Book of Psalms is a unique book of the Bible. More than any other book of the Bible, it is a personal testament of faith, an intimate communication between the author and his God. Its flowery, poetic style of writing sets it apart from most of the other books of the Old Testament. With the possible exception of Song of Songs, the book of Psalms is a series of lavish poems, full of descriptive terms and overflowing with the obvious passion that the author felt for his God. While the books preceding it in the Bible are books of law and books chronicling the prophets, and the books after it are stories of the trials and tribulations of the Hebrew people, the Book of Psalms is a book of personal declarations of faith. This paper takes a closer analytical look at the book of Psalms.
The book of Psalms has touched the hearts of nearly all who have read them over the ages. Even other Biblical authors frequently quoted the book of Psalms in their works. In fact, the book of Psalms is the most frequently quoted book in the entire Bible. The Psalms are lyric poems of a religious nature. A lyric poem is a poem which directly expresses the individual emotions of the poet. A religious lyric poem reflects the inner feelings of a poet whose heart is moved by God. The book of Psalms fits this description perfectly.
While most people believe the entire book of Psalms was composed by King David of Israel, the fact is that the Psalms were composed by a variety of people over a span of about one thousand years. The earliest Psalm, which is Psalm number ninety, appears to have been written by Moses in the fifteenth century B.C. Some of the other Psalms appear to have been written in the sixth century B.C. during the Israelite captivity in Babylon. Other Psalms have no identifiable authors. Of course, King David did write some of them. The identifiable authorship of the Psalms, as far as archaeological and literary evidence suggests, is as follows:
Asaph -- 10
Descendants of Korah--10
Solomon -- 1 or 2
Ethan -- 1
One of the first things that is readily identifiable about the book of Psalms is that these are poems, but they are not poems written in our familiar modern way. In actuality, the Hebrew people had their own particular way of writing poetry, and the book of Psalms is written in this traditional Hebrew style. Hebrew poetry is not designed to rhyme. This is what most often throws off modern readers of the Psalms, because the traditional form of our modern poetry is the rhyming poem. However, in ancient Hebrew poetry, what made the poem a poem was the rhythm of the words flowing together. Thought patterns are put together in rhythmic arrangements in Hebrew poetry. The book of Psalms is an excellent and classical example of this form of poetry. What is truly amazing is that this ancient Hebrew form of poetry appears to have not changed over the one thousand year period in which the Psalms were written. The Psalm written by Moses early on in Hebrew history is written in the same rhythmical form as the more recent Psalms from the Babylonian captivity. Hebrew poetry then can certainly be said to be a cultural tradition that is passed down through the generations.
There are several different forms of rhythm that Hebrew poetry can take, and each one is represented in various places in the book of Psalms. For example, there is the rhythmical form known as synonymous parallelism. Synonymous parallelism is what happens in Hebrew poetry when a certain thought is expressed, and then re-stated over again a few times in slightly different ways. An example of synonymous parallelism in the book of Psalms is in the seventh Psalm:
Jehovah my God, in thee I do take refuge; Save me from all them that pursue me, and deliver me."
As can be seen, this line takes the idea of God being a refuge for the author. A refuge is also a place of protection. Going to a refuge will offer protection. Therefore, the author is going to God for protection. This idea is repeated a few times in slightly different ways when the author asks God to "save me" and "deliver me." These are all different ways of asking God to protect the author. The original idea is repeated, but not in a way that is immediately recognizable as being the same idea.
Another type of rhythm scheme in Hebrew poetry is called Antithetic Parallelism. This rhythm scheme occurs when the second line of the poem is set in contrast to the previous line. An example of Antithetic Parallelism occurs in the first Psalm.
For Jehovah knoweth the way of the righteous;
But the way of the wicked shall perish."
As can be seen, the first line deals with God and how he has an affinity with the righteous people of the earth. The righteous people are God's own people. However, the second line clearly contrasts the first line by discussing how God will deal with the wicked -- they shall perish. So, the first line shows God's relationship with the righteous and then contrasts it in the second line by talking about God's relationship with the wicked.
In addition to their culturally unique rhythm schemes, the Psalms also are often arranged acrostically. This means that they are designed to "flow" with the Hebrew alphabet. An example of this is in the one hundred nineteenth Psalm. In this Psalm, each section of eight verses begins with a sequential letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It is still not clear just why some of the Psalms were written in this way. Some scholars think it may have been to make memorization of the Psalms easier. Acrostic poems are still used today, in fact, most often as a tool to get children to memorize facts about a subject in school. For example, a teacher teaching about the American Revolution could get her students to write their own acrostic poems using the letters in the word "Revolution," with each separate letter beginning a new line of the poem.
There appear to be about seven different types of Psalms. The Psalms can generally be categorized in the following ways:
Psalms of Penitence
Psalms of praise are written with the express purpose of extolling the virtues of God and his good works. Examples of the evidence of His divinity and His hand in things are explored in lyrical form. More than any other type of Psalm, the Psalms of praise exhibit the true passionate nature of an author with a deep, personal relationship with God. Psalms one through fourteen can be considered praise Psalms. Praise Psalms are inspirational and invite and inspire us all to develop our own personal relationship with God.
Historical Psalms recollect important events in the history of the Hebrew people. Thus far, Biblical researchers have catalogued twenty Psalms that can be considered historical in nature. Psalm one hundred five is a prime example of a historical Psalm. It praises God and reaffirms His covenant with Israel, then goes on to recount the adventures of such Hebrew heroes as Joseph and Moses. It also discusses the forty years of wandering of the Hebrew people in the wilderness, and touches upon their eventual conquest of the land of Canaan. Historical Psalms probably had a practical use in ancient days as a pleasing way to teach Hebrew history to young children and other scholars in a way that was easy to remember.
Ethical Psalms stress the moral and ethical responsibilities of mankind. Often, the importance of fulfilling these responsibilities will be underscored by a reiteration of the divine origins and sinful nature of mankind in order to impart a little guilt on the reader. Psalm number eight is an ethical Psalm. It underscores man's responsibility to do good and to obey God by reminding the reader that man is so insignificant that there is really no reason why God should pay him any attention. Ethical Psalms also often give actual ethical instruction to the people who are reading them, spelling out for the reader just what ethical precepts he or she is to follow to lead a righteous life.
Penitential Psalms focus mainly on the sinful nature of mankind, and his unworthiness to be thought of by God. There is a lot of guilt and contrition expressed in these Psalms. King David's Psalms, in particular, reflect a deep sorrow over his sin, and recount all of the disasters that have befallen him as a result of his sin. Penitential Psalms act as a warning to all people, that the wages of sin is death, and that sin brings nothing but sorrow and heartache. They are sorrowful Psalms, but they are also cautionary…