Ancient Songs: An Introduction

It would not be going too far out on a limb in speculating that the book of Psalms has been read by God’s people more than any other Old Testament book since the compiling of the biblical cannon at the Council of Laodicea in AD 363. And it could easily be argued that Psalms is the most read biblical text of all time. The fact that it is quoted or referenced over 400 times in the New Testament, more than any other Old Testament book, would go a long way in substantiating that claim. Christ himself quoted Psalms more than any other scriptures from the Old Testament.

Certainly the reasons for endearing popularity of Psalms are as numerous as the verses in the book itself. One possible reason to be considered is centered on the fact that the Psalms were written as poetic verses and intended to be sung by God’s people in corporate worship. The word psalm is an English transliteration of the Greek word psalmos, which means “song” and indicates musical accompaniment. Most of the population throughout antiquity were illiterate so putting chords and melody to God’s word provided an easier means of memorization. For most of history, even if a person were literate, any form of reading material was extremely rare until the invention of the printing press in 1450.

A compelling reason for the love the psalter by God’s people, more than any other reason, is the refreshing practicality to be found throughout its pages. The various authors paint for us a life lived with a firm conviction of God’s sovereignty in all circumstances–a life where trials are ordained by God but his love is never diminished. He is worthy of our ceaseless worship and is to be trusted through every season of life.

“…the prayers preserved in the Psalms reflect the entire sweep of human experiences–hope, fear, rage, doubt, faith, despair, betrayal, love, discouragement, loneliness, and much more.”

– D. A. Carson

In his book Praying with Paul: A Call To Spiritual Reformation, D.A. Carson, expands on this thought when he says “…the prayers preserved in the Psalms reflect the entire sweep of human experiences–hope, fear, rage, doubt, faith, despair, betrayal, love, discouragement, loneliness, and much more.” In a Desiring God article, The Strange Sounds of Praise: A Sufferer’s Introduction to the Psalms, Jon Bloom gives the following list of experiences recorded by the various psalmist:

  • perceived abandonment by God (22)
  • severe illness (41)
  • confession of grievous sins (51)
  • fear of great danger (54)
  • disillusionment with God (73)
  • faith crisis (77)
  • chronic depression (88)
  • dismay over God seemingly neglecting to keep his promises (89)
  • seething with anger over another’s treachery (109)
  • and being on the receiving end of God’s discipline (39).

Clearly throughout the Psalter, the reader is encouraged to worship and trust the Lord whether in the deepest of sorrows or the fullest of joys.

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Regardless of the reasons for the longevity of Psalms, we know that we were created to worship God, and that He delights in being worshiped in song. And since by all accounts these verses were written as poetry, intended to be sung, no other book in scripture encourages and assist in worship like the book of Psalms. Come let us worship the Lord, through the beauty of these ancient songs!


Clyde Adams is the co-founder and graphic designer for The Readable Bible (TRB) and is an assistant editor for Reading For The Glory.


To view more articles in this series, please check out the Ancient Songs page.