Today we’ll be starting into a new type of psalm – the praise psalm. We’ve studied five lament psalms so far (Psalm 3, 4, 5, 7, and 10). And we covered only about 1/10th of all the psalms in that genre. So hopefully now when you come across the other 9/10ths of those psalms you’ll be better equipped to interpret them and understand them.
Now, we’re on to the next highest represented type of psalm in the Psalter. That is the “praise” psalm.
Here’s what happens in a praise psalm. Very basically, the psalmist exhorts others to praise the Lord. And then he goes into the reasons for why they should do just that.
But, what is it to “praise” the Lord?
Well, that English word “praise” is related to the word “appraise.” When you appraise something, you assess its value. And when someone appraises something extremely valuable and that person knows what to look for, that appraiser won’t be able to help extolling or speaking highly of that thing.
And that’s just what we have going on in the praise psalms. The psalmist estimates God’s true worth and not only speaks highly of the Lord himself, but also exhorts others to do so.
How to Study Praise Psalms
Now, we still do a lot of the same things with praise psalms that we did with lament psalms. So we still look for what genre it is. We still try to discover the underlying or implied situation that brought about the writing of the psalm. We look for the topic and theme of praise psalms. We study and try to unpack their poetic texture – the images that they paint in our minds.
The Structure of Praise Psalms
But there’s one significant difference between how we treat praise psalms as distinguished from lament psalms. The structure is different between the two types of psalms. So, the lament psalms had how many elements in their structure? Five, typically. Well, praise psalms only have three elements to their structure. So, let’s focus on those three elements for a while.
What we’re going to be doing is looking at a few different praise psalms and seeing each of the three elements of the structure in each one.
The Call to Praise in Praise Psalms
Let’s look at Psalm 66:1-3.
So, what do we see here? This is actually the first element of a praise psalm that we’ll cover. It’s the Call to Praise. And in the call to praise, the psalmist really commands that God be praised.
In Psalm 66, who’s called to praise the Lord? “All ye lands”. Everywhere. Every land is to praise God – to speak highly of him – to estimate his worth accurately.
What’s the mode of this praise? How is this praise to be carried out? By “making a joyful noise”. By singing. By making his praise glorious. Even by speaking unto God.
And that’s basically what we see in this initial call to praise in the praise psalms:
- The command to praise the Lord.
- The people to whom the command is given.
- The mode of their praise.
Alright? Not too hard.
So, we’ll continue on and look at the call to praise in another praise psalm – Psalm 96:1-3.
So, who’s being commanded to praise the Lord here? All the earth.
And what’s their mode of praise? How are they to speak highly of his worth? By singing a new song. Blessing his name. Shewing forth his salvation. Declaring his glory and his wonders.
Let’s go to Psalm 103 and look at the call to praise there inPsalm 103:1-2.
Who’s commanded to praise? In this case the psalmist is commanding himself to praise the Lord. His soul and all that’s in him is being called on to speak highly of God’s value.
The mode of praise? Blessing the Lord and his holy name. And not forgetting all the good he’s done for the psalmist.
And lastly, let’s consider Psalm 146:1-2.
The psalmist is again exhorting his own soul to praise the Lord. But he also commands others to do this – probably whomever is reading this psalm.
And how is the Lord to be praised? In particular, by singing.
Summary of the Call to Praise
So, when you come across a praise psalm, you first look for the call to praise. And what you’re going to find in the call to praise is:
- The command to praise the Lord.
- The people who are commanded to praise the Lord.
- The mode by which the Lord is to be praised.
The Actual Praise in Praise Psalms
OK, now on to the second part of a praise psalm. And there’s a name for this part. Ready?
It’s “The Actual Praise”.
We had the Call to Praise. Now secondly we have the Actual Praise. And often this section is simply a catalog of reasons why the Lord is worthy of praise.
Call to Praise in Psalm 33:1-3
Look at Psalm 33. So, we start out with Psalm 33:1-3 being the Call to Praise. This is where the righteous are commanded to rejoice and praise and sing and play in praising the Lord. They’re to use the harp and psaltery and instrument of ten strings.
Actual Praise in Psalm 33:4-9
Then we get in to the Actual Praise in Psalm 33:4-19. Again, this is where we’re given reasons to praise the Lord. So, why praise the Lord?
