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Invitation to the Psalms

A Reader's Guide for Discovery and Engagement

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The Book of Psalms is perhaps the most cherished book in the Old Testament. In this lively volume, two experienced teachers invite students to read and explore the Psalter and roam widely among its poems. The book introduces the dynamics of the biblical text, helping students become careful and attentive readers. It covers how to read Hebrew poetry, the Psalter's basic genres, the idea of "the psalmist," the metaphorical world of the Psalms, and the theology of the Psalms. Sidebars, discussion questions, and plenty of examples enhance the reading experience. This clear and concise guide is accessible to all serious students of the Bible.


"The Jacobsons have written a winsome, accessible introduction to the psalms that invites readers to fresh understanding and engagement. The authors have taken the most characteristic elements of the psalms--parallelism, genre, life setting, and metaphor--and made them understandable in ways that will enhance devotional and liturgical use. Invitation to the Psalms combines discerning theology with a lightheartedness that brings the reader along in doing interpretation in imaginative, real-life ways."

Walter Brueggemann, professor emeritus of Old Testament, Columbia Theological Seminary

"The authors have written one of the most accessible introductions to the Psalter available. From the character of the psalms as poetry to their function as a testimony to the God whose ways are at the center of all the psalms, the authors have taken up basic aspects of the psalms in simple, fresh, and genuinely inviting ways. Readers at all levels will enjoy and learn from this presentation of the richness of the psalms."

Patrick D. Miller, professor of Old Testament theology emeritus, Princeton Theological Seminary

"This is the best kind of introduction to a book of the Bible--informative, engaging, scholarly with a light touch, well calculated to help people read the Bible but not to be a substitute for reading it, and capable of encouraging people to water-ski across the psalms (as the authors themselves put it)."

John Goldingay, David Allan Hubbard Professor of Old Testament, Fuller Theological Seminary

"Invitation to the Psalms does just that in a very winsome fashion. It is most readable, using literary insights from modern poetry to illuminate the character and message of the ancient psalms. It is up-to-date in its scholarship without overburdening the reader with technicalities. In short, it is an ideal introduction to interpreting the psalms for individual or classroom use."

Gordon Wenham, tutor in Old Testament, Trinity College Bristol

"In their characteristically vivid, lively, engaging, and often humorous way, Rolf and Karl Jacobson succeed wonderfully in their stated goal of enabling readers not only to study the psalms but also to experience them. While this book is aimed at and clearly accessible to the nonspecialist, more advanced students of the psalms, including pastors and teachers in churches and synagogues, will also appreciate and benefit from this volume. Psalms scholars will recognize and appreciate the authors' solid interpretive foundation as well as the careful, concrete, and creative way that they invite a wider audience to experience the riches of the psalms."

J. Clinton McCann Jr., Evangelical Professor of Biblical Interpretation, Eden Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri

"In this volume, Rolf and Karl Jacobson provide a succinct and approachable guide to understanding the structure and message of the psalms. Students of the book of Psalms often do not have a clear understanding of the nature of Hebrew poetry, the use of imagery in the psalms, and the 'voices' of the psalmists. Or, students overanalyze the psalms and miss the power of their poetic messages. The Jacobsons offer a much-needed middle ground in psalm studies, and Invitation to the Psalms will be a valuable tool in the classroom and the parish for years to come."

Nancy L. Declaisse-Walford, Carolyn Ward Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages, McAfee School of Theology

"The authors combine their considerable knowledge (and wit!) to pen an insightful volume that is--true to its title--an excellent guide to discovering and engaging the psalms. But the book does even more, helping readers enjoy, experience, and read the psalms more perceptively. Full of insight and exposition of a host of individual psalms and including discussions of psalmic poetry, genres, voicing, metaphors, and theology, this is an ideal first book on the psalms whether for self-study or for teaching. It will also delight and instruct even those already comfortably at home in the Psalter."

