Unveiling the Mysteries: A Beginner’s Guide to Understanding the Psalms

Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want…”


The book of Psalms is a collection of Hebrew prayers and hymns that express a wide range of human emotions and experiences. They can be categorized into seven different groups, including Lamentations, Thanksgiving, Praise, Salvation History, Celebration and Affirmation, Wisdom, and Trust. Through these categories, Psalms provides a way for believers to express themselves to God, contemplate His ways, and find comfort and guidance. By understanding these categories readers can deepen their understanding of God’s love and faithfulness.


Psalms, an Introduction

Most of us have heard of Psalms all our lives. Yet, they remain a mystery.

There are 150 Psalms in the Old Testament. The word “psalms” comes from the Greek word “psalmoi,” which means “songs of praise.” Psalms are a collection of religious poems or hymns found in the book of Psalms in the Bible and are traditionally attributed to King David. They are used in worship and prayer by Jews and Christians worldwide.

But, beyond a jumble of biblical prose, what do they mean? Is there some order?

Here’s a reference for you. Look up a Psalm based on your feelings—sad, thankful, trusting, etc. it’s all here.


An Index to the Psalms

The Book of Psalms is a collection of Hebrew prayers and hymns in poetic form that is often lost in translation but allows us to express ourselves to God and contemplate His ways. Like all poetry, the words and images are suggestive and symbolic, not literal.

It is possible to group the Psalms into seven different categories. The following categories indicate the associated Psalms and an example of one of the most famous segments for your review.

  • Lamentations—the largest group consists of individual (e.g., 3, 22, 31, 39, 42, 57, 71, 88, 120, 139, 142) and corporate (e.g., 12, 44, 80, 94, 137) laments that express struggles, suffering, and even disappointment with God.
    • Psalm 22:
      • “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
        Why are you so far from saving me,
        so far from my cries of anguish?
        My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
        by night, but I find no rest.”
  • Thanksgiving–these express joy to the Lord. There are six community psalms of thanksgiving (65, 67, 75, 107, 124, 136) and ten individual psalms of thanksgiving (18, 30, 32, 34, 40, 66, 92, 116, 118, 138.)
    • Psalm 136:
      • “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
        for his steadfast love endures forever.
        Give thanks to the God of gods,
        for his steadfast love endures forever.
        Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
        for his steadfast love endures forever.”
  • Praise–these praise God for who God is and what He has done for us.
    • The following psalms are praise psalms: as Creator (8, 19, 104, 148, 150);
    • as protector and benefactor of Israel (66, 100, 111, 114, 149) and
    • as Lord of history (33, 103, 113, 117, 145, 146, 147.)
      • Psalm 150:
        • “Praise the Lord!
          Praise God in his sanctuary;
          praise him in his mighty heavens!
          Praise him for his mighty deeds;
          praise him according to his excellent greatness!
          Praise him with trumpet sound;
          praise him with lute and harp!
          Praise him with tambourine and dance;
          praise him with strings and pipe!
          Praise him with sounding cymbals;
          praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
          Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
          Praise the Lord!”
  • Salvation History—these psalms review the history of God’s saving works among the people of Israel (78, 105, 106, 135, 136).
    • Psalm 136:
      • “for his steadfast love endures forever.” This phrase is repeated 26 times throughout the Psalm, emphasizing God’s enduring and unfailing love for His people. It is a powerful declaration of God’s faithfulness and goodness.”
  • Celebration and affirmation–these are varied,
    • some are covenant renewal liturgies (50, 81);
    • Davidic covenant psalms (89, 132);
    • the kingship or royal psalms (2, 18, 20, 21, 45, 72, 101, 110, 144);
    • a royal thanksgiving (18);
    • a royal lament (144);
    • enthronement psalms (24, 29, 47, 93, 95-99); and finally,
    • Songs of the City of Jerusalem (46, 48, 76, 84, 87, 122.)
      • Psalm 122:
        • “I was glad when they said to me,
          ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’Our feet have been standing
          within your gates, O Jerusalem!”
  • Wisdom–declaring the merits of wisdom and the wise life (36, 37, 49, 73, 112, 127, 128, 133.)
    • Psalm 37:
      • “Trust in the Lord, and do good;
        dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
        Delight yourself in the Lord,
        and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
  • Trust centers on the fact that God can be trusted and that even in times of despair, God’s goodness and concern for His people can be expressed (11, 16, 23, 27, 62, 63, 91, 121, 125, 131.)
    • Psalm 23:
      • “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
        He makes me lie down in green pastures.
        He leads me beside still waters.
        He restores my soul.
        He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”



You now have the keys to the Psalms. The truths of the Bible are made known through effort and intent; as Paul states in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email