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A Brief Introduction to The Psalms

Nahum O'Brien on December 19, 2017

The Book of Psalms holds a very dear place in a believers heart. Who among us hasn’t at least once in our lives searched its pages for wisdom, counsel, or consolation. Charles Dodd once noted, “The Psalms are fitted to all persons and ages, to all manner of employments, and to all conditions and circumstances of life.” The Psalms are uniquely designed to be a comfort to the believer no matter life’s circumstances. One theologian remarked, “How much comfort, light, and strength have the Psalms imparted to my soul.” I’m sure we all could affirm the truthfulness of these statements. We may all testify how the Psalms have comforted us during various times in our lives.


The Psalms have been a comfort to God’s people for thousands of years. The oldest Psalm was composed around 3,500 years ago. The individual psalms which now make up the Book of Psalms were collected over a period of 900 years including authors such as David, King of Israel and Moses, who led the Israelites out of Egypt. Thomas Horne, an 18th century theologian, writes what I think is a wonderful introduction to the Book of Psalms. He said: 


Composed upon particular occasions, yet designed for general use; delivered out as services for Israelites under the law, yet no less adapted to the circumstances of Christians under the Gospel, the Psalms present religion to us in the most engaging dress; communicating truths which philosophy could never investigate, in a style which poetry can never equal, while history is made the vehicle of prophecy, and creation lends all its charms to pain the glories of redemption. Calculated alike to profit and to please, they inform the understanding, elevate the affections, and entertain the imagination. Indicted under the influence of Him to whom all hearts are known, and all events foreknown, they suit mankind in all situations, grateful as the manna which descended from above, and conformed itself to every palate. The fairest productions of human wit, after a few perusal, like gathered flowers, wither in our hands, and lose their fragrance; but these unfolding plants of paradise become, as we are accustomed to them, still more and more beautiful; their bloom appears to be daily heightened; fresh odors are emitted, and new sweets extracted from them. He who hath once tasted their excellencies will desire to taste them yet again; and he who tastes them often east will relish them best.


He is quite right you know. To use a sports metaphor, you don’t start conditioning after the season begins; you condition yourself before the start of the season, so that you are ready when the physical demands of the season begin. In the same way, we should not merely use the Psalms as bandaids to our weary souls when we are caught off guard by the trials and demands of life. Rather, to paraphrase Augustine (500 A.D.):


Form thy sprit by the affection of the Psalm…If the Psalm breathes the spirit of prayer, pray; if it is filled with groanings, groan also thyself: if it is gladsome, thou rejoice also; if it encourages hope, then hope thou in God; if it calls to godly fear, then tremble thou before the divine majesty; for all things herein contained are mirrors to reflect our own real characters…let the heart do what the words signify.


Augustine’s point was to not wait to use the Psalter only when our souls need encouragement; but to rather draw encouragement daily from the Psalms.