By Michael Mooney, NACM Exec Elder.
Ok, maybe that title was an overstatement. Lets try this:
Psalms: Worshipping God Through the Journey
The book of Psalms is known as a literary masterpiece for its poetry and songs, and it is by far one of the most interesting books of the Bible. Not only does it cover the subjects of praise and worship towards God. It also captures an expression of just about every possible emotion that mankind may encounter in his pursuit after God. From laughter to silence, pain to pleasure, persecution to triumph, sickness and health it is no wonder why this book has touched so many generations of people over the years. Between its pages can be found an art gallery filled with pictures of the true realities of faith. Not something that fiction would like to paint, but truth such as the tormenting pain of thinking that God does not hear the cries of his suffering people. And the misperceptions that the wicked go unpunished and prosper. “The Psalms lead us through the valleys and peaks, of human experiences; but, in the end, they guide us to the praise of our loving Creator.” (Phillips, 1)
The book of Psalms is the largest book in the Bible holding 150 chapters, and it is by no accident that it is located almost exactly in the middle of the Bible. For those who believe in the divine deliverance of the Holy Scriptures, these facts suggest a lot about the personality of God. These facts suggest that this book must be very important to God because he made it the largest, and that because it is positioned in the middle of the Bible, it’s content should be the center of the believer’s lives.
The Five Sections of Psalms and the Five Books of the Torah
The Book of Psalms is broken up into five sections, or books sort of like a bible within the Bible. Even more interesting is that each section seems to reflect each one of the five books of the Torah. For example, section one consisting of verses one through forty one opens with a blessing saying “Blessed is the person who does not follow the advice of wicked people, take the path of sinners, or join the company of mockers” (Psa 1:1 GW).
Then Genesis chapter one opens with creation and God finding his work good, he goes on to bless it in verses twenty two and twenty eight which states “God blessed them, and God said unto them, be fruitful, and multiply….” (Genesis 1:28.) Thus, it is seen that both books open with blessing.
Consider God’s words in saying “be fruitful.” Then a few verses later he presents a tree in which mankind was not to eat. “The LORD God made all the trees grow out of the ground. These trees were nice to look at, and their fruit was good to eat. The tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil grew in the middle of the garden” (Gen 2:9 GW).
This verse makes two specific references to two specific trees:
* The tree of the knowledge of good and evil and
* The tree of life
Both of these trees are connected in purpose because when Adam eats from one he lose the benefit of life that the other one offered. This is very similar to Psalms chapter one. Blessing is declared to follow those who delight themselves not in the wicked but in the instructions of God. It goes on to say that they are “like a tree planted beside streams- a tree that produces fruit in season and whose leaves do not wither” (Psa 1:3 GW).
In chapter two the result of not heeding God’s instruction is seen just as in chapters three and four of Genesis. Then the atoning result of the promised seed of the woman in Genesis 3:15 can be seen in Psalms chapter eight which says “You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet” (Psa 8:6 ESV).
The closing of this part of the Psalms is in chapter forty one and verse thirteen which states “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! Amen and Amen” (Psa 41:13 ESV)” is stated twice denoting closure.
This section opens with a blessing from God to man and closes with a blessing of man to God.
Book two consist of chapters forty two through seventy two and is known as the Exodus section. It opens with a good picture of Israel in the desert searching for God and the promised land. “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” (Psa 42:1-2 ESV).
This book begins with Israel in a dry place crying out to their seemingly absent God, and ends in a place of peace and refreshment by the provision of God.
O God, and thy righteousness unto the king’s son…He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass: as showers that water the earth. In his days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace…They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him; and his enemies shall lick the dust… For he shall deliver the needy when he cries; the poor also, and him that has no helper. (Psa 72:1,6,7,9,13)
This is similar to the rejoicing in exodus fifteen when they all “sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the LORD…. “You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed; you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode” (Exo 15:13 ESV). This section closes in verse nineteen with praises unto God followed by two Amens.
Book three consist of chapters seventy three to eighty nine and are known as the Leviticus Psalms. The reason for this mainly is because words like “sanctuary” “assembly” and “Zion” seem to be very commonly used words in this section. The very first verse in this section once again opens with reflection on God’s blessings stating “truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart.” (Psalm 73:1.) And the last verse in this section closes once again by blessing God in saying “blessed be the LORD for evermore. Amen, and Amen.” (Psalm 89:52.) Notice the closure represented in the repeated words of Amen.
Section four is known as the Numbers book and consist of chapters ninety to one hundred and six. This section opens with Moses saying “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations” (Psa 90:1 ESV). Moses could truly say this after spending so much time chasing the glory cloud in the desert spoken of in Numbers chapter nine. “When the cloud was taken up from the tabernacle, then after that the children of Israel journeyed: and in the place where the cloud abode, there the children of Israel pitched their tents.” (17.) The children of Israel had to learn to follow and dwell with God.
In the last chapter of this section there is a review of many of Israel’s rebellions toward God while in the wilderness. Then it closes in chapter one hundred and six with verse forty eight which states “Blessed be the LORD God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting: and let all the people say, Amen. Praise the LORD. Notice this time that Amen was not repeated but instead replaced with praise.
This fifth and final book is known as the Deuteronomy book and consist of chapters one hundred and seven through one hundred and fifty. This book opens with the words “O give thanks unto the LORD, for he is good: for his mercy endures for ever… He sent his word, and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions” (Psalm 107:1, 20.) This is a remembrance of the blessings of God toward man through the power of his word. Deuteronomy chapter eight and verse three fits nicely with this message stating, “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deu 8:3 ESV).
It is by God’s word that the earth was formed and every miracle performed, and it is the obedience to his instruction (word) that the blessings follow. This thought is repeated in chapter one hundred and nineteen “Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD. Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart.” (vs. 1, 2.) This section begins to reach conclusion in the last five chapters which all begin and end with the words “Praise the LORD.”
Chapter one hundred and fifty concludes with praise as the ultimate focus.
By now it should be obvious that the Psalms are filled with meditations upon God’s goodness and blessings towards man. Every one of the five books opens with a thought that considers the provisions and interventions of God’s goodness throughout the years. After reflection upon his favor, each book of the Psalms ends by praising God. This is an undeniable pattern. The word “praise” is used one hundred and fifty times in the book of Psalms and the words “bless”, “blessed” or “blessing” appear ninety three times. The overreaching theme if the five books of Psalms is the believer’s journey of praising God. It is a remembrance of the good times and bad. A reminder that God will deliver his people and he is worthy to be praised regardless of circumstances. “The Psalms lead us through the valleys and peaks, of human experiences; but, in the end, they guide us to the praise of our loving Creator.” (Phillips, 1)
Phillips, Ted. Construction of the Psalms: A Bible Study.
McCann, J. Clinton, Jr. A Theological Introduction to the Book of Psalms: The Psalms as Torah. Nashville: Abingdon, 1993.