It is with gratitude to our God and Father that we are hereby permitted to offer the reader a commentary on Psalms. In writing this, we have become increasingly aware of the great privilege God has given His people – both His earthly people, Israel, and His heavenly people, the church – by making this book part of His inspired Word.
Being engaged with the book of Psalms gives one a burning heart. The Emmaus disciples say to one another, after the Lord Jesus came to them and walked with them to Emmaus: “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?” (Lk 24:32). They were sad at first, but because He opened the Scriptures to them, in which He Himself is presented (Lk 24:27,44), their sadness changed to joy (cf. Jn 16:20,22; 20:20b).
We often see this change of feelings in Psalms. This is also recognizable in our own lives. We cry out to the Lord from the depths of our distress and He comforts us through the Scriptures: “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom 15:4).
We have experienced something of this as we examined this part of the Scriptures, or rather, were examined by this part of the Scriptures. We hope and pray that it will not be a passing experience for ourselves. We hope and pray that the reader, while reading and examining, may also experience this.
Ger de Koning / Tony Jonathan
Middelburg / Arnhem, Translation May 2021
Introduction to Psalms
The book of Psalms, like all the other books of the Old Testament, is a testimony about the Lord Jesus Christ (Jn 5:39). The Lord Jesus puts it this way: “All things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Lk 24:44). The explanation of Psalms is found in the New Testament. There we see that the psalms are not only applied to the Lord Jesus, but are also and especially fulfilled in Him. They were given with that prophetic purpose. We see this, for example, in some quotes from Psalms that are fulfilled in Christ on the cross (Jn 19:24,28; Psa 22:18,15). It says with these quotes that is was “to fulfill the Scripture” which shows that the Lord Jesus Himself is speaking in the psalms. The Man Jesus Christ experienced the feelings described in Psalms perfectly and at their deepest.
Directly connected to this, we find in this book prophetically the condition and experiences of the Jewish believing remnant in the end times. The Messiah has a special connection with them. The remnant experiences the way God works with them toward His designated goal. As a result, they encounter all kinds of diverse circumstances in which faith is tested and refined. This is not only true of the faithful believers of the Old Testament, but also for New Testament believers. The result is one grand praise of God by all that has breath, as described in the last psalm (Psa 150:1-6).
This book stands at the center of the Bible, forming its heart, as it were. In this book we hear, so to speak, the beating of the heart of believers who walk with God in this world. The words of the psalms have echoed and vibrated in the hearts of countless believers throughout the years. They have been of support to believers in the greatest need. They express the feelings of their hearts. For example, Psalm 23, which is probably the best known psalm, is for many a much-loved chapter in the Bible.
The closing verse of the second part of the book says: “The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended” (Psa 72:20). We can infer that David’s previous psalms have the character of “prayers”. There is also one single mention of “[A Psalm] of Praise, of David” (Psa 145:1), whereby the word “praise” in Hebrew, tehilla, being the singular of the Hebrew title of Psalms, tehillim. These two features, prayer and praise, are the two typical features of the believer who walks with God in this world. He prays for help and salvation in and out of hardship, and then he praises God for that help and salvation.
Psalms received its Hebrew name sefer tehillim from the Jewish rabbis. The name means ‘the book of praise’. That name was given because of the use of this book in the services in the temple of Solomon. Later, in the second or first century BC, the Old Testament, Psalms included, was translated into Greek (the Septuagint). The book was then given the Greek title psalmoi, which means ‘song accompanied by an instrument’.
The book of Psalms is a collection of one hundred and fifty songs written by different writers over a period of about a thousand years. The oldest psalm, Psalm 90, is of Moses (Psa 90:1), which means that is written about 1500 BC. The (probably) youngest psalm, Psalm 137, was written during the Babylonian exile (Psa 137:1), that is about 600 BC. It may even be that Psalm 126 was written after the return from exile (Psa 126:1), that is in 500 BC. Already at the time of Ezra and Nehemiah we find that the psalms are sung (Ezra 3:10-12; Neh 7:44; 12:24,36,45-46).
The order of the chapters in Psalms is not arbitrary. We can infer from Paul’s speech in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch that each psalm is in its proper place. In that speech, Paul quotes a verse from Psalms and says that this verse is written in “the second Psalm” (Acts 13:33).
The Old Testament is called TeNaCh in Hebrew. This word is called an ‘acronym’, which is a word formed by the initial letters of a number of words. TeNaCh is a word made up of the initial letters of the three parts of the Old Testament. These parts are successively: the Torah (law of Moses), the Nevi’im (the prophets) and the Chetuvim (the scriptures or psalms).
