How to Study the Psalms

Updated on August 22, 2019
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Rev. Margaret Minnicks is an ordained Bible teacher. She writes many articles that are Bible lessons.

Psalms is a popular book of the Bible consisting of hymns written over about 1,000 years. People often quote from that book and Jesus quoted from it more than any of the other books.

The book of Psalms cannot be studied like the other 65. It is written in poetic form and has a lot of symbols and figurative language which includes similes, metaphors, and dozens of other figures of speech. Readers will miss a lot if they are not familiar with the poetic language.

Also, the book is easy to understand when people know some background information instead of trying to interpret what the psalmists originally said thousands of years ago.

Writers

While the other 65 books of the Bible have one author, Psalms has multiple writers. About 50 of them are anonymous. Someone must have written them, but they have not been assigned to anyone.

A superscript is written above each psalm that includes the known author's name and some information about it. It would be a disservice not to read that information.

Psalmist
Number of Psalms
David
73
Asaph
12
Sons of Korah
11
Solomon
2
Moses
1
Ethan the Ezrahite
1
Heman the Ezrahite
1
Haggai
1
Ezra
1
Anonymous or Orphans
About 49

Types

All the psalms are not equal. What is written in each one has a lot to do with its type. You will be able to understand each chapter better if you knew beforehand the type of psalm it is.

  • Laments: This is the largest group consisting of communal and individual laments.
  • Royal Hymns: God is portrayed as the earthly and heavenly king who reigned.
  • Enthronement Hymns: God's sovereignty is acknowledged.
  • Pilgrimage Psalms: Songs of ascents and descents were sung as Israelites traveled up and down from Jerusalem.
  • Hymns of Thanksgiving: Praises are given to God for His acts of kindness.
  • Wisdom Psalms: Worshipers are instructed to use righteous wisdom.
  • Liturgies: Hymns sung when entering the sanctuary.
  • Praise or Hallelujah Psalms: All begin and end with "Praise the Lord."
  • Imprecatory Psalms: Psalmist invokes God's wrath and judgment on his enemies.

When you don't know what to read in the Bible, read one of the 150 Psalms.

Divisions and Doxologies

The 150 psalms are divided into five smaller books paralleled to the Pentateuch. A study Bible will show the divisions. Each section ends with a doxology. All of Psalm 150 is a doxology.

A doxology is a declaration of praise to God. Most doxologies have several things in common.

  1. They have creation language.
  2. God is magnified.
  3. The Kingdom of God is mentioned or alluded to.
  4. They contain eternal words such as "forever" or "everlasting."
  5. They end with "Amen."

Division
Psalms
Doxology
Pentateuch
Book I
1-41
41:13
Genesis
Book II
42-72
72:18-19
Exodus
Book III
73-89
89:52
Leviticus
Book IV
90-106
106:48
Numbers
Book V
107-150
150:1-6 Entire Psalm
Deuteronomy

Features

The superscript or heading is printed in a different type in the Bible to set it apart from the psalm itself. Important information about the hymn is in this position. Such information includes the writer, the purpose of the chapter, and the theme.

If there is no superscript, the psalm is considered to be an orphan because it does not belong to any of the known writers.

"Selah" is a musical pause that appears 71 times throughout the book of hymns. Do not say the word aloud when reading the psalm in corporate worship.

Many of the psalms are written use parallelism. That is a literary device where two scriptures are paralleled to each other. A second verse says the same thing or the opposite of the previous verse. Sometimes the parallel is in the same verse. The last part of Psalm 119:105 is paralleled to the first part.

"Thy word is a lamp unto my feet,
and a light unto my path."

A lamp is paralleled to a light. My feet are parallelled to my path.

Unique Psalms

All the psalms are important and should be studied. It is interesting to know that some of the hymns are unique.

  • Each chapter is a different psalm.
  • The chapters are not in the order in which they were written.
  • Psalm 1 is placed at the very beginning as the introductory psalm to all the others.
  • Psalm 150 is placed at the end as the summary or conclusion to the book.
  • The shortest is Psalm 117 with only two verses.
  • The longest is Psalm 119 with 176 verses.
  • Psalms 146-150 begin and end with "Praise the Lord." They are called the "Hallelujah" or "Praise Hymns."

Pay Attention

Pay attention to all of the above information. When you make a habit of reading with those things in mind, you will be amazed at how much better you will be able to understand the book and all that's in it.

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