From Adam forward, each leader of Israel becomes a “new” Adam-Noah, Abraham, and Moses being examples. They even introduce their time period to a “new” covenantal regime. But all of these Old Covenant men cannot deliver the world from sin because they are prior to Christ, the last “New Adam.” So, the flow of the Old Testament is that each “new” Adam turns out to be like the first, undergoing some type of major fall into sin.
The pre-eminent Old Testament new Adam and type of Jesus Christ, however, is David, the second king of Israel. More is written about and by him than any other person in Scripture. The bulk of Israel’s history is concentrated on his activities. The fifty-five chapters of I & II Samuel, 29 chapters of I Chronicles, and a few other chapters in I Kings and II Chronicles are almost devoted entirely to him. And, where he is not explicitly referred to, the context is either building to or away from something happening in his life.
Then there are the Psalms, the longest book in the Bible, with 150 chapters designed to be sung in worship. Messianic in orientation, warsongs of the Prince of Peace, the majority of them were written by David himself. Its text is divided into five smaller books, a division virtually undisputed, dating back before the time of Christ. There is a good possibility that Ezra was the one who organized the Psalms according to this arrangement.
Most modern translations now include this division. Why five? I believe this great collection of psalms follows the covenantal pattern of Deuteronomy. Let us now consider the structure of the Psalms according to the following outline.
The Covenantal Structure of the Psalms
Book I (1-41): True Transcendence.
Book II (42-72): Hierarchy.
Book III (73-89): Ethics.
Book IV (90-106): Sanctions.
Book V (107-150): Continuity.
- True Transcendence (Ps. 1-41)
The Psalms begin with a “sanction” word, “blessed,” placing the entire book in the context of covenant renewal on the Sabbath Day of worship. Remember, the fourth commandment pertains to the Sabbath and corresponds to the “sanctions” section of the covenant.
Be this as it may, the Psalms open on one of the three transcendent themes: creation. The setting of Psalm 1 is a “garden” and “trees planted by water” (1:3). Sound familiar? The Psalmist speaks of a new genesis, or beginning, “how to become a new creation in God’s new garden.” We are called back to the garden where there was the first tree of life. The psalm wants us to see David’s beginning as being that of a new Adam. All those who receive (meditate on) the Law of God become “miniature” new Adams. Ultimately (eschatologically) this psalm is about Christ, who was the “Tree of Life,” and one who “did not sit in the seat of scoffers.”
Another pronounced “transcendent theme” stands out. The first psalm contrasts those who meditate on God’s truly transcendent Word, and those who “sit in the counsel” of man’s revelation. The Deuteronomic covenant began with the same contrast. God’s Word was distinguished from Moses’ words. In this regard, Psalm 1 is virtually identical to Deuteronomy 1:1-4.
Psalm 2 turns to another transcendent issue. God “sits in the heavens and laughs” at the nations (Ps. 2:4). It concludes with, “Worship the Lord with reverence, and rejoice with trembling. Do homage to the Son, lest He become angry, and you perish in the way” (Ps. 2:11-12). These lines speak of a God who sits above the heavens and offers His Son, through the Incarnation, the redemption of the world. Here is the third transcendence idea: redemption. The whole first book carries this theme through and closes on a psalm that talks about God’s ability to lift out of sin, sickness, and trouble (Ps. 41). Great outworkings of God’s redemptive power: this is a demonstration of His transcendence and immanence.
Psalms 3 and 4 continue the redemptive emphasis. Psalm 3 is a morning prayer, and Psalm 4 is the evening prayer. Prayer is a means in accomplishing God’s redemptive purposes, illustrated by Christ’s prayer in the Upper Room and the Garden of Gethsemane (John 17-18). But why do the Psalms have listed “morning and evening” prayers at this juncture? The tone draws us back to the first days of creation. The first creation is ordered from “evening to morning” (Gen. 1:5). Could it be that the new prayer vigil expressed in Psalms 3 and 4 reflects a new structure of the creation day from morning to evening, paralleling the “sunrise” of the Son of God, a morning to evening progression? I think this is very likely.
Moving on in the first book, Psalm 8 continues the “true transcendence” emphases, speaking of the wonderful creation of man, and a better creation of the “new” man, Christ. Transcendence even opens and closes the psalm: “O Lord, our Lord, How majestic is Thy name in all the earth” (1:1,9).
From this point on in Book I, the Psalms turn the reader’s attention to the theme of “deliverance,” a theme which comes to maturity in the next book.
- Hierarchy (Ps. 42-72)
The first psalm of the section introduces the same topics in line with the hierarchical principle of the Deuteronomic covenant. Psalm 42 opens Book II: “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for Thee, 0 God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?'” (Ps. 42:1-3).
The second part of Deuteronomy summarizes a “wilderness experience” in the life of Israel, when God taught them about His faithfulness by delivering them from all kinds of enemies. Psalm 42 reflects a similar time of great testing in the Psalmist’s life, when Saul was chasing him in hot pursuit. Saul was God’s representative, and he was in conflict with another representative. David was the new heir. People around him were saying, “If you’re such a hero, why doesn’t your God get you out of this?” But David knew that if God could help him kill a giant like Goliath, He could certainly remove Saul from his path. David was caught in the wilderness experience of conflict between two representatives, one in the process of apostasy and the other in the process of victory. Yet, God was taking him through a time which would prove His faithfulness. It was also a time for David to be responsively faithful.
