KEY VERSE FOR MEMORIZATION
“The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him.” (Psalm 28:7)
The Book of Psalms contains 150 chapters which are divided into five sections, or books. This lesson focuses on Book I, which encompasses Psalms 1-41. All the psalms in this section are attributed to David except three: Psalms 1, 10, and 33.
Book I was probably the first official psalter of Israel (the compendium of the nation’s lyrical songs, hymns, and prayers). The other sections, added later, were written over about one thousand years between the time of Moses (approximately 1520 B.C.) until after the return of the Southern Kingdom from Babylonian captivity (approximately 445 B.C.). In the records of David’s era found in the Chronicles, there is frequent mention of sacred music and song being part of Israel’s worship. (For example, see 2 Chronicles 7:6 and 35:15.) Bible scholars agree that most of the psalms likely were sung for some period of time before they were added into the psalter.
Most of the psalms in Book I are personal in nature. They are presented in no particular order. While some relate to specific events in the life of David, even those are not arranged in a chronological progression.
Psalm 1 offers a prelude to the whole collection in Book I. It may have been composed for that purpose, but whether or not that is the case, the first psalm does provide a foundation for all the psalms that follow.
God’s provision of a Savior for His people is a recurring theme throughout the Book of Psalms, and many instances are found in this section. Psalm 2 portrays the Messiah’s triumph and kingdom; this psalm is quoted or alluded to in the New Testament at least eighteen times — more than any other in this section. Psalm 16:8-11 foreshadows Christ’s death and resurrection. Psalm 22 alludes to the suffering Savior on the Cross and presents detailed prophecies of the crucifixion, all of which were fulfilled perfectly. Psalm 34 prophesies that the Messiah’s bones would not be broken, and Psalm 40 relates that He came to do His Father’s will. (While Psalm 23, “The Shepherd Psalm,” is a part of Book I, it will be studied as a separate lesson.)
Jewish tradition correlates the five sections of the Book of Psalms with the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible, which were authored by Moses), so Book I is called the “Genesis” section. The divine name mainly used within this section is “Jehovah” (Lord).
1. Although Psalm 1 may or may not have been specifically written as an introduction to the whole collection of psalms, it sets the tone for them. What is the primary contrast developed in this psalm?
This psalm contrasts the life of a righteous individual with the life of one who is unrighteous. Once your class has reached that conclusion, expand the discussion by focusing on the attributes of a righteous person, based on the specifics given in verses 1-3. Point out to your class that the first word, blessed, could be translated “How happy!” Certainly the person who has the characteristics mentioned in these verses will be happy.
As you consider verse 1, you may wish to lead your group in a scrutiny of the verbs “walk,” “stand,” and “sit.” Bring out that the phrase “walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly” infers that the faithful man does not ask for nor follow ungodly advice, as it will lead him away from holiness and fellowship with God. “Standeth in the way of sinners” suggests abiding in close proximity to the values and actions of unbelievers. “Sitteth in the seat of the scornful” means to become settled and comfortable in the attitude of disbelief or scoffing regarding God and Biblical principles.
In contrast to the righteous, verse 4 brings out that ungodly individuals are like chaff — a worthless substance so light that it is carried away by the slightest breath of wind. This symbolizes the unrighteous life that drifts without any real spiritual direction.
2. Several psalms in Book I begin with the author conveying distress and helplessness, and yet end on a positive note of confident joy and victory. Sometimes this change takes place between one verse and the next! For example, the transition occurs at verse 8 in Psalm 6, at verse 5 in Psalm 13, and at verse 6 in Psalm 28. Why do you think the psalmist’s perspective shifted in these examples?
Class discussion should bring out that when the psalmist turned away from his problem and focused instead on God’s ability to deal with it, he regained his spirit of confident joy and victory. This principle is certainly applicable in our day as well. The challenges we face may seem overwhelming. However, when we look away from our challenges and fix our attention on God, who is all-powerful and well able to solve our problems and sustain us, He provides renewed courage and strength.
Notice that in each of these psalms, the turning point came when the psalmist verbalized his trust in God. At times we may need to firmly state (perhaps to God, or perhaps to another individual) that we are placing our trust in God as an act of will, rehearsing the times that He has met our needs and resolved serious situations for us in the past. When we step out in faith, He quickly will uplift our spirits and provide an assurance of His love, awareness, and power. You may wish to ask your students to share times when they personally experienced a change of perspective like those described in these psalms.
3. Psalm 7 is a song of lament written by David regarding those who had falsely accused him. While the identity of Cush the Benjamite (named in the title) cannot be assuredly stated, he probably was a cohort of Saul who made slanderous accusations against David. How did the psalmist respond to these falsehoods? What can we learn from how he handled the situation?
Rather than taking matters into his own hands, the psalmist responded to the falsehoods by asking God for deliverance and justice. He trusted that the Lord would vindicate him because he was innocent of the accusations made by Cush. His plea in verses 3-5 in essence was asking God to judge him first if there was any truth to the accusation.
Class discussion of the second question should bring out that it is always best to let God defend us. He can deal with the situation — no matter what it involves — far better than we can. He will vindicate us if and when He knows that is best. No matter what the outcome, when we do not retaliate toward the one making false accusations, it proves our trust is in God, and this can be a wonderful validation of our Christian testimony. In addition, challenges such as this provide us with an opportunity to grow spiritually.
It is noteworthy that at the conclusion of the psalm, David praised God. He did not express gratitude because those who had done evil against him were to be punished, but because God’s glory and righteousness were being magnified. That should be our ultimate goal as well when we face interpersonal challenges.
4. In Psalm 19:7-9, six different words or short phrases are used to refer to the whole body of Scriptural truth. These six words are followed by six descriptors (adjectives). What are the six words and their corresponding adjectives?
