Framing the Middle Psalms (Books II and III of the Psalter)

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Key Observation: Books II and III of Psalms point us away from human rulers to focus on trust in the Lord alone.

Books II (Pss. 42–72) and III (Pss. 73–89) of Psalms serve a key function within the whole. In OneBook Daily-Weekly The Psalms—Part I, we observed the overall movement of the book by beginning with a study of the Psalter’s introduction (Pss. 1–2) and conclusion (Pss. 146–150). The Psalter opens by grounding God’s people in faithfulness through meditation on Scripture (Ps. 1) and ultimate security through God’s reign over the nations through the Messiah (Ps. 2). The Psalter’s climax (146–150) is a celebration of God’s victory in which all creation joins together to praise the Lord.

In Psalms 3–145, life happens. The Psalter serves as our prayer book as God’s missional people. God calls us to live as his hands, feet, and mouthpieces in the world. As people seeking to embody the gospel, we are God’s witnesses to a world that does not yet know or worship the Lord. Given this reality, life brings challenges. Sometimes these challenges are our own doing because of unfaithfulness. Other times, God’s people find themselves in seasons of chaos through the evil intentions of enemies, bouts with illness, or catastrophic events. In all circumstances, the book of Psalms awaits our careful reading. As Scripture, its words give us a voice to praise the Lord and to cry out for God’s salvation. Through the Psalter’s pages we will encounter a language of faith that can sustain us in our journey.

In Book I, we encountered a mix of cries for help (laments); anchoring psalms that reminded God’s people of the importance of Scripture and instruction (Torah psalms); rich praises for who God is (praise); expressions of gratitude for answers to prayer (thanksgiving); hymns about God’s Messiah (royal psalms); and affirmations of deep trust (psalms of trust).

Books II and III reveal that the final compilers of the Psalms showed careful thought in how they arranged the whole. If Book I mostly contains psalms bearing a heading that includes the phrase “Of David,” it is striking that Books II and III introduce two new phrases in their headings: “Of Asaph” and “Of the Sons of Korah.” Asaph and Korah were both important Levitical priests, and their families served as singers and liturgists in the temple. If we step back and just observe these headings, we find that Books II and III are organized by them. Notice how the blocks of psalms linked to Korah and Asaph form bookends around the central block of Davidic material in Psalms 51–72 and Psalm 86:

  • Psalms 42–49: Korah
  • Psalm 50: Asaph
  • Psalms 51–72: David
  • Psalms 73–83: Asaph
  • Psalms 84–85: Korah
  • Psalm 86: David
  • Psalms 87–88: Korah

This places the focus in these books on Israel’s trust in God’s reign through King David and his descendants. Yet we will find that this trust created a crisis of faith. In the Davidic psalms, the king was under constant stress. Moreover, in Book III, there will be a national crisis of faith in light of the exile to Babylon. These psalms will invite God’s people to find security in God alone.

Study the background and meaning of the Psalms with The Psalms, Part II by Brian Russell. In this eight-week Bible study of workbook and video teaching, participants will have an even stronger grasp of how these wisdom books can help inspire a moment-by-moment walk with God through the world. Get your copy from our store here.

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Dr. Brian Russell is Dean of the School of Urban Ministries and Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary. He is also a consultant and speaker on the missional interpretation of Scripture and creating a missional ethos in communities of faith.

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