The Foundations in the Psalms
For the past couple months I have been engaged in a series on the foundational principles laid out in the Book of Psalms. I identified three core principles introduced in Psalms 1 and 2, and then we noticed one example of a psalm that returns to these very principles—Psalm 11. Those principles are:
- The Lord reigns.
- The Lord has determined the destiny of the wicked and the righteous.
- Take refuge in the Lord.
Forming our image of the world by these principles is what enables us to praise God, even in the midst of a world filled with wickedness and adversity. And this is why Psalm 1 and 2 introduce those foundations for the entire psalter. This is the image of blessedness under God’s rule in the midst of wickedness that the Book of Psalms is meant to form within our hearts as we meditate upon it. And you will find these foundational principles reaffirmed over and over and over again through the entire Psalter, rebuilding what might have cracks in it now and then, reforming an image that might be distorted by wicked counsel around us.
And so in this final post, I’d like to just briefly show you how the entire 5-volume book of Psalms does this, because the more we understand the large-scale progression that this book presents, the better we will understand how to use individual psalms or groups of psalms to form our hearts in proper ways.
I’ve already mentioned on a grand scale how the Psalter moves from laments about the wicked to unhindered praise to God, like we find in the final five psalms. But I want to briefly show you more specifically how this develops.
Almost every psalm in Volume 1 of the Psalter—Psalm 3–41—was written by David. David is clearly the focus of this Volume. And most of this volume is characterized by psalms like the ones we looked at in Psalm 11. Laments about the wicked. Uncertainty. Conflict. The wicked are prospering and the righteous are suffering.
And when we remember when the psalms were organized this way—shortly after Israel’s exile—this makes sense. David was God’s anointed king. David was the one to whom God had promised, “your house and your kingdom shall be made sure before me. Your throne shall be established forever.” But it hasn’t quite worked out that way. The foundations are destroyed. The nation of Israel is in crumbles while the wicked nations prosper.
But notice the final psalm in this volume—Psalm 41. It begins with “Blessed is the one…,” deliberately hearkening back to that introductory psalm, and then in verse 11 David affirms, “I know that you delight in me”—that word “delight” is the same word in Psalm 1—”my enemy will not shout in triumph over me.” In other words, it looks like things are bleak, but in reality, the promises made in Psalms 1 and 2, the promises made to David the anointed one are coming to pass. Verse 12:
But you have upheld me because of my integrity, and set me in your presence forever.
And then look at how Volume 1 ends: with a brief doxology that anticipates the full-throated praise that’s coming:
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! Amen and Amen.
Volume 2, Psalms 42–72, continue along similar themes, but just like Psalm 1 is more individual and Psalm 2 expands to the nations, so Volume one focuses on David more individually and Volume 2 is more corporate. The opening 8 psalms are by the sons of Korah, a psalm by Asaph, and then another group of psalms by David, all focused on the conflict between the righteous and wicked, but from a more corporate perspective and with a strong affirmation that the Lord and his Anointed will rule over the wicked nations.
And then notice the final psalm of this volume, Psalm 72. Who wrote this psalm? Solomon, David’s son. The next in line of God’s anointed kings. Notice verse 8:
May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth!
This is what Psalm 2 promised, a fulfillment of the Davidic covenant in which the rule of the Anointed one would stretch over the whole earth. This sort of imagery and confidence continues and climaxes in verse 17:
May his name endure forever, his fame continue as long as the sun! May people be blessed in him, all nations call him blessed!
Again, exactly what Psalm 2 promises. And then this volume, too, ends with a doxology:
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things. Blessed be his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory! Amen and Amen! The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended.
There is conflict and wickedness in the world, but nevertheless, we reaffirm the foundations: God is on the throne, the end is certain.
But then we enter the darkest Volume of the Psalter, psalms 73–89. There is only one psalm by God’s anointed, David, in this volume. David is missing. There are several references throughout to the Assyrian invasion and the Babylonian invasion. Psalm 88 in particular is unique in that, while every single lament in the Psalms ends with some sort of expression of trust in the Lord, Psalm 88 does not. It ends with, “my companions have become darkness.” This is the darkest point in the psalms.
