HomeUncategorizedOverview of the Psalms (Notes for Class 3)

Overview of the Psalms (Notes for Class 3)

As we continue to study the books of Hebrew poetry, we come to look at an overview of the book of Psalms. The podcast can be listened to here.

The Hebrew title תְּהִלִּים means “praises.” The English title Psalm is derived from the Greek word Ψαλμὸς, a “song of praise” (Eph 5:19;  Col 3:16).

Psalms is divided into 5 books: book 1 (1-41); book 2 (42-72); book 3 (73-89); book 4 (90-106); book 5 (107-150).

Categories of Psalm:

  • Messianic Psalms (see below)
  • Lament Psalms (e.g. Pss. 7; 26; 60)
  • Testimonial Psalms (e.g. Pss. 30; 34)
  • Pilgrim Psalms (e.g. Pss. 120-134)
  • Imprecatory Psalms (e.g. Pss.58; 109)
  • Repentant Psalms (e.g. Pss. 32; 51)
  • Wisdom Psalms (e.g. Pss. 37; 73)
  • Historical Psalms (e.g. Pss. 78; 105; 106)
  • Nature Psalms (e.g. Pss. 8; 19).1)for explanation of these categories, see Paul N. Benware, Survey of the Old Testament, Moody Publishers (Chicago, IL: 2003), p. 172-173
  • We should add to this list acrostic Psalms (Pss. 9; 10; 25; 34; 37; 111; 112; 119; 145).

Use of Psalms in Ancient Judaism: Ps 137 recited on eve of Tisha B’Av (9th of Ab) to memorialize the destruction of the first and second Temple which were both destroyed on the same day of the Jewish calendar. It has been said by Christians that we should not pray imprecatory prayers but rather turn the other cheek. However, we do find examples of imprecatory prayers in the New Testament. “And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: and they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” (Revelation 6:9-10). Even the expression, “Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus” in Revelation 22:20 is evoking the Lord’s return which will bring judgement upon an unrepentant world.

“This was the singing which the levites used to sing in the Temple. On the first day [Sunday] they sang The earth is the Lord’s and all that therein is, the round world and they that dwell therein [Ps 24]; on the second day [Monday] they sang Great is the Lord and highly to be praised in the city of our God, even upon his holy hill [Ps 48];  on the third day [Tuesday] they sang God standeth in the congregation of God, he is a judge among the gods [Ps 82];  on the fourth day [Wednesday] they sang O Lord God to whom vengeance belongeth, thou God to whom vengeance belongeth show thyself [Ps 94]; on the fifth day [Thursday] they sang Sing we merrily unto God our strength, make a cheeful noise unto the God of Jacob [Ps 81]; on the sixth day [Friday] they sang The Lord is king, and hath put on glorious apparel [Ps 93]. On the Sabbath [Saturday] they sang A Psalm: a Song for the Sabbath Day [Ps 92]; a Psalm, a song for the time that is to come, for the day that shall be all Sabbath and rest in the life everlasting.” 2)Mishna, Tamid 7.4; in The Mishna (Trans. Herbert Danby), Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, MA: 1933, 2016), p. 589

What should be noted in this passage is that (1) each Psalm is identified by the use of the first verse in the Psalm, which indicates why the Lord Jesus Christ quoted the first verse from Psalm 22 while hanging on the cross. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). And (2) on the Sabbath day the mention of Psalm 92 was identified by the subtitle. Many scholars today claim the subtitles of the Psalms are not inspired but the ancient Jews surely treated them as inspired.

The LXX has different numbering for the most of the Psalms off by 1 (so Ps 20 will be numbered as 19 in LXX).

Transliterated words of Psalms subtitles:

