Introduction and Background

PSALMS – Songs of Joy and Peace
– Presented on 13 Jun 04 by Adult ‘L’ Class (Teacher: Tan SY & Chee SF)

Outline:
1. Introduction and background to the Book of Psalms
2. Survey of the Book of Psalms
3. Interpreting the Psalms
4. Difficult Challenges

Introduction

Psalms is a very well-loved book in the Bible. We love it, because of the ease with which we can easily get spiritual comfort from it. When we are down, we turn to the Psalms for comfort. When time is short, and we need quick spiritual refreshment, we turn to the Psalms. Many of us have seen New Testament Bibles which have Psalms appended at the end. This attests to the fact that it is well-liked by many.

But no book suffers from familiarity more than the Psalms, though it is the book we read more of than any other book. We read it for quick short devotions. But how often have we truly studied of Psalms? How often have we delved deeply into it?

Familiarity generates apathy and indifference. No matter what it is, how valuable it is, if you have it in great abundance, for some time, you treat it with indifference, as commonplace, you take it for granted. The Psalms suffers from this plight.

When reading the Psalms, there are so many pearls and jewels on the ground, that on the run we can grab a handful, which more than satisfies our thirst. We don’t dig deep.

But Psalms is important for at least two reasons.

1) It is a model of devotion. The Psalmist is heard talking to God. It is like reading his diary, we get to listen in. We find we have the same struggles as he did. We sense his passion, his zeal, we are caught up with him.

2) It is very pragmatic. The lofty things of God, the doctrines, the deep truths are concretely applied to daily life. We can identify with him. He is angry, pent up, down, joyous. And he applies sound theology to all those contexts. Psalms is a book of applied theology. This book is “doing theology”.

We need to dig beneath the surface and mine the deep treasures. And we have the opportunity to do so for the rest of this year.

Background

Title of Book – When the individual lyrics of David and other authors were brought together as one compilation, the Hebrew title given to the compilation was Tehillim, meaning “praise songs”. The Greek Septuagint translators gave the title Psalmoi, meaning “songs to the accompaniment of a string instrument.” And thus, our English title Psalms got its name from the Greek translation.

Place in the Bible – There are 3 divisions in the Hebrew Bible, (Law, Prophets and Writings) the scroll of Psalms appeared at the beginning of the third division called “writings”. As such, this collection of sacred songs was the inspired prayer and praise book of the nation of Israel. In the fourfold grouping of the books (Law, History, Poetry and Prophets) in our English Bibles, the book of Psalms is the second book of the third division.

Authors – Psalms is one of the rare books in the Bible that was written by several people and, thus, is a joint effort of many authors who wrote from many diverse experiences of life. It is a collection of the works of more than 7 composers.

  • David
  • Asaph
  • Korah
  • Solomon
  • Moses
  • Heman
  • Ethan
  • And 48 pslams are by anonymous authors

It seems fairly certain that the psalmist was originally a lone composer who in some instances probably did not write with a view to forming a collection, or even having his meditations included as part of a collection of religious poetry.

The entire collection of 150 psalms was assembled in progressive stages which covered an extended period of time. It was originally collected by ancient compilers as a series of smaller books, five in all.

The first 41 psalms, which form the first Book, were probably gathered together during the early days of the Jewish monarchy by either David or Solomon.

Psalms 42-72 were collected and assembled at a later time to form Book II, possibly three 300 years after Book I was compiled, during the reign of Judah’s 13th King, Hezekiah. It is also possible that these psalms were collected during the reign of King Josiah.

Psalms 73-89 were subsequently compiled into Book III, probably during the era by the men of Hezekiah or Josiah.

The fourth cluster of 17 psalms (psalms 90-106) was collected about 200 to 300 years later and added to the first 3 books, probably during the post-exilic days when Israel returned to her land under Ezra and Nehemiah.

The last 44 psalms make up Book V. they were probably collected and added to the Book of Psalms during the post exilic days of Ezra, about 600 years after Book I was collated.

Dates – Because many different authors wrote the book of Psalms, the writing of these sacred songs occurred at different times, spanning a period of about 900 to 1000 years. The time of their writing reaches from approximately 1410 B.C. when the first psalm was written to around 500 B.C. to 430 B.C., when the last psalm was written.

The first psalm written, Psalm 90, was composed by Moses during Israel’s forty years of wilderness wanderings (1445 – 1405 B.C.), probably toward the end of this time of severe testing, perhaps around 1410 B.C.

The vast majority of the psalms were written during the kingly reigns of David and Solomon, around 1000 B.C.

The last psalm composed, Psalm 126, is thought to have been recorded after the time of Israel’s Babylonian exile, during their return to the land of Judah, around 500 B.C., or even earlier, about 430 B.C., if Psalm 126 was written by Ezra.