At the very heart of the Bible lies the book of Psalms. The word Psalms comes from a Greek word meaning “to pluck the strings,” indicating the 150 units in the book of Psalms are songs. They are poetical, theological, and emotional, covering every aspect of life. In some of the psalms, the writer battles despair; in others, he shouts from the heights of joy. Many of the psalms are attributed to David, who established liturgies and forms for temple worship the in Old Testament days.
The book of Psalms was compiled over time in five great sections: Book 1 (Psalms 1–41), Book 2 (Psalms 42–72), Book 3 (Psalms 73–89), Book 4 (Psalms 90–106), Book 5 (Psalms 107–150). Each of these collections ends with an outburst of praise—an Amen or a Hallelujah.
The psalms are ideal for memorizing. God’s ancient people knew most or all these songs by heart and sang them in their worship, their homes, and their travels to Jerusalem for the great festivals. By filling our minds with verses from this vast collection, we can tune our hearts to sing God’s praises.
No book of the Bible peers more deeply into the human soul than Psalms. It invites us to trust God with our rawest emotions, embrace holiness, and look to the Messiah.
How to Read the Psalms
The Bible comprises many different types of literature, including narrative, prophecy, and epistles. The book of Psalms is the largest repository of poetry in the Bible. As a poetic book, It should be read differently from other types of literature. Largely made up of beautiful words pictures, it is meant to be savored, pondered, and viewed in our mind’s eye. It is best approached through the lens of symbolism, allusion, metaphor, simile, and depth of meaning, just as we would read any other book of poetry. However, we can also mine the psalms for theological truth, if we remember that the vehicle for communicating that truth is different from that of an Old Testament narrative, a Gospel account of Jesus’ life, or one of Paul’s epistles. Above all, we should appreciate the psalms for their beauty and emotion, employing them as a means of worship.
The Earliest Hymnbook: The Book of Psalms
All believers need songs in their hearts. God created music as a gift to us. Even if we’re not musicians, we can internalize the great music of the Bible and of the Church. Sometimes a psalm, hymn, or spiritual song will help us as no spoken word can.
When we cannot find words to express our fears, joys, longings, or sorrows, we often find them in the book of Psalms. It teaches us to praise God for His greatness, goodness, and glory. In just five verses, Psalm 100 teaches us why we should worship God, and it outlines six ways for us to praise Him.
Psalm 100 issues six commands regarding worship: “Make a joyful shout…. Serve the Lord…come before His presence…. Know that the Lord, He is God…. Enter into His gates…. Be thankful” (verses 1-4). While not everyone is gifted to sing in the choir, praising God in worship is a matter of obedience.
When it comes to God, your voice is not nearly as important as your motivation. This form of beauty comes from an “upright” heart (Psalm 111:1). No matter your skill level, God will accept any song offered to Him out of love and devotion.
In biblical times, musical instruments often accompanied worship. Psalm 150 tells us to praise the Lord with trumpets, lutes, harps, timbrels, stringed instruments, flutes, and loud and clashing cymbals. Today, the instruments have changed, but the principle remains—praise Him with what you’ve got!
Sometimes it’s tempting to settle into a routine and sing the same old songs. But Psalm 33:3 commands us, “Sing to Him a new song.” Our worship should come from the freshness of our hearts and reflect our ongoing appreciation for God’s grace in our lives.
God deserves our best. Just as we offer the first tenth of our income as a tithe, God expects our praise to represent the firstfruits of our effort. Slip-ups will happen, but they should not occur because of a lack of effort on our part.
There are occasions for somber, contemplative praise, but verse one tells us there is a time to shout joyfully. Can you imagine if we all showed up at church with the same enthusiasm we bring to a ballgame? Our exuberance for praising God should be no less than our praise for human activities.
A Prayer Based on Psalm 100
Thank You for Your Word and Your works. Teach me to be thankful for all that You do for me. I commit myself to praise You obediently, beautifully, and joyfully. And as much as I can, I will praise You musically, creatively, and skillfully because You are worthy. You are a great God, and I love You. I trust You to provide the help I need, the joy I seek, and the hope I desire. Lord, I pray that my worship will gladden Your heart.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Learning to Trust God: Psalms of Instruction
The Bible has something to say about nearly every subject we can imagine, and the psalms are no exception. They teach us how to live righteously, glorify God, revere His Word, pursue wisdom and forgiveness, plead for justice, and much more. Of all 150 psalms, Psalm 37 is my favorite. In the first eight verses, it tells us, “Do not fret,” three times.
How do we keep from worrying? This passage outlines five choices we can make to keep from worrying: “Trust in the Lord, and do good…. Delight yourself also in the Lord…. Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him…. Rest in the Lord… wait patiently for Him” (verses 3-5, 7). We can do nothing about tomorrow, so we wait for God—for His timing, guidance, and provision. He is already orchestrating tomorrow’s circumstances for our benefit. Our part is simply to wait.
In the New Testament, one of the biggest worriers was Peter. When the Lord called Peter out on the water, he worried about drowning. At other times, he worried about Jesus paying His taxes, who would betray Jesus, and the suffering Jesus would endure. When anxiety got to him in the Garden of Gethsemane, he even cut off a soldier’s ear.
Peter often worried about what would happen. But as Peter got to know the Lord better, he learned to trust Him with tomorrow. “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7, NLT). Who wrote that? The worrier did. Looking back at his experiences with the Lord, he could see that worrying never solved anything, but trusting the Lord solved everything.