Brent A. Strawn, associate professor of Old Testament, Candler School of Theology and Graduate Division of Religion, Emory University

"Rolf and Karl Jacobson have written a gem of an introduction to the powerful poetry of the psalms. This work is not only a sure guide to the best of modern scholarship, but it also helps readers develop exactly the sort of informed imagination needed to read and pray the psalms effectively. A work of keen literary insight and rare theological depth, this engaging volume will be of great benefit to both beginners and experienced readers of these important texts."

Harry Nasuti, Fordham University

"This is a winsome and inviting book by two specialists who clearly love to read the psalms themselves. Rolf and Karl Jacobson are reliable and friendly guides through the landscape of the psalms, which sometimes seems overly familiar and sometimes rather forbidding. The authors help readers navigate this terrain and emerge on the other side richer for it, well equipped and eager to delve into the psalms themselves."

David M. Howard Jr., professor of Old Testament, Bethel Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota

"Rolf and Karl Jacobson tackle the complex and often confusing world of ancient biblical poetry and provide an astute and accessible guide for understanding the book of Psalms. Written in an engaging style with a clear format, Invitation to the Psalms will help students quickly grasp how to use the psalms for individual devotion and group learning. The book's examples are engaging and often humorous, keeping students involved in the process of learning poetry in a modern world so devoid of the genre. This work is an important addition for anyone teaching the psalms."

Beth LaNeel Tanner, assistant professor of Old Testament, New Brunswick Theological Seminary

The Authors

  1. Rolf A. Jacobson

    Rolf A. Jacobson

    Rolf A. Jacobson (PhD, Princeton Theological Seminary) is professor of Old Testament and the Alvin N. Rogness Chair of Scripture, Theology, and Ministry at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is the coauthor, with...

    Continue reading about Rolf A. Jacobson

  2. Karl Jacobson

    Karl Jacobson

    Karl N. Jacobson (ThD, Providence Theological School) is senior pastor of Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He previously taught at Augsburg College. He is the author of Memories of Asaph and has coauthored several books...

    Continue reading about Karl Jacobson

  3. Karl N. Jacobson

    Karl N. Jacobson

    Karl N. Jacobson (ThD, Providence Theological School) is senior pastor of Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He previously taught at Augsburg College. He is the author of Memories of Asaph and has coauthored several books...

    Continue reading about Karl N. Jacobson


"It is always a delight to come to the end of a book and feel that it has done what is suggested by the title. In this engaging, and often entertaining, invitation to the Psalms, Rolf and Karl Jacobson have done just that. . . . [An] important aspect of the book . . . is the way [the authors] use relatively contemporary Western poems and songs as a means of guiding readers into the psalms themselves. . . . . The Jacobsons have done a wonderful job in inviting readers both to discover the Psalms and also to continue their engagement with them through the resources provided. . . . We should acknowledge their achievement and hope that their invitation is widely accepted in colleges and parishes so that readers not only take up and read the Psalms but take them up and read them well."

David Firth,

Review of Biblical Literature

"[This book] invites readers into the beauty and raw reality of the life of faith evident in the Psalter and equips them with the tools to become more thoughtful readers of the Bible's prayerbook. . . . [The authors] achieve this with an engaging (and oftentimes humorous) writing style, an ability to distill complicated ideas from a long history of psalms scholarship into something accessible for their intended audience, sidebar discussions typing the point under consideration to contemporary music and poetry, as well as the participatory nature of the book itself. . . . Additional strengths abound. . . . A few years ago I was invited to teach a multiweek adult Bible study at my church. I chose the Psalms. . . . While the study went well, there were some participants who expressed their frustration at not being able to 'get into' the Psalms. Still others wanted a resource to guide them in self-study after our time together ended. For both of these audiences, I wish I had had this book to share with them."

