Psalms 1–50

Old Testament Teacher Resource Manual, (2003), 156–59


Before studying the book of Psalms, read enrichment section G, “Hebrew Literary Styles,” in Old Testament Student Manual: Genesis–2 Samuel (pp. 303–6). Understanding the nature of Hebrew poetry will greatly enhance your appreciation of the psalms. Psalms is a collection of Hebrew poems or songs, some of which were used in the formal, sacred ceremonies (liturgy) at the tabernacle and the temple. Some were written in praise of God; others were prayers. Some were evidently sung with the accompaniment of musical instruments, while others may have been chants without accompaniment. (See Bible Dictionary, “Psalms,” pp. 754–55; see also “Who Wrote the Psalms?” in Old Testament Student Manual: Genesis–2 Samuel, p. 310.)

The title Psalms comes from the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Bible) and means “songs.” The Hebrew name for Psalms is Tehillim, which means “praises” or “songs of praise.” The Psalms were the hymns of the Church among the Hebrews. This may explain why this book is quoted more times in the New Testament than any other Old Testament book (see Bible Dictionary, “quotations,” pp. 756–59).

Traditionally, the Hebrews divided the 150 psalms into five separate books. In today’s Bible they would be divided as follows:

At the end of each division, the break is marked with a doxology, or formal declaration of God’s power and glory (see Psalms 41:13; 72:19; 89:52; 106:48). Psalm 150 is itself a doxology, using the Hebrew Hallelujah, “Praise ye the Lord,” at its beginning and end, as well as the word praise eleven other times. It is a fitting conclusion to the Tehillim, or songs of praise.

Some Important Gospel Principles to Look For

David playing for Saul

Suggestions for Teaching

Psalms 23; 42; 51; 73; 137; 145. The Psalms express a wide range of human emotion. (15–20 minutes)

Consider playing different types of recorded music for your students (such as a sad song, a happy song, a military march, and a sacred hymn). As each selection is played, ask students:

  • What emotion do you think the music is trying to express?

  • How do you feel when you hear it?

Explain that music can inspire different emotions within us. Ask:

  • How would this power of music be valuable?

  • Are there any dangers associated with this power over emotion?

Explain to students that the Psalms were originally set to music. We do not have the music for the Psalms, but we can understand the writers’ emotions by reading the words. As a class or in groups, have your students read Psalms 23; 42; 51; 73; 137; and 145, and discuss what emotions they think are expressed in the words to these psalms. Invite students to think of times they have felt hope, despair, sorrow, doubt, anger, or joy and gratitude. Ask:

  • What was happening in your life when you felt that way?

  • How can the messages of these psalms help you?

Have students share their feelings about a psalm that most impressed them or has been a great blessing in their life.

scripture mastery icon Psalm 24:3–4 (Scripture Mastery). The Lord has set standards of worthiness for us to follow. They are higher than the world’s standards and bring great blessings. These standards are neither optional nor changeable. (15–20 minutes)

Read to your students the following dream that President Joseph F. Smith shared:

“I dreamed that I was on a journey, and I was impressed that I ought to hurry—hurry with all my might, for fear I might be too late. I rushed on my way as fast as I possibly could, and I was only conscious of having just a little bundle, a handkerchief with a small bundle wrapped in it. I did not realize just what it was, when I was hurrying as fast as I could; but finally I came to a wonderful mansion, if it could be called a mansion. It seemed too large, too great to have been made by hand, but I thought I knew that was my destination. As I passed towards it, as fast as I could, I saw a notice, ‘Bath.’ I turned aside quickly and went into the bath and washed myself clean. I opened up this little bundle that I had, and there was a pair of white, clean garments, a thing I had not seen for a long time, because the people I was with did not think very much of making things exceedingly clean. But my garments were clean, and I put them on. Then I rushed to what appeared to be a great opening, or door. I knocked and the door opened, and the man who stood there was the Prophet Joseph Smith. He looked at me a little reprovingly, and the first words he said: ‘Joseph, you are late.’ Yet I took confidence and said:

“‘Yes, but I am clean—I am clean!’