For his faithfulness, God gave him the opportunity to build His house. Book II of the Psalms continues the basic theme of “trusting in a time when deliverance is needed.” Psalm 71, the second to the last of this section, concludes on the note, “In thee have I taken refuge; Let me never be ashamed” (Ps. 71:1). God heard this request. When David failed him at the end and was not allowed to go ahead with the building of the Temple, God was faithful to his son, Solomon. The very last psalm of this section is by and about Solomon (Ps. 72). David had been true to God’s hierarchy. God made David’s name live on as part of His hierarchy through Solomon.
Book II concentrates almost exclusively on the concept of “deliverance of the Lord’s representative.” Certainly, this idea appears in Book I and some of the other books. But, roughly eighty percent of the psalms of this section develop the theme of deliverance. Each time, the Psalmist comes to the conclusion that “God will deliver His anointed.” In the Deuteronomic covenant, Moses called Israel’s attention to the same principle. For example, Moses said, “But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not fear him [Bashan], for I have delivered him and all his people and his lands into your hand'” (Deut. 3:2). Moses was God’s hierarchical representative, and he asked for the same thing as David (Deut. 2:31; 3:3).
So, the Deuteronomic structure of Psalms continues to hold true.
- Ethics (Ps. 73-89)
The third section of the Psalms unmistakably follows the covenantal pattern of Deuteronomy. The entire section starts with a psalm on the ethical cause/effect theme (Ps. 73). The end, or effect, of the wicked is contrasted with that of the righteous. In Deuteronomy, we saw the same. The third section of the covenant recapitulated the stipulations of the covenant, the Ten Commandments. Covenant-keepers received life. Covenant-breakers end in death. The Psalmist concludes the first psalm of the third book, “For, behold, those who are far from Thee will perish; Thou hast destroyed all those who are unfaithful” (Ps. 73:27).
We also saw in Deuteronomy that one of the ethical cause/effect emphases was that only the son can fulfill God’s commandments (p. 61). Only the true son, or image-bearer, can implement the law and conquer. In the third section of Deuteronomy, all three images of sonship – prophet, priest, and king – are discussed. The third book of the Psalms speaks of a true image-bearer to come. We find the great sonship chapter, Psalm 80. Written by Asaph, Levite (the firstborn son of Israel [Ex. 32]), the psalm speaks of Israel as God’s true son. Asaph writes, “O God of hosts, turn again now, we beseech Thee; Look down from heaven and see, and take care of this vine [Israel], even the shoot which Thy right hand has planted, and on the son whom Thou hast strengthened for Thyself” (Ps. 80:14-15).
It could be argued that there are other psalms on “sonship” in other sections of the Psalms. But Book III seems to bring out the theme more clearly because it closes with probably the most powerful expression of the Davidic covenant as a covenant of “sonship.” It is the only place in Scripture that specifically refers to David’s relationship to God as being a “covenant.” The psalm says,
He [David] will cry to Me, Thou art my Father, My God, and the rock of my salvation. I also shall make him My first-born, the highest of the kings of the earth. My lovingkindness I will keep for him forever, and My covenant shall be confirmed to him. So I will establish his descendants forever, and his throne as the days of heaven. If his sons forsake My law, and do not walk in My judgments, If they violate My statutes, and do not keep My commandments, then I will visit their transgressions with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes (Ps. 89:26-32).
This statement pulls the ethical emphasis together. David was God’s son. His sons were expected to obey God’s stipulations, the Ten Commandments. If they didn’t, there would be discipline. So, the final Psalm of Book III closes on this note. It follows the basic pattern that leads to the next principle of the Biblical covenant. Psalm 89 is about the cutting of the covenant. The covenant-cutting theme sets the tone for the judicial aspect of the covenant. Psalm 89 is the perfect transition.
- Sanctions (Ps. 90-106)
Book IV of Psalms highlights the judicial theme. More than in any other section of the Psalms, the sanctions are mentioned. Both Psalms 103 and 104 begin, “Bless the Lord oh my soul.” Man blesses God because God first blessed him. The remainder of those psalms speak of God’s rich benediction on man.
Most of the other psalms of this section are imprecatory. An imprecatory psalm invokes God’s curse on His enemies. Reasons are given and then a request is made to vindicate and carry out immediate vengeance on those who are attacking God’s people. Psalm 94 begins,
O Lord, God of vengeance; God of vengeance, shine forth! Rise up, O Judge of the earth; Render recompense to the proud. How long shall the wicked, O Lord, How long shall the wicked exult? They pour forth words, they speak arrogantly; All who do wickedness vaunt themselves. They crush Thy people, O Lord, and afflict Thy heritage. They slay the widow and the stranger, and murder the orphans. And they have said, “The Lord does not see, nor does the God of Jacob pay heed” (Ps. 94:1-7).