John E. Anderson,

Review of Biblical Literature

"I wish I had written this book! The Jacobson brothers have given us a clear and charming introduction to the study of the psalms. The fruit of their teaching experience is evident on every page. The simplicity of their writing style in no way diminishes the thoroughness and depth of the material. They name their audience as the 'interested nonspecialist student' and have crafted the book well for this group. But there is much that can be learned by more seasoned educators as well. . . . This book will be useful not only for teachers but also for anyone who wants to grasp the riches of the psalms more deeply. As the subtitle suggests, it leads the reader to greater discovery and engagement with this important biblical book. Read it! However familiar with the psalms you are or are not, you will learn something from this book."

Irene Nowell, OSB,


"The Jacobson brothers have made critical scholarship remarkably accessible in their Invitation to the Psalms, reframing academese into easily digestible discourse. Exceedingly clear, but not simplistic, this introductory textbook engages the reader with a personal, even intimate, authorial voice. . . . The accessibility of the prose matches the contact and structure of this book, with its focus on illuminating the 'most accessible features' of the Psalms for those without facility in Hebrew. . . . This volume delivers exactly what it promises. It even reads, at times, like an engaging workbook. A number of 'fill in the blank' exercises encourage readers to create their own psalms and prayers. Multiple callout boxes illustrate important points. Provocative exercises conclude each chapter along with a handful of suggestions for further reading. . . . As such, the volume is well suited for use in introductory classes. . . . Pastors and religious professionals will find this work to be a general and careful, but also very lively, overview to the Psalter--a valuable resource for leading its readers into an experience of the Psalms."

Joel LeMon,

Theology Today

"This helpful little book does just what its title promises: it invites readers into the Book of Psalms, providing a 'tour-guide pamphlet' to the psalms' sometimes unfamiliar landscape. . . . The book invites readers to explore the theology of the psalms. The authors know what questions people usually have about the Book of Psalms, and they provide helpful, understandable responses, with plenty of illustrations from the psalms as well as other examples from the Bible or our own culture. . . . Brief reading suggestions at the end of each chapter and a well-done index add to the book's usefulness. . . . This book does a great job of helping people read the psalms in a way that is honest to both ancient history and today's life of faith."

Marti J. Steussy,


"The great merit of this volume lies in making the complex world of the biblical psalms accessible for [the authors'] readership. . . . Short bibliographies at the end of each chapter encourage readers to deepen their understanding while the argument is illustrated with lots of helpful examples and short exercises using further textual examples. This volume has its life setting at the desk of both the first year student and the interested Christian in the congregation. While special studies on the psalms are numerous, there are few authors who succeed to translate the insights of scholarship for a wider audience. Here, Rolf and Karl Jacobson display an excellent grasp of current scholarship and they have written a guidebook on the psalms that enables the reader to understand, appropriate, and enjoy the biblical texts."

Anja Klein,

Expository Times

"[An] engaging book. . . . The Jacobsons have given students a basic and accessible introduction to the Psalms by providing a framework for their reading and enactment. . . . By the end of the book, the reader is drawn into the rich tapestry of the psalms and is left with tools, questions, and readings for further exploration. I would highly recommend this book as a basic and practical introduction to the psalms."

John I. Milton,

Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

"[This] is one of the better introductions to the Psalms precisely because it is not a dry rehearsal of forms for academic perusal. Rather, [the authors] understand the Psalms are to be read, prayed, and sung; and they write in order to aid people in experiencing the Psalms for themselves."

Ray Van Neste,

Preaching (Annual Survey of the Year's Best Bibles and Bible Reference, 2013)

"A useful resource for those seeking to better understand this poetic portion of God's Word. Written as an introduction to the Psalter, the authors help us better understand how to read Hebrew poetry, to identify the genres used, and to reflect on the theological ideas and themes of the Psalms."


"The six chapters of this book address aspects of the study of the psalms that are necessary for the beginning reader. . . . These technical issues are treated in a manner that is readable without underrating their somewhat critical character. Each chapter ends with three features that add to the pedagogical effectiveness of this approach: a conclusion aptly summarizes the content of the chapter; suggestions for related activities help the reader grasp the matter discussed in a deeper fashion; and a short list of books is provided for further reading. The book lends itself to either individual or group Bible study."

