“HELLO, how are you?” “Fine”. Not exactly an “in-depth” discussion, this brief interchange is normal as friends and acquaintances pass and briefly touch each other with a cliché or two. Actually, clichés are a way of life, saturating sentences and permeating paragraphs. But if this is the essence of their communication, the relationship will stall on a superficial plateau. Facts and opinions also fill our verbiage. These words go deeper, but the true person still lies hidden beneath them. In reality, it is only when honest feelings and emotions are shared that real people can be known, loved, and helped.
Often, patterns of superficial communication spill over into our talks with God. We easily slide through well-worn lines recited for decades, or we quickly toss a cliché or two at God and call it prayer. There is no doubt that God hears and understands these feeble attempts, but by limiting the depth of our communication, we become shallow in our relationship with him. But God knows us, and he wants to have genuine communication with us.
At the centre of the Bible is the book of Psalms. This great collection of songs and prayers expresses the heart and soul of humanity. In them, the whole range of human experiences is expressed. There are no clichés in this book. Instead, David and other writers honestly pour out their true feelings, reflecting a dynamic, powerful, and life-changing friendship with God. The psalmists confess their sins, express their doubts and fears, ask God for help in times of trouble, and praise and worship him.
As you read the book of Psalms, you will hear believers crying out to God from the depths of despair, and you will hear them singing to him in the heights of celebration. But whether despairing or rejoicing, you will always hear them sharing honest feelings with their God. Because of the honesty expressed by the psalmists, men and women throughout history have come, again and again, to the book of Psalms for comfort during times of struggle and distress. And with the psalmists, they have risen from the depths of despair to new heights of joy and praise as they also discovered the power of God’s everlasting love and forgiveness. Let the honesty of the psalmists guide you into a deep and genuine relationship with God.
PURPOSE: To provide poetry for the expression of praise, worship, and confession to God
AUTHORS: David wrote 73 psalms; Asaph wrote 12; the sons of Korah wrote nine; Solomon wrote two; Herman (with the sons of Korah), Ethan, and Moses each wrote one; and 51 psalms are anonymous. The New Testament ascribes two of the anonymous psalms (Psalms 2 and 95) to David (see Acts 4:25; Hebrews 4:7).
DATE WRITTEN: Between the time of Moses (around 1440 B.C.) and the Babylonian captivity (586 B.C.)
SETTING: For the most part, the psalms were not intended to be narrations of historical events. However, they often parallel events in history, such as David’s flight from Saul and his sin with Bathsheba.
KEY VERSE: “Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD” (150:6).
KEY PERSON: David
KEY PLACE: God’s holy temple
Book I Psalms 1:1 – 41:13 While the psalms are not organised by topic, it is helpful to compare the dominant themes in each section of the psalms to the five books of Moses. This first collection of psalms, mainly written by David, is similar to the book of Genesis. Just as Genesis tells how mankind was created, fell into sin, and was then promised redemption, many of these psalms discuss humans as blessed, fallen, and redeemed by God.
Book II Psalms 42:1-72:20 This collection of psalms, mainly written by David and the sons of Korah, is similar to the book of Exodus. Just as Exodus describes the nation of Israel, many of these psalms describe the nation as ruined and then recovered. As God rescued the nation of Israel, he also reaches us. We do not have to work out solutions first, but we can go to God with our problems and ask him to help.
Book III Psalms 73:1-89:52 This collection of psalms, mainly written by Asaph or Asaph’s descendants, is similar to the book of Leviticus. Just as Leviticus discusses the tabernacle and God’s holiness, many of these psalms discuss the temple and God’s enthronement. Because God is almighty, we can turn to him for deliverance. These psalms praise God because he is holy, and his perfect holiness deserves our worship and reverence.
Book IV Psalms 90:1-106:48 This collection of psalms, mainly written by unknown authors, is similar to the book of Numbers. Just as Numbers discusses the relationship of the nation of Israel to surrounding nations, these psalms often mention the relationship of God’s overruling kingdom to the other nations. Because we are citizens of the kingdom of God, we can keep the events and troubles of earth in their proper perspective.
Book V Psalms 107:1-150:6 This collection of psalms, mainly written by David, is similar to the book of Deuteronomy. Just as Deuteronomy was concerned with God and his word, these psalms are anthems of praise and thanksgiving for God and his word. Most of the psalms were originally set to music and used in worship. We can use these psalms today as they were used in the past, as a hymnbook of praise and worship. This is a book that ought to make our hearts sing.
EXPLANATION: Psalms are songs of praise to God as our Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer. Praise is recognising, appreciating, and expressing God’s greatness.
IMPORTANCE: Focusing our thoughts on God moves us to praise him. The more we know him, the more we can appreciate what he has done for us.
EXPLANATION: God is all-powerful; and he always acts at the right time. He is sovereign over every situation. God’s power is shown by the ways he reveals himself in creation, history, and his word.
IMPORTANCE: When we feel powerless, God can help us. His strength can overcome the despair of any pain or trial. We can always pray that he will deliver, protect, and sustain us.
EXPLANATION: Many psalms are intense prayers asking God for forgiveness. God forgives us when we confess our sin and turn from it.
IMPORTANCE: Because God forgives us, we can pray to him honestly and directly. When we receive his forgiveness, we move from alienation to intimacy, from guilt to love.
EXPLANATION: We are grateful to God for his personal concern, help, and mercy. Not only does he protect, guide, and forgive us, but his creation provides everything we need.
IMPORTANCE: When we realise how we benefit from knowing God, we can fully express our thanks to him. By thanking him often, we develop spontaneity in our prayer life.
EXPLANATION: God is faithful and just. When we put our trust in him, he quiets our hearts. Because he has been faithful throughout history, we can trust him in times of trouble.
IMPORTANCE: People can be unfair and friends may desert us. But we can trust God. Knowing God intimately drives away doubt, fear, and loneliness.
©Kingsway International Church, 1973.