by Bob McCabe
In yesterday’s post I noted that a familiarity with the basic genres of the Psalms can be a real aid in reading and understanding them. Today I will cover the last three categories.
4. Kingship and covenant psalms celebrate and affirm loyalty to God as King, the theocratic king, and God’s covenant. This category has three subcategories. First, divine kingship psalms celebrate the LORD’s sovereign rule over the universe. The psalms in this category are Psalms 24, Psalms 29, Psalms 47, Psalms 93, Psalms 95, Psalms 96, Psalms 97, Psalms 98, and Psalms 99. Second, theocratic kingship psalms, generally known as “royal psalms,” celebrate the Davidic dynasty and the universal kingdom. These psalms are joined by their focus on Israel’s earthly king. Further, they have the Davidic Covenant in 2 Samuel 7 (also 1 Chronicles 17) as their foundation. Finally, they may focus on the importance of the Davidic line and its relationship to God as in Psalms 2, Psalms 89, Psalms 132. Psalms 18 is a royal thanksgiving psalm. Psalms 20 requests God’s blessing on the king. Psalms 45 focuses on a royal wedding. Therefore, the focus of these psalms is the Davidic king but it can refer to various phases of kingship. The remaining royal psalms are Psalms 21, Psalms 72, Psalms 101, Psalms 110, Psalms 144. The royal psalms are especially significant for Christians because they provide the background and find their culmination in our Lord Jesus Christ. Third, two psalms, Psalms 50 and Psalms 81, are intended to encourage Israel to renew her allegiance to God and the Mosaic Covenant (Fee and Stuart, How to Read the Bible, 213).
5. Songs of trust are dominated by their emphasis on trusting God and the security that this trust in God produces. Though enemies surround David in Psalms 11 and Psalms 23, he puts his trust in the LORD and from this he finds security. In Psalms 121 the worshippers traveling to Jerusalem were faced with danger, yet they focused their eyes of faith on the LORD. In Psalms 131 the psalmist’s submissive trust in his LORD is graphically compared to a weaned child with his mother. Other psalms in this grouping are Psalms 16, Psalms 62, Psalms 63, Psalms 91, and Psalms 125.
6. Wisdom psalms have a didactic nature and emphasize the Torah as fundamental for blessing. In addition, they contrast the lifestyle of the righteous with that of the wicked. Two rhetorical elements that dominate this genre are the blessing pronouncement and the use of similes. Psalms in this category are Psalms 1, Psalms 15, Psalms 36, Psalms 37, Psalms 49, Psalms 73, Psalms 112, Psalms 119, Psalms 127, Psalms 128, and Psalms 133.
Whether consciously or unconsciously, we recognize genre whenever we read a psalm, as well as any portion of the Bible. For example, when reading Joshua 1, we know it is history; and looking at the Psalter, it is obvious that each psalm is poetry. The poetic genre of the Psalms is a general literary category. More precisely, Psalms 13 is an individual lament, as v. 1 indicates (“How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?”).
To assist in a more precise reading of the Psalter, I recommend that you read Fee and Stuart’s chapter, “The Psalms: Israel’s Prayers and Ours” (How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth) and Longman’s How to Read the Psalms. As you read the Psalms, both sources will assist in identifying each Psalm’s genre. May God help us to master Israel’s hymnbook and ours.