The psalms of the Old Testament belong to the earliest memories of my childhood when our family would gather on Sunday afternoons to read, memorize, and sing them. It was not an occasion that my sisters and I particularly relished. When we were given the opportunity to choose a psalm to memorize or read, invariably we chose Psalm 117 or Psalm 133, for the obvious reason of brevity—besides, we were fascinated with the oil running down Aaron's beard! The lessons, however, took. Not only have the psalms been present on family occasions through the years—trips, marriages, deaths—as they have been for countless other family circles, but they have become for me both an important part of the corporate worship of the people of God and a central preoccupation in my study and teaching of the Old Testament. Worship with the psalms and study of the psalms came especially close together during a sabbatical year in Cambridge, England. I frequently attended morning worship or evensong in the college chapels and heard the psalms beautifully sung in cycle; at the same time most of my hours in the study were spent with the psalms.
It is in the conviction that the psalms belong both at the center of the life and worship of Christian congregations and in the midst of the personal pilgrimage that each of us makes under the shadow of the Almighty, that I have written this book. Its audience is most obviously pastors and teachers in the church as well as those who may not have such official functions but love to read and study the psalms for whatever light they have to shed on their way in the world.
Part 1 of the book is designed to help interpreters of the psalms find