Biblical Hermeneutics - Lesson 35

Genre of Psalms

The book of Psalms is divided into five sections. The Psalms were written by different people at different times for different purposes. Some were for public worship and some were the result of personal reflection in times of joy, distress or repentance. 

Robert Stein
Biblical Hermeneutics
Lesson 35
Watching Now
Genre of Psalms

Genre of Psalms

I. Structure

A. Book 1: Psalms 1-41

B. Book 2: Psalms 42-72

C. Book 3: Psalms 73-89

D. Book 4: Psalms 90-106

E. Book 5: Psalms 107-150

II. Authorship

III. Categories of Psalms

A. Psalms of Zion

B. Royal Psalms

C. Hymns

D. Wisdom Psalms

E. Penitential Psalms

F. Imprecatory Psalms

G. Praise Psalms

H. Lament Psalms

1. Address to God

2. Complaint

3. Prayer for help or deliverance

4. Confession of confidence

5. Praise

  • Understanding the roots of the English language and knowing the history of the English translations of the Bible gives you a context that can help you understand the meaning of the passage you are reading. 

  • After William Tyndale published the first Bible in English in 1539 that was translated from the Hebrew and Greek texts, King James of England assembled a team of top scholars to create an English translation that was published in 1611. More recent translations are still being made to reflect new manuscript discoveries and changes in the English language. 

  • There is no such thing as an exact word equivalent when going from one language to another. Different languages as well as different cultures pose a challenge for translators. It's important to use the best manuscripts for your translation.

  • A few of the challenges that translators face are for the translation to be accurate but understandable, contemporary but universal, and to avoid a theological bias. Contemporary languages are always changing, and each translator holds theological beliefs based on years of training and experience. 

  • Inerrancy of the Bible is an important foundation for the process of translation. Some translations focus more on "word-for-word" equivalents and some focus more on "thought-for-thought" equivalents. Some translations include footnotes to explain a verse that is ambiguous or controversial. 

  • The three components that determine meaning in written communication are the author, the text and the reader. In determining the meaning of Biblical passages, it's important to know as much as possible about all three components. 

  • The author of a passage made an intentional effort to communicate a message. It is the job of the reader to determine the meaning and implications of the message by studying the text itself, then evaluating the literary form and other contextual factors. 

  • The first step in interpretation is to focus on the pattern of meaning the author consciously willed to convey by the words they used. Then, the implications of the text may also include meanings in the text of which the author was unaware but fall within the author's pattern of meaning.

  • It's important to define your terms when you are determining the interpretation and application of Biblical passages. Your goal is to begin by hearing the message of a passage as the author intended it and the first readers would have understood it. 

  • The written word correctly interpreted is the objective basis of authority. The inward illuminating and persuading work of the Holy Spirit is the subjective dimension. When 1 Cor. 2:14 says that an unspiritual man cannot understand Scritpure, it is referring to his lack of acceptance rather than his mental grasp of the words. 

  • You will gain a comprehensive understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit in relation to believers, the church, and the world. The lesson covers the Holy Spirit's work in the regeneration and sanctification of believers, empowering and guiding them, unifying the church, bestowing spiritual gifts, the conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgment, and drawing people to God. The conclusion summarizes the Holy Spirit's impact on all aspects of life.

  • Your presuppositions about whether or not the miracles in the Bible took place as they are recorded will affect the way you look at the Bible and at specific events. Three approaches to this question are the supernatural approach, rationalist approach and the mythical approach. 

  • Kinds of meaning and types of meaning are two of the main ideas in the book, "The Language and Imagery of the Bible," by G. B. Caird. Proverbs are short, pithy sayings that express a general truth. Exceptions are allowed. A good example of an exception to a proverb is the book of Job.

  • Judgment prophecy assumes that, even if not stated, if the people repent, judgment will not come. Prophets also tend to speak in figurative language, using cosmic terminology. 

  • The prophets use figurative and metaphorical language to describe future events and spiritual reality. They also use cosmic language to describe God acting in history. 

  • Dr. Stein discusses the possibility of a sensus plenior in some passages. In Mark 13, Jesus talks about coming events that are also prophesied in the Old Testament. 

  • Judges chapters 4 and 5 describe the same events. Chapter 4 uses prose, chapter 5 uses poetry. The book of Psalms is a collection of songs, prayers and reflections about human emotions, and God, his character and his work in the world. 

