The Psalms are popular and well read by most Christians, and are often used in Christian worship. However, the Psalms can easily be misinterpreted if we are not aware of the type of writing they are. Therefore, I want to share a couple of pointers this week for all those who enjoy reading the Psalms. First, we should keep in mind that the psalms are words inspired by God that are spoken to God or about God rather than from God to His people. In other words, the psalms are not to be read primarily for doctrine or moral behavior, but to help us express our inner feelings to God. Fee and Stuart in How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth give us some additional points that will help us in our hermeneutical interpretations of the Psalms as Hebrew poetry:
- Hebrew poetry is addressed to the mind through the heart and involves some kind of parallelism. Therefore we must identify the type of parallelism being used. One common form is called synonymous. In this form, the second line reinforces the message of the first line and the two lines together express the poets meaning. If you try to interpret the two lines with separate meanings, you will miss the point. The psalms also include antithetical parallelism where the second or subsequent lines contrast the first line; and synthetic parallelism where the second or subsequent lines add further information to the first line [198-199].
- The psalms are musical poems. Although they contain and reflect doctrine, they are not intended to be repositories for doctrinal exposition. We must refrain from reading psalms as though they contain any system of doctrine but read them as what they are – musical poems created to stimulate emotional responses rather than propositional thinking.
- The vocabulary of poetry is purposefully metaphorical; therefore, we must be careful to look for the intent of the metaphor. Fee and Stuart tell us that we must learn to ‘listen’ to the metaphors and understand what they signify.
- We need to appreciate the symbolic language of metaphors and similes for its intended purpose, then translate it.
I hope these brief principles concerning good interpretation for the Psalms helps you appreciate and understand the beauty of these poetic writings found in center of our Bibles even more than you did before.