In our previous Old Testament Poetic Books’ classes, we covered the introductory issues for the Psalter. These issues included the title for the Psalter, other items related to the individual authors for each psalm, the development of the book of Psalms from the earliest psalm (the superscription of Psalm 90 indicates that Moses was the author) to the post-exilic psalms (e.g., Ps 137), editorial notes (such as the superscriptions and Selah), the nature of the Psalms, and the classification of the Psalms.
Let me give a few more details about the nature of psalms. We looked at psalms being made up of religious lyric poetry, evocative language, parallelism, the historical setting for some of the psalms, and the three part structure for each psalm.
For example, in examining a psalm as religious lyric poetry, we observed that poetry is a language of images and the use of comparisons. It is more highly concentrated and its structure is more highly structured than prose. In addition, lyric poetry is characterized by its abbreviated nature. Finally, religious lyric poetry is the communication of a poets thoughts and feelings as prompted by his understanding of God and His work. These sing of Yahweh’s creation of the earth and His past deliverance. They rejoice over the Law and celebrate various aspects of worship.
Again, in treating the three-part structure for each psalm, a psalm is made up of these parts: subject, development of the subject, and conclusion. (1) The subject (also called “topic”) is generally contained in the first few verses of a psalm. For example, the subject of Psalm 23 is found in v. 1: because the Lord is David’s shepherd, he lacks nothing. This is to say, v. 1 focuses on David’s theological thoughts about God’s rich provisions for him. (2) The development of the subject is the major part of a poem’s structure. There are a few ways that the subject may be developed in a psalm. One of these ways involves listing items that develop a subject. Psalm 23 is the most familiar example of this. In supporting David’s subject of God’s rich provisions for him, he itemizes a number of God’s provisions such as rest (v. 2a), restoration (v 2b), moral direction (v. 3), and protection (vv. 4-5). (3) The conclusion of a psalm may be found in a summary, as in Psalm 1:6, a prayer, Psalm 19:14, an exhortation, Psalm 19:14, or even a climax as in Psalm 23:6b: ” I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”
With our next class, we will analyze a few key psalms according to their genre and begin looking at Proverbs.