  • Neginoth נְגִינָה (Pss 4, 5, 6, 54, 55, 61, 67, 76) music of stringed instrument
  • Sheminith שְׁמִינִית (Pss 6, 12) on the eighth key i.e. octave; or an 8 stringed instrument (1 Chr 15:21) “and Mattithiah, and Elipheleh, and Mikneiah, and Obed-edom, and Jeiel, and Azaziah, with harps on the Sheminith to excel.”
  • Shiggaion שִׁגָּיוֹן (Ps 7) Doubtful meaning. Possibly means “wild passionate song, with rapid change of rhythm.”
  • Gittith גִּתִּית (Ps 8, 81, 84) Uncertain meaning. Perhaps an instrument (Lyre). Root is related to the word for “winepress” (also reflected in LXX Ps 8 ληνῶν) so some suggest it refers to celebration of grape harvest at the Feast of Tabernacles. Other suggest a Gittite harp.
  • Muthlabban עַלְמ֥וּת לַבֵּ֗ן (Ps 9) Soprano voice of boys choir (LXX Ps 9 κρυφίων τοῦ υἱοῦ Secrets of the sons)
  • Michtam מִכְתָּם (Ps 16, 57, 58, 59) Meaning doubtful. Likely means “inscription” or “engraven.” LXX Ps 15. Στηλογραφία “Now such a disposition of the soul, Abraham, the inspector, has deeply engraved on my memory.” 3)Philo, Who is the Heir of Divine Things. 30; in The Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged New Updated Version (Trans. C. D. Yonge), (Peabody, MA: 1997), p. 278
  • Aijeleth Shahar אַיֶּ֥לֶת הַשַּׁ֗חַר (Ps 22) conjectural “hind/roe of the Dawn” (LXX Pss 21, ἀντιλήψεως concerning the “morning aid”)
  • Maschil מַשְׂכִּיל (Pss 32, 42, 43, 44, 45, 52, 53, 54, 55, 74, 78, 88, 89) “contemplative poem” or “didactic poem” (see Ps 47:7). Similar subtitle “to bring to remembrance” Ps 38; “to teach” Ps 60.
  • To Jeduthun (Pss 39, 62, 77) One of the choir leaders of the Temple (2 Chr 5:12)
  • Shoshannim שׁוּשַׁן (Pss 45, 69) An uncertain musical notation, derived from the root for the word “lily.” Possibly an instrument appearing as a straight tubular shaped trumpet. (LXX Ps 44 ἀλλοιωθησομένων “alternate strains”).
  • Alamoth (Ps 46) Female soprano related to muthlabban above.
  • Mahalath מַחֲלַת (Ps 53) Unknown. LXX transliterates the word μαελέθ showing its meaning was forgotten at an early date. Possibly related to the word for “dance.” Ps 88 also has Mahalath Leannoth meaning “sing” (LXX Ps 87 ἀποκριθῆναι “responsive strains”)
  • Jonath-elem-rechokim י֬וֹנַת אֵ֣לֶם רְ֭חֹקִים (Ps 56) Jonath (“dove”), elem (“in silence”), rechokim (“afar, far off”). LXX Ps 55 “concerning the people that were removed from the sanctuary, by David for a memorial, when the Philistines caught him in Geth”
  • Al-tashchith אַל־תַּ֭שְׁחֵת (Ps 57, 58, 59, 75) “do not destroy”
  • Shushan-eduth שׁוּשַׁ֣ן עֵד֑וּת (Ps 60, 80) similar to shoshannim, either musical notation or instrument. “Eduth” means “testimony.” (LXX Στηλογραφία “engraved”)
  • Selah סֶלָה (common throughout the Psalms) most commentators express it means to stop and think about what was just said or implies a suspension of music, a pause. However, its root means “to lift up” or “exalt” (Ps 68:4; Pro 4:8)

Psalms of Ascent Pss 120-134 “Men of piety and good works used to dance before them with burning torches in their hands, singing songs and praises. And countless levites [played] on harps, lyres, cymbals and trumpets and instruments of music, on the fifteen steps leading down from the Court of the Israelites to the Court of the Women, corresponding to the Fifteen Songs of Ascents in the Psalms; upon them the levites used to stand with instruments of music and make melody. Two priests stood at the upper gate which leads down from the Court of the Israelites to the Court of the Women, with two trumpets in their hands. At cock-crow they blew a sustained, a quavering and another sustained blast. When they reached the tenth step they again blew a sustained, a quavering and another sustained blast. When they reached the Court [of the Women] they again blew a sustained, a quavering and another sustained blast. They went on until they reached the gate that leads out to the east. When they reached the gate that leads out to the east, they turned their faces to the west and said, ‘Our fathers when they were in this place turned with their backs toward the Temple of the Lord and their faces toward the east, and they worshiped the sun toward the east but as for us, our eyes are turned toward the Lord’. R. Judah says: They used to repeat the words ‘We are the Lord’s, and our eyes are turned to the Lord’.”4)Mishna, Sukkah 5.4; in The Mishna (Trans. Herbert Danby), Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, MA: 1933, 2016), p. 180

72 of the psalms are written by David (2 Sam 23:1-2).

Many of the Psalms have historical backdrops but were spoken by inspiration for our edification (Act 1:16).

