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The title in the Hebrew means Praises or Book of Praises. The title in the Greek suggests the idea of an instrumental accompaniment. Our title comes from the Greek psalmos. It is the book of worship. It is the hymnbook of the temple.
Many writers contributed one or more psalms. David, “the sweet psalmist of Israel,” has seventy-three psalms assigned to him. (Psalm 2 is ascribed to him in Acts 4:25; Psalm 95 is ascribed to him in Hebrews 4:7.) Also he could be the author of some of the “Orphanic” psalms. He was peculiarly endowed to write these songs from experience as well as a special aptitude. He arranged those in existence in his day for temple use. The other writers are as follows: Moses, 1 (90th); Solomon, 2; Sons of Korah, 11; Asaph, 12; Heman, 1 (88th); Ethan, 1 (89th); Hezekiah, 10; “Orphanic,” 39 (David may be the writer of some of these). There are 150 psalms.
Christ (the Messiah) is prominent throughout. The King and the Kingdom are the theme songs of the Psalms.
The key word in the Book of Psalms is Hallelujah, that is, Praise the Lord. This phrase has become a Christian cliche, but it is one that should cause a swelling of great emotion in the soul. Hallelujah, praise the Lord!
Psalms 50 and 150 I consider to be the key psalms. Psalm 50, a psalm of Asaph, probably tells more than any other. Psalm 150 is the hallelujah chorus—the word hallelujah occurs thirteen times in its six brief verses. It concludes the Book of Psalms and could be considered the chorus of all other psalms.
The Psalms record deep devotion, intense feeling, exalted emotion, and dark dejection. They play upon the keyboard of the human soul with all the stops pulled out. Very candidly, I feel overwhelmed when I come to this marvelous book. It is located in the very center of God’s Word. Psalm 119 is in the very center of the Word of God, and it exalts His Word.
This book has blessed the hearts of multitudes down through the ages. When I have been sick at home, or in the hospital, or when some problem is pressing upon my mind and heart, I find myself always turning to the Psalms. They always bless my heart and life. Apparently down through the ages it has been that way. Ambrose, one of the great saints of the church, said, “The Psalms are the voices of the church.” Augustine said, “They are the epitome of the whole Scripture.” Martin Luther said, “They are a little book for all saints.” John Calvin said, “They are the anatomy of all parts of the soul.” I like that.
Someone has said that there are 126 psychological experiences—I don’t know how they arrived at that number—but I do know that all of them are recorded in the Book of Psalms. It is the only book that contains every experience of a human being. The Psalms run the psychological gamut. Every thought, every impulse, every emotion that sweeps over the soul is recorded in this book. That is the reason, I suppose, that it always speaks to our hearts and finds a responsive chord wherever we turn.
Hooker said of the Psalms, “They are the choice and flower of all things profitable in other books.” Donne put it this way, “The Psalms foretell what I, what any, shall do and suffer and say.” Herd called the Psalms, “A hymnbook for all time.” Watts said, “They are the thousand-voiced heart of the church.” The place Psalms have held in the lives of God’s people testifies to their universality, although they have a peculiar Jewish application. They express the deep feelings of all believing hearts in all generations.
The Psalms are full of Christ. There is a more complete picture of Him in the Psalms than in the Gospels. The Gospels tell us that He went to the mountain to pray, but the Psalms give us His prayer. The Gospels tell us that He was crucified, but the Psalms tell us what went on in His own heart during the Crucifixion. The Gospels tell us He went back to heaven, but the Psalms begin where the Gospels leave off and show us Christ seated in heaven.
Christ the Messiah is prominent throughout this book. You will remember that the Lord Jesus, when He appeared after His resurrection to those who were His own, said to them, “...These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me” (Luke 24:44). Christ is the subject of the Psalms. I think He is the object of praise in every one of them. I will not be able to locate Him in every one of them, but that does not mean that He is not in each psalm; it only means that Vernon McGee is limited. Although all of them have Christ as the object of worship, some are technically called messianic psalms. These record the birth, life, death, resurrection, glory, priesthood, kingship, and return of Christ. There are sixteen messianic psalms that speak specifically about Christ, but as I have already said, all 150 of them are about Him. The Book of Psalms is a hymnbook and a HIM book—it is all about Him. As we study it, that fact will become very clear.
