Introduction to Psalms
The Book of Psalms is, of course, the longest book in the Bible, certainly occupying a key position in the plan of God and the instruction of His people. It contains the Bible’s longest chapter (Psalm 119) and also its shortest (Psalm 117). There are numerous references to the primeval past and even more to the prophetic future, being especially rich in its foregleams of the coming Messiah. It is undoubtedly the favorite Bible book of multitudes of ordinary believers because of its poignant insights into the needs and provisions, the sorrows and joys, of God’s people in every age.
Many of the psalms have inscriptions indicating their human authors. Thus David is listed as author of seventy-three psalms, Asaph of twelve, with one psalm each attributed to Moses, Heman and Ethan. That leaves sixty-two as anonymous; however, three of these (Psalms 2, 72, and 95) also are elsewhere identified as David’s. “The sweet singer of Israel,” as some have called him, wrote at least half the psalms.
The whole book of Psalms is subdivided internally into five “books” (chapters 1–41; 42–72; 73–89; 90–106; 107–145), plus a five-chapter (146–150) “epilogue.” The significance of this particular grouping is not clear, though there might seem to be an implied tie of some kind to the five books of the Pentateuch. However, it is noteworthy that each of the five books ends with a grand doxology (Psalm 41:13; 72:19; 89:52; 106:48; 145:21). Then, each of the five psalms in the epilogue is a great psalm of praise, both beginning and ending with “Hallelujah!”—that is, “Praise the LORD!” The very last verse commands: “Let every thing that hath breath praise the LORD. Praise ye the LORD” (Psalm 150:6).
The book of Psalms has been called “The Hallal Book” and also “the Book of the Praises of Israel.” However, there are very few psalms (Psalms 67, 100, 133) which contain only the note of praise. Almost all the psalms sing of sorrow and suffering, opposition and persecution—yet always in the context of God’s redeeming love and the believer’s overcoming faith, redounding finally to the everlasting praise of our Creator and Savior.
There are also many keen scientific insights scattered through the psalms, as well as many evidences of remarkable structure. Sometimes the latter are intentional, as in the “acrostic” psalms, where each successive line begins with the successive letter in the Hebrew alphabet. At other times, they seem unintentional, except as woven into the structure by the Holy Spirit Himself, as special evidence of divine inspiration and spiritual testimony.
Unlike other books of the Bible (in which the chapter and verse divisions were inserted only by medieval scholars) the chapters and verses of the Book of Psalms seem to have been impressed upon the book by the poetic structure of each psalm from the very moment of their divine inspiration (see the note on Psalm 22:22).
Although the immediate context of the psalms is in relation to the nation of Israel and her worship, they are clearly an infinitely precious resource for believers of every time and place.
1:1 Blessed is the man. It is appropriate that the Book of Psalms begins with a promise of divine blessing. It is also fitting that the first psalm defines the two ways a person could live (Psalm 1:6) and the two destinies a person would experience. Comparative paths of life is the key theme throughout the entire book.
1:1 way of sinners. The word “way” actually refers to a roadway. The first psalm, setting the pattern for the entire book of Psalms, is contrasting the two roads a person may travel—the broad road leading to destruction or the narrow road leading to everlasting life (Matthew 7:13-14).
1:1 seat of the scornful. Note the sad progression of the ungodly from “walking’ to “standing” to “sitting,” steadily “increas[ing] unto more ungodliness” (II Timothy 2:16).
1:2 his delight. To the godly man, God’s law is not a burden but a delight, for “the law of the Lord is perfect” (Psalm 19:7), and we may “behold wondrous things out of thy law” (Psalm 119:18). Paul said: “I delight in the law of God after the inward man” (Romans 7:22). The law cannot save, of course, but to the sinner saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ, he can say sincerely: “Thy law is my delight” (Psalm 119:77).
1:2 in his law. The “law” can be taken as the entire revealed Scriptures, and it is vital to know that true blessing on a life is a necessary product of true devotion and obedience to the written Word of God.
1:2 meditate day and night. The psalmist seems here to be drawing on the wise counsel of Joshua (Joshua 1:8). Contrast this habitual and profitable meditation on God’s Word with the ungodly “imaginings” of unbelievers (Psalm 2:1). The words “meditate” and “imagine” are translations of the same Hebrew word.
l:3 shall prosper. Again note Joshua 1:8. Fruit that is produced by a believer well grounded and stable in the Scriptures will “remain.” Note Colossians 2:7; John 15:7,16.
Psalm 2 (title). Although this psalm has no superscript identifying its author, it is attributed to David in Acts 4:25. It is also identified as “the second psalm” in Acts 13:33, showing that the chapter divisions in the book of Psalms have been there right from the start. That it is a Messianic psalm is confirmed by its being quoted in the New Testament at least five times, always referring to its fulfillment in Christ.