Tone of the Psalms – Book 5

The theme of book 5 of the Psalms is the Word of God. This book consists of Psalms 107 through 150, and it corresponds to the book of Deuteronomy. It has 44 psalms and 701 verses. The total tone score of this book is 216, which means there are 216 more verses with a positive tone than those with a negative tone. The average tone of the psalms in this book is 0.31 on a scale of -1 (negative) to 1 (positive).  This book is the longest and most positive of the five books of the Psalms. Let’s look deeper to find out why.

The book of Deuteronomy is a series of sermons that Moses gives to the new generation of Israelites that were born in the wilderness, or were under 20 years old at the time of the exodus. The older generation died in the wilderness. Moses is teaching the law of God to this new generation before they enter the Promised Land. Jesus Christ emphasizes the theme of the book by quoting from it more often than any other book of the Bible. The Messiah also highlights this important verse as he is tempted by the Devil in the wilderness: “…man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord…” (Deut. 8:3).

Bullinger notes that the theme of the book is introduced in its first Psalm, in the verse, “He sent his word, and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions.” (Psalm 107:20). He breaks this book into two parts: (1) Deliverance by the Healing Word (Beginning with Ps. 107); and (2) Quickening and Sustaining by the Revealing Word (Beginning with Ps. 119). Psalm 119 exalts the Word of God, using ten different words to refer to the Word in its 176 verses. Here are the ten words and their meanings:

English No. of Occurrences Hebrew Meaning Notes
Way

13

derek The act of walking 5 in English are another word
Law

25

torah To instruct, show, teach
Testimony

23

eduth To go over again, reiterate
Precepts

21

pikkudim To take charge; mandate
Statutes

22

hok ; hukka To cut, engrave
Commandments

22

mitzvah To set up, constitute
Righteousness

15

zedek; zedakah;zaddik Right, equal, balance
Judgments

23

mishpat To set upright, judge
Ordinances

1

mishpat see “Judgments”
Word

24

dabar The articulate utterance 2 in English are another word
Word

19

imrah The meaning of the utterance
Total

207

Psalm 119 is the longest psalm and has a tone score of 67/176, or 0.38.

The most positive psalm by tone score is Psalm 111. It received a perfect score of 10/10. Bullinger titles it, “Praise for Jehovah’s Works.” It is one of the “Hallel” psalms that were sung at certain feast days, and may have been sung by Paul and Silas in jail. The word “work” or “works” appears in five of its ten verses. Here is the psalm in its entirety:

Praise ye the Lord. I will praise the Lord with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright, and in the congregation.

2 The works of the Lord are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein.

3 His work is honourable and glorious: and his righteousness endureth for ever.

4 He hath made his wonderful works to be remembered: the Lord is gracious and full of compassion.

5 He hath given meat unto them that fear him: he will ever be mindful of his covenant.

6 He hath shewed his people the power of his works, that he may give them the heritage of the heathen.

7 The works of his hands are verity and judgment; all his commandments are sure.

8 They stand fast for ever and ever, and are done in truth and uprightness.

9 He sent redemption unto his people: he hath commanded his covenant for ever:  holy and reverend is his name.

10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever.

The last two verses highlight the theme of the book, mentioning God’s “covenant” and  his “commandments”.

Psalm 120 is the most negative psalm in the book, with a perfect score of -7/7.  This is the first of the Psalms of Ascents, which were traditionally recited as the children of Israel walked up the 15 steps of the temple, during their two annual pilgrimages for the spring and fall holidays. They would recite one psalm on each step, celebrating the end of their journey. Bullinger claims that Hezekiah is responsible for these psalms as a result of his prayer for healing being answered, as recounted in Isaiah 38. This psalm describes Sennacherib’s siege of Jerusalem (Isaiah 37). The theme is distress. The “lying lips,” “deceitful tongue” and “false tongue” of verses 2 and 3 refer to Rabshakeh (See 2 Kings 18:19-35).


As part 2 of book five progresses, the tone gets more and more positive:  the focus shifts away from the captivity and toward Israel’s deliverance. The last six psalms all have a positive tone, with a theme of praise to the Lord.

