PSALMS, BOOK OF
A book seemingly consisting of five collections of sacred songs
Style. The poetry of the book of Psalms consists of parallel thoughts or expressions. (See HEBREW, II [Hebrew Poetry].) Distinctive are the acrostic, or alphabetic, psalms. (Ps 9, 10, 25, 34, 37, 111, 112, 119, 145) In these psalms the initial verse or verses of the first stanza begin with the Hebrew letter ʼaʹleph, the next verse(s) with behth, and so on through all or nearly all the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. This arrangement may have served as a memory aid. For the terminology found in the book of Psalms, see ALAMOTH; ASCENTS; GITTITH; HIGGAION; MAHALATH, II; MASKIL; MIKTAM; MUTH-LABBEN; NEHILOTH; SELAH; SHEMINITH.
Superscriptions. The headings, or superscriptions, found at the beginning of many psalms identify the writer, furnish background material, provide musical instructions, or indicate the use or purpose of the psalm. (See the superscriptions of Ps 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 30, 38, 60, 92, 102.) At times the superscriptions provide the needed information for locating other scriptures that illuminate a particular psalm. (Compare Ps 51 with 2Sa 11:2-15; 12:1-14.) Since other poetic parts of the Bible are often introduced similarly (Ex 15:1; De 31:30; 33:1; Jg 5:1; compare 2Sa 22:1 with the superscription of Ps 18), this suggests that the superscriptions originated with either the writers or the collectors of the psalms. Lending support to this is the fact that as far back as the writing of the Dead Sea Psalms Scroll (dated between 30 and 50 C.E.) the superscriptions were part of the main text.
Writers. Of the 150 psalms, the superscriptions attribute 73 to David, 11 to the sons of Korah (one of these [Ps 88] also mentioning Heman), 12 to Asaph (evidently denoting the house of Asaph; see ASAPH No. 1), one to Moses, one to Solomon, and one to Ethan the Ezrahite. Additionally, Psalm 72 is “regarding Solomon” and apparently was written by David. (See Ps 72:20.) From Acts 4:25 and Hebrews 4:7 it is evident that Psalms 2 and 95 were written by David. Psalms 10, 43, 71, and 91 appear to be continuations of Psalms 9, 42, 70, and 90 respectively. Therefore, Psalms 10 and 71 may be attributed to David, Psalm 43 to the sons of Korah, and Psalm 91 to Moses. There are indications that Psalm 119 may have been written by young prince Hezekiah. (Note Ps 119:9, 10, 23, 46, 99, 100.) This leaves over 40 psalms without a specific composer named or indicated.
Compilation. Since David composed many of them and organized the Levite musicians into 24 service groups, it is reasonable to conclude that he started a collection of these songs to be used at the sanctuary. (2Sa 23:1; 1Ch 25:1-31; 2Ch 29:25-30) Thereafter other collections must have been made, as may be deduced from the repetition found in the book. (Compare Ps 14 with 53; 40:13-17 with 70; 57:7-11 with 108:1-5.) Numerous scholars believe that Ezra was responsible for arranging the book of Psalms into final form.
There is evidence that the contents of the book of Psalms were fixed at an early date. The order and content of the book in the Greek Septuagint basically agree with the Hebrew text. Reasonably, therefore, the book of Psalms must have been complete in the third century B.C.E., when work on this Greek translation began. A fragment of the Hebrew text that was in use in the third quarter of the first century C.E. containing Psalm 150:1-6 is immediately followed by a blank column. This appears to indicate that this ancient Hebrew manuscript ended the book of Psalms there and thus likewise corresponded to the Masoretic text.
Accurate Preservation of Text. The Dead Sea Psalms Scroll provides evidence of the accurate preservation of the Hebrew text. Although about 900 years older than the generally accepted Masoretic text, the contents of this scroll (41 canonical psalms, whole or in part) basically correspond to the text on which most translations are based. Noted Professor J. A. Sanders: “Most of [the variants] are orthographic and important only to those scholars who are interested in clues to the pronunciation of Hebrew in antiquity, and such matters. . . . Some variants commend themselves immediately as improvements of the text, especially those that offer a clearer Hebrew text but make little or no difference in translation or interpretation.”
