CLASSIFICATIONS OF PSALMS
There are four basic collections within the Psalter: the Davidic collections (3-41, 51-70, 108-110, 138-145), the Asaph Psalms (73-83), the Korah Psalms (42, 44-49, 84-85, 87-88), and the Songs of Ascent (120-134), to which might be added the Hallel, or Praise, Psalms (113-118, 146-150). Although the exact process of compilation is not known, a comparison can be drawn between the Psalter and hymnbooks of today. Hymnals contain many different types of songs written by different people in different countries over a period of centuries, preserved within a particular community because they communicate a truth in a memorable way. In this way, songs like "And Can It Be" have become important confessions of faith. So the Psalter grew out of the life of a community of faith as the people used their songs and poetry to worship God.
Scholars have determined that there are groups of psalms that can be classified together because of similarities. The main forms are:
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- 1. Psalms-Fifty-eight Psalms bear the designation (Hebrew) mizmor (Greek psalmos, a Psalm), a lyric ode, or a song set to music; a sacred song accompanied with a musical instrument.
- 2. Hymns offer praise to God simply for who He is, as Creator of the Universe and Lord of History (8, 66, 113). Salvation Psalms fall under this catagory. Celebrating God's saving actions on behalf of His people (105-106) This is a type of praise psalm. In the Pentateuch (or Torah), Moses leads the Jews in two songs of praise: upon the splitting of the Red Sea (Exodus 15) and before his death (Deuteronomy 32). Also, the Jews sing upon miracles done for them with the well (Numbers 21). Other Jewish figures would sing songs to celebrate miracles, including Joshua and Deborah. It is David, though, who is known as the "sweet singer of Israel".
- 3. Prayer-tehillah, Psalm 145, and many others, have the designation (Hebrew) tehillah (Greek hymnos, a hymn), meaning a song of praise; a song the prominent thought of which is the praise of God.
- 4. Psalms of Praise-tehillah (“praise”) Psalm forms of these types also include: Songs of Zion Psalms 48, 76, 84, 87, 122, 134; Historical Litanies" Psalms 78, 105, 106, 135, 136;
Pilgrim Liturgies Psalms 81, 21; Entrance Liturgies Psalms 15, 24; Judgment Liturgies Psalms 50, 82; Mixed Types 36, 40, 41, 68
- 5. Wedding psalms- shir yedidot (“song of loves”—i.e., a wedding song)
(22; 38; 39; 41; 54
- 6. Psalms for being remembered. lehazkir (“for being remembered”—i.e., before God, a petition)
- 7. Teaching psalms -lelammed (“for teaching”)
- 8. Imprecatory Psalms contained within the Ketuvim (wisdom literature) of the Hebrew Bible (תנ"ך), are those which invoke judgement, calamity, or curses, upon one's enemies or those perceived as the enemies of God. Major Imprecatory Psalms include Psalm 69 and Psalm 109, while Psalms 5, 6, 11, 12, 35, 37, 40, 52, 54, 56, 58, 69, 79, 83, 137, 139, and 143 are also considered imprecatory (link to full text of Psalms). As a sample, Psalm 69:24 states toward God, "Pour out Your indignation on them, and let Your burning anger overtake them".
- 9. Individual Laments-Laments of the individual in the midst of crisis or personal problems. 22; 38; 39; 41; 54 In Psalm 40, the poet is stuck in a “desolate / pit” and a “miry bog” until God sets him “upon a rock” (40:2). The poet walks through dark valleys in Psalm 23, his body wastes away in Psalm 32, and his bones are crushed in Psalm 51. God relieves the poet by acting as a “refuge,” a “strong fortress,” and a “hiding place” (31:2, 32:7).
- I. Address to God, Invocation
a) first person address to God (I, you)
b) an initial plea
- II. Complaint to God
a) description of problem, questions asked of God
b) crisis of any kind; in penitential psalms it is sin
c) claim of innocence
d) often includes an initial plea for help
e) condemnation of "wicked" or "enemy"
- III. Affirmation of Trust
a) "But as for me" or "Nevertheless"
b) turning point of the psalm; theological focus
- IV. Petition
a) plea for God’s intervention
b) often uses the words "save" or "deliver"
- V. Acknowledgment of Response
a) assurance of hearing
b) vow of praise, worship
- 10. Doxology: blessings, praise Psalm 8, for instance, is a communal or public declaration of praise to God for his relationship with creation. The poet praises God for his command over each level of creation, beginning with the cosmos, then descending gradually to humankind, the animals, and, lastly, the sea. The speaker expresses amazement that God, who is above the heavens, not only concerns himself with the welfare of humans but places humans directly beneath himself in importance, granting them authority over the rest of creation, which is "under their feet" (8:6). Poems such as Psalm 46 praise "the city of God" or "Zion" for being God's home, and many of the psalms suggest a grand entrance to Jerusalem, such as Psalm 100: "Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise" (100:4). Similarly, when the speaker says in Psalm 121, "I lift my eyes to the hills," the poem conveys the expectation and longing of the Jewish worshipper as he approaches the Temple in Jerusalem (121:1).
