Survey of the Old Testament:
Psalms of Lament
The most common form of Psalm is the lament. In the lament the psalmist faces a difficult situation in which he desperately needs God's intervention. The lament gives a poetic voice to those who are suffering or in need of God's del iverance.
Structure of the Lament
While the lament psalms represent the honest emotion and authentic expression of the psalmist, the lament psalm is not a mere rant or a stream of consciousness complaint. There is a very specific format which the psalmist follows in the lament.
The Introductory Appeal
The introduction to a psalm of lament begins with an address to God and an introductory call for help. This introduction may be a single line, or may be a rather lengthy as the psalmist addresses God. It often includes a foreshadow of the petition and/or the praise.
In the next section, the psalmist outlines the situation which is causing the lament. This can be brief, but is often an extended part of the psalm. In any case, the psalmist usually makes reference to three persons in the lament: the psalmist himself (I or my), God (You), and his adversary (they). This would typically sound something like the following:
- I am in despair, for
- You have forgotten me, and
- They have surrounded me on every side.
Understanding the situation which has caused the lament is important when studying the lament, for it describes the crisis from which God will need to del iver the psalmist.
The Confession of Trust
Often after the lament, the Psalmist will proclaim confidence in God's ability to del iver. This is usually made obvious by the conjunction but This is absent in many lament psalms, although some have an extended confession of trust.
The psalmist then asks God for del iverance. Often the request itself is divided into a request for God to hear the petition followed by a petition for God's salvation or intervention.
After the request, the psalmist normally gives a reason why God should intervene. The reasons are sometimes based on the psalmist, where the reason is the deep extent of the problem or the innocence of the psalmist. More often, however, the reason God should intervene has to do with God's character. God's failure to intervene would reflect poorly on God's honor, or God will intervene because it is in his character to do so.
This is reasons cited for God's intervention is especially enlightening, for it provides us with a template for making requests of God in our daily prayer life.
Finally, the psalmist always concludes his lament with a statement of praise. Sometimes this is in the form of a promise to praise once God delivers. Often, however, the psalmist praises God in anticipation of the del iverance.
Styles of Lament
There are four specific types of laments found in the Psalms:
- The Individual Lament The Psalmist's crisis is his own and he appeals to God for personal del iverance.
- The Corporate Lament The Psalmist is expressing a crisis faced by the nation of Israel , and the appeal is for the del iverance of the entire nation.
- The Confessional Lament The Psalmist's crisis is a result of his own personal sin. The call for del iverance is made only after confession of the sin and appeal to God's forgiving nature.
- The Imprecatory Lament - As part of the call for del iverance, the Psalmist calls on God to curse his enemies. The appeal is to God's sense of justice as the Psalmist forgoes personal claims of vengeance by leaving it to God.
Significance of the Lament
Lament Psalms have much to say to the believer today.
- We can be honest with God with our true feelings. We can not surprise God when we express our true emotions and doubts to him. God would rather we bring him our struggles and anxieties.
- It is not a sin to question, grieve, despair or even complain to God. It is, however, a sin to refuse to take these things to God.
- Our requests to God for del iverance should be made in light of God's nature and in concern for God's honor.
- If the petition includes del iverance from a situation resulting from our own sin, confession is necessary, for a broken spirit and a contrite heart is what God desires.
- Our response to anticipated or actual del iverance is to be praise to God. Praise should take place even before deliverance is assured.
[Next: Psalm 42-43]