Some Thoughts on Psalms

This week, I finished my "read-through" of the book of Psalms. Psalms is continually fascinating to me as a book. I used to think that each Psalm needed to be interpreted in and of itself. However, after reading it in a relatively short space of time, I am now convinced that there must be some sort of arrangement to the book, although I am not sure what that arrangement should be. Any thoughts or comments you can offer on this subject would be highly appreciated.

I do want to re-read it soon again. For being the single most quoted book in the New Testament, the Psalms are surprisingly neglected in my personal study, and I can only recall one time at church where I had a class that was focused on them. The Old Testament Poetry class I took at Florida College a couple of years ago was helpful in some ways to give me tools for study, but the semester was sadly far too short to do the book the justice it deserved.

Some general impressions I have:

  • The psalmist is often more pessimistic than the reader initially expects. He often complains to God and calls on judgment for his enemies. (Although I should add by way of edit that the psalmist does NOT lose hope or trust in God. Virtually every lament has an explicit statement of trust in God with the exception of Psalm 88).
  • From what I understand, it is common to pigeon-hole psalms into categories, such as "This is a lament," "this is a praise-psalm," "this is a royal psalm," etc. However, several psalms (22, 81, 89, and 95 come to mind immediately, but there are others), contain such radical shifts of tone that it doesn't seem fair to simply toss them into any one category
  • The five "books" of the Psalms all end about the same way. If you compare the endings of Psalms 41, 72, 89, and 106, they all end with something along the lines of, "Blessed be Yahweh forever! Amen."
  • Psalms 14 and 53 are almost identical, and 115 has an awful lot in common with 135.
  • The "Songs of Ascents" seem to be connected not only by the theme of approaching God to worship in the temple, but also by a theme of "family." (Psalm 127 especially illustrates this)

Historically, people have debated quite a bit about "sequence" in the psalms. Here are some interesting connections that seem to argue for some kind of sequence:

  • Psalms 1 and 2 are connected on several levels, particularly with the inclusio of "how blessed" (Psalms 1:1; 2:12)
  • Psalm 1:1 and 41:1 may also form bookends for Book I with the phrased "how blessed"
  • Psalm 42:5, 11 are identical to Psalms 43:5
  • Psalms 51, 56, and 57 all begin with "Be gracious to me, O God," and Psalm 67 also has a similar introduction. All of these are in Book II.
  • Psalm 65:13 ends with "They shout for joy, yes, they sing," while Psalms 66:1-2 begins with "Shout joyfully to God, all the earth; Sing the glory of His name."
  • Psalm 89:46-48 seems to connect thematically with Psalm 90
  • Psalms 93-100 (with one exception) all begin with "Shout joyfully," "Sing to Yahweh a new song!" or "Yahweh reigns!" and generally seem connected by the theme of kingship
  • Psalms 113-118 were typically read together as the "Egyptian Hallal" and are connected by the theme of "Praise Yahweh!" Psalms 111 and 112 also begin with this same phrase.
  • Psalms 42-49 from the Sons of Korah are all grouped together
  • Psalms 73-83 from Asaph are all grouped together
  • Psalms 120-134 (the songs of Ascent) are all grouped together
  • Psalms 146-150 are grouped together -- all of them begin and end with "Praise Yahweh!"

All of this comes from a superficial reading. I believe if I were to read again more in-depth, I would probably find more connections.