<< Previous | Index | Next >>
                         "THE BOOK OF PSALMS"

                      Introduction To The Psalms

The value of the Old Testament to the Christian is expressed several
times in the New Testament:

   For whatever things were written before were written for our
   learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the
   Scriptures might have hope.  (Ro 15:4)

   Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they
   were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages
   have come.  (1Co 10:11)

Paul reminded Timothy of the importance of the Old Testament scriptures
he had learned as a child:

   But you must continue in the things which you have learned and
   been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and
   that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are
   able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in 
   Christ Jesus.

   All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable
   for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in
   righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly 
   equipped for every good work.  (2Ti 3:14-17)

Of the books of the Old Testament, this is especially true of the book
of Psalms!  The value of the Psalms for the Christian is so great, we
should do what we can to become more familiar with them.  Allow me to

Why Study The Psalms?

As Christians, we are commanded to utilize the Psalms:

   Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,
   singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord,  (Ep 5:19)

   Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom,
   teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and 
   spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
                                                         (Col 3:16)

   Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful?
   Let him sing psalms.  (Jm 5:13)

Thus the Psalms are useful for singing praises to God.  They are also
useful for teaching and confirming that Jesus is the Christ or Messiah.
Note the use Jesus made of them (Lk 24:44-47), and also Peter's use of
them in his first gospel sermon (Ac 2:25-28,34-35).

It has been said that in the Psalms one finds "expressed the eager
yearning and longing for God's presence".  It certainly contains
"prayers and songs of joyous trust and praise."  Indeed, every emotion
known to man is expressed in beautiful and inspired terms (e.g., joy,
anger, praise, repentance, trust, even doubt).  Filled with some
emotion for which you cannot find the words to express it?  It is
likely you will find it expressed in the book of Psalms!

I would therefore suggest that the Psalms are capable of serving as:

   * The Christian's "hymnal" to assist us in our praise to God

   * The Christian's "prayer book" in which we learn how to approach
     God in prayer

   * The Christian's "book of evidences" to strengthen our faith in
     Jesus Christ

   * The Christian's "training guide" for living holy and righteous
     lives before God 

The Aim Of This Study

It is my prayer that as we study this book we will accomplish the
following goals:

Become more familiar with Old Testament poetry - This is essential to
getting more out the Psalms, and important if we are to avoid
misinterpreting them

Develop an appreciation and working knowledge of the Psalms - So one
may utilize them for his or her own comfort and encouragement, and in
counseling and comforting others

Glean a clearer picture of God's character - To better understand His
love, mercy and deliverance towards the righteous, but also His wrath
and judgment against the wicked

Learn more of the Christ in prophecy - To note descriptions of His
suffering and glorious reign found in the Psalms, some of which are not
found elsewhere in Scripture

Consider examples of fulfilled prophecies - To see in fulfilled
prophecy irrefutable arguments for the inspiration of the Scriptures,
and for the claim that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah

These are just a few of the reasons why the Book of Psalms should be
read and studied by every Christian, and hopefully this study will help
to meet these objectives.

Characteristics Of Hebrew Poetry

Before we get into the background of the Psalms themselves, it may
prove beneficial to consider some things about Hebrew poetry.  Not only
will this help to better understand the nature of the Psalms, but it
can also assist in proper interpretation of this portion of Scripture.

One of the things that makes Hebrew poetry different is...

1) The Use Of "Thought Rhyme"

Also known as "parallelism", thought rhyme involves arranging thoughts
in relation to each other.  This is done without a concern as to
whether certain words rhyme with each other (as found in most modern
poetry).  In the Psalms, we find several different kinds of thought

Synonymous parallelism - The thought of first line is repeated in the
second line, expressed in different words for the sake of emphasis.  A
good example is found in Ps 24:2...

              For He has founded it upon the seas,
              And established it upon the waters. (same idea, reworded)

Antithetical parallelism - The truth presented in one line is
strengthened by a contrasting statement in the next line.  Consider
this example from Ps 1:6...

              For the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
              But the way of the ungodly shall perish. (note the

Synthetic parallelism - The first and second lines bear some definite
relation to each other (such as cause and effect, or proposition and
conclusion).  A good example is Ps 119:11...

              Your word I have hidden in my heart, (cause)
              That I might not sin against You!  (effect)

Progressive parallelism - There are several varieties of this form, the
most common being:

   Stair-like - Composed of several lines, each providing a complete
   element of the aggregate or composite thought.  Notice Ps 1:1...

              Blessed is the man...
              Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
              Nor stands in the path of sinners,
              Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; (note the
   Climatic - Here the principal idea in the first line is repeated and
   expanded to complete the thought.  An example is found in Ps 29:1...

              Give unto the LORD, O you mighty ones (give what?)
              Give unto the LORD glory and strength.  (the answer)

Introverted parallelism - The first line is closely related in thought
to the fourth, and the second to the third.  For example, consider Psa

              Because he has set his love upon Me, (note line 4)
              therefore I will deliver him; (note line 3)
              I will set him on high, (note line 2)
              because he has known My name. (note line 1)

It is often fascinating to note how creative the Hebrew poets were as
they composed their poetry using "thought rhyme" rather than "word
rhyme".  In some cases it even helps in interpreting difficult
expressions or phrases.  Another characteristic of Hebrew poetry is...

