What if the psalms in the Bible are meant to be sung?
What if that’s how they were written and first heard?
Tim Riordan, author and pastor at SonRise Baptist Church in Newman, Georgia, makes a strong case for singing and studying the Psalms in Songs from the Heart: Meeting with God in the Psalms, originally published in 2014. He could have taken a more theological bent, but he didn’t. Instead, Songs from the Heart is engaging, approachable, and fascinating, as he takes the reader on a journey through the psalms.
Riordan begins by telling a fiction story of some 2,500 years ago, how the psalms would have been enmeshed not only in formal ceremonial and worship events but in everyday life. Then he provides a “big picture” view of what the psalms are about, the different kinds of psalms, who wrote them, and how they would have been used. Why is this important? “Psalms is one of the most loved and most read books of the Bible,” he writes. “It is difficult to fully grasp the impact that this central book of God’s Word has had upon humanity.”
Psalms is a book of poetry, he points out, but it’s more than that, and includes a number of literary sub-genres. The word translated as “psalm” comes from a Hebrew word that “literally means ‘to pluck a strong,’” Riordan says, meaning that from the beginning, the psalms were poems meant to be set to music and sung. And there are seven different kinds of psalms – hymn, lament, processional, royal, thanksgiving, reflection, and wisdom. They are organized in the Bible in five different groupings, believed to be aligned with the first five books of the Old Testament, or the Pentateuch.
The bulk of the Songs of the Heart is an extended discussion of how the psalms can be used today. Riordan takes 30 of the 150 psalms and explains what they mean, how they were likely used, what was their context, and how they apply to basic questions (and often struggles) people still have today. And that’s a bedrock theme of this book – people still struggle with the same questions and issues that they did when the psalms were written.
Riordan, in addition to his SonRise pastoral duties, received a degree in music from the University of Georgia, a Master of Divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and a Doctorate of Ministry degree from the Baptist Theological Seminary in New Orleans. He is also the author of Immovable: Standing Firm in the Last Days (2014), The Published Pastor – Book One: Expanding Your Ministry Through Writing and Publishing (2015), and The Published Pastor – Book 2: How to Write and Publish Books (2015).
Songs from the Heart is an engaging overview of why the psalms are important and how they apply to worship and faith today.
Top photograph by Bryan Minear via Unsplash. Used with permission.