In a more restrictive sense, the Psalms deal with Christ belonging to Israel and Israel belonging to Christ. Both themes are connected to the rebellion of man. There is no blessing on this earth until Israel and Christ are brought together. The Psalms are Jewish in expectation and hope. They are songs which were adapted to temple worship. That does not mean, however, that they do not have a spiritual application and interpretation for us today. They certainly do. I probably turn to them more than to any other portion of the Word of God, but we need to be a little more exacting in our interpretation of the Psalms. For example, God is not spoken of as a Father in this book. The saints are not called sons. In the Psalms He is God the Father, not the Father God. The abiding presence of the Holy Spirit and the blessed hope of the New Testament are not in this book. Failure to recognize this has led many people astray in their interpretation of Psalm 2. The reference in this song is not to the rapture of the church but to the second coming of Christ to the earth to establish His kingdom and to reign in Jerusalem.
The imprecatory psalms have caused the most criticism because of their vindictiveness and prayers for judgment. These psalms came from a time of war and from a people who under law were looking for justice and peace on earth. My friend, you cannot have peace without putting down unrighteousness and rebellion. Apparently God intends to do just that, and He makes no apology for it. In His own time He will move in judgment upon this earth. In the New Testament the Christian is told to love his enemies, and it may startle you to read prayers in the Psalms that say some very harsh things about the enemy. But judgment is to bring justice upon this earth. Also there are psalms that anticipate the period when Antichrist will be in power. We have no reasonable basis to dictate how people should act or what they should pray under such circumstances.
Other types of psalms include the penitential, historic, nature, pilgrim, Hallel, missionary, puritan, acrostic, and praise of God’s Word. This is a rich section we are coming to. We are going to mine for gold and diamonds here, my friend.
The Book of Psalms is not arranged in a haphazard sort of way. Some folk seem to think that the Psalms were dropped into a tub, shaken up, then put together with no arrangement. However, it is interesting to note that one psalm will state a principle, then there will follow several psalms that will be explanatory. Psalms 1–8 are an example of this.
The Book of Psalms is arranged in an orderly manner. In fact, it has been noted for years that the Book of Psalms is arranged and corresponds to the Pentateuch of Moses. There are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy sections, as you will see in the outline.
The correspondence between the Psalms and the Pentateuch is easily seen. For instance, in the Genesis section you see the perfect man in a state of blessedness, as in Psalm 1. Next you have the fall and recovery of man in view. Psalm 2 pictures the rebellious man. In Psalm 3 is the perfect man rejected. In Psalm 4 we see the conflict between the seed of the woman and the serpent. In Psalm 5 we find the perfect man in the midst of enemies. Psalm 6 presents the perfect man in the midst of chastisement with the bruising of his heel. In Psalm 7 we see the perfect man in the midst of false witnesses. Finally, in Psalm 8 we see the salvation of man coming through the bruising of the head. In Psalms 9–15 we see the enemy and Antichrist conflict and the final deliverance. Then in Psalms 16–41 we see Christ in the midst of His people sanctifying them to God. All of this will be seen as we go through the Book of Psalms.
Spurgeon said, “The Book of Psalms instructs us in the use of wings as well as words. It sets us both mounting and singing.” This is the book that may make a skylark out of you instead of some other kind of a bird. This book has been called the epitome and analogy of the soul. It has also been designated as the garden of the Scriptures. Out of 219 quotations of the Old Testament in the New Testament, 116 of them are from the Psalms. You will see 150 spiritual songs which undoubtedly at one time were all set to music. This is a book which ought to make our hearts sing.
(McGee, J. Vernon. Thru the Bible Commentary, Vol. 17: Psalms 1-41. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991.)