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The Book of Psalms

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A. The Place of Wisdom Literature in the Bible

1. Hebrew Wisdom Literature was part of a larger corpus of material with Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Canaanite-Phoenician influences1

2. The Bible contains several different types of literature:

a. Narrative (Genesis, 1 and 2 Samuel, Ruth, Jonah, Nehemiah, etc.)

b. Legal (Deuteronomy, Leviticus, etc.)

c. Historical (1 and 2 Chronicles, etc.)

d. Poetic (Psalms; Song of Songs etc.)

e. Prophetic (Isaiah, Jeremiah etc.)

f. Gospel (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John)

g. Epistles (Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, 1 and 2 Peter, etc.)

h. Apocalyptic (Daniel, Zechariah, Revelation)

3. The different kinds of literature serve different didactic functions:

a. The effects of the fall of mankind were pervasive:2

1) The fall effected Mankind’s supernatural relationships (Gen. 3:8,14-15,19)

a) The fall effected conflict with God (Gen. 3:8)

b) The fall effected conflict with the enemy (Gen. 3:14-15,19)

2) The Fall effected mankind’s natural relationships (Gen. 3:16-19)

a) The fall effected conflict with children 3:16a

b) The fall effected conflict between men and women 3:16b

c) The fall effected conflict in work (Gen. 3:17-19)

b. The Scriptures are designed to address Mankind’s need of salvation in all realms of his life (with God, with one another, and with the tasks of life)3

1) Legal Literature is a declaration of god’s will designed to mold the moral, spiritual, and ethical direction of the nation

2) Historical Literature is a revelation (record) of the sovereign work of God in History

3) Prophetic Literature is a declaration of the will of God in History in judgment of the nation’s historical dealings and in promise of God’s future blessings

4) Wisdom/Poetic Literature is practical direction for obtaining substantial wholeness out of the brokenness of natural life:

a) Job addresses Mankind’s wrestling with affliction which defies human explanation

b) Psalms are an expression of Mankind’s heart toward God in the varied nature of life: fears, doubts, tragedies, triumphs, joys, hopes.4

c) Song of Solomon is the outworking of love in marriage

d) Ecclesiastes affirms that meaning for life is not in life, but in the One who gives life

e) Proverbs provides skill at living life from the parameters of the Law and natural order5

4. Biblical literature is designed to appeal to the whole person: his mind and his heart!

B. The Design of Wisdom Literature6

1. Wisdom literature is concerned with the application of truth (from creation and the Law) to daily life and choices

2. The application of truth was to give one skill at life7 or even good common sense8 (Job 32:7; Prov. 1:7)

3. Wisdom literature applies truth through generalizations:

a. The author makes applicational generalizations in a specific area

b. The author’s generalizations are rarely intended to have an unlimited scope

c. The task in interpreting wisdom literature is to recognize the specific scope of the author and thus applying the truth in that specific scope

d. The generalizations are stated in the form of maxims

1) Maxims are statements of truth which are always true, but whose scope is not intended to be an exhaustive or comprehensive statement of truth concerning a subject

2) Maxims state a truth from one perspective without intending to say all that there is to say about that subject

4. Examples of the application of truths through generalizations:9

a. Proverbs consists of pithy maxims to be applied properly to life10. The limits of the author’s scope of application can be discerned through collecting many proverbs on a given subject

b. Job is the application of maxims concerning the nature of evil and punitive suffering. The value of maxims is critiqued as a final guide in suffering. God becomes the only source of meaning in suffering as he brings good for his own out of evil for his own good purposes

c. Ecclesiastes is the search for the ultimate maxim to explain the nature of life. However, life is not found in the storehouse of wisdom, but is a gift from God given to be used in a responsible, yet rewarding fashion11

d. Song of Songs is more poetic literature rather than wisdom in that it celebrates the greatest gift of human life--love! Nevertheless, love is presented in a full expression as that which unifies two into one with purity and honor for each person

e. Psalms are also closer to poetry than to wisdom literature. Nevertheless, they express the one sided expression of the heart of man towards God12 as he expresses fear, sorrow, despair, hope, praise, and skill at life (wisdom psalms, 1, 27, 32, 34, 37, 49, 73, 112, 127--128, 133)

