The Book of Psalms—Curative for the Heart
THE book of Psalms constituted the book of poetry and song of the ancient Hebrew nation. Its lyrics were set to music and were used in the worship of Jehovah at the temple in Jerusalem, as well as being the primary songs in the homes and hearts of individual Israelites. The poetry was not based on the rhyming of words, nor altogether on meter. Often, there is parallelism in thought, sometimes synonymous, sometimes contrasting. This enables the mind and the spirit of the reader to follow the thought smoothly so that much better understanding and motivation result. The repetitive effect, along with the variation in expression, emphasizes the truths expressed, while making them stand out in greater fullness and clarity. These few examples from the thousands available will well illustrate:
“The law of Jehovah is perfect, bringing back the soul.
The reminder of Jehovah is trustworthy, making the inexperienced one wise.”—Ps. 19:7.
“The wicked one is borrowing and does not pay back,
But the righteous one is showing favor and is making gifts.”—Ps. 37:21.
“If I should walk in the midst of distress, you will preserve me alive.
Because of the anger of my enemies you will thrust out your hand,
And your right hand will save me.”—Ps. 138:7.
The Psalms are directed to the heart. The profound influence they exert is due to the fact that, through the Psalms, God lays bare the human heart, touching upon its every emotion and trial. Love, joy, ecstasy, praise, sorrow, discouragement, repentance, hope—the reader can identify with all of them. The depression that comes with sickness, bitter enmity on the part of associates, disappointment in a trusted friend turned traitor, the feeling of dejection and the fear of God when a person has sinned, the elation when an individual has a knowledge of forgiveness of his sin—all of these and the thousand other emotions caused by the vicissitudes of life are not only read by the reader, but also felt.
For these reasons the Psalms are an integral, indispensable part of the Word of God, which is able to make the man of God “fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16, 17) The book deals with human nature realistically and brings comfort to the reader on every human problem, making the Psalms timeless, as applicable to today’s living as they were thousands of years ago.
GOD’S GLORY AND MAJESTY
The Psalms powerfully express the attributes of God—his glory and perfection. The beauty of Jehovah’s eternity, majesty and omnipotence are magnificently portrayed. A glimpse can be seen in these three brief excerpts:
“O Jehovah, you yourself have proved to be a real dwelling for us
During generation after generation.
Before the mountains themselves were born,
Or you proceeded to bring forth as with labor pains the earth and the productive land,
Even from time indefinite to time indefinite you are
God. . . .
For a thousand years are in your eyes but as yesterday when it is past,
And as a watch during the night.”—Ps. 90:1-4.
“Long ago you laid the foundations of the earth itself,
And the heavens are the work of your hands.
They themselves will perish, but you yourself will keep standing;
And just like a garment they will all of them wear out.
Just like clothing you will replace them, and they will finish their turn.
But you are the same, and your own years will not be completed.”—Ps. 102:25-27.
“Clouds and thick gloom are all around him; Righteousness and judgment are the established place of his throne.
Before him a very fire goes,
And it consumes his adversaries all around.
His lightnings lighted up the productive land;
The earth saw and came to be in severe pains.
The mountains themselves proceeded to melt just like wax on account of Jehovah,
On account of the Lord of the whole earth.”—Ps. 97:2-5.
Similarly, God’s close relationship with his people permeates the Psalms, as the next few subheadings demonstrate:
HIS LOVING CARE FOR HIS PEOPLE
“Because you said: ‘Jehovah is my refuge,’
You have made the Most High himself your dwelling;
No calamity will befall you,
And not even a plague will draw near to your tent.
For he will give his own angels a command concerning you,
To guard you in all your ways.
Upon their hands they will carry you,
That you may not strike your foot against any stone.”
“As a father shows mercy to his sons,
Jehovah has shown mercy to those fearing him.
For he himself well knows the formation of us,
Remembering that we are dust.”—Ps. 103:13, 14.
“If errors were what you watch, O Jah,
O Jehovah, who could stand?
For there is the true forgiveness with you,
In order that you may be feared.
I have hoped, O Jehovah, my soul has hoped,
And for his word I have waited.”—Ps. 130:3-5.
MAN’S SINFULNESS AND NEED OF REPENTANCE AND FORGIVENESS
“Do not enter into judgment with your servant;
For before you no one alive can be righteous.”—Ps. 143:2.
“O Jehovah, do not in your indignation reprove me,
Nor in your rage correct me.
For your own arrows have sunk themselves deep into me,
And upon me your hand is come down.
There is no sound spot in my flesh because of your denunciation.
There is no peace in my bones on account of my sin.
For my own errors have passed over my head;
Like a heavy load they are too heavy for me.
My wounds have become stinky, they have festered,
Because of my foolishness.
I have become disconcerted, I have bowed low to an extreme degree;
All day long I have walked about sad.”—Ps. 38:1-6.
“Look! With error I was brought forth with birth pains,
And in sin my mother conceived me.”
“May you purify me from sin with hyssop, that I may be clean;
May you wash me, that I may become whiter even than snow.”
“Conceal your face from my sins,
“Happy is the one whose revolt is pardoned, whose sin is covered.
Happy is the man to whose account Jehovah does not put error,
And in whose spirit there is no deceit. . . .
