Study Guide

Psalms Themes

  • Man, God, & The Natural World

    God and nature are inseparable in Psalms. We're talking peanut butter and jelly, popcorn and movies, Barry White and singing about love inseparable. God was originally considered a storm god, so it's no wonder he's in tune with nature.

    What does God do with this connection? He puts on a show. If the Israelites needed an enemy destroyed, he would rain down a storm of fire and water. And it's a two-way street: God demanded sacrifices from nature in the form of animal offerings.

    If God's domain was the sky, what do humans get? Well, according to Psalm 147, we get earth. Oh, and God.

    Questions About Man, God, & The Natural World

    1. What is God's role in creating and overseeing the natural world in Psalms?
    2. Do the different translations change the way we think about God's relationship with nature?
    3. In Psalms, what is man's relationship with man? How do humans have to care for the land? How are they victims of it?
    4. Why is God described in Psalms as both a "rock" and as the one who makes mountains move? Does that make any sense?
  • The Royal House of Israel

    King David was the bomb dot com. They probably called him that before the Internet—that's how much people loved him. So it makes sense that there was an enormous literary and artistic effort to glorify David and his descendants.

    Because David's rule is always connected with the might of God, scholars speculate that the writers of Psalms, and much of the Bible, worked in David's court. Why not make your boss sound awesome? Much of Psalms is even attributed directly to David, and the Bible in general works hard to craft an image of a good king who was a writer and a warrior.

    Sure, David reigned three thousand years ago, but we know a good Golden Age when we see one.

    Questions About The Royal House of Israel

    1. Is King David an agent of God in Psalms? Is he some kind of prophet? Or is the monarchy always beneath God? How do the writers of Psalms balance praise for David with respect for God?
    2. Why is King David so cool in God's book? Why do the authors make him look so good?
    3. What's the relationship between the land of Israel, God, and David? Who owns what?
    4. Why does the text include David (and occasionally Solomon) as the only perfect king in Psalms?
  • God's Protection

    God as fire-breathing monster is a cool image—there's no doubt about it. But he's not always a cosmic avenger out to destroy his enemies. Sometimes he's actually kind of cuddly. Sure, this is in part due to the writer's state of mind—sometimes sad, sometime euphoric—but it also creates a much richer picture of the relationship between God and man. Should we love him or fear him? Or both?

    Questions About God's Protection

    1. In this book of the Bible, is God's role in the life of the average Israelite more comforting or more frightening?
    2. Does God come off differently to his enemies than he does to his followers?
    3. How would an Israelite explain God's absence in times of trouble in Psalms? Sometimes they seek refuge in him, and sometimes he's nowhere to be found.
    4. Why does God take on the role of protector? Does he seem like he enjoys the job?
  • Self-Destruction

    We know that "Destruction" is a big deal in Psalms. But it's not just God who's causing the mess. It sounds like the enemies of the Israelites are actually destroying themselves—with their not-so-nice words and their praise of other gods.

    Questions About Self-Destruction

    1. According to Psalms, how will God's conflicts be resolved, and who will resolve them?
    2. Where does agency truly reside in this book? In God's hands, or elsewhere? Do humans have any control over their situation? 
    3. Do the Israelites self-destruct as well, or is it just the enemies?
  • Death

    Life expectancy in ancient Israel wasn't exactly 100. Death was a constant, and often unknown, threat. After all, the ancients didn't have explanations for disease, weather, or other fatal phenomena that we now think about in scientific terms. The Psalmists took this and ran with it, talking about death in naturalistic terms. And don't forget, when you die, you go silent, meaning you can no longer praise God.

    Questions About Death

    1. Is death portrayed the same way throughout the Psalms? Is it something to be feared? Welcomed?
    2. What is man supposed to do with the knowledge that he is mortal? Does Psalms answer that question? How does man's mortality change his relationship with God?
    3. How does the natural imagery affect the way we understand death in Psalms?
  • Destruction

    "Everlasting ruins." "Coals of fire and sulphur." "Blood of the wicked." It's no question that Psalms is filled with destruction. And in the ancient world, this wasn't uncommon. When you bring God into the mix (he breathes fire, remember?), this elimination is violent, smoky, and irreversible. Gulp.

    Questions About Destruction

    1. What is the role of reciprocity here? Is this "an eye for an eye," or something deeper?
    2. Would God approve of all the violent imagery? Does he incite it or do the Israelites project it onto them because of their human interactions?
    3. If you claim that your faith in God is the reason your city hasn't been destroyed, what does it mean when your city is destroyed? Have you done something wrong? Or do bad things happen to good people?