Week 79: Psalms Part 1
The Book of Psalms is the most loved and the best known part of the Bible. Individual psalms are popular with people who are not regular Bible readers and also with those who wish to praise the god whom they know and love. they have a universal appeal, translating easily into today’s culture, despite being from so long ago. While most of the Old testament needs to be understood in the light of the new testament, most of the Psalms can be used directly. there is a timeless quality to the Psalms, and they can easily be applied to the Christian life. It is no surprise that hymn-writers throughout history have drawn their inspiration from them.
The Psalms have been valued throughout the history of the Church. Martin Luther said, ‘In the Psalms we look into the heart of every saint.’ John Calvin said that in the Psalms ‘We look into a mirror and see our own heart.’ A modern commentator put it this way: ‘every psalm seems to have my name and address on it.’ It is the most human part of the Old testament, which everyone can readily identify with.
The Book of Psalms is the hymn-book and prayer-book of Israel in the Old testament. It is the longest book in the Bible and took nearly 1,000 years to write. Although most of the Psalms were written at the time of david (around 1000 BC), some of them were written at the time of Moses (about 1300 BC) and others at the time of the Exile (500 BC).
The word ‘psalm’ literally means ‘twang’ or ‘pluck’, referring to the stringed instruments that were used to accompany the singing of psalms. The Book of Psalms is placed in the Hebrew Bible at the start of the books of Writings – the third section of the Bible, coming after the books of the Law and the Prophets. In Hebrew the book is called Tenillim, which means ‘Songs of Praise’, which is probably a much better name for it (especially as the word ‘Jew’ comes from ‘Judah’, which means ‘praise’). Psalms are most commonly spoken or sung, but they can even be shouted – a form that doesn’t go down well in some cultures!
There are various kinds of psalms, as we will see later. The simplest division is between the personal psalms, using the pronoun ‘I’, and the collective psalms, using ‘we’. Thus some psalms are most suited to private worship and others to public worship. However, the division must not be too strict, as Jesus encouraged his disciples to use the words ‘Our Father’, implying that they should have a corporate responsibility even when they prayed privately.