Literature / Book of Psalms

"The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want."
Psalm 23:1

The Book of Psalms is a rich collection of poems, hymns, and prayers that express the religious feelings of the Jews throughout many periods of history. With each of its 150 poems (151 in Eastern Christianity) having its own chapter, it has more chapters than any other book of the Bible.

Tropes

  • The Atoner: Some of David's Psalms appear this way, particularly Psalm 51 where he laments on his sin of adultery.
  • Bully Hunter: “O LORD, who is like you, delivering the poor from him who is too strong for him, the poor and needy from him who robs him?” — Psalm 35:10
  • Bowdlerise: Many of the religious traditions that use the Psalms in worship leave the Imprecatory Psalms out of regular rotation, reasoning (not unfairly) that the Values Dissonance of the psalmist asking God to smite his enemies requires more contextualizing than a face-value congregational reading would allow.
  • Call-Back: The psalmist mentions about how God smote the firstborn in Egypt in Psalm 105:29-36.
  • Divine Right of Kings: Psalm 2 is considered this kind of psalm for the kings of Judah (particularly "You are My son; today I have begotten you") while standard Christian interpretation states that it also refers to Jesus Christ's coming reign over all creation at His Second Coming.
  • Don't Make Me Take My Belt Off: God seems to symbolically imply this in Psalm 89:31-34 if someone breaks His commandments.
  • Et Tu, Brute?: From Psalm 55:12-14:
    For it is not an enemy who reproaches me;
    then I could bear it.
    Nor is it one who hates me who has exalted himself against me;
    then I could hide from him.
    But it was you, my peer,
    my guide, and my acquaintance.
    We took pleasant counsel together,
    and walked to the house of God in company.
  • Fire/Water Juxtaposition: In Psalm 66:12:
    You have allowed people to ride over our heads;
    we went through fire and through water;
    but You brought us out into a well-watered place.
  • Foreshadowing: According to Christians, Psalm 22 foretells the crucifixion of Christ. He cries out the opening line, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It then foretells how the crowds mocked him while he was on the cross and that Roman soldiers would cast lots for his garments.
  • Forgiveness: Psalm 32
    Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
    Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity,
    And in whose spirit there is no deceit.
    For when I kept silent my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.
    For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
    My strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.
    I acknowledged my sin to you, and did not cover my iniquity;
    I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,”
    And you forgave the iniquity of my sin.
    Psalm 32:1-5 (English Standard Version)
  • God Is Good: Many verses of the Psalms revolve around praising God for His goodness and mercy, much like common passages such as Psalm 100:5.
  • Good Is Not Nice: While there are many verses centered on praising God for his goodness, there are verses where He will dish out all kinds of severe punishments on sinners.
  • Good Shepherd: The quote at the top of the page, the opening of Psalm 23: "The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want." The rest of the Psalm goes into how He guides the psalmist like a shepherd.
  • Gods Need Prayer Badly: Discussed and ultimately defied in Psalm 50:
    "I have no complaint about your sacrifices
    or the burnt offerings you constantly offer.
    But I do not need the bulls from your barns
    or the goats from your pens.
    For all the animals of the forest are mine,
    and I own the cattle on a thousand hills.
    I know every bird on the mountains,
    and all the animals of the field are mine.
    If I were hungry, I would not tell you,
    for all the world is mine and everything in it.
    Do I eat the meat of bulls?
    Do I drink the blood of goats?"
  • Hanlon's Razor: "Have those who work evil no knowledge?" (Psalm 53:4)
  • The High King: Psalm 24 describes God as “the King of glory” to whom others make appeals if they are worthy to ascend His holy hill.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Invoked in Psalm 35:7-8
    For without cause they hid their net for me
    Without cause they dug a pit for my life.
    Let destruction come upon him when he does not know it!
    And let the net that he hid ensnare him
    Let him fall into it—to his destruction!
  • Humans Are Bastards: A constant theme throughout the psalms, as the psalmists face persecution, abandonment, and betrayal, and as the people consistently fail to obey God’s commandments.
    God looks down from heaven on the children of man
    To see if there are any who understand,
    Who seek after God.
    They have fallen away
    Together they have become corrupt
    There is none who does good,
    Not even one.
    Psalm 53:2-3 (English Standard Version)
  • Humiliation Conga: Some scriptures like Psalm 52:5-7 have the righteous (and even God) laughing at the wicked for their failures.