C. The Literary13 Character of Hebrew Poetry/Wisdom

1. Rhythm of Thought

The genius of Hebrew poetry is in the realm of thought rhyme” and the key to thought rhyme is in the technique of parallelism (the correspondence of one thought with another)14

a. Synonymous parallelism exactly balances the thoughts or meanings in two lines of poetry by saying the same thing twice in nearly the same way (Ps. 3:1; 7:16; 2:4)

b. Synthetic and Climatic parallelism further takes up and develops a through begun in the first line by adding a little more to enrich one’s thinking (Ps. 95:3; 1:1). Occasionally they expansion is expressed in a tiered structure in which each line repeats the first with the exception of the last term/phrase where a new one is added (Ps. 29:1)

c. Emblematic parallelism uses images to convey the poetic meaning. While one line conveys the main point in a direct fashion, the second line illuminates it by an image. There is a movement from point to picture (Ps. 23:1,2,4; 103:13; 113:5,6; 57:1)

d. Antithetical parallelism balances the thoughts or ideas within the line pairs by stating truth in the first line in an opposing or negative way by introducing a contrast (Ps. 1:6; 57:6)

e. Chiastic or Inverted parallelism contraposes or alternates the words or phrases in consecutive lines (Ps. 51:3; Isa. 11:13)

2. Rhythm of Sound (in Hebrew)

a. Acrostic Poems are written so that the initial letters of consecutive lines form an alphabet, word, or phrase (Ps. 9; 10; 25; 34; 37; 11; 112; 119; 145; Prov. 31:10-31; Lam. 1; 2; 3; 4; Nahum 1:2-20). This was a mnemonic tool (memory device) conveying ideas of order, progression, and completeness.

b. Alliteration is the consonance of sounds at the beginning of words or syllables (Ps. 122:6)

c. Assonance is correspondence of vowels sounds, often at the end of words in order to emphasize an idea, theme, or tone (Ps. 119:29)

d. Paronomasia is a word play through the repetition of words of similar sound, but not necessarily meaning in order to heighten the impact of the message (Gen. 32:22-24)

e. Onomatopoeia is the use of words that sound like what they describe (Ruth 1:19)

f. Ellipsis is the omission of a word or words that would complete a given parallel construction (Ps. 115:4-7)

g. Inclusio is the repetition of words or phrases by which the poet returns to the point from which he began (Ps. 118:1,29)

3. Wisdom Speech Forms15

a. The Parable is a “warning speech” (Prov. 6:20-35; 2 Sam. 12:1-4)

b. The Precept is an authoritative instruction or regulation for behavior connecting wisdom with the moral codes of the Law (Prov. 3:27)

c. The Riddle is a puzzling question stated as a problem calling for mental acumen to solve it (Judg. 14:14)

d. The Fable is a brief tale embracing a moral truth using people, animals, or inanimate objects as characters (Judg. 9:7-20)

e. The Wise Saying is a generalization about the way of wisdom based on the insight of experience or a folk expression of plain common sense (Prov. 18:18)

f. The Numerical Proverb culminates numerical progression (Prov. 6:16-19; 30:18-31)

g. Rhetorical Questions (Prov. 5:16; 8:1), Allegory Through Personification (Prov. 8--9; Eccl. 12:1-8), Satire and Irony (Prov. 11:22; Eccl. 5:13-17)

D. The Canonical Order of the Wisdom and Poetic Books

1. The Hebrew Scriptures were probably originally canonized into a two-fold division: the Law and the Prophets16

2. By around the second century B.C.17 a three-fold division of the Hebrew Scriptures arose: The Law, The Prophets, and The Writings18

a. The three-fold division included the same books as the two-fold division

b. There are several possible reasons for a three-fold division:19

1) A distinction was made between books which were written by men who held the prophetic office, and men who only had the prophetic gift

2) Some at a later date may have felt that those books which were not written by “prophets” were not fully canonical

3) A more practical purpose was served by the topical and festal20 significance rather than by the two-fold categories

3. Within the category of the Sacred Writings, the books of Psalms, Proverbs and Job were regarded by the Jews as specifically poetical in nature, and were described by the mnemonic title “The Book of Truth”21

4. The Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (The Septuagint or LXX c. 280-150 B.C.) divided the Old Testament according to subject matter which is the basis of the modern four-fold classification of the: five books of Law, twelve books of History, five books of Poetry, and seventeen books of Prophecy22