  • Jesus uses parallelism in the Gospels to illustrate and emphasize who God is and what the kingdom of God is like. In order to understand an idiom, you first need to identify it as an idiom and then determine what the meaning is in the culture.  

  • Exaggeration is overstatement. Hyperbole is literally impossible. When using exaggeration, both parties must agree that the expression is an exaggeration. Jesus uses exaggeration to emphasize and illustrate important teachings. 

  • Jesus uses exaggeration to make his point clear, especially on matters of morality, but doesn't take the time to discuss possible exceptions. Jesus also uses all-inclusive and universal language, as well as idiomatic language that no longer bears its original meaning. 

  • Some of the early church writers and the reformers interpreted parables, like the parable of the Good Samaritan, as allegories. 

  • Adolf Jülicher taught that parables tend to have one basic point of comparison, and the details are just there to make the story interesting. So you should try to understand what’s the main point of the parable. To begin with, seek to understand the parable as the first century audience would have. Consider what the Gospel writers were trying to teach. Ask how it applies to you in your current situation. 

  • In the parable of the hidden treasure and the parable of the pearl of great price, the message of the value of the kingdom of God is more important than the character of the man. In the parable of the ten virgins and the parable of the dishonest manager, it's important to focus on the main point of the parable and not to get distracted by the details. The parable of the lost sheep teaches us to pursue the lost. 

  • When interpreting the parable of the workers, determine the main characters, consider the rule of end stress and pay attention to what gets the most press. 

  • Some parables are best interpreted as an allegory. It's important to ask if Jesus with his audience would have attributed meaning to these details and if the audience of the Gospel writers would have understood the details as being allegorical. 

  • When you are determining how you should apply the parable of the final judgment in Matthew 25: 31-46, who Jesus is referring to when he says, "...just as you did it to one of the least of these, my brethren, you did it to me." In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus makes a point about what causes people to believe in him or to not believe in him. 

  • You read and interpret a passage that is historical narrative differently than a passage that is prophecy, poetry or a parable. Much of the historical information in the Bible is confirmed by archaeological discoveries including literature from other contemporary cultures. In the 1700's there was a group of scholars that began questioning whether the miraculous events in the Bible were supernatural. They tried to find meaning in the stories without saying that a miracle happened assumed that the real meaning is not the same as the author's literal intention. They did this by finding the meaning of the words, then conducting a historical assessment of what really happened. 

  • Supernaturalists believe that the miracles the Gospel writers recorded were supernatural events. The rationalists believe that either the Gospel writers knew that miracles did not take place, but they were accommodating their readers who did believe in miracles, or that they really believed them but they were just myths. This would require the Gospel writers to be liars or not very smart, neither of which seem consistent with the care and precision with which the Gospels were written. When you are preaching a narrative passage, it's important to include the whole context when you are interpreting the meaning of the events.

  • When interpreting the epistles, it's important to identify which words are used frequently, what the meaning of the words are and how the author uses them. It can be helpful to study the etymology of words and the meaning of words in their historical context. The process of moving from norms of language to norms of utterance is important. 

  • We can get information about the meaning of words from studying ancient Greek literature, the writings of early church fathers and the translators of the Hebrew Old Testament. We can also compare letters written by the same author, and also how the word is used within the same letter or passage. It can be helpful to look at the way different authors use the same word. 

  • Once you determine the meaning of the words, it's important to recognize how they are used in the sentence and how the clauses in the sentence are related. Understanding the different ways clauses can be used will help you determine the meaning of each sentence. The distinction between "means" and "cause" is significant. 

  • Romans 13:1-7 is a good example of the development of a logical argument. Most of the epistles follow the form of an ancient letter, which is greeting or salutation, thanksgiving or prayer, body of the letter and conclusion. 

  • Two types of covenants are the parity covenant and suzerain covenant. Covenant language is used in both the Old Testament and New Testament. The parts of a covenant, illustrated in the Mosaic covenant in Exodus 20, are the preamble, prologue, stipulations, provision for continual reading and witnesses.

  • God renews his covenant with Israel in Joshua 24. The three types of laws in the Old Testament are civil laws, cultic laws and moral laws. 

  • The book of Psalms is divided into five sections. The Psalms were written by different people at different times for different purposes. Some were for public worship and some were the result of personal reflection in times of joy, distress or repentance. 