  • I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: The "valley of the shadow of death" from Psalm 23:4 (King James Version). Even the more recent (and, technically, more accurate) translations,note  such as "the darkest valley" (New Revised Standard Version) or "a valley of deepest darkness" (New Jewish Publication Society) suggest this trope.
  • Invulnerable Horses: Psalm 20 subverts this by declaring that the power of horses and chariots is nothing compared to the power of God.
    Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
    But we trust in the Name of the LORD our God.
    They collapse and fall,
    But we rise and stand upright.
    Psalm 20:6-8 (English Standard Version)
  • Karmic Death: "Evil shall kill the wicked; and they that hate the righteous shall be held guilty." - Psalm 34:21
  • Loose Canon: Psalm 151, which retells the story of David vs. Goliath. It appears in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of Hebrew Scriptures) and in a fragment in the Dead Sea Scrolls, but not in the accepted Hebrew Masoretic text. So was it part of the original canon that was lost, or a later spurious addition? Naturally enough, its canonicity has a Broken Base: It's accepted as canonical by Orthodox Christians, apocryphal by Roman Catholics and Jews, and not at all by Protestants.
  • Mood Whiplash: Most of Psalm 137 is a beautiful, haunting lament of the loss of Jerusalem and the tragedy of the Hebrews made captive in Bablyon. Then the second-to-last verse promises a bloody and terrible revenge upon the Babylonians, before the last verse then promises to brutally kill all of their children by smashing them against rocks. Unsurprisingly, most of the many musical adaptations of this psalm omit the last line.
  • Patrick Stewart Speech: Inverted by Psalm 8, which truly marvels at the glory of God and “the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place,” and wonders, “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” The psalmist then makes clear that everything special about humanity is due to God’s grace. The psalmist then ends as he began by declaring, “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Your Name in all the earth!”
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: A recurring theme in the Imprecatory Psalms, though the psalmist asks God to punish the wicked rather than taking matters into his own hands.
    As he loved cursing, so let it come unto him: as he delighted not in blessing, so let it be far from him.
    —Psalm 109:17
  • Prayer of Malice: Many of the Psalms involve the psalmist praying that God torments and punishes his enemies, especially those who persecute and oppress God's people; these are known as the Imprecatory Psalms.
    When he shall be judged, let him be condemned: and let his prayer become sin.
    Let his days be few; and let another take his office.
    Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow...
    —Psalm 109:7-9
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: In the type of psalms mentioned above, the psalmist mentions the destruction of enemy nations, including their civilians. One particularly jarring example is Psalm 137, mentioned above, where the psalmist approvingly mentions babies and pregnant women being killed in war.
  • Religious Bruiser: David. Psalm 18:34 sums this up:
    "He teacheth my hands to war, so that a bow of steel is broken by mine arms."
  • Rule of Seven: Psalm 12:6.
    "The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times."
  • The Sacred Darkness: Referenced in Psalm 139:12-14 — "The darkness and light are both alike. I am fearfully and wonderfully made."
  • Sacrificial Lamb: The verses about "The Suffering Servant" are often cited by Christians as omens about Jesus' arrival, whereas Jewish sources interpret them as references to David and the widely-supported coup against him by his son Absalom.
  • The Tooth Hurts: From Psalm 3:7:
    Arise, O Lord;
    save me, O my God!
    For You have struck all my enemies on the cheek;
    You have broken the teeth of the wicked.
  • Traumatic C-Section: One of the aforementioned "Prayer of Malice" psalms gleefully mentions pregnant women of enemy nations being cut open and their fetuses getting pulled out and thrown against the rocks. (Now considered a war crime of utter sociopathy, this was a very common practice throughout the ancient world.)
  • Voice of Dramatic: Psalm 29 describes the powerful voice of the LORD, declaring that it “breaks the cedars of Lebanon” and “shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.”
  • Warrior Poet: David.
  • Where Is Your X Now?: From Psalm 42:1-3.
    As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they continually say to me, “Where is your God?”
    • And from Psalm 79:10.
    Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Let there be known among the nations in our sight the avenging of the blood of Your servants which has been shed.
    • And from Psalm 115:1-2.
    Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to Your name give glory, because of Your mercy, because of Your truth. Why should the Gentiles say, “So where is their God?”
  • Your Days Are Numbered: Psalm 90:10 says that our years of living are numbered:
    The years of our life are seventy,
    and if by reason of strength eighty;
    yet their length is toil and sorrow,
    for they soon end, and we fly away.


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