THE BOOK OF THE
The Psalms. The Psalms are a composition of 150 individual songs of thanksgiving, praise and prayer. Generally, the Psalms are the expressions of the sentiments of the heart in difficulty and deliverance. There is a difference between the book (or books) of Psalms and “the Psalms” as mentioned in Luke 24. There it refers to all the poetic books; Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon. But when we get “the book of Psalms, as in Acts 1:20, it refers specifically to the collection of 150 psalms. The Psalms were written over a vast period of time, but were eventually collected and arranged as led by the Spirit of God. The Psalms historically were composed over a great span of time; about 1000 years! For instance, we have a Psalm written by Moses (Ps. 90), and also one written after the Judean captivity in Babylon (Ps. 137). We do not know when the Psalms were collected, or who was involved, but many scholars suggest that it was Ezra’s work. The collection of Psalms are inspired by the Spirit of God:
- The name of the book is owned of the Lord (Acts 1:20)
- The numbering of the book is owned of the Lord (Acts 13:33)
- Event the titles of the Psalms are inspired too!
So, the book of Psalms is Divinely named, titled and ordered!1
Who are the Psalms about? Are the Psalms about Christians? No, the Psalms do not properly give us Christian position, experience and blessings. The Church is a heavenly entity, with heavenly blessings and heavenly hopes. All in the Word of God is for us; that does not mean it is always about us! There is a difference between “the Psalms” in the Old Testament and “psalms” in the New Testament; “speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:19). The psalms sung by the church were quite distinct from the inspired poetry in the Old Testament, written by David, Asaph, and others for the Jewish people. We have no indication that Old Testament inspired psalms were sung in the assembly of God, and this is fitting because it would take the heavenly saints off of their proper ground onto Jewish ground. For instance, confusing Jerusalem with the Church leads some Christians pray for and seek the death of their enemies, which is the furthest thing from a proper Christian attitude and position. Who, then, is featured in the Old Testament book of Psalms? The Psalms characterize the hopes of Israel, not only in the past, but also in the future. The Psalms give us the proper expressions of the Remnant, 2 which is an earthly people, with earthly blessings, and earthly hopes. The Psalms give us the Spirit of Christ identifying with His earthly people expressed in the sentiments of heart and feelings of Israel, and of the Messiah Himself; “Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow” (1 Peter 1:11). “The Spirit of Christ” is the Spirit of God breathing out through the saints the sentiments and feelings of the Lord Jesus while here as a Man on earth. Through the Psalms we are given deep insight into the Remnant’s experiences, trials, sorrows, tribulations, but also their relief, joy and deliverance. The book provides another “key” to unfold the prophetic scriptures in a deeper way and from a unique perspective. The Psalms do not give us doctrinal outlines of prophetic events per se; but rather the feelings and expressions of heart and soul of a remnant of God’s people during the time when prophecy will be fulfilled.
Three Ways to Read and Understand the Psalms. There are at least three ways the Psalms generally considered. It is interesting that there are multiple aspects to the Psalms, as with all of scripture. It is fitting that the following would be found in the Psalms; “Thy commandment is exceeding broad” (Psalm 119:96b).
- Historically (Past), as the original circumstances and feelings of the writer (David, Moses, Asaph). The Psalms perfectly capture the expressions and feelings of the writer in the circumstances they were passing through, and of their hopes. As an example, Psalm 57:1 was written by David “when he fled from Saul in the cave”.
- Devotionally (Present), as present comfort and practical encouragement in our lives as Christians. Although the expressions and “heart” expressed in the Psalms is suited to the Lord’s earthly people, we can still gain personal enjoyment, comfort, and encouragement from them. Take again Psa. 57. While we would not pray with David for the destruction of our persecutors, we can follow him in the cries for help, and in the praise of God in spite of persecution. In this way, the Psalms are precious to believers.
- Prophetically (Future), as the future experiences of the Jews in the coming Tribulation. The Spirit has arranged these Psalms in alignment with coming prophetic events. The expressions and sentiments of the Psalms are in alignment with the portion and character of the remnant, as well as in the circumstances in which they will find themselves. In this prophetic aspect of things, there are several main focus points.
- The Remnant, as the feelings, sentiments, and expressions of the remnant as they pass through trials, sorrow, and suffering, as well as consequent deliverance and exaltation, and the liberty and blessing of the restored nation of Israel at the head of all nations. Psalm 1 introduces this subject.
