Our practice this year has been to read the Psalms, which contain 5 books, book by book. Now we return to Book V (Psalms 107-150) . The first series of psalms 111-118 are the “Hallelujah Psalms”. The “Egyptian Hallel (ps 113-118) was sung for the three great pilgrimage festivals, Passover, Weeks, and Tabernacles. The “Psalms of Ascent” (ps 120-134) were used by pilgrims to or from Jerusalem. Psalm 136 is the “Great Hallel” for Sabbath services. Psalm 146-150 end the book with “Praise the Lord”. Psalms 107 and 119 may be introductory psalms. 107 introduces the fifth book and 119 introduces the psalms of ascent. Psalm 137 is untitled and unclassified. There are psalms of David in this book, 108-110 and 138-145.
You will find an introduction to the Psalms, here.
Here is a prayer from Gregory of Nazianus (329-389) who was an early Church father.
Lord, as I read the psalms let me hear you singing. As I read your words, let me hear you speaking. As I reflect on each page, let me see your image. And as I seek to put your precepts into practice, let my heart be filled with joy. Amen.
Psalm 135: A hymn of praise. This psalm uses phrases from other biblical texts to create this psalm. Verses 1-3 are the call to praise. Verse 4 is the reason for praise. Verses 5-7 praise God the creator. Verses 8-12 praises God for God’s liberating actions for Israel. Verses 13-14 Praise God. Verses 15-18 contrasts God with idols ( see 115:4-8) Verses 19-21 are the concluding call to praise God.
Psalm 136: A hymn of praise. The second part of each verse is likely a response by the people. Notice the progression through the hymn. First God is praised for creation, then God’s actions in history.Notice also the change in change in syntax and person (from third to second). Psalm 116 and 136 both open and close with the same language (give thanks to the Lord…) which suggests that psalms 113-118 and 135-136 were to frame the Songs of Ascent.
Psalm 137: A communal lament: A lament over the destruction of Jerusalem. Verses 7-9 are an imprecation. While it is difficult to read (and often omitted in modern readings of this psalm) it speaks to the deep sorrow and anger and pain of the exiles.
Psalm 138: A song of thanksgiving:This is the first of a collection of David psalms (138-145). It is an individual song of thanksgiving that also invites “All the kings of the earth” to praise God. The “gods” in verse 1 may be the heavenly court that surrounds God or the “gods” of other nations, perhaps the kings of verse 4. Verses 7-8 are an expression of confidence in God.
Psalm 139: A prayer for help, an individual petition. Verses 1-6 everything about the psalmist is known by God. Verses 7-12 there is no place one can hide from God. Is this reassuring or intimidating? Verses 13-18 describe God’s care and knowledge of the individual. Verses 19-24 asks for protection from enemies and declares commitment to follow God’s ways.
Here are several good sources to aid your reading of the Psalms
Anderson, Bernhard W., Katheryn Pfister Darr, Understanding the Old Testament Abridged fourth Edition. (Upper Saddle River,New Jersey: Prentice Hall) 1998.
Clifford, Richard, “Psalms” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha: New Revised Standard Version.Coogan, Michael D.; Brettler, Marc Z.; Perkins, Pheme; Newsom, Carol A. (2010-01-20) Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
Stuhlmueller, Carroll, “Psalms” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary Mays, James L. ed.(San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco) 2000.
McCann,Jr, J. Clifton “Psalms”,in The New Interpreter’s Bible Vol 3, Keck, Leander E. ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press) 1996.