I’ve been teaching a study on the Book of Psalms for about four years in our church, and I’d like to share some of them over time.
What is the Book of Psalms?
1. A book of songs and poems inspired by the Holy Spirit
2. A book of prayers
3. A book of prophecies
4. Israel’s prayer and choir book: its name in Hebrew is Sepher Tehillim, meaning “The Book of Praises”
5. The Psalms make up the major part of the Poetic books of Scripture, together with books such as Job and the Proverbs
6. Our word Psalm comes from a Greek word meaning a poem that was to be accompanied by a stringed instrument.
Who wrote the Psalms?
Many are attributed to King David, some to Moses, Asaph, and others. Some that name no author are referred to by Jewish scholars as “orphan psalms.” The Psalms are arranged in our Bibles into five smaller sections or books.
Analyzing the Psalms
Many psalms commemorate events in the life of the composer or great events in the life of the nation of Israel. Many are intensely personal. A great depth of passion is displayed in many psalms which is almost uncomfortable to some people. Some Psalms are tremendously honest, and the writer speaks and complains to God in the strongest of terms. In other places, the writer is filled with the greatest, most uncontainable joy.
Some psalms contain musical directions, or dedications.
The Psalms reflect a particular style of Hebrew poetry called parallelism, in which two statements are made which explain and complement each other. In our language we expect poems to rhyme, but in Hebrew these two statements laid next to each other are considered to be poetry.
Some Psalms are Messianic – they prophesy of Jesus Christ, His sufferings and His Kingdom. There are many quotations from the Psalms which are found in the New Testament, mostly concerning Christ. Jesus Himself quotes the Psalms at important times in His life, such as Palm Sunday and His Crucifixion.
The Devotional Nature of the Psalms
Perhaps no book in the Bible is as well-loved as the Psalms. It’s brought comfort, encouragement, and joy to millions of believers. Many of the most powerful phrases in the heart and soul of a Christian are well-known passages from this powerful book. Many of us have followed in the Psalms King David’s pattern of beginning in despair, then rising up in faith as he considers God’s past faithfulness and promised future blessings.
There are few things as rewarding and healthy for our spiritual life as to be well-acquainted with this book and lean upon its wonderful promises and hope!
Let’s begin our study with a Psalm that sets the tone for the whole book, Psalm 1:
Psalm 1: The Blessedness of the Man Who Delights in the Law of the LORD
(1) Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
- This Psalm begins with a Beatitude, like Jesus’ teaching: “Blessed is the man…”
- In Hebrew the word really is “blessedness” or “happiness” and is actually plural. So it would be more accurate to translate verses like this by saying, “O, the happinesses of the man who does this or does that…”
- This Psalm begins, then, by contrasting the godly with the ungodly. In the very first verse there is a progression of evil. The Psalmist shows us how people move from one level of darkness to another.
Walking in the counsel of the ungodly means taking their advice and opinions. Standing in the way of sinners speaks of walking in fellowship with them and adopting their manner of living; sitting in the seat of the scornful means someone has taken his place among those who mock and attack God and true religion.
(2) But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. (3) And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
- By contrast, the blessed man delights in God’s Law, or Word, and meditates in it. This was the formula for success God had given to Joshua: This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success. (Josh. 1:8)
- For the Hebrews, meditation was not what it is in Eastern religion – the emptying of the mind. In the Bible, meditation is the filling of the mind with godly content. This is done primarily by memorization and the repeating to one’s self of the Word. In the ancient world, people seldom read silently, even in libraries, and they would read the words aloud to themselves, muttering it over and over.
The result of this meditation, as we see in the picture of the tree was
Stability – planted
Continuous presence of God’s refreshing – by the rivers of water
Fruitfulness – bringeth forth his fruit
Permanence – his leaf also shall not wither
Prosperity – whatsoever he doeth shall prosper
(4) The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away. (5) Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. (6) For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.
Chaff was the useless by-product of the harvest and was separated out from the good grain with fans and the wind. From God’s perspective a person who lives a life like this is “good for nothing” and therefore will not remain among God’s people.
The last verse has been said to mean that He recognizes the righteous or approves of them, and that He protects them. The ungodly ones can only come to a bad end!