The Psalms We Pray

Prayer and Worship Book of the Ancient Jews

Just as Worship and Gather are the prayer and worship books for St. Peter’s Church, the Book of Psalms was the prayer and worship book for the Jews, the Israelites, the Children of Israel (Jacob), even at the time of Jesus. The authorship and times of writing are uncertain, but they were probably compiled around 2,500 years ago.

OT History Psalms


Who Were These People?

Who wrote, compiled, and used the Psalms? (Exhibit from 6th Grade RE Class – We read Stephen’s testimony in Acts 7 as a quick review of the OT history.)

Who were these people

Concerns of the People

The concerns of the people are reflected in Psalms of praise, confession, thanksgiving, and requests for help.  In particular, they worried about:

  • The promises of military victory and land
  • Obedience of the laws in the Torah (Books of Moses),
  • Remembering and giving thanks for their delivery from slavery in Egypt
  • Thanking God for the earth and heavens and crops and all creation
  • Praising God
  • Moaning, groaning, and complaining (Why me Lord?)
  • Promises of a Messiah King

In our Wednesday Morning Prayers, there are eight Psalms we use. Here are key verses and  brief comments on them from the Catholic Study Bible. The verses may not look familiar since the Bible versions are different. Our Wednesday Christian Prayer uses an English Translation Prepared by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, the Universalis App uses The Jerusalem Bible, and the Catholic Study Bible quoted below is the New American Bible Revised Edition. Translation of ancient Hebrew to modern English is sometimes a leap of faith.

Week I

Psalm 36 – “A Psalm with elements of wisdom (verses 2-5), the hymn (verses 6-10), and the lament (verses 11-13). The rule of sin over the wicked (verses 2-5) is contrasted with the rule of divine love and mercy over God’s friends (verses 6-10). The Psalm ends with a prayer that God’s guidance never cease (verses 11-12).” – Footnote in the Catholic Study Bible

Psalm 36:6-7 LORD, your love reaches to heaven; your fidelity, to the clouds.  7 Your justice is like the highest mountains; your judgments, like the mighty deep; all living creatures you sustain, LORD.

Psalm 47 – A hymn calling on the nations to acknowledge the universal rule of Israel’s God (verses 2-5) who is enthroned as king over Israel and the nations (verses 6-9). – Footnote in the Catholic Study Bible

Psalm 47:2-4 All you peoples, clap your hands; shout to God with joyful cries.  3 For the LORD, the Most High, inspires awe, the great king overall the earth, 4 Who made people subject to us, brought nations under our feet,

Week II

Psalm 77 – A community lament in which the speaker (“I”) describes the anguish of Israel at God’s silence when its very existence is at stake (verses 2-11). In response the speaker recites the story of how God brought the people into existence (verses 12-20). The question is thus posed to God: Will you allow the people you created to be destroyed? – Footnote in the Catholic Study Bible

Psalm 77:12-13 I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, your wonders of old I will remember.  13 I will recite all your works; your exploits I will tell.

Psalm 97 – The hymn begins with God appearing in a storm, a traditional picture of some ancient Near Eastern gods (verses 1-6) Israel rejoices in the overthrowing of idol worshipers and their gods (verses 7-9) and the rewarding of the faithful righteous (verses 10-12). – Footnote in the Catholic Study Bible

Psalm 97:1  The LORD is king; let the earth rejoice; let the many islands be glad.

Week III

Psalm 86An individual lament. The psalmist, poor and oppressed (verse 1), devoted (verse 2), your servant (verses 2, 4, 16), rescued from the depths of Sheol (verse 13), attacked by the ruthless (verse 14), desires only God’s protection (verses 1-7, 11-17). – Footnote in the Catholic Study Bible

Psalm 86:5-7 Lord, you are kind and forgiving, most loving to all who call on you. LORD, hear my prayer; listen to my cry for help. In this time of trouble I call, for you will answer me.

Psalm 98 – A hymn, similar to Psalm 96, extolling God for Israel’s victory (verses 1-3). All nations (verses 4-6) and even inanimate nature (verses 7-8) are summoned to welcome God’s coming to rule over the world (verse 9). – Footnote in the Catholic Study Bible

Psalm 98:8-9 Let the rivers clap their hands, the mountains shout with them for joy, Before the LORD who comes, who comes to govern the earth, To govern the world with justice and the peoples with fairness.

Week IV

Psalm 108A prayer compiled from two other Psalms: 108:2-6 are essentially the same as 57:8-12 and 108:7-14 are the same as 60:7-14. An old promise of salvation (verses 8-10) is combined with a confident assurance (verses 2-6, 13) and petition (verses 7, 12-13). – Footnote in the Catholic Study Bible

Psalm 108:12-14 Was it not you who rejected us, God? Do you no longer march with our armies? Give us aid against the foe; worthless is human help. We will triumph with the help of God, who will trample down our foes.

Psalm 146 – A hymn of someone who has learned there is no other source of strength except the merciful God. Only God, not mortal human beings (verses 3-4) can help vulnerable and oppressed people (verses 5-9). The first of the five hymns that conclude the Psalter. – Footnote in the Catholic Study Bible

Psalm 146:3-4 Put no trust in princes, in mere mortals powerless to save. When they breathe their last, they return to the earth; that day all their planning comes to nothing.

Key Points about the Psalms from “The Jewish Study Bible”

Well, they are descendants of the writers, compilers, and users so we should at least be interested in their opinions.

  • Collection or collection of collections of poetic prayers
  • Likely used liturgically in ancient Israeltehilim
  • Hebrew name pronounced Tehilim means Songs of Praise
  • There are 150 Psalms subdivided into five “books” probably paralleling the five books of Torah
  • Authorship unknown but attributed traditionally to David
  • Dating of the Psalms is difficult and uncertain.
  • Most Psalms are hymns of praise, complaints or pleas for help, or thanksgiving psalms.

The Psalms envision a world in which everyone and everything will praise God.
If there is one underlying assumption of the book of Psalms, it is the potential efficacy of prayer.” – The Jewish Study Bible

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