Introduction to the Book of Psalms
As we enjoy the Psalms, a few points should be kept in mind which will protect us from reading something into the text which the author never intended.
- The Psalms are not propositions, or imperatives, or stories that illustrate doctrines or even moral behavior. They are, however, profitable to help us express ourselves to God, and to contemplate His ways.
- Hebrew poetry was directed to the mind but through the heart. More than likely, Biblical poets never intended their readers to studiously analyze their writings … it’s poetry! Consider this: Hebrew poetry involves some form of parallelism; if we fail to understand this, our tendency will be to read into the Psalms “truths” that are not at all “true.” Oftentimes, our expectation that God will do or be something He never promised results in disappointment with Him. We need to read the Psalms more carefully!
- The Biblical poets wrote in memorable ways by using emotional language in a musical Lyrics are intended to appeal to our emotions and to activate a response that goes beyond our cognitive understanding of the “facts” presented in the poem. It is as dangerous to read a Psalm as a system of doctrine as it is a narrative. At times, poets purposefully use exaggeration to express something strongly and/or vividly. They use metaphors and symbolic language which are not intended to be taken literally. Let’s allow them the poetic license to do so!
- Most of us are uneducated in Hebrew culture. The Jews-of-old could easily discern a song of lament from one of repentance, or a song of thanksgiving from a hymn of praise; most of us cannot! As in every culture, Jews recited culturally unique poems and/or songs at designated functions, yet they are unfamiliar to us. They understood that a song was to be taken as a whole rather than dissected line (verse) by line, as if each stood independently of another. However, we can rest assured that the Holy Spirit can – and in fact, is the only one who can – take Scripture out of its context! That said, be careful that you read the Psalms in the spirit and intent of the author, as you fellowship with Holy Spirit!
In summary, when reading the Psalms, we must remember that they are a guide to worship, designed to be spoken or sung, giving voice to personal thoughts and/or feelings. Simply put, they help us express ourselves. The Psalms also aid us in relating honestly to God. Their example gives us permission, as it were, to say things to the Almighty that we otherwise may feel are not appropriate or acceptable. They allow us the space to reflect on who God is and what He has done, and on who I am as seen by Him. In the Psalms, I have found rich freedom to be human, and to know that God is agreeable to that! If anyone understands my humanity – and invites me to fully live as a human – it’s my Maker! My hope is that you will find this same liberty as you enjoy the Psalms.