Understanding The Book of Psalms

Each day’s reading includes one Psalm and by the end of this week you’ll have read 21 of them. Way to go! Since we read one every day we should devote a few lines to a general understanding of Psalms. They are an amazing collection of songs that connect the history of Israel to the coming Messiah, Jesus.

If you take a quick look at Psalms 3, 41, 72, 89, and 106 you’ll see the headings “Book One”, “Book Two” and so on. The Psalms are divided into five books. Each book reflects a distinct historical and spiritual period of Israel’s history - we’ll look further into this as we progress through the book.

You’ll also notice different authors, David, Aspaph,“the sons of Korah,” and Solomon. Book Four begins with a Psalm titled, “A Prayer of Moses, The Man of God” (Why and how did Moses get in the Psalms? We’ll find out when we get there!)

Some of the Psalms give us a direct connection to the historical setting into which they were written. For example, look at the headings for Psalm 3, 51, 63. The headings are a gift because they allow us to connect the Psalm to both a specific situation in David’s life, and also connect that particular book of Psalms to the time and place in Israel’s spiritual history. For example, read the heading for Psalm 5 then (for extra credit) go read 2 Samuel 11-12. Now you know why David writes what he writes in the Psalm!

Understanding the theology of the Psalms requires that we remember God’s promise to Eve, to Abraham, and to Jacob. The promise that through Eve’s offspring, through Abraham’s, then through Jacob’s a Savior would come to defeat sin and restore man’s relationship to God. Last week we saw the same promise appear again as God confirmed it with Jacob in Genesis 35:9-12, and we see God expand on the details. God tells Jacob that from Jacob’s offspring would come kings. Though we haven’t gotten there yet in our reading we will see that kings will play a significant role in the life of Israel and that God’s chosen offspring would be a king, ultimately the King. The job of a king in the nation of Israel is to represent the people to God, the king should lead the people in obedience, faithfulness, worship - so the king of Israel is to be a foreshadow of the power, faithfulness, and love for God that will characterize the ultimate, perfect King who would one day come.

The overriding theme of Psalms is kingship. Psalm 2 includes a reference to God’s covenant with David to bring from David’s offspring a king who will reign forever. Read Psalm 2:7-8, then (for more extra credit) go read 2 Samuel 7:8-17. The Psalm echoes God’s promise to David, and so David understandably asks in the Psalm “why do the nations rage… and take council against the Lord’s anointed”? (The “Lord’s anointed” is the king of Israel - David at the time.) Opposition to what God has ordained is futile!

As you read through the first 72 Psalms think about what is being written from the perspective of David, God’s anointed King and heir to the promise God made to Eve, Abraham, Jacob, and then directly to David himself. David has absolute confidence in his relationship with God as the chosen king - even as he struggle’s with enemies, warring nations, and his personal sin.

As you read the Psalms notice that David, and all the people who write the Psalms, go to God in all seasons of life. God is near in times of tragedy, sin, war and loss. Nearly every Psalm ends with praise or an exclamation of trust in God. As you read Psalms I hope you will learn to go to God in confidence and hope and trust in all seasons of our lives as we await the return of the ultimate king.