- The Messiah, as the experiences of Christ in His humiliation and sufferings (first coming) and His future exaltation and Kingdom glory (second coming). Psalm 2 introduces this subject.
The Psalms were intended to be sung with music, and this was part of the earthly worship of the children of Israel. In the millennial kingdom, the saints once again will worship with musical instruments, a trained choir, etc. But in Christianity, we “worship the Father in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23), and thus there are no instructions in the New Testament for the assembly to use musical instruments in worship.
Who wrote the Psalms? Many of the Psalms identify an author, usually in the title or near the end of the Psalm. We read of seven whose authorship is revealed:
- David is called “the sweet psalmist of Israel” (2 Sam. 23:1), and he wrote more than half of the Psalms, composed the music, and even became an inventor of musical instruments (Amos 6:5). The circumstances of David’s life serve as the historical backdrop for many of the Psalms.
- Asaph was a singer and leader of the temple choir in the time of David, along with Heman and Ethan (1 Chron. 15:19), and he was also a prophet or “seer” (2 Chron. 29:30). Asaph the son of Berechiah was a descendant of Levi through Gershom. His ancestors were also singers in the times of Ezra and Nehemiah (Ezra 2:41; 3:10; Neh. 7:44). Asaph wrote at least twelve Psalms (Psa. 50; 73–83).
- The Sons of Korah are the descendants of the infamous Levite who rebelled against Moses’ authority (Num. 16). The fact that the sons of Korah are credited with these Psalms is evidence of the mercy and grace of God. These singers are credited with at least eleven Psalms (Psa. 42, 44–49, 84, 85, 87 and 88).
- Heman the Ezrahite could be either a wise man, one of the five sons of Zerah (1 Kings 4:31; 1 Chron. 2:6), or he could be the son of Joel, and one of the chief singers of David, along with Asaph and Ethan (1 Chron. 15:17). He wrote Psalm 88.
- Ethan the Ezrahite could be either a wise man, one of the five sons of Zerah (1 Kings 4:31; 1 Chron. 2:6), or he could be the son of Kushaiah, and one of the chief singers of David, along with Asaph and Heman (1 Chron. 15:17). He wrote Psalm 89.
- Moses needs no introduction. He wrote Psalm 90, and probably Psalm 91 (which is an orphan Psalm).
- Solomon also needs no introduction. It is interesting that Psalm 72 is a Psalm “about” or “concerning” Solomon, so probably not written by him. But the title of Psalm 127 mentions Solomon, indicating he is the author.
In addition to this, there are various Psalms with unknown authors.
The Books and Series. In the Hebrew Bible the Psalms were not one book as in our English Bible, but instead they were broken down into five books. The end of each book is distinguished with an expression such as “Amen, and Amen” or “Praise ye Jehovah”. There is a certain significance to each book, as well a a progression within them. The every earliest Christian commentators have noticed this, but remained puzzled about it. Augustine of Hippo said, “The sequence of the Psalms seems to me to contain the secret of a mighty mystery, but its meaning has not been revealed to me.” (Enarrationes in Psalmos, on Psalm 150). It was not until dispensational truth and the truth of prophecy was recovered in the mid-1800’s that the true meaning of the sequence of the Psalms was revealed. Each book of the Psalms focuses on the experiences and feelings of the Remnant of Israel in a particular phase of future prophetic events. But within each book are series of Psalms, that run over those events again and again, much like other prophetic scriptures such as Isaiah and Revelation. While each book focuses on a different phase of future events, they all stretch on to the end, to the Millennium. In this way, the faithful are constantly directed to the coming day of glory, from the very beginning (the beginning of sorrows) until the Lord Himself appears. In addition to this prophetic sequence, the five books of the Psalms have also been correlated to the five books of Moses. The following chart will attempt to summarize these various sequences and progressions.
