If you’ve glanced ahead at the Come, Follow Me material for this month, you may have been surprised to discover that the calendar lists the book of Psalms for our study for the next three weeks.
It’s a bit surprising, isn’t it? Considering there are plenty of other Bible chapters we’ve skipped to cover the entire Old Testament in one year, why give Psalms so much time and attention?
It goes without saying that Psalms is arguably one of the most beautiful books of scripture as an expression of spiritual poetry, and that alone makes it worth studying. But there are other reasons the book holds significance to us as Latter-day Saints. Here’s a look at a few of them.
1. Psalms are a part of our hymns today
It turns out that the psalms influence our religious worship more often than we might think. According to Study Commentary on the Old Testament, “no fewer than 50 of the 150 psalms are quoted or referenced in 76 hymns in the [Latter-day Saint] hymnbook.” Some of those hymns include:
- “The Lord Is My Shepherd” (Psalm 23)
- “The Lord Is My Light” (Psalm 27:1)
- “How Great Thou Art” (Psalms 8:3–9; 9:1–2)
- “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” (Psalm 23:6)
- “Sweet Is the Peace the Gospel Brings” (Psalm 119:97–104, 165)
- “For the Strength of the Hills” (Psalm 95:1–7)
- “Lead Me into Life Eternal” (Psalm 143:10)
- “Rejoice, the Lord Is King!” (Psalm 32:11)
- “A Might Fortress Is Our God” (Psalm 18:1–2)
- “For the Beauty of the Earth” (Psalms 95:1–6; 33:1–6)
2. The book of Psalms teaches universally comforting truths
In his book For Times of Trouble: Spiritual Solace from the Psalms, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland says, “the book of Psalms may be the one biblical text admired nearly equally by both Christians and Jews, to say nothing of those of other faiths—or no faith at all—who find comfort in its verses and encouragement in the hope they convey.”
Elder Holland shares an example of that hope in Psalm 56:9 by discussing the verse’s moving phrase “God is for me.” He then explains that God has an unfailing, unfaltering love for His children, and we can find comfort in that truth.
“In our efforts to swim through our sea of troubles, we must master this thought; in the common parlance of our faith, we must get a testimony of it. God is for us. He is never against us. We and all others have the freedom, the eternal agency, to make choices, including stupid or cruel or evil ones. Because of this He can be against things we do and against things that others do to us. He will always be against sin, abuse, and error in whatever form they come and from whomever they may flow. But even then He has the divine ability to separate His opposition to the sin from His unyielding love for the sinner,” Elder Holland says.
The comforting truths within the book of Psalms have also been shared over the pulpit throughout the years. For example, in the October 1986 general conference, President Russell M. Nelson titled his talk “Joy Cometh in the Morning,” inspired by the same phrase found in Psalm 30:5. He taught that “The gospel of Jesus Christ offers hope,” and “it declares joy to be a part of our divine destiny.”
And in his April 2014 address “Grateful in Any Circumstances,” Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf quoted Psalm 147:7, “sing unto the Lord with thanksgiving,” while teaching that gratitude can make life sweeter and more joyful even during difficult times.
“It might sound contrary to the wisdom of the world to suggest that one who is burdened with sorrow should give thanks to God,” Elder Uchtdorf said. “But those who set aside the bottle of bitterness and lift instead the goblet of gratitude can find a purifying drink of healing, peace, and understanding.”
3. The book of Psalms is quoted throughout other books of scripture—and might have even influenced Book of Mormon prophets.
Chances are, you’re more familiar with the book of Psalms than you might think. They are, after all, quoted throughout many other books of scripture. In fact, Study Commentary on the Old Testament explains that there are 283 direct citations of Old Testament material found in the New Testament—and nearly 41 percent stem from the book of Psalms.
