This book has one psalm that is “a prayer of Moses, the man of God” (Psalm 90), two psalms that are “of David” (Psalm 101 and 103), four psalms that have subtitles but without any names, and ten psalms without any subtitle. Book Four consists of a total of 17 psalms from Psalm 90-106. The title “man of God” for Moses is a title often used in Scripture (i.e. the book of Kings) for prophets. Thus the opening subtitle emphasizes that the book is prophetic.
Given how many psalms in this book have no subtitle, it is worth observing that often the first or the first and last lines of a psalm in this book performs the same function. For example, Psalm 93, 97 and 99 all begin, “YHWH reigns,” Psalm 95 and 98 begin, “Oh, sing to YHWH a new song.” Note the no-doubt intentional chiastic pattern: “YHWH reigns,” “Oh sing to YHWH a new song,” “YHWH reigns,” “Oh sing to YHWH a new song,” “YHWH reigns.”
Likewise note the last four psalms of the book:
Psalm 103 says: “Bless YHWH, O my soul…Bless YHWH, O my soul.”
Psalm 104 says: “Bless YHWH, O my soul…Bless YHWH, O my soul, Hallelujah!”
Psalm 105 says: “Oh give thanks to YHWH…Hallelujah!”
Psalm 106 says: “Hallelujah! Oh give thanks to YHWH, for He is good, for His loyal-love endures forever!…Blessed be YHWH, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! And let all the people say, ‘Amen!’ Hallelujah!”
The end of Psalm 106 serves also as the end of Book Four of the Psalter. Thus instead of the usual “Amen and Amen” conclusion we read “Amen! Hallelujah!”
Opening and closing a psalm with the same word, clause, or line is an example of inclusio. Thus Psalm 103 (“Bless YHWH, O my soul”) and 106 (“Hallelujah!”) are clean examples. Psalm 103 and 104 actually have the same opening and closing except the last word of 104 “Hallelujah.” Psalm 105 and 106 start the same way except the first word of 106 “Hallelujah.” No doubt these patterns are intentional. The last three psalms in the book all end with the word Hallelujah (meaning “praise Yah” – Yah being short for YHWH).
If I had to guess, I would speculate that the particular wording of the subtitles (except the later historical info) for the psalms in books one, two and three were added by those who wrote the untitled psalms of book four. In any case, the author(s) of these psalms clearly like placing psalms in a particular order to make patterns. As we have progressed through the book of Psalms these patterns have become more pronounced—just wait until Book Five!
The first psalm of the book exhibits wisdom themes. It appeals to the creation story: “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world” (Psalm 90:2). It also makes this wise statement, which makes the Psalm famous: “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). It ends with a doublet of sorts: “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!” (Psalm 90:17).
That first psalm also begins by speaking of the Lord (not the divine name) as “our dwelling place in all generations.” Psalm 91 continues with this theme: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1) and “because you have made YHWH your dwelling place—the Most High, who is my refuge…’ (Psalm 91:9). The first psalm when making the reference to a “time” before creation says, “from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” And the conclusion of the book also uses the phrase “from everlasting to everlasting.”
Psalm 90 was “a prayer of Moses, the man of God,” Psalm 91 was untitled, Psalm 92 is “a psalm. A song for the Sabbath.”
Psalm 92 begins this theme in the book of giving thanks to God in worship. It opens: “It is good to give thanks to YHWH, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning and your faithfulness by night, to the music of the lute and the harp, to the melody of the lyre.” (Psalm 92:1-3).
Psalm 93, untitled, then continues this theme of YHWH reigning (“YHWH reigns…”) even saying, “you are from everlasting.” It also mentions floods like Psalm 90 did. We mentioned on an earlier occasion that Psalm 93 is a royal hymn praising God as King. Psalms 95-99 are likewise royal hymns praising God as King. Psalm 98, to be more specific, is a divine warrior hymn. To me, Psalm 94 also sounds like a divine warrior hymn that may borrow some elements from other sub-genres.
Psalm 95 continues this theme of praising God in worship: “Oh come, let us sing to YHWH, let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. Let us come into His presence with thanksgiving, let us make a joyful noise to Him with songs of praise” (Psalm 95:1-2) and the like. Hebrews 3:7-11 quotes several lines from this Psalm. I would be remiss if I did not observe that Pete Enns suggests that we compare Psalm 95:7-11 and Hebrews 3:7-11 to see the subtle change the author of Hebrews made to bring it up to date in redemptive-history for today.
Anything involving the book of Hebrews is complicated and would take us off on a tangent, I just wanted to point it out for now.
Returning to Psalm 95 it is important to remember that when the Psalmist is translated as saying “make a joyful noise” that this is because the translator is trying to render two different ideas consistently. The same verb can mean to raise a musical shout or to make a musical blast on a horn (or similar instrument).
My point then is that the translators render both ideas (shouting and sounding a trumpet) with “make a joyful noise.” Instruments are designed to mimic the human voice – so a trumpet blast is supposed to mimic a musical shout. Therefore, “make a joyful noise” is not an excuse for bad music.
Psalm 96 opens as noted earlier, “Oh sing to YHWH a new song.” Psalm 96 actually puts on the lips of the peoples “among the nations” the words “YHWH reigns!” (Psalm 96:10). Psalm 97, opens, again as noted earlier, “YHWH reigns,” this continues as “let the earth rejoice.” Psalm 98, the first one in this sequence of psalms, has a subtitle: simply, “a psalm.” This is the one we said before is a divine warrior hymn and opens “Oh sing to YHWH a new song.” This psalm uses “make a joyful noise” to describe a musical shout and a trumpet and horn musical blast (Psalm 98:4, 6). Psalm 99 begins “YHWH reigns” and mentions Moses and Aaron and Samuel.
Psalm 100 has a subtitle: “A psalm for giving thanks.” It opens, “Make a joyful noise to YHWH, all the earth.” The theme of us as the sheep of God’s pasture appears both in Psalm 95:7 and 100:3. Psalm 101 is “a psalm of David.” It talks about walking with integrity of heart. I think it most appropriate that this is followed by “a prayer of one afflicted, when he is faint and pours out his complaint before YHWH” (Psalm 102:1).
We have addressed already to some extent Psalms 103-106. Let me just note a few of the famous lines and a couple observations. Psalm 103 begins, “Of David. Bless YHWH, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name!” The subtitle seems to mark out a new section in the book (as it often does in Book Four). None of the following psalms have a subtitle. The psalm talks about YHWH as merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in loyal-love (Psalm 103:8).
Psalm 103 also talks about His loyal-love for those who fear Him as being as great as the heavens are high above the earth (Psalm 103:11) and that our transgressions are removed “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12).
Psalm 104 retells the story of Genesis 1, even describing the great mythical sea-monster named Leviathan as like a toy-ducky in God’s bathtub (Psalm 104:26). Psalm 104 continues the theme of singing praise to God (Psalm 104:33-34) and Psalm 105 opens, “Oh give thanks to YHWH…” and says, “Sing to Him, sing praises to Him” (Psalm 105:1-2).
Psalms 105-106 are remembrance or redemptive-historical psalms. They retell the story of Israel. Psalm 106 does so at great length (48 verses).
And while Psalm 106 looks backwards more than it does explicitly to the coming future Messiah, it does say just before the book’s concluding verse: “Save us, O YHWH our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to Your holy name and glory in Your praise” (Psalm 106:47). This verse dates the psalm to the period of the Exile. Thus Book Four spans from the days of Moses (Psalm 90) to the Exile that Moses prophesied. Appropriately Psalm 106, set as we just said during the Exile, covers the history of redemption from the days of Moses.