by Roger Severino
- The Psalms express humanity’s words to God. In the Psalms, we get to listen in on the private and corporate cries of God’s people to God. One thing to consider while reading the Psalms is: “How are man’s words to God also God’s word to us?” No other book of the Bible so clearly captures the cries, praises, prayers, and songs of God’s people to God.
- The Psalms reflect the whole range of human emotion. From “negative” feelings (lament, anger, etc.) to “positive” feelings (praise, joy, etc.), the Psalms capture the entire essence of what it means to be human and allow for the expression of these various moods and outlooks.
- The Psalms contain various types within its collection of 150 psalms. Like the wide range of human emotions, it is important to understand that individual psalms tend to emphasize different things. So, therefore, various psalms are often fit into different classifications: psalms of wisdom, of praise, of lament, of thanksgiving, of redemptive history, etc.
- The Psalms have the ability to transcend time and cultural barriers. Let’s be honest, often when we read portions of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, we sense that there is a pretty big gap between these stories and our modern world. When we read the Psalms, much of that barrier dissipates. Humanity has not changed in 3,000 years, so the cries of the heart we find in the Psalms are the same desires and emotions we feel today.
- The Psalms are poetry and should be read and understood this way. Hebrew poetry uses a lot of figurative language, meaning that many of the terms contain expressions that are not to be taken literally, but communicate truths in figurative ways. So, for example, in Psalm 69 when the psalmist cries, “Save me, God, for the water has risen to my neck,” this does not mean that he is literally about to drown but that he is facing circumstances that have overwhelmed him and swept over him.
- The Psalms make use of Hebrew Parallelism. Hebrew parallelism means that often the first line is followed by a second line that may (1) say the same (or similar) thing in a different way, (2) provide a contrast to the first line (often starting with the word “but”), or (3) expound on the initial thought in some way.
- The Psalms can provide a great way to enhance your prayer life and Bible meditation. Read a psalm during your devotional time to get your mind focused on God. Read it aloud and try to capture the tone and emotion behind the psalm. Read a verse repeatedly and allow it to be absorbed into your being. Consider what the psalm has to say about God and about life. Pray through the psalm and allow the words to stimulate thoughts on what you can pray for and about.