It may be beneficial to address this question by making a chart. Your students will provide the words or phrases for the first and second columns, and the third column can be added as a part of the class discussion.
As you conclude your discussion of this question, point out to your group that the benefits of the law will only be activated in our lives if we heed and obey it. When we do obey, we will find that God’s words are more precious than anything else. Though the unrighteous in the world around us may appear to prosper, aligning our lives to the commandments of God’s Word will bring eternal benefit.
5. Psalm 22, which is sometimes referred to as “The Crucifixion Psalm,” is an example of a Messianic psalm. In it, David prophetically described the Messiah’s death on the Cross. When Jesus was on the Cross, He spoke the words of verse 1 (see Mark 15:34). What are some other verses in this psalm that refer to Christ the Sin-bearer as He suffered upon the Cross?
Your group will likely identify the following verses as these are direct references. However, other verses, depending upon interpretation, may also allude to the sufferings of Christ.
Verse 1. Since Jesus was bearing the sin of mankind, He felt isolated and separated from the Father.
Verse 6. Jesus certainly was despised of the people; they desired to have a murderer released instead of the Lord, and demanded that Jesus be crucified.
Verse 7. The gestures of contempt (they “shoot out the lip” and “shake the head”) are described in Matthew 27:39 and Mark 15:29.
Verse 14. “All my bones are out of joint.” The weight of the human body in the process of crucifixion causes the bones to be pulled out of joint.
Verse 15. “My tongue cleaveth to my jaws.” Jesus cried out, “I thirst” (John 19:28).
Verse 16. “They pierced my hands and my feet.” Jesus’ hands and feet were nailed to the Cross.
Verse 18. “They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.” This scene at the crucifixion is recorded in all of the Gospels.
Point out that this psalm is a beautiful example of the divine inspiration of Scripture. David wrote this psalm many hundreds of years before Christ came to earth, and yet the details he described were all precisely fulfilled when Jesus gave His life on Calvary.
6. In Psalm 26:2, David asked the Lord to examine him, and to try (examine or investigate) his “reins” (innermost parts; affections, motives, thoughts) and his heart. Why should we follow the psalmist’s example and ask God to search our hearts?
If we want to go deeper in our walks with God, we must be willing to open the innermost parts of our being to God. As your group discusses the question, they may point out that inviting God’s scrutiny makes us more aware of our own thoughts, motives, and actions. Through the Holy Spirit, we may identify aspects of our lives we should modify, or steps we should take to more closely align our lives with the holiness of God. When we take action along a line the Lord shows us, our relationship with Him will be enriched and deepened.
You may wish to point out that David’s opening petition, “Judge me, O Lord; for I have walked in mine integrity,” has the tone of a formal oath of innocence. David was eager for the Lord’s evaluation because he felt that he had been walking in integrity. This was not a prideful assertion, because he credited God for his rectitude — he said that it was because he had trusted in the Lord that he would not “slide” (waver). Knowing that we are living as God wants us to is a source of sanctified joy. In the New Testament, Acts 24:16 substantiates the same principle.
7. Psalm 38 bears the superscription “A Psalm of David, to bring to remembrance,” and is classified as a penitential psalm. According to verses 3-4, what was the cause of David’s obvious physical, emotional, and spiritual sufferings? In his desperate state, what does verse 18 tell us he resolved to do?
David’s sufferings were the result of sin. The sin is not named, but most likely was the killing of Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband (see 2 Samuel 11). Psalms 6, 32, and 51 also are traditionally associated with that event. Of all the penitential psalms, perhaps this one expresses David’s anguished state most graphically. His vivid descriptions reveal a man who was sick in soul and body, forsaken by his friends, beset by his enemies, and overwhelmed by a sense of guilt. David’s assertion that “thine arrows stick fast in me” was an allusion to God’s chastisement. The images of no “soundness” in his flesh, wounds that “stink” and “are corrupt,” and loins that are filled with a “loathsome disease” all express in vivid metaphorical language the corruption of sin.
As a follow-up to the second question, direct your students to verse 18, in which David stated, “I will declare [confess] mine iniquity; I will be sorry for my sin.” Remind your class that it is certainly not necessary for a believer to go back into sin. However, if that happens, there is a way to return to God — heart-felt repentance — and David chose that path. He presented his condition fully to God, holding nothing back. The psalm concludes with three final petitions: David pleaded with God not to forsake him, not to be far from him, and to quickly help him. The point should be made that God always responds to sincere repentance. He does not withhold or delay forgiveness, making one who is truly repentant continue to suffer for sin. However, while God delivers from the eternal consequences of sin, earthly consequences may still remain. That was the case with David in his sin regarding Bathsheba and Uriah.
8. The timeless principles recorded in the Psalms are why people in every era have turned to this book for comfort and encouragement. Careful reading reminds us how near the Lord really is, and how quickly He meets us when we reach out to Him. What verse in Book I particularly spoke to you, and why?
This question should provide a good way to wrap up your lesson. Point out to your class that as we read the Psalms, we get glimpses of what the authors were going through. We empathize with their pain and often can identify with the burdens and concerns they carried, because through the ages of time, individuals have faced the same types of troubles.
While the problems may be universal, the verses God gives to us are extremely personal. There is something very special about the verses the Lord writes upon our hearts in times of trial. As we lay claim to them, they become “our” promises. This is a vital way He ministers to us. As your students share verses that have come alive to them, it will be an encouragement to your whole class.
The Psalms are beautiful because they are so personal. Every man, woman, and child can relate to them in some degree, and find comfort in them. While the Psalms are the experiences of humanity expressed in writing, we also see in them how man is affected by a holy God.