Old Testament Survey - Lesson 36


Psalms reflects the rich tapestry of human emotions and experiences, from grief to joy. Structured into five divisions, the Psalms offer diverse subject groupings and musical styles, attributed to various authors like David and Solomon. While the production process remains somewhat mysterious, Psalm titles provide historical and liturgical insights. Interpreting the Psalms involves reading them in the context of the Torah, recognizing their literary devices, understanding their historical context, and applying their timeless principles to modern life.

Daniel Block
Old Testament Survey
Lesson 36
Watching Now

I. Overview of the Book of Psalms

A. Nature and Purpose of the Psalter

B. Structure of the Book

C. Subject Groupings and Themes

II. Production and Collection of Psalms

A. Shrouded Process of Collection

B. Significance of Titles

III. Interpretation Principles

A. Reading in Light of Torah

B. Oral Reading and Passion

C. Historical Context and Universality

D. Caution with Psalm Titles

E. Literary Analysis Techniques

F. Selective and Thematic Study Approaches

IV. Practical Application of Interpretation

A. Applying Theological Principles

B. Understanding Permanent Lessons

  • Learning about the First Testament's language, geographical, and cultural contexts, and how these factors contribute to its frequent misinterpretation and underappreciation in modern times.
  • Gain insights into the literary and cosmic foundations of grace and glory in the Torah, understanding its role as more than law.
  • Learn that to be made in God's image entails embodying divine qualities and functioning as His representative on Earth, which extends a universal dignity upon all humans and shapes a theological ethic that influences how you treat others.
  • Genesis 1-3 frames human response to divine creation, emphasizing human dignity, work's moral role, free will's consequences, and the persistent grace amid sin.
  • This lesson reviews the Israelite covenant, understanding its stages, implications, and its role in God's redemptive plan.
  • Gain insights into Abraham's covenant with God, exploring his faith and God's promises.
  • Learn how the Exodus from Egypt marked Israel's transformation from a family to a nation under Yahweh.
  • Understand how the covenant at Sinai transforms Israel from slaves into a treasured nation destined for a divine mission, fulfilling God's ancient promises.
  • This lesson covers the covenantal expectations at Sinai. The covenantal agreement provided a constitutional and ethical framework for societal living, focusing on community rights and responsibilities.
  • In this lesson, you gain insight into how the tabernacle was both a physical manifestation of God's presence and a profound symbol of His grace, emphasizing the holiness and detailed guidance He provided to the Israelites for worship and daily life.
  • Gain insights into Deuteronomy, recognizing its focus on teaching rather than legislation, and understanding Moses' role as an instructor of Yahweh's will.
  • In this lesson, you explore how to interpret the First Testament's historiographic writings, emphasizing the divine inspiration and literary artistry that guide the selective storytelling and theological themes.
  • Learn how the books of Joshua and Judges illustrate the fulfillment and failure of Israel's covenant with Yahweh, highlighting divine promise, cultural assimilation, and the cyclical nature of faith and apostasy.
  • The Book of Ruth, highlights divine providence, social justice, and personal righteousness while exploring the role of Boaz as a pivotal figure in maintaining the lineage of King David.
  • Samuel had a significant yet complex role in Israel's history; judge, priest, prophet, and crucial figure in establishing monarchy.
  • Learn of David's central role in the Bible, understanding his unique portrayal and the extensive attention he receives compared to other figures.
  • Learn about the Davidic covenant's role in shaping biblical history and theology, emphasizing its eternal impact on Israel and beyond.
  • The books of Kings and Chronicles use historical events to underline theological themes, highlighting the role of scribes in documenting Israel’s history.
  • In this lesson on 1 and 2 Kings, review the downfall of Israel through kings' forgetfulness of God's covenants.
  • Learn about Solomon's temple's historical and theological significance, its divine design and purpose, and its role in Israelite worship and communal life.