2) The Lack Of Poetic Rhythm

Much modern poetry has standard measures of identifiable rhythm, as in
the poem "Mary Had A Little Lamb."  With the Hebrews, however, the art
of poetic rhythm was of secondary consideration.  Some suggest that it
is not likely that the Hebrew poets had standard measures, worked out
and carefully defined.  Again, their focus was on "thought rhyme," not
"word rhyme."

Finally, an important characteristic of Hebrew poetry is...

3) The Use Of Figurative Expression

The Psalms are filled with figurative expressions, and as such it is
important to keep certain principles of interpretation in mind...

a) The figure must be accepted and dealt with as a figure of speech,
   not as a literal statement

For example, in Ps 18:31, the Lord is called "a rock."  He is like a
rock, but not one literally.  In Ps 51:4, David says "Against You, You
only, have I sinned."  Yet he is confessing his sin of adultery with
Bathsheba, in which he sinned not only against the Lord, but against
his wife, against Uriah, and many others.  David was speaking
figuratively for the sake of expressing his deep grief in sinning
against God, and we must allow for figurative expressions including
hyperbole in poetic writings.  One needs to be careful and not develop
doctrinal beliefs  upon what may be figurative expressions not intended
to be taken literally.

b) The figure must be interpreted in light of its meaning in the
   setting in which it was used

For example, in Ps 23:4, we find the well-known phrase:  "the valley
of the shadow of death."  It is not uncommon to hear the phrase applied
at funerals to the act of dying.   In the setting of the psalm,
however, it refers to a treacherous place (such as a steep valley,
where deep shadows can easily cause a misstep resulting in death),
where the guiding hand of a shepherd would be very helpful to sheep to
avoid death.  It is therefore applicable to any time one is in perilous
straits and in need of God's guiding hand.    

Appreciating these characteristics of Hebrew poetry can help the Psalms
become more meaningful, and understanding these characteristics can
also help avoid misinterpreting the Psalms to teach doctrines the
psalmist had no intention of teaching!

Background Material On The Psalms

Having examined some of unique characteristics of Hebrew poetry in
general, let's now focus on the book of Psalms itself...

1) The Origin Of The Word "Psalm"

The Greek word is "psalmos", from the Hebrew word "zmr" meaning "to
pluck"; i.e., taking hold of the strings of an instrument with the
fingers.  It implies that the psalms were originally composed to be
accompanied by a stringed instrument.  "Psalms are songs for the lyre,
and therefore lyric poems in the strictest sense."(Delitzsch, Psalms,
Vol. I, p. 7)  David and others therefore originally wrote the Psalms
to be sung to the accompaniment of the harp.

In New Testament worship, we are told to sing the psalms to the
accompaniment of the heart:

   "...in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody
   in your heart to the Lord" (Ep 5:19)

The phrase, "making melody," comes from the Greek word "psallontes"
(literally, plucking the strings of).  Therefore, we are to "pluck the
strings of our heart" as we sing the psalms (i.e., to sing with

2) The History Of The Psalms

The oldest of the Psalms originate from the time of Moses (1400 B.C.). 
We have three psalms penned by Moses:

Exo 15:1-15 - a song of triumph following the crossing of the Red Sea

Deut 32, 33 - a song of exhortation to keep the Law after entering

Ps 90 - a song of meditation, reflection, and prayer

After Moses, the writing of Psalms had its "peaks" and "valleys"...

In David (1000 B.C.), the sacred lyric attained to its full maturity.

With Solomon, the creation of psalms began to decline; this was "the
age of the proverb."  

Only twice after this did the creation of psalms rise to any height,
and then only for a short period:  under Jehoshaphat (875 B.C.) and
again under Hezekiah (725 B.C.).

3) The Authors Of The Psalms

David - Commonly thought to be the author of the book of Psalms, but he
actually wrote only about seventy-three (73), less than half.

Asaph - The music director during the reigns of David and Solomon (1
Chr 16:1-7).  He wrote twelve (12) psalms.

The Sons of Korah - These were Levites who served in the Temple (1 Chr
26:1-19).  They wrote twelve (12) psalms.

Solomon - At least two (2) psalms are attributed to him (Ps 72, 127). 
That he wrote many more is stated in 1Ki 4:29-32.

Moses - As indicated above, he wrote the earliest psalms; one is
included in Psalms (Ps 90).

Heman - Contemporary with David and Asaph, and is known as "the singer"
(1Ch 6:33).  He wrote one psalm (Ps 88) that has been preserved.

Ethan - A companion with Asaph and Heman in the Temple worship (1 Chr
15:19).  He wrote one psalm (Ps 89).

Anonymous - The authorship of forty-eight (48) of the psalms is

4) The Arrangement Of The Psalms

The Psalms were originally collected into five "books", apparently
according to the material found within them...