Chapters & Series
Correlation to the Pentateuch
Psalms 1 – 41
Series (6): 1-8; 9-15; 16-18; 19-24; 25-34; 35-41
Beginning of Sorrows into the Millennium
Genesis: the book of beginnings; God’s dealings begin with His people
Psalms 42 – 72
Series (4): 42-51; 52-60; 61-68; 69-72
The Great Tribulation into the Millennium
Exodus: persecution, suffering and deliverance
Psalms 73 – 89
Series (2): 73-78; 79-89
First Attack of the Assyrian into the Millennium
Leviticus: the sanctuary of the Lord and approach to Him
Psalms 90 – 106
Series (2): 90-93; 94-106
Appearing of Messiah into the Millennium
Numbers: the wilderness journey and experiences
Psalms 107 – 150
Series (4): 107-113; 114-119; 120-136; 137-150
National Restoration into the Millennium
Deuteronomy: history recounted and possession of the land
The Placement of Psalms in Prophecy. It should be noted that the Psalms do not contain events per se. Instead they are the prayers and feelings of earthly saints, and they fit with the circumstances of the remnant at a given time, or else fit generally with their place and portion throughout prophecy. The application of the Psalms to the remnant has to with recognizing the pattern that repeats itself through the various series. The Psalms don’t give us the events of prophecy, but other scriptures do. In the Psalms we have the voices of earthly saints, first crying out in a time of trouble, then anticipating deliverance, and finally coming into rest and blessing. It follows the pattern of prophecy elsewhere disclosed. To show that this aspect of the Psalms is quite reasonable and orderly, we can look at other places in prophecy where we have the feelings and prayers of the remnant also. For instance Isaiah 53 is a confession of the remnant. But aren’t the Psalms about the writers? Yes and no. Certainly, the Psalms are about David and others who wrote them. For instance, David wrote Psalm 22. He felt that God was forsaking him at that time. It was true of David in a limited sense, but the New Testament shows us that it was really prophetic of Christ being forsaken by God. The true fulfillment of Psalm 22 is of Christ. I think it is the same way with the remnant. For example, in Psalm 3, the feelings of David when fleeing from Absalom are the same feelings that the remnant will have when being persecuted by antichrist. This is because Absalom is a type or picture of antichrist, who tries to usurp the throne of Messiah. The following chart is used by permission from the author, Bruce Anstey. In this chart Bruce places each Psalm near the place in the prophetic timeline where it could fall.
Jehovahistic and Elohistic Psalms. Certain psalms are addressed to Jehovah, and others to Elohim. Psalms 1 – 41 are to Jehovah, Psalms 42 – 83 are to Elohim, and Psalms 84 – 150 are to Jehovah! The name “Elohim” is first introduced with respect to creation, in Genesis 1:1; “In the beginning Elohim created the heaven and the earth.” We have Elohim framing the universe with His words, and we see the effect of His mighty power, but he is unapproachable, and incomprehensible. His “eternal power and deity” (Rom. 1:20) are conveyed, but we do not yet see God in relationship with man, only as Creator. Jehovah is the modern transliteration of the Hebrew name Yahweh, which is God’s name in relationship with men, especially with Israel. Hence in Genesis 1 we have only “Elohim”, the Creator; but in Genesis 2 we have “Jehovah Elohim,” because the relationship of God with men is brought in. When the Psalms are addressed to Jehovah, a covenant-relationship is assumed. But when Elohim is addressed, a Creator-creature relationship is assumed, and hence a bit more of a distance. Why then the change in Psa. 42 and 84? The prophecy outline of Psalms helps us to understand this. In the Jehovahistic Psalms the remnant are viewed as being able to carry on their temple worship in the land of Israel. The Psalms which pertain to this period (the first book) address “Jehovah,” His covenant name, which denotes Israel’s covenant relationship with God. But after the rise of Antichrist, the faithful remnant of the Jews fall under extreme persecution, and they must flee their land and the temple, and go to the mountains. As the remnant is viewed as cast out by their brethren and away from the sanctuary, their prayers become addressed to “God” (Elohim). In these Psalms the remnant comes to know God in a deeper way, as they are brought to a point where they appeal to Him in terms of what He is intrinsically, rather than according to His covenant relationship with Israel as a nation. In the Elohistic Psalms there are references to Jehovah, but only as looking back or looking forward, because the people at the present time are not viewed as being in possession of covenant blessings.3 This continues for the whole of the second book and into the third book of the Psalms, until the time when the Lord appears and restores the faithful Jews to their land. Then the Psalms resume their Jehovahistic character once again!
Categories of Psalms. It is helpful to see that there are Psalms that have a particular character or style to them, such as the Messianic psalms.
- Messianic (18)
The "Messianic Psalms" are those Psalms that speak of Christ personally, whether in His sufferings or His coming glories. Usually these Psalms are quoted in the New Testament, and applied to Christ. They are: Psalms 2; 8; 16; 18; 22; 31; 40; 41; 45; 68; 69; 91; 97; 102; 104; 110; 117; 118. A subset of the Messianic Psalms that deal with the sufferings of Christ are called "Passion Psalms". They are Psalms 18; 22; 31; 69; 88; 102.