A. The Canonical Order of the Book of Psalms

1. The Book of Psalms is subdivided into five smaller books:23

a. Book I: 1-41

b. Book II: 42-72

c. Book III: 73-89

d. Book IV: 90-106

e. Book V: 107-150

2. The Psalms may well be editorially24 grouped in accordance with the history of the nation Israel around the Davidic Covenant:25

a. INTRODUCTION: The righteous one26 1--2

b. BOOK I: David’s conflict with Saul27 3--41

c. BOOK II: David’s kingship28 42-72

d. BOOK III: The Assyrian crisis29 73--89

e. BOOK IV: Introspection about the destruction of the temple and the Exile30 90--106

f. BOOK V: Praise and Reflection on the Return and the new era31 107--145

g. CONCLUSION: climatic praise to God32 146--150

B. The Theological Principle of Psalms: The Lord, who sovereignly rules the universe, will establish His just rule on the earth in and through his people whereupon the righteous will prosper and the wicked will suffer33

1. Since the OT saint did not have a concrete sense of a “final” judgment in eternity, they often worked out this theology through the events of their earthly world34

2. At times it was difficult to resolve issues of God’s rule since the wicked seemed to prosper (Ps. 73).

3. Nevertheless, the wise person would be upright before God awaiting his blessing

4. Also imprecations were pronounced upon those who continued in rebellion against God’s theocracy35 with a desire that He might deal with them in this life (Pss. 10:15; 28:4; 58:6; 69:22-28; 109; 137:9; 139:19-21 et cetera).

5. Often YHWH is described in polemical terms so as to express his sovereign rule over all of Israel’s neighbor’s gods:

a. It is YHWH who “rides on the clouds” rather then the Canaanite Baal (Ps. 68:4)

b. It is YHWH who brings about a storm in Canaanite territory rather than the storm god Baal (Ps. 29)

c. This was not myth as in their neighboring religions, but a departure from myth through YHWH

C. The Forms36 of the Psalms37

1. Individual Laments38--a prayer for help out of distress (Pss. 51; 57; etc.)

a. Introductory Cry to God

1) Address

2) Cry for Help

b. Lament

1) Foes

2) I

3) Thou

c. Confession of Trust

d. Petition

1) Hear!

2) Save!

3) Punish!

4) Because...

e. Conclusion:

1) Vow of Praise or Expression of Praise39

2) Assurance, Trust/Praise “heard”

2. National Laments--usually shorter than the individual laments; the nation faced some difficulty so they approached God together with their lament (Ps. 44; 58; 60 etc.)

a. Introductory Cry to God

1) Address

2) Cry for Help

3) Report of “former saving deeds”

b. Lament

1) Foes

2) Me

3) Thou

c. Confession of Trust

d. Petition

1) Hear!

2) Save!

3) Punish!

4) Because...

e. Vow of Praise

3. Declaritive Praise (Thanksgiving) Psalms of the Individual--praise or thanksgiving is giving to God because of some kind of personal deliverance (Pss. 30; 32; 121; etc.; cf. also I Sam. 2:1-10; Jonah 2:1-9)

a. Proclamation of Intention to Praise God

b. Introductory Summary of Praise

c. Reflection on Past Distress (= Lament)

1) Foes

2) I

3) Thou

d. Report of Deliverance

1) I cried

2) He heard

3) He delivered

e. Renewed Vow of Praise

f. Conclusion

1) Praise (descriptive)

2) Instruction (etc.)

4. Descriptive Praise Psalms of the People (Hymns)--direct praise of God for his works among men (Pss. 24; 100; 113; etc.)

a. Call to Praise

b. Cause for Praise

1) Summary

2) Reason for praise

a) The greatness of God

b) The grace of God

c) Specific Illustrations

c. Call to Praise

D. Psalms Distinctive in Thought40:

1. Wisdom Psalms (Pss. 1; 37; 112; 127; etc.)

a. These are related in their motifs with wisdom literature in the Hebrew Scriptures (e.g., Proverbs)

b. The emphasize the theme of “Two Roads” through numerous sayings:

1) “Better” sayings (Ps. 119:72)

2) Numerical sayings (Ps. 62:11-12a)

3) Admonitions to “sons” (Ps. 34:11)

4) Blessing formulas (Ps. 1:1)

5) Emphasis upon the Law (Ps. 119)

c. They are also identified with “Torah Psalms” expounding the wisdom of following the Law.