My sin I finally confessed to you, and my error I did not cover.
I said: ‘I shall make confession over my transgressions to Jehovah.’
And you yourself pardoned the error of my sins.”—Ps. 32:1-5.
HOPE AND CONFIDENCE IN GOD
“Blessed be Jehovah, who daily carries the load for us,
The true God of our salvation.
The true God is for us a God of saving acts;
And to Jehovah the Sovereign Lord belong the ways out from death.”—Ps. 68:19, 20.
“Whom do I have in the heavens?
And besides you I do have no other delight on the earth.
My organism and my heart have failed.
God is the rock of my heart and my share to time indefinite.
For, look! the very ones keeping away from you will perish.
You will certainly silence every one immorally leaving you.
But as for me, the drawing near to God is good for me.
In the Sovereign Lord Jehovah I have placed my refuge,
To declare all your works.”—Ps. 73:25-28.
“In God I have put my trust. I shall not be afraid.
What can earthling man do to me?”—Ps. 56:11.
“For this God is our God to time indefinite, even forever.
He himself will guide us until we die.”—Ps. 48:14.
THE MESSIANIC KINGDOM
The Psalms have much to say about Christ Jesus and the Messianic kingdom, not mentioning him by name, but describing him, particularly as a glorious king governing the entire earth in peace and righteousness. Some psalms seem to prophesy directly about the Messiah, as, for example, Psalms 2 and Ps 110. In many cases other psalms speak of the Messiah, not directly, but typically and figuratively. That is, the psalmist had his own problems or the affairs of the nation immediately in mind, and what he said applied directly to his own time. But in principle, or in a second and complete or final fulfillment, what he said is made applicable to Christ by writers of the Christian Greek Scriptures. Very likely the psalmist did not always have the Messiah in mind, nor did he fully understand the typical or figurative application, even as the apostle Peter says that the prophets did not by any means fully understand the meaning of all the things they prophesied.—1 Pet. 1:10-12.
An example of this is found at Psalm 102:25-27, quoted above. Ps 102 Verse one of the psalm shows that the psalmist was speaking to Jehovah. But in Hebrews 1:10-12 the apostle Paul attributes these qualities to Jesus Christ, because Jesus is the one whom God used in the work of creation and to whom he has now committed all authority “in heaven and on the earth.” (Matt. 28:18; Col. 1:15-17) Jesus represents God to us fully in all his qualities and actions.
Psalm 22, attributed to David, relates, partly in figurative language, some of the sufferings of Christ. (Compare Psalm 22:1 with Mark 15:34; also compare the entire psalm with the four gospel accounts of Jesus’ trial and impalement.) The description of the events is couched in such language as to have a fuller fulfillment in Christ’s life.
However, some understanding of the application of their writings to the Messiah was held by the psalmists. When David wrote Psalm 16, he was inspired to prophesy about the Messiah whose soul was not to be abandoned to Sheʹol or Haʹdes (the grave) forever, neither was his buried flesh to undergo complete corruption. (Acts 2:31, New International Version; The Jerusalem Bible; Revised Standard Version) Accordingly, the apostle Peter, speaking to thousands of Jews on the day of Pentecost, pointed out that the reference was to the Messiah, when he said: “Therefore, because he [David] was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath that he would seat one from the fruitage of his loins upon his throne, he saw beforehand and spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that neither was he forsaken in Haʹdes [Hebrew, Sheʹol] nor did his flesh see corruption.”—Acts 2:30, 31.
Before the assembled Jews, who fully accepted the Psalms as inspired, Peter used this argument very forcefully, along with the Messianic 110th Psalm 110, to prove that Christ was referred to and that he had been resurrected from Haʹdes (Sheʹol). He said that David himself died and was buried and that his tomb was right then among the Jews as evidence of this fact. They knew that he went to Sheʹol, or Haʹdes, and that his flesh did see corruption, or decay. They then understood that David was not speaking about himself. So, since this was true, David, being a prophet, was speaking of one of his own offspring to whom this would occur. The evidence consisting of the events in connection with Jesus’ death and resurrection was also before the Jews right then, proving clearly that David was speaking prophetically of Christ, a descendant of David. (1 Pet. 1:10-12) This argument had a powerful effect on the Jews listening to Peter’s speech.—Acts 2:29-36.
In every way the Psalms exalt God and his Son and help us to come to know better those of whom it is said: “This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ.” (John 17:3) The Psalms describe the trials common to all humankind and show us how to pray in happy and in troublesome times. Whatever problem we may have, there is a psalm to assist us and to offer soothing balm to the heart.
The apostle Paul spoke of needing help in prayer, saying: “What we should pray for as we need to we do not know.” (Rom. 8:26) This is often true of every Christian. Many times from the book of Psalms we can get the needed help to express our innermost thoughts and desires more fully to God.—Compare Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16.
The Psalms, by touching on the various human emotions, create a warm personal appeal. The reader can see himself and feels that they are speaking to him, or for him. His innermost thoughts and motivations are touched, and his heart is searched. He is moved to make adjustments in his life. In doing so he is enriched, and comes closer to a knowledge of God. Everyone should read the Psalms through from the first to the last. No one can read them without benefit to himself.