  • Gain insights into the transformation and resilience of the Judean people during their exile in Babylon from 586-539 BC, exploring their struggles and adaptations in a new socio-political and religious context.
  • Learn about Daniel's exemplary life in Babylon, his integrity, and his prophetic visions, which highlight divine sovereignty and the vindication of the faithful amidst calamities.
  • Review the Persian period's impact on the Jewish diaspora, analyze the Book of Esther's literary and theological significance, and reflect on divine providence and cultural identity.
  • Explore the crucial roles of Ezra and Nehemiah in reconstructing the Jewish community and faith post-exile, understanding their historical significance, source materials, and theological insights.
  • Gain insight into the roles and significance of prophets in ancient Israel, learning about their historical context, and their critical function in guiding and correcting the nation through direct communication from Yahweh.
  • Learn about the lives and ministries of prophets Amos and Hosea, their calls for justice and return to divine covenant amidst Israel's political and spiritual turmoil, through prophetic books that blend personal biography with national prophecy.
  • This lesson reviews Jonah's struggle with divine grace and Micah's advocacy for justice and the messianic hope.
  • In this lesson, you learn how Isaiah's vision portrays the Messiah as king, servant, and conqueror, emphasizing his divine roles and global mission.
  • Learn of the political and social contexts of Jeremiah and Ezekiel's exile, including Babylon's rise, Jerusalem's fall, and the crisis of faith portrayed in Lamentations, emphasizing hope amid despair through God's faithfulness.
  • Learn about Jeremiah's life and prophetic ministry, navigating challenges with kings, themes in the Book of Jeremiah, and profound passages on true religion and a future covenant, offering lessons on prophetic burdens, God's faithfulness, and spiritual transformation.
  • Explore Ezekiel's life as a priest in exile, his bizarre actions, and profound messages revealing Yahweh's passion and eternal promises of judgment and restoration.
  • Learn about Nahum and Joel's prophecies on judgment, hope, and Yahweh's character. Explore the day of the Lord and the expansion of the covenant community.
  • Explore Obadiah, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah's prophecies. Discover themes of judgment, faith, and restoration in God's plan.
  • Gain insight into Haggai's role in motivating temple rebuilding during the Persian rule. His brief yet impactful ministry fosters hope and action amid community disillusionment, recoginizing God's presence and reign.
  • Gain deep insight into Hebrew poetry: its forms, parallelism, acrostics, and emotional depth. Explore its celebration and lamentation of Yahweh's glory.
  • Gain insight into Psalms which reflect diverse emotions and experiences. Structured into five divisions, attributed to various authors, their interpretation involves understanding Torah context, literary devices, and applying timeless principles to life.
  • Explore biblical wisdom's depth: from practical skill to moral insight, rooted in the fear of Yahweh. It contrasts with secular knowledge, emphasizing God's order and universal application.
  • Engage with Proverbs to unravel its diverse wisdom, from aphorisms to discourses. Understand its practical guidance for righteous living and leadership.
  • Discover the Song of Songs, a rich exploration of love's nature. From its allegorical interpretations to its celebration of covenantal love, it examines human relationships with wisdom and depth.
  • The book of Job offers insights into faith and suffering, exploring theological themes and character dynamics. It emphasizes trust in God amid life's most difficult trials.
  • Uncover Ecclesiastes' profound journey from despair to hope. Koheleth's existential ponderings contrast with the narrator's faith, urging a shift from worldly pursuits to finding fulfillment in God's sovereignty.

This Old Testament Survey course offers a deep exploration of the Old Testament's literary structure, divine covenants, and historical context. Lessons cover the Pentateuch, emphasizing its narrative over legalistic interpretations, and extend through key biblical figures like Abraham and Moses. Topics such as the covenant at Sinai, the concept of imago Dei, and the tabernacle rituals highlight the continuity of God's grace and the ethical implications of divine laws. The course critically addresses common misconceptions, the role of the Torah as instruction, and the portrayal of God’s plan, underscoring the relevance and complexity of these ancient texts.

