From Learning to Love the Psalms
This introduction to our study of the psalms has prepared us to turn now to the five books of the Psalter. As we approach each book and each individual psalm, we will make progress in our appreciation of the psalms as we remember to ask basic questions of each psalm:
- What details in this psalm – words, historical references, ideas – seem to require further study?
- Which of the great themes of the Psalter do I find in this individual psalm?
- What human responses do I find in this psalm?
- Is the character of this psalm primarily individual or communal?
- What are some formal poetic features of the poem I am studying, and how do these features illumine its meaning?
- Is the central verse of the psalm the heart of its meaning?
- How does the individual psalm I am studying relate to the structure and primary character of the book in which it is found?
- How do neighboring psalms illumine the meaning of the particular psalm I am studying?
- In what ways is Christ central to this psalm?
- How does this psalm speak to the people of God today?
With this introduction to the psalms in mind, we turn now to the five books of the Psalter. Each book has a separate section in our study. Each of the five sections has seven chapters. The first chapter serves as an introduction to the book of the Psalter at hand. The introduction presents the overall character and movement of the book and its relation to other books in the Psalter. The remaining six chapters analyze six or more psalms from within that book. The specific psalms are chosen to illustrate aspects of the particular book in which they are found. Our aim with each psalm is to understand it on its own terms and also to follow the lead of the New Testament in finding Jesus there. As we look at specific psalms, it will be very helpful for you to have your Bible open to the psalm under consideration. My quotations from the psalms will be from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
The intention of this study is not to provide an exhaustive exegesis of each psalm considered, but rather to open a way to a growing understanding of the psalms. God gave his people the Psalter so that we could more and more be defined by it, so that we could find our identity in it. We as the people of God today need to learn for ourselves what it means to live in the psalms. In a real sense, they give us words to express what it means to live as a Christian. We should live in and out of the psalms.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- What are ten questions that can be asked of each psalm in order to fully appreciate its meaning? Which of these questions seems most beneficial to you? Why?
- What does it mean that “God gave his people the Psalter so that we could more and more be defined by it, so that we could find our identity in it”?
- Who do you know of personally who lives in the psalms? In what ways do you see yourself living in and out of the psalms?