Another Look at Book One and Two of the Psalms Oct. 8, 2107
Our usual approach to the psalms is to take them one by one, without much concern for its historical context (both when it was written and the setting in which it was used for worship) nor for its context within the arrangement of the psalms as a whole.
Or, we think of the psalms topically, and lump the psalms together by type, such as penitential psalms or imprecatory psalms.
But here we are trying to gain a new appreciation for both the historical context of the psalms and for the overall arrangement of the psalms, so as to better understand and apply the truth and meaning of each psalm.
- There are five books in the Psalter, each with its own emphasis.
- There are some key structural psalm markers which give us indications of changes or emphases, such as acrostic psalms, Torah psalms, or focal Messianic psalms.
- Psalms one and two serve as the “Visitors Center introduction” to the rest of the psalter, and we find that the initial one to three psalms in each book often serve a similar purpose.
- Consider how the Psalms link up with the rest of Scripture, and therefore they must be read in light of the rest of the Bible (So that we don’t simply read a psalm or two with no context or Biblical understanding.)
Creation Psalms (8, 33, 104) = Genesis 1 and 2
Historical Psalms (105, 106) = Narrative sections of the Pentateuch & historical books.
Wisdom Psalms (1, 34) = Proverbs
Perplexing Psalms (73, 77, 89) = Job and Ecclesiastes.
“The Book of psalms as a whole is rather like Psalm 73 or like the books of Job and Ecclesiastes in that it tells the story of a search, in which at certain stages there is bewilderment and all looks dark, but which eventually issues in enlightenment from a divine source. In the case of the Psalter, this is a search by a whole religious community in which the individual searches of some of its members are taken up [that is, a psalm moves from first person singular to first person plural or third person plural], and which has its background also in the blessings and problems of the nation itself. [the historical context of kingdom, invasion, exile, etc.]” (Geoffrey Grogan, Prayer Praise & Prophecy: A Theology of the Psalms, p. 25)
“The conclusion to the Book of Psalms appears to be that after all the trials and tribulations of the life of faith, there will come to those who continue to believe an unclouded vision and the purest praise of God. Is this not what the Bible as a whole is saying to us? If so, it is as appropriate that the Bible ends with the Book of Revelation as it is that the Book of Psalms ends with Psalm 150.” (ibid, p. 25)
Book One of the Psalms (1-41)
Let’s think of psalm one and two as the music that sets the pattern for the rest of the psalms, and that we can hear variations of Ps. 1 and 2 echoing in the psalms that follow.
For example, Ps. 15 and 24 are variations on the theme of Ps. 1, or we could say that Pss. 15 and 24 expound the theme of the righteous person from Ps. 1
Likewise, Pss. 3 and 27 are variations on the theme of Ps. 2; or that Pss. 3 and 27 expound Psalm 2.
God’s general promise in Ps. 1-2, expounded and applied in the rest of the psalms:
The Lord is faithful to His covenant to David (2 Sam. 7:11-14)
The Lord upholds His anointed One
The Lord protects His king and His royal dwelling place…
But not without allowing for considerable opposition from the wicked.
Ps. 1 – the Lord watches over the way of the righteous
Ps. 2 – the Lord promises to uphold His king…. Yet in the midst of pain, enemies, etc.
Ps. 19, 119 and others celebrate the Lord’s trustworthiness. All that He has said and promised in His Word will be fulfilled.
“Psalm 1 is placed at the beginning of the Psalms because of its emphasis on reflecting on God’s Word, not only in the Law itself, but in the Word of God expressed in the Psalter itself… This would make clear that the book was to be understood theologically.” (Grogan, p. 20)
The message of Book One is that God is faithful to His Word, and that despite evidence to the contrary, He is on the side of the righteous, and He fulfills His promises to support His king. At times the king will suffer greatly at the hands of his foes and will even wonder if God has forsaken him altogether, but God vindicates His name and the truth of His Word of promise again and again. Ps. 34: 19 “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord rescues them from them all.”
The Christian is therefore encouraged as he thinks of the ultimate King Jesus, and the fullness of the Word of God, now given to him or her in the completed Bible. (Grogan, pp. 191-200)
Book Two of the Psalms (42-72)
As Book One open with the “Visitor’s Center” introduction of Psalms 1 and 2, which set the theme for not only Book One, but for all the Psalms, so Psalms 42-44 set the theme for the rest of Book Two. Psalms 42-43 are really one, as they focus on the personal struggle of the believer, while Ps. 44 deals with the national conflict of God’s people. Here the Lord’s people are caught up in a conflict that is bigger than themselves; it is the cosmic struggle we saw earlier in Ps. 2. This foreshadows the persecution of the NT church, which though sorely tried and tested, will emerge victorious in the end!
Differences from Book One:
- No acrostic, Torah, or creation psalms
- Elohim (God), not Yahweh (LORD), is the dominant name for the divinity
- More psalms are linked to specific incidents in David’s life (Ps. 51-63)
- More focus on promoting and protecting the Kingship and the Royal dwelling place
In Book Two the psalmist:
- Communicates directly with the nations: “You rulers” “You kings”
- Sings God’s praises to the nations (57:9-11)
- Reminds the nations that God will again defeat them (Pss. 45-48; 56:7; 59:13)
- Speaks of the prospect of redemption for all of God’s creation (Pss. 66-67; 72)