The Book of Psalms is the song book of ancient Israel. There were many contributing poets, and the poems were written in various times and places. The Psalms span the years from Joshua to Ezra and places from Jerusalem to Babylon. The individual Psalms often contain headings indicating the author or the musical style in which it was to be performed. The Psalms contain titles and musical directions such as “to the choirmaster” or “with stringed instruments” and technical terms (Shiggaion – Psalm 7 or Miktam – Psalm 16) which may have been the names of the musical tunes. Tradition lists David as the author of the Psalms, and he likely was the author of at least half of them. In imitation of the Torah, the Book of Psalms is organized into five (5) smaller books: Psalm 1 – 41 is Book 1; Psalm 42 – 72 is Book 2; Psalm 73 – 89 is Book 3; Psalm 90 – 106 is Book 4; Psalm 107 – 150 is Book 5.
There are many types of Psalms:
1. The Lament For examples see Psalms 44 and 74. A lament is a song or poem of mourning and sadness. These psalms were sung in times of great sorrow or trouble and usually contained a statement of the poet’s distress, a word of trust, and an appeal to God.
2. The Thanksgiving For examples see Psalms 30; 32; 34. A Thanksgiving is a poem written to give thanks for what God had done in specific historical circumstances to save an individual or the nation.
3. Hymn Psalms For examples see Psalms 8; 19; 29. A Hymn is a song of praise to God for what God is accustomed to do in nature or history for the welfare of humanity. The hymns can be seen in sub-categories: Enthronement Psalms were used to celebrate the kingship of God; and Songs of Zion were expressing devotion to the Holy City of Jerusalem.
4. Psalms of Trust expressing confidence in God’s readiness to help in times of trouble. See Psalms 11; 121.
5. Royal Psalms For examples see Psalms 2; 18; 20; 45. The Royal Psalms dealt with civic and spiritual matters related to the human king; used for coronations or weddings.
6. The Wisdom Psalms reflect the teaching of the sages of Israel. See Psalm 37 for an example.
7. Psalms of Sacred History which recounts the story of God’s dealings with Israel. See Psalm 105 for an example.
8. Liturgical Psalms See Psalm 24 for an example. These were written for special worship or historical occasions such as the annual renewal of the covenant.
9. Psalms of Ascents were sung by pilgrims on the way up to Jerusalem. Because Jerusalem was built in the mountain range of central Israel, pilgrims had to climb to get there (hence songs of ascent). See Psalms 120-134.
There are other types of songs and psalms scattered throughout the book.
Key Lesson: The book of Psalms was the worship and song book of ancient Israel and remains a primary source for lyrics and worship songs in modern Jewish worship and Christian churches. The art of music and poetry were used to celebrate, lament, and remember, and for ceremonial occasions. Music remains today a means of worship that speaks to the heart and mind of people simultaneously.