A Library of Inspired Songs
The Psalms constitute one of the high points of the revelation of God and His character in the Old Testament. It preserves for us the ancient prayers and the praises of the people of God, the deepest expressions of hearts reflecting the Lord. This library of inspired songs was used as the temple songbook of the Kingdom Period, and stands as the longest, most oft-quoted, most diverse book of the Old Testament. The Greek title for the book is Psalmoi, which denotes songs accompanied by the plucking of strings. But the original Hebrew title is Tehillim, which simply means ‘praises’. Whatever label we assign to it, the book contains divinely inspired songs supremely purposed to worship God. The Hebrew title more appropriately draws attention to the content and purpose of the songs, which is precisely where our focus ought to be since only the lyrics are preserved as Scripture and not any musical notation. They are songs of praise to God, sometimes expressed in the form of prayers. The types of expressions vary and include remembrance, acknowledgement, lamentation, petition, confessions of trust, and declarations of praise. Subcategories include songs or ‘hymns’ to God (Ps 24; 29; 33; 100; 103; 105; 111; 113-4; 117; 135-6; 145-50), enthronement songs (Ps 47; 93; 95-9), and royal songs (Ps 2; 20-1; 45; 72; 89; 101; 110; 132; 144).
The writings of Hebrew wisdom present the theme of human life in relation to God, particularly identifying with the individual. The most pervasive purpose in the Psalms is the worship of God, extolling His name above all else. The Psalms are for both the individual and the congregation. They are for both inward and outward knowledge and expression. Fundamentally the Psalms look back to the Torah, to the foundational revelation of God to the people of God, and both appeal in petition and rejoice in praise over the truth and trustworthiness of God and His word. The Psalms look also to the former prophets, in the history books of Israel, and recount both the victories that the Lord had accomplished on behalf of Israel and the unfaithfulness of Israel. In this the Psalms mourn the unfaithfulness of man and extol the faithfulness of God. The Psalms also look to the latter prophets and cry with anticipation for the coming Kingdom of God, in all its richness. The Greater David, the coming Messiah, is foretold and anticipated. The coming of His reign and glory, and the shalom and righteousness that He will bring to earth.
Essentially, then, the Psalms address how the godly person is to live between the foundational revelation of God (torah), in the midst of fallenness, unfaithfulness, and sin (former prophets), and the coming King and His Kingdom (latter prophets). Jesus Christ summarized this grand and pervasive purpose of the Psalms when He taught His disciples the first principles of prayer: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:9-10).
The Psalms connect every other portion of Scripture in one intersecting collection, its most central purpose being worship through the wisdom of living between the revelation of God and the anticipation of God’s future Kingdom. This is what makes the Psalms so immediately applicable to the New Covenant Christian. The response of the righteous must be: trust and wait—faith and perseverance. In the midst of evil, wickedness, unfaithfulness, temptation, sin, injustice, suffering, pain, and dark despair, the Psalms express, with the deepest of human emotion and thought, God’s faithfulness and our need to trust and wait for Him. This is only rightly realized in praise, which underscores the overarching theme of the entire collection.
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