Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. Psalm 1:1-2
William Gladstone, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, spoke of the Old Testament book of Psalms, saying, “All the wonders of Greek civilization heaped together are less wonderful than is this simple book of the Psalms.” No book in all the literature of the world is as remarkable as these 150 selections grouped in five books. But many people have never learned what a choice anthology of poetry, history, prose, and prophecy is found in this book. They have yet to discover the rainbow of emotions and feelings found in the Psalms.
I am thinking of a young woman I recently counseled, quite despondent over a failing marriage. Trying to encourage her, I urged her to read at least one chapter from the book of Psalms every day. “Oh no,” she responded. “I never read that book.” “Do you mind if I ask why?” I inquired. “No,” she said, adding, “I never seem to get deliverance from my problems as did David, and that bothers me.”
She had missed the whole point. It is the impact of what’s happening to us–which David and the other writers described, including our emotions of love, hate, fear, frustration, and hope for deliverance which can come only as God intervenes in our lives–which makes this book timeless.
Actually, David was but one of perhaps a dozen different authors whose lives spanned almost a thousand years of time--from the days of Moses to the captivity of God’s people in Babylon in 586 BC. Seventy-three of the 150 psalms are attributed to David, but others such as David’s music director, Asaph, contributed to the book. Solomon wrote some selections along with authors such as Ethan, Jeduthun, and a few unknown writers who gave us psalms that some refer to as “orphan” psalms.
From a literary standpoint, the book is a compilation of five separate books, each of which ends with praise to the Lord. The fifth book ends with Psalms 146-150, which have been called “Hallelujah Psalms,” in that each of these begins and ends with the Hebrew word, hallelujah, which literally means “praise be to God.”
Those of us who read the psalms in a language other than Hebrew lose some of the beauty of these marvelous masterpieces. Poetry in English is usually based on rhyme or meter, but the poetry of the psalms is based on rhythm and thoughts which either contrast or complement each other.
What is most remarkable is the way that the psalms convey such a vast array of emotions from devotion and praise to the Almighty as the Psalmist beholds the glory and majesty of creation (written by a shepherd boy on the hills of Bethlehem) to the curses which the writer bestows on his enemies--all of which he is asking to come from the hand of God who judges the innocence of his heart. Some deal with royal themes whose imagery is set in the palace of the king with its pomp and circumstance. Some are prophetic, with a ring that defies human logic or explanation as the writer pictures the suffering and death of the Messiah Christ a thousand years later than the words were penned.
If you, like the friend I described earlier, have avoided this awesome book, you have a void in your spiritual life as well as your literary education that needs to be met, and in discovering the psalms you will find the strength to meet life’s ultimate test.
Thank God for the psalms--for their richness for their meaning and for their vivid description of our lives today.
Resource reading: Psalm 1:1-6