Teaching Notes on the Psalms

What I’d Like You to Remember about the Psalms

I hope you’ve enjoyed studying the Book of Psalms this Lent. If you missed any of the messages they’re available on our web site. Here’s a summary of what we covered:

The Book of Psalms was the hymnal & prayer book of the Israelites. There are 150 psalms in the collection, broken into five books, each of which ends in a psalm of praise. They were used in communal worship in the temple and synagogues, as well as by individuals in personal prayer. They were written between the 15th Century BC (the Exodus) and the 6th Century BC (the Babylonian Exile).

The psalms were the Israelites’ response to God. For the five books of the Torah, God spoke to the people. The five books of the psalms were their response.

The psalms are “language we can borrow” to speak with God. They offer us prayers, sentences, phrases and images, all of which we can utilize in our prayers.

The psalms are a beautiful example of ancient Hebrew poetry. Their primary literary feature is “poetic parallelism,” where two sentences or phrases are paired together, with the second phrase adding to the meaning of the first.

The psalms cover the entire spectrum of human emotion, including the desire for revenge (“imprecatory psalms”). Remember, the Israelites were often uncertain about eternal life. So if God is a God of justice, God had better make things right here and now, instead of sorting it out later in the afterlife. Also, perhaps the message of these harsh psalms is that our anger and hatred is to be prayed about, not acted upon!

There are various types of psalms – psalms of praise, teaching psalms, wisdom psalms, psalms of faith, psalms of confession, psalms of ascent (sung on the journey to the temple), royal psalms to honor the king and laments.

The most common psalms in the collection are laments. 60 out of 150. This is one of the biggest reasons why we need the psalms and the Old Testament. The New Testament does not include laments, and therefore doesn’t give us the language and permission that the laments do to address our strongest emotions and deepest cries for help to God.

Pastor Rich Knight    Lent 2018


The Psalms

Israel’s Prayer Book and Ours


There are Five Books of Psalms. Each one ends in a Doxology

I        Psalms 1-41 (use “Yahweh,” LORD)

II      Psalms 42-72 ( use “Elohim” = God)

III    Psalms 73-89

IV      Psalms 90-106

V        Psalms 107-150


The Title of the Book:

In Hebrew Old Testament – “Tehillim” = “Praises”

In Greek Old Testament – “Psalms” = songs accompanied by stringed instruments


Written over many years:

Psalm 90 – A Psalm of Moses (1400s BC)

Psalm 137 – During the Babylonian Captivity (500s BC)

Half of the Psalms are attributed to David. (controversial)


Characteristics of Hebrew Poetry

No rhyme or regular meter

Passionate & emotional – Psalm 10, 22

Vivid & Concrete Images – Shepherd, rock, Fortress

Simile & Metaphors – God is like . . .

Repetition & Refrains – Psalms 42 and 46

Poetic Parallelism – the echo adds to the first statement. Psalm 19

Symmetry – same # of lines in each stanza, Psalms 33 and 41


Types of Psalms          

Praise & Thanksgiving          Laments (more than 60!)

Songs of Trust           Confession              Wisdom/Teaching Psalms

Sacred History / Holy History Psalms                    Imprecatory

Individual Prayers & Prayers for the Community      Songs of Zion / Royal Psalms


Instruments used when the Psalms were first sung: harp, flute, horn (ram’s horn), trumpet, drum, cymbals!

The Apostle Paul urged Christians to sing the Psalms – Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16

Three Basic Benefits of the Psalms;

  1. They are a guide to worship. They give us opportunities to speak to God in words God inspired others to speak in the past.
  2. They demonstrate by example how we can relate honestly to God.
  3. They demonstrate the importance of reflection and meditation, and invite us to prayer.



Things to look for when reading the Psalms


Take note of the introductory words for author and context. Some of them give the setting of the psalm, the event that inspired the prayer. Most do now however, allowing us to insert our own context, our own hopes and hurts, fears and dreams.

Don’t worry about the words to the musicians! Ex. “Selah” is found  71 times. Probably meant a pause or a musical interlude.

“Listen” for rhythms, parallelism, and refrain. Ex. Psalm 46: “The Lord of Hosts is with us. The God of Jacob is our refuge.” – repeated in vss. 7 & 11.

Be careful not to make a doctrine out of an emotional prayer. The psalms often reveal theology (some good, some not so good), but they do not set out to teach it. For example, in Ps. 51:5 David prays: Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.” The psalm is NOT teaching that babies are sinful from the moment of conception. The Bible does not teach that. David is simply expressing his deep sense remorse for his sins (Bathsheba & Uriah).

