Psalms: Hymnbook of Israel

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Hymnbook of Israel

Praise, Laments, Prayers.

Background:A collection of independent writings over a few centuries
Theme: Praise, Laments, and Prayers. The Hymnbook of Israel
Outline: Five collections
Key Verse: "May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. (Ps 19:14, NIV)

Psalms Index


The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Vol I, Old Testament) is an excellent resource and is referred to as the BKC.


    The book of Psalms is quite large at 150 chapters. Some are only a few verses long, others are a few pages long. Reading Psalms is quite different from the reading this far. We have been following a historic story line, with the LORD revealing more and more of Himself as time has progressed. This was followed by the Wisdom story of Job set in the time of the Patriarchs. But now, the revelation is not sequential as the Psalms are a collection of Wisdom and devotion from the large chronological periods studied so far. They are not in order by topic or time.

    Do not let the number of psalms discourage you from reading each one carefully. It is not how long this study takes that is important, but to learn and follow God’s Word is very important. On the other hand, it is easy to spend an hour on each psalm and not reach its depths. If you find that you have not made at least one observation you find interesting or inspiring by the end of a psalm, perhaps you are going too fast. I do not mean that you should ‘work up’ an excitement, simply that you must stay prayerful and alert. The subject and background change rapidly from psalm to psalm, and they are like a treasure field. Perhaps they take some attentive digging, but a wealth of wisdom and devotion is to be found.

Book I (1-41) — Mostly David

1:1-6 This psalm is excellent for meditation. It clearly distinguished between two classes of people, those who are influenced by the Word of God and those influenced by the wicked. It speaks of a judgment and the way of the wicked perishing while the Godly way will prosper.

2:4 This particular laughter of the LORD is pure scorn. There are few things men hate as much as being seen as foolish and weak - but that what the LORD sees when he laughs at the powerful rulers of this world.

3:1-8 A mature David, weathered by many trials over the years, puts no confidence in his own merit or ability. David put all of his faith in the LORD to deliver him regardless of the odds, armies, and politic pressures against him.

4:4 This verse offers good advice for all who are agitated. When you lie down at night, be silent and consider God. It is permissible to be angry, but when angry be careful not to sin. Other verses indicate the danger of letting anger seethe overnight, rather put it to peace before God. In verse 6, David will sleep in peace as he advises even his enemies to do.

5 One thought from this psalm is to seek the LORD’s guidance each day, early in the day. There are many traps, temptations, and sinners for the Godly man to confront each day. It is wise and safe to walk into the trouble of each day following the LORD’s leading.

6 Is illness the immediate cause of David’s suffering? I suspect that his enemies caused his distress, would possibly kill him, and God dealing with his enemies would result in his healing. The ‘healing’ would be removal of the stress causing him to cry out. Verse 7 specifically attributes his failing eyes to the number of his foes, not to failing health. I feel this ties the whole psalm into a unit of one thought. But it is reasonable to follow BKC, to assume his enemies were simply taking advantage of his illness and the healing of David is what would put them to shame.

8 Notice the implications of General Revelation, how David’s view of the Glory of God is influenced by seeing the heavens.

8:2 Very important to remember that children are ordained to praise God! Secular society tells us not to prejudice our children by teaching them about God. The claim is that religious experience is exclusively an adult activity contingent on our adult understanding and decision to follow a particular creed. This verse, and others, contradicts that view.

8:5-8 It is good to review the Genesis story of creation here, in particular that man was created in the image of God. "A little lower than God" is an acceptable translation of v5.

11 We have options just as David did. Will we flee to our own place of safety or seek refuge from the Lord (which may mean standing firm)?

12 Although the psalmist implies in early verses that there are no godly, the LORD says He will protect them (plural). Sometimes it does seem, especially when reading the newspaper, that the godly are no more. With the psalmist we say, "O LORD, you will keep us safe."

14:1 An excellent label for the atheist. This is also an example of the importance of taking every verse and statement in context. Out of context gives us "There is no God." Context indicates that this is only the opinion of the fool. This being so, a large number of Doctorates are given each year to fools, as well as to wise men.

14:3 Sin is universal. This verse indicates that "All have turned aside." All have actively sinned by turning aside, it is not simply an inherited sin principle that all are accountable for. The unsaved are condemned for their own sin and turning aside, not for the ancestral sin of Adam.

15:5b By combining the double "despises a vile man but honors those who fear the LORD" into a single "distinguishes between right and wrong" the Bible Knowledge Commentary arrives at ten descriptions and suggests a comparison to the decalogue based on this number. It is just as natural to count eleven descriptions, or to combine other descriptions such as "blameless and righteous" to arrive at a lower number. This is an excellent checklist.