  • 3 cf. 2 Sam. 15
  • 7 Cush the Benjamite is not mentioned elsewhere but a number of Benjamites opposed David being king after Saul (2 Sam. 16:7-8; 20:1-2). This psalm may be related to 1 Sam 23:24-29.
  • Ps 18 cf. 2 Sam 22
  • Ps 30 cf. 2 Sam 5:11-12; 7:1-2
  • Ps 34 cf. 1 Sam 21:10-15
  • Ps 51 cf. 2 Sam 11-12
  • Ps 52 cf. 1 Sam 22
  • Ps 54 cf. 1 Sam 23:15-23; 26:1-3
  • Ps 56 cf. 1 Sam 21:10; 27:2-3
  • Ps 57 cf. 1 Sam 24
  • Ps 59 cf. 1 Sam 19:11-17
  • Ps 60 cf. 2 Sam 8:1-14
  • Ps 63 not when fleeing from Saul (Ps 63:11 David is already king) so it must be fleeing Absalom 2 Sam 15-19
  • Ps 142 cf. 1 Sam 22, 24

Some Psalms don’t have subtitles to explain the historical event but are easy to identify the events behind the psalm. Ps 55 is clearly about Absalom’s revolt with Ahithophel’s betrayal.

Identifying and Dating the various authors of Psalms

 

Authors &

date

Book 1 Book 2 Book 3 Book 4 Book 5
Anonymous

(Date:

Unknown)

1, 2, 10, 33 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 97, 99, 100, 102, 104, 105, 106 107, 111, 112, 113, 114, 115, 116, 117, 118, 119, 120, 121, 123, 125, 126, 128, 129, 130, 132, 134, 135, 136, 137, 146, 147, 148, 149, 150
David

(Date:

1039-969 BC)

3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 31, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 68, 69, 70 86 101, 103 108, 109, 110, 122, 124, 131, 133, 138, 139, 140, 141, 142, 143, 144, 145
sons of Korah

(DATE:

post exilic)

42, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49 84, 85, 87, 88
Asaph

(DATE:

post exilic)

50 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 82
Solomon

(DATE:

Reigned 969-932 BC)

72 127
Ethan

(DATE:

BABYLONIAN EXILE)

89
Moses

(DATE:

1526-1406 BC)

90

 

Dating of various author:

Sons of Korah:

  • 44:9-11, scattered among heathen
  • 84:1-4, 10, after second Temple was built
  • 85:1, post exilic. “Lord, thou hast been favourable unto thy land: thou hast brought back the captivity of Jacob.”

Asaph:

  • 74:1-10; 79:1-7, 10, post exilic

Ethan:

  • 89:38-51 during Babylonian captivity

Messianic prophecies in Psalms fulfilled in Christ’s first coming

  1. 2:1-2
    1. Acts 4:25-28
  2. 8:2
    1. 21:15-16
  3. 9:13
    1. Acts 2:24
  4. 16:8-11
    1. Acts 2:25-28, 31
    2. Acts 13:34-37
  5. 22:1
    1. 27:46
    2. Mark 15:34
  6. 22:2
    1. 27:45
    2. Mark 15:33
  7. 22:6-8
    1. 27:39-44
  8. 22:15
    1. John 19:28
  9. 22:16
    1. John 20:25-27
  10. Ps 22:18
    1. 27:35
    2. Mark 15:24
    3. John 19:24
  11. 34:20
    1. John 19:32-36
  12. 38:13-14
    1. 26:63
    2. Mark 14:61
  13. 40:6-8
    1. 10:4-7
  14. 41:9
    1. Mark 14:10
    2. John 13:18
    3. Acts 1:16
  15. 45:6-7
    1. 1:8-9
  16. 49:9
    1. 1:18
  17. 68:18
    1. Mark 16:19
    2. Acts 1:9
    3. 4:8
  1. 69:4
    1. John 15:25
  2. 69:7
    1. 12:2
  3. 69:8
    1. Luke 3:23
  4. 69:9
    1. John 2:17
  5. 69:9
    1. 15:3
  6. 69:21
    1. 27:34
  7. 69:25
    1. Acts 1:20
  8. 69:26
    1. 53:4
  9. 78:2
    1. 13:34-35
  10. 89:9
    1. 8:26
    2. Mark 4:39
  11. 107 23-30
    1. 8:23-27
    2. Mark 4:35-41
    3. Luke 8:22-25
  12. 109:8
    1. Acts 1:20
  13. 109:25
    1. 27:39
  14. 110:3
    1. 4:4
  15. 110:4
    1. 6:20
  16. 114:2
    1. Luke 3:33
  17. 118:22-23
    1. Luke 9:22
  18. 118:25-26
    1. 21:9
    2. Luke 19:38

 

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Heath Henning
Heath Henning
Heath heads the Set Free addictions ministry on Friday nights at Mukwonago Baptist Church and is involved in evangelism on the University of Wisconsin Whitewater campus, offering his expertise in apologetics at the weekly Set Free Bible Study every Tuesday evening. He currently lives in East Troy, Wisconsin with his wife and nine children. Read Heath Henning's Testimony

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