This division is mentioned by the Lord Jesus (Lk 24:44). In fact, the book of Psalms is one of the many books of the Chetuvim (the scriptures). But because this book is both the first and the largest book of the Chetuvim, this third part of the Old Testament is called psalms instead of the scriptures.
The most quotes in the New Testament are from the book of Psalms, along with the book of Isaiah. Of the approximately 283 direct quotations from the Old Testament in the New Testament, 116 come from Psalms.
The Writers of Psalms
Many thousands of psalms were written during the Old Testament period. From King David we know many psalms. He is the principal writer. He wrote most of the psalms. That is why in the Codex Sinaiticus this book is called ‘the Psalms of David’. King Solomon, David’s son, also wrote songs or psalms, even a 1,005 (1Kgs 4:32). One of them, Psalm 127, is found in the book of Psalms (Psa 127:1). In addition, there are several other composers – we list them below – who wrote one or more psalms.
Of the thousands of psalms, the Holy Spirit has inspired 150. Together they form a part of the Word of God: the book of Psalms. Of most of the psalms, we know who the author is.
1. David wrote at least 73 psalms; these are the psalms that bear his name in the heading: Psalms 3-32; 34-41; 51-65; 68-70; 86; 101; 103; 108-110; 122; 124; 131; 133; 138-145. To these are added Psalm 2 and Psalm 95. These psalms have no name in the heading in the book of Psalms. However, the New Testament quotes from them, stating that both psalms are by David (Acts 4:25; Psa 2:1; Heb 4:7; Psa 95:7-8). That brings the total of psalms that are at least by David to 75, which is half of all psalms.
2. Asaph wrote twelve psalms: Psalms 50; 73-83.
3. The sons of Korah wrote eleven psalms: Psalms 42-49; 84; 85; 87.
4. Heman the Ezrahite, wrote one: Psalm 88.
5. Ethan, also an Ezrahite, wrote one: Psalm 89.
6. Moses wrote one: Psalm 90.
7. Solomon wrote two: Psalms 72; 127.
David is called in the Bible “the man … the sweet psalmist of Israel“ (2Sam 23:1). According to what we read in Amos, David did “improvise to the sound of the harp” (Amos 6:5). He also gave instructions about music in the service of the temple (Ezra 3:10; Neh 12:24).
Like Joseph and Moses, David is also a type of Christ. All three exhibit in their lives the dichotomy of suffering through rejection and glorification afterwards. They experienced what Christ says of Himself: “Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” (Lk 24:26). Thus the psalms many times interpret Christ’s feelings and experiences.
One of the features of Hebrew poetry is the use of ‘parallelism’. This is a style of writing in which a particular message given in the first sentence is repeated in other terms in the next sentence or expanded upon. This can be done with or without extending the message, with a contrast or with a climax. In stories, prose, and especially in poetry, parallel sentences are often found. In doing so, the verses can also exhibit a variety of patterns that will not be elaborated on here.
Several types of parallelism can be distinguished. We will mention two of them, making the meaning clear:
1. Parallels that correspond to each other, also called synonymous parallelism. We find this especially in ‘teaching psalms’, psalms that contain teaching. In this case, a thought from the first line of the verse is expressed in the next line with different words and sometimes a little more elaborate. It is two sentences representing one thought. An example is:
“Why are the nations in an uproar
And the peoples devising a vain thing?” (Psa 2:1).
2. Parallels that are opposite, that form a contrast, also called antithetical parallelism. In this case, a thought from the first line of the verse is expressed in opposite terms in the next verse. This is often indicated by the word “but” at the beginning of the second line of the verse. An example of this is:
“For the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish” (Psa 1:6).
In addition to parallel phrases, many linguistic devices are used in Hebrew literature, some of which we will mention in the explanation.
It is important to realize each time that God is speaking in this book and speaking to us. This means that we find in it the intercourse between God and man. To portray this intercourse, He has used the psalm writers. We see this, for example, in Psalm 45, where the Holy Spirit is at work in the psalmist when he says: “My heart overflows with a good theme; I address my verses to the King; My tongue is the pen of a ready writer” (Psa 45:1b).
The meaning of the psalms for the Christian
Many Christians do not understand the meaning of the psalms because they do not know their New Testament position in Christ. They forget that the Old Testament is about an earthly people, Israel, before to the work of the Lord Jesus on the cross. This people has no assurance of faith, an assurance so feature of the heavenly people of God, the church, in the New Testament. In their life of faith they are guided by the psalms, whereas these are feature of the life of faith of the Old Testament believers. The experience of their faith runs up and down with their feelings. The cause of this is not knowing the certainty of salvation by faith. By the Spirit of God every child of God can possess that certainty.