2. Pilgrim Psalms (Pss. 120-134)

a. These all have the heading, “A song of ascents” which probably refer to Israel’s “going up” to Jerusalem for the three festivals (cf. 1 Sam. 1:3; Ps.122:4; Isa. 30:29; also Ex. 23:14-19; Lev. 23:4-44; Ps. 42:4 [Spring-Passover & Unleavened Bread, Summer--Weeks or Pentecost, Fall--Atonement & Tabernacles]41

b. Hill and Walton suggest that the canonical placement of these Psalms is to emphasize the return to Jerusalem after decades of exile42

3. Royal Psalms (Pss.2; 18; 21; 45; 72; 89; 101; 110; 132; 144)43

a. These emphasize the anointed King after the line of David (Ps. 89; 132; cf. 2 Sam. 7)

b. Historically the texts refer to some high point in the monarch such as his coronation (Ps. 2), his wedding (Ps. 45) or his going into battle (Pss. 20; 144); his anticipated coming in conquest (110), and his glorious reign (Ps. 72)

c. Many of these Psalms speak through David (the ideal king, cf, 2 Ki. 25:27-30) of the coming Messiah in a typically Messianic44 or typico-prophetic Messianic45 manner.

4. Enthronement Psalms

a. These are songs of God’s Kingship characterized by the expression “The Lord Reigns” (Pss. 93; 96-97; 99), the Lord is “the great King” (Pss. 47; 95), or the Lord “comes to judge” (Ps. 98)

b. While these Psalms may have expressed aspects of God’s reign at different times, they have their fullest sense in the coming Messianic kingdom (cf. Isa. 52:7)

E. Headings of the Psalms:46

1. The Ascription of the Psalms as to Author

a. Their historical accuracy.

The current, popular, negative opinion concerning the historical reliability of the notations in the headings regarding authorship is reflected in the following comment by Barth: “Unfortunately, in the form in which the psalms have been handed down to us, they give no clue to the identity of their authors”47

More positively the following argument can be advanced in defense of the accuracy of these notations

1) The abundant evidence elsewhere in Scripture that David was a writer of sacred poetry48

2) The abundant internal evidence that Moses composed Psalm 9049

3) The well-established point of Hebrew grammar that lamed ( l) can indicate authorship50

4) The denial of the historical reliability of these notices is closely connected with the older, critical theory that most of the psalms were composed in the Maccabean period. New evidence, particularly from Ras Shamra has conclusively demonstrated the early date of many of these same psalms51

5) Undoubtedly they were considered as part of the Scriptures by Christ and His apostles

b. Classification of the psalms according to authorship:

1) Moses: Ps. 90

2) David: seventy-three psalms mostly in Books I and II

3) Asaph: Pss. 50, 73-83

4) Heman, the Ezrahite: Ps. 88

5) Ethan, the Ezrahite: Ps. 89

6) Solomon: Ps. 72,127

2. Technical names to designate the types of psalms

a. “Psalm” (Heb. mizmor): “a song accompanied by the plucking of the strings of an instrument.” Fifty-seven of the psalms are so labeled

b. “Song” (Heb. shir): “a song.” Twelve of the psalms are so labeled.

c. Maskil: “A contemplative poem.” Thirteen of the psalms are so labeled.52

d. Miktam: root meaning is disputed. Later Hebrew (LXX and Modern Hebrew understand the word to mean “inscription poem,” or “epigram,” “a poem containing pithy sayings, etc.” Term is found in six superscriptions

e. “Prayers” (Heb. tepillah): “Prayer.” Found in five psalms titles and Hab. 3.

f. “Praise” (Heb. Tehillah): “Praise” found in Ps. 145.

3. Musical Terms

a. “To the chief musician” (Heb. lam-menasseah): Disputed term. Most construe the term to mean “To the choir leader.” Found in 50 psalms.53

b. “Sons of Korah” (Pss. 42, 44-49, 84, 87-88): Disputed whether the term refers to authorship or to musical rendition. The evidence-- would involve dual authorship in Ps. 88, the use of the plural, the LXX confusion--suggests that the sons of Korah were the musical performers of these ten psalms54

c. “Jeduthun” (Pss. 39,62,77). Disputed term. Perhaps it refers to a guild of musicians who rendered the psalms

d. “Neginoth” (Pss. 4,6,54,55,67,76,61 [singular]): “with stringed instruments.”

e. “Alamoth” (Ps. 46): “Upon lyres tuned to the voice of maidens.”

f. “Sheminith” (Pss. 6,12). “with an eight stringed lute.”

