1) Notice that Psalms is divided into five books.
Book One runs from Psalms 1 – 41 and ends with a verse in worship to the LORD and a response from the congregation: “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! Amen and amen.” (Psalm 41:13)
Book Two covers Psalms 42 – 72 and also ends with a verse of worship and a congregational response: “ Blessed by his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory! Amen and amen! (Psalm 72:19). Next is an editorial annotation that says, “The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended.” (Psalm 72:20)
The third book runs from Psalms 73 – 89 and also ends with worship and a response: “Blessed be the LORD forever! Amen and Amen. (Psalm 89:52)
The fourth begins with the oldest psalm, written by Moses (Psalm 90) and runs through Psalm 106 which ends in similar fashion to the others: “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! And let all the people say, ‘Amen!’ Praise the LORD! (Psalm 106:48)
The fifth covers Psalms 107 through 150 and ends by saying, “Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD! (Psalm 150:6)
Normally we make no reference to any of these five books within the book of Psalms. Nevertheless, making note of them here will help us to distinguish many impressive psalms one from another and help us see major themes that join them together.
2) Remember that the Psalms were given to be sung, to direct and express the Israelites’ worship of Yahweh. Unfortunately, no recording exists from this time period! If one existed, I think we would be shocked by how differently it sounds from singing in our churches today, all of which stem from systems and theories of music developed in the last several centuries.
3) When we refer to a psalm, we never say “chapter” but “psalm”. Therefore all of our references to the book of Psalms are different from our references to any other book of the Bible.
4) Notice that sometimes the word “Selah” appears at the end of some verses (for the first time in Psalm 3); it is normally placed on the right hand side of a column. Nobody knows exactly what it means although the vast majority of commentators believe that it indicates a pause in the singing, possibly to tune and adjust instruments or so that the congregation can reflect on what they’ve just sung. When we read the psalms today, it’s helpful to pause at the word “Selah” to contemplate what has just been read. When we read the psalms out loud, we never say “Selah”.
5) Notice that Psalm 117 is the shortest and 119, the longest.
6) Notice that most English translations give God’s name as “LORD” in capital letters (rather than the name Jehovah or Yahweh) and the divine title Adonai as “Lord” with only the first letter capitalized. This translation practice has a long history that comes from the caution and reverence that the Jews maintained toward the divine name so that it would not be pronounced in vain. Even today, when many devout Jews read the Word of God and come to the four Hebrew letters that represent the divine name, they do not pronounce them but say “Hashem” which means “The Name”. English translators wanted to guard that same respect and translated the divine name as LORD while the title Adonai, which literally means “Lord”, is translated with only one capital letter. That is how we get the strange rendering in English, “The LORD said to my Lord” where there is no difference in pronunciation, but the first instance of LORD is the divine name and the second, the title Adonai. (Psalm 110:1) Personally, I do most of my Bible study, reading and preaching in Spanish which translates the divine name as “Jehová”, so when I write in English, I often refer to God by His name directly, either Jehovah or Yahweh, where English translations refer to Him as LORD.