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Bible Dictionaries

Smith's Bible Dictionary

Psalms The Book of

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Psalms, The Book of. The present Hebrew name of the book is Tehill'im, "Praises"; but in the actual superscriptions of the psalms, the word, Tehillah, is applied only to one, Psalms 145:1, Which is indeed emphatically a praise-hymn. The Septuagint (LXX) entitled them psalmoi, or "psalms," that is, lyrical pieces to be sung to a musical instrument. The Christian Church obviously received the Psalter from the Jews, not only as a constituent portion of the sacred volume of Holy Scripture, but also as the liturgical hymn-book, which the Jewish Church had regularly used in the Temple.

Division of the Psalms. - The book contains 150 psalms, and may be divided into five great divisions or books, which must have been originally formed at different periods.

Book I is, by the superscriptions, entirely Davidic nor do we find in it a trace of any but David's authorship. We may well believe that the compilation of the book was also David's work.

Book II appears by the date of its latest psalm, Psalms 46:1, to have been compiled in the reign of King Hezekiah. It would naturally comprise, first, several or most of the Levitical psalms anterior to that date; and second, the remainder of the psalms of David previously uncompiled. To these latter, the collector, after properly appending the single psalm of Solomon, has affixed the notice that, "the prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended." Psalms 72:20.

Book III, the interest of which centers in the times of Hezekiah stretches out, by its last two psalms, to the reign of Manasseh: it was probably compiled in the reign of Josiah. It contains seventeen psalms, from Psalms 73-89, eleven by Asaph, four by the sons of Horah, one, Psalms 86, by David, and one by Ethan.

Book IV contains the remainder of the psalms up to the date of the captivity, There are seventeen, from Psalms 90-106 - fifteen by David, one by Solomon and the rest, anonymous. There is nothing to distinguish these two books from each other, in respect of outward decoration or arrangement, and they may have been compiled together in the days of Nehemiah.

Connection of the Psalms with Israelitish history. - The psalm of Moses, Psalms 90, which is, in point of actual date, the earliest, faithfully reflects the long, weary wanderings, the multiplied provocations and the consequent punishments of the wilderness. It is, however, with David that Israelitish psalmody may be said virtually to commence. Previous mastery over his harp had probably already prepared the way for his future strains, when the anointing oil of Samuel descended upon him, and he began to drink in special measure, from that day forward, of the Spirit of the Lord.

It was then that, victorious at home, over the mysterious melancholy of Saul, and in the held over the vaunting champion of the Philistine hosts, he sang how, from even babes and sucklings, God had ordained strength because of his enemies. Psalms 8. His next psalms are of a different character; his persecutions at the hands of Saul had commenced. When David's reign has begun, it is still with the most exciting incidents of his history, private or public, that his psalms are mainly associated.

There are none to which the period of his reign at Hebron can lay exclusive claim. But, after the conquest of Jerusalem, his psalmody opened afresh, with the solemn removal of the Ark to Mount Zion; and in Psalms 24-29, which belong together, we have the earliest definite instance of David's systematic composition or arrangement of psalms for public use.

Even of those psalms which cannot be referred to any definite occasion, several reflect the general historical circumstances of the times. Thus Psalms 9 is a thanksgiving for the deliverance of the land of Israel from its former heathen oppressors. Psalms 10 is a prayer for the deliverance of the Church from the highhanded oppression exercised from within. The succeeding psalms dwell on the same theme, the virtual internal heathenism by which the Church of God was weighed clown. So that there remain very few , for example, Psalms 15-17; Psalms 19; Psalms 32; (with its choral appendage, Psalms 23, 37 of which some historical account may not be given.

A season of repose near the close of his reign induced David to compose his grand personal thanksgiving for the deliverances of his whole life, Psalms 18, the date of which is approximately determined by the place at which it is inserted in the history. 2 Samuel 22:1, Psalms 74 are best assigned to the reign of Ahaz. The reign of Hezekiah is naturally rich in psalmody, Psalms 46; Psalms 73; Psalms 75; Psalms 76, connect themselves with the resistance to the supremacy of the Assyrians, and the divine destruction of their host.

