“Introduction to Psalms,” Old Testament Study Guide for Home-Study Seminary Students (2014)
“Psalms,” Old Testament Study Guide
Reading and pondering the book of Psalms can bring you nearer to God and help you feel His love. Psalms has been a source of inspiration for worship since ancient times and continues to be cherished for worship and study by both Jews and Christians. As a collection of ancient Israel’s poetic hymns, petitions, and praises, the book of Psalms can resonate with you as you consider the ways you worship the Lord, plead for His deliverance, and thank Him for His help. Studying the truths in the book of Psalms can bring you peace and inspire you to praise and trust God.
The book of Psalms attributes at least 73 (or about half) of the psalms to David and attributes other psalms to a variety of authors, including Asaph (Psalms 50; Psalms 73–83) and Heman (Psalm 88). These attributions, however, appear in titles that “are added to some of the psalms, but it is open to question whether these are as old as the words to which they are attached” (Bible Dictionary, “Psalms”).
The multiple authors who wrote the psalms lived at different times, most of them between about 1000 B.C. and 500 B.C. It is not certain when the book of Psalms was compiled in its current form, but events mentioned in Psalm 137 indicate this process was not completed until after the Jewish exile in Babylon: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. … For there they … carried us away captive” (Psalm 137:1, 3).
Psalms is the Old Testament book most quoted in the New Testament, for “no book of the Old Testament is more Christian in its inner sense or more fully attested as such by the use made of it than the Psalms” (Bible Dictionary, “Psalms”). Many of the psalms contain prophetic references to the Savior and allude to events that would take place during the Savior’s life (see Psalms 22:1, 7–8, 16, 18; 34:20; 41:9; 69:20–21).
The book of Psalms is divided into five main sections (Psalms 1–41; 42–72; 73–89; 90–106; 107–150), each of which ends with an expression of praise (for example, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel from everlasting, and to everlasting. Amen, and Amen” [Psalm 41:13]). Many of the psalms were originally written as hymns to be sung in religious services. These hymns were used for prayer, praises, and meditation, and some of the texts show similarities to Hebrew poetry. Some titles are “probably names of tunes, well known at the time, to which the psalms were appointed to be sung” (Bible Dictionary, “Psalms”).
Psalms 1–41. The book of Psalms begins with a contrast between the godly and the ungodly. Some of these psalms put great emphasis on trusting God rather than earthly objects or people and remind us that we need not fear, because God is with us. Another psalm reminds us that God will judge our hearts and that we should seek after God’s mercy.
Psalms 42–72. These psalms could be summarized with the phrase “God is our refuge and strength” (Psalm 46:1). One psalm reminds us to cast our burdens upon the Lord in every challenge or trial. Another encourages us to wait patiently upon God in all things.
Psalms 73–89. These psalms encompass several themes and frequently describe God as a judge who can rebuke wicked earthly judges and destroy Israel’s enemies. In Psalm 86, King David records a plea that God teach us His way so we can walk in truth.
Psalms 90–106. Many of these psalms encourage us to praise the Lord, remember that vengeance belongs to Him, declare the glory of God, and serve Him with gladness.
Psalms 107–50. These psalms recognize that “children are an heritage of the Lord” (Psalm 127:3) and that they are an eternal blessing for righteous parents. One psalm near the end of the book offers a heartfelt plea that the Lord deliver us and keep us from the evil and violent practices of wicked men.