  • In Jesus's day, the Scripture was the books of the Old Testament. Many of the books of the New Testament were written before 70 a.d. The Gospel writers produced a written record of the life of Jesus. Paul and other apostles wrote to churches to encourage and teach them. Eusebius, a church historian in 325a.d., recorded a list of the books that are currently in the New Testament.

  • Factors in recognizing the books that make up the New Testament were apostolic authorship, use in the church over time, unity and agreement and the superintendence of the Holy Spirit. The writing of the books of the Bible was inspired by God and it is inerrant. 

Dr. Robert Stein covers the history of the English Bible and then moves into the rules for interpreting the biblical text, including the role of the Holy Spirit in the hermeneutical process. He then spends considerable time moving through the different genres of literature (e.g., proverbs, poetry, parables, narrative). Dr. Stein did not provide us the notes he refers to in the class, but we did place links for the books he used as a basis for the class on the class page under the Recommended Reading heading.

Recommended Books

Biblical Hermeneutics - Student Guide

Biblical Hermeneutics - Student Guide

How do you even start to study your Bible? What are the guiding principles? Are the rules for interpreting narrative any different from parables and apocalyptic literature?...

Biblical Hermeneutics - Student Guide

All right, we want to look at the Psalms. The book of Psalms is the largest book in the Bible. And it consists of 5 parts. There are 5 books actually. And each of those books or sections ends with a doxology.

Now, the 1st set of Psalms, book 1 ends at Psalm 41, and then the last verse that concludes that 1st book, ends:

“Blessed be the Lord, God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and Amen”

The 2nd book consists of Psalms 42 to 72 and that ends with the doxology:

“Blessed be the Lord, God of Israel who alone does wondrous things. Blessed be His glorious name forever. May His glory fill the whole earth. Amen and Amen.”

The prayers of David, son of Jesse are ended.

Then you have book 3 and I do not understand why there is a difference in sizes here between them.  This is a short one but book 3 is Psalm 73 through 89. 89 ends:

“Blessed be the Lord forever! Amen and Amen”

Book 4, Psalm 90 to 106 and 106 ends with the doxology in verse 48:

“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting. And all of the people said, ‘Amen. Praise the Lord!’”

The last section, Book 5, Psalm  107 to 150. Actually Psalm 150 is the entire doxology ending:

1 Praise the LORD!

Praise God in his sanctuary;

praise him in his mighty firmament!

2 Praise him for his mighty deeds;

praise him according to his surpassing greatness!

3 Praise him with trumpet sound;

praise him with lute and harp!

4 Praise him with tambourine and dance;

praise him with strings and pipe!

5 Praise him with clanging cymbals;

praise him with loud clashing cymbals!

6 Let everything that breathes praise the LORD!

Praise the LORD!

Now, of these Psalms, the largest number of them, some 73 are attributed to David.

The next largest grouping, 73 are to David, that’s about half of all the Psalms.

Twelve are to Asaph. And 11 to the sons of Korah. So nearly a 100 or about 2/3rds of the Psalms are devoted to David, Asaph or the Sons of Korah.

Much of the arrangements of these books, and the editorial work is done by unknown editorialists and somehow we have to have an understanding that in the inspiration of God, this editorial work is also divinely authorized and partly because how they are placed and where they are located helps in the interpretation of the Psalms, so the editors of these also have to be inspired in how they organize the Psalms in this particular way.

Now, there are a lot of different kinds of Psalms. They are not all the same. But there are different kinds. Let us look at some of them.

Psalm 84

1 How lovely is your dwelling place,

O LORD of hosts!

2 My soul longs, indeed it faints

for the courts of the LORD;

my heart and my flesh sing for joy

to the living God.

3 Even the sparrow finds a home,

and the swallow a nest for herself,

where she may lay her young,

at your altars, O LORD of hosts,

my King and my God.

4 Happy are those who live in your house,

ever singing your praise.

5 Happy are those whose strength is in you,

in whose heart are the highways to Zion.

6 As they go through the valley of Baca

they make it a place of springs;

the early rain also covers it with pools.

7 They go from strength to strength;

the God of gods will be seen in Zion.

8 O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer;

give ear, O God of Jacob!

9 Behold our shield, O God;

look on the face of your anointed.