g. “Nehilloth” (Ps. 5): Obscure term (“wind instrument”?)

h. “Gittith” (Pss. 8,81,84): Disputed term (“wine song”? or “instrument from Gath”?)

i. “Selah” (not in superscriptions). “Lift up”? Probably denotes places in the psalm where the worshipers were to lift up their voices

4. Melody Indicators:

a. “Shushan, ‘el shoshannim” (Pss. 45,60,69,89). “To the lily (lilies).”

b. “Mahalath” (Pss. 53,88). Very obscure. May also be a liturgical term.

c. “cal ayyelth hash-shahar” (Ps. 22): “to the hind of the morning”

d. “cal yonath /elem rehoqim (Ps. 56): “According to a silent dove of the distances”?

e. “cal tashheth (Pss. 57,58,59,75): “Do not Destroy.”

f. “cal mut labben (Ps. 9): disputed.

5. Liturgical Indicators:

a. “Sabbath” (Ps. 92): Psalm to be used on the Sabbath day

b. “Thanksgiving” (Heb. todah) (Ps. 100): Psalm to be used at the time of the offering up of the acknowledgment offering55

c. “To bring to remembrance” (Heb. “Lehazkir) (Pss. 38,70): A psalm intended to bring the lamenter to Yahweh’s remembrance

d. “Prayer of the afflicted when he pines away and pours forth his complaint before Yahweh” (Ps. 102)

e. A song of degrees” (Heb. shir ham-ma aloth) (Pss. 120-34): Disputed term. Lit. “a song of ascending.” Many today prefer to understand the term as “a song for the pilgrimages.”56

f. “For the dedication of the house” (Ps. 30):

g. Shiggaion (Ps. 7). Obscure

6. Historical notices in the life of David (Pss. 3, 7, 18, 34, 51, 52, 54, 56, 57, 59, 60, 63, 142)57

F. Purposes of the Book of Psalms:

John Calvin describes the Psalter as, “‘An Anatomy of all the Parts of the Soul;’ for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror. Or rather, the Holy Spirit has here drawn to the life all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated.”58

Another writes, “Like the windows and carvings of medieval cathedrals, the Psalms were pictures of biblical faith for a people who had no copies of the Scriptures in their homes and could not have read them.”59

1. To express the divine word spoken in rather than to man

2. To reveal the character of God through the praise, complaint and exhortation of God’s people so that the reader may be willing to submit himself to the Lord

3. To enable the reader to come into contact with God through the expression of the common, subjective daily experiences of others

4. To encourage one’s confidence in God’s faithfulness by the words of others when one’s own life experiences do not seem to support that faith

5. To affirm the certainty of God’s future rule on earth through the line of David wherein the righteous will be blessed and the wicked will be judged

6. To provide a worship hymnal and a devotional guide for the Temple-centered Jewish faith

7. To encourage believers to enjoy God and his benefits

1 To say that Hebrew Wisdom Literature was similar to some of the writings of its neighbors does not mean that there were not differences--especially in its development with respect to one God. Nevertheless, several factors were similar: (1) it was essentially practical, (2) it was attributed to God alone, (3) it was relevant to all parts of life (see R. K. Harrison, Introduction, pp. 1004-1009; Hill and Walton, Survey, pp. 248-252; La Sor et al, Old, pp. 534-542; Pritchard, ANET, pp. 589-607).

2 Much of what follows is from S. Craig Glickman, class notes of student in 903 Soteriology, Dallas Theological Seminary, Fall 1981.

3 Much of what follows was adapted from Glickman, Ibid., Elliott E. Johnson, class notes of student in 303 Old Testament History II and Poetry, Dallas Theological Seminary, Spring 1981; Expository Hermeneutics: An Introduction, pp. 106-132.

Geisler affirms that Legal literature provided the moral life of the people, Historical literature provided the political life of the people, and Poetical literature provided the spiritual experiences of the people (A Popular Survey of the Old Testament, p. 179). While there is some truth to this, the descriptions do not fully express the development of the different types of literature.

4 The wisdom aspect throughout the Psalms is the concept that the righteous will be vindicated and the wicked will suffer (Ps. 1).

5 See the discussion by La Sor et al, Old, p. 545.

6 Elliott E. Johnson, Principle of Recognition: Chapter IV (unpublished class notes in 315 Advanced Hermeneutics, Dallas Theological Seminary, Fall 1983), pp. 55-56.

