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Psalms: A Fresh Look at a Favorite Book

July 28, 2023

-Dr. J. Vernon McGee, from the Psalms Bible Companion

Can we tell God that we love Him? Yes!

Can we thank Him for the sunrise? Yes!

Can we confide in Him our deepest fears? Yes!

Can we ask that His good would triumph over evil? Yes!

How do you know we can do all these things? Because God shows us how in the book of Psalms. 

-Dr. J. Vernon McGee

The book of Psalms is one of Dr. McGee’s favorite studies—and you’ll soon see why.

The key word in the book of Psalms is “hallelujah”—that is, “praise the Lord.” This phrase has become a Christian cliché, but it is one that should cause a swelling of great emotion in the soul. The Psalms model what it means for us to connect with God—in praise, thanksgiving, and sorrow.

The Psalms record deep devotion, intense feeling, exalted emotion, and dark dejection. They play upon the keyboard of the human soul with all the stops pulled out. Very candidly, I feel overwhelmed when I come to this marvelous book. It is located in the center of God’s Word. Psalm 119 is in the very center of the Word of God, and it exalts His Word.

This book has blessed the hearts of multitudes down through the ages.

Ambrose, one of the great saints of the church: “The Psalms are the voices of the church.”

Augustine: “They are the epitome of the whole Scripture.”

Martin Luther: “They are a little book for all saints.”

John Calvin: “They are the anatomy of all parts of the soul.”

I like that. When I have been sick at home, or in the hospital, or when some problem is pressing upon my mind and heart, I find myself always turning to the Psalms. They always bless my heart and life.

Someone has said that there are 126 psychological (human) experiences—I don't know how they arrived at that number—but I do know that all of them are recorded in the Psalms. It is the only book that contains every experience of a human being. Every thought, every impulse, every emotion that sweeps over the soul is recorded here. Perhaps that’s why it always speaks to our hearts and finds a responsive chord wherever we turn. They express the deep feelings of all believing hearts in all generations.

The Psalms are also full of references to Jesus Christ. Did you know that? We get a more complete picture of Him in the Psalms than in the Gospels. The Gospels tell us that He went to the mountain to pray, but the Psalms give us His prayer. The Gospels tell us that He was crucified, but the Psalms tell us what went on in His own heart during the crucifixion. The Gospels tell us He went back to heaven, but the Psalms begin where the Gospels leave off and show us Christ seated in heaven.

Christ the Messiah is prominent throughout this book. You will remember that the Lord Jesus, when He appeared after His resurrection to those who were His own, said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me” (Luke 24:44). Christ is the subject of the Psalms. He is the object of praise in every one of them. Some are technically called messianic psalms. These record the birth, life, death, resurrection, glory, priesthood, kingship, and return of Christ. There are 16 messianic psalms that speak specifically about Christ, but all 150 of them are about Him. The book of Psalms is a hymnbook and a HIM book—it is all about Him. As we study it, that fact will become very clear.

Contrary to what many think, Psalms is not arranged haphazardly. They weren’t dropped in a tub, shaken up, then put together with no arrangement. Often one psalm will state a principle, then there will follow several psalms that explain it. Psalms 1–8 are an example of this. The sections of the Psalms are also arranged orderly, corresponding to the Pentateuch of Moses. There are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy sections.

Many other things could be said about the Psalms. It’s the inspired book of prayer and praise. It is the soul’s anatomy, the soul’s epitome. It is the garden of Scripture. Of 218 quotations of the Old Testament in the New Testament, 116 are from the Psalms.

God initiates our worship through our life situations, and we respond by acknowledging Him in every situation. In good times, He is all we need. When our soul is laid bare, He is all we need. He is faithful and true in His dealings with us when we worship Him in spirit and in truth—that’s what we’ll learn in our study of this magnificent book.

This excerpt is from our Psalms Bible Companion. Download yours for free.

My Turn

  1. Have the Psalms been an important book for you? How? What Psalms are your favorite?
  2. Spend a few minutes re-familiarizing yourself with how the book of Psalms is arranged. Find the five sections and read a little in each one. Be ready to explore, as Dr. McGee suggests, how the five sections correlate with the first five books of the Bible.
  3. Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible, and you can find it at the very center. Did you know that every verse in this Psalm focuses on God’s Word—yes, each of the 176 verses describe it differently. In verse 1, God’s Word is called “the law of the Lord.” In verse 2, “His testimonies.” In verse 3, “His ways.” As you take your time reading and pondering Psalm 119, highlight or circle all of the descriptors. Don’t rush—read just a few every day and ask the Lord to teach you new things about His Word.
  4. It may be a new thought that Jesus Christ is mentioned in the Psalms. Keep a list in your Bible or on a bookmark of all the many ways you’ll learn about Jesus in the Psalms. It will give you new eyes and a full heart for our Savior.
  5. As a young Jewish boy, Jesus would have memorized the Psalms. Want to commit God’s Word to heart? Start with these in the book of Psalms. First, read the Psalm over several times every day. Then break it into sections. You may want to write them out on cards or in a notebook. Then start committing them to heart. Refresh them often. Perhaps recite them to someone—it will bless you both! (Read Psalm 119:105 right now for an additional benefit.)
  • Psalm 1 (6 verses)
  • Psalm 8 (9 verses)
  • Psalm 23 (6 verses)
  • Psalm 24 (10 verses)
  • Psalm 34 (22 verses)
  • Psalm 40 (17 verses)
  • Psalm 46 (11 verses)
  • Psalm 51 (19 verses)
  • Psalm 63 (11 verses)
  • Psalm 90 (17 verses)
  • Psalm 91 (16 verses)
  • Psalm 100 (5 verses)
  • Psalm 139 (24 verses)