The Writings

Lesson 2: Overview of Psalms

Lessons in this series: 1 2 3 4 Overview Lesson Index

Lesson Workbook (PDF) Click here



1. To help students have in mind a basic structure of the Psalms
2. To teach students that conversation with God can be a great aid to faith
3. To motivate students to begin expressing themselves to God in greater ways


Celebration, Comfort, Emotions, Feelings, Praise

Scripture Memorization

Psalm 119:105-106

OPENING PRAYER (5 to 10 minutes)

GROUP BUILDING (5 minutes)

Today we’re going to study the book of Psalms. To start out, let's do some trivia!

1.  Which Psalm is the longest? (Psalm 119)
2.  Which Psalm is the shortest? (Psalm 117)
3.  Who wrote most of the Psalms? (David…he wrote 73 of them.)
4.  Which Psalm starts “The Lord is my shepherd”? (Psalm 23)
5.  How many Psalms are there? (150)

(If you have a simple prize to award the winner, that will add to the excitement.)

GETTING STARTED (10 minutes)

As I said, today we’re going to dig into the Psalms. Like Job last week, this is a huge task. There are 150 different Psalms. The goal will not be to have a thorough understanding of each psalm, but rather a foundational understanding to the book as a whole, as well as some insights into how they can help us in our faith today.

Chances are you’re going to learn some new things. It should be good.

Before we begin, let’s talk about music.

Discussion Questions:
1. What is your favorite type of music? Why?
2. Who is your favorite group?
3. What is your favorite song?
4. Why do you think (almost) everyone loves music? What is it about music that is so powerful?

Music really can alter our emotions. It can get us pumped up, make us feel sad, or cause us to think. The Psalms are no different. Essentially an Old Testament song book for temple worship, these songs touch on a lot of different themes, emotions, etc.  One of the first things we need to do is understand those purposes.

DIGGING IN (30 minutes)

Turn to the first Psalm. You’ll notice I did not say “Psalm chapter 1.” The Psalms are not like other books of the Bible that have chapters. Though the psalms have been intentionally ordered, they should not be looked upon as an ongoing narrative. Each Psalm is distinct and should be referred to as such. So remember—no chapters in Psalms!

The Psalms are divided into five smaller “books.” Most Bibles indicate this. The divisions are:

Book One

Psalms 1-41

Book Two

Psalms 42-72

Book Three

Psalms 73-89

Book Four

Psalms 90-106

Book Five

Psalms 107-150

Within these books are psalms with a variety of themes. There have been multiple suggestions on categorizing the psalms. We’re going to keep it simple. There are basically two types of psalms:

Happy Psalms

(hymns, confidence, thanksgiving, wisdom, etc.)

Sad Psalms

(individual laments, community lament, etc.)

Theologians actually subdivide these categories into even smaller groups, but for our study I want you to understand there are both praises and complaining in the psalms. That leads to an interesting point:

The Psalms are more about man talking to God than God talking to man. This is an important point to remember as we move forward. Just like song writers today, a lot of emotion is packed into these pages.

Let’s take a look at a couple of different psalms.

Read Psalm 1

Discussion Questions:
1. What kind of psalm do you believe that is? (Happy.)
2. Who is the author talking to? (The reader, the worshipper.)
3. What is the basic message of this psalm? (That righteousness is better than evil, etc.)
4. Why do you think this was placed as the first psalm? (Allow for discussion.)

Now turn to Psalm 42. This is the first psalm in the second book. Notice for the difference in tone.

Read Psalm 42

Discussion Questions:
1. What kind of psalm do you think this is? (Kind of sad…but with hope.)
2. What feelings stirred inside you as you read it? (Allow for discussion.)
3. What is the basic message here? (A thirst for God leads to being filled by Him…praise Him even in difficult circumstances.)
4. How is this psalm different from the first? (Allow for discussion.)

Now flip to the third book, which spans from Psalms 73-89. We’re going to read what may be a familiar psalm, Psalm 84.

Read Psalm 84

Discussion Questions:
1. Do those words sound familiar? From where? (There’s a modern worship song entitled “Better is One Day” that is taken straight from this Psalm.)

