If someone were to think of the Psalms ‘only’ as hymns of praise, often set to music, they’d be missing why they’ve been so central to the worship of God throughout both Jewish and Christian history.
In addition to the beauty of their poetry and musicality, the Psalter is the only Biblical book in which man responds to God. This is partly evident in the way they are written in the 2nd person voice: ‘you’. “Save me O God, for the waters are come in unto my soul” is really saying “YOU save me O God…”.
Consider that in the Old Testament, or Hebrew Scriptures, all the books of both the Law and the Prophets are God revealing the spiritual nature of the Creator to the patriarchs, prophets and other receptive hearts. The family and national accounts chart the Israelites’ ups and downs –listening and not listening, obedient one moment to their covenantal blessing and then throwing it off as so much discarded refuse the next.
But the Psalms are the intimate, sometimes anguished, and often joyous response to God for every high and low of the human scene. There isn’t a human emotion they don’t encompass. Whether the writer is King David or one of his court musicians, such as the sons of Asaph, these prayers and laments reveal the most personal fears, guilt, and revenge as well as overflowing gratitude. Why? Because they take they take every detail of their lives to God to sort it all through.
The Psalms show us a completely theocentric people. No armchair psychologists here. No face-booking or tweeting of slights or self-congratulatory missives.
The Psalms are the real deal, people just like us sorting through the debris and exaltations of human experience – why tough things come to families, neighbors and nations. Yet heartbreak coexists with unutterable joy because even the laments wondrously turn into prayers of gratitude and praise. Even if the writer doesn’t see God this moment, he (or she) makes every effort to remember, with conviction, an earlier time when God indeed was his salvation.
Reading through a handful of Psalms, looking for major themes, reveals their breadth and depth:
- Why it’s vital to defend one’s thinking daily (Ps. 7)
- How to see through the raging of ‘the carnal mind’ (Paul’s later term for what would oppose itself to God) and remain unimpressed (Ps. 2)
- Trust in God (Ps. 91)
- Protection (Ps. 16)
- Self-examination in order to eradicate errors too long held
- The foolishness and even moral idiocy of thinking there is no God
- The counterfeit of the Gen. 1:26 man (made in “God’s image”) called ‘the children of man”
- The source for true satisfaction
- The every-whereness of God’s voice
- To be honest in our prayers, not polite (Ps. 137)
- And one especially compelling: The spiritual qualifications for those involved in God’s work, in spiritual endeavors.
I’ve included some of the Psalms with each topic, but left others blank. Perhaps you’ll like this list and work with it, adding your own themes and finding the Psalms that illustrate the ones above. We love hearing from you as you discover meaning so please feel free to write about your own love affair with the Psalter.