The Book of Psalms is a huge part of the scriptures and is in the Old Testament of the Bible. While the original bible scrolls did not have the book names, the meaning of psalms from the Greek translation means “instrumental music” or by extension, “the words accompanying the music.” In this article, we will cover the history of the psalms and discuss the psalms of lament.
The Psalms are an anthology of individual separate psalms a number of 150 in the Jewish tradition. Originally, the thought-to-be-author of the book is linked to King David, however, modern scholars disagree. It has since been discovered that several people wrote the Psalms apart from David. Some of these people include the sons of Korah, Solomon, Asaph, Moses, Ethan the Ezrahite, and many others.
The book is divided into five sections that each close with a doxology or benediction. Book 1 has Psalms 1-41 and the second part of the Psalms has chapters 42- 72 in it. Book 3 has psalms 73-89 while Book 4 contains chapters 90-106. The last part of the book has Psalms 107-150.
You must begin to wonder now what a psalm is and how important it is. Well, a psalm is a sacred song or poem, and the most famous ones are found in the bible. From popular belief, there are five kinds of psalms that can be found in the bible. They are praise, wisdom, royal, thanksgiving, and lament.
Psalms of praise are written to praise and celebrate God and they are often simply referred to as hymns. Psalms of wisdom, on the other hand, aim to teach a lesson or instill morals in a person or group of people. The royal psalms are more focused on kingship and ruler-ship; it deals with how kings and rulers help their people to have a closer relationship with God.
The psalms of thanksgiving are written to express thanksgiving to God for something he has done. And finally, the psalms of lament are those that revolve around a painful event or experience. The psalms of lament are written to not only help bear the pain people are suffering from, but to also communicate the feeling of such pain in written words.
What are Psalms of Lament?
The psalms of lament are simply poems and songs that cry out to God in times of deep despair or distress. In such psalms, the help and intervention of God are asked to help relieve people of the feelings of sorrow, loss, suffering, or failure. The psalms of lament are expressions of trust in God that ask him to help bring hope, joy and victory.
The psalms often follow a general structure, this includes a form of language and focuses on motivating or asking for God’s intervention over a situation. The possible parts of an average psalm of lament include the following:
- Address to God: here, the psalmist calls unto God to prove His sovereignty and almightiness.
- Description of complaint: this is the place where the occurrence or trouble is mentioned.
- Confession of trust: after making the situation known, the next statement that follows in a psalm of lament is often that which confesses trust in God and his saving grace.
- The request: the psalms of lament also includes the part that specifically mentions what he expects or wants God to do concerning the situation.
- Exclamation of certainty: here, statements of hope and trust in God are made.
- Vow of praise: in the end, promises are usually made about offering thanksgiving to God once the problem or situation is taken care of.
Below is a typical example of the psalm of lament as found in Psalm 13:
1 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?
3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
5 But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6 I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.
It is worthy to note however, that not all psalms of lament will have all six parts mentioned above; however, the majority will. You will also discover that there are individual lament and communal lament.
Individual and Communal Laments
Individual laments are interested in the fate of a particular individual who made them. They are also the most common type of psalms and typically begin with an invocation of God. The psalm of confidence is a subset that can be used interchangeably with a psalm of lament. The psalm of confidence expresses confidence in God to relieve him of troubles and enemies.
Some examples of psalms of individual laments are psalms 13, 25:1-2; 16-21, 31, 44, and 86.
Communal lament, on the other hand, comes to play when a group of people, say a nation, laments over a common disaster or problem. The major difference between the two is the use of singular “I” for the individual lament and the plural “we” for communal lament.
Some of the examples of psalms of communal lament in the bible include psalms of chapters 44, 60, 74, 79, 80, 85, and 90.
Below is an example of a communal lament, Psalm 85:
1 You, Lord, showed favor to your land;
you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
2 You forgave the iniquity of your people
and covered all their sins.
3 You set aside all your wrath
and turned from your fierce anger.
4 Restore us again, God our Savior,
and put away your displeasure toward us.
5 Will you be angry with us forever?
Will you prolong your anger through all generations?
6 Will you not revive us again,
that your people may rejoice in you?
7 Show us your unfailing love, Lord,
and grant us your salvation.
8 I will listen to what God the Lord says;
he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants—
but let them not turn to folly.
9 Surely his salvation is near those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.
10 Love and faithfulness meet together;
righteousness and peace kiss each other.
11 Faithfulness springs forth from the earth,
and righteousness looks down from heaven.
12 The Lord will indeed give what is good,
and our land will yield its harvest.
13 Righteousness goes before him
and prepares the way for his steps.
How to Lament
When a baby is born, his/her arrival is marked by crying. While none of us can remember the sound we first made after being born, it was certainly a loud protest. When we entered the world, we did so by crying and wailing. So, it is human to cry.
While humans cry, other creatures do so as well. And it is certain and obvious that crying does not stop at birth. Many bad occurrences in the world today, cause humans, and of course other creatures, to cry. Failed marriages, loneliness, abuse, conflict, war, cancer, addiction, and many other issues can cause a person to cry and wail.
The crying continues because the world is broken. And while tears and sorrow are part of humanity, there is a much bigger and often neglect prayer language in the bible – lament.
It is important to note that lamenting is different from crying. And lamenting is uniquely Christian. In fact, up to a third of the Book of Psalms are laments because it is a form of prayer.
Why Lament as a Christian?
Lamenting is one of the most theologically informed actions a person can take. In lamenting, people accept that God is good and can solve their problems. Christians, for sure, know of His promises in the bible and believe in God’s power to deliver.
Despite God’s divinity, we experience pain and sorrow. Lament then is the language that bridge, or pole per se, that hangs between the hardship people face and the trust in God’s sovereignty. In lamenting, Christians don’t just mourn, but they also long for God to put an end to the pain.
It is important to note as well that it takes faith to lament in prayers properly. Instead of getting angry and wallowing in sin, lamenting helps you talk to God and that requires some solid biblical conviction. You have to lay out the messy struggles of your soul and ask the good Lord to help you overcome what it is that you are suffering. In lamenting, you turn towards to God, and in sorrow, you tend to run away from Him.
The reason why lamenting helps Christians, but is different from crying or sorrow, is that for lamenting the believer is aware of the outcome – victory or restoration. God’s plan can be divided into four parts: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. So, it is evident that the struggle can only play out in one way – restoration.
Believers are also relieved because they are fully aware of the reason for the trouble in the world – sin. And we also know the end of all laments. Revelation 21:4 clearly shows that, it says, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
No wonder the psalmist always says, “how long, O Lord?” anyone can cry, but only Christians can lament faithfully.
Learn to Lament Competently
With a firm understanding of God’s plan, Christians should learn to be competent lamenters. The bible is clear about the plans of God and that should enable us to place our trust in God and to talk to Him about our sorrows and struggles regularly.
One good way to learn to lament is to read lament psalms regularly. Psalms 10, 13, 22 and 77 are some of the best ones to start with. lament psalms for individual grief and communal suffering are surplus in the bible and they are there to help you.
As you read these psalms, some phrases and clauses will become your own and they will stick with you. Hold onto them, for they are your passage to light. It is also important to study psalms of lament by looking for the parts mentioned earlier that are customary to laments.
You can then go on to write down your lament in the same format even as you talk to God about your problems and struggles. Until Jesus returns to take the saints, troubles will continue to be in the world and they will be marked by tears. However, the Christian knows better – he knows he has hope and must lament rather than cry.