PSALMS chapters and history

A psalm is a hymn of praise to God designed to be sung to the accompaniment of music. The book of Psalms is a collection of 150 such hymns.

PsalmsPsalmsPsalms
Psalm 1Psalm 51Psalm 101
Psalm 2 Psalm 52 Psalm 102
Psalm 3 Psalm 53 Psalm 103
Psalm 4 Psalm 54 Psalm 104
Psalm 5 Psalm 55 Psalm 105
Psalm 6 Psalm 56 Psalm 106
Psalm 7 Psalm 57 Psalm 107
Psalm 8 Psalm 58 Psalm 108
Psalm 9 Psalm 59 Psalm 109
Psalm 10 Psalm 60 Psalm 110
Psalm 11 Psalm 61 Psalm 111
Psalm 12 Psalm 62 Psalm 112
Psalm 13 Psalm 63 Psalm 113
Psalm 14 Psalm 64 Psalm 114
Psalm 15 Psalm 65 Psalm 115
Psalm 16 Psalm 66 Psalm 116
Psalm 17 Psalm 67 Psalm 117
Psalm 18 Psalm 68 Psalm 118
Psalm 19 Psalm 69 Psalm 119
Psalm 20 Psalm 70 Psalm 120
Psalm 21 Psalm 71 Psalm 121
Psalm 22 Psalm 72 Psalm 122
Psalm 23 Psalm 73 Psalm 123
Psalm 24 Psalm 74 Psalm 124
Psalm 25 Psalm 75 Psalm 125
Psalm 26 Psalm 76 Psalm 126
Psalm 27 Psalm 77 Psalm 127
Psalm 28 Psalm 78 Psalm 128
Psalm 29 Psalm 79 Psalm 129
Psalm 30 Psalm 80 Psalm 130
Psalm 31 Psalm 81 Psalm 131
Psalm 32 Psalm 82 Psalm 132
Psalm 33 Psalm 83 Psalm 133
Psalm 34 Psalm 84 Psalm 134
Psalm 35 Psalm 85 Psalm 135
Psalm 36 Psalm 86 Psalm 136
Psalm 37 Psalm 87 Psalm 137
Psalm 38 Psalm 88 Psalm 138
Psalm 39 Psalm 89 Psalm 139
Psalm 40 Psalm 90 Psalm 140
Psalm 41 Psalm 91 Psalm 141
Psalm 42 Psalm 92 Psalm 142
Psalm 43 Psalm 93 Psalm 143
Psalm 44 Psalm 94 Psalm 144
Psalm 45 Psalm 95 Psalm 145
Psalm 46 Psalm 96 Psalm 146
Psalm 47 Psalm 97 Psalm 147
Psalm 48 Psalm 98 Psalm 148
Psalm 49 Psalm 99 Psalm 149
Psalm 50 Psalm 100 Psalm 150

One hymn book for all

The collection of the various psalms into one volume seems to have taken place gradually over a long time. Although each psalm is a unit in itself, not necessarily connected with those before or after it One hymn book for all , certain psalms have been grouped together. They may have come from smaller collections already in existence (e.g. those of the ‘sons of Korah’; see Ps 44-49), and may have been arranged in a certain order (e.g. Ps 120-134). Five groups (or books) make up the collection. The five books are Psalms 1-41, 42-72, 73-89, 90-106 and 107-150. At the end of each of the first four books, an expression of praise has been added to mark the close of the book. The very last psalm, the 150th, has been placed where it is to form a climax to the entire collection. Within the hymn book there are psalms for all occasions. Some were written specifically for use in public worship and temple festivals (e.g. Ps 38); others were adapted from personal psalms (e.g. Ps 54). Some were written for use on great national occasions such as coronations, victory celebrations and royal weddings (e.g. Ps 2, 18, 45); others arose from circumstances in the lives of private individuals (e.g. Ps 3, 75). The psalms may have expressed joy and confidence on the one hand, or terror and uncertainty on the other.

Writers of the psalms

Many of the psalms have titles that give the name of the writer or the name of the person(s) from whose collection they were taken (e.g. Ps 41, 42). David is named as the author of 73 psalms, which is almost half the collection. He was a gifted musician and writer (1 Sam 16:23; 2 Sam 23:1), and was the person who established the various groups of singers and musicians for the temple services (1 Chron 15:16-28; 16:7,37-42). David arranged the singers and musicians into three groups under the leadership of three men taken from the three family groups that made up the tribe of Levi. The three men were Asaph, Heman and Ethan (or Jeduthun) (1 Chron 6:31-48; 15:17-19; 16:5,42), and between them they wrote a number of psalms that have been included in the book of Psalms (e.g. Ps 50, 73-78, 88-89). The book also contains two psalms credited to Solomon (Ps 72, 127) and one to Moses (Ps 90).