Dianne Bergant, CSA,

The Bible Today

"Each chapter concludes with a series of questions/exercises that give students the opportunity to apply the lessons of the preceding chapter. . . . Suggestions for further reading are provided at the end of each chapter as well."

Old Testament Abstracts

"The authors have chosen their words carefully. The 'guide' they wish to provide is truly about 'Invitation,' 'Discovery,' and 'Engagement.' The steps toward fulfillment of this threefold encounter are equally laid out with care. . . . [The chapters are] designed to enhance listening, learning, differentiating, hearing, understanding, [and] appreciating skills. This design provides a very helpful concentration upon genre and genre differentiation. . . . Noteworthy in the structural layout of all the chapters is that the reader is reminded in a concise restatement (='Conclusion') of what the chapter was about. This is then followed by suggestions on where to go now for a deeper understanding (= mulling possibilities for further reflection and discussion) along with additional bibliography. Also noteworthy in the book's layout is the helpful use of graphics in general. . . . Thank you to the Jacobsons for their invitation and this very helpful publication."

John E. Alsup,

Horizons in Biblical Theology

"[The authors] have written a lively and helpful book that really does encourage the reader not just to read their book but to read the Psalms. . . . The value of this book is in its constant invitation to the reader to experience the Psalms. All the analysis in the world is only a servant to that end, and the Jacobsons remind the reader of that truth at every turn."

John de Hoog,

Vox Reformata

"The Jacobsons hope to invite readers to read and experience the Psalms by acquainting them with the Psalter. Their target reader is the inexperienced student who has little Hebrew competency. Do they succeed? The answer is unequivocally yes! This success may be seen in several ways. First, the language that the Jacobsons choose is simple and clear . . ., rather than convoluted. Second, the constant active learning activities throughout the book . . . help the student comprehend. Third, the breakout boxes . . . and the use of shapes (e.g., circles and triangles to explain genre) truly inculcate the undeveloped student. Fourth and broadly, the Jacobsons keep the entire work light-hearted and accessible for their target audience. Fifth, the choice and explanation of metaphor help the student understand important and often neglected imagery. . . . This book is a wonderful contribution to introductory studies of Psalms."

Ethan Jones,

Southwestern Journal of Theology

"Rolf and Karl Jacobson have penned a delightfully witty and approachable introduction to the Psalter. . . . The Jacobsons have done a fine job distilling psalms scholarship into its most potent form for the non-specialist. The trained eye will notice that the authors have seamlessly woven some of the most cutting edge scholarship into the larger tapestry of Psalms studies without overburdening the reader. . . . Anyone interested in tapping into the wellspring of riches that is the Psalter would do well to read this volume."

B. J. Parker,

Review and Expositor

"The authors present the psalms with a fresh outlook in order to create a deeper appreciation of the book in the reader. . . . This book is intended for those who have not studied Psalms but are open to learning the significance of this book and what it means to the rest of the Bible and its practical application to the Christian life. . . . This book would assist young students who are interested in studying the different types of psalms in the Bible. By analyzing the Scriptures and carefully explaining their significance, the authors shed light on questions that a reader may have about the Psalms. . . . Old Testament professors may find that this book provides a textbook to use in their classes as a way of allowing modern students to engage the psalms on a more practical level."

Robert Burgess,

Journal for the Evangelical Study of the Old Testament

"If you are someone who simply cannot resist the beauty and intimacy of the Psalms, then this book is for you."

Matthew Miller,'s Academic Blog

"An accessible introduction to reading the Psalms for non-specialists. . . . This is a useful reference for readers seeking a better understanding to this poetic portion of the Old Testament. The authors help readers understand how to read Hebrew poetry, identify genres, and reflect on themes and theological ideas of the Psalms, writing engagingly and clearly. They distinguish between form and content, and different classifications of psalms as well as their structure. In the end, their goal is for readers to hear the psalmist's voice, understand its cultural context, and experience the value of the psalms as modern people of faith."

Tami Echavarria Robinson,

Fellowship of Christian Librarians