I love the Psalms. There’s something about them that connects my soul to God. The poetry expresses thoughts and feelings far better than I can. For this reason, the French Reformer John Calvin would say about the Psalms, they are “an anatomy of the soul, for there is not an emotion of which anyone can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror. Or rather, the Holy Spirit has here drawn to the life all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated.”
The Psalms, however, are not some random collection of poems. There is a definite order to them. While the Church Father Augustine would say ““The arrangement of the Psalms seems to contain a great mystery but it has not been revealed to me,” the book is well ordered. The first two psalms introduce the themes of God’s instruction and God’s anointed king and are linked together with common words (blessing, the way, meditation/rage). The Five Books of the Psalms parallel the 5 books of the Law – Genesis through Deuteronomy. In these five books of the Psalms, there is a movement from lament to praise and a development of God’s promise to David: the promised kingdom; the security of the kingdom; the exile and loss of the kingdom; the renewal of the kingdom; the praise of the Promised Anointed King. When read in light of God’s promise to David (2 Sam. 7:12-14), the Psalms suddenly take on an additional layer of meaning. Not only does each individual psalm have great meaning, but strung together they tell the story of God’s eternal promises being kept and fulfilled.
For me, this understanding of the Psalms has changed the beauty of their meaning. Psalm 90, the only song of Moses, begins with the promise that God has always been our refuge and dwelling place. And this is good news after the lament of Psalm 89 that it looks like God has forgotten his promise to David when the temple lies in ruins and David’s crown is in the dust (his family has been exiled). The songs of praise (or the Psalms of Ascent – Pss. 120-134) come at the end, reminding me that God’s promise to restore the worship of his people at Zion will come to pass when the king is established on his throne (Ps. 118).
As I have spent time in the Psalms, I have found that they not only connect to the deepest emotions of my soul, but they connect me into the grand story of God’s redeeming work. The joys and sorrows I experience, the praises and laments, the cries of anguish and longing are to find their satisfaction in the King who rules over all. I can pour out my heart to him because his steadfast love of covenant keeping lasts forever to his people. I can trust that the Psalms are my little temple that bring me into the presence of God even when there is no temple building. The Psalms “might well be called a little Bible. In it is comprehended most beautifully and briefly everything that is in the entire Bible…. In fact, I have a notion that the Holy Spirit wanted to take the trouble himself to compile a short Bible and book of examples of all Christendom or all saints, so that anyone who could not read the whole Bible would here have anyway almost an entire summary of it, comprised in one little book.”
Pick up the Psalms this summer! Read them! And join me for my “One Minute in the Bible Story” videos on Facebook where you can explore the Psalms each day with me!
Lord, thank you that in your Word we have all of the ranges of human emotions and experiences in the Psalms. Help my heart to be moved to love you more as I read these Psalms, seeing how you are working out your purposes and plans for my joy and Christ’s glory. Amen.
 John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, Volume First, trans. James Anderson, Calvin’s Commentaries (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1979), xxxvi–xxxvii.
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, 69 vols., ed. Jaroslav Pelikan, Helmut T. Lehmann, and Christopher Boyd Brown
(Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1955) 35: 254.