How to Study Psalms

1. As you study Psalms, remember that the psalms are poetry whether they are prayers or songs. Hebrew poetry does not contain rhyme and meter. Rather, its distinctive feature is parallelism of some form, where one line relates to another in various ways. Usually the poetic lines are composed of two (or sometimes three) balanced segments in which the second is shorter than the first and repeats, contrasts, or completes the first segment.

The psalms vary in design. Nine are alphabetical, with each stanza beginning with the next letter from the Hebrew alphabet. The alphabetical psalms are 9; 10; 25; 34; 37; 111; 112; 119; and 145.

2. The majority of the psalms have a superscription at the beginning, which designates one or several things: the composer, the occasion of the psalm, who it is for, how it is to be accompanied, and what kind of psalm it is. Is a psalm has a superscription, read it and consult the cross-references (if it is referenced). This will help put the psalms into context.

3. Watch for the theme of the psalm and how it is developed. Sometimes the theme will be stated at the very beginning of the psalm, while at other times the key thematic scheme will be found in the center of the psalm. Each will have a theme and will be developed in accordance with the author's design for the psalm.

1. Some of the psalms give insights into the history of Israel, such as Psalm 78. Study these carefully. Note the evens, God's intervention, and God's watchful care.

2. Is a psalm makes reference to a person or circumstance that is discussed in one of the historical books of the Bible, you might go back to that book and record the psalm that applies to that person or circumstance. For instance, in the margin of 2 Samuel 12, note "Psalm 51" as a cross-reference.

4. Key words bring out the theme of the psalm's song or prayer. Sometimes a key phrase will open and close the psalm. Watch for and mark these phrases. Also mark in a distinctive way the key words: affliction, take refuge, righteous, wicked (evil), sin (iniquity), prayer, praise (extol, glorify), sing, fear, hope, save, cry. Write these words on an index card and use it as a bookmark when you study and meditate on the psalms.

5. Don't miss the central focus of these psalms-God. There is so much to be learned about Him, and then He is to be worshiped and adored. Observe His names, His titles, His attributes, and how man is to respond to Him.

a. Don't forget to look for Jesus, who is God, one with the Father, for He said, "All things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled" (Luke 24:44).

b. The psalms are for the heart and soul, but they also address the mind. In the margin record your insights about God (use a ∆ as a heading). As you do this, meditate on what you learn. Spend time in praise and prayer. Let the book of Psalms help you love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, body, soul, and strength.

6. When you finish each psalms, record the theme of that psalm in your Bible next to the number of the psalm and on the Structure of Psalms.

7. Psalms has five segments, which are marked on the Structure of Psalms.

a. Give each segment a title or records its theme.

b. Read Psalms 41:13; 72:18-19; 89:52; 106:48; and 150:6. Notice what is said and how each segment concludes.

c. Complete Structure of Psalms.

Key Words in the NIV and KJV

Key doctrines in Psalms

  1. The sinfulness of man (1:4; 5:4; 32:1–4; 36:1; 51:2; 66:18; 78:17; 106:43; Gen. 6:5; Lev. 15:14; Deut. 31:18; Job 4:17–19; Ps. 130:3; Jer. 17:9; John 1:10, 11; Rom. 5:15–17; 1 John 1:8)

  2. The law of God (1:1, 2; 78:1; 119:97; Exod. 20:1–21; Deut. 5:6–21; Jer. 11:4; Rom. 7:7–14; James 1:25; 1 John 3:4)


Studies on Psalms