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20. Psalms - Israel in song

My notes for teaching the Old Testament, by Mama Brenda.

Leader’s notes: Lesson 20 - Psalms - Israel in song

In the book of Psalms “we see the life of the believer pictured in all of its experiences of joy and sorrow, victory and failure.” (From 'What the Bible is all about' by Henrietta C. Mears, The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association: Minneapolis, 1966 edition, page 183.)

Teach through Basics page 73.

Psalm 1 the first verse has one thought in line one, and two similar thoughts in line two.

Verses 2, 4, 5 and 6 are one thought per line.

Verse 3 has two ideas in line one and one in line two from the same picture, and the

second idea in line two applies it to the “He” in the first word of the verse.

You may want to play with Psalm 1 in the class:

What are the two ideas in verse 2

Are they the same idea expressed in different ways?

Can we love and be involved in God’s rules all the time?

Verse 6 What is the truth that both these phrases can parallel?

God enjoys those who walk His way, but those who do not follow Him will be


Who wrote the individual psalms?

See who the ladies know. Get them to scan through the book of Psalms and find names.

Teach, checking the references for instrumental and musical notes.

Student's worksheet: Lesson 20 - Psalms – Israel in song


We have now come to Psalms - the second of the Writings in the order of our Bibles, but the first book in the Jewish Writings.

In Hebrew the title of the book means Book of Praise. So it was the Jewish hymnbook of praises to God, and they were usually sung. With translation into Greek in 3rd century B.C. the word Psalms began to be used.

It is a book of poetry. For me that means it has to have rhyme and rhythm. That is because I was taught to think that way in school 1952-1965. Modern English poetry is much freer. Hebrew poetry has a large element of parallelism - the same or similar thought expressed at least twice in different words, in the same sentence, with about the same number of syllables - sometimes!!

Psalm 1 :1 Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked

or stand in the way sinners, or sit in the seat of mockers.

2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord,

and on his law he meditates day and night.

3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season

and whose leaf does not whither. Whatever he does prospers.

4 Not so the wicked!

They are like chaff that the wind blows away.

5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,

nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

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

but the way of the wicked will perish.

Who wrote the individual psalms?

The names in the psalm headings tell us more than 70 psalms were written by David, one by Moses, some by Solomon, some by Asaph, some by the sons of Korah, one by Ethan the Ezrahite, one by Heman the Ezrahite, and more than 30 ‘orphan’ psalms (we do not know who wrote them!). The headings over the psalms appear to have been added later than the date of writing. When the heading says ‘of’ or ‘for’ or ‘to’, does it mean ‘written by’ or ‘is a favourite of’, ‘belonging to’ or ‘offered to’? We don’t know. It would be interesting to be sure, but the content of the psalm is more important than the heading.

Also in the headings are ancient titles which define the kind of psalm but no-one is now very sure what they meant! There are also instrumental and musical notes - see Psalms 5, 6, 22, 57, 89 and 100.

‘Selah’ is also found within 39 psalms - for example see Psalm 46. Again no-one is sure of the meaning. Perhaps the best idea is that it suggests a pause to think.

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Leader's notes: Lesson 20 - Psalms.

Teach the first paragraph opposite (page 74).

Look up the references for paragraph two.

The next highlighted paragraph opposite is important.


Check out the ‘speak of Christ’ references together as a class.

Teach the ‘cursing’ - imprecatory psalms.

Teach after they have found and read the Psalm 55 reference.

The great Christian thinker of the 20th century, C.S.Lewis wrote “The ferocious parts of the Psalms serve as a reminder that there is in the world such a thing as wickedness and that……is hateful to God”. (From Reflections on the Psalms by C.S.Lewis, Inspirational Press reprint: New York, 1994, page 148).

Teach last paragraph.

Student's worksheet: Lesson 20 - Psalms.

How did the collection come to be? The number of popular songs grew as more were written and sung. Some were used a lot, some were lost in the mists of time. King Solomon probably organised the collecting of his father King David’s psalms, as the liturgy at the new Temple developed. Perhaps musicians and choir leaders also helped. There followed a long period of unrest and general lack of interest in God before the exiles to Assyria and Babylon.

Some Jews returned from Babylon and rebuilt the Temple in 516 B.C. Ezra arrived in 458 B.C. and organised the priests and Levites - the scene was set for a revival in organised worship at the Temple and also in the synagogues, which had been started in the Babylonian exile when the Jews had no Temple focus. The synagogues concentrated on the Law, personal devotion and prayer, as they could not observe the sacrifices. The divisions in the Psalms as we have them probably came after this time.

