The Psalms have a special place in the prayer and worship life of Christians. Handed down from Judaism, the Psalms have become some of the most beloved and often quoted passages in the Bible. Perhaps you yourself have a favorite Psalm that has particular meaning to you. One of the reasons that the Psalms become so memorable and important to us is that they express an incredibly wide range of human emotion and experience. They are raw in their honesty. In the Psalms we find joy and sadness, confidence and doubt, tranquility and anger, celebration and lament. Indeed, we can relate to and find meaning in the Psalms because they are so “human”. Here’s some basic information as you spend time with the Psalms:
•Length: The Book of Psalms (also referred to as the “Psalter”) is the hymnal and prayer book of ancient Israel. There are 150 psalms in the Psalter, varying in length froma few lines to several pages. It was written by numerous individuals and compiledover many years (even centuries) from older collections of lyrics.
•Name: The Hebrew (original) name for the Book of Psalms is “Tehillim”, which means“praises”.
•The word “Psalms” comes from the Greek work “psalmoi”, which referred to musicplayed on a lyre or other stringed instrument, and later came to mean making musicin any fashion.
•In imitation of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible), the Book ofPsalms was divided into five books.
Book I: Psalms 1-41
Book II: Psalms 42-72
Book III: Psalms 73-89
Book IV: Psalms 90-106
Book V: Psalms 107-150
•Most of the Psalms were written with a liturgical function, that is, to accompany ritesor acts or worship in the Temple. The Psalms vary in terms of style, function, structure, and purpose. Several of the main types of Psalms include:
Prayers for Help/Laments—express pleas for help by an individual or the community (or nation), often including: Call to be heard; Complaints about God’s absence, the person’s suffering, and the role of oppressors; Pleas for help; Statements of trust in God and Promises to praise God after the crisis is past
Hymns of Praise—give witness to God’s love and grace through a call to praise God through worship
Songs of Trust—in which an individual expresses their faith and confidence in God amid difficulties
Thanksgivings– in which individuals express gratitude to God for deliverance in times of crisis
Sacred History—in which some portion of the nation’s history and God’s dealings with it is recounted
Royal Psalms—composed for specific occasions such as a coronation, royal wed-ding, or leadership
Wisdom Psalms—which meditate on life and often include contrasts between the righteous and the unrighteous, the wise and the fool, God’s way and the world’s way.
•It is common for an individual Psalm to contain several of these various elements. Itis helpful when you are reading and praying the Psalms to consider what type ofPsalm style(s) it expresses.
•When reading/praying/singing the Psalms, ask yourself questions like,“what is going on in this Psalm?” “What is the writer trying to expresshere?” “How do these words speak to me?” “Where do I find myself in thewords of this Psalm?”