Are you a shuffle person or an album person? Do you prefer “greatest hits” or the “album experience?” Do you prefer Beatles’ #1 or Sgt Pepper?
I must admit that although I am certainly in the “album” category – I even put up with bad songs rather than skip them! – I have long read the Psalms as if they were merely a greatest hits collection put in random order. I am far from alone in this.
But, oh how I have since repented!
Though some Biblical scholars are skeptical of seeing much structure to the Psalms, I think we must recognize an intentional shaping of the Psalter. We ought to see the Psalter like a complex rock opera in the vein of Jesus Christ Superstar, Brian Wilson’s Smile, or one of Ayreon’s albums. The Psalter tells a sprawling story, in five acts, with twists and turns from the lowest of depths to highest of highs and an extended climactic jam to top it off.
Here is an example of the Psalter’s structure.
Psalms 1-2 form a unit that introduce the Psalter and its key themes. If the Psalter were an musical, Psalms 1-2 would be the prologue that previews all the key melodic motifs that will appear later. We should see Psalms 1-2 as a unit independent from the rest of Book I for the following reasons:
- Psalm 1 begins and Psalm 2 ends with “blessed”, forming an inclusio that brackets off these Psalms (Ps 1:1; 2:12).
- Though Acts 4:35 establishes David as the author of Psalm 2, in the Psalter Psalms 1-2 are strictly anonymous.
- The exalted vision of the king in Psalm 2 is violently incongruous with the conflict and enemies in Psalms 3 onward.
In Psalm 1 we find the ideal man who delights in the Torah of YHWH, unlike the wicked. In Psalm 2 we find the Lord’s Anointed (“Messiah/Christ”) being established in Zion and overcoming all his enemies.
Given that the one positive requirement of the King of Israel is to be the ideal Israelite who delights in the Law (Deut 17:18-20), Psalm 1 is not only an exhortation to us, but the qualifications of the ideal Psalm 2 king.
This dual topic of Torah-Messiah and their related themes resonate throughout the Psalter.