Dr. Daniel Block 
Old Testament Survey
Lesson Transcript


The Book of Psalms, Celebrating and Responding to the Glory and the Grace of the Lord. There's no doubt that Christians are more familiar with the Book of Psalms than with any other part of Scripture. This is where we go quickly, in hours of celebration and in hours of grief and pain.

What is more precious than Psalm 23, Yea, though I walk through the valley of deepest darkness, I fear no evil, for the Lord is with me. What a glorious eternal truth. So my intent here is not to walk through any of the Psalms, but to give us an understanding of what we are reading when we read the Psalms.

So, let's begin by just a comment on the nature of the Psalter. The Hebrew name for the Book of Psalms, Tehillim Praises, is derived from one type of psalm, expressions of thanksgiving to God. But unlike much of contemporary worship, which is concerned primarily to get people to praise God, the Psalter is much more realistic and contains songs and poems reflecting every conceivable human emotion.

In fact, some scholars have recognized that for every psalm of praise, there are two of lament in this book. So what we encounter are psalms that we will go to in times of grief and delight, anxiety and hope, doubt and trust, anger and joy. For this reason, most believers find this to be the most precious book of the First Testament, if not actually the entire Bible.

We can identify with the psalmist when he is on top of the mountain, but we also relate when he walks through the darkest valley. The psalter consists of a series of independent compositions, which as a collection functioned as Israel's prayer and hymn book. Accordingly, the units in the book should not be referred to as chapters.

The Book of Psalms has no chapters. It has psalms. Although critical scholars tend to view the psalms as the compositions of professional composers written for liturgical use, there's no reason to doubt that many of these psalms were written by lay persons like David as responses to their experiences, positive and negative, in real life with God.

The psalter has a particular structure. The Book of Psalms is formally divided into five divisions, which may have originally been separate collections or booklets of psalms. Book 1 takes us from Psalm 1 to 41, Book 2 42 to 72, Book 3 73 to 89, Book 4 90 to 106, and Book 5 107 to 150.

Each booklet concludes with a doxology. This is the conclusion marker that we find in each. Jewish tradition says that the five-fold structure mirrors the Pentateuch.

Apart from these formal divisions, some subject groupings are evident in the psalter. For instance, from 93 to 99, we have a series of poems celebrating the kingship of the Lord. The Lord is king.

The exception in this group is 94. In 113 to 118, we have the Hallel psalms used on Passover night. In 120 to 134, we have songs of ascent.

Pilgrims would sing these songs as they climbed the hill to climb Mount Zion for worship. In 108 to 110, we have Davidic psalms. In 138 to 145, more Davidic psalms as psalms connected with David.

But Davidic psalms are actually more common in Books 1, that is, Psalms 3 to 41, and 2, 51 to 70, with the exceptions of 66 and 67 in that second grouping. Musical guilds responsible for smaller collections occur in the Book, especially Book 2. Asaph, 73 to 83, and compare 1 Chronicles 15, 17 to 19. Korah, 42 to 49, except for 43, and 82 to 88.

Book 1, 1 to 41, actually 2 to 41, as we'll see, Psalms 1 and 2 represent the introductions to the Book. Book 1 is known as the Yahwistic Psalter, since the name Yahweh, the personal name of God, occurs 272 times in this section compared with Elohim, God, which occurs only 15 times. Book 2 is known as the Elohistic Psalter.

Here, the title Elohim, God, occurs 164 times, whereas Yahweh's personal name, God's personal name, Yahweh, occurs only 30 times. This preference for one or the other of the divine names occurs also in parallel texts. Compare 14 to and 53 to, or 40, 13, and 70, 15, where you have duplicated material, but one will prefer the name Yahweh, where the other one has the title Elohim, the title of God.

What can we say about how the Book of Psalms was produced? The process whereby the Psalms were collected is shrouded in mystery. These five books may represent five stages of growth successively. That is, the present book is actually the combination of five original, separate books.

Even so, many view Psalms 1 and 2 as a prologue put there to introduce the entire Psalter so that Book 1 actually begins with Psalm 3 and goes to 41 rather than Psalm 1. And they also view Psalms 145 to 50 as a collective doxological grand finale to the whole thing. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. The evidence of the Greek Septuagint, which has 151 Psalms.

