Whew. Finally finished all 150 chapters of Psalms. By far the longest book of the Bible thus far … and yet the irony is … I’m left feeling like I have much less to say about this one than any of the others I’ve read.
I’ll explain that statement in a sec, but let me first start by describing what this book is and what it’s about. As Wikipedia describes it, “The word psalms is derived from the Greek Ψαλμοί (Psalmoi), perhaps originally meaning ‘music of the lyre’ or ‘songs sung to a harp,’ and later any piece of music.” There’s no music included with the Bible, of course, so each chapter is basically like reading song lyrics or a poem. The King James Bible doesn’t denote any specific section breaks in the book, but the New International Version breaks the book up into 5 sections:
- Book I: Chapters 1 – 41
- Book II: Chapters 42 – 72
- Book III: Chapters 73 – 89
- Book IV: Chapters 90 – 106
- Book V: Chapters 107 – 150
The New International version also specifies that some of the psalms are written from the perspective of David, some are for/about Solomon, some are just general anonymous psalms, a few are ascribed to other people, etc. Most of Book I are psalms of David, as well as several of the psalms in other books. Book II (ch.72) ends with the following verse: “20. This concludes the prayers of David son of Jesse.” Despite this statement, a good number of the psalms after chapter 72 are also ascribed to David. Other than that, I’m not really sure what the logic is behind how the sections are split. But what I can tell you is that in terms of the content of the psalms themselves, I found that they seem to all consist of a few basic sentiments/topics:
- Requests to the Lord from the author (usually David) to stop the his enemies from pursing him, and to strike them down. Sometimes these passages also come in the form of thanks to God for doing this for the author/David in past instances as well.
- Requests to the Lord from the author (again many times David) to forgive him of his sins.
- Statements that God will help, bless and protect those who fear him and are loyal to him, with stories of everything God has done for his people thus far. Many of these passages also include statements about how God will crush the enemy, the wicked, the godless heathens, etc.
- Statments that it is better to put our trust in God than it is to put our trust in man (e.g. ch. 118).
- Promises to God from the author of the psalm(s) (again many times David) that the author will always stay true to God and follow his word.
- Laments to God about why God has forgotten or ignores the pleas and problems of the author and/or the people. These couple examples represent the basic gist of all of these:
- Ch. 49: “9. I say to God my Rock, ‘Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?'”
- Ch. 74: “1. O God, why have you rejected us forever? Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture? 2. Remember the nation you purchased long ago, the people of your inheritance, whom you redeemed— Mount Zion, where you dwelt.” “9. We are given no signs from God; no prophets are left, and none of us knows how long this will be.”
- A few other random topics, like wedding songs. (e.g. ch. 45)
- Psalms that are just general praises to the Lord, and giving of thanks to the Lord. Many of these include statements about how powerful and merciful God is.
And that is basically the gist of Psalms, per my understanding of it. It’s essentially 8 or so sentiments/themes (give or take a couple if I missed anything here), repeated over and over … and over again … for 150 chapters. And that’s partly why I’ve come out of this book feeling like I don’t have as much to say as I expected. But another reason for this is something I’ll tackle in the Good Points and Bad Points sections:
Here’s the thing about Psalms – I went into this book expecting to find waayy more material for the Good Stuff section than what I ended up finding here. I thought I was going to find a lot more verses like this one:
41:1 Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the LORD will deliver him in time of trouble.
But I gotta say … there’s just not nearly as much of this as I expected. Here’s what I did find, other than the verse listed above:
- Psalm 15 says that the person worthy of “dwelling in God’s sacred tent” is the one who “speaks the truth from their heart,” whose “tongue utters no slander”, who “does no wrong to a neighbor,” who “keeps an oath even when it hurts,” who “lends money to the poor without interest,” and who “does not accept a bribe against the innocent.”
- Psalm 37 tells us in verse 8 to “Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.”
- Psalm 68 says that God is a “father to the fatherless, a defender of widows.” Ok … that’s a nice idea. But is he really? I’m trying to remember what evidence we have of this statement up to
this point in the Bible … is my memory just failing me? I suppose the book of Ruth, for the widow part.
- Psalm 72 verse 4 says, “May [King Solomon] defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy,” which is nice, but the rest of that sentence is, “may he crush the oppressor.” Not so nice.