That assurance is that the relationship to God depends on faith in the accomplished work of Christ and not on feelings. The Old Testament believer knows nothing of this, for that work was not yet accomplished at that time. Hence, there can be no question yet of resting in that work, which is the privilege of the New Testament believer. Feelings are part of the life of faith, but they are not the foundation of it. The faithful acceptance of Christ and His work determines the relationship to God Who is thereby known as Father.
Through the prophets God speaks to man. In the psalms we hear man speaking to God in the midst of circumstances that are also future events to which the prophets have referred. The psalms are prophecy from the heart of the God-fearing person to God and not the other way around, which is common for the prophets, who speak to man on behalf of God. They are expressions of trust. The psalms presuppose knowledge of the prophecies.
In addition to the Lord Jesus, we find believers speaking in this book. These are prophetically the faithful of the end times, the faithful remnant of Israel that is closely connected to the Lord Jesus. The feelings of the psalmists that they had in their day and what they expressed will be present in the hearts of the faithful in the end times in the future.
The book of Psalms clearly has a prophetic character. This is evident from what Peter says in his speech on the day of Pentecost: “For David says of Him, ‘I SAW THE LORD ALWAYS IN MY PRESENCE; FOR HE IS AT MY RIGHT HAND, SO THAT I WILL NOT BE SHAKEN. ‘THEREFORE MY HEART WAS GLAD AND MY TONGUE EXULTED; MOREOVER MY FLESH ALSO WILL LIVE IN HOPE; BECAUSE YOU WILL NOT ABANDON MY SOUL TO HADES, NOR ALLOW YOUR HOLY ONE TO UNDERGO DECAY. ‘YOU HAVE MADE KNOWN TO ME THE WAYS OF LIFE; YOU WILL MAKE ME FULL OF GLADNESS WITH YOUR PRESENCE.’ “Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. And so, because he was a prophet and knew that GOD HAD SWORN TO HIM WITH AN OATH TO SEAT [one] OF HIS DESCENDANTS ON HIS THRONE, he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that HE WAS NEITHER ABANDONED TO HADES, NOR DID His flesh SUFFER DECAY” (Acts 2:25-31; Psa 16:8-11).
The psalms point to events that will take place in the future. They are about Israel and Zion and the Lord Jesus as King over His people. The psalms cannot apply prophetically to the church. We have a clear example in the so-called revenge psalms, in which the God-fearing Jews ask for judgment on their enemies (Psa 69:22-28; 137:7-9). This is not the language of the church of God. Following the Lord, it befits us, believers of the church, to pray for those who persecute us and do evil (Mt 5:43-44; Lk 23:34; Acts 7:60).
The psalms cannot tell us anything of the fundamental truths of Christianity, simply because they have not yet been revealed. The horizon of the psalms is earthly; they deal with the feelings of people who are under the law. In the New Testament, the psalms are also seen as part of the law. After Paul quotes a number of verses from the psalms, he says of them that this is all “whatever the Law says” (Rom 3:19).
Many Christians find their feelings reflected in the psalms because they have wrongfully placed themselves under the law. The book lets us hear the feelings of believers who want to keep the law of God, but discover time and again that they are transgressing the law. Such a person is described in Romans 7 (Rom 7:7-25). As indicated above, the book does not describe the feelings of the Christian who knows the Father and what his position before God is, but of the pious Jew who does not have free access into the sanctuary. In the Old Testament, access to God has not yet been made known.
Our position, through the eternal life we have been given, is connected with the revelation of the Father’s heart declared by the Lord Jesus when He came to earth. This is unknown at the origin of the psalms. Israel does know God as Father, but in the sense of Creator, as the Origin of His people (Deu 32:6; Isa 63:16; 64:8; Mal 2:10). We know God as the Father of the Lord Jesus Who is our life, the Father of the Son.
Added to this is the testimony the Holy Spirit gives of the Lord Jesus sitting at the right hand of God in heaven and what our place in connection with Him there is. The Holy Spirit dwells in the New Testament believer who has accepted the gospel of his salvation (1Cor 15:1-4; Eph 1:13). Old Testament believers know the Holy Spirit, but do not have Him indwelling. He worked on earth during Old Testament times, but He did not dwell on earth. The Holy Spirit has come to dwell on earth in the church and in the believer only after the Lord Jesus is glorified in heaven (Jn 7:37-39; 1Cor 3:16; 6:19).
