Psalms of Lament: Individual and Communal

Psalms of Lament: Individual and Communal
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The psalms of lament are songs and poems in which the psalmist cries out to God in times of deep distress and despair. In psalms of lament, the psalmist asks God for intervention to deliver him from suffering, sorrow, great loss, failures, and enemies. These petitions often give way to expressions of trust in God to act in the psalmist’s favor, leading to hope and joy.

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Read about hope amidst adversity in Shaped by Suffering: How Temporary Hardships Prepare Us for Our Eternal Home.

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There are more psalms of lament than any other type of psalm. These psalms fall into the broad categories of individual or communal (or sometimes both). Their basic structure includes:

  1. Address to God
  2. Description of complaint
  3. Request for God’s help
  4. Expression of trust in God

Here are some of the representative psalms of lament from each category.

Individual Psalms of Lament

Psalm 13

For the choir director. A Psalm of David.

1 How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?

2 How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
Having sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?

3 Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
Enlighten my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,

4 And my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
And my adversaries will rejoice when I am shaken.

5 But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness;
My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.

6 I will sing to the Lord,
Because He has dealt bountifully with me.

Psalm 25:1–2, 16–21

A Psalm of David.

1 To You, O Lord, I lift up my soul.

2 O my God, in You I trust,
Do not let me be ashamed;
Do not let my enemies exult over me.

16 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
For I am lonely and afflicted.

17 The troubles of my heart are enlarged;
Bring me out of my distresses.

18 Look upon my affliction and my trouble,
And forgive all my sins.

19 Look upon my enemies, for they are many,
And they hate me with violent hatred.

20 Guard my soul and deliver me;
Do not let me be ashamed, for I take refuge in You.

21 Let integrity and uprightness preserve me,
For I wait for You.

Psalm 31:1–5, 9–16

For the choir director. A Psalm of David.

1 In You, O Lord, I have taken refuge;
Let me never be ashamed;
In Your righteousness deliver me.

2 Incline Your ear to me, rescue me quickly;
Be to me a rock of strength,
A stronghold to save me.

3 For You are my rock and my fortress;
For Your name’s sake You will lead me and guide me.

4 You will pull me out of the net which they have secretly laid for me,
For You are my strength.

5 Into Your hand I commit my spirit;
You have ransomed me, O Lord, God of truth.

9 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
My eye is wasted away from grief, my soul and my body also.

10 For my life is spent with sorrow
And my years with sighing;
My strength has failed because of my iniquity,
And my body has wasted away.

11 Because of all my adversaries, I have become a reproach,
Especially to my neighbors,
And an object of dread to my acquaintances;
Those who see me in the street flee from me.

12 I am forgotten as a dead man, out of mind;
I am like a broken vessel.

13 For I have heard the slander of many,
Terror is on every side;
While they took counsel together against me,
They schemed to take away my life.

14 But as for me, I trust in You, O Lord,
I say, “You are my God.”

15 My times are in Your hand;
Deliver me from the hand of my enemies and from those who persecute me.

16 Make Your face to shine upon Your servant;
Save me in Your lovingkindness.

Psalm 86:1–4, 14–17

A Prayer of David.

1 Incline Your ear, O Lord, and answer me;
For I am afflicted and needy.

2 Preserve my soul, for I am a godly man;
O You my God, save Your servant who trusts in You.

3 Be gracious to me, O Lord,
For to You I cry all day long.

4 Make glad the soul of Your servant,
For to You, O Lord, I lift up my soul.

14 O God, arrogant men have risen up against me,
And a band of violent men have sought my life,
And they have not set You before them.

15 But You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth.

16 Turn to me, and be gracious to me;
Oh grant Your strength to Your servant,
And save the son of Your handmaid.

17 Show me a sign for good,
That those who hate me may see it and be ashamed,
Because You, O Lord, have helped me and comforted me.

More Individual Psalms of Lament

Communal Psalms of Lament

Psalm 12

For the choir director; upon an eight-stringed lyre. A Psalm of David.

1 Help, Lord, for the godly man ceases to be,
For the faithful disappear from among the sons of men.

2 They speak falsehood to one another;
With flattering lips and with a double heart they speak.

3 May the Lord cut off all flattering lips,
The tongue that speaks great things;

4 Who have said, “With our tongue we will prevail;
Our lips are our own; who is lord over us?”

5 “Because of the devastation of the afflicted, because of the groaning of the needy,
Now I will arise,” says the Lord; “I will set him in the safety for which he longs.”

6 The words of the Lord are pure words;
As silver tried in a furnace on the earth, refined seven times.

7 You, O Lord, will keep them;
You will preserve him from this generation forever.

8 The wicked strut about on every side
When vileness is exalted among the sons of men.

Psalm 44

For the choir director. A Maskil of the sons of Korah.

1 O God, we have heard with our ears,
Our fathers have told us
The work that You did in their days,
In the days of old.

2 You with Your own hand drove out the nations;
Then You planted them;
You afflicted the peoples,
Then You spread them abroad.

3 For by their own sword they did not possess the land,
And their own arm did not save them,
But Your right hand and Your arm and the light of Your presence,
For You favored them.

4 You are my King, O God;
Command victories for Jacob.

5 Through You we will push back our adversaries;
Through Your name we will trample down those who rise up against us.

6 For I will not trust in my bow,
Nor will my sword save me.

7 But You have saved us from our adversaries,
And You have put to shame those who hate us.

8 In God we have boasted all day long,
And we will give thanks to Your name forever. Selah.

9 Yet You have rejected us and brought us to dishonor,
And do not go out with our armies.

10 You cause us to turn back from the adversary;
And those who hate us have taken spoil for themselves.

11 You give us as sheep to be eaten
And have scattered us among the nations.

12 You sell Your people cheaply,
And have not profited by their sale.

13 You make us a reproach to our neighbors,
A scoffing and a derision to those around us.

14 You make us a byword among the nations,
A laughingstock among the peoples.

15 All day long my dishonor is before me
And my humiliation has overwhelmed me,

16 Because of the voice of him who reproaches and reviles,
Because of the presence of the enemy and the avenger.

17 All this has come upon us, but we have not forgotten You,
And we have not dealt falsely with Your covenant.

18 Our heart has not turned back,
And our steps have not deviated from Your way,

19 Yet You have crushed us in a place of jackals
And covered us with the shadow of death.

20 If we had forgotten the name of our God
Or extended our hands to a strange god,

21 Would not God find this out?
For He knows the secrets of the heart.

22 But for Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.

23 Arouse Yourself, why do You sleep, O Lord?
Awake, do not reject us forever.

24 Why do You hide Your face
And forget our affliction and our oppression?

25 For our soul has sunk down into the dust;
Our body cleaves to the earth.

26 Rise up, be our help,
And redeem us for the sake of Your lovingkindness.

More Communal Psalms of Lament

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Watch or read about singer/songwriter Michael Card’s testimony on lament.

Want to learn more about the book of Psalms? Click here to delve into the wisdom psalms.

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