Introduction to Psalms*
The book of Psalms, or Psalter, has supplied to believers some of their best-loved Bible passages. It is a collection of 150 poems that express a wide variety of emotions, including: love and adoration toward God, sorrow over sin, dependence on God in desperate circumstances, the battle of fear and trust, walking with God even when the way seems dark, thankfulness for God’s care, devotion to the word of God, and confidence in the eventual triumph of God’s purposes for the world. The English title comes from the Greek word psalmos, which translates Hebrew mizmor, “song,” found in many of the Psalm titles and simply translated as “psalm” (e.g., Psalm 3). The Hebrew name for the book is Tehillim, “Praises,” pointing to the characteristic use of these songs as praises offered to God in public worship.
Date of Composition
The psalms themselves date from the early monarchy to a time after the exile (ca. 1000 to 400 BC); the collection in its present form may be part of the reform movement reflected in Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah.
The standard Hebrew text divides the Psalms into five “books,” perhaps in imitation of the five books of the Pentateuch. The psalm that ends each book finishes with a doxology (e.g., Ps. 41: 13; 72:18-19; 89:52; 106:48), and Psalm 150 as a whole is the conclusion both of Book 5 and of the entire Psalter. There are other evidences of editorial arrangement: e.g., Psalms 1– 2 form the doorway into the whole Psalter. 150 psalms of rich diversity, which in their present arrangement served as the “hymnbook” for exiles (Second Temple) Judaism. The five books are carefully arranged so that they mirror the story of Israel from the time of David until after the exile.
The Psalms as the Prayer Book
The psalms are known as the prayer book of God’s people throughout centuries. They are both encouragement to pray and patterns of prayer. They represent the experience of men and women who have prayed in every conceivable circumstance across thirty centuries. The psalms direct and shape the prayers of God’s people into fluency. They do not do our praying for us, but they get us praying when we don’t feel like it, and they train us in prayers that are honest and right. What is essential in prayer is not that we learn to express ourselves, but that we learn to answer God who first speaks to us. The Psalms show us how to answer God through prayer.
As we read and meditate through the Psalms this month, I encourage you to use the words of the psalmists to shape your prayers. John Calvin noted that the Psalms are “the design of the Holy Spirit… to deliver to the church a common form of prayer.” So open your Bibles to the book of Psalms and pray them each day—sequentially, regularly and faithfully. This is how most Christians throughout history have matured in prayer. May we grow as community who delight in and meditate the psalms. May we be people of God who take refuge in God through praying the psalms. May we cry out to the Lord who hears our prayer.
* Adapted from ESV Study Bible and Praying with the Psalms by Eugene Peterson.
This Week’s Bible Reading Schedule:
|Monday: Psalms 4||☐||Thursday: Psalms 7||☐|
|Tuesday: Psalms 5||☐||Friday: Psalms 8||☐|
|Wednesday: Psalms 6||☐||Saturday: Psalms 9||☐|