10 For a day in your courts is better

than a thousand elsewhere.

I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God

than live in the tents of wickedness.

11 For the LORD God is a sun and shield;

he bestows favor and honor.

No good thing does the LORD withhold

from those who walk uprightly.

12 O LORD of hosts,

happy is everyone who trusts in you.

Now, how many of you like in Psalm 48 have said something like this.

“Let Louisville be glad.

Let the towns of Kentucky rejoice because of your judgments.

Walk around Louisville

Go all around it.

Count its towers.

Consider well its ramparts.

Go through its citadels

That you may tell the next generation that this is God.

Our God forever and ever

He will be your guide forever”

When you put any other city in there, it kind of looks dumb. Right?

Why is this? Why do we have this Psalms of Zion? 

When you think of Zion, God has chosen to set His name in that city. And so when you think of the glory of Zion, you are thinking of the glory of God. And you rejoice because in some way God has identified with the city and you just want to be near it. You want to be in it. You want to partake of it. Psalms of Zion.

Its very special, now of course you can go and still think of Zion in idle [?] and nothing can ever happen to it. And now you go to the time of the Prophets and Zion is going to be destroyed and plowed up like a field because of the disobedience of the people. But in the midst of all this you have Jeremiah warning the people of Zion, uh … going to be destroyed and the Priests are quoting these Psalms.

This is God’s city. God is not going to let this happen. What kind of a God is it that would let this happen to this city. And Jeremiah is saying “Don’t trust in this foolishness here.” So its not an end in itself but there is a sense in which it is very special.

There are Royal Psalms. And again, you have here Psalms that sing about the king.

Psalm 21 for instance.

When I talked about the Psalms of Zion, let me give you some of them. There is also 46, 76, 87, and 122. 

Now the Royal Psalms … I am picking out the most clear ones.  are Psalm 21:

1 In your strength the king rejoices, O LORD,

and in your help how greatly he exults!

2 You have given him his heart's desire,

and have not withheld the request of his lips.

3 For you meet him with rich blessings;

you set a crown of fine gold on his head.

4 He asked you for life; you gave it to him —

length of days forever and ever.

5 His glory is great through your help;

splendor and majesty you bestow on him.

6 You bestow on him blessings forever;

you make him glad with the joy of your presence.

7 For the king trusts in the LORD,

and through the steadfast love of the Most High he shall

not be moved.

8 Your hand will find out all your enemies;

your right hand will find out those who hate you.

9 You will make them like a fiery furnace

when you appear.

The LORD will swallow them up in his wrath,

and fire will consume them.

10 You will destroy their offspring from the earth,

and their children from among humankind.

11 If they plan evil against you,

if they devise mischief, they will not succeed.

12 For you will put them to flight;

you will aim at their faces with your bows.

13 Be exalted, O LORD, in your strength!

We will sing and praise your power.

Psalm 2 as well:

1 Why do the nations conspire,

and the peoples plot in vain?

2 The kings of the earth set themselves,

and the rulers take counsel together,

against the LORD and his anointed, saying,

3 "Let us burst their bonds asunder,

and cast their cords from us."

4 He who sits in the heavens laughs;

the LORD has them in derision.

5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath,

and terrify them in his fury, saying,

6 "I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill."

7 I will tell of the decree of the LORD:

He said to me, "You are my son;

today I have begotten you.

8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,

and the ends of the earth your possession.

9 You shall break them with a rod of iron,

and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel."

10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise;

be warned, O rulers of the earth.

11 Serve the LORD with fear,

with trembling 12 kiss his feet,

or he will be angry, and you will perish in the way;

for his wrath is quickly kindled.

Happy are all who take refuge in him.

Now, Psalm 2, like Psalm 21, let me give you some others. Psalm 2, Psalm 18, Psalm 20 and 21, Psalm 45, 72, 89, 101, 132,144

A Psalm like Psalm 2. Lots of people read this like it’s a prophetic Psalm about Jesus. My understanding is that, this is a Psalm about the king of Israel. God’s anointed. David’s successor. This is the anointed of the Lord and the people sing praises to God’s anointed king over them. And they rejoice over them.