7 The Hebrew term hmkh was generically used to describe the skill which one might have with craftsmanship (Ex. 31:1-11), architectural ability (1 Ki. 5:9-18) or, handiwork (1 Ki. 7:14; Isa. 44:9-17).

The skill that the fear of the Lord gives is the ability to make good choices about life (Prov. 1:1-7).

8 R. K. Harrison writes, worldly wisdom, through less elevated in nature, was different only in degree and not in kind from divine wisdom. The whole of life was thus connoted in terms of religious experience, and wisdom was held to be relevant at all points of existence (Introduction, p. 1008).

9 Two broad categories exist to define wisdom literature: (1) Proverbial wisdom--short, pity sayings which state rules for personal happiness and welfare [e.g., Proverbs], and (2) Contemplative or Speculative wisdom--monologues, dialogues, or essays which delve into basic problems of human existence such as meaning in life, or suffering [e.g., Ecclesiastes and Job]; see La Sor et al, Old, pp. 533-542.

10 These are concrete, down-to-earth statements rather than broad, philosophical evaluations (cf. Prov. 12:4; 11:2; 17:10); La Sor et al offer an enjoyable discussion of this characteristic (Old, pp. 537-538).

11 An example of the essential difference between Mesopotamian wisdom literature, and that of Israel may be found in the first millennium Babylonian Dialogue of Pessimism which concludes a similar struggle as Solomon's in Ecclesiastes with absolute despair:

Slave, listen to me, Yes, master, yes. Then what is good? To have my neck and yours broken and to be thrown into the river. Who is so tall that he can reach to the heavens? Who is so broad that he can encompass the underworld? No, servant, I will kill you and let you go first. Then (I swear that) my master will not outlive me by even three days (Pritchard, ANET, p. 601).

How much different is this conclusion than that of the modern existentialist?

12 As Ross writes, The Psalms are the inspired responses of human hearts to God's revelation of Himself in law, history, and prophecy (Psalms BKC, p. 779).

13 The language of the Psalms is concentrated when compared with prose. The concentration occurs through the use of images, symbols, figures, emotive vocabulary, and multiple meanings (Ross, Psalms, BKC, p. 780). The figurative language, is an instrument for conveying densely patterned meanings, and sometimes contradictory meanings, that are not readily conveyable through other kinds of discourse (Alter, The Art of Biblical Poetry, p. 113).

The word pictures enable the reader to feel much of what the poet did when he wrote the lines. This capacity to imagine that which one has not experienced is probably tied to the image of God (Who was able to imagine all possible creations before he made this one). Therefore, one must be sensitive to figurative language in order to capture the emotional meanings of the poetry.

14 Hill and Walton, Survey, pp. 252-253; Kidner, Psalms 1-72, pp. 1-4; R. K. Harrison, Introduction, pp. 965-972; Ryken, Words of Delight, pp. 180-185.

15 Hill and Walton, Survey, pp. 257-258; See also Ryken, Words of Delight, pp. 159-185, 313-340.

16 The two-fold division is argued upon (1) the way in which Moses' Law is referred to as a unit throughout the Scriptures, (2) the way in which the historical books are linked together as a unit, (3) the reference in Daniel to the Law and the books [9:2], and (4) the recognition of the Former prophetic books by the Latter (See Geisler and Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible, pp. 148-161).

17 Prologue to Ecclesiasticus (c. 132 B.C.), Jesus in Luke 24:44 (A.D. 30) Josephus, Against Apion, I.8 (A.D. 37-100).

18 The Writings include: (1) Poetical Books--Psalms, Proverbs, Job, (2) Five Rolls (Megilloth)--Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Esther, Ecclesiastes, (3) Historical Books--Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, Chronicles

Sometimes Ruth was attached to Judges, and Lamentations was attached to Jeremiah thereby making the Hebrew canon comprised of 22 books rather than the more usual 24 books (see Geisler and Nix, General, pp. 18-19).

19 Critical scholars assume that the three-fold division reflects dates of canonization in accordance with their dates of compositions--Law (400 B.C.), Prophets (c. 200 B.C.), Writings (c. A.D. 100). However, this thesis is untenable in light of early reports of a three-fold division (c. 132 B.C.; see above). See Geisler and Nix, General, p. 151.

This critical approach is suggested by La Sor et al as an explanation for the placement of Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles, Esther, Song of Solomon, and Ecclesiastes when they write, Essentially, the purpose of the Writings as a whole was to collect those sacred books whose purpose, character, or date excluded them form the collections of law and prophecy (Old, p. 508-509).