Why is book five the most positive of the books?  Let’s review the theme of each book:

Book

Theme

Average Tone

1

Man

0.04

2

Israel

0.04

3

Sanctuary

-0.15

4

Nations

0.16

5

Word

0.31

The positive tone of book 5 shows us where our hope should be placed. Our hope should not be in man; he is corrupt (Jeremiah 17:9). Our hope should not be in Israel; she is weak.  Our hope should not be in the sanctuary, it is just a building made by man.  Our hope should not be in the nations, for they rage against God (Psalm 2:1).  Our hope should be in the Word of God, for it stands forever (Isaiah 40:8), and its promises shall surely come to pass (Isaiah 46:10).

Tone of the Psalms – Book 4

The theme of book 4 of the Psalms is the Wilderness, or the Nations. This book consists of Psalms 90 through 106, and it corresponds to the book of Numbers. This book consists of 17 psalms and 321 verses. It is the shortest of the books in the Psalms. The total tone score of this book is 50, which means there were 50 more verses with a positive tone than those with a negative tone. The average tone of the psalms in this book is 0.15 on a scale of -1 (negative) to 1 (positive).  This book is significantly more positive than the first three books. Let’s look deeper to find out why.

In Numbers, we read of Israel wandering through the wilderness. They had been set free from slavery in Egypt, but they wished that they could go back, because at least they had good food. Most Israelites preferred the predictability of slavery rather than the tent-pitching and wandering under the leadership of God. Even though Israel’s biggest enemy had been defeated in a miraculous way, Israel was uncertain about the future and unhappy in their present situation. They were at the mercy of the elements, and at the mercy of any nation whose army may happen upon them (ignoring the fact that their invisible god was protecting them).

These 17 psalms describe the state of the earth during that time, as God used Israel to deal with the nations of the region, and they anticipate the coming of the Lord to the earth as King, to establish peace among all nations. Psalms 91-94 make up the first part of this book, whose theme is “Rest for the Earth Desired.”  In Psalm 91, we read of the “arrow that flieth by day,” and the “terror by night.” The Lord covers his children under his wings.

Psalm 94, the most negative of the psalms in this book, declares the Lord as the one “to whom vengeance belongeth.” The author pleads with the Lord to come and stop the wickedness that is being done in the earth. This psalm receives a score of -12/23, a ratio of -0.52. This ratio is not as negative as the other extreme value psalms that we have looked at in previous posts. The calls for vengeance and judgement are balanced somewhat by descriptions of those whom the Lord chastens, how they are blessed, and how the Lord will “give him rest from the days of adversity” (Psalm 94:12). We feel hopeless because, “The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity” (v. 11). And we are comforted because, “In the multitude of my thoughts within me thy comforts delight my soul.” (v. 19)

The second grouping of Psalms in this book, Psalms 95-100, has the theme of “Rest for the Earth Anticipated.” All of the psalms in this section have a positive tone. The most positive are 96 and 98, and they have many similarities. Psalm 98 has a perfect score of 9/9. The psalms in this section generate excitement over the peace and joy that will cover the earth when its righteous Lord comes to reign. The psalm begins with the statement, “O sing unto the Lord a new song; for he hath done marvellous things.” Here is the entire Psalm:

O sing unto the Lord a new song; for he hath done marvellous things: his right hand, and his holy arm, hath gotten him the victory.

2 The Lord hath made known his salvation: his righteousness hath he openly shewed in the sight of the heathen.

3 He hath remembered his mercy and his truth toward the house of Israel: all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.

4 Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise.

5 Sing unto the Lord with the harp; with the harp, and the voice of a psalm.

6 With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the Lord, the King.

7 Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.

8 Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful together

9 Before the Lord; for he cometh to judge the earth: with righteousness shall he judge the world, and the people with equity.

Generally the statement “he cometh to judge the earth” is seen negatively, but in the context of this book, it is clear that judgment is badly needed, and in the context of this psalm we see that the Lord’s judgment is accompanied by the joy of his people, so this final verse received a positive score.

In verse 7 the roaring sea could be scored negatively, but in context we understand that the noise of crashing waves gives glory to God. Think about that the next time you go to the beach. And in the second half of this verse, the world is commanded to roar in praise to God. One day we will hear such a roar (my spine is tingling now just thinking about it!).

