Five Books of Psalms

Each section of the book of Psalms corresponds to the first five books of the Old Testament, The Pentateuch. There appears to be a format that leads us through the Psalms in the same way that Moses led his readers from Creation in Genesis to Israel’s entrance into the Promised Land in Deuteronomy. In some respect the book of Psalms can also be seen as a history of Israel from King David to the Restoration and the Millennial Kingdom.

The first chapter of each section gives us a preface to what is to follow, while the last chapter is in form of a doxology or a hymn of praise to God.

These are probably sets of songs used at different periods and were added to as more were composed. There is also a possibility that they were songs used by various groups throughout Israel but were eventually brought together. The first option seems the most likely in the light of Psalm 72:20 - “ The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended.”

Book 1: Psalms 1-41

There are 41 Psalms in this section and most are composed by David. Psalms 1,2,10 and 33 are anonymous but are usually attributed to David. They reflect much of David’s life and his understanding of the glory of God. In Psalm 9 he speaks of the Lord as the God who has the power to deliver from the enemy. In Psalm 10 David knows that God hears and answers prayer. Psalm 23 reveals God as the Great Shepherd who watches faithfully over His people. David praises Him who is the King of Glory in Psalm 24. The God who hates sin but loves those who trust in Him is seen in Psalm 36.

This group of Psalms relates to the Book of Genesis. From the perfection of those who are blessed by God we are led to the Salvation of the Lord. Along the way we see the consequences of man’s fall from God and his need for redemption. We see the depravity of man, and how great the love of God is towards the sinner, David asks, “What is man” that God should pay any attention to him? (Psalm 8).

The divine name that is mainly used within this section is Jehovah (LORD).

Every kind of emotion is revealed in these Psalms; from suffering and sorrow to joy and praise. The psalmist praises God for His justice and love in all of His dealings with man.

Psalm 1 sets the scene for this book, that is, the man blessed by God is the one who is obedient to His word, while the sinner rejects it and receives His judgement. The closing thought of the section speaks of the blessed person as well (41). It doxology reads, “Blessed be the LORD God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting. Amen, and Amen”. We notice here the double Amen.

Book 2: Psalms 42-72

There are 31 Psalms in this section. David wrote 18 of them, Solomon wrote 1 (Psalm 72), and the rest were written by Korah. These Psalms were compiled for Tabernacle and Temple services. David wants us to have a sense of wonder when we worship the Lord, but they also contain prayers of deliverance.

The divine name that is predominantly used in this book is El or Elohim (God).

This is called the Exodus section, for in them we get a sense of the nation in ruin but calling out to God for deliverance. They speak of how God is able to rescue His people.

Psalm 42 sets the scene by crying out for God’s presence in a dry wilderness experience. The Psalmist continually appeals to God for deliverance from the enemy who is oppressing their soul. The book finishes with a prayer of Solomon (72). The final verses also praise God for His power and might, and His glory. There is the double Amen again.

Book 3: Psalms 73-89

There are 17 Psalms in this section. While Asaph appears to have written most of them, David wrote Psalm 86, Heman the Ezraite wrote Psalm 88, and Ethan the Ezraite wrote the 89th.

The divine title used by the psalmist is mainly El or Elohim (God).

This section relates to Leviticus due in part to the fact that most of the Psalms were written by Levitical priests. These were written to be sung by the temple choirs (liturgical songs). These Psalms remind us that God alone is holy and that we should remember our place before Him. When we come into God’s presence (i.e. the temple) we should have reverential fear.

The introduction to this book announces, “Truly God is good to Israel” (73:1). God has been just in all of His dealings with the nation of Israel despite the sufferings that the people often went through. The doxology also has the double Amen, and speaks of the fact that God has kept His covenant with David, therefore He should be worshipped and praised (89).

Book 4: Psalms 90-106

These Psalms, 17 in number, are anonymous except for Psalm 90 written by Moses, and Psalm 101 and 103 being written by David. These too were composed for public worship.

In line with the Pentateuch this section would relate to Numbers. Numbers describes the Kingdom of Israel in relation to its neighbours, these Psalms reveal that it is God’s kingdom that rules over all. There are also pre-captivity sentiments, but the emphasis is on praise toward God for His blessings.

The name used for God in this section is mainly Jehovah (LORD).

The introduction to the section declares confidence in God as Protector of His people (90). The theme of this section is about the steadfastness and faithfulness of God. The doxology Psalm (106) praises God for the way He has led Israel until the present day, and declares that He never changes, He is “from everlasting to everlasting”. This time the doxology closes with Amen and Hallelujah (Praise the Lord).

Book 5: Psalms 107-150

This section contains 44 Psalms. 15 are ascribed to David and one to Solomon (127th). These Psalms praise God for His word. Thanksgiving is the major theme of this book. God wants the most perfect sacrifice of all, our faithfulness and obedience to His revealed will.

This is similar to the book of Deuteronomy since it speaks of a new beginning in the Promised Land. These Psalms express the thoughts, prayers, and experiences of the captives and their return to Jerusalem.

‘Jehovah’ is used as the divine name in this last section of the Psalms

Psalm 107 is the introduction to the section. It acknowledges the delivering power of God. The doxology is found in Psalm 150 but really should include Psalms 145-150. They thank God in every possible way for His goodness towards His people. Hallelujah ends this final section as a note of joyfulness and gladness.

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