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This text introduces the book of Psalms and provides an exposition of each psalm with attention to genre, liturgical connections, societal issues and the psalm's place in the book of Psalms as a whole. The treatments of the psalms feature a close look at particular issues raised by the text and the encounters between the world of the psalm and the world of contemporary readers. The exposition of each psalm provides a reader's guide to the text in conversation with relevant theological issues.
When people of faith gather around the Hebrew scriptures, the focus is often the book of Psalms. This collection of songs has powerfully influenced worship, theology, ethics, and piety for centuries. The book continues to influence contemporary readers with its eloquent poetic language, which communicates directly to the life circumstances of contemporary readers even though the language originated from the ancient Near East. The book undercuts private and simplistic forms of piety and yet it has been appropriately labeled the “Prayer Book of the Bible.” Luther has even given it the title of the “little Bible” because it encapsulates so much of the message of the Scriptures. He says the Psalter “might well be called a little Bible. In it is comprehended most beautifully and briefly everything that is in the entire Bible … so that anyone who could not read the whole Bible would have anyway almost an entire summary of it, comprised in one little book.” This central biblical book continues to capture the imaginations of readers today as they seek to pray and live faithfully.
Matters of Organization
The context of the book of Psalms can provide clues for readers, and so it may be helpful to discuss a number of introductory matters. The title “Psalms,” which indicates songs accompanied by stringed instruments, comes from the title of the book in the Greek version of the Hebrew scriptures. The title “Psalter” in the Latin version refers to the stringed instrument. The Hebrew title aptly categorizes the book as “praises.” The book is structured in five sections, or books, each of which concludes with a benediction (Pss 41:13; 72:18–20; 89:52; 106:48; 145:21). Psalms 146–150 conclude the Psalter with a fivefold doxology. Psalms 1 and 2 introduce the collection.
The biblical text has in it no indication of emphases for reading. In a number of texts quoted herein, we have italicized certain words in order to assist the reader in noting the rhetorical force of the text. In each case, such underscoring is our own work and of course coheres with our own sense of the text. When emphasis appears in a reference other than the Bible, the emphasis is ours unless stated otherwise. When a verse is cited without a book or chapter reference (e.g., v. 1), it is understood to refer to the psalm presently under discussion.
The authors thank the editors and publishers of the New Cambridge Bible Commentary for the opportunity to work on the book of Psalms. Special thanks also go to Libby Ballard, B. J. Parker, Anna Sieges, and Kim Williams Bodenhamer. May these comments on the Psalms help today’s readers and hearers embrace these ancient texts in transforming ways.
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