A Closer Look at Psalms

The Book of Psalms in the Old Testament is the longest book in the Bible. It is composed of 150 chapters or “psalms.” Psalm 119 is the longest psalm not only in the Book of Psalms but in the entire Bible. and it contains 176 verses. The shortest chapter in the Bible is also found in the Book of Psalms, and it is Psalm 117, which contains two verses. The Book of Psalms is actually broken down into five smaller books:

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

Regarding why there are five smaller books within the Book of Psalms, GotQuestion.org states the following:

It is uncertain why Psalms is divided into five books. Some sources, including Jewish Midrash traditions, suggest the five-fold division is based on the five books of the Torah (Genesis to Deuteronomy). The division of the Psalms is not based on authorship or chronology, as several authors composed Psalms, and their individual songs are mixed throughout the various collections.

David is listed as the author of 73 psalms, Asaph of 12, and the sons of Korah of 11. Other psalms were written by Solomon, Heman the EzrahiteEthan the Ezrahite, and Moses (Psalm 90). The earliest extant copy of Psalms is from the Dead Sea Scrolls from about the first century AD. That copy shows that the division into five books extends to at least that time and certainly earlier.

It is most likely that Ezra and/or other Jewish religious leaders compiled the Psalms into their existing order during Ezra’s lifetime in the fourth century BC. Interestingly, the Psalms was one of the most popular writings among the Dead Sea Scrolls, with thirty scrolls of all or parts of the book included. Overall, Psalms is the book of the Old Testament with the most Hebrew manuscripts available for research, indicating its enduring popularity among both Jews and Christians.

Each of these five books or sections of Psalms ends with a doxology or a song of praise. The final verse of each concluding psalm includes either “Praise the Lord!” or “Amen.” For example, the final verse of Psalm 41 ends this way: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, / from everlasting to everlasting. / Amen and Amen.” Psalm 150, the final psalm, serves as the fitting final doxology, concluding with the words, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. / Praise the Lord.” (Quote source here.)

Within those five smaller books in the Book of Psalms are several different “types” of psalms. A Google search on the “types” of psalms found in the Book of Psalms brings up as few as four different types up to as many as 20 different types (see search link here). GotQuestions.org provides the following information on the various types of Psalm found in the Book of Psalms:

The 150 psalms in the Book of Psalms have often been categorized into various types. There is no one way to organize the psalms, but most systems include similar categories with only slight variations. Biblical scholar Hermann Gunkel’s system covers the following categories:

Hymns: Many of the psalms are simple hymns or songs of praise. For example, Psalm 8 is a hymn that begins, “Lord, our Lord, / how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (verse 1).

Lament or Complaint Psalms: These include songs that express sadness to God or complaints against God’s enemies. For example, Psalm 3 is a lament psalm that begins, “Lord, how many are my foes! / How many rise up against me!” (verse 1). Some complaint psalms sound quite negative, though they are set within a context of God responding in love or power. Psalm 44:23–24, for example, says, “Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep? / Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever. / Why do you hide your face / and forget our misery and oppression?”

Royal Psalms: Several psalms were performed in the presence of kings or dignitaries.  Psalm 18:50 states, “He gives his king great victories; / he shows unfailing love to his anointed, / to David and to his descendants forever.”

Thanksgiving Psalms: These songs of thanks include both thanksgiving from individuals (such as Psalms 3032, and 34) and from the community (such as Psalms 67 and 124). One of the best-known thanksgiving psalms is Psalm 100. Verses 4–5 proclaim, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving / and his courts with praise; / give thanks to him and praise his name. / For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; / his faithfulness continues through all generations.”

Wisdom Psalms: While many psalms discuss aspects of wisdom, certain psalms such as Psalms 137, and 49 focus on the theme of wisdom, speaking of the fear of the Lord or offering words of wisdom. Psalm 1:1–3 is a great example: “Blessed is the one / who does not walk in step with the wicked / or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, / but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, / and who meditates on his law day and night. / That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, / which yields its fruit in season / and whose leaf does not wither— / whatever they do prospers.”

Smaller Genres and Mixed Types: Some psalms include a mix of types. Psalms 910, and 123 are examples. Other psalms have only a small number in their category, such as psalms regarding the stories of Israel (Psalms 78105, and 106). The Songs of Ascent, written to be sung by worshipers on their way up to Jerusalem, also represent a smaller genre that includes mixed types (Psalms 120—134). (Quote source here.)

An article titled, Introduction to the Psalms,” on EVS.org by Crossway Resources provides the following list of types of Psalms found in the Book of Psalms (most are listed above):

The Psalms can be identified according to some basic categories:

Laments, which lay a troubled situation before the Lord, asking him for help. There are community (Psalm 12) and individual (Psalm 13) laments. This category is the largest by far, including up to a third of all Psalms.

Hymns of praise, which call God’s people to admire his great attributes and deeds. Examples include Psalms 8; 93; and 145.

Hymns of thanksgiving. As with laments, there are community (Psalm 9) and individual (Psalm 30) thanksgiving psalms.

Hymns celebrating God’s law (Psalm 119).

Wisdom psalms (Psalms 1; 37), which reflect themes from the Wisdom Books (JobProverbsEcclesiastesSong of Solomon).

Songs of confidence, which enable worshipers to deepen their trust in God amid difficult circumstances (Psalm 23).

Royal psalms, which present the Davidic monarchy as the vehicle of blessing for God’s people. Some of these are prayers (Psalm 20), some are thanksgivings (Psalm 21). All relate to the Messiah, the ultimate heir of David, either by setting a pattern (Psalms 20–21) or by portraying the king’s reign in such a way that only the Messiah can completely fulfill it (Psalms 2; 72), or by focusing on the future (Psalm 110).

Historical psalms, which take lessons from the history of God’s dealings with his people (Psalm 78).

Prophetic hymns, which echo the Prophets, calling people to covenant faithfulness (Psalm 81). (Quote source here.)

One last reflection regarding the five smaller books in the Book of Psalms is found in a devotional published on September 28, 2017, titled, The Five Books of Psalms,” by Davis Carman, author and President of Apologia Educational Ministries. At the end of his devotional (which can be read at this link), he summarizes the five books of Psalms as follows:

To sum up [see complete descriptions for each book at this link], here’s a quick look at the emphasis of each of the five books in Psalms:

Book 1: God beside us
Book 2: God going before us
Book 3: God around us
Book 4: God above us
Book 5: God among us

So who or what controls the music of your life? Are you driven by the social pressures you feel from culture around you? Or do you approach each day from the perspective of a scripture or biblical song of worship on which you have meditated? God’s Word is sweeter than honey and more desirable than gold or silver (Psalm 19:10). Go ahead and put some honey on your tongue today and sing a new song to the Lord! (Quote source here.)

What a comfort it is to think about God always being “beside” us, “going before” us, “around” us, “above” us, and “among” us! And the questions he asks are some very good questions for us to consider as we begin each new day.

If you’re looking for a good way to start, the following 30-day devotional in the Psalms is a great way start off your morning. It is titled, Praying Through the Most Beloved Psalms in 30 Days,” by Dolores Smyth, and it is available online at this link. I’ll end this post with the words from Psalm 119:105: Your word is a lamp…

To my feet . . .

And a light . . .

To my path . . . .

YouTube Video: “Thy Word” by Amy Grant:

Photo #1 credit here
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