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The Book of Psalms
OT 682
Key Terms
∙ Wisdom and poetic literature: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes,
Song of Songs
∙ Retribution principle: the idea that there is a one-to-one correlation
between one’s actions and rewards
∙ Monarchy: system of government in which a single rule (monarch) has
complete authority over the affairs of the nation
∙ Theocracy: a state or nation ruled directly by God.
∙ Praise psalm: genre of psalm whose focus is praise for the
Lord
∙ Lament psalm: genre of psalm in which a complaint, or
lament, is voiced
∙ Wisdom psalm: genre of psalm concerned with wise and
righteous living
Key Ideas
∙ Recognition of the kingship and sovereignty of God.
∙ Conduct and destiny of the righteous and the wicked.
∙ God's comfort and defense in times of crisis.
∙ Importance of praise in all of its variations.
∙ Role of nature and creation.
Walter Brueggemann says, “The Book of Psalms provides the
most reliable theological, pastoral, and liturgical resource given
us in the biblical tradition. In season and out of season,
generation after generation, faithful women and men turn to the
Psalms as a most helpful resource for conversation with God
about things that matter most.”
Walter Brueggemann, Spirituality of the Psalms (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002), 1.
When speaking about the book of Psalms, we must
distinguish between the individual authors and the editor
who brought the psalms together and arranged them into
their canonical form. Half of the psalms identify David
as their author; several other authors are also named, and
some psalms remain anonymous.
The book of Psalms is divided into five books;
close examination of the individual books reveals a
purposeful arrangement intended to convey a
message. The book was probably compiled in
stages over a long period of time.
Most of the psalms can be classified as praise, lament, or
wisdom, based on typical characteristics and a consistent
format. Though we can observe some similarities between
Israelite and Mesopotamian praise and lament, usually
involving content and literary style, we also notice distinct
differences, involving differing views of God and appropriate
modes of worship.
The purpose and message of Psalms can be addressed at the
level of the individual author and of the editor/redactor. Many
of the psalms were probably written for liturgical use, others in
response to historic circumstances, and others as private
reflection. The book of Psalms as a whole concern the
vindication of the righteous and the punishment of the wicked,
as well as God's commitment to the nation of Israel.
The individual and national emphases merge in the person of
David, as a righteous man needing vindication and as the
ultimate king representing the nation of Israel.
The books of Psalms seems to be grouped thematically: Book I
contains mostly laments; Book II focuses on events of David's
reign; Book III reflects on the fall of the northern kingdom;
Book IV affirms the hope and faith of the exiled people; and
Book V emphasizes thanksgiving and praise to Yahweh.
The first two psalms of the book introduce two major,
recurring themes: the retribution principle and
kingship. The book also addresses the relationship
between God and nature––an important subject in light
of the importance of agriculture in Israelite society and
the popular theology of Israel's neighbors.
HINT
The Categories of Psalms based on Genre
genre. A term that refers to different types or varieties of literature or media. In
the interpretation of texts, particularly the Bible, most exegetes agree that
identifying the genre of the text to be interpreted is crucial and that the text must
be understood in light of the common conventions that typified that genre at the
time of its writing. Thus, poetry is not to be interpreted in the same manner as
historical narrative, nor is prophecy properly read in the same manner as an
epistle (letter).
Stanley Grenz, David Guretzki, and Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 55.
2. The Book of Psalms: Recognition of the kingship and sovereignty of God
The Theology of Psalms
Israel is a Monotheistic Nation
“This is a practical monotheism. The existence of other gods is not denied. Whatever
reality they may or may not have, the Israelites are to have nothing to do with them.”
God is the Creator
The creation of the world by Yahweh is a repeated theme in the Psalter. It is
sometimes expressed by use of the imagery of Yahweh’s conflict with the chaos
waters or dragon. This is so in some Laments, where it is appealed to as a reminder of
Yahweh’s past triumphs (e.g. Pss 74:12–17; 89:9–13)
Ernest Lucas, Exploring the Old Testament: The Psalms and Wisdom Literature, vol. 3 (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge,
2003), 52-53.
He is the Lord of History
Yahweh is not only the Lord of nature, he is also Lord of
history. His mighty deeds in history are another theme of the
Psalter. The most frequently mentioned of these is the exodus,
the liberation of the Hebrew slaves from oppression in Egypt in
the time of Moses (e.g. Pss 77:11–20; 78:13, 53; 80:8; 81:5;
114:1, 3, 5; 135:8–9; 136:10–15).
Ibid., 54.
Comparison between God and Humans
One of the clearest statements in the Hebrew Bible of the
dignity and role of humans is Psalm 8:3–8. It has much in
common with Genesis 1:26–28. Alongside this there is
expression of the transitoriness of human life by the image of
the withering of grass or wild flowers (Pss 90:5–6; 102:11;
103:15–16) or the comparison of human life with breath (Pss
39:5; 62:9) or a shadow (Ps. 102:11).
