A Study of the Psalms
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The psalms comprised the ancient hymnal of God’s people. The poetry was often set to music—but not always. The psalms express the emotion of the individual poet to God or about God. Different types of psalms were written to communicate different feelings and thoughts regarding a psalmist’s situation.
Psalms of lament express the author’s crying out to God in difficult circumstances. Psalms of praise, also called hymns, portray the author’s offering of direct admiration to God. Thanksgiving psalms usually reflect the author’s gratitude for a personal deliverance or provision from God. Pilgrim psalms include the title “a song of ascent” and were used on pilgrimages “going up” to Jerusalem for three annual festivals. Other types of psalms are referred to today as wisdom psalms, royal psalms (referring to Israel’s king or Israel’s Messiah), victory psalms, Law psalms, and songs of Zion.
The psalms include unique Hebrew terms. The word Selah, found seventy-one times, is most likely a musical notation added by worship leaders after the Israelites incorporated the psalm into public worship. Scholars do not know the meaning of maskil, found in thirteen psalms. Occasionally, a psalm appears with instructions for the song leader. For example, we see instructions such as “For the director of music” (occurring in fifty-five psalms [NIV]); “To the tune of ‘Lilies’” (similar references found in Psalms 45, 60, 69, 80 NIV); “To the tune of ‘The Doe of the Morning’ ” (Psalm 22 NIV); “To the tune of ‘Do Not Destroy’ ” (Psalms 57–59, 75 NIV). These and others can refer to melodies used with the given psalm or perhaps to suggestions for liturgical use.