The records from Qumran, the Dead Sea Scrolls, there we've got Psalms of Solomon and other Psalms in addition to what we have in the Psalter. And fragments of Psalms in other early manuscripts indicate that the shape of the Psalter was still somewhat fluid, even in the final centuries before the New Testament era. What can we say about the Psalm titles? 116 Psalms have titles.

Now, in the Hebrew Bible, they are included as part of the text. Hence, we often have different verse numbers in Hebrew than we have in English or in Hebrew than we have in the Greek Septuagint. The Septuagint produced the Septuagint Psalter, produced probably between 100 and 200 BC, preserves the titles but has lifted them out of the actual text.

They're not part of the Psalm itself. But what is the significance of these titles? To this question, we can offer several answers. First, they add purportedly historical information regarding the origin of the Psalms.

This is true especially of the Davidic Psalms. Sometimes we have a reference, when David was running from Saul. The title suggests that some interpreter linked this Psalm to that event.

They were probably not original but put in there later. Second, they offer musical information. We have this in 4, 5, 54, 55, 61, and others, though the significance of this information is not well understood.

For instance, in Psalm 6, to the choir master with stringed instruments according to the Shemenith. Well, here we've got three expressions. To the choir master, well, that's probably an allusion to the leader's role as a musician.

With stringed instrument suggests the type of accompaniment. But according to Shemenith, what is this? Well, it points either to the eighth musical pattern or an eight-stringed instrument. We are not sure.

In Psalms 8, 81, and 84, we have according to the Gittith. Psalm 46, according to Alamoth. Psalm 16, 56 to 60, Mictam, a Mictam.

Presumably that means to be recited or read or sung with skill or with artistry. We're not sure. Psalm 7 has Shigayon.

I have no idea what that word means, and not many are sure. But these psalms suggest, thirdly, the type of composition and or offer liturgical information. Here we have several different expressions that we feel a little more confident about.

First, the noun mizmor, psalm, is found in the headings of 57 psalms, suggesting they were to be sung to musical accompaniment. The English word psalms is a transliteration of Greek psalmus, which derives from psalo, to pluck a stringed instrument, and that's the word Greeks used for this word, psalm. Second, we have maskil, cult song, liturgical song.

It appears in the psalms, 32, 42, 44, 45, 52 to 55, and then a series of additional psalms. If the word actually derives from sakal, to comprehend, the word may suggest a didactic, a teaching psalm. But based on the kinds of psalms where this expression occurs, it may also signal a penitential song.

We are not quite sure. The word shir, the Hebrew word for song, occurs in 30 titles, often with mizmor. Sing this song, or a song that is a psalm.

We have that expression 30 times. Tehillah, from which we get tehillim, the Hebrew word for the book. This means a song of praise.

It occurs in 145. Tefillah, tehillah is praise, but tefillah is prayer, a prayer. It appears in 1786, 90, 102, and 142.

L'chazkir, from a root meaning to remember. This appears to be a song as a memorial, a reminder of some event. It appears in 38.

L'toda, this is for thanksgiving. In Hebrew, even to this day, if you are expressing thanks, you say toda, and if you say I'm very thankful, todaraba, big thanks. Well, this one appears in 100, thank you to God. 

The headings of psalms 122 to 134 categorize these as songs of ascent. I've already commented briefly on that, but that probably means that these songs were sung by pilgrims as they climbed the hill to Zion for festival celebrations. Now we must recognize that technically, the Hebrew word for worship means to prostrate oneself before a superior in submission and homage. 

So technically, praise is not worship. This praise, these songs of ascent, were sung in anticipation of worship. We have been invited to the presence of God, and that makes this a happy moment.

But once they get into the presence of God, they fall down on their faces before the Lord in submission and homage. We have this pattern clearly described for us in Psalm 95. There's a fourth note about these psalm titles that we should mention here, and that is many of them identify a psalm with a person or a group.

