God gave mankind the five books of the law and a grateful mankind gave back to God the five books of the Psalms.

  • Book 1 chapters 1-41
  • Book 2 chapters 42-72
  • Book 3 chapters 73-89
  • Book 4 chapters 90-106
  • Book 5 chapters 107-150

The collators of the Psalms took time to place these books in their current order to correspond with the first five books.

  • Book 1 relates to Genesis
  • Book 2 relates to Exodus
  • Book 3 relates to Leviticus
  • Book 4 relates to Numbers
  • Book 5 relates to Deuteronomy

God presented mankind with the law and a grateful Israel responded with a Pentateuch of praise in acknowledgment of God’s gift.  The psalms are a second Pentateuch, the echo of the first.  This may be pure conjecture, but the existence of this idea from ancient times shows that the five fold division attracted early support in history.

Placed in the center of the Bible, rising like a tune from the very heart of the Bible are these songs!  These songs wrestle with the deepest sorrow and ask God the hardest questions. These songs cry out to God and at other times shout for pure joy.  The God they sing of is not a distant God, but a God that is near and personal.

They span over a thousand years of human circumstances.  There is a psalm to match every human emotion and mood! They put your unspoken thoughts into words and form your unspoken conversation toward man and toward God.  They give backbone to the raging emotions of humanity.

Psalm 1 and 2 have been called the orphan psalms and are the introduction to the entire body of psalms.  God starts out with Blessed (happy) is the man who does not do certain things.

True happiness is not in unbridled liberty, but rather in the restrictions God places in our lives.  The more narrow the channel, the more raging the current.  No boundaries or limits allow a body of water to be one inch deep and forty miles wide.

Such is our lives.  When God’s boundaries are observed, our lives are happy and blessed.  When those boundaries are ignored or removed, we are a stagnant unhappy people.

The last 5 psalms are the great doxologies of the Temple.  They were written for and sung at the dedication of the repatriated temple.  There is not a single syllable of complaint or request in these last psalms.  They are pure undistilled praise.  Each one begins and ends with “Praise ye the Lord”!

The authors:

  • David 73 psalms
  • Asaph 12 psalms
  • Sons of Korah 9 psalms
  • Solomon 2 psalms
  • Moses 1 psalm
  • Roughly one third are anonymous

The psalms were used in the temple daily:

  • Monday psalm 48
  • Tuesday psalm 82
  • Wednesday psalm 94
  • Thursday psalm 81
  • Friday psalm 93
  • Saturday psalm 92
  • Sunday psalm 24

The subscriptions and superscriptions above and below the psalms are important. Many people do not even notice them. They add explanation and impact.  Here is a list that I have of the titles, subscriptions and superscriptions.

  • Aijeleth shahar- the day dawn
  • Al Alamoth- relationg to maidens (sopranos)
  • Al Taschith- destroy not
  • Gittith- the winepress (sang at harvest of grapes)
  • Higgaion- a soliloquy or meditation
  • Jeduthun- name of one of the 3 chief musicians
  • Jonath Elim Rechokim- the dove in the far off Terebinth trees
  • Mahalath- the great dance
  • Mahalath leannoth- the great dancing and shouting
  • Maschil- understanding or teaching psalm
  • Michtam- engraving, permanent writing
  • Muth Labben- death of a champion
  • Neginoth- smitings (like smiting  a string on an instrument to bring forth music)
  • Nehiloth- the great inheritance
  • Psalm
  • Selah- pause like a musical rest, can mean “what do you think of that?”
  • Sheminith- the eighth
  • Shiggaion- loud passionate cry, emotional outburst
  • Shoshannim- lilies, re: Passover feast

To understand the psalm adds greater meaning.  Example, when David sinned with Bathsheba he repented and said he would teach transgressors God’s ways.  Psalm 32 is the psalm David wrote for that purpose.  It is a maschil psalm, a teaching psalm, to teach the transgressor how to get back to God.

Putting words to music somehow imbeds them deeper into our memory.  Like a child learning the ABC song, these psalms were sung to drive the lesson deep into the learner’s mind.

How important are the psalms?  When dying on the cross, Jesus quotes from the psalms! (22.1,31.5).  In the disciples efforts to explain Jesus’ life, they quote the psalms more than any other book or part of the Bible.

On a personal note, I believe the 119th psalm was written by Daniel.  There is much speculation about this.  Some attribute it to Hezekiah.  My reason is the writer makes no mention of the temple, or the ritual law.  The writer has powerful enemies who could do him harm. He is a young man. He is in love with the word.  That picture speaks to me of someone in a foreign land without the formal religion to lean on.  The word was all he had, so that became the love of his life!  That speaks to me of Daniel.

May the Bible become that to each of us on our life journey.