Another difference is the knowledge of salvation. The New Testament believer knows that the Lord Jesus has obtained an eternal salvation, which makes a repetition of His sacrifice unnecessary. The Old Testament believer does not know a once for all accomplished sacrifice and must come up with a sacrifice every time he has sinned. This proves that he does not know perfect salvation, for there is not yet a once for all accomplished work (Heb 10:1-3,11-14).
So, what value do the psalms have then for us, Christians? Much, in every respect. First, we find in the psalms the feelings of the Lord Jesus in connection with His earthly people. We get to know His feelings, His suffering and compassion for His own who are in trouble and tribulation. Precisely because it is about Him, we, Christians, want to know more about that. We want to know Him better.
Secondly, through the psalms we get to know the feelings of the faithful remnant in the end times. Because the Lord Jesus also passed through great and deep suffering, He suffers with the remnant. This concerns all the suffering they undergo on the part of men.
Third, for all that is written in the book of Psalms, what is true of the entire Old Testament applies: “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom 15:4). Although our position before God and our relationship to God is different, higher, than that of the Old Testament believers, we do share a lot with them. For the God of David is also our God and Abraham’s faith in God is also our faith.
We also share with them our love for God and His Word and the confidence that He will fulfill all His promises. Like them, we experience the enmity of people who hate God and who therefore also hate His own, us. Like them, we go through much trouble and sorrow. With us, as with them, that can be the result of our own unfaithfulness. It can also, like them, happen that we don’t understand why certain things happen to us and we have our questions about that. We recognize many of the feelings of God-fearing Israelites in our lives with the Lord. Their faith and the experience of it are an example for us.
The Lord Jesus and His Own
Yet another aspect of our keen interest in the psalms is that we are directly involved in the great end result of all God’s ways that the Spirit reveals in Psalms. New Testament believers are joined to Christ in the closest way possible, namely, as a body with a head. As a result, they will reign with Him over the nations in the realm of peace. He, Who is the Messiah of His earthly people and the worldwide Lord and King, has been given by God as Head above all things to the church (Eph 1:10,22-23). Therefore, they take the greatest interest in Him, even when it comes to His connection with His earthly people.
In all ages there have been faithful ones in Israel who have always had the same feelings in their hearts that we find here. But they have always been individuals, never the multitude. The Lord Jesus makes Himself one with the remnant. The suffering of the people and the suffering of the Lord Jesus are found in this book. Even today He makes Himself one with all who suffer for His Name.
With regard to the suffering of the Lord Jesus in connection with His people, it is good to see that there are several aspects to that suffering. First, He suffers as atonement with God on behalf of all, on the Day of atonement, represented by the first goat that is brought as a sin offering (Lev 16:15-19). This implies that on the basis of the work of the Lord Jesus, atonement can be offered to all people. Second, He also suffers as substitute for His people. This is shown on the Day of atonement when the high priest laid his hands on the head of the second goat which is presented as the send away goat, the goat for Azazel (Lev 16:20-22). This implies that the Lord Jesus, through His work on the cross, actually reconciled with God all who accepted the offer of reconciliation.
This atoning suffering with its two aspects is always in singular in the New Testament. It is a suffering suffered by the Lord Jesus alone, just as on the Day of atonement all the work is done by the high priest, alone. This illustrates what happened on the cross in the three hours of darkness. Then He was all alone, even forsaken by God.
Another aspect of His suffering is a suffering that He endures together with His people. This is the case in the suffering inflicted on His people from the side of men. This suffering in the New Testament is always in plural. That suffering is aptly rendered as follows: “In all their affliction He was afflicted” (Isa 63:9a). We see a picture of this in the furnace of blazing fire into which Daniel’s friends are thrown because of their faithfulness to God. He joins them in the midst of the fire (Dan 3:23-25). This is suffering for the sake of righteousness, suffering because of the fact that they are doing God’s will, bearing witness to Him in the world.
There is another side to the suffering of His people, namely the suffering – plural in the New Testament – into which God takes them in order to purify them. This suffering was not necessary with the Lord, He was the Holy One and the blameless and unstained Lamb. His suffering in His earthly life and on the cross on the part of men was necessary just to show us that He was the Holy One, Who was qualified to be offered as a sacrifice of sins.
