1. Introduction to the Book of Psalms

Which book is:

  • Quoted more in the NT than any other book
  • Usually the first book of the OT to be translated into any language
  • Often bound in with N.T.
  • Much loved
    • my own experience
    • favourite Psalms? (why?)
  • The largest book in the Bible is a book of music
    • Luther: (Allen p.23)
    • Why no musical notes?
      • actually there is a whole system of marks, but the meaning is almost completely lost
      • we do know where each line and verse ends from the Hebrew
  • We have to be careful teaching this book that we don’t end up with too much emphasis on analysing it and lose the wonder
    • Nevertheless, when you put something that God has made under the microscope, you see more and more beauty
    • So the goal of this course is to help us to appreciate the psalms

A. Name of the book

  • Hebrew name: sefer tehillim (Book of Praises)
    • abbreviated to tehillim (Praises)
    • same basic word as halelu-Yah
    • virtually every single psalm has some element of praise in it.
  • Another title is prayers (see Ps 72.20)
    • see also intro to Hannah’s psalm of praise in Sam 2:1
  • The word “thanksgiving” is also used as a title
    • This is direct, i.e. addressed to God.
    • Almost 2/3 of the psalms directly address God at some point
    • This was common in early Christian hymns, but hymns written in the 1800 and 1900’s rarely address God
    • Much of Christian songwriting today has recaptured this lost aspect
    • If the Psalms are “sung prayers” then they should usually be addressed to God
      • Value of mixing prayer and singing in our worship
  • The difference between praise and thanksgiving: Allen p.58-64
    • Actually there is no Hebrew word for giving thanks
    • The importance of being vocal and not quiet in our praises
    • In ancient times, reading was always done aloud.
      • This is actually a good way to read the Psalms
  • So a second goal of this course is to help us praise God

B. Structure of Psalms

Division into Five books

Book 1 1—41
Book 2 42—72
Book 3 73—89
Book 4 90—106
Book 5 107—150
  • There are some duplications, most notably Ps 14 = Ps 53
    • Why is this?
    • Arranged for a purpose, maybe some regular worship activity
  • There is evidence that the whole 150 were carefully organized, since some Psalms link together with the previous.
    • Some were actually joined originally (e.g. 9-10 are an acrostic. 42-43 have the same refrain, three times)
  • Superscripts—brief notes at the start of many psalms, are probably original and are best taken as accurate
    • Jesus thinks so: Mark 12:35-37 (quoting Ps 110)
    • In all Hebrew bibles, back to the very oldest ones, the superscripts are marked as the first verse
  • Psalm 1 & 2 begin the collection
  • Each book ends with doxology (Praise and glory to God)
  • Book ends with 5 doxologies and then Ps 150 is entirely praise
  • Note at end of 2nd book

other collections

  • Ps 113-118 Hallel or Hymns of praise
    • Ps 113-4 before the meal and 115-8 afterwards
    • Last words in the light of what Jesus was about to do!
  • Ps 120-134 “Songs of Ascent”

C. Approaches to studying the Psalms

  1. See it primarily as teachings (Early church, up to reformation)
    • lack of focus on beauty and literature
  2. Reformation
    • began (with Luther and Calvin) to value it as an art-form
  3. late 1800, early 1900s Analytical/Critical
    • very little value. Very dry. (many of them were unbelievers)
  4. 1900’s Historical approach
    • tried to reconstruct a historical background to each psalm
    • could become very speculative
    • some useful insights
  5. Form critical approach
    • focussed on the literary form of each psalm
    • found 7 basic types (discuss later)
    • a lot of useful insights in this approach
  6. Cultic (worship) approach
    • attempts to reconstruct worship events for which there is very little evidence
    • e.g. an annual autumn festival
  7. Eclectic approach (pick the best out of all the others)
    • most good scholars today do this

D. Resources

  • An entire online course on the Psalms: http://www.bible.org/series.php?series_id=144
    • by Allen Ross, an excellent Hebrew scholar Note: this material seems to be no-longer available. See this link for information: Ross
    • first class material at a good scholarly level (although some may find it a little dry)
  • Another entire course, this time in audio: http://www.believerschapeldallas.org/OnlineMessages/DrBruceWaltke/tabid/175/Default.aspx
    • By Bruce Waltke, one of the translators of the NIV
    • Possibly the best Christian scholar today on the Psalms
    • About 20 hours of audio. Very easy to listen to (he is a good speaker)
  • Praise! A matter of Life and Breath, Ronald B. Allen (Nashville: Nelson, 1980)
    • Allen was one of the translators of the NKJV
  • Psalms—An Introduction and Commentary, Derek Kidner (Downers Grove: IVP, 1973)

E. Authorship: The King & The Priests

  • Half of them written by David & Solomon
  • All the other named ones are priests

Example: Psalm 44