Now in light of the fact that here is a king who has been anointed of the Lord to rule His people, aren’t there implications that whatever is true of this king would even be more true of the King of kings who is the Lord’s anointed who will rule His people. So that I think this Psalm was used of kings and I think it becomes even more appropriate for the greatest of the kings, the Son of God, and therefore by implication, the New Testament writers see this psalm as referring above all to the greatest of the Songs of David, the Lord Jesus. 

But these are royal psalms that were sung.  And again, you have the same thing. Even as the people rejoiced in the city of David being representative of God’s presence, so they also rejoiced in the king, who God had set upon the throne and was the Son of David, whom God chose to lead the people. 

So there was a sense of great joy and delight and rejoicing in the royal psalms over the king God had given to lead them and direct them.  You find this at times with rulers where people rejoice in the ruler that God has set over and who is leading them in a great direction, one way or the other.

But as I said, by implication, what is true of this king is even more true of the greatest of the

David’s successors - the one born of the virgin Mary.

There are hymns to God. Let me give you uh… 19, 24, 29, 47, 95-100, and 104.

Let me just read to you one of these. Psalm 100

1 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth.

2 Worship the LORD with gladness;

come into his presence with singing.

3 Know that the LORD is God.

It is he that made us, and we are his;

we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,

and his courts with praise.

Give thanks to him, bless his name.

5 For the LORD is good;

his steadfast love endures forever,

and his faithfulness to all generations.

There are Wisdom Psalms. Psalm 1, 37, 49, 73, 112, 127 and 28. 133. Psalm 127.

1 Unless the LORD builds the house,

those who build it labor in vain.

Unless the LORD guards the city,

the guard keeps watch in vain.

2 It is in vain that you rise up early

and go late to rest,

eating the bread of anxious toil;

for he gives sleep to his beloved.

3 Sons are indeed a heritage from the LORD,

the fruit of the womb a reward.

4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior

are the sons of one's youth.

5 Happy is the man who has

his quiver full of them.

He shall not be put to shame

when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

The Penitential Psalms are really the difficult ones. Psalm 6, Psalm 32, Psalm 38, Psalm 51, Psalm 102 and Psalm 130.

The penitential Psalms where you are asking God for forgiveness and are in penitence for your sin.

1 Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven,

whose sin is covered.

2 Happy are those to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity,

and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

3 While I kept silence, my body wasted away

through my groaning all day long.

4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;

my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.

5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you,

and I did not hide my iniquity;

I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,"

and you forgave the guilt of my sin.

6 Therefore let all who are faithful

offer prayer to you;

at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters

shall not reach them.

7 You are a hiding place for me;

you preserve me from trouble;

you surround me with glad cries of deliverance.

8 I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go;

I will counsel you with my eye upon you.

9 Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding,

whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle,

else it will not stay near you.

10 Many are the torments of the wicked,

but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD.

11 Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O righteous,

and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.

Think of all those who have read this psalm after a period of falling into sin, where their lives were miserable, day and night God’s hand was heavy upon them. Their bodies seemed to be wasting away.  And they acknowledged their sin and they came and found forgiveness.

This psalm is a delightful one for that situation.

The most difficult of all the Psalms – the imprecatory Psalms. Psalm 35, Psalm 58, Psalm 69, Psalm 83, Psalm 109 and Psalm 137.

I think I will just read Psalm 137. Its uh… pretty self-evident.

1 By the rivers of Babylon —

there we sat down and there we wept

when we remembered Zion.

{ Dr. Stein [interjects]: The exiles. Jerusalem has been destroyed and the exiles have been taken away for 100s of 100s of miles away into Babylon. }

2 On the willows there

we hung up our harps.

3 For there our captors

asked us for songs,

and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,

"Sing us one of the songs of Zion!"

4 How could we sing the LORD's song

in a foreign land?

5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem,

let my right hand wither!

6 Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,

if I do not remember you,

if I do not set Jerusalem

above my highest joy.

7 Remember, O LORD, against the Edomites

the day of Jerusalem's fall,

how they said, "Tear it down! Tear it down!

Down to its foundations!"

8 O daughter Babylon, you devastator!

Happy shall they be who pay you back

what you have done to us!

9 Happy shall they be who take your little ones

and dash them against the rock!

Not the kind of psalm you usually read for Scripture reading in church. What you have to remember – what is being described here is not that unusual. This is what happened when you overthrew a dynasty. The offspring were all killed so that the dynasty would end and it could not continue.

