The book of Psalms was the songbook our Lord Jesus Christ sang from every Sabbath. In today’s church we have a myriad of songbooks; in Jesus’ day there was but one songbook: the 150 songs contained in the Psalter. How well do we know the Savior’s songbook?
1. The book of Psalms was written over a period of one thousand years.
Psalm 90, a psalm of Moses, was probably the earliest psalm, written around 1500 BC. It is difficult to know when the last psalm was composed, but Psalm 126, which begins, “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream,” probably refers to Israel’s return from exile in 537 BC.
2. Approximately 40 percent of the psalms are laments.
Out of the 150 psalms, fifty-nine are laments, songs composed in a spiritual and theological minor key. There are psalms of unqualified joy and delight, such as Psalm 47. But why so many laments? The life of faith, personal and corporate, is lived in a fallen world and opposed by the flesh, the world, and the devil. Jesus told His disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). The Psalms give heart expression to the struggles, sorrows, weariness, perplexities, and failures that are the daily experience of every believer. Think of these words from Psalm 44:
In God we have boasted continually,
and we will give thanks to your name forever. Selah
But you have rejected us and disgraced us
and have not gone out with our armies.
You have made us turn back from the foe,
and those who hate us have gotten spoil.
You have made us like sheep for slaughter
and have scattered us among the nations. (Ps. 44:8–11)
Jesus would have sung these words as He stood before His Father representing His people. Or think of these words from Psalm 51, King David’s song of repentance after the tragedy of his sin with Bathsheba:
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me. (Ps. 51:1–3)
The many laments in the Psalms enable believers who are in the depths, or who are experiencing trials, to express in words inspired by the Holy Spirit the struggles and sorrows in their hearts. The many laments are spiritual therapies to help reassure and recalibrate the troubled hearts of God’s children.
3. The Psalms are all about God’s promised Messiah-King, Jesus Christ.
Many Christians would be able to point to psalms that very obviously speak of God’s promised Messiah-King. Think of Psalm 2, “The Lord said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you,’” or Psalm 41, “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me” (quoted by Jesus in John 13:18). But the Psalms bear a much larger and grander testimony to Jesus than a verse here and there.
As the shadow of the cross began to cast its looming darkness over the human soul of Jesus, He asked the religious leaders who were plotting His death this question:
“What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,
“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet”’?
If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” (Matt. 22:41–44, quoting Ps. 110:1)
The Psalms’ testimony about Jesus was uppermost in His mind as He hung on the cross, bearing the righteous judgment our sin deserved, as He cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46, quoting Ps. 22:1).
Think of Jesus’ words to His disciples after His resurrection: “‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:44–45).
The Psalms in their entirety speak of God’s promised Messiah-King. He is the “blessed man” who exemplifies the righteous life that Psalm 1 portrays. He is the King whose enemies will become His footstool (Pss. 2; 110:1). He is the righteous sufferer who epitomizes trust in the Lord (Ps. 22).
The Psalms portray the life of faith with searing honesty. They poignantly remind us that the pattern of death and resurrection that was etched into the holy humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ is the pattern that the Holy Spirit seeks to replicate in the lives of all God’s children. The book of Psalms is a divinely inspired songbook that reflects the highs and lows, the triumphs and tragedies, of God’s covenant people over a millennium. John Calvin described the Psalms as “an anatomy of all the parts of the soul.” Let us sing the Savior’s songbook, lest we risk impoverishing our worship and robbing ourselves of the rich spirituality contained within its songs.
This article is part of the 3 Things You Should Know collection.