We face the same choice. We can worry, or we can step into each new day with confidence in the Lord’s power and promises.
THE LORD KNOWS THE WAY OF THE RIGHTEOUS
Seeing Past the Pain: Psalms of Lament
David’s life was complicated. As a boy, he battled wild animals in the rugged hills outside of Bethlehem. While still a youth, he killed Goliath, Israel’s chief adversary, only to be hunted by King Saul. At least three of his sons died during his lifetime, including Absalom, who tried to usurp his throne. Stunning losses often tempered David’s thrilling victories.
In his darkest moments, David penned psalms that not only provided a window into his suffering but taught us how to trust God when our world falls apart. He pled with the Lord in ways that we sometimes are afraid to voice. This body of writing is known as the psalms of lament, chapter 13 being one example.
After pouring out his pain, David turned his attention from his problems to the very One who was allowing his desperate situation to continue (13:3). By remembering God’s promises and past faithfulness, David kept himself from a crisis of faith. Even before his circumstances changed, David’s outlook shifted because he found God in the midst of his struggle.
When we are struggling, our emotions can become our greatest enemy. Like David, we begin to believe God has forgotten us or that He has hidden His face from us. In Psalm 22:1, David cries out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Thousands of years later, Jesus Christ echoed these words as He hung on the cross. God turned His back on His Son so that He would never have to turn His back on us. Scripture reassures us that God cares about our struggles and weaknesses.
During difficult times, we will do well to follow David’s example by setting aside our feelings, remembering the Lord’s faithfulness, and allowing God to mold us into the person He wants us to be.
Glimpses of the Messiah: Psalms of Prophecy
When Jesus Christ stepped into our world, He fulfilled more than three hundred Old Testament prophecies. Someone has calculated that if we organized all the Old Testament predictions and the messianic psalms chronologically, we would have a complete picture of Christ’s life without even opening the New Testament. But by studying the Old and New Testaments alongside each other, we gain a fuller understanding of Christ’s incarnation.
Psalm 40 provides a remarkable glimpse into our eternal Lord’s thoughts and intentions just before His birth in Bethlehem. First, He came to fulfill prophecy. Isaiah 7:14 says, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son.” Micah prophesied that “the One to be Ruler in Israel” would come from Bethlehem Ephrathah (Micah 5:2). And as far back as Genesis, God’s covenant with Abraham predicted that his offspring would bless all people (Genesis 12:3; 17:19).
According to Psalm 40:8, the second reason Jesus came into the world was to do His Father’s will. We find this truth echoed in the New Testament and quoted in Hebrews 10:5 (Matthew 26:39; John 4:34; 6:38).
Finally, Psalm 40 tells us that Jesus came to conquer sin. All the Old Testament animal sacrifices were powerless to save anyone. They only pointed to the coming redemption through Jesus’ perfect sacrifice. Before Jesus’ death, salvation came through faith in the coming Messiah.
In Jesus Christ, we are free! Because He was both God and Man, He could unite us with the Father at the cross. His precise fulfillment of the messianic prophecies and His perfect obedience to the Father give us great assurance in His victory over death.
The Royal Psalms: Psalms of Majesty
An excerpt from The Jeremiah Study Bible
Psalm 93–99 are known as “royal psalms.” This collection of poems celebrates God as king and describes His rule. The true God of Israel has not beinning or end—He is the eternal King over His chosen people and the Savior of all nations. He is the coming Judge, and His kingdom represents justic and righteousness. The royal psalms praise all of these attributes.
What the Book of Psalms Means for You
In Psalm 103:14, David reminds us that the Lord “knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.” Knowing who we are and what we wrestle with on earth, God kindly gave us a book at the very heart of our Bibles that will sustain us through it all. The book of Psalms contains towering peaks of joy that we may only glimpse in our day-to-day lives, along with canyons of desolation so deep we pray we never go there.
When we cannot find the words to shape our hopes and fears into prayer, we can find their expression in the pages of Israel’s ancient hymnbook. Reading and praying the psalms back to God also links us to generations of the faithful who have sought Him on dark nights and bright mornings, in sickness and celebration, in storm and shade… and found Him.
ARE YOU ROOTED DEEPLY OR BLOWING IN THE WIND?
What the Book of Psalms Is All About: Reflection Questions
According to Psalm 33:20-22, what are the results of praise and thanksgiving?
Which of these six aspects of praise do you find easiest? Which is the most challenging? How will you dedicate yourself to giving God your best in worship?
Read Psalm 37:1-8. What does the passage instruct us not to fret about? Why don’t we need to worry?
Read Psalm 139. The editors of the NKJV have titled this chapter “God’s Perfect Knowledge of Man.” How does understanding God’s perfect knowledge help you face uncertainty?
David opens Psalm 13 with five questions in a row. Is it all right to question God in times of trial? Why or why not?
Read Jeremiah 20:12-13. Whom does God test? What does He see? How does this truth encourage you?
Compare Jeremiah 20:13 and Psalm 13:6. How do David and Jeremiah respond to God? Are you prepared to offer a similar response, regardless of your circumstances?
Read John 1:1; 8:58; and 10:25-39. What proof do you find for Jesus’ deity?
Read Hebrews 10:1-18. In your own words, how is the new covenant superior to the old?
We are privileged to live at a point in history when we can look back at the Messiah’s arrival and understand it through the lens of Scripture. Spend some time thanking God that the Savior has come.