shadow of your wings”

Meaning our God in heaven is a bird like or chicken that has wings for us to shelter under.

Of course you will rightfully say this is imagery or picture language for the concept that God wants us to be close to him and offers his protection and help like a chicken offers its chicks protection and warmth when they need it.

This means that the Book of Psalms is poetry and must be interpreted as poetry to find the real meaning God has for us to learn.

The problem here is Hebrew poetry is not like modern western poetry, which usually relies on meter, rhyme and imagery for its make up.

Hebrew poetry relies on things like parallelism, rhythm and imagery for its make up.

What is parallelism?

 The simplest way I could explain parallelism is that it rhyming thought rather than rhyming sounds of words. There are basically three types of parallelism used in the Psalms.

  1. Synonymous Parallelism : For example Psalm 19 : 1,

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands”.

Synonymous parallelism is when the second line repeats the thought of the first line with different words.

2. Antithetic Parallelism : For example Psalm 1 : 6,

“For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish”

Here the thought of the first statement is contrasted by the thought of the second statement.

3. Synthetic Parallelism : For example Psalm 24 : 3, 4

“Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place, He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false”

Here the first thought is completed by the thought in the final statement.

Rhythm

 Many of the Psalms particularly of David where more than just poems, they were songs that followed the rhythm of known tunes that were probably composed by David as well.

The first Psalm heading that point to a known tune is Psalm 9, which reads “For the director of music. To the tune of “The Death of the Son’. a psalm of David”.  This tune must have been well known but as this tune existed some three thousand years ago it has been long forgotten. This would indicate that the Psalms must have been written with a definite rhythm in mind.

We do not see this rhythm in our English translations and rhythm has no bearing on our interpretation of the Psalms today.

Imagery

 Imagery in poetry seems to be the universal similarity of all poetry throughout the ages and in the Psalms it is vital we seek to unlock the metaphors and similes to give us the image the original author was seeking to obey.

Why do poets ancient and modern use imagery in their poems?

The answer to this lies in the richness and beauty images can convey. David describes God, as he knew him using a variety of images, here are five examples I can give you, there are many more: Shield, Fortress, Rock, Shepherd and King.

How can we get a deep and true understanding of what these images are seeking to convey to us?

Here are four tips on how I seek to understand an image in a Psalm you are studying.

1. Look at the image in the context of the Psalm.

This means trying to come to terms with what the Psalm is about. Sometimes the heading tells us the historical setting of the Psalm like in Psalm 3. Sometimes a key phase in the Psalm can trigger a possible setting of a Psalm. Most times the general reading of the Psalm reveals what the Psalm is generally about.

You see this in Psalm 6, which is about David suffering some kind of sickness that could be causing him to be close to death.

For instance verse 2 reads,

“Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am faint; O lord, heal me, for my bones are in agony”.

2. Look at the image in the context of the Parallelism it is often part of.

As I said before ancient Hebrew poets used parallelism, rhyming thought. A good example here is Psalm 18 verse 2 which has a triplet of parallel thought all using different images that present the same picture of God:

“The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer,

My God is my rock, in which I take refuge.

He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

All of these images convey a thought of safety, protection and deliverance and give a deeper insight into how David saw his God helping him in very difficult situations

3. Look at the image in the context of how it used in other texts in the bible.

Often authors like David get their image material from parts of the bible they knew at the time of writing.

David would have known and had access to the first five books of the bible known to the Jewish people at the book of the law or Pentateuch. Also authors of the Psalms drew their images from their customs, culture and language and how an image is used in one part of scripture might shed light on its use in another part of scripture.

An amazing example of this I discovered when studying Psalm 17 and the image David uses in verse 8, when he writes,

”Keep me as the apple of your eye”.

This image along with one that follows

“hide me in the shadow of your wings”

appears in Moses song in Deut. 32 : 10 – 11 :

“In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. 
He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye,

 Like an eagle that stirs up its nest
 and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them
 and carries them aloft”.

This made me realize that David is seeking God’s protection so he wants God to be close to him protecting him as Moses was referring to in his song.

However I found after a little more research that in the ancient Hebrew language the literal translation of “Apple of your eye” is “the little man of the eye”. You see if you stand really close to someone and you looked into his or her eyes you might be able to see your reflection in the other person’s pupil.

This means David was not only asking for God’s protection but he wants God to be really close to him, so close he can see his reflection in his eyes. This also fits the parallelism (Rhyming thought) that follows,

“hide me in the shadow of your wings”.

God is so close to us he protects us like a bird pulling its chicks under its wings in a warm and safe embrace.

4.  Look at the image in the light of the New Testament

 As Christians we should read and study the Old Testament to deepen our understanding of what it is really teaching us. We should also read the Old Testament in the light of the new to help us understand what it is really saying.

As I said before the most quoted Old Testament book in the New Testament is the book of Psalms. Only in what Jesus taught and did can fully understand what the Old Testament is teaching us.

A lot of the Psalms just do not make sense unto we see that it is referring to Jesus, David’s greater Son who came from heaven to proclaim the Kingdom of God and came to earth to make a way for us to come back to God by dieing for our sins on the cross.

The Psalms have many passages about God’s judgment coming upon God’s enemies, these passages also only make sense when we realize Jesus is going to return to this world to bring it to an end and judge the wicked and take his followers back to heaven which in the Psalms and the New Testament is the New Jerusalem.

Now read the words of David in Psalm 22 with what I have just said in mind.

Psalm 22 : 24 – 29

 “For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; 
he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help. From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows. The poor will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the Lord will praise him, may your hearts live forever! All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations. All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him, those who cannot keep themselves alive”.

This Psalm was written 700 years before the time of Christ yet the words before this quote perfectly describe the suffering of the crucified Christ. Now at the end of the Psalm David is inspired to write of what will happen to this suffering messiah when he returns from heaven.

Only the light of the New Testament can make sense of this Psalm and with it, its images are sharp, clear and magnificent.

CONCLUSION

 The four tips on coming to terms with the images in the Psalms I have just set down could also be the guide to general interpreting of the Psalms as well.

  1. Interpret what the Psalm is saying within its context.
  2. Interpret the Psalm within the context of its Parallelism.
  3. Interpret the Psalm within its Old Testament biblical and cultural settings.
  4. Interpret the Psalm in the light of The New Testament.

The Psalms are more than just the prayer book and hymnal of the ancient and modern Jews. They are real poems and songs written by very real and gifted people who through their spiritual journey and writings were inspired by God to write his word to us.

May you join me in our spiritual journey of discovering of God and his ways in the book of Psalms.

May this lead us to a deeper trust of our God of Mercy and love expressed in a life of praise and service.

Jim Wenman

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s