Over the next several weeks, our discussions will center on a handful of the Psalms. Famed minister Charles Spurgeon preached over 400 sermons during his lifetime. He exclaimed, “The delightful study of the Psalms has yielded me boundless profit and ever-growing pleasure.” Over 20 years, he would author a seven-volume work titled, “The Treasury of David,” commenting on each of the psalms.
Eugene Peterson, author of the version of the Bible called “The Message” believed that the psalms enable us to express our thoughts and emotions in conversations with God. “The Psalms speak for us,” Peterson wrote. Dallas Willard, pastor and devotional writer, expressed the Psalms are the “great soul book of the Bible, simply because it more than any other book deals with life in its depths and with our fundamental relationship to the One who is the keeper of our soul.”
The Psalms always form the basis for a rich and meaningful study. Psalms are poems in the Old Testament book of the same name that were meant to be sung. Some were performed by trained musicians. Others were repeated in worship by the praises of people like you and I. Psalms are impassioned, vivid and descriptive. They are rich in images and imaginative use of language. The Psalms are filled with literary devices — assonance, alliteration, similes, and metaphors — to enhance our understanding of the truths of the Bible.
As we begin the study, turn to Psalm 40 as we will see a few characteristics that will guide our steps. Peek first at the heading — added by Greek translators of the Hebrew Old Testament hundreds of years before Christ.
The heading of the fortieth psalm gives us three insights into the writers, readers and circumstances of this passage of Scripture. The superscriptions are found above 116 psalms. Scanning the headings uncover that there are five kinds of information: 1) linking the psalm to an individual or group (a psalm of David, the sons of Korah); 2) the type of composition (psalm, prayer); 3) the purpose or place in the worship service (for thanksgiving, for the memorial offering); 4) to give musical direction (with stringed instruments, for flutes); and thirteen actually give a specific point in David’s life.
The heading over Psalm 40 addresses the director of music.
This phrase is short, but it really tells a lot about the psalm. With this indicator, we know that this psalm was intended to be sung or accompanied by an instrument. The Director of Music would have been one in charge of choral singing in the Temple and later synagogues. He would have been leading large gatherings of people in celebratory song for non-worship experiences.
The Bible does not say specifically who the Director of Music was. Fifty-five of the psalms include this note, or a similar one, in the heading. In Israel at the time of David’s psalms the Director of Music is introduced to us in the Psalms and is credited for writing Psalms 50, and 73 through 83). This individual is named Asaph, a Hebrew word which means “one who gathers together.” Not a bad description of a choir director!
Asaph is mentioned many times in 1 and 2 Chronicles. In 1 Chronicles 16:4-5 we are told:
4 He appointed some of the Levites to minister before the ark of the Lord, to extol, thank, and praise the Lord, the God of Israel: 5 Asaph was the chief, and next to him in rank were Zechariah, then Jaaziel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Mattithiah, Eliab, Benaiah, Obed-Edom and Jeiel. They were to play the lyres and harps, Asaph was to sound the cymbals,
So, on a very surface level, the psalms written to the Director of Music were probably done to set aside the psalms that were to be used in corporate or congregational worship. Worship in the temple included prayer, Scripture reading and exposition, and singing or chanting.
But interestingly, some of the psalms that are written to him were written BY Asaph the director of music (Psalms 76, 76, 77, 80 and 81). Would he really be writing to himself? Was he indicating a notation for the next Director of Music? Or could there be a notation for the ultimate Director of Music — Jesus?
So many of the Psalms have Messianic implications. Notice the Hebrew writer places these words to the mouth of the Messiah:
12 He says,
“I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters; in the assembly I will sing your praises” (Hebrews 2:12 NIV).
Hebrews 12:2 brings to mind countless references from Psalm 22.
2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
A spectacular claim of Jesus is that the entire Bible is about Him. Listen to Jesus’ words in the gospel of John:
39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life (John 5:39-40 NIV).
We tend to look at the Psalms — and truthfully many of the songs we sing in worship today — and believe they were written for us. The psalms express the deep feelings of our own hearts. But in the midst of the emotions and circumstances of life — expect to see Jesus.