The book of Psalms (called the book of praises in the Hebrew Bible) is a collection of poetry that encompasses the whole range of human experience and teaches us how to commune with God through every phase of life. The Psalms instruct us in showing us how to praise God whether we are in the valley of death (Psalm 23) or dwelling in the courts of God (Psalm 122:1). They show us how to pray and teach us the meaning of lament. And they do so much more, but through it, all God is glorified. Because of these facts, I want to spend a few moments this morning, together, in appreciation of the Psalms.
What Are the Psalms?
First, what are the Psalms? As we mentioned a moment ago, Psalms are poetry. The book of Psalms is the largest collection of poetry found in the Scriptures. Within the psalms, we find various types of poetry. Here are a few:
- The Hymn – Tremper Longman in “How to Read the Psalms” defined the hymn of the Psalms as pulling “out all the stops in his rejoicing in God’s goodness.” Psalm 113:1 is an example of the hymn of the psalms. “Praise the Lord! Praise, O servants of the Lord, praise the name of the Lord.”
- The Lament – Here, we have the opposite of the hymn. “The lament is the psalmist’s cry when in great distress he has nowhere to turn but to God.”
- Thanksgiving Psalms – Psalms that, as the name implies, offer thanks to God for either an attribute (or many) of His, something He has done, or how He has blessed the psalmist.
- Psalms of Confidence – Psalms proclaim the writer’s deep trust in God, His goodness, and power.
- Psalms of remembrance – Psalms do not have a specific historical setting. However, some do recall God’s acts of redemption to memory to praise Him.
- Wisdom Psalms – These are Psalms in which instruction is imparted. Psalm 1 is an excellent example of this type of psalm.
Related to this is the question is what the purpose of the Psalms is? Or, maybe a better question, what is their function and purpose today? I have two quotes that I came across in my study that best summarize the function and purpose of the Psalms today for the Christian.
- Craig C. Broyles – “Most psalms were originally set prayers, intended to guide worshipers in articulating their cries of distress and their celebrations of God’s goodness and power … they are meant to lead the worshiper’s experience of God through times of trial and times of worship. As set prayers, the psalms put words in the worshiper’s mouth, thus encouraging each to reflect on and to incorporate healthy dependency on and acknowledgment of God. They thus implicitly have educative and behavior-modifying functions. As the psalms were hammered out over generations of people living with God, they are deeply personal, not as expressing an individual’s experiences, but as evoking the experiences that should typify the people of God.”
- Edward J. Young – “The Psalter, rather, is primarily a manual and guide and model for the devotional needs of the individual believer. It is a book of prayer and praise, to be meditated upon by the believer, that he may thereby learn to praise God and pray to Him.”
So, the Book of Psalms has been preserved for us to learn to meditate deeply on God, pray fervently to God, and worship Him with our whole being. With this in mind, let us survey how the Psalms show us the way in prayer, lament, and praise.
Lord, Teach Us to Pray:
When asked by His disciples, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1), Jesus gave them an example to follow in what to pray for and how to pray. However, this is not the only place that God has given us an example. He has given us an entire book of prayers to learn to pray and pray more fervently, deeply, and fully to Him. Consider some of the prayers of the psalms:
- Psalm 25 is a prayer of protection, guidance, and pardon. Note all the different ways David asks God to guide him, teach him, show him, lead him, etc.
- Psalm 35:1-8 is a prayer of protection from David’s enemies. From those who seek his life. It should also be noted that David is praying for protection from his enemies because they are God’s enemies. David is firmly rooting himself on the side of God.
- Psalm 51:1-4 Shows us a prayer of the repentant. Note how David asks God to be Who He is, gracious, just, and full of compassion.
 Ibid. 26.
 Edward J. Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1977).