Put Together on Purpose

The way the Psalms are arranged tells a story.

Chris Hutchison on September 11, 2023

The Psalms are not a random collection. They were put together, in the order they’re in, on purpose.

The Psalms reached their final form sometime after the exile to Babylon, which we know because of the several Psalms directly addressing the exile or its aftermath (eg. Psalm 137). The final editors of the Psalms arranged the Psalter’s five books in a way that roughly follows the history of Israel, starting with David (Books 1 & 2, Psalms 1-72), moving into the darkness of exile (Books 3 & 4, Psalms 73-106), and then ending with the hope of promised deliverance (Book 5, Psalms 107-150).1Bruce K. Waltke and Fred G. Zaspel, How to Read and Understand the Psalms (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2023), 6.

The intentionality of the Psalms’ arrangement can also be seen at an individual level, when we consider how specific Psalms are placed next to another.2Bruce K. Waltke and Fred G. Zaspel, How to Read and Understand the Psalms (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2023), 487–489. For example, think about the juxtaposition of Psalms 2 and 3. In Psalm 2, God speaks of establishing his anointed king in Zion, and laughs at those who would oppose him. In Psalm 3, that anointed king is running for his life away from Zion as he cries out to God for deliverance from his enemies. This contrast is not an accident: reading these two Psalms together causes us to consider how God’s plans often don’t take shape in the way that we expect, and invites us to faithfully wait on the Lord while we trust Him to keep His promises in His way.

Another sequential “story” is told in Book Five. As noted, this final set of Psalms looks forward to deliverance from exile, with Psalm 107 functioning as something of an introduction to this whole section. After the Psalms of Ascent (120-134), Psalms 135 & 136 look back to the Exodus and conquest of the Promised Land as they celebrate God’s power over the nations and their idols—an idea that would be particularly encouraging to the Jews at that stage of history.

Towards the end of Psalm 136, we read, “It is he who remembered us in our low estate… and rescued us from our foes, for his steadfast love endures forever” (Psalms 136:23–24). And almost in response, the next Psalm begins: “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion” (Psalm 137:1). It’s not hard to hear the implied question: if God’s steadfast love endures forever, where is it now? Why are we still stuck here in Babylon? When is He going to rescue us from our foes?

The answer to these questions comes a string of eight Psalms attributed to David, each of which highlights David’s dependence on the Lord’s salvation while under threat from his many enemies. This Davidic material is noteworthy because Psalm 72:20 indicated that “the prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended.” We weren’t expecting any more Psalms of David. Psalms 138-145, then, are a surprise encore, saved until this point on purpose, which respond to Psalm 137’s lament with the reassuring reminder that David, too, found himself in exile away from his home where he waited for God to save Him. David, too, often found himself in a spot where it felt like God’s promises weren’t being fulfilled on schedule. David, too, often found himself vulnerable and needy and powerless. David, too, cried out to God in lament and question.

And God heard him. God saved him. God kept His promises. Just think of how these words from the conclusion of the final Psalm of David would be heard by the Jewish exiles: “The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them. The Lord preserves all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy” (Psalm 145:18–20).

Do you hear the message? “Israel, look back to look ahead. Like David, cry out to God, and like David, trust in the Lord. Like he did with David, God will keep His promises to you.”

Finally, the Psalter closes with five Psalms, not of lament, but of praise. Each of these concluding Psalms open with the same words: “Praise the Lord!” Psalm 146 praises God for rescuing the oppressed. Psalm 147 praises God for healing the brokenhearted. Psalm 149 praises God as it looks to the day when the righteous will be God’s instruments of vengeance on the nations.

And then the whole book ends with Psalm 150, which simply calls for God’s praise in the most loud, exuberant, full-throated way possible. Placed there on purpose by a people still in exile, the last Psalm does not ask for deliverance from enemies or cry out “how long?” Instead, it’s a confident call for universal praise. In other words, it’s a statement of faith that God wins. God’s enemies will not have the last word. Even though the throne was empty and Jerusalem desolate, the son of David was going to come, God would keep His covenant promises, and one day there would be no more lament—only the whole creation responding in joyful praise.

Understood that way, Psalm 150 looks forward to the victory of Christ, the son of David, who did save His people from their sins, and will come again to reign over a creation made new and united under Himself (Eph 1:10).

Psalm 150’s calls for God to be praised by everything in the heavens above (v. 1) and the earth below (v. 6) find their fulfillment in the final book in the Bible, where we read these words: “Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!’ And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!’” (Revelation 5:11–13).

Arranged as they are, the Psalms tell a story, and their message is simply what the whole Bible tells us: God wins, and His praise will fill creation.

Chris Hutchison
Chris Hutchison is the lead pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Nipawin, SK. Have any feedback or questions about what you've read here? Send him an email at .

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