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Literature / Book of Psalms

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"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.


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  • Added Alliterative Appeal: The original Hebrew texts of Psalm 119 is an acrostic consisting of 8 lines per 22 stanzas that are associated with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
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  • A God Is You: God says this to the judges of Israel in Psalm 82:6, while adding a caveat to it in verse 7:
    I have said, “You are gods,
    sons of the Most High, all of you,
    but you all shall die like men,
    and fall like a man, O princes.”
  • Arc Words: "For His mercy endures forever" or some variation thereof in the later Psalms. Psalm 136 has this line repeated no more than 26 times throughout the entire psalm.
  • Army of Lawyers: Psalm 127 suggests that a man who is blessed with a lot of sons will have this at his disposal, for they will "speak with their enemies at the gate", which is where court decisions were usually held in ancient Israel.
  • 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
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  • 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.
  • Cargo Cult: Psalms 115 and 135 both comment on the worship of idols by saying this about them:
    Their idols are silver and gold,
    the work of men’s hands.
    They have mouths, but they cannot speak;
    eyes, but they cannot see;
    they have ears, but they cannot hear;
    noses, but they cannot smell;
    they have hands, but they cannot feel;
    feet, but they cannot walk;
    neither can they speak with their throat.
    Those who make them are like them;
    so is everyone who trusts in them. (Psalm 115:4-8)
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  • Department of Redundancy Department: The form of Hebrew poetry used in most of the psalms is called "parallelism," meaning that rather than rhyming single words with similar sounds, the same idea is repeated in similar ways. One characteristic example:
    The law of the Lord is perfect,
    refreshing the soul.
    The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
    making wise the simple.
    The precepts of the Lord are right,
    giving joy to the heart.
    The commands of the Lord are radiant,
    giving light to the eyes.
    —Psalm 19:7-8
  • 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: In Psalm 89:31-32, God symbolically threatens to do this to those who don't obey His commandments.
    "If they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments; Then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes."
  • Downer Ending: Psalm 88 is the only psalm that is strictly lamentation and includes no statement about hope in the LORD.
  • 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.
  • Fairytale Wedding Dress: Psalm 45 describes the Pimped-Out Dress a princess wears at her wedding to the king.
    All glorious is the princess in her chamber, with robes interwoven with gold.
    In many-colored robes she is led to the king,
    With her virgin companions following behind her.
    With joy and gladness they are led along, as they enter the palace of the king.
    — Psalm 45:13-15
  • 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. Christ while suffering on the cross 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 Soft: While there are many verses centered on praising God for his goodness, there are also many verses where He will punish the wicked.
  • 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 50:8-13:
    "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)
  • Happiness Is Mandatory: Psalm 2:11 has the Psalmist tell the kings and judges of the earth (particularly the ones who are to witness the Lord's anointed being made king, and eventually Jesus Christ, as interpreted by Christians) to "serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling."
  • Have You Seen My God?: Psalm 22 asks, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?"
  • Heroic Second Wind: The final three verses of Psalm 110 speak of this about the Lord:
    The Lord is at your right hand.
    He will crush kings on the day when he is angry.
    He will judge the nations. He will pile up dead bodies on the field of battle.
    He will crush the rulers of the whole earth.
    He will drink from a brook along the way and receive new strength.
    And so he will win the battle. (New International Readers' Version)
  • 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!
  • Hollywood Atheist: Psalm 14:1 and Psalm 53:1 describe this about atheists:
    "The fool hath said in his heart, "There is no God". Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity: there is none that doeth good."
  • 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 defies this view of horse-drawn chariots at the time 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)
  • Karma Houdini: The writer of Psalm 73 wondered how the wicked could go to their death in peace and without problems in their lives while he himself is constantly afflicted, until God made him understand that He had set them on slippery slopes to perish.
  • 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.
  • Malicious Slander: David in Psalm 101:5 sings "Him who slanders his neighbor secretly I will destroy."
  • Misery Builds Character: Psalm 119:71.
    "It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes."
  • 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 Babylon. 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.
  • Money Is Not Power: From Psalm 49:6-9:
    Those who trust in their wealth,
    and boast in the multitude of their riches,
    none of them can by any means redeem the other,
    nor give to God a ransom for anyone,
    for the redemption of their souls is costly;
    even so people cease to exist forever,
    making efforts to live eternally,
    and not see the pit.
  • No Holds Barred Beat Down: David in Psalm 18:37-42:
    I pursued my enemies and overtook them;
    I did not return until they were destroyed.
    I wounded them, and they were not able to rise;
    they are fallen under my feet.
    For You clothed me with strength for the battle;
    You subdued under me those who rose up against me.
    You gave me the necks of my enemies,
    and I destroyed those who hate me.
    They cried for help, but there was none to save them;
    even to the Lord, but He did not answer them.
    Then I beat them small as the dust before the wind;
    I cast them out as the dirt in the streets.
  • Only the Pure of Heart: In Psalm 24:3-4:
    Who may ascend the hill of the Lord?
    Who may stand in His holy place?
    He who has clean hands and a pure heart;
    who has not lifted up his soul unto vanity,
    nor sworn deceitfully.
  • 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
  • The Power of Hate: Some of the passages contain the psalmist admitting that he hates the wicked. For example, Psalm 139:21-22 has the psalmist declaring hating those who oppose God.
    "Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies."
  • Prayer of Malice: Many of the Psalms involve the psalmist praying to God that He 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
  • Pre-Violence Laughter: In Psalm 2, verses 4 to 6 states to the kings of the earth amassed against the Lord and His anointed king: "He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord ridicules them. Then He will speak to them in His wrath and terrify them in His burning anger: 'I have installed My king on Zion, My holy hill.'" However, it is not God that commits the violence against the kings, but rather His anointed king, as verse 9 states: "You will break them with a scepter of iron; you will dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel."
  • 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.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: God gives this to the wicked in Psalm 50:16-22.
    But unto the wicked God saith, "What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth? Seeing thou hatest instruction, and casteth my words behind thee. When thou sawest a thief, then thou consentedst with him, and hast been partaker with adulterers. Thou givest thy mouth to evil, and thy tongue frameth deceit. Thou sittest and speakest against thy brother; thou slanderest thine own mother's son. These things hast thou done, and I kept silence; thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself: but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes. Now consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver."
  • 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.
  • Tame His Anger: Psalm 4:4 says in some translations: "Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah." (Also partially repeated in the Book of Ephesians by Paul the apostle.)
  • There Is a God!: In Psalm 58:10-11:
    The righteous will be glad when they are avenged, when they dip their feet in the blood of the wicked.
    Then people will say, ‘Surely the righteous still are rewarded; surely there is a God who judges the earth.’.
  • 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.
    • From Psalm 58:6:
    Break their teeth in their mouth, O God;
    break out the great teeth of the young lions, O Lord.
  • 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.
  • Wedding Day: Psalm 45 celebrates the marriage of the king to a princess of Tyre.
  • What Could Have Been: In-universe, Psalm 124 bases it praises on wondering what would have happened if the LORD had not protected Israel against its enemies.
  • 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?”
  • Would Hurt a Child: Psalm 137:9, speaking about the children of Babylon in God's coming judgment against them.
    "Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones."
  • 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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