And what the Psalmist is doing, is asking not for personal vengeance, but that God’s justice would be done.

Those who had destroyed the city. Those who had been so brutal. He is asking that God’s justice come upon them. And not only that their king and leadership come to an end, but also that the children who would be their successors will be coming to an end as well.

And I tell you that in the texts of one of the portraits – there are carvings in the wall, where an ancient king is sitting on his throne where the captives are coming and they are all kneeling before the king and he is… they are in submission because his foot is upon their heads.

But its not his own foot. On his lap is this little boy, and this little boy’s feet are on those people. So if you are going to get rid of this evil dynasty you can’t stop with the king. It also extends to the boy.  And so this is what he is asking for. This evil rule of Babylon and others should come to an end.

It is not the way we usually think. We should be forgiving and kind and yet sometimes I wonder if we also have a sense of God’s justice and realize that if you do honor God, you want His justice to be manifested in the world.

And if you love God’s glory and honor, then there is a sense in which you have to want that righteousness will take place and righteousness requires evils like this one to be punished.

So many of us have been removed from this kind of brutality. I think you have to start thinking of, when … if you had been Jewish and during World War II, you experienced the holocaust, and you saw your family, you saw your younger brother, your sister get brutally killed and you are the only survivor left.

Isn’t there a sense in which you say, “This is evil. God has to - if He is God bring judgment upon it”? And there is a sense in which you are praying that God’s justice would come and evil would be punished.

Now sometimes it slips into personal vengeance and I know that that is not right.  But I think that there are also times when you really are asking that God will bring this evil to an end and if its going to come to an end, then those who are the perpetrators of evil will be brought to justice in some way.   Do you have a question about that?

Audience: We are always taught that an eye for an eye doesn’t work anymore [hard to hear] what makes it hard …?

In 1994, there was the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp in Poland. And at that celebration, there were a lot people present and a Jewish Rabbi was asked to pray and he prayed, this prayer – a facsimile of it:

“Oh God we know that you are a God of great love and compassion and you delight in forgiveness but we here pray that you will never forgive those people who did these things.”

Some Christians say “Boy! That’s not a very compassionate prayer.” But before you do that, ask yourself, how many of your people died at this camp? How many of your relatives suffered here? And when you see the brutality and the evil, that the Nazi’s performed, you just have to say that God’s justice will punish these.  I think my personal willingness to forgive must be understood as being separate from God’s holiness as the supreme Judge, do justice, which means he must punish. 

Sometimes I think we get so involved in our personal willingness and relationship to what should happen here and lose sight of what God as the Judge of Heaven and Earth carrying out what is right will bring him honor and I think that’s what some of these imprecatory psalms are doing.

Again there is a difference between you and i in relationship to others. And the supreme judge of Heaven and earth and His justice. And even here there is only one way that God can do that and that is that this evil has to be crushed and dealt with. But he can be merciful because He punishes Jesus on our behalf.

Audience: Should we pray for the salvation of those that ??? [inaudible]

Dr. Stein: Oh yeah. I have no problem with that. I have no problem. I think civil law and order of law on the planet has to. The people who do those things must be punished. But I can still pray that God and His mercy will reach these people so that they may be forgiven. That doesn’t mean that we can just neglect what they have done and just write it off. It doesn’t have to be that.

But they are hard – the Imprecatory Psalms. There are some Praise psalms. Let me just give you some hymns and then we will look at some Lament Psalms.

Praise Psalms: Psalm 106, 111, 13. There is one I’d like us to look at quickly and that is Psalm 146.

Psalm 146 which is a Praise Psalm. Notice that the beginning and the end are the same and that forms what we call an inclusio. The Psalm begins

1 Praise the LORD!

Praise the LORD, O my soul!

And it ends:  “Praise the Lord.”

Now in between you have various descriptions of various things to be done.

2 I will praise the LORD as long as I live;

I will sing praises to my God all my life long.

3 Do not put your trust in princes,

in mortals, …

And so forth.

5 Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,

whose hope is in the LORD their God,

There are … well let me see.

I have some 34 Praise Psalms. Some of them are Praise psalms for individuals where individuals praise God. Individuals praise psalms -  let me give them to you and you just write them down, I am not going to ask you a question on it. 8, 18, 30, 32-34, 40, 66, 75, 81, 92, 103-4, 106, 108, 111-13, 116, 118, 135, 138, 145-50.

