17 Aug 2023

Psalms: “A Little Bible”

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bobby's World, Christian hope, Discipleship, Holy Spirit, Martin Luther, Prayer, Psalms, Spiritual Disciplines, Worship

Regularly, I get asked why I read the Psalms every day, every week, every month. And why I stress it for others. The reasons are legion. The Psalms are themselves prayer and worship so I am pulled into communion with the saints, that great cloud of witnesses, in the Psalms. But the Psalms help us see the big picture and what the entire Bible is “about.” It is a whole Bible in miniature. The great Reformer, Martin Luther, put it like this.

[The Psalter] “might well be called a little Bible. In it is comprehended most beautifully and briefly everything that is in the entire Bible … Anyone who could not read the whole Bible would here have anyway almost an entire summary of it, comprised in one little book … The Psalter ought to be a precious and beloved book.”

– Martin Luther, Preface to the Psalter, in Luther Works, volume 35, p. 254

What Martin Luther so wisely discerns here is accurate. In the ancient world of Israel and most of the Christian centuries leading up to Luther, no one owned a “Bible.” And the vast majority could not read.

The Psalms, however, were encountered in public communal worship and deeply embedded into Israel’s festivals. The Psalms sung (enmeshed with the festivals especially) taught the basic gist, the message, of the “Bible.” The Psalms quite literally help us understand the entire Bible and the central themes of the Bible. The basic gist of the biblical teaching on


– King/Messiah

– Divine Presence (i.e. Spirit)

– Creation

– Kingdom

– Worship

– Hesed (grace/mercy/steadfast love)

– Faith

The Psalms keep the “main thing” the Main Thing! Thus they can keep us focused on what matters rather than splintering on minutia.

Over the years of reading and praying the Psalms, I have discovered that the Psalms frame not only most of the Hebrew Bible but the “New Testament” as well. Psalms will CHANGE how we read Jesus and “church.” The Psalter is essential to a Christian Spirituality and worldview.

Is it any wonder that Rabbi Paul would tell former pagans, new minted citizens of Israel, to immerse themselves in the Book of Psalms (Ephesians 5.19-20). There was no Bible for Paul to hand out to the Ephesians, so he pointed them to “the Little Bible.” Paul’s own letters to new citizens of Israel are all baptized into the Psalter (to use a metaphor that is more literal than we imagine).

The more we know the Book of Psalms the more we will know and understand the Bible as a whole.

Reading the Psalms daily is a Spiritual discipline. Like taking vitamins and walking. Resist the urge to read snippets of Psalms. Read the entire Psalm. In fact read the Book of Psalms like all other books, from beginning to end, each psalm sequentially. Five Psalms a day, except Psalm 119 counts as five, allows you to read the entire book every month. This is called lectio continua. You stick with it and you will be amazed at what the Holy Spirit does in you, how the whole Bible and even Christianity itself takes on new and deep layers of meaning.

Tolle lege.

One Response to “Psalms: “A Little Bible””

  1. Henry Valencia Says:

    Good stuff!

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