Author: Principally David, but also others
Date: Tenth Century B.C. and later
Psalms is probably the best-known and best-loved book of the Bible. It has provided more personal comfort, imagery, hymns, and poems than any other book that has ever been printed.
The Psalms were written over a long period of time, perhaps 600 years. A large number of them were written and collected by King David (hence the name “Psalms of David”), but many were added to the collection after his day. The book was used much as it is used today. The Israelites used it in their public worship. They read from it or sang from it, depending on the circumstances. Some of the psalms were written for special services, such as the coronation of the king. Thus, many of the psalms were hymns, anthems, and special music, sung by the congregation, choir, or both. The Psalms were used privately for personal devotion. Almost every possible emotion or situation is covered in them.
Theological Themes in the Book of Psalms
The Psalms contain some of the richest theology in the whole Bible. Underlying the psalmist’s outlook is the concept of the power of God. God is in control of this universe. Although it may appear at times that things have gotten out of hand, this is not so. God is beyond our knowing, but we are not beyond his power. He acts at the right moment, in the right way. Our job is to learn how to trust him. God’s providence, or effective working, is also prominent in the book. He works like a master craftsman, weaving his will in and out of our free choices, so that in the end we have a blend of divine and human activity. Indeed, he works in our free choices as well, accomplishing his own good purposes. This should give the believer great comfort and courage; beyond all disappointments and problems we can know that God is there, caring, and able to work out his loving purposes.
The tenderness of God is constantly emphasized. Like a father who pities his children, or a hen who gathers her chicks under her wings, so God deals with us. He remembers how he made us, he knows that we are but dust. Consequently he does not expect what we cannot give. He is compassionate and merciful, fully aware of every possible angle to every situation. He knows how to make allowances for human frailty.
God is also depicted as just. No wrongs will go unrighted. No evil done to God’s people is unseen. In due time, all will be made right. The temptation either to give up on the one hand or to join the evildoers on the other must be resisted with the strength that God provides. Evil will not win because the justice of God will not let it.
The proper response of God’s people is also evident. We are to live lives of prayer, praise, humility, thanksgiving, and faith. Each one of these ideas, explored in depth in the Psalms, should be the fabric of our existence. In them we find the secret of living.
The beauty of the world, the value of life, the goodness of the natural order, and the sheer joy of living are also described. From the grass that grows beneath our feet to the loftiest thoughts in our heads or the highest stars in the sky, the majesty that God wrote into the world is undeniable. It is there for all to see. However, there is also mystery. Ambiguities exist that are unresolvable apart from God. Glory, mystery, ambiguity, these are the essence of human life, and God is their source and answer.
Outline for the Book of Psalms
- Book 1 Psalms 1-41
- Book 2 Psalms 42-72
- Book 3 Psalms 73-89
- Book 4 Psalms 90-106
- Book 5 Psalms 107-150