16:9-11 Note the careful distinction of the Bible Knowledge Commentary, "at that time." David did eventually die and his body did decay. A different interpretation is applied to Jesus based upon the New Testament verses.

17:14b-15 As a fine point of distinction in interpretation — the BKC commentator is correct in stating that the primary meaning of the verse as clearly (literally) applied to David is not of awaking from death. It is inconsistent to teach that "the words lend themselves nicely" and apply a different meaning for believers of today. I agree that we will have a glorious afterlife, but this verse is not teaching that. This principle of interpretation is different from the note on 16:9-11 above, where we have clear guidance for an additional meaning from New Testament usage. Unless we have good reason to do otherwise, we should understand the verse the same way as David did.

18:1-3 The BKC commentator states "Rock and Fortress picture a high place of refuge and defense". One may think of the later fortress at Masada, build high on an outcropping of stone and difficult to access. Another refuge was in the cliffs of Seir, the Edomites were practically unattackable with dwellings in large caves in cliffs. I am reminded of a castle at Ramstein, Germany, which I once visited. Parts of two walls were carved out of the stone on the hill it is located on. The stone removed in this process was used as block to build the other walls. From the location it is easy to see any approaching parties, it is a difficult uphill climb, and the stone wall is secure.

19 A key chapter showing both general (to all mankind) and special (the written Word) revelation. Is there any excuse for not knowing there is a God? No. The heavens reveal God’s glory continuously and throughout the whole world.

20:7 Excellent memory verse for trusting in the Lord rather than in our own strength.

21 A reminder to praise the Lord after our victories, not only while the trials face us.

23 The blessing described here and the confidence in the LORD as shepherd are available only to the sheep of God. Today, we become one of the flock of God when we put our faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior.

29 The power of a storm opens our eyes to the power of God. I worked in the relief efforts following Hurricane Andrew, south of Miami, Florida. The power of the storm was incredible, and yet this power is under God’s control.

31:22 Did David express unbelief (for we know that we are never out of God’s sight) or was it similar to the cry ‘do not hide your face from me.’ In either case, God is steadfast and loyal even if we are not aware of it at the time.

32:1-2 This is the true state of Christians. We cannot say that we have never sinned, we are not at all times the best people. We can always say that our transgressions are forgiven because of Jesus’ death on the cross in our place (if we have accepted Him as Lord and Savior). A Christian is, above all else, a forgiven person. This is an excellent psalm for counseling, as unconfessed sin often leads to turmoil as described here.

37:1,2 We may envy those who do wrong, not because they do wrong but because they may have wealth, power, and influence. We must be reminded that such things are short lived and of no eternal value.

40:8 Compare this verse to Romans 12:1-2 where we are urged to offer ourselves as living sacrifices. We know God’s will by reading His Word and by the illumination of the Holy Spirit, our willing response should be that we desire to follow and obey what He has put upon our heart.

Book II (42-72) — Mostly David

46:1-3 These are excellent memory verses. By learning these verses we prepare ourselves for whatever trials may come. Our everyday trials are much smaller than the upheaval described here, God is our ever-present help in trials of all sizes.

49 This psalm advises us to fix our eyes on eternity rather than be jealous of the wealth of the wicked. It does not deal with the punishments of the afterlife, it merely states that earthly wealth and glory do not follow into death. But, the psalmist (and Christians) are assured that God will take them to himself! First Thessalonians 4:17 promises that someday believers will be resurrected (or caught up to the Lord if alive at that time) to be with the Lord forever.

51 The series of sins David committed included adultery, deceit in trying to cover up the pregnancy of Bathsheba, and plotting the murder of the husband, Uriah, before marrying the widow and mother of his child. These sins are not beyond the forgiving grace of our Lord.

55 There are few things as troubling as betrayal by a friend, suffered here by David and by many others in their lives.

55:17 "Evening, morning and noon." The Hebrew day starts at evening (compare Genesis 1: "there was evening and there was morning," also, the removal of Jesus from the cross before the beginning of the Sabbath at sundown). This is similar to "I cried out day and night!"

58:2-5 By comparison with the charmer we might say "There is no reasoning with him!" No matter what efforts we make they ignore them all.

60:3 "You have shown your people desperate times." David was concerned with military defeat. In our land today we have seen moral defeat and despair. As David called for military victory, we may call for a moral victory.

67:1,2 The blessing on God’s people was directly tied to a purpose; that all nations might know God’s salvation. This is a good verse concerning Missions from the Old Testament.

Book III (73-89) — Mostly Asaph

74:3 The simplest explanation is the one given here, that the author is a later Asaph (not of David’s time, but after the Babylonian destruction) or member of the musical guild of the later time.