- 11. Communal laments-Lament psalms are the most numerous. These psalms are a cry to God from distress, pain or sorrow, either from the individual (13, 22) or the community (74). Often they begin with the question "Why?" and end in an affirmation of faith in God from the midst of the pain. Thanksgiving psalms express thanks and praise to God in response to some action or circumstance in which God's faithfulness and love have been experienced (18, 138, 107).
- 12. Songs of Trust-Ps 62:8-12, Ps. 146, Ps 25.
- 13. Individual Thanksgiving Psalms letodah (“for praising” or “for giving thanks”) 9; 18; 30)
- 14. Royal Psalms-The royal psalms can be subdivided into smaller groupings. For example, Psalm 45 is a royal wedding psalm; Psalms 46, 48, 87 and 122 concern the royal city, Zion or Jerusalem. We will concentrate on two categories of royal psalms: the Yahweh-Kingship psalms and the coronation psalms.
- 15. Wisdom Psalms extolling the merits of the wise life (36, 73), and Liturgical psalms used in public ceremonies or services of worship (2, 50, 122).
- 16. Pilgrimage Psalms-Song of Degrees, Song of Steps, Gradual Psalms, Song of Ascents (Hebrew: שיר המעלות, Shir Hama'aloth) or Hymn of Degrees is a title given to fifteen of the Psalms, that each starts with the words Shir Hama'alot (A Song of Ascents) and which are numbered 120–134 in the Masoretic recension (119–133 in the Septuagint). The probable origin of this name is the circumstance that these psalms came to be sung by the people on the ascents or goings up to Jerusalem to attend the three pilgrim festivals (Deuteronomy 16:16). They were well suited for being sung, by their poetic form and the sentiments they express. "They are characterized by brevity, by a key-word, by epanaphora [i.e., repetition], and by their epigrammatic style.... More than half of them are cheerful, and all of them hopeful."
They are sometimes called "Pilgrim Songs." Four of them (122, 124, 131 and 133) are claimed in their ascriptions to have been by David, and one (127) by Solomon, the rest being anonymous. Some modern scholars do not believe that these ascriptions can be taken literally, although they give evidence that helps in dating of the Psalms and identifying their original use.
The singing of the 'Hallel' at the Passover dates from very remote antiquity. The Talmud dwells on its peculiar suitableness for the purpose, since it not only recorded the goodness of God towards Israel, but especially their deliverance from Egypt, and therefore appropriately opened (Psa 113) with 'Praise ye Jehovah, ye servants of Jehovah'--and no longer of Pharaoh. Hence also this 'Hallel' is called the Egyptian, or 'the Common,' to distinguish it from the great 'Hallel,' sung on very rare occasions, which comprised Psalms 120 to 136. According to the Talmud, the 'Hallel' recorded five things: 'The coming out of Egypt, the dividing of the sea, the giving of the law, the resurrection of the dead, and the lot of the Messiah.' The Egyptian 'Hallel,' it may here be added, was altogether sung on eighteen days and on one night in the year. These eighteen days were, that of the Passover sacrifice, the Feast of Pentecost, and each of the eight days of the Feasts of Tabernacles and of the Dedication of the Temple. The only night in which it was recited was that of the Paschal Supper, when it was sung by every Paschal company in their houses, in a manner which will hereafter be explained.
Traditionally, these psalms were chanted by the kohanim (priests) as they ascended the steps to minister at the Temple in Jerusalem.
- Preparing to Go
Psalms 120 – 122
120: Deliverance from sin and from sinners
121: Eyes on the destination and Guide
122: The joy of visiting Jerusalem
- Problems Along the Way
Psalms 123 – 125
123: Trust God while sinners scoff
124: Only God can keep us safe
125: God establishes those who trust Him
- Why take the Journey?
Psalms 126 – 128
126: We are happily a part of God’s reconstruction
127: God is building our household
128: God blesses each man who reveres Him
- Arrival: Prepare for Worship
Psalms 129 – 131
129: Opposition and distraction must be overcome
130: Corporate prayer for forgiveness
131: Individual prayer for preparation
- The Ultimate Encounter
Psalms 132 – 134
132: Petition God to meet us in the temple (send the Messiah)
133: Worship is refreshing!
134: Bless God, and may He bless you!
- 17.Liturgical Psalms used in public ceremonies or services of worship (2, 50, 122).
- 18.Songs of trust affirming God's faithfulness (23, 131)