“He clasped my hand and drew me in, then closed the great door. I felt his hand just as tangible as I ever felt the hand of man. I knew him, and when I entered I saw my father, and Brigham and Heber, and Willard, and other good men that I had known, standing in a row. I looked as if it were across this valley, and it seemed to be filled with a vast multitude of people, but on the stage were all the people that I had known. My mother was there, and she sat with a child in her lap; and I could name over as many as I remember of their names, who sat there, who seemed to be among the chosen, among the exalted” (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. [1939], 542).

Discuss the following questions with your students:

  • What kind of “clean” do you think President Smith was speaking of?

  • Why is cleanliness important?

Read Psalm 24:1–5 with your students and ask them what they think the phrases “hill of the Lord,” “clean hands,” and “pure heart” mean. Share the following from Elder Dallin H. Oaks:

“If we do righteous acts and refrain from evil acts, we have clean hands.

“If we act for the right motives and if we refrain from forbidden desires and attitudes, we have pure hearts” (Pure in Heart [1988], 1).

Ask students to look in the Topical Guide under the topics “clean,” “cleanse,” and “purification” to find scriptures that explain how a person can become clean. Or list the following scripture references on the board and have the students search them for the Lord’s counsel on how we can become clean: Psalm 1; Isaiah 1:18; John 15:1–4; Mosiah 4:2; Helaman 3:35; Moroni 7:48; 10:32–33; D&C 88:74, 85–86.

Psalms 1–150. A number of the psalms contain prophecies about the life and mission of the Savior. The fulfillment of these prophecies in the mission of the Savior was pointed to as proof that He was the Son of God. (20–25 minutes)

Tell the class that you have selected one student and want the class to try to guess who it is from some clues that you give. Explain that the object of this activity is to discover who the chosen student is by using the fewest number of clues and that each student gets one guess. Encourage students not to use their guess until they are relatively sure who it is. Do not reveal who the student is until all the clues have been given.

Begin giving clues that could apply to many students in the class (such as “the student is a boy,” “he is over five feet tall,” or “he has light-colored hair”). Then give clues that are more specific but are not obvious from the student’s outward appearance. (It may help to have contacted the student’s parents to find out some clues that would be less obvious, for example, hobbies, accomplishments, or spiritual strengths.) After the activity, ask the students:

  • When were you convinced you knew who was the right person?

  • Which clues were most helpful? Why?

Tell students that the Psalms include many prophecies, or clues, about the Savior. It was intended that people be able to identify who He was and where He would be born. List on the board the scriptures from the first column of the following chart. Read several of the scriptures and ask students to identify clues given about the Savior. As you read each prophecy, discuss how apparent that clue might have been to people in New Testament times by asking:

  • If you lived in the Savior’s day, do you think you could have identified Him from the clues on this list?

  • Why do you think so many people did not recognize how the Savior fulfilled these prophecies?


Messianic Prophecy


Psalm 16:9–10

Christ would be resurrected

Acts 13:34–37

Psalm 22:1

He would feel forsaken

Matthew 27:46

Psalm 22:7–8

He would be mocked

Matthew 27:43

Psalm 22:16

His hands and feet would be pierced

John 20:24–27

Psalm 22:18

His tormenters would cast lots for His garment

Matthew 27:35

Psalm 31:5

He would commit His spirit to God’s hand

Luke 23:46

Psalm 34:20

None of His bones would be broken

John 19:31–33, 36

Psalm 41:9

He would be betrayed

John 13:21–27

Psalm 65:7

He would calm the sea

Matthew 8:26; Luke 8:24

Psalm 68:18

He would ascend on high

Ephesians 4:7–10

Psalm 69:21

He would be given gall and vinegar

Matthew 27:34; John 19:28–30

Psalm 91:11–12

He would be protected by angels

Matthew 4:5–6; Luke 4:10–11

Psalm 110:1, 4

He would sit at the right hand of God—a priest forever

Matthew 22:41–46; Hebrews 5:1–6

Psalm 118:21–22

He would be rejected but would become the cornerstone

Luke 20:9–19

Read with your students the references in the chart that show the fulfillment of the prophecies. Invite students to write those cross-references in the margin of their scriptures next to the associated verses in Psalms. Ask:

  • How well were these prophecies fulfilled?

