The book of Psalms gets its English name from the Latin word, psalterium, meaning ‘a stringed instrument’. The Latin word was derived from the Greek word, psalmos, which was a translation of the Hebrew word, tehillim. (Which occurred in translating for the Septuagint) The Greek word means, a song sung with stringed instrumental accompaniment. Most of the writers of the psalms are identified in the superscriptions. David wrote the majority of them (73), and worked to organize and re-establish the temple ministry of the singers. (Read 1 Chronicles 15:16; 16:7; & 25:1) In fact, David is known as Israel’s “beloved singer of songs”. (2 Samuel 23:1) Eleven of the psalms were written by the sons of Korah (or Korahites); they served as temple musicians. (Psalms 42-49; 84, 85, & 87; also read 1 Chronicles 6:31; 15:17; 2 Chronicles 20:19) Asaph is recognized as authoring twelve psalms; King Solomon authored psalms 72 and 127; Ethan wrote Psalm 89; and Moses is credited with writing Psalm 90. Theologians, of course, cannot agree on the origin of many of these psalms, even with their subscripts.
Psalms is divided into five sections: 1-42; 42-72; 73-89; 90-106; and 107-150. The first three sections each end with a double “amen”; the fourth section ends with an “amen”, followed by a “Hallelujah”. The entire collection may have been commissioned by King David, with its completion many years after his death. David authored 37 of the psalms in the first section. Sections 2 & 3 may have been collected under the guidance of King Hezekiah’s attempt to copy and preserve the sacred texts. (Proverbs 25:1) Hezekiah was recognized as authoring inspired poetry. (Isaiah 38) The last two sections were likely collected during Ezra’s leadership in rebuilding the temple after the Babylonian exile. (Ezra 7:1-10)
The psalms are a diverse collection of writing styles and purposes, all written in the Hebrew poetic form familiar to the readers of antiquity and are an excellent guide for worship in every possible context: one will find history, laments, rejoicing, penitence, and imprecatory calls for judgment. Primarily, these writings point the heart to God, Who cares for His children, and Whose love is everlasting. While many psalms recognize God’s omnipotence, God is also described as a loving father Who keeps His promises. The psalms is a unique record of those who transparently emoted their fears, failures, hopes, and faith. The psalms are referenced in the new testament over 400 times!
Warren Wiersby offers these thoughts on the psalms:
“The psalms teach us to seek God with a whole heart, to tell Him the truth and tell Him everything, and to worship Him because of Who He is, not just because of what He gives. They show us when we’ve failed, they show us how to repent and receive God’s gracious forgiveness. The God described in the book of Psalms is both transcendent and immanent, far above us and yet personally with us in our pilgrim journey.” (The Wiersby Bible Commentary; OT; p.871)
The first psalm is about wisdom acquired through the study and proper utility of God’s Word. God blesses those who live by His Word, meditating upon its precepts and obeying it. Other psalms known as ‘Wisdom Psalms’ include: 10, 12, 15, 19, 32, 34, 37, 49, 50, 52, 53, 73, 78, 82, 91, 92, 94, 111, 112, 119, 127, 128, 133, & 139.
5 Understandable Words
“He is like a tree…” Psalm 1:3
The first psalm: “…may not unfitly be entitled, the Psalm of Psalms, for it contains in it the very pith and quintessence of Christianity.” (Thomas Watson, in his Saints’ Spiritual Delight, 1660) Though somewhat short in content, it is complete in the purpose for motivating righteous behavior. Watson observed the blessing with which it begins, applying the carrot of appeal to run the race’s full course with all the fortitude of a well-conditioned contestant. As the Believer’s guide to a true faith walk, it reveals the pitfalls which are to be avoided at all cost, as well as the path with firm ground leading to the crown of life.
The one who is able to keep away from the counsel of the wicked - avoiding the audience which applauds evil and scoff at those whose walk is blameless, is the one blessed by time well spent in the secret place, away from the competing voices of the world, searching God’s precepts. (v.1) With sheer delight, the student of The Word is eager to discover God’s truths upon awakening, and is comforted by their reliability before laying down to sleep. (v.2) The ONLY counsel of the Godless heart is one which perpetuates the message and purposes of the prince of darkness. The psalmist aptly describes those darkened hearts that applaud evil and hurl insults at those who walk the path of light and life.
The reward for intimacy with God is a life of stability… like an apple tree by a mountain lake, bearing fruit upon maturity, and which never loses its foliage – a fruit-bearing evergreen! The wonderful promise found among the groves of fruit is abundance: the one who has found the path of life has found the path of abundant living. (v.3) The roots which dig through the resistant soil of past generations and discovers the well spring of refreshment establishes the soul compared to this life-giving tree. Be a life giver… like a tree planted by the water.