Now there are group praise psalms which envision the community doing this. Psalm 65, 67, 107, 114, 117, 124, 136.

Finally lets look at what we call Lament Psalms.  The Lament Psalm has a particular kind of form. There are five aspects of it.  You have the beginning of a lament psalm, where you have been addressed to God. This is followed by the lament or description of the problem. Then you have a prayer for help.  A confession of confidence. Are you sure that God will do this and carry it out? And then you have a vow or confession of praise of some sort. 

Best way of looking at three Psalms that are essentially Lament Psalms. Psalm 13:1. The address to God is 13:1a: 

1 How long, O LORD?

Then the rest of 1 and 2 is the lament or description of need.

Will you forget me forever?

How long will you hide your face from me?

2 How long must I bear pain in my soul,

and have sorrow in my heart all day long?

How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

And then in verses 3 and 4 you have a prayer for help.

3 Consider and answer me, O LORD my God!

Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,

4 and my enemy will say, "I have prevailed";

my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.

5 is the confession of confidence.

5 But I trusted in your steadfast love;

my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.

Then you have the vow or confession of praise.

6 I will sing to the LORD,

because he has dealt bountifully with me.

Notice that the confession of praise in v. 6 is a prophetic kind of profession. He is not yet been delivered. But he is confident and he says, “I will sing to the Lord because he has dealt bountifully”. Already I know He has heard my prayer and He has dealt with me according to my request.

Psalm 71 – Another Lament Psalm.

Verse 1 – the address to God.

1 O God, why do you cast us off forever?

Then you have in verses 1-11, the lament of the description of the

1 In you, O LORD, I take refuge;

let me never be put to shame.

2 In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me;

incline your ear to me and save me.

3 Be to me a rock of refuge,

a strong fortress, to save me,

for you are my rock and my fortress.

4 Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked,

from the grasp of the unjust and cruel.

5 For you, O Lord, are my hope,

my trust, O LORD, from my youth.

6 Upon you I have leaned from my birth;

it was you who took me from my mother's womb.

My praise is continually of you.

7 I have been like a portent to many,

but you are my strong refuge.

8 My mouth is filled with your praise,

and with your glory all day long.

9 Do not cast me off in the time of old age;

do not forsake me when my strength is spent.

10 For my enemies speak concerning me,

and those who watch for my life consult together.

11 They say, "Pursue and seize that person

whom God has forsaken,

for there is no one to deliver."

Let us jump to v. 18 to see the prayer for help. 18-23

17 O God, from my youth you have taught me,

and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.

18 So even to old age and gray hairs,

O God, do not forsake me,

until I proclaim your might

to all the generations to come.

Your power 19 and your righteousness, O God,

reach the high heavens.

You who have done great things,

O God, who is like you?

20 You who have made me see many troubles and calamities

will revive me again;

from the depths of the earth

you will bring me up again.

21 You will increase my honor,

and comfort me once again.

22 I will also praise you with the harp

for your faithfulness, O my God;

I will sing praises to you with the lyre,

O Holy One of Israel.

23 My lips will shout for joy

And then 12 through 17 is this confidence

12 O God, do not be far from me;

O my God, make haste to help me!

13 Let my accusers be put to shame and consumed;

And so forth and so on. Now one other one which is shorter. Lets look at that one. And then we will talk about these kinds of Psalms in general. 

Psalm 142.

1 With my voice I cry to the LORD;

Ok, the address to God. And then the rest of the verses 1- 4, the lament or description.

with my voice I make supplication to the LORD.

2 I pour out my complaint before him;

I tell my trouble before him.

3 When my spirit is faint,

you know my way.

In the path where I walk

they have hidden a trap for me.

4 Look on my right hand and see —

there is no one who takes notice of me;

no refuge remains to me;

no one cares for me.

Then 5a and 6.

5 I cry to you, O LORD;

Verse 6

6 Give heed to my cry,

for I am brought very low.

Then the confession of confidence. The rest of verse 5 and we jump.


I say, "You are my refuge,

my portion in the land of the living."

Then verse 7

7 Bring me out of prison,

so that I may give thanks to your name.

The righteous will surround me,

for you will deal bountifully with me.

And the confession of praise is the 1st part of 7a and b.

