Lausanne Free Church "believing all things written"

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Understanding the book of Psalms

The book of Psalms is a collection of religious poems employed for the public worship of God. It could be called God’s hymn book. It is possibly the most widely used book in the Bible and is the foremost book which shows men speaking to God. it is therefore primarily a book for devotions and worship. It is one book – a unified whole. Jesus tells us this in Luke 20:42 “Now David himself said in the book of Psalms”. In Hebrew it is called “The Book of the Songs of Praise”. The name Psalm comes from the Greek version of the Old Testament title,where the book is called “Psalmoi”. There are 150 Psalms, which are divided into 5 books, each of which closes with a doxology or song of praise.

1 to 41

42 to 72

73 to 89

90 to 106

107 to 150

Who wrote the Psalms?

All the psalms were of course inspired by God. Jesus often quoted from the Psalms and quotes them as the Word of God. We know who wrote 100 of the Psalms, usually from the heading. The oldest was written in around 1400 BC and the latest around 550 BC.

The Bible says that Solomon composed 1005 songs (1 Kings 4: 32) so he may have composed some of the remaining 50. Scholars think that David also composed many of the rest.

What are the main themes?

There are different types of Psalms:

        or "praise Jehovah" e.g. Psalm 113

        one's enemies e.g. Psalm 69

        observe the feasts. They are grouped together: Psalms 120-134

        received e.g. Psalm 100

There are three great themes in the Psalms:

How should we interpret the psalms?

We need to understand four important things about the book of Psalms

1) We must remember that they are poetry. C S Lewis said “The psalms are poems and poems intended to be sung. They are not doctrinal treatises or even sermons. They must be read as poems if they are to be understood.” The form of poetry that we are most used to in English is rhymes. A well-known example by A. A. Milne is:

When I was One,

I had just begun.

When I was Two,

I was nearly new.

When I was Three,

I was hardly Me.

When I was Four,

I was not much more.

When I was Five,

I was just alive.

But now I am Six, I'm as clever as clever.

So I think I'll be six now for ever and ever.

Now the problem with rhymes is that they are very difficult to translate into another language.The poetry of the psalms is of a type called parallelism. In parallelism the same thought is repeated two or three times, each time in a slightly different way. Sometimes what is repeated is the opposite thought. Here is a famous modern example:

We shall fight on the beaches

We shall fight on the landing grounds

We shall fight in the fields and in the streets

But we shall never surrender.

The main thought is this: We shall fight everywhere we find the enemy. But it is expressed in three different ways. The wonderful thing about parallelism poetry is that it does survive translation into another language. How great is God’s planning! We have to look no further than Psalm 1 to see examples of this (verses 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6.) How amazing that God would cause Jewish poetry to have the one form that does translate into any other language! The Psalms do use other poetic devices (rhyme, wordplay, acrostics), but these are secondary. This means that when we are reading and interpreting the Psalms we can often understand the meaning better by looking at how the same thought is expressed twice.

2) They deal with real people facing real situations and recording their real feelings. The Psalms were often written in response to situations that believers were facing – good or bad. We are told this in the headings that many contain. Look at Psalm 3. These headings are in fact part of the psalm, as is often indicated in French Bibles, where they are numbered as verse 1. Often the Psalmist will pour out their heart to the Lord (Psalm 3:1). This means that we can associate very much with what is written. In fact that whatever our situation, however we feel, there is a Psalm for that moment. This is why we love them so much.

3) They are a Bible within a Bible. In spite what I said about them being poetry, the Psalms are FULL to overflowing with doctrine. In fact Malcolm Watts says that in one sense the Psalms are a complete systematic theology:

Creation and providence – Psalm 104

Sovereignty of God – Psalm 33

Law of God – Psalm 119

Christ and His work – Psalms 2, 16, 22

Depravity – Psalms 14, 51

Regeneration – Psalm 40

Adoption – Psalm 103

Assurance - Psalm 23

Church – Psalm 122

Last things – Psalm 16

4) We can expect to find Christ in some way in every Psalm. All evangelicals know agree that some Psalms are messianic. This is because the New Testament writers quote from them! Examples are

But we can find Christ in all the others as well as in all the Old Testament. Look at what Jesus said to the disciples after his resurrection - Luke 24:44 In every Psalm, as in every chapter of the Bible, we can find some reference or allusion to Christ and his saving work for us.

Thank you for reading this message. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact us.

Quotations are taken from the New King James Version of the Bible, copyright Thomas Nelson Inc.

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Approx. date


Led Israelites out of Egypt

c 1450 BC


King of Israel

1-41, 51-72, 86, 101, 103, 108-110, 124, 131, 133, 138-140

c 1000 BC


Music director under David & Solomon

50, 73-83, 141-145

c 1000 BC

Sons of Korah

Levites who served in the Temple

42-49, 84, 85, 87

c 950 BC


A Levite at the time of Solomon

c 950 BC


A Levite at the time of Solomon

c 950 BC


King of Israel

72, 127

c 950 BC