Psalms are songs, prayers, meditations, prophecy, and a look into the deepest heart of Christ the Son during the period of time of his incarnation. Just as the Lord inhabits the praises of his people (Psalm 22:3), so the Holy Spirit brings to life the Psalms within the hearts of believers everywhere. This Bible study is a place intended to encourage us all to read, read, and read the Psalms so that contact with Christ, God, and the Holy Spirit will be made within their words.
I recommend the little book 31 Days of Wisdom and Praise (See Bibliography, Jones) for the reasons of its NIV translation and for the special numerical arrangement of the Psalms. While it is not necessary to buy this book, the little pocket paperback is highly attractive and convenient. The special numerical arrangement, however, can be followed from any Bible. In this arrangement, the psalms are presented according to the days of the month. On the 1st of each month, for example, the reader finds Psalms 1, 31, 61, 91, and 121. Then, continuing the example, on the 14th, the reader will find Psalms 14, 44, 74, 104, and 134. Everyone who follows this sequence will read the entire Psalter in one month.
When finished, begin reading it again, and again, and again. Sooner or later, God will sometimes and occasionally speak the words of the Psalter into your heart, as he meets you in your own particular life situation, Sitz im Leben. When he does this, you will have fellowship with God the Father and God the Son through the Holy Spirit within the words of Scripture.
Why Read the Psalms?
- To see Christ in his humanity.
- Of greatest value to me personally has been the realization that Jesus himself prayed most of these psalms during his sojourn of trial and suffering while a man on earth. Seeing and understanding this great Love leads me to worship Jesus the Son and God, the Father who loved the world so much that he gave his Son to suffer and to be crucified by the world.
- In addition to having fellowship with the Father and his Son through the Holy Spirit, reading the Psalms cyclically, repeatedly, and horizontally (as described in the preceding section) develops an awareness of the unity of the Psalms as a whole, the themes they develop, and the movement of content from one form to another, for example, from lament and petition to praise and thanksgiving.
- There is a Story contained in the Psalms as a whole.
- You will begin to recognize that God is love, that he loves his people unceasingly and without limits, and that he loves you in particular.
- Close familiarity with the vocabulary and language of the Psalms will also help you as you read other biblical books, especially books in the New Testament. You will begin to hear echoes of particular psalms in the speech and allusions of various New Testament writers and characters.
For example, after repeated reading of Psalm 1 from a literal translation, such as the English Standard Bible, when Pilot steps out from his private chamber, points at Christ, who has just been flogged and is about to be crucified, and says, “Behold, the man…” (John 19:5), by grace of the Holy Spirit, it becomes impossible not to hear in Pilot’s words an echo of the word “man” in the phrase “Blessed is the man…” in Psalm 1:1. Christ is “the man” who is blessed both in Psalm 1 and in the vast majority of the psalms. From Psalms, we learn about the physical and especially the internal suffering of God’s Son more than we do from any other biblical book. This awareness leads to a greater depth of worship and love for the Lord, as well as a deeper comprehension of the Bible’s proclamation, “God is love” (1 John 4: 8, 16). And we ask ourselves, how is it that flogging and crucifixion lead to a pronouncement of blessing? This is theology at a deep and fine level.
Topics of Consideration in this Bible Study of Psalms:
As the weeks progress, our study will lead us into consideration of:
- content, meaning
- categories of people and ideas
- forms, such as lament, praise, and thanksgiving
- rhetorical style, such as the presence of blocks of dialogue
- identification of speakers
- New Testament quotations and use of the Psalms
- poetical devices
- the five books within Psalms
- the place and importance of the Septuagint in reading and understanding the Psalms
In addition to being a written study published on this blog, there is a corresponding “live” Bible study for a small group of women who meet weekly. Clearly, we will not attempt to cover all of the topics listed above for each and every psalm we study, especially since the purpose of the study is to lead us into the presence of God, rather than into an academic understanding of an ancient Hebrew book. Rather, as various of the above topics become relevant for the psalm(s) under consideration that week, topics will be introduced as aids to appreciation.
My intent is to make this study a devotional study with just enough academic overtones to guide and encourage devotional use of the Psalms. May the Lord bless us all.
Ways to Increase Personal Engagement with a Devotional Reading of Psalms
- As mentioned above, read and reread again and again and again
- Read the Psalms out loud with only yourself present in the room
- Journal as you read in a simple statement/”my response ” format
- Try different translations, including a true to text paraphrase, such as the New Living Translation (NLT)