Inspired of God. That the book of Psalms is part of God’s inspired Word there can be no question. It is in complete harmony with the rest of the Scriptures. Comparable thoughts are often found elsewhere in the Bible. (Compare Ps 1 with Jer 17:5-8; Ps 49:12 with Ec 3:19 and 2Pe 2:12; Ps 49:17 with Lu 12:20, 21.) Also, many are the quotations from the Psalms found in the Christian Greek Scriptures.
With reference to himself David wrote: “The spirit of Jehovah it was that spoke by me, and his word was upon my tongue.” (2Sa 23:2) Such inspiration is confirmed by the apostle Peter (Ac 1:15, 16), by the writer of the letter to the Hebrews (Heb 3:7, 8; 4:7), and by other first-century Christians (Ac 4:23-25). Most outstanding is the testimony of the Son of God. (Lu 20:41-44) After his resurrection, he said to his disciples: “These are my words which I spoke to you while I was yet with you, that all the things written in the law of Moses and in the Prophets and Psalms [the first book of the Hagiographa, or Holy Writings, and hence designating this entire section] about me must be fulfilled.”
Messiah’s experiences and activities foretold. An examination of the Christian Greek Scriptures reveals that much was foretold in the Psalms concerning the activities and experiences of the Messiah, as the following examples will demonstrate.
When presenting himself for baptism, Jesus signified that he had come to do his Father’s “will” in connection with the sacrifice of his own “prepared” body and with reference to the doing away of animal sacrifices offered according to the Law, as written at Psalm 40:6-8. (Heb 10:5-10) Jehovah accepted Jesus’ presentation of himself, pouring out his spirit upon him and acknowledging him as his Son, as foretold at Psalm 2:7. (Mr 1:9-11; Heb 1:5; 5:5) Also, as had been foretold at Psalm 8:4-6, the man Jesus was “a little lower than angels.”
During the course of his ministry, he gathered and trained disciples. These he was not ashamed to call his “brothers,” as had been written at Psalm 22:22. (Heb 2:11, 12; compare Mt 12:46-50; Joh 20:17.) In accord with what had been foretold in the Psalms, Jesus spoke with illustrations (Ps 78:2; Mt 13:35), manifested zeal for Jehovah’s house by cleansing it of commercialism, and did not please himself. (Ps 69:9; Joh 2:13-17; Ro 15:3) Yet he was hated without cause. (Ps 35:19; 69:4; Joh 15:25) The ministry of Christ Jesus in behalf of circumcised Jews served to verify the promises made to their forefathers and, later, moved people of the nations to glorify and praise Jehovah. This too had been foretold.
When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the colt of an ass, crowds hailed him with the words of Psalm 118:26. (Mt 21:9) When the chief priests and scribes objected to what boys at the temple were saying in acknowledging Jesus as “the Son of David,” Jesus silenced the religious opposers by quoting Psalm 8:2.
The book of Psalms pointed forward to Jesus’ betrayal by an intimate associate (Ps 41:9; Joh 13:18), for whom, as foretold, replacement would be made. (Ps 69:25; 109:8; Ac 1:20) Even the ranging up against Jesus by rulers (Herod and Pontius Pilate) with men of nations (such as the Roman soldiers) and with peoples of Israel had been foretold (Ps 2:1, 2; Ac 4:24-28), as had his rejection by Jewish religious builders. (Ps 118:22, 23; Mt 21:42; Mr 12:10, 11; Ac 4:11) And false witnesses testified against him, as Psalm 27:12 foretold.
Upon arriving at the place of impalement, Jesus was offered wine mixed with gall. (Ps 69:21; Mt 27:34) Prophetically alluding to the impalement itself, the psalmist wrote: “Dogs have surrounded me; the assembly of evildoers themselves have enclosed me. Like a lion they are at my hands and my feet.” (Ps 22:16) Roman soldiers distributed Jesus’ garments by casting lots. (Ps 22:18; Mt 27:35; Lu 23:34; Joh 19:24) His religious enemies mocked him in the words recorded by the psalmist. (Ps 22:8; Mt 27:41-43) Suffering from intense thirst, Jesus asked for a drink. (Ps 22:15; Joh 19:28) Again he was offered sour wine. (Ps 69:21; Mt 27:48; Joh 19:29, 30) Just before his death, Jesus, quoting Psalm 22:1, cried out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46; Mr 15:34) Breathing his last, he drew on Psalm 31:5 as he said: “Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit.” (Lu 23:46) As the psalmist had further foretold, none of his bones were broken.
