Featured Items Ritchie Christian Media

Notebook: The Maschil Psalms

J Grant

The book of the Psalms is the praise book of Israel. It is essentially a library containing five books which are noted below together with the closing words of each volume.

1. Psalms 1-41 ~ The Genesis volume ~ Amen, and Amen

2. Psalms 42-72 ~ The Exodus volume ~ Amen, and Amen

3. Psalms 73-89 ~ The Leviticus volume ~ Amen, and Amen

4. Psalms 90-106 ~ The Numbers volume ~ Amen. Praise ye the Lord

5. Psalms 107-150 ~ The Deuteronomy volume ~ Praise ye the Lord.

The opening word of the first psalm is "Blessed", promising that the secret of a happy and blessed life is to be found in the Psaltery. The last psalm declares the response of the reader, a paean of praise ending with the great call, "Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord". The authorship of every psalm is not known but Asaph is noted as the author of 12, David (73), Ethan (1), Heman (1), Solomon (2), and the Sons of Korah1 (11). There are thirteen psalms that bear the title Maschil. "The word means ‘instruction’ and…(is) intended to convey special teaching for the times, particularly for ‘the wise’ in the last days".2

There are three ways of studying these psalms. First, they can be looked at as good practical spiritual advice for today. Second, they can be considered as part of the history and worship of Israel. Third, they can be studied as psalms that will be read by the remnant of Israel in the Tribulation, encouraging them as they wait for the coming of Messiah. The notes below are only a brief overview of each psalm.

Psalm 32

This is the only Maschil psalm in the first volume. The background is the visit of the prophet Nathan to David (2 Sam 12.1-25) after his grievous sin with Bathsheba and the subsequent plot to have Bathsheba’s husband slain on the battlefield. It is a psalm of repentance. It opens, as does Psalm 1, with "Blessed". The opening words (vv.1-2) are those of the sinner who has been forgiven, but, and this is vital, it has not lessened his view of the darkness and seriousness of sin. He describes it in three ways; transgression, sin, and iniquity. In vv.3-5 he acknowledges that he had been greatly troubled day and night but acknowledgement of his sin and confession of his transgression has resulted in his iniquity being forgiven. With the burden on his soul lifted David encourages the godly to seek to be close to their God (vv.6-7). An intervention follows when God speaks - He will instruct the repentant sinner (vv.8-9). The psalm closes with the man who knew the blessing of forgiveness now "glad in the Lord" (vv.10-11).

Psalm 42

This psalm commences the second book. It is a psalm of loneliness written by one who was much distressed. In vv.1-4 the writer is troubled due to his feeling that he is at a distance from God. He remembers past times when he enjoyed the fellowship in the House of God but that was not available to him as he wrote. Was he exiled? Was it that other distressing circumstances kept him at a distance?

The cry from v.5, "Why art thou cast down, O my soul?", expresses a feeling known to most saints at some time. The psalmist now calls on God (vv.6-10) for even in his distress the Lord will "command his lovingkindness". In v.11 his confidence continues. The lesson is that even when spiritual depression grips our souls the Lord does not let us go unheeded - even when our adversaries call, "Where is thy God?".

Psalm 44

The tone of this psalm suggests that it was written at a time when Israel had experienced defeat at the hands of the enemy. It is, therefore, a psalm of perplexity. The writer opens with memories of past triumphs (vv.1-8), and what triumphs there were. But a survey of the present (vv.9-16) shows the weakness of the nation. "Thou hast given us like sheep appointed for meat" (v.11); "Thou sellest thy people for nought" (v.12); "Thou makest us a reproach to our neighbours" (v.13): all this reveals Israel’s poor condition. The plea that follows (vv.17-23) is to understand why circumstances have fallen out this way, because the nation had not forgotten their God. The prayer that closes the psalm (vv.23-26) is a cry for the Lord to help them regain their power. It is possible for us today to feel that we are spiritually weakened without being able to understand the reason. In such circumstances this psalm should be read and considered.

Psalm 45

The subject is a royal marriage which may celebrate the marriage of Solomon to the daughter of Pharaoh, although this is disputed. Other marriages have been considered, but the historical setting is not the main point of the psalm. It looks forward to the day, as the Millennium dawns, when the nation of Israel takes its long prophesied place with the Lord. It is a psalm of marriage joy. The introduction is in v.1. The heart of the author is bubbling over and what he has composed must be expressed. The bridegroom is described in vv.2-9 and clearly declares the truth that He who is Son of David, with the right to reign, is also God (v.6) and that His throne is "for ever and ever" (v.6). The bride is the subject of vv.10-17, a section sometimes regarded as a marriage procession. What a glorious day for Israel and for the whole earth does this foretell!

Psalm 52

Doeg the Edomite told Saul of the visit of David to Ahimelech the High Priest. Doeg used his tongue skilfully in pursuing his evil purpose and as a consequence Saul, using him to commit the foul deed, slew the priestly family (1 Sam 22.6-19). Eighty-five members of the priestly family fell that day. Despite such sorrowful circumstances this is a psalm of confidence that righteousness will triumph and that God will judge evil doers. This is emphasised in v.1, "the goodness of God endureth continually", and in v.9, "I will wait on thy name; for it is good before thy saints". David must have felt anger and sorrow that his visit to Ahimelech had such disastrous consequences. The psalm is in four parts. First, the conduct of the evil man (vv.1-4). Second, the consequences for the evil man (v.5) Third, the conduct of the righteous man (vv.6-7). Fourth, the consequences for the righteous man (vv.8-9). The psalm drives home the lesson from the pen of James: "Even so the tongue is a little member and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth" (James 3.5).

Psalm 53

This psalm teaches the folly of denial of the existence of God. It is the fool that has said in his heart, "There is no God" (v.1). These words are voiced with such "confidence" and have echoed down through the centuries. The psalm is in three parts. In v.1 there is the claim of the fool; in vv.2-5 there is the contemplation of God; in v.6 the concern of the righteous. Note in v.1 that the declaration from the lips of the fool is a sign of corruption. This is a psalm of warning regarding the moral decline that marks atheism: "they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one" (v.3).

Psalm 54

The circumstances behind the writing of this psalm are recorded in 1 Samuel 23.14-24; 26.1-4. The Ziphites betrayed David in telling Saul where David was to be found. The psalm is short. Verses 1-3 consist of a call from David to God to hear his prayer at a time when "strangers are risen up" against him. Verses 4-7 display David’s confidence in God to help him. When confronting the difficulties of life that at times seem to be beyond us, it is encouraging to heed the words of David: "God is mine helper: the Lord is with them that uphold my soul" (v.4). Even when faced with troubles he will not forget to worship: "I will freely sacrifice unto thee" (v.6). This is a psalm of encouragement to ensure that when the horizon seems dark we must not forget how much we owe God and so fail to keep our prayers and thanksgiving fresh.

1 Perowne; The Book of Psalms. "Jeb supposes this title to denote…for whom they were composed but it is more natural to consider (the title) as expressive of authorship".

2 A G Clarke; Analytical Studies in the Psalms


Back issues are provided here as a free resource. To support production and to receive current editions of Believer's Magazine, please subscribe...

Print Edition

Digital Edition

Copyright © 2017 John Ritchie Ltd. Home