Book 4, like Book 3, contains only 17 psalms. However, the general tone of the two books is different. Most of the psalms in Book 4, even the laments, stress praise of God rather than dwelling on the troubles that prompt the lament, and this more upbeat tone seems to respond to the question often asked in Book 3: “How long?’ Many of the psalms in Book 4 suggest that God won’t stay hidden from us for long, that he is indeed always there for us when we really need him. Six psalms assure us that the LORD is king (93 and 95–99). In fact, he has been our refuge since long before earthy kings existed, and he would be so again and again and again.
Moses makes an appearance
Book 4 begins and ends with Moses. Psalm 90 stands out as the only one of the 150 psalms to be attributed to Moses, though it was almost certainly not written by him and says nothing about him. (The subtitles that link the psalms to biblical figures were added long after the psalms were composed and may not reflect the original intentions of the psalmists.) Psalm 90 is actually a meditation on the brevity of human life, which consists of work and worry. It asks God, who has been God since before he created the universe, to show mercy and to teach us to use our time wisely so we may be happy and succeed in all we do
Psalms 105 and 106, on the other hand, though not attributed to Moses, relate events that occurred under his leadership. In addition, in Psalm 99, near the center of Book 4, Moses is mentioned briefly, telling us that he spoke to God and God answered.
Someone to watch over me
Two psalms portray God as nurturing. Psalm 91 expresses trust in God who keeps us safe under his wings and surrounds us with his care. Psalm 92 is a call to sing praises to God from morning to evening, for he cares for good people all their lives, even into old age.
Psalm 94 looks to God as protector. It not only asks God to punish our enemies but trusts that he will do so. It concludes that if our enemies think God doesn’t hear or see the evil they do, they’re dead wrong:
God will use their injustice
To teach them a lesson in justice.
The evil things they’ve done
Will turn on them and destroy them.
The LORD our God will see to it. (Psalm 94:23)
Psalm 93 celebrates God as king over everything, “Side to side, front to back, up and down.” He rules over even the primal forces of nature. Then, in Psalms 95–99, sometimes referred to as Royal Psalms, we are reminded over and over that God is king over everything and we are asked to sing songs of praise to God, the creator, because God the king:
- is great and holy.
- is seated on a throne of goodness and justice, and wields lightning and causes the earth to quake and the mountains to melt.
- runs the world and there is no king above him.
- will bring justice into the world.
- watches over and protects those who love him and hate evil.
- has saved his people.
In short, we are told to play lyres, blow trumpets, and sing out the praises of God for all the marvelous things he has done. We should sing until the hills are alive with the sound of music.
Psalm 100 is a hymn sung while entering the court of the Temple, possibly for a thanksgiving service. Although the psalm does not state that God is king, its language is similar to that of the royal psalms. Its main message is unmistakable. Never stop thanking and praising God:
When you talk to him, thank him.
When you come to him, praise him.
Then thank him again for the God he is. (Psalm 100:4)
Psalm 102 is a mixed bag. It starts off as an individual lament, in which the psalmist, who is dying in misery, begs God for help. Then the lament seems to turn into a royal psalm, which tells us that God, who sits on his throne, will restore the fallen city of Jerusalem. In another turnaround the psalm ends by lamenting that the lifespan of us humans is nothing, while God will live forever.
David pops up briefly
In Book 4 only two of the psalms (101 and 103) are said to be ‘of David.’ Psalm 101 may have to do with a Davidic king, though probably not David himself. It seems to represent the promise of a king (perhaps at his coronation) as he vows to always promote good and fight evil. Psalm 103 seems to have nothing to do with David or any Davidic king. It is a straightforward hymn of thanksgiving offered by an individual who could be anyone.
Praise God, thank him, then praise him again
Book 4 ends with a series of hymns of praise and thanksgiving. Psalms 103 and 104 both begin and end with the words “I’m thanking the LORD with all my heart.”
Psalm 103 praises God and thanks him for being merciful, just, forgiving, healing, generous, kind and compassionate, slow to anger, and everything else that is good.
Ps 104 focuses on praising God as Creator and thanks him for maintaining everything he created. Verses 19‑28 of Psalm 104 are startlingly close to the Hymn to Aton, the Sun God, by Akhenaten, pharaoh of Egypt in the 1300s BC. The verses seem to be an updating of the Egyptian song that addresses the Jewish God in place of the Egyptian deity Aton.
Psalms 105 and 106 describe many of the wonderful things God has done for his people. Psalm 105 begins by telling of God’s agreement to give Abraham’s descendants a land of their own in return for their keeping his laws. Both 105 and 106 tell of God’s relationship with Abraham’s descendants in Egypt, his leading them out of Egypt, and his helping them to settle in the land he had promised them. Psalm 106 focuses on the Israelites’ years in the badlands and then in their own land, intermittently falling out with God and then regaining God’s forgiveness. Both psalms end with the people being scattered through foreign lands, and begging God to restore them to their own land.
In a rare show of structure in the Books of Psalms, Psalm 107, the first psalm of Book 5, will begin with the same full opening verse as does Psalm 106, the last psalm in Book 4:
The LORD is good to us.
Thank him for it.
He will never run out of mercy.
In addition, Psalm 107 will speak of God’s bringing his people back from scattered foreign lands into their own land. The repeated verse added to the common theme form a kind of link between Books 4 and 5.