Emotions. Sometimes we don’t understand them but everybody has them. Psalms is the most emotional of all books in the Bible from joy and love, to anger, fear, hurt and sadness. Reading the Psalms is like reading personal prayers. It’s like hearing a heartfelt song of praise or a song of sorrow. You can share with the writers’ experiences of joy, of healing and deliverance, or the heartache of despair and guilt.
The key message of Psalms is giving God praise. Music is soothing to the soul. Artists wrote the Psalms. The authors were gifted in music and/or poetry. Their style of writing expressed profound truths not necessarily meant to be analyzed, but rather to be felt and experienced through music, song and worship.
The Psalms address the full range of human needs and the character of God is revealed through the expression of His love and His care for His people. The Psalms meet us where we are in life and what we need immediately. When we feel low, the Psalms lift us up. When feeling lonely and confused, the Psalms provide comfort. When in fear, we find direction for our lives and we are encouraged.
Five books of Psalms
The book of Psalms is divided into five sections or books. Interestingly, in these five books, we can find similarities or parallels to the themes of the first five books of the Old Testament, known as the Pentateuch.
Humanity: Book one of Psalms (chapters 1-41) parallels the theme of Genesis, the foundation and development of humanity and describes the human condition: we are fallen, redeemed, and blessed by God. David wrote most of these Psalms providing a picture of his personal suffering and pain as well as his passion and joy. Chapter 23, “The Lord is my Shepard” is a popular favorite.
Deliverance is the theme of the second book, covering chapters 42-72. God is our Fortress, Refuge, Stronghold, and Strength. These thirty-one songs have much to say about God’s power to deliver His people from their enemies, struggles, and dangers. Book two of Psalm parallels the theme of deliverance in the book of Exodus. “Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall” (55:22).
The Sanctuary: God’s dwelling place is the focus of book three in chapters 73-89. God’s people sang these seventeen hymns of worship as they gathered in the temple of the Lord. These songs reflect the formal worship and temple-centered celebration of God’s people; therefore, there is a parallel to the theme of the book of Leviticus. “Restore us, O God; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved” (80:3).
The Lord reigns is the theme found in book four (covering chapters 90-106), which revolves around God’s power and our tendency to resist His power. As in the book of Numbers, the only way to find our way through the desert and tough times of life, is by allowing God to lead us. “May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us; yes, establish the work of our hands” (90:17. Moses wrote chapter 90.)
The Revelation of God through His works and His Word is the theme of the last book of Psalms in chapters 107-150. These last forty-four hymns celebrate God’s greatness and His revelation. Psalms 119 is the longest Psalm and one of the most famous. As with the book of Deuteronomy, Psalms 119 praises His mighty acts and outlines His life-giving laws for Godly and righteous living. “Search me O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts” (139:23).
The Psalms are relevant. Several different people wrote the book of Psalms including David, Moses, Solomon and others, spanning ten centuries. The human condition hasn’t changed since the Psalms were written. Today we can relate to the pain and suffering that they felt as well as their joy and triumphs. The writers of Psalms learned to accept their reality and to let go of their ideal expectations of life. They understood the reality that the world is both good and bad, and that people are both good and bad. They understood negative emotions are part of life. They embraced the good and bad of life and turned toward God for the answers.
The Psalms teach and remind us that no matter the circumstances or the length of difficulties, the deeper the roots, and the longer the winds…the more beautiful the tree. As we take time to understand our emotions and our difficulties in life, we learn that they are part of God’s design: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (139:14).