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Psalm

A psalm is a sacred song of worship, such as those featured in the Book of Psalms in the Bible.

These verses are sung and read aloud in Jewish and Christian worship. They are mostly attributed to King David (although this has been rejected by many scholars). The word comes from the old English “psealm” and Latin “psalmus,” describing the twanging of a harp. 

The Book of Psalms is a book of the Christian Old Testament, the third section of the Tanakh, and the first book of Ketuvim. The book is a collection of Hebrew hymns, with most coming from the Jewish and Western Christian traditions. Others have their origins in Eastern Christian churches. 

Psalm pronunciation: sahm

Psalm Definition and Examples


Psalm Definition

A psalm is a religious song that’s sung during a religious ceremony. The term is mainly used when referring to the Jewish and Christian bibles and the Book of Psalms. Most have been dated to between the 9th and 5th centuries BC.

They were, scholars believe, composed over a total of five centuries at least. The Jewish Tradition suggests the songs were composed by the “First Man,” Adam, and Abraham, Heman, Jeduthun, and more. Most are, as noted above, attributed to King David, who is cited most commonly as the composer. 

Throughout the Book of Psalms, readers can find several different poetic techniques at work. This includes examples of parallelism and repetition. This refers to the way in which elements are repeated—for instance, using “The Lord” or “O Lord” multiple times. Psalm 27 is a good example of the broader utilization of parallelism. It reads: 

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?


The Book of Psalms 

The Book of Psalms is divided into five sections. These are: 

  • Book 1 (Psalms 1–41)
  • Book 2 (Psalms 42–72)
  • Book 3 (Psalms 73–89)
  • Book 4 (Psalms 90–106)
  • Book 5 (Psalms 107–150)

Some of these have individual titles, while others do not. Some include musical direction or refer to the “leader” or “choir master.” Sometimes there are references to the type of music that should be played along with the song. For example, “with stringed instruments.” In the Psalms, readers will find references to specific names as well. For example, the sons of Korah (mentioned eleven times) and Asaph (mentioned twelve times). 

Usually, readers use the above sequences numbers to identify the psalms. For example, “Ps. 1.” 

What is a Hymn? 

The songs in the Book of Psalms are hymns. These are songs of praise or celebration for a religious figure. This could be the Christian God or another, such as Apollo, Zeus, etc. These songs have simple metrical patterns and rhyme schemes.

Often, the term “hymn stanza” is used to describe a type of poem or song. These songs use a rhyme scheme of ABCB and alternate between iambic trimeter and iambic tetrameter. Examples can be found in the poetry of Emily Dickinson and Edgar Allan Poe, among others. 

Examples of Psalms 

Below, readers can find examples of some of the most popular psalms within the Book of Psalms. 

  • Psalm 23: The Lord is my shepherd. He leads me in paths of righteousness. I will fear no evil. I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
  • Psalm 121: I lift up my eyes to the hills; my help comes from the Lord. He who keeps you will not slumber. The Lord will keep you from all evil.
  • Psalm 138: I give you thanks, o Lord! All the kings of the earth will praise you. Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life.
  • Psalm 62: My soul waits for God alone. He alone is my rock and my salvation. Trust in him at all times, o people. Power and love belong to God.
  • Psalm 46: God is our refuge. We will not fear, though the earth give way. The nations rage, kingdoms fall. “Be still and know that I am God.”
  • Psalm 37: Do not be envious of evildoers, for they will fade like the grass. The righteous will inherit the earth. The Lord is their stronghold.
  • Psalm 84: How lovely is your dwelling place, o Lord! A day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. For the Lord is a sun and shield.


Types of Psalms 

There are different types of psalms, five in total, as defined by Hermann Gunkel. They are: 

  • Hymns: songs of praise for what God has done. They are divided into two categories, Zion Psalms and “enthronement psalms.” 
  • Communal laments: the group, such as a nation, laments a disaster. These include an address to God, a description of what’s going on, a curse of the person or group responsible, a plea for help, faith in God’s response, anticipation of a response, and then a song of thanks. 
  • Royal laments: deal with battles, a king’s coronation, and more. 
  • Individual laments: an individual laments over the fate of someone else. It is the most common type. Includes an innovation of God and a plea for help. 
  • Individual thanksgiving psalms: the singer thanks God for help with a personal problem. 

Some other minor types of psalms include wisdom, pilgrimage, entrance and prophetic, and more. 

FAQs 

What are psalms about in the Bible?

The Book of Psalms in the Bible is a collection of verse that praises God. These poems are often sung aloud. They celebrate God’s works and retell the history of Israel and God’s intentions. 

What are the four types of psalms?

The four main types of psalms are adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, and supplication. 

What is a psalm, and what is an example?

A psalm is a sacred song of worship. Some of the most famous examples are in the Book of Psalms in the Bible. 


Related Literary Terms 

  • Hymn stanza: uses a rhyme scheme of ABCB and alternates between iambic trimeter and iambic tetrameter. 
  • Parable: a short fictional story that speaks on a religious attitude or moral belief.
  • Homily: a speech delivered by a religious person, usually a priest, in front of a group of people. 
  • Adage: a short, familiar and memorable saying that strikes as an irrefutable truth to a wide segment of the population.
  • Moral: the meaning or message conveyed through a story.
  • Apologue: a short story, sometimes a fable, that shares a moral lesson. For example, kindness is more important than power, or love triumphs over hate.


Other Resources 

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