The Book of Psalms, commonly referred to simply as Psalms, the Psalter or “the Psalms”, is the first book of the Ketuvim (“Writings”), the third section of the Hebrew Bible, and thus a book of the Christian Old Testament. The title is derived from the Greek translation, ψαλμοί, psalmoi, meaning “instrumental music” and, by extension, “the words accompanying the music”.
The Book of Psalms is divided into five sections, each closing with a doxology (i.e., a benediction)—these divisions were probably introduced by the final editors to imitate the five-fold division of the Torah:
Book 1 (Psalms 1–41)
Book 2 (Psalms 42–72)
Book 3 (Psalms 73–89)
Book 4 (Psalms 90–106)
Book 5 (Psalms 107–150)
Most individual psalms involve the praise of God for his power and beneficence, for his creation of the world, and for his past acts of deliverance for Israel. They envision a world in which everyone and everything will praise God, and God in turn will hear their prayers and respond. Sometimes God “hides his face” and refuses to respond, questioning (for the psalmist) the relationship between God and prayer which is the underlying assumption of the Book of Psalms.
Some psalms are called “maskil” (maschil), meaning “enlightened” or “wise”, because they impart wisdom. Most notable of these is Psalm 142 which is sometimes called the “Maskil of David”; others include Psalm 32 and Psalm 78.