Guest Author - Sheena Esther Janakie
The Book of Psalms, more popularly known merely as Psalms is a book in the Holy Bible – the holy book of the Christian faith. Usually when we talk about poetry in the Bible, this is the book that immediately springs to mind.
The word “Psalm” is derived from the Greek word “Psalmoi” meaning “music of the lyre” or “songs sung to a harp”. The Book of Psalms is not one big poem, but a collection of verses. While almost half the book is credited to King David – one of the kings who ruled ancient Israel – the rest are said to be a collection of verses by various other people. It is also an accepted fact that all the 150 psalms do not belong to the same age. While most were written during the time of Kind David, some of them were written much earlier. In fact, one of the Psalms is even said to have been written by Moses. Incidentally, Moses is also credited with having written the Pentateuch – the first five books of the Holy Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). The Psalms were probably collected together and used as a sort of hymnbook to be used during worship in the temples in ancient Israel.
The Psalms deal with a plethora of emotions and situations that we face each day in our lives, which is one reason almost all of us can find at least one psalm that we can identify with in our lives at any given moment. There are psalms of joy and of sorrow, of vindication and of repentance, of victory and of defeat, psalms asking God for help and psalms praising God for help rendered. There are even psalms where King David asks God to destroy the people who are tormenting him. Thus it is evident that although the psalms were collected together as a hymnbook and used during Jewish worship, they were written by ordinary human beings who were, like the common man, ravaged by many emotions and situations in their lives.
The Psalms are divided into five parts according to Jewish tradition, much like the Pentateuch.
• The first book comprises the first 41 psalms.
• The second book comprises the next 31 Psalms (Psalm 42 – Psalm 72)
• The third book consists of the next 17 Psalms (Psalm 73 – Psalm 89)
• The fourth book consists of the next 17 Psalms (Psalm 90 – Psalm 106)
• The fifth book comprises the remaining 44 Psalms (psalm 107 – Psalm 150)
Although the Psalms are poems by nature, they display no similarity to traditional poetry as we know it when we read them in English, for there is no evident rhyme scheme in most of the Psalms. But one of the major poetic devices that we can evidently see at play in the Psalms is Parallelism. The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines parallelism as “repeated syntactical similarities introduced for rhetorical effect”. This can be better explained by an example.
“The LORD is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?” – Psalm 27: 1
A sub-section or another facet as it were of parallelism is antithetical parallelism. An example of this device is found in the following verse:
“The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously;” – Psalm 37: 21
One of the most interesting facts about the Book of Psalms is that it contains both the longest and the shortest chapters in the Holy Bible. Psalm 119, with 176 verses, is the longest chapter in the Bible, and Psalm 117, with just 2 verses, is the shortest chapter in the Bible.
Many of the Psalms are, even today, set to music and sung word to word, or are used as inspirations to create songs. The universal appeal of this book of the Bible dwells in the wide range of events and emotions it covers. Also, the psalms do not sound superior or condescending, and are not a commentary by someone who is standing afar, but are the cries and rejoicings of a person who is experiencing these situations first-hand.