The final grouping of psalms in book 4, psalms 101 through 105, has the theme of, “Rest for the Earth Celebrated.” This group has an overall tone index of 0.26, and it describes the earth under the reign of the Righteous 1. Psalm 103 begins with a listing of the Lord’s benefits.

What can we learn from the positive tone of book 4 of the Psalms? That though God has been dealing with Israel throughout the entire Old Testament, He has promised to come and reign over the entire earth, not just the nation of Israel. And that reign will be in perfect righteousness, and it will cause peace and joy to flow over the whole earth. Israel’s failures have not broken God’s plan. He has promised to come, and He will come as King, and there is no one who can stop him. The joy that Israel has experienced on her most blessed day is nothing in comparison to the joy that is coming to the whole world.

Tone of the Psalms – Book 3

The theme of book 3 of the Psalms is the Sanctuary. This book consists of Psalms 73 through 89, and it corresponds to the book of Leviticus. This book consists of 17 psalms and 358 verses. The total tone score of this book is -55, which means there were 55 more verses with a negative tone than those with a positive tone. The average tone of the psalms in this book is -0.15 on a scale of -1 (negative) to 1 (positive).  This is the only book of the psalms that has a negative tone, with 11 of the 17 psalms having negative scores.

The first seven psalms in this book all have a negative tone. The theme of this portion of the book is man’s relationship to the sanctuary.  Psalm 73 begins with a man who is outside the sanctuary, and he says, “I was envious of the foolish when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”

Bullinger declares the theme of Psalm 75 as “God in the Sanctuary.”  In it, we read, “For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup.” This cup is the wrath of God. What happens to this cup?  “…all the wicked of the earth” shall drink of it (Psalm 75:8). The sanctuary, as described in Leviticus, is the place where sin is judged. But it is judged only symbolically. An animal’s blood is shed in place of the sinner. The pouring out of blood is a requirement for sin to be forgiven (Hebrews 9:22). Day after day, year after year, God accepts the sacrifice of the blood of animals and forgives sin, while judging the animals guilty. But this system cannot provide for actual forgiveness of sins because there is no way that an animal can be guilty of sin. Sin can only come by knowledge of the law (Romans 3:20).

The most negative-toned psalm in this book is Psalm 88. Its theme is the humiliation of Messiah on the cross. Here is how the psalm begins:

O Lord God of my salvation, I have cried day and night before thee:

2 Let my prayer come before thee: incline thine ear unto my cry;

3 For my soul is full of troubles: and my life draweth nigh unto the grave.

4 I am counted with them that go down into the pit: I am as a man that hath no strength:

5 Free among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, whom thou rememberest no more: and they are cut off from thy hand.

The tone does not get any better from there. One could argue that this is the most negative-toned psalm of all, because there is no point in the psalm where the mood or tone turns positive. Its final verse is most hopeless:  “Lover and friend hast thou put far from me, and mine acquaintance into darkness.” We get a sense of how the Messiah must have felt as he was dying, suffering the wrath of God, forsaken of God, and alone.

The most positive-toned psalm in book 3 is Psalm 84. It received a perfect score of 12/12. It ends with these four verses:

9 Behold, O God our shield, and look upon the face of thine anointed.

10 For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.

11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.

12 O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in thee.

The theme of this psalm is “The Blessedness of Approachers to the Sanctuary.” We see the reference to the Sanctuary in verse 10. Verses 1 (“tabernacles”), 2, (“courts”), and 4 (“house”) also refer to the sanctuary.  The second half of book 3 has a shift in focus. The theme shifts to the sanctuary in relation to God rather than in relation to man. Psalm 84 reveals that the true Sanctuary of God is found in Jesus Christ, and that it is not a place of shedding of blood, but it is a place of “grace and glory.”

In Psalm 88, we see the lengths of suffering to which Christ had to go in order to “prepare a place” for us, a true Sanctuary of peace, fruitfulness, joy, and glory, suitable for man to live in forever; the place to which he was intended from the very beginning. This is the sanctuary described in Psalm 84. Why did the Messiah have to suffer this way? “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:4). Our Messiah is “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

What can we learn from the negative tone of book 3 of the Psalms? God is saying that the process of sacrificing animals to cover sin, as described in Leviticus, is a losing proposition. You are never finished. There is no complete forgiveness, only a temporary covering of sin. But the story does not end in Leviticus. There is a new covenant:

Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens;

2 A minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man.

–      (Hebrews 8:1-2)

This is a “better covenant” with “better promises” (Hebrews 8:6).  We stand today in a sanctuary not made with hands.  We understand that we are “crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20), and also that “your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost” (1 Corinthians 6:19).  The life we live in this temple is lived by the faith of the Son of God who gave Himself for us. The wrath of God has been finally satisfied, and we are able to experience His grace, love and peace .

