In the Hebrew Scriptures there are three divisions: Torah, Prophets, and Writings. (I have written about this extensively in older posts, but I will repeat a few things for our purposes in this post.) The Torah consists of five books: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The Writings consist of Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ruth, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes (Qoheleth), Lamentations, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles. (The difference of this order and the English Bible’s Old Testament is striking and it makes a difference in the way that we read these books. You will grow in appreciation of the difference it makes the more that you reflect on this post.) Furthermore, the Writings have three divisions: Psalms, Job, and Proverbs is the first, the Five Scrolls is in the middle, and Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles is the third. I also have written extensively about the layout of Psalms, the first book of the Writings and sometimes the title given to the whole of the Writings (i.e., as Jesus does in Luke 24:44). Psalms itself consists of five books. In this post I want to briefly elaborate on the significance of Psalms and the Five Scrolls in relationship to the Torah.
Psalms is divided into five books in a conscious reflection of the Torah as five books. Its placement as the first of the Writings suggests that it is not only one of the most important books of the collection but also that it is an introduction to the whole. I would not be the first to observe that Psalms intentionally is comparing itself to the Torah by having five books. Nor would I be the first to say that Psalms serves as a commentary on the Torah. I don’t mean to say that it is a commentary in the same way that we might write a commentary on a book of Scripture today. However, it is a commentary in the sense that it is the product of kings and scribes who have meditated on the Torah day and night (cf. Joshua 1:8). The placement of Psalms, then, suggests that the whole of the Writings are such a commentary on the Torah. Indeed, the central book of the Writings–Qoheleth (English Bibles call the book Ecclesiastes)–styles itself as the reflection of someone akin to King Solomon with unlimited resources and wisdom.
Where I want to take another step forward, which observation I haven’t heard elsewhere but surely someone has noted before, is to observe that the central section of the Writings is the Five Scrolls. Surely these are collected together as the Five Scrolls also to associate them as commentary on the five book Torah. Thus not only is Psalms five books as a commentary on the five book Torah, but also the Five Scrolls in the middle of the Writings are a commentary on the five book Torah. The effect of this five book arrangement (both Psalms as the first book and the Five Scrolls at the center) is to further encourage the careful reader of the Hebrew Scriptures to appreciate the Writings as a whole as a commentary on the five book Torah. I would suggest then that one area of exploration for further study is how the Writings are commentary on Torah. Furthermore, I would suggest that these five book patterns show that we ought to treat this third section of the Hebrew Scriptures with greater attention than is often the case among Christians today.