By Shawn McMullen
The collection is called Praises in the Hebrew text. Later it became known as The Book of Praises. The Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) titled it Psalms from the Greek psalmos, indicating the use of instrumental music or song.
For thousands of years the psalms have comforted, corrected, and confirmed God’s people in their worship and service. We love the psalms and we read them often.
We read them for their inspired beauty. In his introduction to the Word Biblical Commentary Psalms 1–50, Peter C. Craigie refers to “the importance of poetic language in the biblical context” and notes, “There are aspects of human experience, and aspects of knowledge of God, for which the mundane language of prose cannot provide adequate expression.”
Who would disagree? We’re comforted by the fact that God cares for us and gives us hope, yet these same truths touch our hearts at a deeper level when couched in the poetic beauty of Psalm 23.
We read them to grow in our love for God. From his simple but heartfelt, “I love you, Lord, my strength” (18:1) to the passionate, “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water” (63:1), we identify with David, a man after God’s own heart. The psalms encourage us to love God as David did.
We read them to enhance our devotional lives. Our spirits resonate with statements like, “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long” (119:97) and “Hear my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray” (5:2). We learn that David “humbled [himself] with fasting” (35:13) and discover how his heart yearned to “go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight” (43:4).
Knowing we couldn’t possibly be busier or face more daily pressures than David did as king of Israel, and realizing the priority David placed on the time he spent with God, we’re encouraged to make our devotional lives a priority as well.
We read them to gain God’s perspective. We hear David’s plea, “Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is” (39:4), and we make the same request of God: “Lord, help me to grasp the brevity of my time on earth, and grant me wisdom to make every day count for you.”
We read them to enrich our worship. We’re guided in our praise to God through statements like, “Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth” (96:9), and “Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs” (100:2). We discover the value of corporate worship in stanzas like, “I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you” (22:22) and “I will give you thanks in the great assembly; among the throngs I will praise you” (35:18).
While many of us share these sentiments, they barely scratch the surface. Whatever our reason (or reasons) for reading the psalms, we can all thank God for their beauty, their clarity, and the wonderful way they draw us to his heart.