 

 

 

 

The Tone of the Psalms – Book 2

The theme of book 2 of the Psalms is Israel and Israel’s Redeemer. This book consists of Psalms 42 through 72, and it corresponds to the book of Exodus. This book consists of 31 psalms which total 465 verses. The total tone score of this book is 18, which means there were 18 more verses with a positive tone than those with a negative tone. The average tone of the psalms in this book is 0.04 on a scale of -1 (negative) to 1 (positive). This is just barely above neutral, and is nearly identical to the average tone of the psalms in book 1.

What can we learn about book 2 of the Psalms with this information? The book begins with two negative-toned psalms in the first three (42 and 44), as we read of the suffering of Israel under their oppressors. Similarly, the book of Exodus begins with a description of the nation suffering under the hand of Pharaoh. Then God raised up Moses to lead His people out of Egypt after a series of wonders.

Continue reading The Tone of the Psalms – Book 2

The Tone of the Psalms – Book 1

The theme of book 1 of the Psalms is Man. This corresponds to the book of Genesis. This book consists of 41 psalms which total 616 verses. The total score of this book is 26, which means there were 26 more verses with a positive tone than those with a negative tone. The average tone of the psalms in this book is 0.04 on a scale of -1 (negative) to 1 (positive). This is just barely above neutral.

What does this tell us? When God created Man on day 6, He declared his creation good. But we soon learn in Genesis that man sinned. From that point, the book of Genesis recounts many of man’s failings, afflictions, sorrows, and oppressions from Adam to Joseph. If God had abandoned man after the fall, the entire book of Genesis would have been negative. But God did not abandon man:  He took Enoch; He declared Noah righteous in his generations (genealogy); He chose Abraham to become the father of many nations; He chose Isaac, He chose Jacob, and He chose Joseph. Near the end of the book of Genesis, we read, “… as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Genesis 50:20).  The slightly positive tone of book 1 of the Psalms tells us that God did not abandon man after the fall; He continue to choose and use men to accomplish His plan of salvation for Israel and for the world.  The book of Genesis ends with Joseph in a coffin, but with hope that the yet-to-be-born nation of Israel would be delivered from affliction.

Continue reading The Tone of the Psalms – Book 1

Book 5 of the Psalms – Deuteronomy

This is the final post in a series that gives an overview of the book of Psalms.

Book 1

Book 2

Book 3

Book 4

Psalms 107 through 150 make up book 5 of the psalms. This book corresponds to the book of Deuteronomy. The word ‘deuteronomy’ means ‘second law.’ The law was given in Leviticus at the beginning of the wilderness journey, and it was given to a new generation at the end of the wilderness journey in Deuteronomy. The theme of this book of the Psalms is the Word of God.

Jesus Christ, the Living Word, shows us the importance of the 5th book of the law by quoting from it three consecutive times while he was tempted in the wilderness. His first response to the Devil was, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Deut. 8:3).

Continue reading Book 5 of the Psalms – Deuteronomy

Book 4 of the Psalms – Numbers

This post is the next in a series that provide an overview of the Psalms.

An Overview of the Psalms – Introduction

Book 1

Book 2

Book 3

Book 4 of the Psalms covers psalms numbered 90 through 106. This book corresponds to the book of Numbers. In Numbers, Israel wanders through the wilderness and has its first interactions with the nations of the world (all negative). God used Israel to witness to his glory and goodness, as a means of drawing the nations to Himself. And some (a few) were drawn to him and were saved.

The theme of this book of the Psalms is rest for the whole earth, as the earth waits for its rightful King to come. The images in this article show Bullinger’s outline focusing on this theme. The book begins with Psalm 90, the Song of Moses, who led Israel across the wilderness as documented in Numbers.

Continue reading Book 4 of the Psalms – Numbers