A psalm is a poetic scripture set to music. The psalms were written to be sung, as an act of worship to God. Originally, they often contained musical instructions combined various poetic features. Of all of the passages of the Bible, among the most beautiful are the psalms. And because of their poetic qualities, they are often the most memorable as well.
One of the five “poetical” books, the book of Psalms is the longest book in the Bible, consisting of 150 separate psalms. About half of these were written by David, the “sweet Psalmist of Israel.” Other writers include Asaph (and family), the sons of Korah, Solomon, Heman, Moses and Ethan. In many cases, the writers are identified in the ancient titles. In some cases the writer is identified by a New Testament quotation of the psalm (e.g. Ps. 2, 95). Most of the psalms were written during the lifetimes of David and Solomon, although some date back to the time of Moses. It is not easy to classify all of the psalms, although some of them fall naturally into one of several categories. There are psalms of praise, penitence, history, as well as messianic, ceremonial, ethical or moral, and the “imprecatory” psalms. This last group consists of psalms which invoke God’s wrath or judgment upon the enemies of God and his people. Some of the statements in this category will challenge our thinking and cultural notions of political correctness.
The psalms have been great sources of encouragement and consolation to countless readers for generations. They have been effectively used at funerals and other times of great loss. They have been read and cherished at weddings and other occasions of tremendous joy. Many of the psalms have been further immortalized in worship arrangements and musical compositions, including some by classical and other renowned composers.
In upcoming sermons we will, Lord willing, take a look at some of the psalms in more detail. We will try to select at least one from each of the major categories, and encourage greater appreciation for these beautiful compositions. We will delve into the background of the psalms, in an effort to understand the setting in which they were originally written. By so doing, we will be in a position to recognize more fully how they apply in our lives as well.
The psalms are sometimes referred to as “devotional” literature. Truly, they make excellent reading in times of solitude, meditation and worship. Many of our hymns are based upon them, and much of the New Testament builds upon profound, spiritual themes put forth in the book of Psalms. Therefore, a careful study of the Psalms tends to heighten and deepen our understanding of the entire Bible. If you are feeling discouraged, there is no better place to turn than to the book of Psalms. If you are feeling excited and happy, the psalms provide a healthy release and expression of emotion. And if your heart is heavy with concern or despair, there is great healing power in the soothing, immortal lines of the psalms.
In studying the Psalms, we need to remember that the Holy Spirit carefully guided the writers of this portion of God’s word, as he did all the other portions. The psalms represent beautiful literature, but they are much more than that. They are God’s guidance through the vicissitudes of fortune, the various situations and chapters of life. They make for a good reading, but they are far more than man-made literature. A careful reading of and meditation upon them, and an enduring reflection upon their sentiments, helps us deal with life nobly and successfully. It helps us in the valleys as well as the mountain tops. It helps us know God and understand his will for our lives. Truly, a respectful study of Psalms will make us better people, and help equip us to effectively serve God throughout life. Begin now to read the Psalms! Make them part of your devotional time, or other daily routine. Decide which ones are your favorites, and memorize them. Mark them conspicuously in your Bible, and refer to them often. If you have requests for sermons in this series, let me know so that we may focus on the psalms of special interest to you. By so doing, these lessons can be meaningful and helpful to us all.
-by Robert C. Veil, Jr.