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by James Martin Gray
The Book of Psalms has sometimes been classified according to authors. For example, the titles indicate that seventy-three were written by David; fifty are anonymous; twelve have the name of Asaph, and ten that of Korah, or the sons of Korah; two are associated with Solomon and one each with Moses, Heman and Ethan.
A comparison of Acts 4:25 and Hebrews 4:7 shows that Psalms 2, 95 respectively, were also written by David, though not ascribed to him in the book, and the question arises whether he may not have been the author of a still larger number of the anonymous psalms. As some with the name of the sons of Korah were evidently written for them, may he have been their author as well? The same query arises about Psalms 72:0 , one of the two to which Solomon’s name is attached. It might be added here that the titles of the Psalms are regarded by many as of equal authority with the text, and hence if we can ascertain what the title means, we may venture to build conclusions upon it.
The book again, has been classified according to subjects. Angus, in his Bible Handbook, has a convenient classification, giving the subject, and in each case the numbers of a few psalms illustrating it. For example, there are psalms of:
Instruction (Psalms 1, 19, 39) Praise (Psalms 8, 29, 93, 100) Thanksgiving (Psalms 30, 65, 103, 107, 116) Penitence (Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 143) Trust (Psalms 3, 27, 31, 46, 56, 62, 86) Distress and Sorrow (Psalms 4, 13, 55, 64, 88) Aspiration (Psalms 42, 63, 80, 84, 137) History (Psalms 78, 105, 106) Prophecy (Messianic) (Psalms 2, 16, 22, 24, 40, 45, 68, 69, 72, 97, 110, 118)
It may seem strange to speak of the “books” of the Psalms, but that expresses another kind of classification. The whole book has been divided into five books, each ending with a similar doxology, as follows:
1. Book 1: Psalms 1-41 Psalms 1:2 . Book 2: Psalms 42-71 Psalms 42:3 . Book 3: Psalms 73-89
4. Book 4: Psalms 90-106
5. Book 5: Psalms 107-150
Notice the close of each of these books for the doxology.
There are those who question the value of this division on the grounds, first, that the title of the book itself in the Hebrew, Sepher Tehillim, is singular rather than plural. It is not the “books” but the book of Psalms. Second, the numbers of the psalms continue unbroken from the beginning to the end of the book. Third, there are other doxologies than those especially referred to, e.g., Psalms 117, 134.
The view of others, therefore, is that the Psalms comprise but one book with an order and unity throughout, the key to which is found in its final application to the millennial age and establishment of the kingdom of God on the earth. According to these, this explains what are known as the imprecatory or cursing Psalms. These have puzzled many, but when we consider them as terminating on that period when the era of mercy for the Gentile nations closes, and the time of their judgment begins, it lightens their problem very much.
In the same connection we should remember that the author is speaking in the prophetic spirit, and that the enemies are enemies of God whose permanent rejection of him is implied. This view, moreover, explains those like Psalms 91:0 which promise exemption from such things as pestilence and war. This psalm was written doubtless on the occasion of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, but its language seems to indicate that it is a type of their greater and permanent deliverance in the time to come. This is strengthened if we conceive of the preceding psalm as a picture of Israel today.
The opinion which sees the key to the Psalms in their millennial application also furnishes an explanation of the frequent references to Christ found in the psalms.
Urquhart, who maintains the above view, regards the whole book as formed of a combination of twelve sections. Each of these contains a continuous recurring story of the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth, in which psalms of complaint and pleading on Israel’s part are followed by those of jubilation for deliverance. In some of these jubilations the whole earth is seen to join. These twelve sections are indicated to him by the following jubilant psalms: Psalms 10:18 , 24, 30, 48, 68, 76, 85, 100, 118, 136, 150. In the first cycle of ten there is progress from the announcement of judgment (Psalms 1:0 ), and manifestation of Christ (Psalms 2:0 ), through His rejection (Psalms 3-7), suffering and ascension (Psalms 8:0 ), the waiting and persecution of His people (Psalms 9:0 ), to the consummation of all things (Psalms 10:0 ). This analysis will not commend itself to all, but it is interesting and may lead to further thought.
THE MESSIANIC PSALMS
These are psalms in which not only is the Messiah referred to, but in which He Himself in the Spirit is heard to speak. It is His feelings and experiences that are expressed rather than those of the human author. To know David it is necessary to study the psalms as well as the historical books that refer to him, but this is even more necessary in the case of Jesus. In the Gospels we read what He said and did, and what was said and done to Him; in other words, we obtain a view of the outside of His life, but in the psalms we see the inner side, and learn how He felt and how He lived in the presence of His God and Father.
1. How many psalms, according to their titles, were written by David?
2. Classify the psalms according to subjects.
3. Into how many books would some divide Psalms? Give the psalms in each division.
4. What, in the judgment of others, is the key that unifies Psalms?
5. What lightens the problem of the imprecatory psalms?
6. How would you define a Messianic psalm?
7. What is their value as applied to the Messiah Himself?
the Fifth Week after Easter