We have to David, a psalm for David, to David, by David, we're not sure, 73 times, to Solomon twice, 72 and 127, which means that one half of the 150 have something to do with the king. Usually it's David, but several have Solomon. There's one that is of Moses, Psalm 90. 

This may be the oldest written text in Scripture, if it's actually by Moses. Then there are 12 to Asaph, one to Heman, 88, and one, 89, is to Ethan. Then we have 11 to the sons of Korah and 50 to the choir master.

We often tend to think that these titles must probably refer to the author of the psalm, but is that the case? A couple of things to consider here. One, the preposition in Hebrew, it's the Lamed, El, belonging to. This is prefixed to the name, so it's Le-Dawid, Le-Shalom, to David, to Solomon, to Asaph.

Now it can mean for, by, about, for the use of, in honor of, with respect to. It does not need to mean authorship. In fact, in the Psalms, to the sons of Korah certainly cannot mean authorship.

This was not a group project, this particular psalm. If we try to write poetry as a group, it lands up often, regularly we should say, like it looks like a camel when we've been trying to draw a horse, two different figures. Well, this is obviously true also of Psalm 92, which has for the Sabbath day.

Well, the Sabbath day didn't write the psalm, or 102, for the afflicted, or for the house belonging to David, Psalm 30, or for the choir master. Well, this agrees, this fluid use of this preposition agrees with extra-biblical practice. In the Ugaritic texts from 12th, 13th centuries BC, the titles Le-Baal to Baal and Le-Keret to Keret occur at the tops of mythological and legendary texts in which these are not the authors but the principal characters.

Conclusion. Expressions like Le-Dawid, 73 of these, for David, by David, about David, we could interpret them in many different ways. By David, dedicated to David, about David, in David's honor, for the use of Davidic kings.

So we have to be open about what is intended here. But there's a second consideration. There is the matter of David's reputation.

Just as Solomon came to be associated with wisdom in the first testament, hence his connection with Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, so the name of David has been identified with psalm composition. This reputation has its roots in the historiographic and prophetic texts. David is referred to as the sweet psalmist of Israel, or is this the favorite of the songs of Israel, in 2 Samuel 23.1. Saul hired David to give him what we call these days musical therapy, to play his lyre in the court, 1 Kings 16.23 and 18.10. David is also referred to as the inventor of musical instruments by Amos in Amos 6.5, and is said to have appointed the musicians for the temple service, 1 Chronicles 15.16-24. And then finally, to have given instructions for worship.

We have a note on this in Ezra 3.10 and Nehemiah 12.24. So there's no reason to doubt that David is connected with many of the songs, and that David wrote many of the psalms. What we need to be aware of, though, is when it says for David or by David, it could be by David. Many of them probably were, but not necessarily so.

Some of the poetry in the historiographic writings is explicitly ascribed to David. For instance, in 2 Samuel 1.19-27, we have David's lament over the death of Saul and Jonathan. There's no doubt in my mind who authored that piece.

Or we have hymns of thanksgiving, 2 Samuel 22, 1 Chronicles 16.8-36, attributed to David, which also find their way into the Psalter with some slight variations. And then finally, we have David's Last Testament, 2 Samuel 23, 3-7, which is written in poetry. It is beautiful poetry.

Conclusion. David seems to have been a musician and a poet of exceptional skill, in my mind. No doubt this has something to do with the Lord's having David in mind from the beginning when Moses said, if you want to set a king over yourselves, you may set one over yourselves, surely, but he must be the one that the Lord chooses.

It is providential that the Lord chose the first really bona fide king, and this first king was gifted, specially gifted, because of the role of kings in the ancient world in shaping the religious culture. David certainly had a big role in that. David seems to have been a musician and a poet of exceptional skill.

Some of his poems have undoubtedly found their way into the Psalter, though it's doubtful that all the two David, four David Psalms were actually authored by him. When we are talking about the Psalms, we need also to talk about how we read the Psalms. How should we interpret these? Well, before we read the Psalms, the first principle is read the Torah.