Book I (Ps 1-41)
Book II (Ps 42-72)
Book III (Ps 73-89)
Book IV (Ps 90-106)
Book V (Ps 107-150)

The Psalms can also be arranged into chief "groups"...

Alphabetic or Acrostic - These psalms have lines which in Hebrew start
with words whose first letters follow a certain pattern.  For example,
in Ps 119 the first eight lines start with words beginning with the
Hebrew letter ALEPH, the second eight lines with words beginning with
BETH, etc.  This may have been done to aid in the memorization of the

Ethical - These psalms teach moral principles.  A good example is Psa

Hallelujah - These are psalms of praise, beginning and/or ending with
"hallelujah" or "praise Jehovah".  Ps 103 is one such example.

Historical - Psalms which review the history of God's dealings with His
people.  A good sample would be Ps 106.

Imprecatory - These psalms invoke God to bring punishment or judgment
upon one's enemies.  Consider Ps 69 as an example.

Messianic - Psalms pertaining to the coming Messiah.  For example, look
at Ps 2 or Ps 110.

Penitential - These are psalms expressing sorrow for sins that have
been committed.  A classic example is David's psalm in Ps 51.

Songs Of Ascent (or Songs Of Degrees) - These psalms were possibly sung
by pilgrims on the way to Jerusalem to observe the feasts.  They are 
grouped together as Ps 120-134.

Suffering - These psalms are cries of those suffering affliction.  Psa
102 is a typical example.

Thanksgiving - Psalms of grateful praise to Jehovah for blessings
received.  For example, take a look at Ps 100.

The various "styles" of the psalms can be described as...

Didactic - Psalms of teaching and instruction (e.g., Ps 1).

Liturgical - Responsive readings, for use in special services (e.g.,
Ps 136).

Meditation - The ancient Hebrews were given to meditation, which spirit
finds expression in many of the psalms (e.g., Ps 119).

Praise and Devotion - Psalms of joyful praise (e.g., Ps 148).

Prayer and Petition - Psalms which were sung in an attitude of prayer
(e.g., Ps 51).

Hopefully, this brief background of the Book Of Psalms will help one
gain a better feel and appreciation for this type of Scripture.  

Review Questions For The Introduction

1) According to Ro 15:4, why was the Old Testament written?
   - For our learning
   - That through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures we might
     have hope

2) According to 1Co 10:11, why were the events in Old Testament times
   - For our admonition

3) As Paul reminded Timothy, of what value were the Scriptures (Old
   Testament) he had learned as a child? (cf. 2Ti 3:14-15)
   - They were able to make him wise regarding the salvation through
     faith in Christ Jesus

4) What is Scripture profitable for, including the Old Testament? (cf.
   2Ti 3:16-17)
   - Doctrine
   - Reproof
   - Correction
   - Instruction in righteousness
   - To make the man of God complete, thoroughly equipped for every 
     good work

5) What three Scriptures teach Christians to utilize the Psalms?
   - Ep 5:19; Col 3:16; Jm 5:13

6) What are the Psalms capable of serving for the Christian?
   - As the Christian's "hymnal"
   - As the Christian's "prayer book"
   - As the Christian's "book of evidence"
   - As the Christian's "training guide" for living holy and righteous

7) What will be the aim of this study in the Psalms?
   - To become more familiar with Old Testament poetry
   - To develop an appreciation and working knowledge of the Psalms
   - To glean a clearer picture of God's character
   - To learn more of the Christ in prophecy
   - To consider examples of fulfilled prophecies

8) What three characteristics of Hebrew poetry were pointed out in this
   - The use of "thought rhyme"
   - The lack of poetic rhythm
   - The use of figurative expression

9) List the five different types of "parallelism" described in this
   - Synonymous
   - Antithetical
   - Synthetic
   - Progressive
   - Introverted

10) What was the original meaning of the word "psalm"?
   - To pluck

11) In New Testament worship, what is the instrument upon which melody
    is to be played? (cf. Ep 5:19)
   - The heart

12) Who wrote some of the earliest Psalms?
   - Moses

13) When did the writing of Psalms reach its peak?
   - During the time of David

14) List some of the authors who penned the Psalms in our Bible.
   - David (73), Asaph (12), the sons of Korah (12), Solomon (2), Moses
     (1), Heman (1), Ethan (1), anonymous (48)

15) List different "groups" into which the Psalms can be placed.
   - Alphabetic (Acrostic), Ethical, Hallelujah, Historical, 
     Imprecatory, Messianic, Penitential, Songs Of Ascent (Degrees),
     Suffering, Thanksgiving

16) List the different "styles" of the Psalms.
   - Didactic, Liturgical, Meditation, Praise and Devotion, Prayer and
<< Previous | Index | Next >>

Home Page
Have A Bible Question? | Want A Free Bible Study Course? | Looking For A Church Near You?
Want To Talk With Someone By Phone? | Want To Discuss The Bible By Email?
Search The Outlines

Executable Outlines, Copyright © Mark A. Copeland, 2009

eXTReMe Tracker