A Theology of the Psalms

In Arno C. Gaebelein’s brief book, The Harmony of the Prophetic Word, published in 1907, there is a survey of the book of Psalms which brings into focus some of the key themes of this rich OT book. Since we are working our way through the entire book, I thought I would share it with you in its entirety.

It is a well-known fact that the Psalms are divided into five books. These five books correspond to the five books of Moses or the Pentateuch. So clear is the correspondency that the old rabbis called the Psalms the Pentateuch of David.

The Genesis portion of the Psalms extends from Psalm 1 to 41. Many of the Messianic Psalms are found in this section. Its character is like Genesis. It begins with “Blessed is the man” (Ps. 1), which is the Lord Jesus Christ, and it ends with “Blessed is he that considereth the poor,” and this is the same Lord. The whole section ends with “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel from everlasting and to everlasting” (Ps. 41:13).

The Exodus part begins with Psalm 42 and ends with Psalm 72. Like in the book of Exodus do we find here the suffering of Israel’s remnant and how they are delivered. This section is rich in dispensational foreshadowings of Israel’s future. It begins with the cry for the tabernacle and ends with the vision of the kingdom established. “He shall judge the poor of the people, He shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor.” “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth” (Ps. 72:8). This section ends with a fuller praise than the first. “Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who only doeth wondrous things. And blessed be His glorious name for ever; and let the whole earth be filled with His glory; Amen and Amen” (Ps. 72:18,19).

The third book begins with Psalm 73 and closes with 89. The very beginning of this part makes it a Leviticus. The opening Psalms are the gift of the Spirit through Asaph, and they celebrate the holiness of God. “Truly God is good to Israel, to such that are of a clean heart” (Ps. 73:1). This refers us to the remnant of Israel in the last days. The last Psalm in this section rehearses God’s wonderful doings in behalf of His people and puts before us the sure mercies of David, that is the full ratification of the Davidic covenant, and how One from David is to be exalted. “And I will make Him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth” (Ps. 89:27). The ending is, “Blessed be the Lord forevermore, Amen and Amen.”

The fourth part or book extends from Psalm 90 to Psalm 106. This is in character like the book of Numbers. Here we see Israel in the wilderness; all her ways are traced, but Israel is seen in this section led out of that wilderness and come into her inheritance. The opening Psalm, the 90th, is significant. It is the only Psalm we have, given by Moses, the leader of the people. It speaks of death, and is rightly called the Psalm of the old creation; the 91st is the Psalm of the new creation. While in the 90th we see the first man, in the 91st we behold the second man. This is the shortest section. In the 103rd Israel, redeemed from all her backslidings, sings her new song: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits. Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases; who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with loving kindness and tender mercies.” Then comes the 104th, the praise of nature. The 105th and 106th are the praise of His restored people, and the doxology in the last verse of the 106th contains the nation’s praise: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting, and let all the people say, Amen. Praise ye the Lord.”

Still more interesting is the fifth or Deuteronomy part, the last book in the Psalms. Like Deuteronomy, it puts before us the end of the way of God with His people. This section begins with the 107th and leads to the close of the book.

The opening is highly instructive. “O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good; for His mercy endureth for ever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom He hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy, and gathered them out of the lands, from the East and from the West, from the North and from the South.” Deuteronomy shows us, in its closing chapters, how Israel is to be scattered into the corners of the earth. All this has been and is being fulfilled. But there is also the promise that they should be gathered again: “…Then the Lord thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations whither the Lord thy God scattered thee” (Deut. 30:3). Here in the 107th Psalm we find the fulfillment of this prophecy. This section, and with it the whole book, ends in a continued “Hallelujah.” Praise ye the Lord. All is praising Jehovah. Israel, redeemed, praises Him, the nations, all creation, everything that has breath, praise Him. Here we have the great end of all things, the praise and worship of God.

Throughout the Psalms we read of Jehovah’s intervention in behalf of His suffering earthly people, His manifestation in glory and wrath upon His enemies. To say that these events were fulfilled in David’s experience, or find now a spiritual fulfillment in the church, is doing great violence to the Scriptures. It dishonours God and His Word. Beginning with the 2nd Psalm, where the coming King is seen enthroned upon the holy hill of Zion, ruling the nations with a rod of iron and smashing them like potters’ vessels, we can trace the day of Jehovah’s manifestation through the entire book, and hear again and again of the overthrow of God’s enemies, the deliverance of His people, and the establishment of His rule. A closer study of the Psalms and a literal interpretation of all they declare will make this clear to the reader. Here indeed is a mine of wealth in prophetic foreshadowing which is inexhaustible.

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