We are now brought to a series of psalms of peculiar interest, springing out of the political and religious history of the separated ten tribes. In date of actual composition, they commence before the times of Hezekiah. The earliest is probably Psalms 80. A supplication for the Israelitish people at the time of the Syrian oppression. All these psalms - Psalms 80-83 - are referred by their superscriptions to the Levite singers, and thus bear witness to the efforts of the Levites to reconcile the two branches of the chosen nation.

The captivity of Manasseh himself proved to be, but temporary; but the sentence which his sins had provoked upon Judah and Jerusalem still remained to be executed, and precluded the hope that God's salvation could be revealed, till after such an outpouring of his judgments as the nation had never yet known. Labor and sorrow must be the lot of the present generation; through these mercy might occasionally gleam, but the glory which was eventually to be manifested must be for posterity alone. The psalms of Book IV - bear , generally, the impress of this feeling.

We pass to Book V. Psalms 107 is the opening psalm of the return, sung probably at the first Feast of Tabernacles. Ezra 3. A directly historical character belongs to Psalms 120-134, styled in our Authorized Version, as "Songs of Degrees." Internal evidence refers these to the period when the Jews under Nehemiah were, in the very face of the enemy, repairing the walls of Jerusalem and the title may well signify "songs of goings up upon the walls," the psalms being from their brevity, well adapted to be sung by the workmen and guards while engaged in their respective duties.

Psalms 139 is a psalm of the new birth of Israel from the womb of the Babylonish captivity, to a life of righteousness; Psalms 140-143 may be a picture of the trials to which the unrestored exiles were still exposed in the realms of the Gentiles. Henceforward, as we approach the close of the Psalter, its strains rise in cheerfulness; and it fittingly terminates with Psalms 147-150 which were probably sung on the occasion of the thanksgiving procession of Nehemiah 12, after the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem had been completed.

Moral characteristics of the Psalms. - Foremost among these meets us, undoubtedly, the universal recourse to communion with God. Connected with this is the faith by which the psalmist everywhere lives in God rather than in himself. It is of the essence of such faith that his view of the perfections of God should be true and vivid. The Psalter describes God as he is: it glows with testimonies to his power and providence, his love and faithfulness, his holiness and righteousness. The Psalms not only set forth the perfections of God; they proclaim also the duty of worshipping him by the acknowledgment and adoration of his perfections. They encourage all outward rites and means of worship. Among these, they recognize the ordinance of sacrifice as in expression of the worshipper's consecration of himself to God's service. But not the less do they repudiate the outward rite when separated from that which it was designed to express.

Similar depth is observable in the view taken by the psalmists of human sin. In regard to the law, the psalmist, while warmly acknowledging its excellence, feels yet that it cannot so effectually guide his own unassisted exertions as to preserve him from error, Psalms 19. The Psalms bear repeated testimony to the duty of instructing other in the ways of holiness. Psalms 32; Psalms 34; Psalms 51. This brings us to notice, lastly, the faith of the psalmists in righteous recompense to all men according to their deeds. Psalms 37; etc.

Prophetical character of the Psalms. - The moral struggle between godliness and ungodliness, so vividly depicted in the Psalms, culminates in Holy Scripture, in the life of the Incarnate Son of God upon earth. It only remains to show that the Psalms themselves definitely anticipated this culmination. Now there are in the Psalter at least three psalms of which the interest evidently centers in a person distinct from the speaker, and which, since they cannot without violence to the language be interpreted of any but the Messiah, may be termed directly and exclusively Messianic.

We refer to Psalms 2; Psalms 45; Psalms 110, to which may perhaps be added, Psalms 72. It would be strange if these few psalms stood, in their prophetical significance absolutely alone among the rest. And hence, the impossibility of viewing the psalms generally, notwithstanding, the drapery in which they are outwardly clothed, as simply the past devotions of the historical David or the historical Israel. The national hymns of Israel are indeed also prospective; but in general, they anticipate rather the struggles and the triumphs of the Christian Church than those of Christ himself.

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Bibliography Information
Smith, William, Dr. Entry for 'Psalms The Book of'. Smith's Bible Dictionary. 1901.

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