The Book of Psalms is a musical composition of transcendent beauty and harmony. It is as worthy of a place in the Word of God as the Gospels. Both reveal many glories of the Lord Jesus and His wonderful works. Though the Psalms are poetic, they never stoop to the use of “poetic license” – that is, the sacrifice of truth for the sake of poetry. Since every word of the Bible in the original languages is inspired by God, He can certainly express His thoughts in poetry just as faithfully and perfectly as in prose. God used David to write 73 of the Psalms, and other writers such as Asaph, Solomon, Moses, Ethan, Heman, etc. also had this privilege. All of them were perfectly guided by the Spirit of God in what they wrote, yet their own personal exercises and feelings are evident, for God moved their thoughts as well as their pens. The name of the writer is not mentioned in 50 of the Psalms. Music For Deep Emotions David did not harp on one string. The wonderfully varied music of the Psalms ranges from the lowest notes of deep sorrow (Ps. 22:1-21) all the way up the scale to the highest notes of vibrant joy, praise and worship (Ps. 146-150). Music itself has in it the power to deeply affect the emotions. Even King Nebuchadnezzar used all kinds of music and instruments to move his people to worship his idolatrous image (Dan. 3:4-51). How different, however, is the music of the Psalms. While it does indeed have a wonderful effect to move people’s hearts deeply, it also affects their consciences. God has designed this music to draw souls to the Lord rather than to idols.
Christ, The Chief Musician
Christ is the true object of the Psalms, just as He is of all Scripture. Many psalms are distinctly Messianic, that is, they either speak directly of the Lord or prophetically express His words. Sometimes, as in Psalm 23, there is a threefold witness to Him: the psalmist writes of Him, God speaks of Him, and His own words are recorded prophetically. The first psalm beautifully introduces the whole book, presenting the blessed man “who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful.” While believers may be comparatively represented by this blessed man, the Lord Jesus is predominantly and absolutely represented by him. Let us search the Psalms for everything that directs our hearts and minds to Jesus, the eternal Son of God, as well as the faithful Son of Man.
Composed In A Jewish Setting
We must always remember that the Psalms, as part of the Old Testament, are written from a Jewish viewpoint. For example, they could never give us the truth concerning the Church as the body of Christ since this truth involves the marvelous unity of believers of all nations (Col. 1:24; Eph. 1:22-23). Such a unity could only be accomplished after the death and resurrection of the Lord as revealed in Paul’s writings. The Psalms, on the other hand, always consider Israel as distinct from the Gentile nations although they point to the coming millennial kingdom when both Israel and the Gentiles will be greatly blessed under the universal reign of the Lord.
We rejoice in knowing how God will accomplish this great blessing for Jews and Gentiles in that future day, and learn much concerning His ways with Israel and the nations. Many millennial psalms speak of the great blessings with which earth will be filled. Literally, all diseases of the people will be healed and food will be abundant (Ps. 103:3-5). God will be favorable to the land of Israel and bring “back the captivity of Jacob” (Ps. 85:1). The Gentile nations will “sing for joy” (Ps. 67:4). The earth will yield its increase again, and “all the ends of the earth shall fear Him” (Ps. 67:6-7). Mt. Zion (Jerusalem) will be restored to great prominence as “the city of the great King” (Ps. 48:1-2).
As we read such psalms, let us fully recognize that they refer to the literal material blessings with which God will bless Israel and the nations in a coming day. If we are unselfish, we will find delight in seeing how God will bless others.
Music For The Church As Well
The knowledge that the material blessings of the Psalms apply to Israel rather than the Church does not lessen the blessing for us in this wonderful book. Our blessings are primarily spiritual: “Christ … has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1:3). This means we can go back to all the Old Testament writings, including Psalms, and claim every spiritual blessing we find there. Though we may not have physical healing, we have spiritual healing, which is far more valuable. Though we may lack enough literal food, we have more than enough spiritual food. All of this is connected with our position “in Christ” in heavenly (not earthly) places. As we make this distinction, our appreciation for the blessings of the Psalms will deepen.
Many psalms refer to the time of great tribulation that will come upon all the world after the Church is taken home to glory at the Rapture. Such Psalms as 46:1-3 and 57:1-6 graphically portray the sorrows of Israel at that time. Other Psalms such as 10:2-11 and 55:20-21 refer to the man of sin (the Antichrist) as connected with that time of trouble to come. These are some of the low notes of deepest distress and agonizing soul exercise that are necessary to help form the full scale of musical harmony to be found in the Psalms. They are also wonderfully profitable for us. When we face deep trials of faith, how real is the comfort in the very reading of such psalms! Think about it: Israel will pass through the greatest trouble that the earth has ever seen. If during that time they find deep comfort in contemplating the grace of God in Christ, how much more may we find such comfort in our own troubles or sorrows, which are actually much less than theirs.
Psalms Of Messiah’s Suffering
A number of the psalms are the very language of the Lord Jesus in connection with His great sacrifice at Calvary. Psalm 22, the sin-offering psalm, stands out as one of these. It begins with the words the Lord uttered on the cross, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” No doubt David was going through deep suffering when he wrote this, and felt forsaken. Yet he was never really forsaken by God, as Christ was when He suffered for our sins. Psalm 40, the burnt-offering psalm, presents Christ’s sacrifice as being for the glory of God, all ascending to Him in fire. Psalm 69, the trespass-offering psalm, portrays the Lord as restoring what He did not take away. Finally, Psalm 102, the peace-offering psalm, unfolds the resulting blessing of Christ’s sacrifice, shared by God Himself, the Lord Jesus, and His redeemed people.
In meditating upon the sufferings of our Lord, we realize how much greater they were than any we are called to bear; how much greater also than the agonies which Israel will endure during the Great Tribulation. This gives us even deeper comfort than that which we receive in seeing Israel comforted, and fills our hearts with worship for the living Lord of glory who died for us and rose again! Although we may not always see how each psalm connects with others, with study and by the power of the Holy Spirit we shall discern more and more clearly the perfection of order and unity that is there.
By L. M. Grant
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org