The Word Is Alive

The Book of Psalms

For about three thousand years, every situation in a Jew’s life has been reflected in King David’s Book of Psalms, and the still provide solace and opportunities to praise God for the Christian today. Referring to this book, is reputed that God said to David, “One day of your songs and praises is more precious to me that the thousands of offerings that will be brought by your son Solomon”. In illness and in strife, in triumph and success, the reader opens the Psalms and lets David become the harp upon which his own emotions sing or weep.

Upon reading of David’s many ordeals, one can begin to understand how he could compose the psalms that capture every person’s joy and grief, thanksgiving and remorse, cries from the heart and songs of happiness. He was the Sweet Singer of Israel; more than that, however, he experienced the travail of every person, and that is why everyone can see himself mirrored in David’s psalms.

Many of the psalms were composed to be sung by the Levites in the Temple, with musical accompaniment, and such psalms generally begin by naming the instrument upon which they would be played. Many of the psalms are attributed to authors other than David, but according to one view in the Talmud, he was the author of them all, presumably drawing upon ideas or texts and weaving them into his own compositions.

Whatever the authorship of the psalms, one thing is certain: Since the day it was composed, the Book of Psalms has become interwoven with the souls of countless believers. The psalms are part of Jewish daily prayers and form the basis of many modern worship songs. They are received at moments of illness and crisis. They are chanted joyously in times of good fortune and when heartfelt prayers have been answered, they are often read at during church meetings to lift and encourage the congregation.

The last verse in the psalms proclaims: <<Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!>> (Psalm 150:6). This degree of gratitude that sees everything – even as automatic an act as drawing breath – as a divine gift is one of the countless teachings of David. It is the soul that permeates the entire Book of Psalms.

As stated above, there is debate in Jewish circles as to whether David wrote all the psalms or not. The commentaries on this site will list them according to the attributed author. However, it is recommended that the reader try to accept them with the very heart of King David. After all, in God’s own testimony he said: <<I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after my heart, who will carry out all my wishes>> (Acts 13:22).

The Book of Psalms is divided into five sections, each closing with a doxology, i.e. a benediction; these divisions were probably introduced by the final editors to imitate the five-fold division of the Torah.

Introduction 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

There is some supplementary material for the book that may prove useful for study.