What are Psalms?
- The Psalms are the songs of God’s people — singing was a part of life in ancient Israel, and the Book of Psalms was a collection of songs/prayers to God.
- What are Psalms like? The Psalms are personal, expressed mostly using I, we, me, us etc. – not formal songs to a distant god. They are from me to you, God.
- They show us in a living relationship with God. Sometimes we praise God, sometimes we complain about what is happening and ask for reassurance, sometimes we thank God for his blessings on us.
- Above all we talk honestly with God, showing our feelings without reservation.
Psalms were not usually spoken. They were sung with human voices, accompanied by musical instruments like
- percussion and
- stringed instruments (see Ancient musical instruments)
Why have Psalms?
They were for public worship and private prayer,
- in a mighty Temple,
- a crowded synagogue, or
- alone with your own thoughts.
There is no holding back in the Psalms. They are straightforward about their joys and their grief and quite frank about their doubts as well as their faith and hope. And so the ordinary person is able to feel a connection with these ancient prayers.
Women and Psalms
‘From biblical times to the present age, the psalms have nourished and enriched the prayer lives of women in public and in private worship. Jewish and Christian women alike have found their thoughts, their needs, and their life experiences reflected in the text of the psalms. Hannah (the mother of Samuel), Judith (the heroine who saved her city from destruction in the deuterocanonical book of Judith), and Mary (the mother of Jesus) are all said to have used psalmic traditions to respond to highly significant situations in their own lives.’ (Women’s Bible Commentary, Carol A Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe Editors, p.147)
See these Bible texts at
Psalms and Jesus
The Psalms are the prayers that Jesus knew – for example, he was probably praying the Psalms as he waited in the Garden of Gethsemane for the soldiers who would arrest him.
And even more important: the words of two psalms were the last words that the dying Jesus spoke (Psalm 22 and 31):
- ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (22:1)
- ‘They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.’ (22:18)
- ‘Into your hands I commit my spirit.’ (31:5)