7 Bring me out of prison,

so that I may give thanks to your name.

You notice that they are not always perfect. Sometimes this is the content. But the order is not always necessarily the same.

Now let me just make a comment about the number of Psalms that are lament psalms. There are 48 lament psalms out of a 150. Almost 1/3 of all the Psalms are Lament Psalms. Now lets us stop here and think. 

What would happen in your church if one of the deacons prayed on Sunday, in the Sunday morning service and he started “O Lord, How long will you forget us? How long will you be far away from us? Have you forgotten us? We suffer and no one cares. We see tragedy. Have you turned away from us?”

If you did a lament prayer, what would the people of the congregation think? 

He is not going to pray in our church? We don’t want that stuff here? Right? When you think of the choruses. I had come across a lament chorus, but I think it was sung once or so and they dumped it or something like that, because we don’t like Lament Psalms, unless you are going through the Valley of the Shadow. Then you like them.

In our worship, there doesn’t seem to be any room for this. I remember teaching at my home church in Minnesota, when we lived up there. I taught on the Lament Psalms and the pastor said, “This Sunday is…” I don’t know what anniversary it was of the, Roe v. Wade decision. Would you lead us in a lament?” And I said, “You know. That would be a great idea, but I am committed. I am not going to be here next Sunday.”

But, are there times, when we need as a congregation to lament and experience this. I think that we just don’t allow room for this. And the result is that when people do go through a period like this, they have nowhere to turn. They do not know. They think that there is something wrong with them. They think. I must be a terrible Christian because I am going through this experience. And if I really were a good Christian, I would be praising the Lord, singing one of the praise Psalms and so forth.

The Psalmist, who wasn’t too undevout. [inaudible?] The Psalms collection, almost a 1/3rd of them are Lament Psalms. And I think that the reason for that is that they are a part of life. I think that people go through these as believers.

And if you have never gone through that and if you never will, you are blessed. The fact is that the vast majority of us are going to go through it. And when we go through it, where do we go? I want to tell you, there is a place to go and its called the Psalms.

And the Psalmist says, “I have gone through that. Why don’t you get some comfort in knowing that some of us have experienced this. We know what you have gone through. I give you these Lament Psalms as a gift.

To realize that there are times where people go through the Valley of the Shadow. They wonder where God is. There are times when even the most devout pray at Gethsemane, “If there is another way, let it come.”

I hope you have room in your faith for mourning and sorry and crying out to God, for you see, if you can’t cry to god in you need where do you go? The is no left. And if you feel you have to act out some relationship to god when you are really hurting, then you need to be pitied

The Psalmist – he doesn’t come in despair, he comes in great need and anguish, but he comes in hope. Notice how each of the lament Psalms ends.

There was a time that Critical scholars thought that all of these endings, where you have this vow of confession of praise, were later added by some editorialist to make them “fit nicely”.  Then they realized “no they were there from the beginning”. The Psalmist pours out his heart, but he knows he is going to end there, because he comes to God in hope.

And its not despair, but in confusion and need, questioning where God is, but he is confident nonetheless. God is going to see him through this. And thats the greatness I think of the Lament Psalms.  Teach your people the Lament Psalms.  You don’t preach them every Sunday, but you have to have them know, when the time comes, where can they go, and you say, “Why don’t you go to David? Go to the Lament Psalms. You can identify with them.”

People find great comfort with the Psalms. They should be part of our religious faith. Alright. Comments, questions? On the Lament Psalms?

Question from audience: Inaudible.

I think I list them in the text. All 48 of them or something like that. My general understanding without getting into specifics, would be, I think Jesus knows the Psalms and He identifies Himself with the Psalmist. He identifies Himself as the Lord’s anointed with the Psalmist as well and therefore He prays and says this is true of me as well.

I don’t think it was a Psalm that never was applicable to anybody until Jesus. I think it was applicable to David, and to his successors, and it was above all applicable to the greatest of David’s successors and David’s Lord. 

Question from audience: Inaudible.

Don’t know exactly how to work some of those out. You have to realize that some of the language there which may be literal for Jesus may be metaphorical for someone before Him.  I just don’t think that those Psalms are there and had no relevance for anyone for a 1,000 years until Jesus comes and that people knew that one day this would refer to the messiah. Only Him but not to the present king.  I think that they would see that this is applicable to the present leaders in general.