  • Why was it important that they were exact?

Share your testimony of the mission of Jesus Christ and of the foreknowledge prophets had of His life. Ask students: What might that teach us about how our current prophet can help us prepare for the Second Coming of the Savior?

weekly icon Psalms 1–150. Our hymns today are like the ancient psalms. (35–55 minutes)

One way we can worship the Lord is through appropriate music, which can help us feel the Spirit. Invite several students to share their favorite Church hymn and to explain why they like it. Sing or read several of those hymns with your students, and discuss how they feel after singing hymns. Read Doctrine and Covenants 25:12, and ask why the singing of hymns is a way to worship the Lord. Tell your students that the Psalms were like hymns for the ancient Church.

Compare the testimonies of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ expressed in our modern hymns to the testimonies of some of the Psalms. For example, you could compare Psalm 23 to “The Lord Is My Shepherd” (Hymns, no. 108), which is based on that psalm. Or compare a psalm and a hymn with similar intents but not the same words, such as Psalm 138 and “I Believe in Christ” (Hymns, no. 134). See the scriptures index in Hymns, under the subheading “Psalms” (pp. 410–11), for a list of hymns that are similar in theme to specific psalms. Ask students what they can tell about the feelings the writers had for the Savior from the words they wrote.

Hymns help turn our minds and heart to the Savior, while some secular music can lead us away from Him. Read 1 Samuel 16:23 and ask:

  • What effect did good music have on Saul?

  • How has our singing today in class demonstrated the power music has to inspire and uplift us?

  • If appropriate music can help turn our hearts to the Savior, is it reasonable to suppose that some inappropriate music could invite evil into our lives?

  • How can we judge what music is appropriate? (see Moroni 7:15–19; D&C 50:23; Articles of Faith 1:13).

Discuss how the following four principles can help us choose music that helps increase our spirituality and brings us to Christ:

  • The lyrics should be positive and wholesome.

  • The rhythm, beat, volume, and intensity should invite the Spirit and help refine our thoughts.

  • The name of the band or performers and the packages the music is sold in should not be pornographic or have the appearance of evil.

  • Any promotional material (such as videos) used to support the music should be appropriate.

Invite students to consider whether or not the music they own and listen to helps bring them to Christ. Encourage students to listen to music that can bless their lives and to avoid any music that offends the Spirit. Share with students the following statement by the First Presidency:

“Inspirational music is an essential part of our church meetings. The hymns invite the Spirit of the Lord, create a feeling of reverence, unify us as members, and provide a way for us to offer praises to the Lord.

“Some of the greatest sermons are preached by the singing of hymns. Hymns move us to repentance and good works, build testimony and faith, comfort the weary, console the mourning, and inspire us to endure to the end” (Hymns, ix).

Share also the following statement by Elder Dallin H. Oaks:

“The singing of hymns is one of the best ways to put ourselves in tune with the Spirit of the Lord. …

“The singing of hymns is one of the best ways to learn the doctrine of the restored gospel. …

“… We should use hymns when we need spiritual strength and inspiration.

“We who have ‘felt to sing the song of redeeming love’ (Alma 5:26) need to keep singing that we may draw ever closer to him who has inspired sacred music and commanded that it be used to worship him. May we be diligent in doing so is my humble prayer” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1994, 10, 13; or Ensign, Nov. 1994, 10, 13).

You may also wish to share with students the statement by Elder Bruce R. McConkie in the introduction to Psalms in Old Testament Student Manual: Genesis–2 Samuel (p. 309).