Book IV ends with Psalm 106. It is somewhat of a complete history of Israel. In a way, all of the covenantal themes come together, but the psalm ends on the note of Israel’s being disinherited from the land. Another receives the final blessing of the Lord (Ps. 106:40-48). This carries out the judicial sanctions and pushes into the final part of the covenant.
- Continuity (Ps. 107-150)
The final book of the Psalms ends on the inheritance theme. In this section, we find the most quoted psalm in the New Testament, “The LORD said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand until Thy enemies are made a footstool under Thy feet’” (Ps. 110:1). What does this have to do with inheritance? The “LORD” is God the Father, and “my Lord” is Jesus Christ, God the Son. Jesus Christ goes to the right hand of God the Father at the Ascension (Acts 1:6-11). He is not to come back “until” all the enemies of God are defeated. His estate passes into the trusteeship of the saints. This matches what we have previously observed. At the end of all the other covenants, they speak of a new inheritance being given. As Adam was cast out of one realm and into another, so Christians are taken into the new inheritance which Christ systematically gives them, the earth (Matt. 5:5).
The principle of continuity is underscored by the “Psalms of Ascent” in this section (Ps. 120-134). These are psalms meant to be sung on the way to Passover in Jerusalem. They are called Psalms of Ascent because Jerusalem was on a mountain. One had to climb God’s mountain while he made his way to the Passover. This was the Feast of the great meal with God. It commemorated the disinheritance of the Egyptian’s inheritance, the loss of their firstborn, and the new inheritance of Israel, the Promised Land. The Passover meal was the primary symbol of continuity and discontinuity.
So, these are psalms to be sung on the way to one’s true inheritance. They taught many principles of walking with God. Every year was begun with Passover, and every year marched forward to another festival time when the mountain would be climbed again. History was always moving upward, toward God. This was the Israelites’ true hope.
The Psalms close with a final call to worship, but the next to the last psalm is a powerful statement of the final disinheritance of the apostate, and the reward of the new inheritance to the righteous.
Let the godly ones exult in glory; Let them sing for joy on their beds. Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two-edged sword in their hand, to execute vengeance on the nations, and punishment on the peoples; To bind their kings with chains, and their nobles with fetters of iron; to execute on them the judgment written; This is an honor for all His godly ones. Praise the Lord! (Ps. 149:5-9).
Remember how the Psalms began in the garden, and then Psalm 2 started off, “Why are the nations in an uproar?” Answer: they are trying to war with the God of heaven and earth, but they are fighting a losing proposition. Psalm 149 says what will happen. The kings of the earth will be brought down by God’s righteousness. How specifically? The civil magistrate bears the “two-edged” sword (Rom. 13:1ff.), and the priesthood (Church) takes the Gospel. One is the ministry of blessing, the other of cursing. Both are needed to bring the world to the Davidic King who is ultimately Christ.
Again we see the value of covenantal theology. Without understanding the principle of “image-bearing representatives,” the reader could abuse this psalm. But God does not give every responsibility to every individual. Biblical society operates by representation, avoiding tyranny on the one hand, and anarchy on the other. So Psalm 2 raises the question, and Psalm 149 gives the ultimate answer. The illegitimate will be driven off the earth, and the true legitimate heirs will take possession of what rightfully belongs to them, final continuity and discontinuity being set up.
Psalms has a Deuteronomic structure. We are safe in concluding that the Old Testament continues to follow the covenantal pattern. But does it continue into the New Testament? Someone might be saying at this point, “I agree that Deuteronomy is the structure of the covenant in the Old Testament, but things change in the times of Jesus, don’t they?” Do they? Let us now consider in the next three appendixes the structure of one of the Gospels, an epistle, and the Book of Revelation. Then we will be able to see if this covenantal pattern extends into the age where the “New Covenant” Christian lives!
 This expression is actually the title of one of the best commentaries on the Psalms: R. M. Benson, Warsongs of the Prince of Peace (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1901).
 William G. Braude, The Midrash on the Psalms (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959), I, p. 5. Braude comments on a Midrash from the Talmudic period on
Psalm 1, “As Moses gave five books of laws to Israel, so David gave five Books of Psalms to Israel: the Book of Psalms entitled Blessed is the man (Ps. 1:1), the Book entitled For the leader: Maschil (Ps. 42:1), the Book, A Psalm of Asaph (Ps. 73:1), the Book, A prayer of Moses (Ps. 90:1), and the Book, Let the redeemed say (Ps. 107:2).” Also, Michael Dahood, Psalms I, Vol. I (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1965), pp. XXX-XXXI, “Perhaps the oldest explicit testimony to the fivefold partition of the Psalter occurs in a poorly preserved liturgical fragment 1 Qumran 30 dating to the turn of the Christian era.” D. Barthelemy and J. T. Milik, Qumran Cave I, Discoveries in the Judean Desert, I (Oxford, 1955), p. 133.
 R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969), pp. 986-87. Harrison notes that although the actual length of the Psalms has been debated, the book division was probably made by Ezra and could be considered part of the text.