And then look how this Volume ends at the end of Psalm 89:
Lord, where is your steadfast love of old, which by your faithfulness you swore to David? Remember, O Lord, how your servants are mocked, and how I bear in my heart the insults of all the many nations, with which your enemies mock, O Lord, with which they mock the footsteps of your anointed.
Lord, you made those covenant promises to David, your anointed, it looked like they were coming to pass in his son, Solomon, but now the foundations have crumbled, wicked nations have defeated us. Where is your steadfast love of old, which by your faithfulness you swore to David?
What we saw in Psalm 11 on a micro level is taking place on a macro level in Volume 3.
Nevertheless, this volume still ends with a similar doxology, though much abbreviated:
Blessed be the Lord forever! Amen and Amen.
But then look what the editors do with the first psalm of Volume 4. Who wrote this psalm? They go all the way back to the beginning of the nation with Moses. And Moses goes all the way back to the beginning of time:
Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
This is the psalm that Isaac Watts paraphrased into, “O God, our Help in Ages Past, our hope for years to come.” How can we find hope when everything looks like it is crumbling? Go back to the foundations. The Lord is on his throne, he is still ruling, he has made promises to us, he has kept his promises in ages past, and we can trust that he will continue to do so.
And then look at the opening verses of Psalm 91:
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
And then this volume moves into a series of psalms whose theme is exactly the foundational principle we saw in Psalm 2 and Psalm 11: Psalms 92–100 affirm over and over again, the Lord reigns… the Lord reigns.
And that foundational principle builds and builds to Psalm 103, which opens, “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” And over and over again this psalm says, “Bless the Lord, bless the Lord,” and Psalm 104 opens again with “Bless the Lord, O my soul,” until finally, the last verse of Psalm 104 says for the first time in the entire book, Hallelujah! Praise the Lord! And Psalm 105 ends with “Praise the Lord!” And Psalm 106 begins with Praise the Lord, and ends with a familiar doxology:
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! And let all the people say, “Amen!” Praise the Lord!
And notice verse 47 of Psalm 106. Remember, Volume 3 focused on the reality of exile, and Volume 4 is leading God’s people out of that, and verse 47 says:
Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise.
And then look at the opening of Psalm 107:
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.
God has indeed been faithful. Things looked bleak; it looked like God had forsaken his people, forsaken his covenant with David. But, Volume 5, he has redeemed us, he has gathered his people in from the lands.
And Volume 5 continues then to move progressively with psalms of thanksgiving and trust, and a group of Hallel psalms—praise songs—in psalms 111–117, and the well-known Torah psalm, Psalm 119, affirming once again delight in the Law of the Lord. And then a series of psalms called “Songs of Ascents,” which lead God’s people up to the Temple to worship.
And more and more songs of thanks and praise, still at times lamenting the wicked, but much more now affirming God’s steadfast love and faithfulness to his people, until we reach the end of Volume 5 at the end of Psalm 145, where we find that familiar doxology:
My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord, and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.
And then we have the concluding five psalms, which are nothing but Hallelujah—Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Put not your trust in princes … the LORD will reign forever. Praise the Lord!
And by the last psalm, Psalm 150, the wicked are completely gone, and God’s people are able now to praise the Lord freely with no opposition.
Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens! Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness! Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!
And of course one of the dominant themes that we haven’t been able to fully develop, but we saw hints of it already in Psalms 2, and it is much more fully explained in the NT is this: The ultimate anointed one, the ultimate descendent of David who fulfills the promises made to him, is David’s greater Son, the Son of God—Jesus Christ.
And ultimately, the full completion of what Psalm 150 portrays is yet to come to pass, when Jesus comes again. On that day, the wicked will not stand. But if you kiss the Son; if you trust in Jesus Christ to save you from your sins, then God will declare you righteous. And on that day, when Jesus comes again, the upright shall behold his face.
But in the meantime, we don’t flee from the hard realities of this wicked world. We reaffirm the foundation:
- The Lord reigns
- The Lord has determined the end of the wicked and the righteous.
- We will take refuge in the Lord.
About Scott Aniol
Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.