Psalms are ancient poems that were sung by the nation of Israel to worship God. They were the first hymns. Many are still sung, but more often than not they are read and studied more than they are sung. They are still poetry, however, and must be read and studied as poetry. The purpose of this article is to help you in reading the Psalms for benefit and application. Some Psalms are simple and easy to embrace because of their joy and praise to God. Others are difficult because they are laments, complaints, filled with anxiety, and opposition. There is much benefit to studying those Psalms since they usually begin with some kind of conflict and end with a resolution to trust God.
Here are some helpful hints to aid you in reading the Psalms.
1. Use a good study Bible. The ESV, HCSB, or MacArthur Study Bible are all good to use. There are others but these are ones I use.
2. Read the heading. The headings of the Psalms are a part of the inspired writings. They are original to the text and often help you understand what is written.
3. If there is a specific incident that inspired the Psalmist to write, look it up and read it before you read the Psalm. For example: Psalm 34 was written after David pretended that he was crazy to get away from the Philistines (1Samuel 21:10-15).
4. Look for repeated or similar words. Recognizing parallels is a key to reading the Psalms.
5. Know what kind of Psalm it is. Praise, thanksgiving, lament, imprecatory, ascent, & wisdom are categories you can look for.
6. Ask yourself some questions:
- What did the Psalm mean for the writer and the people of the day?
- What is the timeless truth about humanity?
- What is the timeless truth about God?
- How can I apply this to today? What difference can this make for today?