That brings us to a pretty interesting point. The Psalms, as they were constructed in the Old Testament, were a song book for worshippers. The cool thing is that since then, no one has done it better. Often, modern lyricists look to the Psalms for inspiration. Here’s just a short list of modern songs and groups that use the Psalms in their lyrics:

Song/Group Name

 Corresponding Psalm

 Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir


 Charlie Hall


 “Why Are You So Downcast”


 Jami Smith


 Chris Tomlin “Forever”


 “Better is One Day”


 “Everything that Has Breath”


 “Not to Us”


Some artists, Shane & Shane are an example, have produced entire albums entitled simply: Psalms. 

Let’s move on to book number four.

Read Psalm 95

This is a different kind of psalm, a psalm of remembrance. The idea is that, even through song, Israel would remember her history. Let’s examine how it’s broken down.

Verses 1-7 are a call to worship. Various postures are encouraged:
•    Singing
•    Shouting
•    Thanksgiving
•    Worship
•    Bowing Down
•    Kneeling

There are also these incredible references to the history of Israel, particularly the exodus from Egypt. Consider these: 

Verse 1

 Exodus 17 and Numbers 20, water flows from rocks for Israelites to drink

Verses 3 - 10

 Plagues between gods of Egypt and God of Israel

Verse 5

 Genesis 1, Exodus 14 - The parting of the Red Sea

Verses 8-10

 Exodus 17:1-7, Numbers 20:1-13, grumblings about water

Furthermore, the psalm ends with God mad, just as he was in Exodus. The last words of the psalm echo his words about the Exodus generation, “they shall never enter my rest.”

So psalms can be used for praise, prayer, reflection. They can also be used to express anguish. Consider Psalm 137, one of the most violent of the psalms.

Read Psalm 137

Discussion Questions:
1. Would you say that psalm is happy or sad? (sad)
2. What is the basic message? (revenge)
3. What a gruesome image in verse 9. What do you think of that language being included in the psalms?

Remember, the psalms are man talking to God, not the other way around (although God did say that Babylon would be judged, and they were). This is the speaker, describing his feelings in song about a historical event—captivity. The Psalms speak about many themes, and they are very honest.

We’ve looked at a psalm from each book, and we’ve considered the wide meaning of the psalms at a very basic level.

MAKING IT REAL (10 minutes)

Now let’s consider why this matters to us today.

Discussion Questions:
1. How many of you feel like you communicate with God well?
2. How many of you share your truest thoughts with God—anger, jealously, sadness, etc.?
3. We’ve read quite a few psalms now…do you communicate with God as honestly as the psalmists do? Why/why not?

The Psalms can be helpful to us in our relationship with God because they express the whole range of human emotion.  Some people have suggested there is a psalm for everything.

A Psalm for Everything (taken from Life Application Bible)


 To find comfort


 To feel closer to God


 To learn a new prayer


 To learn a new song 


 To learn more about God


 To understand yourself more clearly 


 To know how to come to God each day


 To be forgiven


 To feel worthwhile


 To understand why you should read the Bible


 To give praise to God


 To know that God is in control


 To give thanks to God


 To please God 


 To know why you should worship God


We’re going to do something here that I hope will help drive this home for you. I just listed a bunch of psalms, each with a unique purpose for our lives today. Perhaps one stuck out to you because that’s exactly how you’re feeling or what you’re desiring. I’m going to repeat the list quickly. Take note of where your heart is today and then we’ll have some quiet time where you can just spend some time with that psalm.

(Repeat list, instruct students to go off by themselves and spend some time in that psalm.)


If you have some extra time after that, encourage students to write a psalm. Have them read a few psalms and then find one to model theirs after. Tell them there are very few rules—we’ll save parallelism, chiasm, and other Hebrew poetry techniques for deeper study—except to be honest with God. After all, that’s what the psalms are about!

Hopefully that (those) exercise(s) helped you understand that the Psalms have as much meaning to us today as they ever have. I’d encourage you to read a psalm each day this week. Maybe you can read one when you first wake up or just before you go to sleep. Spend time with it, read it a few times. Enjoy.

CLOSING PRAYER (2 minutes)

Ask for a volunteer to pray for your group.

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