2 | Invitation to Psalms
story. They trace Israel’s history in its successive stages: monarchy,
exile and return:
: The first two books consist mostly of psalms by David, whom
God established as king over Israel and as the head of its royal line.
Taken together, these two books begin and end with psalms about
God establishing the king on the throne (#2 and #72).
: But the third book then begins with the question of why the
wicked prosper (#73) and with a lament over the destruction
of Jerusalem (#74). This book ends with a similar complaint that
God has abandoned David’s line (#89). In other words, book three
recalls the situation of exile.
: The fourth book then opens with a reminder that God is the
true dwelling place of the people of Israel (#90). The psalms in
this section state repeatedly that the Lord reigns (#93, 97, 99)—
in other words, Israel’s true king is still on the throne. This fourth
book nevertheless ends with a plea for God to bring the exiled
people home (#106).
: The fifth book begins with a declaration that God has indeed
brought the exiles back (#107). It includes many “songs of ascents”
(#120–134), psalms that were sung by travelers going up to the
temple in Jerusalem. This suggests a context in which the people
have returned to the land. Therefore, appropriately, this fifth book
(and the whole collection) ends with a call to praise God (at the end
of #145), followed by five songs of praise (#146–150).
In other words, the very form in which Israel’s worship songs have
been collected illustrates one foundational reason for its worship:
God has been faithful to the nation, judging it by means of exile
but then bringing it back home again. And so two principles largely
account for the structure and meaning of the book of Psalms when
it’s read as a whole collection: the call to meditate on these psalms
in the same way as on the law of Moses, and the call to remember
God’s continuing faithfulness in history and then respond with our
own continuing praise.