Praise for the Psalms
Torrey Clark Contributing columnist
“Blessed is the man…(whose) delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night” is how the Psalms begin (Psalm 1:1-2). The book of Psalms is “Israel’s song book.” The Psalms is also known as the “Psalter.” The traditional Hebrew title is a word that means “praises.”
It includes Psalms (songs) written over a span of one thousand years by various authors, including Moses (Psalm 90) and David. It is one of the books that is of a poetic nature in Scripture. The New Testament writers quoted the book of Psalms more frequently than any other Old Testament book (roughly four hundred quotations). The Psalms are divided into five books:
Book I: Psalm 1-41
Book II: Psalm 42-72
Book III: Psalm 73-89
Book IV: Psalm 90-106
Book V: Psalm 107-150
Consider Constable’s summary of the structure and message of the Psalms:
“The Book of Psalms is an inspired collection of Hebrew poems intended for use in worship. Spirit-directed compilers put them in their present order for several reasons, including authorship and affinity of ideas. The compilers did not organize them in the order in which the psalmists wrote them. Each psalm is the expression of a writer who responded to God in the light of his particular circumstances when he wrote. Consequently, there is no argument or logical progression of thought as the reader makes his or her way through the book. There are connecting or contrasting ideas, and words and phrases that sometimes link two or more psalms together, however.”
John Calvin said of the Psalms:
“I have been accustomed to call this book… ‘ An Anatomy of all 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 agitate…There is no other book in which we are more perfectly taught the right manner of praising God.”
“The psalms deal primarily with God, man, and the resolution of the tension between a holy, transcendent God and…alienated, finite human beings” (Constable). Because this is the subject matter, it will never become obsolete. The book of Psalms gives us a window of insight into the faith of our spiritual ancestors. “The Psalms invite us to experience how God’s people in the past related to Him” (Van Gemeren). Even though the Psalms record faith experiences of an ancient people, the message is not ancient because God does not change. “The [Psalms] bridge the gap between then and now, the ancient world and the present world, probably better than any other book of the Bible” (Miller). Because of their lasting value and relevance to life, they ought to be studied and cherished.
The Psalms have been well received by people of faith in the past. Have you ever purchased a New Testament that has the book of Joshua, Malachi, Deuteronomy or Isaiah in the back? The Psalms have been very popular for many reasons. Consider Constable’s statements:
“God’s people throughout history have loved the Psalter. There are a number of reasons for its popularity. First, it is a collection of songs that arise out of experiences with which we can all identify. It is very difficult to find any circumstance in life that does not find expression in some psalm or another. Some arose out of prosperity, others out of adversity. Some psalms deal with holiness, and others with sinfulness. Some are laments that bewail the worst of situations, whereas others are triumphant hymns of joy and thanksgiving. Some look back to the past while others look forward to the future” (Constable).
However, like much of the rest of the Bible, the Psalms are in danger of becoming extinct in the hearts of man: “We are in danger of losing the [Psalms] in our churches indeed, many have already lost it, and so it is no accident that many people in our congregations do not know how to pray” (Achtemeier).
The Psalms, like the rest of our Bible, should be revered, studied and internalized. Psalms is unique in that it “touches the chords of every emotion of the human heart. It enhances our worship concepts in general and our prayers in particular. The greatness of our God is expressed so elegantly and eloquently in Psalms. The Psalms are a spiritual oasis to every soul that hungers and thirsts for God and His righteousness. Great would be our spiritual loss if Psalms had never been composed” (Taylor)!
May we all look to the Psalms to admire them, study them, and meditate upon them.
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