Biblical poetry is best read as lines. A Bible version with poetic layout is a great help in this regard. Take Psalm 115:3, with its two lines, as an example:
“But our God is in the heavens;
All He desires He does.”
Typically a verse will have two and maybe three lines. Read each verse and ask yourself: what is the relationship of the line below to the line above it? The relationship is typically one of three options:
- Synonymous—where the second line restates the first but with some variation in order to highlight a detail (e.g., 117:1)
- Antithetical—where the second line gives a contrast to the first line (138:6)
- Developing—where the second line develops the first in some way
Psalm 110--a purely Messianic psalm
In our discussion of Psalms 1-50, we listed five primary psalm types: praise, lament, thanksgiving, confidence, and wisdom. In treating Psalms 51-100, we suggested the additional psalm type of Zion songs or psalms of worship. Psalms 101-150 provides a good opportunity to bring up messianic psalms since Psalm 110 is the psalm most quoted in the New Testament and possibly the most purely Messianic of all the psalms. Royal or messianic psalms often use words like David, king, or anointed. Because David is a type of Messiah, these psalms often anticipate the “Greater than David” who will someday reign on earth. Psalm 110 is a Davidic psalm in which David calls the Messiah “my Lord.” Jesus seizes upon the unexpected nature of David’s calling one of his sons “my Lord” in His conversations with the religious leaders of His day (Matt 22:42-45). See if you can spot another psalm in our reading for today that repeats the name David four times.
Psalms 101-150 contain a number of important collection of psalms. The first is Psalms 113-118, sometimes referred to as the “Egyptian Hallel” or as simply “The Hallel.” Hallel is the Hebrew word for “praise.” These psalms praise God for His deliverance of Israel and are read at various Jewish yearly festivals. Psalm 118:22 contains an important Messianic prophecy to which Jesus (Matt. 21:42) and Peter (Acts 4:11; 1 Peter 2:4, 7) alluded in the New Testament. Psalms 120-134 are all titled “songs of degrees” or “songs of ascent.” These songs were sung by pilgrims as they ascended to Jerusalem for worship. Psalms 146-150 all begin and end with the words Hallelu-Yah or “Praise Yahweh,” creating a crescendo of praise that brings the book of Psalms to a dramatic close. “Let everything with breath praise Yahweh” (150:6).
The acrostic of Psalm 119
Psalms 101-150 also contains the longest psalm in the entire psalter. Psalm 119 is long, in part, because it is an acrostic employing the entire Hebrew alphabet of 22 letters. That’s why the psalm has 22 sections. Many Bibles will include a Hebrew letter before each of the 22 sections. That Hebrew letter is the letter with which each of the eight verses in that section begins. So, for example, in the section titled zayin (vv. 49-56), every verse begins with the letter zayin. Because the Hebrew word “remember,” begins with the letter zayin, it is easy to understand why the word “remember” occurs only here in all of Psalm 119 (vv. 49, 52, 55). Psalm 119, of course, is a prayer that expresses the psalmist’s relationship to God’s Word. It is as if he has organized his prayer from A to Z!
Examples of poetic artistry
Psalms 101-150 contain many other examples of poetic artistry beside the acrostic of Psalm 119. Psalm 136’s pithiness becomes more apparent when you recognize its brevity of expression. This is the psalm in which every verse ends with the refrain “for His enduring loyalty is forever.” In Hebrew, this refrain is three words with a total of six syllables--ki le‘olam chasdo—creating a short, staccato-like response to everything the psalm says about God. Psalms 101-150 also contain much imagery. Psalm 114 personifies the sea as being afraid and the mountains as skipping (vv. 3-4). “The net is broken and we have escaped” (124:7) dramatically pictures Israel’s harrowing escape from her enemies. Children are not just declared a blessing; they are likened to arrows (Ps. 127:4). Artistry also appears in the way the psalmist will use semantic rhyme (rhymes of meaning) to develop a theme. In Psalm 118:10-12, he interchanges the words “surrounded” and “destroyed” in order to make his point. In vv. 15-16, note the triple repetition of “right hand.”
Two themes in Psalm 101-150
Psalm 101-150 reiterate a couple of important themes. One is God’s willingness to bless not just Israel but all those who fear Him. Fearing God becomes a term for a genuine follower or worshiper of God (115:11; 118:4; 119:74, 79; 128:1, 4; 135:20; 145:19; 147:11). Another phrase unique (at least in the Hebrew formulation of it) to Psalm 101-150 is God as “Maker of heaven and earth” (115:15; 121:2; 124:8; 134:3; 146:6). Only the One who makes heaven and earth is God. His name is Yahweh, and the help He offers His people is invaluable and impenetrable.