Watch for the shift in the psalms, from struggle to praise.

Psalm 42: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.”


“It is impossible to think of any human circumstances which do not find expression in this book. It is intensely human. The deepest thing is that it is a collection of songs in which human experiences are brought into the presence of God. They show how man feels and thinks and speaks and acts when he is conscious of God.”  – – Campbell Morgan


“Wherever the Psalter is abandoned, an incomparable treasure vanishes from the Christian church. With its recovery will come unsuspected power.”   Dietrich Bonhoeffer



Psalms for Lent! – A Book a Week

Below is a reading plan for the Book of Psalms.

In the Bible the 150 Psalms are divided into 5 books, each ending in praise.

How about reading a book a week?

The psalms suggested were chosen for their beauty & variety,

giving the reader a sampling of the different types of psalms.


Book I

Psalms 1-41

Psalm 1 – A Wisdom Psalm

Showing us where wisdom is found

Ps. 8 – How majestic is your name

Ps. 19 –  note the rhythm & parallelisms, repeating a statement in a slightly different way

Note Ps. 22 & Ps. 23 back to back!

Ps. 27 – to behold the beauty of the Lord

Pss. 3-7, 13 & 22 – the emotional “laments,” there are more laments (approx.. 60)  than any other type of psalm!

Psalm 32 – David’s Confession


Book II

Psalms 42-72

Ps. 42 – a classic lament – Why are you downcast, O my soul

Ps. 46 – Be still and know that I am God

Ps. 51 – David’s confession, create in me a clean heart

Pss.54 – 57 – God, Help!

Ps. 58 – ugly vengeance

Ps. 63 – your steadfast love is better than life

Ps. 72 – a prayer for the king, a Royal Psalm



Book III

Psalms 73-89

Ps. 74 – Why God?

Ps. 77 & 78 – recalling sacred history

Ps. 84 – in praise of worship in God’s House

Ps. 89 – celebrating God’s covenant


Book IV

Psalms 90-106

Ps. 90 – A Psalm of Moses (1450 BC)

Ps. 91 – in the shelter of the Most High

Pss.95 – 101 – Sing to the Lord a new song

Ps. 103-104 – Bless the Lord O My Soul

Ps. 105-106 – teaching sacred history



Book V

Psalms 107-150

109 – Do not be silent, O God

Ps. 113 – God, the helper of the needy

Ps. 119 – the longest Psalm, Thy Word is a lamp

Ps. 121 – I lift up my eyes to the hills

Pss. 121-134 – songs of ascents, sung along the journey to the temple in Jerusalem

Ps. 136 – a responsive, liturgical psalm

Ps. 137 – written in exile, by the rivers of Babylon (586 BC)

Ps. 139 – beautiful poetry

Pss. 146-150 the collection ends in pure praise!




Poetic Parallelism in the Psalms

The primary feature of Hebrew poetry!


In “Poetic Parallelism” the first line is balanced with a second line, which serves to illuminate the first. It does so in one of three ways:

  1. Sometimes the second line echoes the same theme in slightly different language:

The earth belongs to the Lord and everything in it,

     the world and those who dwell therein. Ps. 24:1

  1. Or, the second line strengthens an affirmation by contrasting it with the opposite:

For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,

      but the way of the wicked will perish.   Ps. 1:6

  1. Or, the second line continues the thought by ascending toward its completion:

For Yahweh is a great God,

     and a great King transcending all gods.    Ps. 95:3

Bernhard W. Anderson in Out of the Depths: The Psalms Speak for Us Today,



The Lament Psalms

3, 6, 10, 12, 13, 22, 31, 35, 41, 42, 51, 54-57,

61, 74, 79, 86, 88, 102, 105, and others.


Five Observations from the Laments

These Prayers of the Bible teach us:

It’s okay to be angry with God.

It’s okay to question, doubt, and wrestle with God.

It’s necessary to face our brokenness, our human-ness.

Honest-to-God prayers are the stuff that faith is made of.

Prayer changes us.



  1. Anna Marsden says:

    These notes are absolutely fantastic I edit a small Anglican parish magazine in Bocking and am including a series based on Bede’s Abbreviated Psalter Would it be ok to add in my explanation your lovely comments on why we need the Laments as long as I credit the names of author and website? I look forward to hearing from you Thank you God bless Anna Marsden

    • Richard Knight says:

      Hi Anna,

      I’m just now seeing your message. Sorry about that! I didn’t realize we’ve had “comments” on our web site.

      Yes, feel free to use anything you found, if it’s not too late. Sorry again for the delay!

      Rich Knight

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