Introduction to the Psalms

By: Max Anders and Steven J. Lawson 

No other book of the Bible compares with the wonder of the sacred collection of inspired worship songs known as the Psalms. Considered by many to be the most loved portion of Scripture, the Psalms have been a bedrock of comfort and a tower of strength for believers in every experience of life. From the soul-stirring heights of praise to the heart-rending depths of despair, the full range of human emotion is captured in these magnificent anthems. Written some three thousand years ago in the days of ancient Israel, the Psalms remain just as vibrant and fresh today as when they were first written. They are able to lead the hearts of all believers to praise God. Because it directs its readers to this highest, God-assigned end, the collection of psalms occupies a unique place in the canon of Scripture.

Contained in this inspired hymnbook is the psalmists' passionate devotion to God as these wise men and worship leaders led God's people in exalting the name of him who alone is worthy to be praised. More than any other portion of Scripture, the Book of Psalms has influenced the public worship and private devotions of God's people through the centuries, leading them to seek him more diligently, to love him more deeply, and to trust him more fully. But in order for the Psalms to be rightly understood, a basic orientation to each psalm's historical background, literary style, and figures of speech is necessary. This brief introduction serves as an important prelude to the study of the Psalms. 

Unique Features

The Psalms, it can be argued, is the most unusual book in the Bible. Many interesting features cause it to stand out as a truly one-of-a-kind book. Consider some of the following special aspects:

C Psalms is the largest book in the Bible, containing 150 psalms.

C If each psalm is considered a chapter, then Psalms contains the most chapters of any book in the Bible, with its 150 psalms. The Book of Isaiah is a distant second with 66 chapters.

C Psalm 119 is the largest chapter in the Bible, a unit of 176 verses, containing more verses than many other short books of the Bible.

C Psalm 117 is the shortest chapter in the Bible, containing only two verses.

C Psalm 117 is also the middle chapter of the Bible, the very center of the !,I89 chapters found in Genesis through Revelation.

C Psalm 118:8 is the absolute center of the 31,173 verses contained in the Scripture, the middle verse of the entire Bible.

C Psalms is written by more authors than any other book in the Bible. It is a literary collection claiming a multiple authorship of many men such as David, Asaph, the sons of Korah, Solomon, Moses, Heman, Ethan, and others.

C Psalms was a long-term project that was approximately nine hundred to one thousand years in the making, requiring the longest time period for its writing than all the canonical books.

C Psalms is the most quoted Old Testament book in the New Testament. Of the 360 Old Testament quotations or allusions in the New Testament, 112 are from the Psalms.

C Psalms Contains more messianic prophecies than any other Old Testament book, other than possibly Isaiah. It reveals the Messiah as the Son of God (Ps. 2) and son of man (Ps. 8) in his obedience (Ps. 40:6-8), betrayal (Ps. 41:9), crucifixion (Ps. 22), resurrection (Ps. l6), ascension (Ps. 68:18), and enthronement (Ps. 110).

Book Title

The word psalms comes from a Greek word which means "the plucking of strings." It means a song to be sung to the accompaniment of a plucked or stringed instrument such as a harp or lyre. Thus, the Psalms is a collection of worship songs sung to God by the people of Israel with musical accompaniment. The collection of these 150 psalms into one book served as the first hymnbook for God's people, written and compiled to assist them in their worship of God. At first, because of the wide variety of these songs, this praise book was unnamed, but eventually the ancient Hebrews called it "The Book of Praises," or simply "Praises." This title reflects its main purpose-to assist believers in the proper worship of God.

Time Period

Because many different authors wrote the Psalms, the writing of these sacred songs occurred at different times, spanning a period of about nine hundred to one thousand years. The time of their writing reaches from approximately 1410 B.C., when the first psalm was written, to around 500 B.C. to 430 B.C., when the last psalm was written, depending upon the identity of the author of Psalm 126.

C The first psalm written, Psalm 90, was composed by Moses during Israel's forty years of wilderness wanderings (1445-1405 B.C.), probably toward the end of this time of severe testing, perhaps around 1410 B.C.

C The vast majority of the psalms were written during the kingly reigns of David (1020-970 B.c.) and Solomon (970-931 B.C.), around 1000 B.C.

C The last psalm composed, Psalm 126, is thought to have been recorded after the time of Israel's Babylonian exile, during their return to the land of Judah, around 500 B.C.,or even earlier, about 430 B.C., if Psalm 126 was written by Ezra.

Intended Purpose

No matter where a person is in the Christian life, whether up or down, soaring or struggling, there is a psalm that speaks directly to the spiritual state of his heart. The psalms were written to guide believers in the proper worship of God and used rightly, are to be sung devotionally (Eph. 5.19; Col. 3:16), prayed fervently (Acts a.25-26), preached evangelistically (Acts 2:25-28,31,34-35; 13:33,35), and taught expositionally (Luke 24:44; Rom. 3:10-14,18; 1 Cor. 15:27; Eph. 4:8; Heb. 1:5). The primary purpose of the Book of Psalms is found in its intensely God-centered focus to direct our hearts toward him in every experience of life.

This article is from the Holman Old Testament Commentary Volume 11, Psalms 1-75, pages 1-4. You can buy this commentary from

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