Righteous Words and Works (Psalm 33:4-5)
Psalm 33:4-5 – very broadly, all his words and works are righteous. They’re right. They’re true. And these two verses serve as an umbrella for the rest of God’s praiseworthy works and his word.
God’s Work of Creation (Psalm 33:6-9)
In Psalm 33:6-9 we’re to praise the Lord because of his act/work of creation.
Now, Psalm 33:6-7 make it sound so easy. The Lord’s awesome act of creating the entire universe is pictured as really no big deal to him. He simply spoke and everything happened. Can you do that? I know I can’t. That’s awesome. That’s praiseworthy. And when he put all the waters of the sea together, it was as difficult to him and it is for you and me to pile a bunch of stuff into a heap. The tremendous depth of the ocean waters are to God like a storehouse. He can just toss the water right into those storehouses. No big deal for God. Again, that’s awesome. That’s praiseworthy.
God, His People, and the Nations (Psalm 33:10-12)
Need some more reason to praise the Lord? How about Psalm 33:10-12 where God’s relation to all the nations of the world in Old Testament times is contrasted with his relationship with Israel.
The counsel of the heathen nations – their best advice that they can give to and receive from themselves – God frustrates it. Their plans he brings to nothing – because so much of it is against him. That’s Psalm 33:10. In contrast – Psalm 33:11 – the counsel that God gives – his advice – it will stand forever. It’s perfect. It will lead you right. And that’s why – Psalm 33:12 – the nation whom God chose for himself – the one which can get counsel directly from God – which God himself is guiding with his infallible counsel – Israel, not America in this context – that nation is supremely blessed. That people over any other has the obligation to praise the Lord.
God Knows Everything (Psalm 33:13-15)
But the psalmist doesn’t stop there. He gives us yet more reason to praise the Lord.
God created everything with great ease.
He chose Israel to be his people and to give them his perfect counsel.
And next in Psalm 33:13-15 he is omniscient. He knows everything.
Notice the references to God looking and beholding and considering. The Lord alone sees and knows everything – even men’s hearts. I can’t do that! Can you? The Lord is worthy of praise.
The Lord Alone Can Deliver (Psalm 33:16-19)
So, God’s all-powerful. He created everything. And yet he chose one nation to be his people. He’s all-knowing. And now, we’re reminded that he’s the only one who can deliver from danger in Psalm 33:16-19.
So, not even a king will be saved by his army, ultimately. A strong guy’s strength won’t be enough to deliver him. You can’t trust horses to save you. That’s according to Psalm 33:16-17. Well, then what can save a man? Psalm 33:18-19. If God has you in his sights to do good to you and deliver you, you’re invincible. Not even famine will get that kind of person.
And then the rest of the psalm is the last part of a praise psalm – the conclusion. We’ll get to that in a little bit.
Call to Praise in Psalm 47:1
Let’s turn to Psalm 47. This is another praise psalm. Psalm 47:1 is the call to praise. All peoples are commanded to praise the Lord by clapping their hands and shouting with joy.
Actual Praise in Psalm 47:2-7
Then Psalm 47:2 – “For” – there’s that transition where now the psalmist is going to justify his command to praise the Lord in Psalm 47:2-7.
God’s Sovereignty and Choosing Israel (Psalm 47:2-5)
And the reasons this psalm gives to justify our praising the Lord are – God’s sovereign rule over the whole earth AND God’s choosing Israel out of all the nations to be his people in Psalm 47:2-5.
A Second Call to Praise in Psalm 47:6
Then we see something interesting. There’s something of an interlude where the psalmist again commands that the Lord be praised in Psalm 47:6.
Actual Praise in Psalm 47:7
Then look at the first word of Psalm 47:7. Again, “for” – and the psalmist gives more reason to praise the Lord. God is king over all the earth. We should sing praises to him with a skillful psalm.
Psalm 47 continues but we’ll leave it at that for now.
Psalm 65:1-4 is Not a Call to Praise!
Then we have Psalm 65. Now, Psalm 65 is identified by the literary scholar Leland Ryken as a praise psalm. And at first I was confused. Because if you read Psalm 65:1-4 you don’t see the typical call to praise.
As you read Psalm 65:1-4 you might say to yourself, Wait! Where’s the call to praise?… You know what? It’s not here like we’ve seen it in other psalms. The psalm starts off by confessing that God will be praised. But no one is being commanded to praise God. So, what’s the deal? Why would we call this a praise psalm?
