The book of Psalms was the hymnal of ancient Israel. This collection of 150 songs, or poems, shows us how the people of Israel turned to the Lord, Yahweh, through the full range of human emotion. The Psalms show us what it means to cry out with a redeemed perspective. A redeemed perspective anticipates deliverance. It’s bathed in language that points heavenward, that is centered on hope. The Psalms demonstrate this in a lot of different ways. As you might expect, different seasons of life and emotional experiences prompted the psalmists to express themselves in different forms.
There are five primary forms, or categories, of the Psalms. These include:
Thanksgiving (Fulfillment of Deliverance) Example: Psalm 75
Wisdom (Instructional Focus) Example: Psalm 1
Hymnic (Exclusive Adoration) Example: Psalm 8
Royal (Coming Messiah) Example: Psalm 72
Lament (Prayers for Help) Example: Psalm 79, 80, 83, and 85
Most of last week’s readings in the psalms are laments, specifically community laments. The psalmists are calling on God for help and deliverance while in distress (anguish, depression, heartbrokenness, and sadness, injustice, or complaints against God’s enemies). Let’s look more closely at Psalm 79. What stands out in this Psalm that points to lament?
Psalm 79 was written after the destruction of Jerusalem by the armies of Babylon. It can be broken into the following sections:
Jerusalem and the temple left in ruins (1-4)
Petition to the Lord to turn away his anger (5-7)
Plea for rescue and mercy for God’s glory (8-12)
Vow to give thanks (13)
The people of Israel interacted with God through the temple. His protection was there. To many, I’m sure, his power was there. Now here comes the Babylonians…they ruined EVERYTHING in the sanctuary. They took Israel’s symbols and replaced them with that of the pagans. They ransacked the temple and set it on fire. They completely destroyed everything the people of Israel held sacred. It was bad enough that Israel’s enemies had destroyed the temple. What was worse, it seemed that God had abandoned them. But he hadn’t and the people of Israel knew this at their core (see verses 8-10).
It’s important to note that although it is a “complaint”, this lament psalm, like every other, expresses confidence and trust in the Lord. Lamenting is not just crying out. Lament talks to God about the pain. It turns us toward God when sorrow tempts us to run from him. “But we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise.” - Psalm 79:13
The theological foundation upon which the Psalms are built is that Yahweh, the God of Israel, is the universal Sovereign, who rules justly over all the earth. The Psalms give us what we need to experience the seasons of life with the Lord, the giver of Hope.
We shouldn’t run away from lamenting. Why? Because you will lament. I will lament. We will lament together. There is absolutely no escaping that season of life. BUT, when we lament, we should lean into the Lord.
Here’s the central truth I want you to leave with today courtesy of pastor and author Mark Vroegop…Lamenting is a God-given invitation to pour out our fears, frustrations, and sorrows for the purpose of renewing our confidence in God.