Ibid., 56.
Life after Death
The realm of the dead is referred to in a variety of ways in the
psalms. In Psalm 30 it is referred to twice by words that mean
‘pit’ (bor in v. 3; shahat in v. 9) and once by the word Sheol
(possibly meaning ‘destruction’). Of these terms, Sheol is the
most common. It is a place of darkness (Ps. 88:6) and silence
(Ps. 115:17) located in ‘the depths of the earth’ (Pss 63:9;
86:13).
Ibid., 57.
The Poetic Structure of Psalms
Hebrew poetry is filled with parallelisms.
Synonymous parallelism. This is when the same idea that is
expressed in the first line is repeated in the second, but in a
different way. For example, in Psalm 33:10–11 there are two
pairs of lines, each pair demonstrating synonymous parallelism:
Example:
The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to
nothing;
he frustrates the plans of the peoples.
The counsel of the Lord stands for ever,
the thoughts of his heart to all generations.
Ibid., 67.
Antithetic parallelism. In this case what is said in the
second line contrasts what is said in the first line in some
way. For example, in Psalm 30:5 there is a pair of such
contrasting lines:
For his anger is but for a moment;
his favour is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
Ibid., 67–68.
Synthetic parallelism. “Synthetic parallelism
refers to those many lines wherein the second
colon does not really say the same thing again
in either different or opposite words, but
simply adds new information to the first
colon.”
Mark D. Futato, Interpreting the Psalms: An Exegetical Handbook, ed. David M. Howard Jr., Handbooks for Old Testament Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel
Academic & Professional, 2007), 38.
Verse, Strophe and Stanza
A strophe has an ‘internal cohesion’, which may take a number of forms.
He gives the following examples of possible forms of cohesion.
• The strophe may be formed by a compound sentence that extends over
two or more bicola.
• The strophe may formulate or explain one thought.
• The cola in it may form a clear series of some kind.
• The strophe may be an embedded speech, such as a quotation.
• The strophe may present or work out a metaphor or simile.
• The strophe may be demarcated by an inclusio.
Ibid., 75.
Regarding Stanzal, Futato says, “Some poems, in particular
longer ones, will have two or more strophes that focus on the
same theme. We call a group of closely related strophes a
stanza.”
Mark D. Futato, 31.

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2. The Book of Psalms: Recognition of the kingship and sovereignty of God

  • 1. The Book of Psalms OT 682
  • 2. Key Terms ∙ Wisdom and poetic literature: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs ∙ Retribution principle: the idea that there is a one-to-one correlation between one’s actions and rewards ∙ Monarchy: system of government in which a single rule (monarch) has complete authority over the affairs of the nation
  • 3. ∙ Theocracy: a state or nation ruled directly by God. ∙ Praise psalm: genre of psalm whose focus is praise for the Lord ∙ Lament psalm: genre of psalm in which a complaint, or lament, is voiced ∙ Wisdom psalm: genre of psalm concerned with wise and righteous living
  • 4. Key Ideas ∙ Recognition of the kingship and sovereignty of God. ∙ Conduct and destiny of the righteous and the wicked. ∙ God's comfort and defense in times of crisis. ∙ Importance of praise in all of its variations. ∙ Role of nature and creation.
  • 5. Walter Brueggemann says, “The Book of Psalms provides the most reliable theological, pastoral, and liturgical resource given us in the biblical tradition. In season and out of season, generation after generation, faithful women and men turn to the Psalms as a most helpful resource for conversation with God about things that matter most.” Walter Brueggemann, Spirituality of the Psalms (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002), 1.
  • 6. When speaking about the book of Psalms, we must distinguish between the individual authors and the editor who brought the psalms together and arranged them into their canonical form. Half of the psalms identify David as their author; several other authors are also named, and some psalms remain anonymous.
  • 7. The book of Psalms is divided into five books; close examination of the individual books reveals a purposeful arrangement intended to convey a message. The book was probably compiled in stages over a long period of time.
  • 8. Most of the psalms can be classified as praise, lament, or wisdom, based on typical characteristics and a consistent format. Though we can observe some similarities between Israelite and Mesopotamian praise and lament, usually involving content and literary style, we also notice distinct differences, involving differing views of God and appropriate modes of worship.
  • 9. The purpose and message of Psalms can be addressed at the level of the individual author and of the editor/redactor. Many of the psalms were probably written for liturgical use, others in response to historic circumstances, and others as private reflection. The book of Psalms as a whole concern the vindication of the righteous and the punishment of the wicked, as well as God's commitment to the nation of Israel.
