How to Read the Psalms

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(Psalms 3, 18, 92, 109, Matthew 5, Romans 8)
Lesson Number: 

Lesson 1

How to Read the Psalms

(Psalms 3, 18, 92, 109, Matthew 5, Romans 8)

Copr. 2024, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. If you normally receive this lesson by e-mail, but it is lost one week, you can find it by clicking on this link: Pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as you study.

Introduction: Do you enjoy praising God? It is one of my favorite activities! I think back to when I’ve been with a large number of people who are singing praises to God. What joy! Then there are the times when I’ve enjoyed some great victory or success, and it feels good to praise God for the victory. What about the other times in life, when things are not going well and you feel discouraged? You need help. Do you reach out to God then? The book of Psalms contains the praises of people to God. And it contains requests to God for help in difficult times. In this sense Psalms is different than the other books of the Bible. Most Bible books are a series of stories. Some contain instructions or warnings. Psalms largely reflects what God’s people are saying to Him under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Let’s dive into the study of this unique book of the Bible!

  1. Examples of Psalms
    1. Read Psalms 18:1. What is the context for this praise? (God delivered David from his enemies.)
    2. Read Psalms 18:2-3. If you were in a battle, what would you need? (David mentions a “fortress,” “shield,” “stronghold,” and an offensive weapon for animals, a “horn.”)
      1. What point is David making? (Whatever practical weapon you would need to win a battle, God is all of that. Of course, God is even more.)
    3. Read Psalms 30:1. What is the context for this praise? (The dedication of the temple.)
      1. What would be a parallel experience in your life? (Something important that you have accomplished for God.)
    4. Read Psalms 92:1. What is the context for this praise? (The Sabbath.)
    5. Read Psalms 92:4-5. What does this suggest should be our praises on Sabbath? (We look back over the week and are grateful for how God has helped us.)
    6. Read Psalms 92:6-8. What if your week did not go that well? What does this suggest should be your praise? (The stupid people who gave you grief are doomed. God will make things right.)
      1. Let’s step back a moment. Is this what you normally hear in church? Our enemies are stupid fools who seem to be winning, but they are doomed? They will be destroyed and we praise God for that on the Sabbath. When did you last hear that in church?
      2. It is unlikely that I have been in your church, but I suspect that you have been talking about how God loves those who are making trouble for you, and how you should pray for them. Are my suspicions right?
    7. Read Matthew 5:43-44. How do you reconcile what is said in Psalms and what Jesus says? What does this teach us about praise? (Jesus is teaching us to pray for the lost. David is teaching us to take comfort (and give praise) over the fact that the stupid evil people will be destroyed if they do not turn to God.)
      1. Can you do both at the same time?
    8. Read Psalms 105:2-5. What is the context for this Psalms? (As we look around us at the creation, as we review what God has done for us in the past, we should praise Him. What confidence and courage are available to us!)
    9. Read Psalms 3:1-2. What terrible event has happened in King David’s life? (David has been driven from his palace and his son had claimed David’s throne.)
      1. What do the people say about David? (God has abandoned him.)
    10. Read Psalms 3:4-6. Put yourself in David’s place. What advantages does he enjoy? (He can seek God’s help. God answers in this time of terrible stress and David is able to sleep and live without fear.)
    11. Read Psalms 109:1-5. What is the context for this Psalm? (Those who David loves show hatred toward him. They lie about him and accuse him of terrible things.)
      1. Has this happened to you?
    12. Read Psalms 109:6-12. Do these sound like your prayers? Do you give praises for the terrible things you hope will happen to your enemies? (A prominent Christian lawyer told me that before a hearing he prayed for his opponents to be confused. I decided to try this in a religious liberty case in federal court. When my opposing counsel walked into court he somehow managed to hit his head on a metal detector and fall down. He staggered in front of the judge who took pity on him and told him he could sit down. (I was thinking I missed something in not praying like this before.) Because this lawyer was having such a terrible time, the judge told me to start with my argument. The judge not only took the injured lawyer’s side, he invented a new argument for him and then ruled against me based on this new argument! On appeal I was not able to get this reversed. Although my client received a religious accommodation, I lost an important legal point. This was my first loss in this kind of case in 30 years! I now stick to the Matthew 5 approach.)
  1. Who Wrote the Psalms?
    1. Read Matthew 22:42-45. Jesus is quoting Psalms 110:1. Who does Jesus say wrote this Psalm? (King David. Most of the Psalms are attributed to David.)
    2. Read Psalms 50:1. Who wrote this Psalm? (Asaph. Other Psalms are also attributed to him. John MacArthur’s commentary tells us that Asaph had sons who composed a “special Levitical choir.” The Bible Knowledge Commentary calls Asaph “a leading Levite musician.” A July 2, 2014, blog by Jeffery Kranz states that 150 songs are in the Psalms and he calls Psalms “a songbook.”)
    3. Read Psalms 85:1. Who wrote this Psalm? (The sons of Korah. An October 22, 2020, blog by Melissa McLaughlin lists eleven Psalms written by the sons of Korah. These include some of the most memorable phrases in Psalms.)
    4. Read Psalms 90:1. Who wrote this Psalm? (Moses!)
      1. What kind of Psalm is this? (It is a prayer.)
    5. Read Psalms 31:5. Does this sound familiar? (Read Luke 23:46. Here we see that Jesus’ last recorded prayer is taken from Psalms 31:5!)
  2. What Makes the Psalms Different?
    1. Read 2 Samuel 23:1-2. This text calls King David the “sweet psalmist of Israel.” Who does David say is the source of his words? (“The Spirit of the Lord” who speaks through David.)
      1. How then are we to understand the Psalms? They seem to be spoken to God in that they are generally songs or prayers. Does God inspire these songs and prayers to Him?
    2. Read Romans 8:26-27. What does this teach us about the Holy Spirit and our prayers? (The Holy Spirit not only helps us to know what to pray, but He intercedes for us with our prayers.)
    3. If the Psalms are mostly a series of prayers and songs directed to God, how should we approach this series of lessons on the Psalms? (We need to look at the Psalms as models of what we should pray and sing to God.)
      1. What about my bad experience of praying against my enemies the way David does? (Not only should we consider the entire teaching of the Bible, as with any other subject, but we need to consider that David (and other Psalmists) struggled with challenges in life. Their pleas to God might reflect some defects in their understanding of God’s will.)
    4. Friend, are you ready to take a journey through the Psalms? Why not commit to continue with this study of God’s book of Psalms?
  3. Next week: Teach us to Pray.