76:7-10 It is not often that we associate the ‘wrath against men’ with praise to God. This paragraph explains it well.

78:21-33 The BKC commentator explains the manna is called ‘bread of angels’ because it was sent by God. The phrase ‘grain of heaven’ may be taken the same way, or it may also indicate that manna was similar to grain in texture.

82:2-5 From the BKC, "The indictment ... is that His people were unjust and partial." This indictment was particularly addressed to the judges, not the general populace. This is seen in the context of their being called ‘gods’ and by what they are directed to do as judges in the following verses.

86:11 "Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth." This is an inspiring goal, may we seek to both know and follow God and his way.

89:1 This verse is the chorus "I will sing of the mercies of the LORD forever." The NIV ‘great love’ is the Hebrew ‘hesed’ mentioned so often in BKC in discussions of the psalms. The chorus translated it as ‘mercies’. Hesed includes the particular mercies which are expressions of the LORD’s love for his covenant people. Hesed is expressed towards believers.

Book IV (90-106) — Mostly Anonymous

90 An appropriate psalm from the man who recorded the book of Genesis.

91:9-13 The BKC commentary applies these verses to all believers; God has appointed angels to protect us. Satan quoted 11-12 in the temptation of Christ (Matt 4:6) and Jesus’ answer revealed that we are not to foolishly put this to a trial. We do not know how often the close escapes from personal disaster, often called coincidence, are really the LORD’s protection through the agency of protective angels.

94:9-10 God hears, sees, and knows. Indeed, the only reason humans are able to do these things is because God made us this way.

94:18 The love that supported him was the ‘hesed’ or merciful love of God toward his people.

95:6-7 This verse is appropriate as a call to worship. The following verses make it clear that true worship involves more that attending a worship service, it must include doing what God tells you. The ‘if you hear his voice’ may assume that you will hear his voice, certainly we desire that his Word is proclaimed in worship!

97:10 The LORD guards his people! He does this today as well as in the day of his coming in Glory.

100:2 Compare to the chorus "He has Made me Glad". We are told to worship with gladness, it is appropriate to express our joy and gladness. We are being instructed to express our emotions as a group in joyful singing to the LORD.

101 We may follow David’s example of his court and apply it to our home. To do this we cleanse our home of anything vile, it may be books or movies. We choose good friends, and do not allow our children to speak profane or hateful words. The practice of true religion begins in our homes.

102:25-26 This is a great verse partially describing what the eternity of God means. He is distinct from and greater than creation, for he was before it and will still exist when our universe is worn out!

Book V (107-150) — Mostly Anonymous

107:1-3 As the BKC commentary notes, this psalm may have been written during the Babylonian Exile. There are not many descriptions in the Bible of the ordinary Jew during the exile. This psalm shows the diversity of occupations and the LORD’s provisions for His people in a variety of circumstances.

109:18 "He wore cursing as his garment." There are people who are so closely identified with their foul language and curses that we do not see them without expecting this kind of talk. The wearing of a garment is a very colorful comparison; the language is always with them, it is easily seen, yet it is something they put on or take on voluntarily. It is also how they present themselves to the world.

111 This is an acrostic psalm, which means that it goes through the letters of the Hebrew alphabet in order. Two letters are used for each verse, with the second letter being at a dividing point in the verse. These dividing points are punctuated in the NIV, usually with a semicolon or a comma. Verses 9 and 10 have three of the letters each, to total 22.

112 The acrostic pattern is the same as Psalm 111, with three letters each in verses 9 and 10. Notice that this righteous man is generous.

114:1-4 "Judah became God’s sanctuary." This may also refer to God dwelling among His people. The sanctuary was an outward symbol of God’s presence among his people. Today a believer’s body is to be treated as a temple of the Holy Spirit.

116:15 "Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints." While mourning the loss of a loved one we may wonder "Does God care?" This verse is the answer.

119:11 "I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you." This verse gives one reason for memorizing portions of God’s word.

119:18 "Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law." Since the Word is illuminated by the Holy Spirit, that is, we need help to understand the Word properly and apply it, we should start our sessions of Bible Study with a prayer like this verse. Simply ask God to teach us from His Word.

119:52 At the time this Psalm was written, the Laws of God were already ancient. We tend to think of the time span between the Bible and today, almost 2000 years, but forget the thousand year span from Moses to Malachi. Compared to the few centuries of United States history, this is ancient indeed.

126:5,6 Seed for sowing is a considerable investment, especially for one returning from exile or if the previous harvest was skimpy. If short on food, the temptation would be to use the seed for food now rather than for planting. So a farmer might sow with tears; working hard with the last of his seed. The harvest would be joyful if the Lord blessed the crop.





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Updated April 2010

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