Though laid in a tomb, Jesus was not forsaken in Hades nor did his flesh see corruption, but he was raised from the dead. (Ps 16:8-10; Ac 2:25-31; 13:35-37) Upon his ascension to heaven, he was seated at God’s right hand, waiting until his enemies would be placed as a stool for his feet. (Ps 110:1; Ac 2:34, 35) He also became a priest according to the manner of Melchizedek (Ps 110:4; Heb 5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:17, 21) and gave gifts in the form of men. (Ps 68:18; Eph 4:8-11) All these details were prophesied in the Psalms. Jesus’ coming in the role of God’s executioner to dash the nations to pieces is yet future. (Ps 2:9; Re 2:27; 19:14, 15) Thereafter Christ as King will bring lasting blessings to his loyal subjects. Though originally written regarding Solomon, the description of his rulership at Psalm 72 applies to an even greater degree to the Messiah. Testifying to this fact is the prophecy of Zechariah (9:9, 10), which echoes Psalm 72:8 and is applied to Christ Jesus.
More Than Beautiful Poetry. Besides pointing to future events, the Psalms contain much from which an individual can draw encouragement and that can serve as a guide for him. The Psalms are more than beautiful poetry. They depict life as it actually is
Real happiness is shown to stem from avoiding association with wicked ones, finding delight in Jehovah’s law (Ps 1:1, 2), taking refuge in his anointed one (2:11, 12), trusting in Jehovah (40:4), acting with consideration toward the lowly ones (41:1, 2), receiving correction from Jehovah (94:12, 13), obeying his commands (112:1; 119:1, 2), and having him as God and Helper (146:5, 6).
Reliance on Jehovah is admonished. “Throw your burden upon Jehovah himself, and he himself will sustain you. Never will he allow the righteous one to totter.” (Ps 55:22; 37:5) Such reliance rules out the fear of men.
Waiting for God (Ps 42:5, 11; 43:5) as well as right speech and action are encouraged for one to gain divine approval. (1:1-6; 15:1-5; 24:3-5; 34:13, 14; 37:3, 4, 8, 27; 39:1; 100:2) Stress is placed on the value of good association. (18:25, 26; 26:4, 5) And counsel is given not to envy the prosperity or success of wicked persons, for they will perish.
The Psalms indicate that God’s servants can properly pray for such things as salvation or deliverance (Ps 3:7, 8; 6:4; 35:1-8; 71:1-6), favor (4:1; 9:13), guidance (5:8; 19:12-14; 25:4, 5; 27:11; 43:3), protection (17:8), forgiveness of sins (25:7, 11, 18; 32:5, 6; 41:4; 51:1-9), a pure heart, a new and steadfast spirit (51:10), and the glorification of God’s name (115:1). They can also pray to be examined, refined (26:2), and judged (35:24; 43:1), as well as to be taught goodness, sensibleness, knowledge, and God’s regulations.
Highlight God’s activities and qualities. The Psalms enhance appreciation for Jehovah God, whose existence only the senseless one would deny. (Ps 14:1; 19:7-11; 53:1) Jehovah is revealed as “a lover of righteousness and justice” (33:5), “a refuge and strength, a help that is readily to be found during distresses.” (46:1) He is a righteous Judge (7:11; 9:4, 8), the Creator (8:3; 19:1; 33:6), King (10:16; 24:8-10), Shepherd (23:1-6), and Teacher (25:9, 12), the Provider for both man and the animals (34:10; 147:9), the Savior or Deliverer (35:10; 37:39, 40; 40:17; 54:7), and the Source of life (36:9) and of comfort (86:17), blessing, and strength.
Jehovah does not “forget the outcry of the afflicted ones” (Ps 9:12; 10:14) but answers the prayers of his servants (3:4; 30:1, 2; 34:4, 6, 17, 18), rewarding and protecting them. (3:3, 5, 6; 4:3, 8; 9:9, 10; 10:17, 18; 18:2, 20-24; 33:18-20; 34:22; see 34:7 concerning angelic protection.) He hates wickedness and takes action against wrongdoers.
