The 150 psalms of the Bible are sometimes called the hymnbook of ancient Israel. We can sing them, too. But when we read them, we can interact with them and receive more of the mind and heart of the Lord. Find out more about what the psalms say, how the psalms say it, and how you can receive the most out of them.
Psalms–The Interactive Book
The psalms have probably been the most encouraging OT book most of us have ever read–filled with praise, pain, complaints, frustration, lots of prayers, and a huge rejoicing in God Himself!
Ps. 23:4; 119:114; 46:10; 6:2; 130-1-2
C.S. Lewis: “The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express the same delight in God which made David dance.”
There’s not an emotion or thought we’ve had as believers–even the bad ones–that isn’t somewhere in the Psalms! It’s also quoted more in the New Testament than any other book.
For the ancient Israelites, they were used in vocal worship! If they were read, they were probably read aloud.
Jeremiah is the longest single book in the Bible, but Psalms has the most chapters–150 chapters.
It contains the shortest chapter and the longest chapter in the Bible: 117 and 119.
The book of Psalms is a compilation of songs and hymns and prayers that were put together over several centuries until they got in the form we know them after the Israelites returned to their land after the Babylonian Exile in the 6th century BC.
There are five books within the BIG BOOK of Psalms. And even within those books, there are other categories within those books, such as songs of Zion, songs of praise, lamentations, royal psalms, ascension psalms, and enthronement psalms.
Who wrote them? Lots of people! King David and his son Solomon wrote exactly one-half of them! The other authors were Old Testament priests.
The Psalms are POETRY. Unfortunately, most Bible translations remove nearly all of the poetry.
There is rhythm but no rhyming. Some words either sound alike, or rhyme within the line. It’s different from our English poetry.
Some psalms are acrostic, meaning that each line or stanza begins with the next letter of the (Hebrew) alphabet. The biggest example is the longest psalm–119–where each stanza begins with a new letter.
The psalms are interactive! Reading them quickly is the wrong approach! Skimming the psalms is like eating the whipped cream on top of your favorite dessert and ignoring what’s underneath!
Hebrew parallelism! Sounds a bit intimidating. But if we understand it, we can get the mind of God on any number of subjects. It’s the connection between two–or sometimes–three lines that take an idea and then do something with it.
The second line adds something close in meaning, phrases it in the opposite way, or extends the meaning into another, broader direction.
In all of these, we can get God’s thoughts or thoughts about God into our heads and hearts if we read these lines and receive what’s in them! Something is supposed to be created in our brain.
Let’s look at Ps. 54 and see the different groupings of lines, and how the psalm moves forward.
Three words we need to know. The first two have to do with being interactive.
Selah: Not sure of exact meaning, but it probably means to take a moment and lift up the name of the Lord, thinking about what you just read.
Yet….This is the hinge in many psalms. If we’re going to go along with expressions of complaint or woe, then we have to move in the other direction when the psalm. Also translated nevertheless.
Chesed! Called “possibly the most beautiful word in any human language.”
The word often translated as “loving-kindness” or mercy is roughly translated:or goodness or favor. “Lovingkindness” — Word invented by a Bible translator in 1535.
Also translated mercy, steadfast love, loyalty and favor. Some call it unfailing love.
Some say the nearest NT equivalent is GRACE.
It’s about the connection between God and His people.The word only hints at the steadfastness and persistence of God’s unshakable love for His people. It includes the idea of mercy and forgiveness, especially when looking at God’s continual love for Israel, a nation so inconsistent in following the Lord. It’s mostly understood in contrast to what the people did toward God!
No matter what God’s people did, He had this unshakable, constant, covenant love that was never invalidated. God would just not let Israel go, and He won’t let us go now when we accepted His grace to be saved.
So let’s get into the psalms and let the psalms get into us!