The book of Psalms has stood the test of time over thousands of years for good reason. It beautifully depicts everything that Scripture has to offer believers. A book of poems, songs, prayer and prophecy, it contains some of the deepest expressions of raw emotion, pain, hopelessness and despair, and yet also the highest expressions of wonder, praise and thankfulness.
Because of the depth they contain, how you read the Psalms is of the utmost importance. The more carefully and studiously you read them, the more wisdom and truth you can glean from them. Read on to learn how to get the most out of reading Biblical poetry. Then gather some friends in your assisted living community for a study and put these tips to work.
To fully appreciate the Psalms and gain a deeper understanding of what they mean, there are four perspectives to adopt. Think of these perspectives like lenses, each of them a different color or shade. Each time you don one of these pairs of lenses before delving into Psalms — or any Biblical book of poetry, for that matter — you'll notice things that you didn't before that will paint each verse and stanza in a whole new light.
While not every psalm contains each of these four perspectives, they all contain at least one. A surprising number do contain multiple, however, and almost every one can be read from more than one perspective. These four perspectives are:
The first perspective to consider is that of the author's. When you read a psalm, it's important to understand how those lines applied to the individual who wrote it at the time, as many psalms were written as an outlet by Biblical characters in times of distress and desperation.
Typically, a psalm includes a superscription that names its writer and sometimes even a short description of when the psalm was written to help us better grasp the author's perspective at the time of its writing. Psalm 51, for example, takes on an entirely new level of depth with lines like "create in me a clean heart" when you understand that King David wrote these words following his sin with Bathsheba.
The second perspective is your own and how the psalm may apply to your personal life. Just as psalms were utilized by their writers as a tool to express the deepest parts of their hearts to God, so they can be for you as well. Every psalm, regardless of its writer or content, has some form of universally devotional quality. For this very reason, the book of Psalms has served as a prayer book and hymnal to churches for centuries.
The third perspective to consider is the application of a psalm to Jesus. Because the book of Psalms is designated in the poetry section of the Old Testament (along with Job, Proverbs, Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes), it can be easy to overlook it as a book of prophecy. Upon closer examination, however, it's easy to see an in-depth foreshadowing of Jesus's life, death and character.
A number of psalms, including Psalm 2 and Psalm 110, directly address Jesus. Furthermore, some were so prophetically accurate that Jesus himself quoted them throughout the Gospels; the very first verse of Psalm 22 is where the line uttered by Christ with his dying breaths is first found in Scripture: "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" Naturally, the revelatory line was penned by none other than David.
If you're having trouble unraveling the significance or meaning of a particular psalm, or even a singular verse or stanza of one, asking yourself if it could be addressed to Christ may unlock a number of insights.
The fourth and final perspective is the application of a song to the nation of Israel — or even, to take it a step further, to God's people in general. In the same way that several psalms contain prophetic gems regarding the life and death of Christ, many contain predictive statements regarding Israel's future, her trouble and descent into idolatry and captivity and her eventual salvation.
Some psalms are poetic summaries of the same predictions made throughout the prophetic books found later in the Old Testament, such as Isaiah and Lamentations (which are often equally poetic). In fact, some psalms that may initially appear to be about David's tribulations and deliverance are actually depictions of Israel's own future tribulations and deliverance.
The insightful and revelatory gems embedded throughout the book of Psalms are nothing short of astounding and moving. These study tools may help your next read of Biblical poetry be more productive and meaningful.