One of the many things that I appreciate about the Bible is its uncanny ability to meet readers where they are. If you’re discouraged, for example, you can find passages that will lend encouragement. If you’re doubtful, there are passages that inspire faith. If you’re confused, there are passages that offer wisdom. This principle applies well to the book of Psalms.
The book of Psalms (or the Psalter as it’s referred to) is a wonderful place to find passages that meet you where you are. There are essentially six varieties of psalms found in the Psalter.
First, there are the Nature Psalms. These psalms are marked by the belief that nature reveals the glory and goodness of God. Examples of this type of psalm can be found in Psalm 19:1—“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork”; or Psalm 33:6—“By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and my the breath of his mouth all their host.”
Second, there are Descriptive Praise Psalms. These psalms are marked by an appreciation of God’s attributes and qualities. “Great is the LORD,” Psalm 145:3 says, “and greatly to be praise, and his greatness is unsearchable.” This psalm is describing the greatness of God, and concluding that, as a result of His greatness, He is orthy of praise.
Third, there are Declarative Praise Psalms. These are marked by a response to God’s actions or deliverance. These differ from Descriptive praise Psalms in that, while the former praise God for who He is, the latter praise Him for what He’s done, usually in a particular situation. Psalm 116:1-2 might be a good example of this:
“I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy.
Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live.”
Fourth, there are Lament Psalms, which are marked by “complaints” or grief. These are significant, comprising 67 psalms in total; it is the largest of the 6 categories in the psalms.
This shouldn’t surprise the average reader, though, because Psalms is intensely personal. It’s like reading a Christian’s prayer journal, so we shouldn’t be surprised to read things like, “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?” (Psalm 13:1).
Fifth, there are Imprecatory Psalms. By far the most difficult of all the psalm categories, these psalms are marked by a request for divine judgment on the poet’s enemies or the enemies of God. Justice is certainly a quality that exists in God, and judgment is a part of the expectations one should have who lives outside of the will of God. “Remember, O LORD, against the Edomites, the day of Jerusalem, how they said, ‘Lay it bare, lay it bare’” (Psalm 137:7). While Jerusalem was being destroyed by Babylon, the Edomites refused to assist the Jews. As a result, the Jews prayed for justice.
Finally, there are Messianic Psalms. These are marked by references of the soon-to-come Messiah or Savior. There are often key phrases like “son,” “anoint,” and sometimes there is enthronement language. Psalm 110:1 says, “The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’” This is a reference from David about someone (“my Lord”) who is between him and God. This would be a Messianic reference (it’s fulfillment is found in Acts 2:34).
The book of Psalms has a lot to offer readers. Not only is there 150 psalms altogether, but there are six different varieties within the book, too.
If you ever get stuck in reading the Bible, or if you’re unfamiliar with Bible reading but are interested in starting, the book of Psalms is a wonderful place to begin. They’re personal, deep, and they teach us a lot about God.