But that’s not the only place scholars have studied how the book of Psalms may have influenced scripture. Professor John Hilton III writes in a BYU Religious Studies paper that although the psalms “are not specifically mentioned as being on the brass plates,” some of what we have today as the book of Psalms “could have been included on the plates.” Additionally, he states that Book of Mormon authors like Nephi may have been familiar with the psalms “based on their experience with temple worship in Jerusalem.”
Hilton goes on to say that 43 different phrases in the Book of Mormon show a strong connection to the Old Testament psalms. Some of those phrases are also in other books of scripture, like the Doctrine and Covenants, the book of Abraham, and other books in the Old Testament. Here’s a look at some of those phrases that are only mentioned in Psalms and in the Book of Mormon:
- “Tender mercies … are over all” (1 Nephi 1:20; Psalm 145:9)
- “According to the multitude of tender mercies” (1 Nephi 8:8; Psalm 69:16)
- “In the paths of righteousness” (1 Nephi 16:5; Alma 7:19; Psalm 23:3)
- “Because of mine enemies” (2 Nephi 4:27,29; Psalms 5:8; 27:11; 69:18)
- “I will praise thee forever” (2 Nephi 4:30; Psalm 89: 26)
- “My god and the rock of my salvation” (2 Nephi 4:30; Psalm 89:26)
- “I will trust in thee” (2 Nephi 4:34; Psalms 55:23; 56:3)
- “I will cry unto” (2 Nephi 4:35; Alma 33:11; Psalm 57:2)
- “Clean hands … pure heart” (2 Nephi 25:16; Alma 5:19; Psalm 24:4)
- “The depths of the earth” (2 Nephi 26:5; 3 Nephi 9:6,8: 28:20; Psalm 71:20)
Hilton goes on to explain that in the Book of Mormon, the books of Nephi and Jacob alone hold 60% of the potential references to the book of Psalms—perhaps because those prophets would have been most familiar with material on the brass plates—while other Book of Mormon speakers only make up one-third of the likely connections. He adds that “with one exception that is clearly attributable to Moroni, there are no apparent allusions to Psalms in the book of Ether,” which makes sense considering that sections of those writings predate the brass plates.
The Psalm of Nephi (2 Nephi 4:17–35), Hilton goes on to say, is made up of 660 words and 127 of them—or 20%—are also found in the biblical Psalter. Some of those words or phrases “are used frequently throughout scripture … others are significant, and appear only in these two [texts],” he says.
But what do we learn by comparing how the book of Psalms may be connected to the Book of Mormon? Hilton gives this powerful takeaway:
“When the multiple connections to Psalms are added together, Nephi could have alluded to potentially 47 different Psalms in just 18 verses. It stretches one’s imagination to believe that Joseph Smith could have been responsible for making all of these connections, particularly with the understanding that the Psalm of Nephi may have been translated in less than two hours. While some sections of Nephi’s soliloquy have relatively few allusions to Psalms, in other sections the number of connections is impressive. … I believe these allusions stem from Nephi’s mediations on the Psalms and … indicates that Nephi had access to them (either from the plates or his own cultural experiences in Jerusalem). Nephi’s apparent familiarity and love of the psalms can provide motivation for Latter-day Saints to follow Nephi’s example and become deeply familiar with the language of praise and worship as found in the Old Testament Psalms.”
4. Important themes about the Savior are taught in the book of Psalms
According to Study Commentary on the Old Testament, three important themes are emphasized throughout the book of Psalms. They are as follows:
- Jesus Christ is the Messiah and Redeemer of all mankind.
- Through the blessings and grace of the Lord we can receive forgiveness and redemption.
- Through the blessings and grace of the Lord we can help build the kingdom of God and stand in holy places.
So whether you like to study the book of Psalms in depth, enjoy seeing how they relate to us today, or have a special connection to one psalm in particular, may these insights be a jumping off point for you in your study of the Old Testament this month.
And more importantly, may your study of the psalms bring you closer to the Savior, help you find a deeper understanding of His love for you, and give you a greater knowledge of His divine mission.
▶You may also like: 13 Old Testament resources to help you get the most out of your 2022 study