The Book of Psalms is beloved by many. It showcases every emotion, and often brings comfort to the hurting, struggling, or those are facing loss. Who has not heard a portion of Psalm 23 or sang some of these poetic masterpieces? While other cultures in Ancient Near East had praises and prayers written to their gods, Israel had, and has, God’s truth encapsulated in a large book, written over the course of 1,000 years, called the Book of Psalms.
When most people think of the Psalms, they think of King David, because he was the “sweet Psalmist of Israel,” (2 Samuel 23:1). While he penned about half of them, Moses, Solomon, Asaph, and others, wrote the rest of the 150 Psalms, which became known as the song or hymnbook of Israel, inspired by God.
The word “Psalm” comes from the Greek psalmos or, “song.” The Hebrew tehillim, meaning, “praises,” identifies the purpose for them. The Psalms are divided up into five books, based on the Hebrew manuscripts. Book 1 comprises Psalms 1-41. Book 2 includes Psalms 42-72. Book 3 includes Psalms 73-89. Book 4 is compiled of Psalms 90-106. Book 5 contains Psalms 107-150.
The Psalms were written in the context of the Mosaic Covenant, which is important to keep in mind when interpreting them. They are poetic literature and should be treated as such, with figures of speech, history, other literary forms and more. Often, as in other Wisdom literature (Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs), there is a contrast between the “righteous” (those who follow the Law) and “unrighteous” (those who do not follow the Law), with God’s blessing being on the obedient (the righteous) and His curses upon the disobedient (the unrighteous). Each book concludes with praise to God and Psalm 150 is totally dedicated to His praise.
Though the Psalms were written over a period of 1,000 years, they were probably compiled in their final form by Ezra the priest and scribe (Nehemiah 8:9), roughly about 450 B.C. As history went on, Israel used these for specific purposes, and scholars placed the Psalms in different categories, and while these vary, they are helpful.
For example, there are the Royal Psalms: Psalm 2, 20-21, and more. These focus primarily on the Davidic lineage, with some pointing to the Messiah, the perfect King. The Psalms of Ascent: Psalms 120-134. These were sung as travellers went up to Jerusalem, often for one of the Feasts. Psalms of repentance: 6, 25, and 51. These emphasize the Psalmists confession of sin. There are the Imprecatory Psalms, which called down judgment on Gods and Israel’s enemies: 69, 109, and 137. Then there are hymns of praise: 8, 93; thanksgiving: 9, 30; and the Hallel (which also means “praise”): 113-118, read during the Passover celebration.
While there are other groups, the focus of this series will be the Messianic Psalms. They are specifically written about Israel’s promised Messiah. Though these Psalms were written and applicable to the times in which they were written, God superintended their writings for a greater purpose, pointing to the One who would fulfill all of what was written of Him (Matthew 5:17, Hebrews 10:7).
These include: Psalms 2, 8, 16, 22 (23-24), 40, 45, 68, 69, 72, 89, 102, 109, 110, 118, and 132 to one extent or another. These Messianic Psalms encapsulate aspects of the birth, life, work, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the promised Messiah. He pointed to the Psalms about Himself in Matthew 27:46, quoting Psalm 22:1; Mark 12:9-11, quoting Psalm 118:22-23; Luke 20:39-44, quoting Psalm 110:1. New Testament writers referenced the Psalms about Jesus: Matthew 22:41-46, quoting Psalm 110:1; Mark 11:7-10, quoting Psalm 118:25-26; John 19:23-24, quoting Psalm 22:18 and more.
The study of the Messianic Psalms is a blessing. These Psalms show the unity and connection of the Bible between Old and New Testament; and display the truthfulness and trustworthiness of God’s inspired Word. Each article in this series will explore one of these magnificent Psalms. The Messianic Psalms help us see the reliability and consistency of the Bible and most of all; it helps us see Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word, our Lord and Savior, in the inspired, written Word of God!