That is, Moses' farewell addresses and the poems in Deuteronomy. It may shock people to hear me say this, but Christians have no business claiming the Psalms as their scripture if they will not claim and read the Torah first. In fact, whenever we encounter the word Torah, usually misleadingly translated as law, in the book of Psalms, the primary reference is to Deuteronomy, not the Pentateuch.

Those responsible for the Psalter were not producing a document, even if it's in five books, that echoes the Torah. They were not trying to replace, subvert, undermine the life-producing Torah. They were giving us illustrations and instructions on how to read and apply the Torah. 

So principle number one, before you read the book of Psalms, read the book of Deuteronomy. Read Moses' instructions for his people on the gospel according to Moses in Deuteronomy and on how one expresses our acceptance of that gospel in covenant righteousness and love for God and love for our fellow human beings, principle number one. Principle number two, read the Psalms aloud.

They were written to be heard through oral reading. Third, read the Psalms with passion. As in Psalm 137, weep when the psalmist weeps.

Celebrate when the psalmist celebrates. Notice the literary devices the psalmist uses to communicate his passion, exaggeration, repetition, emphasis. Fourth, try to determine the historical context of the Psalm.

This is tough, and one of the issues about the Psalter is that even if they were composed as a result of somebody's private experiences, they have been shaped in such a way that they have universal application, and shall we say, global application. No matter where in the world we live or at what time in history we live, these speak to us. One of the reasons for that is because the original context in which that Psalm was written often is completely obscured.

That's why we have trouble figuring out when this Psalm was written, because the present shape is not written for truck drivers or farmers or office workers. It is written for everyone. We need to use the Psalm titles with caution.

This is just a corollary of what we've said earlier. Some of them speak, undoubtedly speak to authorship, but these represent traditional interpretations. Sometimes that interpretation may be too specific.

Fifth, examine the patterns of parallelism in the Psalm. How does the psalmist put his verses together? In the previous session, we discussed these parallelism in considerable detail, but when you're reading, celebrate the parallelism. The heavens declare the glory of God, and the earth shows forth his handiwork.

This is not just a way of saying the same thing twice, but it's a way of evoking, developing emotion, passion for this celebration. Five, study the figures of speech used in the Psalm. Recognize similes, metaphors, personifications.

In fact, recognize the word pictures that the psalmist is drawing. It came as a surprise to me early in my teaching career when I was teaching on the Psalms to undergraduates. It dawned on me.

I had just read a whole bunch of them out loud for myself, and I came to Psalm 23, and it dawned on me that Psalm 23 is really a literary cartoon. You can't take this Psalm literally. It makes no sense.

Oh yes, it starts out all right. He leads me beside quiet waters, and you've got to, when I mentioned this to the class the next day, one of my students came to me with a whole package of cartoons from Psalm 23. Here's one of them.

He leads me beside quiet waters. This image is quite realistic, but it doesn't take very long until we discover that the psalmist is actually not talking about a literal shepherd. We'll see that in a moment.

So the first scene is okay. Even though I walk through the valley of deepest darkness, well that still can be quite realistic, because a shepherd has to guide sheep through dark valleys and dangerous valleys. That's okay.

But then when you come to the third scene, he prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies. Really? Do sheep come to the table? I grew up on the farm, and on our farm we always had a few sheep for their mutton and for their wool, and sometimes we would take a little sheep into the house. If, for instance, you had three sheep and three lambs, and she didn't have enough milk for all of them, we would feed one with a bottle for a few days.

But they didn't sit at our table, trust me. In fact, they didn't stay in the house very long because they're dirty and they smell. Here, he prepares a table before me, and I imagine here the shepherd sitting at the table with the sheep at the table in the presence of my enemies.

Those are the wolves back there. Oh, really? He anoints my head with oil. Now I know some interpreters interpret this to mean simply ointment for sores that the sheep has on the head, but I don't think that's what it is.

Anointing is installation, celebration for a special position, status. He anoints my head with oil. That's obviously a cartoon.

