I recently saw an article covering a well-known topic in seminary circles, but only mentioned in passing within the church.1
Have you ever thought of the Psalms as a book and read it accordingly? I fear that too often, on a popular level, we simply think of the Psalms as a disconnected series of morning devotional material. They certainly can be used like that, but they are so much more. It is true that the composition of the Psalms spans many years, but so does the composition of the Bible, and no story-line has ever been more pertinent to human existence.
You see, this fragmented view of the Psalms used to be pervasive on an academic level as well. At a time when liberal theology reigned, the individual Psalms were simply rinds that had to be peeled away in order to study the history which lay beneath. However, recent efforts to combat this have converged and been clarified in a work by an author named O. Palmer Robertson.
If you are interested in this subject, this is a highly accessible book for any audience. It is undergirded by years of conservative scholarship, as well sensibly prosodic.
Like any book, did you know the Psalm has an introduction? Many of us would recognize characteristic verses of this introduction:
אַשְׁרֵי־הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר לֹא הָלַךְ בַּעֲצַת רְשָׁעִים וּבְדֶרֶךְ חַטָּאִים לֹא עָמָד וּבְמוֹשַׁב לֵצִים לֹא יָשָׁב׃
Blessed is the man who does not walk in the council of the wicked, nor does he stand in the path of sinners. Indeed, in the abodes of scoffers he does not dwell.
כִּי אִם בְּתוֹרַת יְהוָה חֶפְצוֹ וּבְתוֹרָתוֹ יֶהְגֶּה יוֹמָם וָלָיְלָה׃
Instead, his joy/pleasure/delight is in the Law of Yahweh. In His law he groans/meditates/recites day and night
לָמָּה רָגְשׁוּ גוֹיִם וּלְאֻמִּים יֶהְגּוּ־רִיק׃
Why do the nations rage? And the peoples groan in vain
וַאֲנִי נָסַכְתִּי מַלְכִּי עַל־צִיּוֹן הַר־קָדְשִׁי׃
As for me, I have set my King upon Zion, the holy Mountain
נַשְּׁקוּ־בַר פֶּן־יֶאֱנַף וְתֹאבְדוּ דֶרֶךְ כִּי־יִבְעַר כִּמְעַט אַפּוֹ אַשְׁרֵי כָּל־חוֹסֵי בוֹ׃
Kiss the Son lest He be angry and you perish in the way. For his anger is kindled quickly. Blessed are those who take refuge in Him
Do these verses look familiar? You probably recognize them from Psalm 1 and 2. It is widely accepted by conservative scholars today that these two chapters contain the themes which the rest of the book expounds. If you have ever read Psalm 1 and 2 and struggled to make sense of the flow of each text. This is the reason. The person who compiled the book of Psalms together is concerned to show you what the rest of the book is about: The Law of God, and a King/Messiah. Or, to put it differently Law and Gospel!2
So, the next time you are reading a Psalm, turn back to Psalm 1 and 2 and try to identify the theme of the Psalm you are reading in light of the books introduction.
If you have any questions please feel free to ask them in the comments. I have a guest post coming soon an a particular Psalm that I think you will find beneficial to your souls. Also, please don’t forget to subscribe if you like the site!