  • 10. The individual and national emphases merge in the person of David, as a righteous man needing vindication and as the ultimate king representing the nation of Israel.
  • 11. The books of Psalms seems to be grouped thematically: Book I contains mostly laments; Book II focuses on events of David's reign; Book III reflects on the fall of the northern kingdom; Book IV affirms the hope and faith of the exiled people; and Book V emphasizes thanksgiving and praise to Yahweh.
  • 12. The first two psalms of the book introduce two major, recurring themes: the retribution principle and kingship. The book also addresses the relationship between God and nature––an important subject in light of the importance of agriculture in Israelite society and the popular theology of Israel's neighbors. HINT
  • 13. The Categories of Psalms based on Genre genre. A term that refers to different types or varieties of literature or media. In the interpretation of texts, particularly the Bible, most exegetes agree that identifying the genre of the text to be interpreted is crucial and that the text must be understood in light of the common conventions that typified that genre at the time of its writing. Thus, poetry is not to be interpreted in the same manner as historical narrative, nor is prophecy properly read in the same manner as an epistle (letter). Stanley Grenz, David Guretzki, and Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 55.
  • 15. The Theology of Psalms Israel is a Monotheistic Nation “This is a practical monotheism. The existence of other gods is not denied. Whatever reality they may or may not have, the Israelites are to have nothing to do with them.” God is the Creator The creation of the world by Yahweh is a repeated theme in the Psalter. It is sometimes expressed by use of the imagery of Yahweh’s conflict with the chaos waters or dragon. This is so in some Laments, where it is appealed to as a reminder of Yahweh’s past triumphs (e.g. Pss 74:12–17; 89:9–13) Ernest Lucas, Exploring the Old Testament: The Psalms and Wisdom Literature, vol. 3 (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2003), 52-53.
  • 16. He is the Lord of History Yahweh is not only the Lord of nature, he is also Lord of history. His mighty deeds in history are another theme of the Psalter. The most frequently mentioned of these is the exodus, the liberation of the Hebrew slaves from oppression in Egypt in the time of Moses (e.g. Pss 77:11–20; 78:13, 53; 80:8; 81:5; 114:1, 3, 5; 135:8–9; 136:10–15). Ibid., 54.
  • 17. Comparison between God and Humans One of the clearest statements in the Hebrew Bible of the dignity and role of humans is Psalm 8:3–8. It has much in common with Genesis 1:26–28. Alongside this there is expression of the transitoriness of human life by the image of the withering of grass or wild flowers (Pss 90:5–6; 102:11; 103:15–16) or the comparison of human life with breath (Pss 39:5; 62:9) or a shadow (Ps. 102:11). Ibid., 56.
  • 18. Life after Death The realm of the dead is referred to in a variety of ways in the psalms. In Psalm 30 it is referred to twice by words that mean ‘pit’ (bor in v. 3; shahat in v. 9) and once by the word Sheol (possibly meaning ‘destruction’). Of these terms, Sheol is the most common. It is a place of darkness (Ps. 88:6) and silence (Ps. 115:17) located in ‘the depths of the earth’ (Pss 63:9; 86:13). Ibid., 57.
  • 19. The Poetic Structure of Psalms Hebrew poetry is filled with parallelisms. Synonymous parallelism. This is when the same idea that is expressed in the first line is repeated in the second, but in a different way. For example, in Psalm 33:10–11 there are two pairs of lines, each pair demonstrating synonymous parallelism:
  • 20. Example: The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations. Ibid., 67.
  • 21. Antithetic parallelism. In this case what is said in the second line contrasts what is said in the first line in some way. For example, in Psalm 30:5 there is a pair of such contrasting lines: For his anger is but for a moment; his favour is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning. Ibid., 67–68.
  • 22. Synthetic parallelism. “Synthetic parallelism refers to those many lines wherein the second colon does not really say the same thing again in either different or opposite words, but simply adds new information to the first colon.” Mark D. Futato, Interpreting the Psalms: An Exegetical Handbook, ed. David M. Howard Jr., Handbooks for Old Testament Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2007), 38.
  • 23. Verse, Strophe and Stanza A strophe has an ‘internal cohesion’, which may take a number of forms. He gives the following examples of possible forms of cohesion. • The strophe may be formed by a compound sentence that extends over two or more bicola. • The strophe may formulate or explain one thought. • The cola in it may form a clear series of some kind. • The strophe may be an embedded speech, such as a quotation. • The strophe may present or work out a metaphor or simile. • The strophe may be demarcated by an inclusio. Ibid., 75.
  • 24. Regarding Stanzal, Futato says, “Some poems, in particular longer ones, will have two or more strophes that focus on the same theme. We call a group of closely related strophes a stanza.” Mark D. Futato, 31.