Psalms for Troubled Times – Overview of Book Five

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Today we begin Book Five of the psalter, and just as the fifth book of Moses, Deuteronomy, is a re-gathering of the people, a new generation, to re-visit the law – a call to covenant faithfulness – before they enter the land, so this last book of the psalms has similar themes.

The Story so Far

Moses begins in Deuteronomy by retracing the national history, and these psalms continue from where we left off at the end of book four, with a looking back over the story so far. Indeed Psalm 107 is the third in a trilogy (105-107) that appropriately span this book division. More on this tomorrow.

Psalm 108 re-states Divine promises, before 109 & 110 prophesy the coming Messiah. We look forward to our study of 110, being the most quoted prophetic Scripture of Christ.

This leads beautifully into the praise of the faithful, heard in psalms 111 & 112.

Of course, any re-tracing of the history of our own lives shows all of us that we desperately need the Saviour, and when we consider His glory, praise is the only response.

The Songs of Re-gathering

From individual praise the theme grows into national praise, and Psalms 113 – 118 are a group known as ‘The Hallel’ (The Praise) or sometimes ‘The Egyptian Hallel’ based on the first line of Psalm 114.

These psalms are intimately associated with the three great festivals, when all the people were required to come together before the LORD. These songs were likely sung by ‘the Lord Jesus the same night in which He was betrayed’ (1 Cor 11:23). There’ll be plenty for us to muse upon there.

Again, this section contains the wonderful Messianic psalm 118, in which the sound of praise reaches it’s crescendo. It is said to have been Luther’s favourite psalm.

The Scripture the Foundation

Then we come to that most daunting, yet very delightful Psalm 119. It occupies a central place surrounded by praise, and mirrors beautifully the central section of Deuteronomy (ch12-26) where Moses re-states the Law before the people for a second time.

In this most orderly of psalms, the psalmist (possibly Ezra, sometimes called ‘the second Moses’) through many subtle variations, states and restates the importance of the Word of God in the lives of forgetful people.

The Songs of Ascent

From psalm 120 through 134, we have a series of songs all titled ‘A Song of Degrees’. Mirroring ‘The Hallel’, these are often connected with the great festivals, when Israel are gathered together to Jerusalem. However, while ‘The Hallel’ is sung during the festivals, many see these songs as the playlist of the pilgrims as they journeyed towards Jerusalem.

Another view is that these 15 psalms reference the 15 steps from the outer temple to the inner court, moving step by step into the presence of God. But perhaps the most pleasing interpretation links this group with the 15 years added to Hezekiah’s life.

Certainly the structure of this group fits the circumstances of Hezekiah, the 15 songs divided into 5 groups of 3, each repeating the narrative: Battles, Belief, Blessing.

The Songs of Victory

In considering the blessings of the grace of God, the victory that will surely come, we must break out into praise once again, and psalm 135 & 136 are called ‘The Great Hallel’.

But we’re not there yet, so Psalm 137 touches upon the heaviness of our hearts as we long for Zion.

This is followed by the final psalms of David, an octave of increasing praise, from 138-145. It is interesting how often the number 8 features in this book of re-gathering, a number linked with the New Covenant.

We reach the pinnacle of the psalms, and with five ‘Hallelujahs’ (Psalms 146-150) we enter into the fullness of the promised land, the coming Millenial Day, when Israel, the world, indeed all creation will praise the LORD.

‘Let every thing that hath breath praise the LORD. Praise ye the LORD.’ (Psa 150:6)

What a prospect!

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