And my cup overflows, and I imagine the sheep trying to hold a cup with its split hooves. It's a bit difficult, but it's overflowing, but it's an expression, of course, of God's lavish goodness that he pours out on us. And then the last one, this one really is the clincher.

I will dwell in the house of my Lord forever. Psalm 23 is a written by a sheep about his shepherd. And here, the shepherd has invited the sheep into his house forever.

And of course, by now we know this is not really about sheep and pastors. In the Bible, the word shepherd is often used of God, not only in the scriptures but outside of scriptures as well. Shamash is my shepherd, we find in a Babylonian text.

The sun is my shepherd. But shepherd is also a common word for king, and when we discover that, then this whole psalm makes sense. This is not so much a pastoral psalm as a royal psalm.

The Lord is my king. That's why all my needs are met. That's why I am safe in dark valleys.

That's why I can eat at his table, and that's why the king invites me to live in his house forever. When we read the Psalter, we need to have fun with what the psalmist is doing with words. One more principle

Rather than studying all the psalms in order, take them in small pieces. Either study them by books. Book one is your study for this quarter at home in your devotions, maybe for three months, and then book two and book three later.

Or do one of these a year, one book a year for five years, and then go to other books the rest of the time. Secondly, you may want to study them according to their titles. Work through the psalms associated with David, or the Psalms of Ascent, or the Psalms of Asaph.

Three, work through them according to their content. There are creation hymns, pilgrimage hymns, imprecatory psalms, hallelujah psalms, messianic or royal psalms, wisdom psalms, and Torah psalms. Classify them and focus on a group at a time before you, rather than going through them serially from one to 150.

This last category, Torah psalms, reflects the wisdom perspective of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, especially in their contrast to the ungodly and the godly. Psalm 1, for example, the first word in the Psalter, for instance, Ashrei, is often translated blessed, or in modern translation, happy is the one. I think the word actually means, what a privilege is the person, how privileged is the person who doesn't walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers, but his delight is in the Torah of the Lord.

That's the privilege, and in his Torah, and this is not talking about the Psalter, it's talking about Moses' speeches in Deuteronomy, and in the Torah, in the Lord's Torah, he meditates day and night. He's like a tree planted firmly by streams of water, which yield its fruits in its season, its leaf doesn't wither, and in whatever he does, he prospers. That's not the case with the wicked.

They're like chaff that the wind blows away, therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous, for Yahweh knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked perish. That's a privilege. To be known by God is a privilege.

Number four, study the Psalms according to form and type. Many of the Psalms of the same type tend to follow stereotypical structures. We have hymns like 105, which consist of a call to praise, reason for praise, a description of God's action or his attributes, and then a concluding call for praise and obedience.

Or we can read the laments. If you're in the valley, read the laments and cry with the psalmist in the presence of God. Psalm 44, for instance, there's an address to God and a preliminary cry for help, I cry to you, I need you, O God.

And then there's a complaint describing the person's suffering, verses 4 to 11. The opening cry is 1 to 3, a complaint describing the suffering, 4 to 11. Then a confession of trust based on God's past deeds, 12 to 17.

Then an appeal to God's reputation, O Lord, what will the people say if you don't help me? Then a petition for rescue in verses 19 to 23, and ultimately a vow of praise. It's a brilliant psalm that begins as a psalm of lament, but it ends with praise. And for learning how to study the psalms, number five, skim through the psalm and identify the permanent theological principles taught or implied by the psalm, and that we need to apply to our contemporary scene.

Apply these lessons to our own lives. This is why Psalm 23 is such a blessing, because here we have a sheep writing poetry about his shepherd. I mean, consider that in our present context.

How often does that happen? People complain about their pastors, which is the Latin word for shepherd. People complain about their pastors more often than they write poetry about them. But here is a sheep writing poetry about his shepherd who provides them with all they need, who walks with them in times of deep distress, who invites them to eat at his table, and who sends his hounds of goodness and mercy after them, and then who invites them into his house for all eternity.

Apply these to our own lives. What a privilege it is to have the Lord as our shepherd.