This is the conclusion I came to.
First, I realize a little better how the psalms were made. A psalmist would want to communicate some truth about God in a beautiful form and style. And he would be familiar with various poetic conventions or ways of expressing his feelings poetically. So, he wants to complain about something and struggle through it to reach a conclusion? Then he knows the ingredients of the lament genre of poetry. Does he want to express exalted praise to the Lord? Then he’s familiar with the ingredients that make up a praise psalm and he’d use those ingredients as he wished. Perhaps he didn’t feel the need to command anyone to praise the Lord in this particular psalm. And so, he could leave that out.
It’s like if you’re making cookies. You can leave the chocolate chips out. I mean, why eat a cookie if it doesn’t have chocolate chips – so maybe that’s not the best illustration. But hey – a cookie is a cookie whether it has chocolate chips or not. It’s still a cookie. And likewise, a praise psalm without a call to praise is still a praise psalm. Because as we look at the rest of Psalm 65 we’ll see praise happening. The praise itself – to return to our cookie illustration – would be like the flour. Without flour, a cookie is… well, not really a cookie. Maybe you can make it look like a cookie. But it’s just a wad of butter and sugar and baking soda or powder or whatever. Likewise, without the actual praise, a praise psalm is still a psalm, but not a praise psalm. So, then, a praise psalm might lack the call to praise. But it will certainly include the actual praise.
Actual Praise in Psalm 65:5-8
And that’s what we see in Psalm 65:5-8. God is praised in those verses for:
- Creating the earth.
- Subduing nature.
- Subduing mankind.
And then through to the end of Psalm 65 we’re given more reason to praise the Lord.
I can’t find a conclusion in this psalm, but again, this psalm doesn’t follow the three-part pattern that’s typical – or at least possible – with praise psalms.
Actual Praise in Psalm 65:9-13
So, in Psalm 65:9-13 God is praised for blessing his human creation with abundance from the earth he created for us.
Maybe Psalm 65:13 explains why there isn’t a call to praise. It’s because God in this psalm is pictured as being so profuse and abundant in his material blessings that perhaps creatures don’t even need to be reminded to praise him. They’re already pictured as praising their abundant and loving provider.
The Concluding Resolution in Praise Psalms
Well, at this point we should probably get to the last ingredient of a praise psalm.
I like that term better than element. Ingredient!
So, the last ingredient that we tend to find in praise psalms is basically just a conclusion or a concluding resolution. Based on all we’ve been told in whatever praise psalm we read, the last bit of the psalm typically ends with a concluding resolution that puts finality or closure on the psalm. It’s often a brief prayer or wish. So, let’s see it in its natural habitat.
Call to Praise in Psalm 30:1
Psalm 30 starts with a very brief call to praise. Only – the psalmist isn’t commanding anyone to praise God in Psalm 30:1.
Actual Praise in Psalm 30:1-3
Then notice the transition to the reasons why the psalmist will praise God. Continuing in Psalm 30:1-3. Here the psalmist is praising God because of some personal deliverance that he received from the Lord.
Second Call to Praise in Psalm 30:4
Then we have another call to praise in Psalm 30:4.
Actual Praise in Psalm 30:5-12
And then for the rest of the psalm, we’re given reasons to praise God – namely, he delivers his people from the darkest most dangerous situations in their lives.
So then, this whole psalm deals not so much with God’s attributes – like some praise psalms do – but rather it deals with God’s acts. And in this case, they’re acts in the personal life of the psalmist in the area of delivering him from danger.
Concluding Resolution in Psalm 30:12
But remember, we’re looking for the conclusion to the psalm. Ready for it? Here it is. Last line of Psalm 30:12. That’s it. Simple. “I’ll give you thanks forever.”
Concluding Resolution in Psalm 30:20-22
Let’s return to Psalm 33. We stopped previously at Psalm 30:19. And remember that we saw several praiseworthy things about God. He is the creator. He chose Israel. He knows everything. And he alone is able to deliver anyone from death.
And so in light of all these truths, the psalmist gives his reaction in Psalm 30:20-22.
What then is the psalmist’s conclusion? Based on all that we saw of the Lord’s acts and attributes in Psalm 33, we can put our trust in him – Psalm 30:21 – we rejoice in him because we trust in him.
We could find the conclusion in all sorts of different psalms, but I think we’ll leave it there for now.
And this is how to interpret a praise psalm.