Hebrew poetry is unlike English poetry. Jews formed their poetry for the purpose of memorizing God’s praise and to teach their children God’s precepts. They educated with methods of repetition, giving meaning to obscure and figurative words. Christian praise is primarily for the purpose of expressing our love to God and encouraging fellow Christians. The Psalms were very close to the heart of Jesus, they were so much a part of his nature, he quoted them as part of his dying words on the cross, Mat. 27:46 (Psa. 22:1) & Luk. 23:46 (Psa. 31:5). He also used them in his teaching, Mat. 7:23 (Psalm 6:8). The New Testament writers quoted from the Psalms in at least 67 passages. We can find God’s strength from using them. The Psalms were not written for just our reading, they were written to help shape our praise, they are better described as divine praise, instead of poetry. Jesus was obviously educated with the Psalms, Luk. 24:44.
The Psalms have known authors and many anonymous authors: 73 by King David, 12 by Asaph, 9 by the Sons of Korah, 2 by King Solomon, 1 by Heman, 1 by Ethan and 1 by Moses, with 51 that are anonymous, totaling 150. Since David was the main contributor, it is obvious why instruments play such a big role in Jewish praise. It was King David who introduced and presumptuously authorized instrumental music in the Temple worship, 1Chron. 23:3-5. David’s authority has no bearing on Christian praise, because Christ is the fulfillment of his messianic promises in the Psalms, and Christ reigns supreme. Jesus set an example of singing with his disciples. The only time it is recorded is on the night he was betrayed. Matthew 26:30, Mark 14:26. We do not know for sure how he sang. Most likely it was a solemn chant, rather than a boisterous melody. The reason God is silent on the melody of Jesus singing is because he does not want Christians globally, to feel led in practicing only Jewish music. The same mindset was in the writers of the New Testament, which were mainly Jewish. They had use and knowledge of instruments in their praise as Jews, but refrained from imitating that in Christian praise. The only type of music for the apostles, Jesus and his disciples, was singing with grace in our hearts. This takes on all types of music in the very generic description of Colossians 3:16. We should take the opportunity to sing seriously. It is not the harmony of voices which God hears, but rather the united feelings of love from our hearts, Eph. 5:19.
All 150 Psalms are divided into 5 sections, resembling the Torah (first 5 books of the Old Testament). This was done early in Hebrew history probably during Ezra’s day after their captivity to impress upon the people that they were the authorized words for Prayer and Praise which God would accept. But the most famous grouping of Psalms is 113-118 and 120-136 as the Hallel Psalms used in all three of the mandatory feasts during the Jewish calendar. The exception being 119, glorifying God’s word and being used educationally. Do we pray with an emphasis on praising God? Or do we pray with an emphasis on other desires? Interspersed throughout all 5 sections are 6 different types of Psalms with 19 different tunes. Some tunes are so ancient, no Jew alive today can recite them with any certainty. These 6 types are not necessarily formats of music, the type of tune expresses the purpose of the Psalm. Actually meditation, instead of harmonic singing was preferred amongst the writers of the Psalm, which is demonstrated in Psalm 19:14. Meditation is translated from “Higgayon”, “a musical notation, as a murmuring sound while thinking or meditating”.
6 Types of Psalms
1. Didactic – Teaching on the nature & virtue of God’s Lawful word.
2. Praise – Expressing love to God
3. Thanks – Expressing gratitude for the mercies of God to His people.
4. Devotional – Expressing penitence, faith and hope.
5. Prophetic – Messianic
6. Historic – Recounting God’s Providence.
How do you use the Psalms? Do you have a favorite Psalm?