There are several psalms which seem to have been separated or joined up at various times. For example Psalms 42 and 43 were at some time one psalm - see verses 42:5, 11 and 43:5.

But don’t let these details distract from the text of the Psalms - preserved by God for us to learn from and use in our private and public worship.


Do the Psalms speak of Christ?

Yes, they do! Jesus said they did in Luke 24:44.

Check out Psalms 22:1-21 a picture of Jesus’ crucifixion

16:10 His resurrection (quoted in Acts 2:31)

98:9 His coming again to judge, … and there are many more.

There are many references in Psalms used by Jesus and the Early Church to show that Christ’s coming and mission were long anticipated.

Cursing - the imprecatory psalms - where the writer is asking God to pay people back, for example Psalm 55:12-19.

Just think of what Jesus said about Capernaum in Matthew 11:20-24. Jesus is saying that these bad things will happen to Korazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum because their people did not listen to God. Similarly, the psalmist is asking God to remember these people have ignored Him and engaged in evil, which is contrary to God’s nature. We have the advantage over the psalmist because we live after Jesus has said “I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Remember: as the last paragraph has reminded us, we live after the psalmists wrote. We need to add the perspective of redemption in Jesus Christ and of the promise of Jesus coming again to the Hebrew perspective in which the psalms were written.

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Leader's notes: Lesson 20 - Psalms.

I have used the word PSALMS twice as different acrostics to make sure the ladies understand the term acrostic.

Perhaps write each acrostic on to a large card and explain this is a teaching aid in many situations, if teachers can think up correct and useful phrases. Remembering the truth of the phrase is the most important goal for using an acrostic.

For example: Forsaking Standing Learn about

All In Obey

I Need Vow (promise)

Trust Enjoy time with


If you are working in a language other than English, you may have to improvise!

Song of Ascents is interesting to me as a choir singer - I can visualise (and hear?) the Jews singing as they walked up to Jerusalem, or as they walked up steps during a Temple service.

Understanding the phrase makes the scene come to life.

Give five groups one Psalm each from pages 75 and 76, and set a time limit.

Then get each group to share their understanding of the psalm, and present an application or encouragement or something to think about from the psalm.

I am trying to get them to not just gather information for themselves, but begin to think how they can use that information with other people.

Student worksheet: Lesson 20 - Psalms.

Acrostic Psalms Psalms Praise in

Set up to use Songs of experience to

Alphabetical Almighty God who

Letters as a Loves us

Memory More then we can under-

Stimulation Stand

Psalm 119 is the obvious acrostic psalm, but so are Psalms 25, 34, 37, 111-112, 145 and Lamentations, which follows Jeremiah. Psalm 119 has a section for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The acrostic idea does not cross language translation very well. Speakers of those languages may be creative in their own teaching for their students’ memories.

Songs of ascents probably relate to songs to sing going up to Jerusalem for the annual feasts at the Temple, or for certain parts of Temple worship - perhaps both.

Psalms 120-134

Now to put all your knowledge to use……..

You need to work small groups and

come up with an understanding of the psalm you are given

an application of the psalm to life

something to learn, do or think through

and then present it as a group to all the other groups.

Group 1. Psalm 23 compared to 1 Samuel 16:1-13; 17:34-37. And John 10:11-13.

Think about what a shepherd does and what God does.

Group 2. Psalm 51 compared to 2 Samuel 11:1-12:23. Think about sin, confession, restoration.

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Leader's notes: Lesson 20 - Psalms.

In Words of Wisdom, Tyndale House: Wheaton, 1967, Foreword, Dr. Billy Graham recommended reading one chapter of Proverbs and five Psalms every day.

This way you read them all in one month.

Psalm 119 and four others will have to be on a not busy day!!

Sounds a good idea, but can we actually do it? There’s a challenge!

Student's worksheet: Lesson 20 - Psalms.

Group 3. Psalm 86 What attributes of God give David the ability to have confidence in

approaching Him?

Group 4. Psalm 99 compared with Exodus 19:16-25, 1 Samuel 7:5-9, Numbers 12:1-15.

Group 5. Psalm 120 and 121. Compare the psalms - where is the psalmist in his own mind?

What makes the change of thinking?

Notice Psalm 137 - a Babylon experience!

Don’t forget there are psalms outside of the book of Psalms:

see Exodus 15:1-18; Judges 5:2-31; 2 Samuel 22:2-51; Habakkuk 3:2-19.

Next time. One more wisdom book to go…………….

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