Encountering the Old Testament, 3rd Edition

A Christian Survey

series: Encountering Biblical Studies


21. Psalms: The Songbook of Ancient Israel

Chapter Intro Video

Chapter Objectives

  • Define the word “psalm”
  • Name those individuals the Bible credits with writing various psalms
  • Explain how the psalms make a unique contribution to the Bible
  • Describe the arrangement of the five divisions of the book of Psalms
  • List the various types of psalms
  • Describe how the psalms apply to the Christian life

Chapter Summary

  1. The book of Psalms essentially represents an ancient songbook of Israel.
  2. Many writers contributed to the book of Psalms—David, Asaph, the sons of Korah, Moses, Solomon, and a number of anonymous writers.
  3. The psalms make a special contribution to the Bible because they provide us with an understanding of Israelite worship, and because they touch on virtually all aspects of Hebrew life.
  4. There are five basic divisions of the book of Psalms: 1–41, 42–72, 73–89, 90–106, and 107–150.
  5. The German scholar Hermann Gunkel laid the foundation for a classification of the psalms.
  6. The basic classification of the psalms includes the following types: hymns, penitential psalms, wisdom psalms, royal psalms, messianic psalms, imprecatory psalms, lament psalms.
  7. Hymns focus on individual or corporate praise to God.
  8. Penitential psalms feature individual or corporate confession and repentance.
  9. Wisdom psalms provide general observations about life.
  10. The focus in royal psalms is on the king of Israel.
  11. Messianic psalms describe the Messiah.
  12. Imprecatory psalms call on God to judge one’s enemies.
  13. Lament psalms bemoan one’s condition, state trust in God, and end with praise.

Study Questions

  1. Name the major contributors to the book of Psalms. What makes the book such a unique book in God’s Scripture?
  2. Identify the various psalm types and describe their general characteristics. What kinds of expressions would you expect to find in each type? Write a psalm that fits each style.