Israel and the Psalms
by Piet van der Lugt
Through the ages, the book of Psalms is probably the most read book of the Bible.
Many believers of all times have drawn courage, comfort and strength from these appealing songs. If we open the Bible in the middle, we will discover that we are in the Book of Psalms. In other words; the Psalms form the heart of the Word of God, the Old and the New Testaments. These songs themselves reveal the heart of the believer. After the completion of the TeNaCH (the Old Testament), the Jews have divided these in three groups. This division, that has been kept to this day, exists in: the Law, the Prophets and the Scriptures. The Psalms belong to the latter and that is why this part is also mentioned as ‘Psalms’, as shows from the words of the Lord Jesus in Luke 24:44; “And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me”.
The Hebrew Title
The Hebrew title of the book is ‘Tehillim’, which means ‘songs of praise’. As we assume, that name has been given to it because the book was being used as a songbook during the service in the second temple. In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, it had the name of ‘the Psalms’, which is derived from ‘psallo’, which means: ‘to play an instrument’. From this indication, but most of all from the Scriptures itself, it shows that these songs of praise/eulogies were being accompanied by instruments (see 1 Chr.16:4, 5; 25:1; 2 Chr.5:12, 13). Besides the Book of Psalms one can find other songs as well, for example the song of David about Saul and Jonathan in 2 Samuel 1. These songs however, were not suitable to be sung in a public gathering and therefore they are not included in the book of Psalms. We also do not find there the song of Hezekiah, described in Isaiah 38. The Psalms, like all other books of the Bible, inspired by the Holy Spirit1, form ‘the inspired answer of the human heart to the revelation of God in the law, history and prophecy’.
In the first psalm, God blesses the man, whose delight is in the law of the Lord, while the last psalm calls the man to praise God. The Psalms are, just as the rest of the Bible, Christ centric, in other words they all point to the Messiah. From that point of view it shows that the Man of Psalm 1 is also the God of Psalm 150, to Whom belongs all honour and glory. Between the first and the last Psalm of this longest book of the Bible, we find songs as a result of many situations, that could come to pass in a human life, and that makes this book so real for the believers of all times. In the middle of the most difficult circumstances, the writer always looks up to God…. From Him is his expectation. As daily life is characterized by an alteration of circumstances, we also see an alternation of despair and immense trust in God, of sadness and joy, of complain and praise.
The Psalms are placed in the present order through the guiding of the Holy Spirit. Apparently, the order was already there in the days of the New Testament (Acts 13:33). It is not a chronological order, but the Godly Composer Himself has brought them together and arranged them in His wisdom and counsel. We will, when we study more closely, have to recognize and acknowledge that wisdom.
The book of Psalms is divided into five parts, each of them ends with a specific worship, an ‘amen’ (see psalms 41, 72, 89, 106). That the ‘amen’ lacks in Psalm 150, probably points to the never ending, where it all leads to. These five ‘books’ of the Psalms form a remarkable similarity with the five books of Moses, of which we will give a short summary below:
Psalm 1 – 41 the Genesis part in which we see God’s counsel concerning man and his ways.
Psalm 42 – 72 the Exodus part in which we see God’s counsel concerning Israel as a nation; their suffering and persecution by their enemies, their deliverance by the LORD and their recovering in the land of promise.
Psalm 73 – 89 the Leviticus part in which we see God’s counsel concerning His sanctuary and His assembly. The book of Leviticus has “holy for the LORD” as its theme. The LORD is holy and He has set aside a people, a Jewish remnant that suffers in the midst of rebellion and corruption. Here we find their prayers and we see how they look for His face in the last of days.
Psalm 90 – 106 the Numbers part in which we see God’s counsel concerning Israel and the nations. As the LORD points in the book of Numbers to the land, in which His nation finally would find rest, so is stated in the fourth book of Psalms how the wandering nation will find rest in the end. In this passage we find the wonderful Psalms about the thousand years, as mentioned in Revelation 20.
Psalm 107 – 150 the Deuteronomy part in which we see God’s counsel concerning Himself and His Word. The LORD tells through Moses the whole history of Israel again and prophesies also their future. The prophecy of the future, in which He, Who scattered Israel, will bring them back into their land, is being described in a wonderful way in Psalm 101.
The Book of Psalms starts with “Blessed is the man” and ends with “Praise the LORD”.
The writers of the Psalms were not only poets and singers, but prophets also. David, who has written most of the psalms, is called a prophet by Peter in Acts 2:30. The Psalms have, besides the experiences of every believer, also a lot of prophecy with regard to the Messiah and the faithful remnant of Israel.
The book is written during the dispensation of the law and has to do with Israel in the first place. We read about earthly blessings and curses. The tone therefore is very different from the parts of the Scriptures about the Church, the Body of Christ. Having this said, we must keep in mind that the psalms do not contain any direct truths about the Body of Christ. Of course there is a lot to learn for us concerning the application. Some psalms have a historical background, which is mentioned with it (see Ps. 3: 34 etc.), of others we do not know at what occasion they have been written. In most of the psalms the poet speaks from his own situation, but sometimes he rises far beyond that in the spirit and speaks of things he might not have understood himself. A wonderful example of that is Psalm 16 and 22 in which David prophesizes about His Son, the Messiah.
In this edition, in which we cannot make an exhausting study of the Psalms, we would like study the following subjects:
I Psalm 1 – 41 Israel’s Saviour and remnant
II Psalm 42 – 72 Israel’s destruction and deliverance
III Psalm 73 – 89 Israel’s return and recovering
IV Psalm 90 – 106 Israel’s fall and raise
V Psalm 107 – 150 Israel’s reassemblance and review
See i.e. Mat. 22:43, 44; 2 Tim. 3:16, 17; 2 Pet. 1:11.