The Book of Psalms is a poetic and beautiful book of the Bible, but there is so much more to it than art. In fact, it is important that we study the Psalms. I will admit that I've been guilty of devaluing its instructive nature in the past. God is so good to show me that error and I am really enjoying digging into the Truths within its pages.
Martin Luther said that the Psalms “are not words to read, but to live.” John Calvin said of the Psalms, “I have been wont to call this book not inappropriately, an anatomy of all parts of the soul; for there is not an emotion of which anyone can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror.”
Let's take a look at an overview of this Book and explore some practical ways to study the Psalms.
In the video below we discuss the five divisions or “books” of the Book of Psalms and although this may seem like more of an academic endeavor, it will help us understand the Book as a whole. These songs were not randomly collected, each one is inspired by the Holy Spirit and they were placed together to tell the story of the Gospel.
Five books within the Book of Psalms
- Chapters 1-41 – Davidic Psalms – These are mostly psalms of David, reflecting much of David’s life and faith. These songs often come from a place of distress but are accented by trust and confidence in a God who has in the past and will continue to see His people through any trial. (Note: Psalm 1&2 are an Introduction to the entire Book of Psalms)
- Chapters 42-72 – Historical Psalms – There are more prayers lament and distress in these chapters. The only psalm that is attributed to Solomon concludes this portion and is a song about the future reign of the messianic king. Historical facts fill these songs.
- Chapters 73-89 – Liturgical Psalms – These songs are even bleaker and darker but rays of hope scatter throughout them. They are strong historical songs and Asaph wrote many of them.
- Chapters 90-106 – Other Pre-captivity Psalms – These songs remind the singers of God’s long-standing faithfulness. They reflect much of the pre-captivity sentiment and history and Moses even penned one (90). They remind the Israelites of their roots and they express God’s sovereignty over all things.
- Chapters 107-150 – Psalms of the Captivity and Return – A final declaration of the goodness of God ending with the five “hallelujah psalms” (146-150).
This division presents an analogy between the Psalms and the Pentateuch (God’s instruction or “law” Books – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). How wonderful that God was clear in letting us know that these songs are just as instructive as the Books of law and this is why we must study the Psalms.
This video from The Bible Project explains these divisions and the overview of the Psalms in a clear way.
Four truths to consider as we study the Psalms
- The Psalms are instructive. They teach us about the very nature of God and our response to Him. Psalm 1:2 “His delight is in the law of the Lord and on his law he meditates day and night”. This “law” may mean the Pentateuch but it also means the Psalms – the instruction of the Lord.
- The Psalms are emotional. They are literal poetry and songs. William Van Ornum writes that
“The Psalms put our inchoate longings, or as St. Paul would say, groanings, into words. Wordsworth echoed this when he wrote, ‘poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.' The Psalms express our feelings in hymns, pleadings, sorrows, penitence, petition, and thanksgiving.”
- The Psalms teach us how to pray. We see how to praise him, how to wrestle with him and how to turn to him when faced with outside trouble or our own sin.
- The Psalms are Inspired Scripture. They live and breathe and are so much more than just worship songs. The writers of the NT quoted them frequently as did Jesus himself. The Holy Spirit inspired the words in this special book and they are so much more than historical verse. They are written TO GOD and BY GOD.
Practical ways to study the Psalms
- Read it. Over and over again. Listen to it (ESV Bible App) and read it out loud. Try to read it all the way through to get an idea of the big picture.
- Sing it. Put it to your own music or sing a worship song or hymn taken from the Psalms. Shane and Shane have some beautiful songs from the Psalms.
- Memorize it.
- Pray it. Pray the actual words over your circumstances and to our mighty God.
- Teach it to someone else.
- Journal it. What a perfect way to use the Journal you create from the Journal in 7 course.
- Learn it through hand lettering, doodling or Bible Journaling. Rebekah Jones is a great resource for this. And there is a free Creative Bible Study challenge in the Grace in Color classroom for more inspiration.
- Take your time and go through it verse by verse after you have a good idea of the overview. See what God will speak to you when you slow down.
- Read good commentaries like Charles Spurgeon's Treasury of David.
Get accountability. Join me on Instagram LIVE on weekday mornings for a Morning Psalm or grab a partner as you study!
- Just get started and appreciate the Psalms as the inspired Word of God.
Listen to more here:
Click the image below to download this free printable to help you study this great Book!
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More recommended Resources to help you study the Psalms more fully.
1. Psalms: A 12-week study (Knowing the Bible)
2. ESV Journaling Psalter
3. ESV Devotional Psalter
4. The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms by Timothy Keller
5. Shaped by God: Thinking and Feeling in Tune with the Psalms by John Piper
6. The Psalms: ESV