20 Song of Solomon (eighth day of Passover), Ruth (second day of Weeks, or Pentecost), Lamentations (ninth day of Ab, in mourning for the destruction of Solomon's temple), Ecclesiastes (third day of Tabernacles), Esther (Purim).

21 The word truth (tma) was composed of the initial letters of each book--a (boya, Job), m (ylvm, Proverbs), and t (<ylht, Praises or Psalms) see R. K. Harrison, Introduction, p. 965.

22 Law = Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy

History = Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I Samuel, II Samuel, I Kings, II Kings, I Chronicles, II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther

Poetry = Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon

Prophets/Major = Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel

Prophets/Minor = Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.

For a more extensive overview see Geisler and Nix, General, pp. 17-25.

23 This division seems to be older than the oldest extant manuscripts of the Psalms since it exists in all manuscripts. The order of the last two books (IV and V) do differ in some of the Dead Sea Scrolls suggesting that their final order was not canonized until around the time of Christ. But all of the Psalms remain present (The LXX does have one extra Psalm (151) concerning David's battle with Goliath).

Smaller collections exist within the larger books: (1) Davidic group I: 3-41; (2) Sons of Korah group I: 42-49; (3) Davidic group II: 51-65; (4) Asaph group: 73-83; (5) Sons of Korah group II: 84-88 [exc. 86]; (6) Congregational Praise group I: 95-100; (7) Hallelujah group: 111-117; (8) Songs of Ascent to Jerusalem: 120-134; (9) Davidic Group III: 138-145; (10) Congregational Praise Group II: 146-150

24 Psalms range from Moses to the post-exilic period. Therefore, there were probably various stages and revisions in their collection. Evidence of former stages of editing may be found in the colophon-like conclusion of Ps. 72 (the prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended even though other Psalms of David follow) as well as the YHWH (Book I) and Elohistic editing (Book II).

25 Not all would agree with this evaluation (e.g., Ross, Psalms BKC, p. 784; Waltke, Notes on the Psalms, p. 2), but Walton and Hill offer considerable information regarding this thesis (Survey, pp. 275, 278-281).

The logical progression is built upon the function of seam psalms which unite the first four books (42; 72; 89; 106) and form a transition from one book to the next.

While there are still some significant questions to consider in this presentation, the proposition is plausible.

Usually the five-fold division is associated with the five books of the Law. However, in such a correlation, no real striking correspondence can be traced between the Psalms and the Pentateuch (see R. K. Harrison, Introduction, pp. 986-987; La Sor et al, Old, pp. 510-511).

Regardless of the canonical shape of the Psalter, each Psalm must be interpreted individually. The Canonical shape of the Psalter may, however, offer insight into the nation's understanding of a particular psalm theologically. See the discussion on Royal psalms (Introduction, pp. 115-117).

26 Psalm 1 would describe ultimate vindication for the righteous; Psalm 2 would describe God's choice and defense of the Israelite king. David fits into these two themes as the righteous individual whom God vindicates as king.

27 This unit includes many individual laments; most psalms mention enemies.

28 As a whole these psalms can be correlated with David's reign as recorded in 2 Samuel including the crises with Absalom (Pss. 54-64; esp. 55:12-14,21).

29 This may well represent the eighth-century Assyrian crisis. The key psalm is Psalm 78.

30 This unit begins with a Psalm of Moses and ends with a recapitulation of a history of rebellion leading to a hope and a plea for restoration. The collection of praise psalms (95-100) expresses the hope sustained in the Exile.

31 This book emphasizes thanksgiving to God for regathering the nation.

32 Psalms 146-150 offers a finale to the entire cantata.

33 See Allen P. Ross, Psalms in BKC, p. 788; Hill and Walton, Survey, pp. 281-282.

34 See Psalms 6:5; 30:9; 88:4-5,10-12; 115:17 (Ross, Psalms, BKC, p. 788). Later, the Prophets expressed a hope in the resurrection (Isa. 26:19; Ezek. 37:1-14; Dan. 12:2). Perhaps the closest one comes to the Psalmists view of a future with God may be found in Psalms 16--17; 49 and 73, but these may also be understood naturally (Ibid., p. 789; see also Dahood, Psalms [1970]: xli-lii).

