Once again notice how each psalm is a stand-alone composition that introduces a theme, develops it, and then concludes it. As you read each psalm, look for refrains and repeated words or phrases that suggest the thematic emphasis of that psalm. Examples of psalms with refrains are Psalm 56, 57, and 80.
A number of psalms have repeated words or phrases:
- Psalm 59 - Refuge (vv. 9, 16-17)
- Psalm 62 - God alone (vv. 1-2, 5-6)
- Psalm 69 - Reproach (vv. 7, 9, 10, 19, 20)
- Psalm 70 - Hurry (vv. 1, 5)
- Psalm 71 - Youth v. old age (vv. 5-6, 9, 17-18)
- Psalm 76 - God to be feared (vv. 7, 11-12)
- Psalm 97 - Joy and gladness (vv. 1, 8, 11-12)
- Psalm 98 - Shout (vv. 4, 6, 12)
- Psalm 99 - He is holy (vv. 3, 5, 9)
Sometimes themes recur across multiple psalms. For example, in today’s reading look for references to God’s people Israel as the sheep of His pasture (74:1; 79:13, 95:7; 100:3). God as the just Judge of all the earth occurs in several psalms (67:4; 75:2, 7; 82:1, 8; 94:2; 96:13; 98:9). Since Psalms 93-99 so emphasize God’s reigning (93:1; 96:10; 97:1; 99:1), they are sometimes viewed as a collection of kingship or royal psalms. While some psalms are decidedly Jewish (Ps. 83, 78), the kingship psalms broaden the scope to include all nations: “Sing to Yahweh a new song; sing to Yahweh all the earth” (96:1). All the earth, not just Israel, is included in God’s kingship and all will give account to Him as judge (96:13).
Many other psalms in our reading today are significant for other reasons.
- Psalm 51 is the best-known of the penitential psalms—the psalms that lament one’s sinfulness and beg for pardon.
- Psalm 73 is a premiere example of wrestling with why the wicked prosper and the righteous seemingly do not.
- Psalm 79 presents a post-exilic viewpoint of Jerusalem in smoking ruins.
- Psalm 72 prays for the Davidic king in terminology that reminds of David’s forever king, Messiah (vv. 7-9).
- Psalm 89 reminds God of His promised faithfulness to the Davidic Covenant.
- Psalm 90, the oldest of all the psalms, is written by Moses and, fittingly, reminds us of God’s eternality and man’s brevity.
- Psalms 76, 84, and 87 are sometimes classified as worship psalms or Zion psalms, as they bring up Zion or God’s dwelling place as a place of deliverance, worship or pilgrimage.
As you read the psalms, keep in mind that they are short lyric poetry. That is, short musical poems in which the poet offers personal reflections or expresses deep emotions. In poetically expressing these emotions, the biblical poets use the standard “paint brushes” of virtually all poets: brevity, imagery, and artistic techniques native to the culture or language in which they are writing. For examples of the artistry of Hebrew poetry, note how the psalmist incorporates the imagery of “shooting arrows” in Psalm 74 and employs semantic “rhyming” in Psalm 57:6-10.
Psalm 100, the last psalm in our reading today, closes with a rather common refrain of Israel: “God is good and His covenant loyalty endures forever” (v. 5a). David appointed special singers and musicians to sing this refrain before the Lord (1 Chron. 16:34). As the singers repeated these words in Solomon’s day, the glory of God filled the Temple like a cloud (2 Chron. 5:13-14). Even after the Babylonian Exile, The priests and the Levites still echo this refrain (Ezra 3:10-11).
The Hebrew word translated “covenant loyalty” above is chesed, an important term for God’s unfailing, loyal love, especially as seen in His dealings with Israel. However, all the earth should celebrate God’s forever-enduring chesed because while Israel may be the special showcase of God’s chesed, God never intended them to be His only trophy. God’s dealings with Israel are the lens through which the world can see that Yahweh is a God of chesed. This should offer hope to all people that if they too will enter into a relationship with Yahweh, they will experience this same chesed.