The Book of Psalms has the most chapters of any book in the Bible by far. With 150 chapters, it has more than twice as many chapters as the next longest book, Isaiah, and is equal to the combined number of chapters of the next three longest books, Genesis, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Psalms may not be the book with the longest word count, but it does take up a massive chunk of the Bible.Most of the books of the Bible are stories. They are prose tales meant to be recited or read in a normal cadence with simply a human voice. The exceptions to this rule are Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon, but most modern day readers would read Job and Ecclesiastes like prose.
Even among these poetic books, Psalms is unique. This is the only book of the Bible that is meant to be sung, not read. The very word “psalm” comes from the Greek psalmos “the sound emanating from plucking or twanging with the hands or fingers, usually from musical strings.” Psalms, by their nature, were meant not to be read like prose but sung as songs. That said, most Christians only hear the Psalms read, or so they think.
Though few churches sing passages from the Book of Psalms, Christians are actually likely to have been singing some of the Psalms without knowing it. This is because a number of popular Christians hymns are based on various psalms. Here are some of the most likely psalms for Christians to have been singing without knowing it.
Psalm 23Psalm 23 is one of the few psalms that was turned almost word for word into a popular song. The popular hymn “The Lord Is My Shepherd” follows Psalm 23 almost perfectly. The closeness of the words will vary slightly depending on the version of the hymn and the Bible translation used for the psalm. Both the psalm and the hymn open with the title of the hymn, “The LORD is my shepherd.” The hymn is usually sung with more old fashioned language with phrases such as “My soul He doth restore again/And me to walk doth make/within the paths of righteousness/E’en for His own name’s sake.” Some versions of the song, however, use more modern language. These updated songs are more likely to match Bibles such as the New Revised Standard Version or the New International Version, and older versions of the hymn will be closer to older translations of the Bible like the King James Version.
Psalm 19Like Psalm 23, the words of Psalm 19 are closely echoed in the popular hymn “The Heavens Declare.” The first stanza of the hymn is very similar to the opening of the psalm. The hymn reads “The heavens declare your glory,/the firmament your power;/day unto day the story/repeats from hour to hour./Night unto night replying,/proclaims in every land,/O Lord, with voice undying,/the wonders of your hand.” Psalm 19 begins, “The heavens are telling the glory of God;/and the firmament proclaims his handiwork./ Day to day pours fourth speech,/and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out throughout all the earth,/and their words to the end of the world.”
While “The Heavens Declare” and Psalm 19 are not as similar as “The Lord Is My Shepherd” and Psalm 23, the opening lines of “The Heavens Declare” are still clearly based on the beginning of Psalm 19. The hymn and psalm diverge from each other after the first stanza, but the hymn does continue to echo the psalm, even if it does not follow it so closely.
Psalm 91Psalm 91 is the basis for one of the most beloved Christian hymns of all time, “On Eagles Wings.” The verses of this famous hymn are based on the words of Psalm 91. The first and second verses of “On Eagles Wings” read: “You who dwell in the shelter of the Lord,/who abide in His shadow for life,/say to the Lord, “My Refuge,/ My Rock in Whom I trust,” and “The snare of the fowler will never capture you,/And famine will bring you no fear;/Under His Wings your refuge,/His faithfulness your shield.” Psalm 91’s opening lines are, “You who live in the shelter of the Most High,/who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,/will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress;/my God, in whom I trust.”/For He will deliver you from the snare of the fowler/and from the deadly pestilence;/He will cover you with his pinions,/and under His wings you will find refuge;/His faithfulness is a shield and buckler.”
Verses three and four of “On Eagles Wings,” similarly correspond to the end of the first stanza of Psalm 91 and the second stanza of Psalm 91 respectively. The refrain of the famous song, however, is a mix of several different verses including Psalm 91:12 and Isaiah 40:31.
Psalm 31 and Psalm 16While the songs based on Psalm 31 and Psalm 16 are not as well known as “The Lord Is My Shepherd” or “On Eagles Wings,” there are an awful lot of songs based on these two psalms. Both psalms speak of seeking refuge in God and trusting Him. Among the songs that are based on Psalm 16 are “Draw Me Close to Thee” and “God Is My Strength.” “Savior, Lead Me” and “The Hour of My Departure” are both based on Psalm 31.
The psalms were originally meant to be sung. Many Christians have forgotten that fact and think that they no longer perform the psalms. The reality is, however, that several of the most popular hymns in Christianity are based on psalms. While the hymns are not perfect word for word matches to the psalms, the Book of Psalms is still being performed in churches across the world. What David would think of piano accompaniment instead of a lyre, however, no one will ever know.