35 These imprecatory psalms were not personal vendettas (cf. Ps. 109:4-5). Any foe of Israel's was a foe of God's. Therefore, they were longings for God to vindicate His cause upon the earth--to judge sin!

There is still a place for these curses in Christianity--especially upon Satan and his henchmen.

See La Sor et al, Old, p. 530-531; C.S. Lewis, Reflections, pp. 20-33; Chalmers Martin, The Imprecations in the Psalms, The Princeton Theological Review 1 (1903): 537-553.

36 Hermann Gunkel pioneered a form-critical (formgeschichte) approach in his Einleitung in die Psalmen or Introduction to the Psalms, translated by Thomas Horner (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1967). He identified the Psalms with ritual (cultic) acts in Israel's worship (cf. 1 Samuel 1:24--2:10; 1 Chronicles 16:1-37). Even though many of his theories do not have historical evidence, the categories of Psalms by form are extremely helpful to the interpreter.

37 The forms of Psalms are not unique from the ANE neighbors. However, the theology of the Psalms was molded by the Law (see Hill and Walton, Survey, pp. 276-277).

38 Almost all other Psalm forms (except for Wisdom Psalms) may be found as a subsection of the Lament Psalm.

La Sor et al may be right in identifying this type of psalm with the title of complaint rather than lament since the psalms are descriptive of prayers for help and a lament is closer to the dirge-like form of Lamentations 1--2; 4 (Old, p. 516 n. 17; see also Childs, Introduction, p. 510).

39 Even Lament Psalms were prayers of great confidence in the Lord which often turned to praise before the answers actually came (Ps. 57).

40 These Psalms are not understood by their form so much as by the content of their thought. See Alan P. Ross for much of what follows (Psalms, in BKC, pp. 786-787).

41 For a discussion on the feasts see de Vaux, Ancient Israel, pp. 71-110; Kraus, Worship in Israel, pp. 26-69, 131f., 136-141, 179-188. A helpful summary of their work is found in La Sor et al Old, pp. 523-528.

42 Survey, p. 280.

43 See the discussion by La Sor et al, Old, pp. 520-521. Concerning the contribution of the canonization of the Psalms upon royal psalms Childs seems to be right when he writes, although the royal psalms arose originally in a peculiar historical setting of ancient Israel which had received its form from a common mythopoetic milieu, they were treasured in the Psalter for a different reason, namely as a witness to the messianic hope which looked for the consummation of God's kingship through his Anointed One (Introduction, p. 517; cf. pp. 515-517).

44 In these Psalms features of the psalmist's life foreshadow Messiah in that His life and experience are parallel to them (Pss. 41:9; 69:5,9; 118:10-12).

45 In these psalms as David describes his inward and outward experiences, they are beyond the limits of his experience and are thus true only in Messiah (Pss. 16:10; 22). See Ross, Psalms BKC, p. 789.

46 The following list of headings is taken from Bruce Waltke's Notes on the Book of Psalms, pp. 5-8.

Theses headings demonstrate that many of the Psalms were probably connected with ritual and temple worship

47 For a refutation of the arguments on which this evaluation is based see Gleason Archer Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, pp. 424ff.

48 See Leupold, pp. 6-7, and J.G.S.S. Thompson, Psalms, Book of The New Bible Dictionary (Eerdmans, 1962), p. 1053; also compare 2 Sam. 1:19ff; 1 Sam. 16:18ff; 1 Chron. 6:31-32; 1 Sam. 16:13; 2 Sam. 7; 23:1,2; Acts 4:25; Romans 4:7; Hebrews 4:7; Matthew 22:44.

49 See Delitzsch on Psalm 90.

50 Gesenius notes: the introduction of the author, poet, etc, by this Lamed euctoris is the customary idiom also in the other semitic dialects, especially in Arabic (GKC, p. 129c).

51 See Dahood, pp. xxix, xxx.

52 For further discussion see Ahlstrom, Psalms 89; Eine Liturgie aus dem Ritual des leiden Konigs, (Gleerups 1959), pp. 27-36.

53 See Delitzsch.

54 See Ralph Alexander, pp. 31f.

55 See Leviticus 7.

56 For other views see Delitzsch.

57 Ross presents several possible alignments of Psalms and historical material (Psalms, BKC, p. 783); see also R. K. Harrison, Introduction, p. 978.

For the historical of these notations see Alexander, pp. 51ff.

58 John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, p. xxxvii.

59 La Sor et al, Old, p. 530.

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines