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Book of Psalms

Introduction to the Book of Psalms

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Book of Psalms

A rabbi reads a psalm book.

Photo: Getty Images

Book of Psalms:

The book of Psalms contains some of the most beautiful poetry ever written, but many people find that these verses describe human problems so well that they make excellent prayers. The book of Psalms is the place to go when you're hurting.

The Hebrew title of the book translates to "praises." The word "psalm" comes from the Greek psalmoi, meaning "songs." This book is also called the Psalter. Originally, these 150 poems were meant to be sung and were used in ancient Jewish worship services, accompanied by lyres, flutes, horns, and cymbals. King David established a 4,000 piece orchestra to play during worship (1 Chronicles 23:5).

Because the Psalms are poems, they use poetic devices such as imagery, metaphors, similes, personification, and hyperbole. In reading the Psalms, believers must take these tools of language into account.

Over the centuries, Bible scholars have debated over categorizing the Psalms. They fall into these general types of hymns: laments, praise, thanksgiving, celebrations of God's law, wisdom, and expressions of confidence in God. Further, some pay tribute to Israel's royalty, while others are historical or prophetic.

Jesus Christ loved the Psalms. With his dying breath, he quoted Psalm 31:5 from the cross: "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." (Luke 23:46, NIV)

Author of the Book of Psalms:

Following are the authors and the number of Psalms attributed to them: David, 73; Asaph, 12; sons of Korah, 9; Solomon, 2; Heman, 1; Ethan, 1; Moses, 1; and anonymous, 51.

Date Written:

Approximately B.C. 1440 to B.C. 586.

Written To:

God, the people of Israel, and believers throughout history.

Landscape of the Book of Psalms:

Only a few Psalms detail Israel's history, but many were written during crucial events in the life of David and reflect his feelings during those crises.

Themes in the Book of Psalms:

Psalms covers timeless themes, which explains why it is as relevant to God's people today as when the songs were written thousands of years ago. Trusting in God is certainly the dominant theme, followed by praising God for his love. Rejoicing in God is simply the joyous celebration of Jehovah. Mercy is another important theme, as David the sinner pleads for God's forgiveness.

Key Characters in Psalms:

God the Father features prominently in every psalm. The titles reflect who the first person ("I") narrator is, in most cases David.

Key Verses:

Psalm 23:1-4
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. (KJV)

Psalm 37:3-4
Trust in the LORD, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed. Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass. (KJV)

Psalm 103:11-12
For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. (KJV)

Psalm 139:23-24
Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (KJV)

Outline of the Book of Psalms:

  • Book 1 - Psalms 1-41 - The five divisions correspond roughly to the five books of Moses. The first book is like Genesis, detailing blessing, fall, and redemption.
  • Book 2 - Psalms 42-72 - Like Exodus, this book describes ruin, and rescue by God.
  • Book 3 - Psalms 73-89 - As Leviticus covers God's tabernacle, this book covers God's temple.
  • Book 4 - Psalms 90-106 - Numbers tells of Israel's relationship to other nations; this book tells of God's kingdom compared to neighboring nations.
  • Book 5 - Psalms 107-150 - Deuteronomy was about God and his Word, and this book consists of praise for God and his Word.

(Sources: ESV Study Bible; Life Application Bible; and Halley's Bible Handbook, Henry H. Halley, Zondervan Publishing, 1961.)

Jack Zavada, a career writer and contributor for About.com, is host to a Christian website for singles. Never married, Jack feels that the hard-won lessons he has learned may help other Christian singles make sense of their lives. His articles and ebooks offer great hope and encouragement. To contact him or for more information, visit Jack's Bio Page.

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