- Chapter 112 verse 5 again tells us “Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely, who conduct their affairs with justice.” Verse 9 tells us the righteous will have “freely scattered their gifts to the poor.”
And this pretty much sums up the noteworthy good things I found in Psalms. This is all very nice, don’t get me wrong, but out of 150 chapters, this is it. It’s not that the rest of this book is terrible, but the other psalms/passages (outside of the material for the “Bad Points” section) just … aren’t all that impressive. There are a lot of psalms in here about how you have to fear the Lord and be loyal to him, to praise him, etc. But … ok. What does that tell us that the previous books haven’t already? And like I mentioned earlier, the topics/themes are so repetitive that you don’t get nearly as much substance as you’d expect out of 150 chapters of content.
Uggh. I’m just sitting here staring at the computer screen right now because there’s nothing in the Bad Stuff category in Psalms that we haven’t already heard in previous chapters. I’ll just hit up a few highlights here:
- I mentioned in my summary above that one of the basic few types of verses/passages in Psalms are passages about all the great things God has done for his people thus far. These actually provide a good amount of material for the Bad Points section. Examples:
- Ch. 9: “5. You have rebuked the nations and destroyed the wicked; you have blotted out their name for ever and ever. 6. Endless ruin has overtaken my enemies, you have uprooted their cities; even the memory of them has perished.”
- Ch. 106: “16. In the camp they grew envious of Moses and of Aaron, who was consecrated to the Lord. 17. The earth opened up and swallowed Dathan; it buried the company of Abiram. 18. Fire blazed among their followers; a flame consumed the wicked.” (All punishments from God of course.)
- We also have plenty of psalms that talk about what God will do to “the wicked,” and the enemies, such as:
- Ch. 68: “21. Surely God will crush the heads of his enemies, the hairy crowns of those who go on in their sins. 22. The Lord says, ‘I will bring them from Bashan; I will bring them from the depths of the sea, 23. that your feet may wade in the blood of your foes, while the tongues of your dogs have their share.'”
- Ch. 11: “5. The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked, those who love violence, he hates with a passion. 6. On the wicked he will rain fiery coals and burning sulfur; a scorching wind will be their lot.” I’m especially fond of this one. God hates those wicked people who love violence, so he will punish them … with violence.
- We also get many many verses where David asks God to destroy his enemies. Case in point … OH wow I started to use a different example for this one, but I almost forgot about this priceless gem from ch. 109: “6. Appoint someone evil to oppose my enemy; let an accuser stand at his right hand.” … “8. May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership. 9. May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. 10. May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven from their ruined homes.” … “12. May no one extend kindness to him or take pity on his fatherless children.” !!!! What the … it goes on to say that all his descendents should be screwed too!! Slight overkill, no?
So yeah … there is a great deal more material for this section that I haven’t included here, but it’s all very similar to this, so you get the idea. Other than that, I’ll just call out a few other things that fall into the “Strange/Noteworthy” category:
- Chapter 103:3 tells us that the Lord “forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases.” Really? Why do so many people die of diseases then? Are they all “wicked” people?
- Psalms, like many other books of the Bible, loves to talk about how God is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.” (103:8) Well, I mean, if you’ve read my previous reviews then I don’t need to explain why this is kinda funny. This breaks it down very well though.
- One thing that has struck me as very interesting in the Bible thus far is how often God refers to himself as being better than all the other gods out there. E.g. 95:3 “For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods.” And 96:4 “For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods.” It’s funny because I was always taught that God is the one and only in existence, but yet, in the Old Testament, even God himself doesn’t seem to believe this. I look at it from the perspective of the people writing the Bible though, and their goal would have been to convince all the people of the land & surrounding nations that their current gods are nothing compared to The Lord of Israel.
Anyway there are other topics I could cover, but I’ll leave it at this because this review is already much longer than I thought it would be. So let’s get to my rating of this book. I will give it a …
I’ll go with a 2 just because at least we got 6 or so passages of “Good Points” material, but with 150 chapters of content, there should have been a LOT more. Next up is Proverbs. It’s 31 chapters, which I normally consider to be long, but at least it’s better than 150 freakin’ chapters.