The Psalms - The prayers of God's People


Purpose: To see the Psalms as they truly are - prayers to God from His people. 

Objectives: Using the experience of prayer, discuss and inform the students of the prayers in the Psalms so they can be used to speak to God. Experiment with writing Psalm.


Open the group by reading Psalm 138 as an opening prayer. Ask the group if any of them have ever studied the Psalms before this lesson. Ask what is their favourite Hymn. Why? (Similar to Hymns – Psalms were written to music.)

Reflection on Life

Ask the group to share their experience in reading the Psalms over the years. Why did they go to the Psalms at that time? (Explore the reason they went to the Psalms and the emotions they elicit. Have as many as will share and answer the question.)  

Video Content

The book of Psalms is a collection of inspired Hebrew prayers and Hymns and is probably for the most part the best-known and most loved portion Old Testament. One of the difficulties with interpreting the Psalms is we assume that it’s only God’s word to us, spoken to us. But it’s also a book that contains words spoken to God or about God. These too are God’s word. That is because they are basically prayers and Hymns and by their very nature are addressed to God or express truth about God in Song.

Knowing the Psalms

What should we know about them?

1.      They are spoken to God or about God, and these words also, are God’s Word. 

2.      They are addressed to God, or express truth about God in Song. 

3.      They are poetry:

a)      We need to be aware that Hebrew poetry is addressed to the mind through the heart. They are very emotional, but this is a literary device to express feelings. 

i)        Synonymous Parallelism – The first and the second line are similar and express the same point.

ii)      Antithetical Parallelism – The second line contrasts the first.

iii)    Synthetic parallelism – The second line adds to the first line and provides additional information. 

b)     They are musical poems, and we need to remember that they were meant to be sung rather than to be read.  

c)      Their vocabulary is meant to use metaphors and we must take the intent of the metaphor rather than take it at face value. 

4.      They are Literature: 

a)      The Psalms are of several different types. (Lament, Praise, Thanksgiving, Salvation History, Celebration, Wisdom and Trust.)

b)     Each of the Psalms also has a form particular to the type of Psalm.

c)      Each Psalm has a specific function in the life of Israel.

d)     One must also learn to recognize the various patterns. 

e)      Each one must be read as a literary unit.

1.      There are 7 types of psalms. 

a)      Laments: help a person to express struggles, suffering, or disappointment to the Lord. There are also corporate laments that do the same for a group.

b)     Thanksgiving: Express joy to the Lord because something had gone well, because circumstances were good, or because people had reason to give thanks to God for His faithfulness, protection, and benefits. 

c)      Hymns of Praise: Center on the praise of God for who He is, for His greatness and His care of the whole earth as well as for His own people. 

d)     Salvation History Psalms: Review the history of God’s saving works among the people of Israel.

e)      Celebration and Affirmation: These include covenant renewal liturgies, Royal Psalms, enthronement Psalms and Songs of Zion.

f)       Wisdom.

g)      Songs of Trust: Center their attention on the fact that God may be trusted even in times of despair and goodness.

The Structure of the Psalms

Poetry differs from prose in that it follows an organized pattern of rhythm or rhyme, or shape designed to stimulate an image, emotion, or thought. The basic element of Hebrew poetry is a kind of parallelism, generally consisting of units of couplets, though there are also parallels to be found within lines and between sections. The parallel often amplifies the first statement or unit. 

In the following section have individuals from your group look up the Scripture passages and be ready to read them after you describe each of the four basic elements of Hebrew poetry. There are four basic types:

A.     Synonymous: The second line makes a similar statement to the first but in different words.  Though not always used, the word “and/but/or” is a frequent or implied connector.

"Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord;

       let us make a joyful noise unto the Rock of our Salvation." (Ps. 95: 1)

“Do not fret because of evil men

       or be envious of those who do wrong” (Ps. 37:1).

B.      Contrasted: The second statement affirms the first by stating its opposite. Words like, “but / however / nevertheless / even so / whereas / yet” are often used or implied conjunctions between the two lines.

“For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,

       but the way of the wicked will perish. (Ps. 1: 6)

For the wicked shall be cut off,

       but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land (Ps. 37:9).

C.      Constructive: The statement in the first line is the basis for the statement in the second line (i.e., cause and effect). "Because", "so", and "when" often transition these lines.

“For those who know your name will trust in you,

       for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you" (Ps. 9:10)

But now, Lord, what do I look for?

       My hope is in you. (Ps. 39:7).

D.     Climactic: The second line takes a word or phrase from the first line and completes the thought.

"The Lord is near unto all those who call upon him;

       to all who call upon him in truth." (Ps. 145:18)

“He lies in wait like a lion; he lies in wait to catch the helpless;

       he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net. (Ps. 10:9)

3 basic benefits of the Psalms:

1.      The Psalms can serve as a guide to worship.

2.      They demonstrate how we can honestly relate to God.

3.      They demonstrate the importance of reflection and meditation on things that God has done for us.

Small Group Content

1.      Go back to Psalm 138. This is a Thanksgiving Psalm.  These Psalms concentrate on appreciation for past mercies and thank God for what he has done. Thanksgiving Psalms are outlined in the following way:

a)      Introduction. A summary of how God is helped the writer

b)     Distress. The situation from which God gave deliverance.

c)      Appeal. The writer gives an appeal to God.

d)     Deliverance. The deliverance God provided is described.

e)      Testimony. A word of praise for God’s mercy is given.

2.      As a group read the psalm again and try to identify the outline for a Thanksgiving Psalm.

3.      Psalms of lament: read Psalm 3 together as a group and then go back and try to identify the following 6 elements:

a)      Address. The Psalmist identifies the one to whom the psalmist prayed. This is, of course, the Lord.

b)     Complaint. The writer pours out honestly and forcefully, a complaint identifying what the trouble is and why the Lord’s help is being sought.

c)      Trust. The writer immediately expresses trust in God.

d)     Deliverance. The writer pleads for God to deliver from the situation described in the complaint.

e)      Assurance. The writer expresses assurance that God will deliver.

f)       Praise. The writer offers Praise, Thanksgiving and honouring God for the blessings of the past, present and/or future.

Writing a Psalm

Writing our praise, prayer, complaint, or remembrance in the poetic form of a psalm can be a satisfying way of expressing ourselves to God and can contribute to the worship and encouragement of the Body: “speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs…” (Eph. 5:19). Writing your own psalm may lead to further insight both into the original Psalms and into the subject we write about. (We are using a genre of Scripture, not writing “Scripture,” anymore than we would be if we were writing a letter in the style of the Apostle Paul’s epistles).

As a group, choose a starting point – a present emotion, a metaphor for God, an aspect of God’s creation, a memory of God’s work – then begin to develop your thoughts and emotion using the parallelism described above. Allow yourself to be authentic and to co-create with the Spirit.[1]

[1] By Paul Bramer, Tyndale Seminary, Toronto, 2017 with ideas from Linda Sellevaag, “How to Have a Psalm Writing Bee,His Magazine (IVP, February, 1973)

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