Jehovah is shown to be fear inspiring (Ps 76:7) and great (77:13), yet humble (18:35); he is holy (99:5) and abundant in goodness (31:19) and power. (147:5) He is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness and trueness.” (86:15) His understanding is beyond recounting (147:5), and his creative works bespeak his wisdom. (104:24) He counts the number of stars and calls all of them by name. (147:4) He is able to see even the human embryo. (139:16) He can heal all maladies. (103:3) He can cause wars to cease by wrecking the war equipment of the enemy. (46:9) He has been actively involved in many events of history in furtherance of his righteous purpose. (44:1-3; 78:1-72; 81:5-7; 105:8-45; 106:7-46; 114:1-8; 135:8-12; 136:4-26) Truly such a God deserves to be given praise and thanks. (92:1; 96:1-4; 146–150) To trust in men (60:11; 62:9), riches (49:6-12, 17), or idols (115:4-8; 135:15-18) would be foolishness.
Discuss value of God’s word. The Psalms also teach appreciation for God’s word. The sayings of Jehovah are shown to be pure (Ps 12:6) and refined. (18:30) His law is precious (119:72) and is truth. (119:142) Lasting benefits result from observing his perfect law, trustworthy reminders, upright orders, clean commandments, and righteous judicial decisions. (19:7-11) God’s word serves to illuminate an individual’s path (119:105), and his commandments make one wise, give insight and understanding.
Clarify and supplement other scriptures. At times the book of Psalms clarifies or supplements other parts of the Bible. It shows that ‘afflicting one’s soul,’ as was done by the Israelites on Atonement Day (Le 16:29; 23:27; Nu 29:7), pertains to fasting. (Ps 35:13) The psalmist alone tells of the severe treatment accorded, at least initially, to Joseph while imprisoned in Egypt: “With fetters they afflicted his feet, into irons his soul came.” (105:18) From the Psalms we learn that “deputations of angels” were involved in bringing the plagues upon Egypt (78:44-51) and that, in the wilderness, the miraculously provided water “went through the waterless regions as a river” (105:41), thus providing an ample and readily accessible water supply for the nation of Israel and their many domestic animals. The Psalms furnish evidence that Pharaoh himself died in the Red Sea.
The Psalms indicate that the Israelites experienced reverses and great hardship prior to the defeat of the Edomites in the Valley of Salt. (Ps 60:Sup, 1, 3, 9) This suggests that the Edomites invaded Judah while the nation was warring in the N with the forces of Aram-naharaim and Aram-Zobah.
Psalm 101 reveals David’s manner of administering affairs of state. As his servants, David selected only faithful persons. He could not put up with arrogant individuals and did not tolerate slander. Daily he was concerned about bringing wicked ones to justice.
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HIGHLIGHTS OF PSALMS
A compilation of 150 sacred songs, many of which are based on the personal experiences of David and other servants of Jehovah
Composed over a period of some 1,000 years, starting with the time of Moses and extending beyond the return from Babylonian exile
Expressions of thanks and praise to Jehovah
Since he is the Great Shepherd (23)
Petitions for God’s mercy and help
To be sustained in sickness and distress (41:1-4)
Prophecies fulfilled in the Messiah
Zeal for Jehovah’s house consumed him (69:9)
He spoke with illustrations (78:2)
The manner of his execution was indicated (22:16, ftn)
Lots were cast over clothing (22:18)
He was given vinegar to drink (69:21)
None of his bones were broken (34:20)
He was raised from Sheol (16:10)
The stone rejected by the builders became head of the corner (118:22)
He ascended on high, provided gifts in the form of men (68:18)
He was glorified and given dominion over everything (8:5-8)
His rule over the earth will be just and compassionate (72)
Basic Bible doctrines appearing in the book of Psalms
Inspired advice to help us gain Jehovah’s approval
Pursue peace and righteousness (34:14, 15)
Teach children about Jehovah’s dealings (78:3-8)
Keep your word, even when it proves to be bad for you (15:4)
Avoid the misuse of money (15:5)
Generosity brings blessings to the giver (112:5-10)