Survey of the Book of Psalms

Survey of the Book of Psalms
Types of Psalms

Because many subjects are treated by the psalms, they have wide application. The psalmist may be reviewing the past (history); envisioning the future (prophecy); or reflecting the present (experience). In all of the psalms the writer is responding to the very real fact of a living God and His relation to men. Thus, it is not surprising to find that the outstanding subjects of the psalms have to do with God; the person of God, the Son of God, the Word of God, the works of God, and the people of God.

When classified more specifically as to subject matter and attitude of writing, many types emerge:

  • Didactic/Wisdom – Such psalms might be called psalms of formal instruction. These instructive psalms provide practical guidelines for godly living and give pointed direction for righteous living in the pursuit of God’s will (e.g. Ps 1; 37; 119).
  • History – These psalms are almost wholly composed of references to historical events of the nation of Israel. A summary of the highlights of practically all of Israel’s history is given in the historical psalms. References to historical events appear frequently throughout the book of psalms. (e.g. Ps 78, 105, 106, 136).
  • Penitential – Confession of sin occupies the greater part of each to these (e.g. Ps 6, 32, 38, 31, 102, 130, 143).
  • Lament – These highly emotionally charged psalms record the writer’s heart cry to God for divine deliverance from the psalmist’s troubles and pain (e.g. Ps 3-7, 12-13, 22, 25-28, 35, 38-40, 42-44, 51, 54-57, 59-61, 63-64, 69-71, 74, 79-80, 83, 85-86, 88,90,102,123,130, 140-143).
  • Hallelujah – The theme of praise in these Psalms is obvious (e.g. in Ps 106, 111-113, 115-117, 146-150).
  • Thanksgiving – These psalms express a profound awareness of and deep gratitude for God’s abundant blessings, whether individual or national (e.g. Ps 8, 18, 19, 29, 30, 32 – 34, 36, 40, 41, 66, 103 – 106, 111, 113, 117, 124, 129, 135 – 136, 138 – 139, 146 – 148, 150).
  • Messianic – There is a strong prophetic character of the Psalms. Many of the hymns prophesy the suffering and sorrows of God’s people, Israel, and their coming deliverance, restoration, and blessing in a future glorious Kingdom. But, most of all, type prophesy of Christ in His two advents: His first advent in humiliation, and His second advent in glory. Such psalms are called Messianic psalms. Some of the Old Testament’s most minute prophecies of Christ are found here. They are about His person (God and man); His character (righteous and holy); His work (death and resurrection); and His offices (priest, judge and king) (e.g. Ps 2, 20 – 24, 41, 68, 118).
  • Royal – Describing the coming messianic rule of Christ, these regal psalms portray him as the undisputed sovereign King over heaven and earth (e.g. Ps 2, 18, 20, 21, 45, 72, 89, 101, 110, and 144).
  • Enthronement – These awe-inspiring majestic psalms describe the majesty of God’s sovereign rule over all his creation and the providential care by which he sustains, controls and directs all he has made (e.g. Ps.48, 93, 96-99).
  • Nature – God’s handiwork is an inspiring subject for any poetical writing (e.g. Ps. 8, 19, 29, 33, 65, and 104).
  • Pilgrimage – These festive psalms promote a celebrative mood of praise for God as Israel recalled his goodness to them as they traveled to Jerusalem for their annual feasts (e.g. Ps. 43, 46, 48, 76, 84, 87, 120 – 134).
  • Imprecatory – Motivated by fiery zeal for God’s glory, these provocative, often controversial, psalms invoke God’s wrath and judgment upon the psalmist’s adversaries who were God’s enemies. The psalmist called upon the Lord to punish the wicked and defend him as he carried out God’s work in the midst of his persecutors (e.g. Ps. 7, 35, 40, 55, 58 – 59, 69, 79, 109, 137, 139, and 144).