Language of the psalms

Hebrew poetry has certain characteristics that the reader needs to know if he is to interpret the psalms correctly. The rhythm in Hebrew poetry comes not from metre and rhyme as in English poetry, but from the balanced arrangement of words and sentences. For this reason, Hebrew poetry can retain some of its style even when translated. The balanced arrangement of Hebrew poetry is well demonstrated in the book of Psalms. Often the writer expresses one central idea by making parallel statements that have virtually the same meaning (Ps 7:16). Sometimes only one or two words are changed (Ps 118:8-9). The writer may make further emphasis by giving an application of his central idea (Ps 37:7), by contrasting two truths (Ps 68:6), or by otherwise developing his theme through a careful arrangement of related statements (Ps 4:3-5). In some psalms the writer may repeat a verse to provide a refrain (Ps 42:5,11; 46:7,11). In others he may begin successive verses with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet (‘from A to Z’, so to speak). This produces a kind of verse known as an acrostic (e.g. Ps 25, 34, 119). (See also POETRY.) The titles of the psalms, though not necessarily written by those who wrote the psalms, often include directions for those in charge of the music. The directions may indicate the kind of instruments to be used (Ps 4, 5) and the tune to which the song is to be sung (Ps 53, 56, 58). Words such as Shiggaion (Ps 7), Miktam (Ps 16) and Maskil (Ps 55) are Hebrew words of uncertain meaning. They may indicate the kind of hymn or the occasion on which it should be sung. ‘Selah’ is probably a musical term used to indicate a variation in the music, such as a pause, the repetition of a line, or a change in the volume or speed of the music (Ps 89:37,45,48).

Interpreting the psalms

Like all writings of the Old Testament, the psalms must be interpreted in their historical context. The present-day reader’s first responsibility is to understand each psalm as its author intended it to be understood. However, the New Testament writers often saw meanings in the psalms that the original writers were not aware of. Jesus Christ was the fulfilment of all that God intended the nation Israel to be. The Davidic kings of Israel foreshadowed the greatest of all Davidic kings, Jesus the Messiah. When writing about the Davidic kings, the psalmists freely spoke of Israel’s ideals of triumph and glory, but those ideals found their perfect expression only in Jesus Christ (cf. Ps 2 with Acts 4:25-31; 13:33-34; Heb 1:5; 5:5; cf. Ps 45 with Heb 1:8-9; cf. Ps 110 with Matt 22:41-46; Heb 7:15-17; see MESSIAH). The failures of the Davidic kings, however, indicate how far they fell short of God’s perfect requirements. In a psalm that speaks of the ideal qualities of the Davidic king there may also be references to the king’s sins. The New Testament writers may therefore quote from one part of a psalm and apply it to Christ (cf. Ps 69:4,9,21 with John 2:17; 15:25; Matt 27:34,38), though other parts of the same psalm may refer to the Davidic king’s sins and therefore could never apply to Christ (cf. Ps 69:5 with 1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5).

Just as the reader must interpret each psalm according to the psalmist’s purpose, so must he interpret a New Testament application of a psalm according to the New Testament writer’s purpose. As the psalmists were concerned with suffering and victory, so are the New Testament writers as they consider the work of Christ When the godly of the Old Testament era suffered for righteousness’ sake, they anticipated Christ’s sufferings (cf. Ps 22:1-18; Matt 27:39-46). (This may be likened to the experience of Christians who, when they suffer for righteousness’ sake, share in Christ’s sufferings; 2 Cor 1:5; Phil 3:10.) Similarly, when godly kings of Israel won great victories, they anticipated the triumphs of Christ (cf. Ps 68:17-18; Eph 1:18-23; 4:8-10). Christ, the true embodiment of Israel, so shared his people’s sufferings that in the end he bore the full force of God’s wrath against sin. But he came out victorious, so that people can enter a kingdom greater than Israel ever imagined (cf. Ps 22:19-31 with Phil 2:7-11; Rev 5:9-14).