How To Read The Psalms

What Is the Purpose of the Book?

According to Jesus, what is the greatest commandment? What sums up the entire law?

He says it is to love the Lord your God with all heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. With the weight of this command in mind, Tremper Longman III has written a book that he believes will help deepen our love for the Lord. It is called “How To Read the Psalms” and it is apart of a series of books that were written to help readers learn how to read different books of the Bible.

In his book on the psalms his main purpose for writing is to help increase the reader’s understanding of the psalms so that their love for the Lord will deepen.

Outline and Summary of the Book


In the introduction, Longman wants to encourage readers to see the importance and uniqueness of the books of psalms. He makes his case by describing how God meets his people in a special way that stands out from the rest of scripture (12). The most obvious difference of the psalms is the way it appeals to whole person. The psalms inform our intellect, arouse our emotions, direct our wills and stimulate our imaginations (13). This is one of the reasons the psalms have been loved throughout the history of God’s people and quoted more than any other Old Testament book by the New Testament authors. Even though it is a book that is loved by many, it also is a book that can be incredibly difficult to understand.

Following the introduction, the book is divided into three sections.


The first section speaks of the difficulties with interpreting the psalms and how they should be understood for Christians today. Longman teaches readers how the Israelites would have read and used the psalms thousands of years ago.

Chapter 1

There are five chapters in this first section and the first chapter explains the different types and genres of psalms. Some of the psalms are hymns and others are prayers of lament. Some of the psalms are prayers of thanksgiving and others are psalms of confidence in God.

Chapter 2

In the next chapter, the focus turns to where these different psalms came from and how they were used. Longman addresses issues regarding the historical setting for individual psalms, the titles and descriptions at the beginning of some of the psalms, and the individual and corporate use of the psalms. He believes the main use for the psalms was the corporate worship of God’s people.

Chapters 3-5

The next three chapters look at the content and theological messages that we can learn from the book of psalms. Longman explains the importance of the covenant relationship with God and that we will never understand the psalms rightly unless we appropriately understand them in the context of the covenant relationship. Then he continues to explain how Christians today should be able to use the psalms to pray to Christ. Since we are no longer under the old covenant and the messiah has come in the person of Jesus Christ, it is important for Christians today to understand the psalms in light of his birth, death, resurrection, and second coming. The final chapter in this section describes how reading the psalms teaches us about the character of God and at the same time teaches us about how to relate with Him. Longman calls the psalms a “mirror of the soul” and encourages readers to learn more about their intellect, will, and emotions through their reading of the psalms.


The second section of the book is called “The Art of the Psalms” and there are three chapters on the following subjects Old Testament poetry, Parallelism, and Imagery.

Chapter 6

The chapter on Old Testament poetry is a brief introduction to some of the similarities and differences between Hebrew poetry and prose. As well as the differences between Hebrew Poetry and the more modern and western poetry most readers are familiar with today.

Chapter 7

The predominant feature of Hebrew poetry is the use of parallelism that he defines as the correspondence which occurs between the phrases of a poetic line (95). There he discusses several of the categories of parallelism.

Chapter 8

The last chapter in section two is about imagery and gives basic descriptions of the different types of imagery that are used by the psalmist. Imagery is used in order to give meaning and emotion to the psalms. The psalms are filled with metaphors, similes, personification, and all sorts of images to paint a picture in our minds that we would not have had with a regular prose style of writing.


The third and final section of the book is three short chapters that puts the first two sections into practice. Longman takes three different psalms and provides an example of how the material in his book is helpful in reading the psalms.

Chapter 9

The first psalm he unpacks is Psalm 98 and it is a hymn that crescendos in praise to our warrior God.

Chapter 10

Next, he takes on Psalm 69 and this is a psalm of lament that also includes an imprecatory prayer.

Chapter 11

The final psalm, Psalm 30, is also the final chapter of the book. This last psalm is a prayer or song of thanks. In each of these psalms Longman applies the principles of interpretation and describes both the meaning for the original Israelite worshipers and the use of the psalm for Christians today.


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