Psalms (the Psalter) is categorized in 5 chunks:
- Book 1: Psalms 1-41
- Book 2: Psalms 42-72
- Book 3: Psalms 73-89
- Book 4: Psalms 90-106
- Book 5: Psalms 107-150
We have to understand what the Hebrew psalter is and how these national lyrics are sewn together.
Image from The Bible Project
Poetry, as a form of language, was and is a powerful tool to teach without a written form for the masses. Once the lyric was written and put to music, the story, theology, history, work of God, lament of man, praise to YHWH could easily be taught and retained.
Classifications (Individual and Corporate)
- Lament–individual and corporate. A rule of thumb when you read them; was the original song written as an individual or corporate song? In the assembly? Or what we might think of as a solo. Yet even solos can be used in corporate settings. (3, 4, 12, 13, 22, 31, 44, 80…)
- Praise or Thanksgiving–individual and corporate (8, 19, 33, 104, 145-148)
- General Hymns–Creator, national, historic
- Enthronement–The LORD ruling over His world (93, 99)
- Royal–the king and his relationship to The King (2, 18, 20, 21…)
- Zion–the uniqueness of God’s chosen city (46, 48, 76, 84, 87, 121, 122)
- Wisdom–generally contrasting the righteous and the wicked
- Law–instruction on the word of God (119a Ps. that many consider the most important in the Psalter.)
- Imprecation–(35, 55, 69…) prayers to deal with Israel and YHWH’s enemies. The entire psalm may not be intended as an imprecation, but rather deliverance psalms that include a destroy my enemy plea.
- Ascent–Psalms sung as Israel went up to worship during the feasts (120-134)
- Messianic–while most would not technically classify a Psalm as Messianic, there are many clear references to Messiah. Sometimes there is no distinction between Royal and Messianic texts.
- 73 psalms bear the introductory inscription formula: A psalm of David
- 14 of these point to a specific event in David’s life
- 12 Psalms are attributed to Asaph (50, 73-83)
- At least 10 Psalms are attributed to the Sons of Korah (42-49, 84, 87)
- Others attributed to Solomon, Moses, Heman, and Ethan
- 50 Psalms do not identify an author
Parallelism is the most prominent structural feature in the Psalms. Every Psalm uses parallelisms. Generally, we see these in couplets but sometimes in triplets and more complex arrangements.
From Psalm 1:1 we can easily see the parallelism–
How blessed is the man who does Not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
Here are three lines with three parallel terms:
Verbs: walk || stand || sit
Nouns: counsel || path || seat
Nouns: wicked || sinners || scoffers
These parallel terms are not merely restatements, but often show movement, progression, comparison and contrast. Every Psalm has many parallelisms that help with retention and the different ways of re-statement are more than saying the same thing in a different way. This is one of the most powerful teaching tools and easy for a student to see.
Repetition is a learning modality that is ancient and present. The repetition of themes, doctrines, history, promises, etc. cement these teachings and theologies into the reader’s heart and mind.
Strophe is a term sometimes used when speaking of a stanza or verse. Strophes can be a pair of stanzas or an irregular group of lines in a poem. Again, because we think in terms of meter and rhyme, it may be hard to see the distinction. Rather than calling a pairing of lines in a Psalm, a verse, or a stanza, it is a little more accurate to call them strophes because of their unique and sometimes uneven parings.
Chiasm is a structural pattern where the first part of a phrase (or section) is balanced out by the second part or multiple parts. Sometimes described as an inverted pattern, or inverted parallelism. (Chiasmis from the Greek letter “X” pronounced “key” or “chi.”
Often depicted by using letters and “prime” to help the observer. Sometimes prime letters and numbers are used to illustrate, A, B, C, C1, B1, A1.
A simple example of a chiasm (not from the Psalms 🙂 ):
Never let a fool kiss you—or a kiss fool you.
Never let a A fool
—B kiss you
A1 fool you
Many chiasms are seen in the Psalter. They may occur in a few strophes, over several verses, or over the entire Psalm:
A. 1. The LORD is my shepherd;
—B. I shall not want.
——C. 2. He makes me lie down in green pastures: He leads me beside the still waters.
———D. 3. He restores my soul:
————E. He guides me in the paths of righteousness
—————F. for His name’s sake.
————E. (1)4. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil:
—————F. for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
———D.(1)5. You prepare a table before me
——C.(1)in the presence of my enemies:
—B.(1)You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows.
A.(1)6. Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life: And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
Beyond the beauty of the structure, generally the “point” of the chiasm may lie in the middle. If correct, then in the above example of Psalm 23, the point of the text would be something connected to:
F. for His name’s sake, and that YHWH was with Him protecting him.
Care must be exercised in not “forcing” a chiasmus where one does not exist. Sometimes it is more the restatement, parallelism, and structural cadence that helped the Jew—and you and me—understand and retain the truth of God’s word.
The Psalter’s grand theological message recognizes YHWH as the Sovereign Creator over all, eliciting a response on the part of the worshipper who approaches the Sovereign in hopes of help for forgiveness of sin and righteous worship.
The only true and final hope is seen in the anticipation of Messiah who is to come.
The Psalms are a “cross sections of God’s revelation to Israel and Israel’s response to God” – Willem VanGemeren
The Old Testament believer had a very different relationship with God than we have: The Old Testament believer had to have faith in a future redemption. As New Testament believers, we have faith in a past redemption with future implications.
We know what they longed to see. We have a faith heritage handed down to us that they dreamed of.
Along with the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we have a comprehensive record of God’s faithfulness in the past, most importantly at Calvary, and therefore for our future.
1 I love the Lord, because He hears
My voice and my supplications.
2 Because He has inclined His ear to me,
Therefore I shall call upon Him as long as I live.
3 The cords of death encompassed me
And the terrors of Sheol came upon me;
I found distress and sorrow.
4 Then I called upon the name of the Lord:
“O Lord, I beseech You, save my life!”
5 Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;
Yes, our God is compassionate.
6 The Lord preserves the simple;
I was brought low, and He saved me.
7 Return to your rest, O my soul,
For the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.
8 For You have rescued my soul from death,
My eyes from tears,
My feet from stumbling.
9 I shall walk before the Lord
In the land of the living.
10 I believed when I said,
“I am greatly afflicted.”
11 I said in my alarm,
“All men are liars.”
12 What shall I render to the Lord
For all His benefits toward me?
13 I shall lift up the cup of salvation
And call upon the name of the Lord.
14 I shall pay my vows to the Lord,
Oh may it be in the presence of all His people.
15 Precious in the sight of the Lord
Is the death of His godly ones.
16 O Lord, surely I am Your servant,
I am Your servant, the son of Your handmaid,
You have loosed my bonds.
17 To You I shall offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
And call upon the name of the Lord.
18 I shall pay my vows to the Lord,
Oh may it be in the presence of all His people,
19 In the courts of the Lord’s house,
In the midst of you, O Jerusalem.
Praise the Lord!
Derek Kidner, “Psalms 1-72” in The Tyndale Old Testament Commentary Series
Derek Kidner, “Psalms 73-150” in The Tyndale Old Testament Commentary Series
C.S. Lewis, “Reflections on the Psalms”, Harvest Book
Walter Kaiser, Messiah in the Old Testament, Zondervan
Psalms (The Crossway Classic Commentaries) (Paperback)by Charles H. Spurgeon
The Listener’s Psalms & Proverbs (Audio CD) by Max E. McLeanbible.org Bob Deffinbaugh, Greg Herric