The remnant suffers inwardly, in their conscience, when they see what the Lord Jesus has done for them to free them from their sins. They become aware of their guilt. Their comfort is that they become aware of the forgiveness of their sins. The remnant also suffers on the part of those who persecute them because of their connection to Christ. Then they plead their innocence. Their comfort is that the Lord Jesus knows their suffering and shares in it.
Division of Psalms
The book of Psalms can be divided into five books:
Book 1 consists of Psalms 1-41
Book 2 consists of Psalms 42-72
Book 3 consists of Psalms 73-89
Book 4 consists of Psalms 90-106
Book 5 consists of Psalms 107-150
This division is evident from the ending of the books 1-4, each of which is characterized by the same praise (Psa 41:13; 72:19; 89:52; 106:48). In doing so, we find a double “amen” in the books 1-3 (Psa 41:13; Psa 72:19; 89:52) and an “Amen. Hallelujah” (Psa 106:48). The book of Psalms closes with five ‘hallelujah-palms’, all of which begin and end with “hallelujah” (Psalms 146-150).
Because of the division of the collection of the psalms into five books, it has already been called by the Jews ‘the Pentateuch of David’. Pentateuch means ‘five-piece’. Known is the Pentateuch of Moses, which are the books Genesis through Deuteronomy. The Pentateuch of Moses can be compared to the five books into which the psalms can be divided. This division supports the observation made above that there is a clear order in the psalms:
Book 1 Psalms 1-41 / Genesis
Book 2 Psalms 42-72 / Exodus
Book 3 Psalms 73-89 / Leviticus
Book 4 Psalms 90-106 / Numbers
Book 5 Psalms 107-150 / Deuteronomy
1. Book 1 mentions most about the Lord Jesus and also about the remnant in connection with Him. The Lord Jesus is the center of God’s counsels and the source of blessing for the faithful remnant of Israel.
In this first book of psalms, as in Genesis, it is about the Son of Man, Who created all things and to Whom all things are subject (Gen 1:1; Jn 1:3; Psa 8:4,7).
2. Book 2 deals with the remnant from the two tribes. This remnant has fled from Jerusalem because of the antichrist who is introducing idolatry (Mt 24:15-16). Their fleeing is because of the antichrist and is used by God to purify their faith.
The second book of psalms begins with crying out to God in great distress and ends with the glory of God. We also see this in Exodus.
3. Book 3 deals with the history of the ten tribes. They are brought back into the land. The separation of the people into two and ten tribes is undone. There is one people under one King, their Messiah. Here we see Israel connected to the sanctuary.
In the third book of Psalms we often hear about the sanctuary, where God dwells. This is also the theme of Leviticus.
4. In book 4 we see that after the failure of the first man, through the second Man, Christ, the promises made to Israel are fulfilled. There is blessing not only for restored Israel, but through them for all mankind. All blessing is the result of Christ’s work on the cross and of His government.
The fourth book of psalms speaks of the journey of the people of God through the desert. This is also the subject of Numbers.
5. In book 5 we are given a review of all God’s ways and shown their final fulfillment. This is also what the book of Deuteronomy shows us. In book 5 of Psalms we see the full result, where God and the people have been brought together in harmony. Also, we see the foundation on which the people stand before God.
Introduction to book 1 (Psalms 1-41)
Book 1 is the book of Genesis of Psalms. Like Genesis, book 1 shows us the principles of the counsels of God in Christ. In Genesis we find how God created man and for what purpose. In book 1 of Psalms we see the way of the perfect Man according to God’s thoughts.
In book 1 we can see the following subdivisions:
1. In Psalms 1-8 we see Christ in His ministry and His work. His ministry as King over Israel in Psalm 2 culminates in His glory as Son of Man Who rules over all creation in Psalm 8.
We can consider these chapters as an introduction to the entire book of Psalms.
a. In Psalms 1-2 the Son of God, the King of Israel.
b. In Psalms 3-7 the faithful remnant.
c. In Psalm 8 the Son of Man, to Whom all things are subjected.
2. In Psalms 9-15 we see the enemy and the antichrist, the tribulation and the redemption.
3. In Psalms 16-41 we see Christ amidst His own, to reveal God and sanctify His own.
a. In Psalm 16 we see Christ impeccable and immaculate. He is the foundation for the prayer for salvation in Psalm 17 and the answer to prayer in Psalm 18.
b. In Psalm 22 we recognize Christ’s work as a sin offering, while Psalm 40 describes His work as a burnt offering.
c. Psalm 41 shows that the two paths of Psalm 1 will culminate in the contrast between believing and not believing in the work of Christ on the cross.