- Imprecatory (19) These Psalms contain requests to judge Israel’s enemies. In some, only a portion of the psalm may be imprecatory. They are: Psalms 5; 7; 10; 28; 35; 55; 58; 59; 69; 79; 82; 83; 94; 109; 137; 140; 141; 143; 144
- Acrostic (9) These psalms follow the order of the Hebrew alphabet; each verse or section of verses begin with a different letter. They are: Psalms 9; 10; 25; 34; 37; 111; 112; 119; 145 (some of these psalms don’t contain all the Hebrew letters in totality) – “Acrostics are of interest in Scripture, as showing the condescension of God to man’s ways, even in the style of composition” – GVW
- Penitential (5) These psalms contain the confession of sins of the remnant Jews. They are: Psalms 25; 32; 38; 41; 51. Note that Psalm 130 also contains a confession, but in the context it is the repentance and restoration of the 10 tribes. It begins in Psa. 25, where the remnant confesses there is something in their past that is not right, but it is a distant memory. Then in Psa. 32, we have a confession of sin; not trying to hide it. In Psa. 38 they are “sorry for sin”, and openly declaring it. They see their sin clearly. In Psa. 41 they know their sin is against God; “I have sinned against thee”. Finally, in Psa. 51 we have full and deep confession, even to recognizing their sin nature, and blood-guiltiness.
- Creation (5) These Psalms speak to God’s Creatorial Power. They are: Psalms 19, 29, 104, 139, 148
- Hallelujah (15) These Psalms appear closer to the end of the book of Psalms. They show the nearness of the coming reign of Jehovah in the Millennial Kingdom and give expression to the anticipation of it by Israel. They either start or finish with “Hallelujah” (“Praise ye the Lord”). They are: Psalms 104-106; 111-113; 115-117; 135; 146-150. At the end of the fifth book we find “Double Hallelujah” Psalms which start and end with praising Jehovah (Psa. 146-150). It is fitting that the Psalms close with a crescendo of praise to the Lord!
Common Headings. The headings of the Psalms are inspired and meant to be read. The headings and their meanings give a general “feel” or “perspective” that God would seek to convey to the reader as they move through the psalm. Most of the Psalms (116) have headings; but 34 do not. These are sometimes called “orphan” Psalms.
- Maschil (13) – meaning “to give instruction.” These psalms give instruction – likely will give special instruction to the remnant in a coming day. They are Psalms 32; 42; 44; 45; 52; 53; 54; 55; 74; 78; 88; 89; 142.
- Michtam (6) – meaning “golden psalm” or “golden jewel” – These Psalms illustrate the preciousness of the Lord’s people to His heart who trust Him through trial. They are: Psalms 16; 56; 57; 58; 59; 60.
- Songs of Degrees (15) – signifies “going up; ascent” – Psalms 120 – 134. Found in the 5th Book, the Psalms in this book are not so prophetic in character as the others but are more distinctly moral in character. Jehovah is celebrated and praised – historically, applying to the return from Babylon to Jerusalem, look forward to the various stages of Israel’s moral return to Jehovah.
- Other common titles include: Al-Tashcheth meaning “Destroy Not” (Psalms 57; 58; 59; 75), Gittith meaning “Winepress” (Psalms 8; 81; 84), Jeduthun meaning “Praise Giver” or “Let Them Give Praise” (Psalms 39; 62; 77), Neginah or Neginoth meaning “Smitings” or “to strike the strings” (Psalms 4; 6; 54; 55; 61; 67; 76), Sheminith meaning “The Eighth Division” or “Upon the Octave” (Psalms 6; 12), and Shoshannim meaning “Lilies” (Psalms 45; 69).
- Anstey, B. Prophetic Outline of the Psalms. Christian Truth Publishing. Canada, 1988
- Costron, J. Introduction to the Psalms with their Prophetic Application. January 2021
- Kelly, W. Notes on the Psalms.
- There is no part of scripture more evidently inspired of God, none more frequently cited by the Holy Spirit throughout the N.T., none more important for the believer to understand by divine teaching, so as on the one hand to enjoy truth needful, fertile, and strengthening for the affections, and on the other hand to keep clear of mistaken applications which might darken and even destroy all right sense of our proper relationship as Christians. – Kelly, W. Notes on the Psalms.
- The Remnant is a reference to two groups: a remnant of Jews (2 tribes) and a remnant of Israel (10 tribes).
- Up to this, save as looking back or looking forward, the cry of the people is addressed to God, the people not being in possession of covenant blessings. – Darby, J.N. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible.