4. Classification of Psalms

The importance of Literary form

  • Allen: p.29 limerick example

Types of Psalm

Songs of Ascent or “Pilgrim Psalms”

  • Ps 120-134 “Songs of Ascent”
  • Sung at passover
  • See example: 121

Songs of Zion

  • 46, 48, 76, 84, 87, 122 (which is also a song of ascent)
  • They praise Zion as the dwelling place of Yahweh
  • see example: 84
    • note “hosts”=armies in v.2

Hallel or Hymns of praise

  • Psalms 113-118
  • sung at passover
  • see example: 118

Enthronement Psalms

  • Not a particular form, but identified by content
  • central to the theme is the statement “Yahweh reigns!”
    • e.g. ps 47:8; 93:1; 96:10; 97:1; 98:6; 99:1
    • critical scholars have speculated about a “fall festival” copied from pagans, but there is no real evidence of this
  • see example: 47

Royal Psalms

  • Here is the collection:
    • Psalm 2 The Coronation of the Son and the Certainty of His Dominion
    • Psalm 18. The King’s Song of Victory in Battle
    • Psalm 20 A Prayer of the King for Victory in Battle
    • Psalm 21 A Praise of the King for Victory in Battle
    • Psalm 45 The Wedding of the Victorious King
    • Psalm 72 The Righteous and Prosperous Dominion of the King
    • Psalm 89 The Davidic Covenant Assured in Adversity
    • Psalm 101 The Charter by which the King Rules
    • Psalm 110 The Establishment of the Kingdom by Holy War
    • Psalm 144 The Establishment of Peace and Prosperity by the King’s Victory
  • Often they are Messianic, e.g. Ps 110
    • Psalm 110 is one of the most quoted in the N.T. e.g. in Hebrews
    • It cannot be fully applied to any Old Testament king, but is only satisfied in Jesus Christ the King

Wisdom Psalms

  • Rhetorical Elements
    1. The “better” saying
    2. The numerical saying.
    3. The admonition with and without motive
    4. The admonitory address to “sons”
    5. The ‘ashre formula
    6. The rhetorical question
    7. The Simile
  • Thematic Elements
    1. The fear of the LORD and the veneration of Torah
    2. The contrasting life styles of the righteous and the wicked
    3. The reality and inevitability of retribution
    4. Miscellaneous counsels pertaining to everyday conduct
  • Ross says:
    ...four psalms (1, 32, 37, and 49) may legitimately be called Wisdom Psalms, four psalms (25, 92, 94, and 107) contain clearly identifiable wisdom elements of varying lengths, and another four (19B, 73, 119, and 139) reflect some of the concerns of Israelite wisdom. Other psalms that are classified as wisdom psalms on stylistic and thematic grounds contain relatively few “Wisdom” words: 34, 112, 127, 128, and 133.


  • The largest single category—to be discussed next

Praise Psalms

  • Also a large category to be discussed
  • subdivided into declarative and descriptive praise