The Psalms

 The Psalms have been a favorite book of the Bible for a long time. It is because the Psalms express in poetic language every kind of feeling and express every kind of prayer. They have been important:

  • To learn how to express ourselves to God.
  • To help us think about God and his ways.

Here are some things to remember when reading the Psalms

1. Psalms are Poetic, which means that they address the mind through the heart. It is important to treat them as poetry – a literalistic reading can cause silly conclusions. (Should we send tape recorders into space because of Psalm 19:1?) :

The heavens declare the glory of God,

and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

2. Psalms are Musical – the ascriptions are added to indicate melodies. The term “selah” probably refers to a musical interlude. (e.g. Ps 89)

3. Psalms are Metaphorical – So it is important to take care to see what was intended by the psalm, not to make it mean whatever you might want it to mean. (Psalm 23:2 is about God’s care for us, it is not an argument for living in the country.)

4. The Psalms are arranged in 5 books. (1-41; 42-72; 73-89; 90-106; 107-150). It is not clear why, though it is traditional to think of these corresponding to the 5 books of Moses. Psalm 1 introduces the whole book. Psalm 146-150 are a review of the previous psalms – they contain “the best of” what came in 1-145.

5. Psalms come in types. Each type of psalm has its own subject matter and usually follows a form. (E.g. Lament, Thanksgiving, Praise, Salvation History, Celebration, Wisdom and Trust.).

6. For the most part, each Psalm is its own literary unit. There are some sub-collections (e.g. 120-134), but mostly each Psalm should be read individually.

7. Psalms should first be read for how they fit into Old Testament history. Then we can see a New Testament application. Some NT applications are clear (Ps. 22) and others are suggested (Ps. 110).

Types of Psalms

Laments. There are 60 of these, some are individual and some are for the nation. Laments express the struggles people had and how they expressed their concerns to God. (E.g. Ps 3 – individual; Ps 12 – national)

Thanksgiving. These express joy to the Lord because something ahs gone well. There are 6 community and 10 individual psalms in this group. (E.g. Ps 67 and 30)

Hymns of Praise. A “hymn” is neither a song nor a type of song; it is an expression of praise to God for who he is and what he has done. (E.g. Ps 8, 100)

Salvation History. These re-tell what God has done among the people of Israel. (E.g. Ps 105, 106)

Celebration and Affirmation. These might speak of God’s covenant (Ps. 89), the King (Ps. 2), the King’s enthronement (Ps 95) or Zion (Ps. 48).

Wisdom. These compare to the book of Proverbs and celebrate the value of wisdom. (E.g. Ps 73)

Trust. These remind us that God is to be trusted even in difficult times.

Practice: Psalm 138 is a Thanksgiving Psalm. These usually have 5 parts. See if you can identify these parts in Psalm 138:






Psalm 3 is a Lament, which usually has 6 parts:







Look at the index to either a Hymn Book or a Contemporary Praise Song collection, and look at how many references there are to the Psalms.  Pick a Hymn or Chorus and try to see how closely the writer stayed to the Psalm.

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