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.