Psalms Lesson 1: Introduction

THE FOLLOWING ARE NOTES FOR LECTURES GIVEN AT NEW COLLEGE, BIRMINGHAM. I AM NOT AN EXPERT AND BOOKS WILL BE CREDITED TO SHOW WHERE MY INFORMATION IS COMING FROM. IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS, COMMENT ON THIS POST AND I WILL TRY MY BEST TO ANSWER.

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Intro – Psalms – songs, prayers, liturgy, etc

Psalms have inspired a huge amount of poetic, literary and musical creativity.

For example, here are three very different clips of music inspired by, and using sections of psalms:

  1. Tehillim Part 1 by American composer Steve Reich in 1981.

  1. The Lord is My Shepherd (Psalm 23) of which there are many versions.

  1. The Rivers of Babylon by the Melodians, a song from the Rastafarian movement, written in 1970, and uses bits of Psalm 137 and Psalm 19.

Hebrew title is Tehillim “hymns” or “songs of praise”

Although characterised as songs, much of Psalms was understood as prayer.
In some cases psalms have become more like an instruction in character. As you read them you will see that it is not hard to understand their use as prayer or song.

As the Psalms are so clearly personally written, either by one person or for a community, getting down to exactly what the author may have meant often feels difficult.

For example, a friend of mine was recently preaching on Psalm 139.

Psalm 139: 7 – author considered running away
OR author using rhetoric to describe the vastness of God.

In Job 41:1-11 the author does just that.

We had a difference of opinion, but actually both could be right. There could be a double meaning behind the words, which some poets and songwriters often do. The language is deep and complex, as are the feelings behind them. Plus, as God’s living Word, He can speak through it, to teach us things and inspire wisdom within us whilst studying the text. This means there is a wealth of information to take hold of!

As for basic information about the Psalms to start us off, there are:

Five Books:

  1. 1-41 (Mostly ascribed to David (exc. 1,2,10 & 33))
  2. 42-72 (18 of them ascribed to David. Rest are anonymous)
  3. 73-89 (86 to David, 88 to Heman the Ezrahite, 89 to Ethan the Ezrahite)
  4. 90-106 (90 ascribed to Moses, 101 & 103 to David)
  5. 103-150 (15 of them ascribed to David, and psalm 127 for Solomon)

Psalm Genres

  • Hymns (117; 145; congregation called to praise, creation, God’s acts of faithfulness & love toward Israel)
  • Laments

– Individual (3-7)
– Community (83; 85)
– national disaster (Babyl. destruction of Judah & exile: 74; 79; 137)

  • Royal Psalms (centre on the king: 18, coronations: 2, weddings: 45)
  • Thanksgiving Psalms (30; accounts distress & deliverance, indiv. mostly)
  • Wisdom Psalms
  • Smaller genres and mixed type

We will be working through examples of these Books and Genres, as well as particular imagery, to give you an overview of the Psalms by the end.

  • Kidner, Derek. Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary on Book I and II of the Psalms (Inter-Varsity Press, England, 1973).
  • Spurgeon, C. H. The Treasury of David, Volume 1, Psalm I to LVII (Hendrickson Publishers, Massachusetts).
  • Society of Biblical Literature. The Harper Collins Study Bible (New Revised Standard Version).
  • Walton, John H. Chronolgical and Background Charts of the Old Testament (Zondervan, Michigan, 1978).
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