The Books of the Bible The Writings - Page 2

invitation to Psa lm s The book of Psalms is a collection of poems that were originally set to music. In other words, the psalms are song lyrics. Many of them contain musical notations. Their introductions sometimes include musical instructions and the names of their tunes. Like the songs we know today, they were originally written in response to specific occasions in the lives of the songwriters. (Some of their introductions indicate what these occasions were.) But they were then used in worship at various times by the whole community of believers. After the people of Israel returned from exile in Babylon and rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem, many of the songs that had been written and sung over the centuries were collected and used in worship in this second temple. That collection forms the basis of the book of Psalms as we know it today. This book contains the words to 147 different songs. (They’ve traditionally been numbered from 1 to 150, but two of them have been split in half, 9–10 and 42–43, while another has been included twice and numbered both 14 and 53.) Because each of the songs is an independent composition, they’re all meaningful when read individually. The different psalms describe the broad range of experiences the people of Israel had in their covenant journey with God. They provide a way for us to enter into the story, by reading or singing them, as we live the script of the biblical drama today. At the same time, the book as a whole has been deliberately structured. This adds a further level of meaning. The collection is divided into five parts by four variations on the formula, Praise be to the Lord . . . Amen and Amen! This creates five “books” within the collection. This seems intended to remind the reader of the five “books” that the law of Moses was divided into. The implication is that even though these poems were originally sung in worship, they can also be read and studied for instruction in God’s ways. The psalm that comes first in the collection (#1) emphasizes the value of reading them this way. It appears to have been placed there deliberately to make this point. This theme is also stressed at the beginning of book three (in #73) and near the end of the whole collection (in #145). These five “books,” in their general outlines, also tell a three-part