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Book of Psalms

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Book of Psalms
“Israel’s Hymnbook”
Nature of Hebrew Poetry
Poetry is found throughout Hebrew Bible.
Hebrew poetry does not rhyme but employs parallelism
(defining characteristic), meter, and figurative language.
Parallelism – second line of a pair repeats, echoes, or
balances the thought of the first. (dominant feature of Hebrew poetry)
3 books are purely poetic: Psalms, Song of Songs, Lamentations.
Mostly poetic: prophetic books, Job, Proverbs.
Synonymous – 2nd line restates 1st in different words (Psalm 24:1-2).
Antithetic – 2nd line states the opposite of 1st (Prov. 10:1, 4).
Synthetic (formal) – 2nd line balances the form but not the idea.
Meter/rhythm – certain number of accented syllables per line
(3+3, 2+2, 3+2) – does not translate well.
Figurative language: simile, metaphor, allegory, personification (Psalm
96:12 – trees sing for joy).
Book of Psalms
“Favorite book of all the saints” – Martin Luther
Collection of 150 individual psalms – not chapters.
(Don’t say “Psalms 23:1” – say “Psalm 23:1”)
Some go back to 1st Temple period, others are postexilic.
Collected in postexilic period: hymnbook of 2nd Temple (and
later of the synagogues).
Divided into 5 “books” – probably in imitation of Pentateuch.
Superscriptions at beginning of many psalms provide:
musical directions, names of tunes, and names of collections.
David’s name in many does not necessarily attribute authorship to him.
Other names appear as well: Solomon, Moses, Asaph, sons of Korah.
Liturgical material, intended for use in worship (liturgy =
worship practices).
Many different types of psalms – express range of emotions.
Types of Psalms
1. Hymns – songs of praise
a. Praise God as Creator of world, Redeemer of Israel, etc.
b. Two main parts:
1) Summons to praise God.
2) Rehearsal of reasons for praising God – often introduced by
“for” or “because.”
c. Examples:
1) Psalm 33
2) Psalm 100
Types of Psalms
2. Laments – cries for help in times of distress
a. Often subdivided into individual and communal laments.
b. Three main parts:
1) Complaint – graphic description of distress/crisis (illness,
suffering, enemies, guilt of sin, etc.) – often blaming God for it.
2) Petition – urgent plea for God to remedy the situation.
3) Assurance – always close with assurance of deliverance;
conviction that God has heard plea and will answer.
c. Examples:
1) Psalm 6 – individual lament in time of illness
2) Psalm 13 – prayer for deliverance from enemies
3) Psalm 79 – communal lament over destruction of Temple (cf.
4) Psalm 51 – prayer for forgiveness
5) Psalm 23 – song of trust, focused entirely on assurance.
d. More laments than any other type – give permission for
honesty with God in prayer.
Types of Psalms
3. Thanksgivings
a. Thanking God for a specific deliverance.
b. May recall an earlier time of lament that has now been
c. Examples:
1) Psalm 30 – thanksgiving for a healing
a) V. 2, 8-10 recall earlier situation of lament similar to Psalm 6.
b) Sheol (v. 3) – abode of the dead; depicted as under the earth.
2) Psalm 92 – thanksgiving for deliverance from enemies
Types of Psalms
4. Royal Psalms
a. Accompany ceremonies involving king: coronation,
battle, wedding, etc.
b. Examples:
Psalm 20 – prayer for a king’s victory
Psalm 21 – thanksgiving for a king’s victory
Psalm 45 – royal wedding song
Psalm 72 – prayer for a king’s coronation
Types of Psalms
5. Songs of Zion
a. Hymns celebrating the Temple and Jerusalem (“Zion”
was the temple mount in Jerusalem).
b. Jerusalem is God’s chosen city, where he dwells
enthroned in Temple; protects and defends Jerusalem;
Zion becomes symbol of refuge and security.
c. Examples:
1) Psalm 46 – inspired Martin Luther’s hymn "A Mighty Fortress Is
Our God."
2) Psalms 48, 76, 87, etc.
3) Psalm 122 – pilgrimage psalm: “I was glad when they said to
me, �Let us go to the house of the LORD!’...”
Types of Psalms
6. Wisdom Psalms
a. “Teaching Psalms” employing wisdom themes, such as
advice to pursue virtue and avoid wickedness or
instruction in God’s law.
b. Examples:
1) Psalm 1 – “Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the
wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of
scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his
law they meditate day and night...The wicked are not so...”
2) Psalms 37, 73, 112, 119, 128, etc.
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