An aid in reading the Psalms is to be able to arrange them in literary categories or genres. Based on thematic elements that are shared between psalms and literary features, we can more precisely classify the lyric poems of the Psalms. While some of the following literary categories may overlap as well as the rubrics for each may differ with varying sources, it is possible to place the psalms into six basic genres. Today we will briefly examine the first three of these.
1. Lament is the most dominant genre found in the Psalter. More than one-third of the psalms are of this nature. The dominant defining character of the lament is its mood. In this type of psalm, a psalmist will often be mourning about the attack of his enemies. At other times, a psalmist may make a complaint about himself and, at times, he expresses disappointment with God (Ps 22:1–2). In addition, lament psalms move from mourning to expressing trust in God.
A problem often encountered in laments is that the enemy is described in vague terms. We need to avoid becoming too specific in our identification of the enemies. Some commentators have gone to extremes in identifying the enemy. Unless the context is clear, we should avoid this extreme because the psalmist generally wanted to be vague in identifying the specifics of a historical situation. As Longman has stated: “In most cases the references are vague, and we have every reason to believe they are so intentionally. The psalms are purposefully vague in reference to historical events so that they can be used in a variety of situations” (How to Read the Psalms, 27).
The lament psalm may be written from an individual or national perspective. Psalm 3 is as an individual lament highlighting what took place when David fled from Absalom. An element of trust concludes this psalm in vv. 7–8 (other examples include Pss 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, and others). Psalm 12 is a national lament composed on behalf of Israel. David laments the...