Psalms in Israel's Worship by Walter Brueggemann

The psalms are rich and varied in their kind, content, origins, and use. Many of the psalms were used in the great liturgies of the temple in Jerusalem. In the later context of the second temple, groups of singers performed and also generated many of the psalms (see Asaph in Ps 73-83 and Korah in Ps 42-49); such guilds are credited with creating psalms that were performed in the temple (1Chr 6:33-37, 1Chr 15:19).

The temple liturgy acclaimed the “kingship of Yahweh” as a part of festival celebrations (see Ps 47, Ps 93, Ps 96-99), asserting that Yahweh is creator and king among the gods. This liturgical claim stands behind the many exuberant hymns of praise. Zion, the site of the temple, was celebrated in the “songs of Zion” (Ps 46, Ps 48, Ps 76, Ps 84). As a counterpoint, psalms that seem to focus on the city of Jerusalem (Ps 74, Ps 79) probably come from a time after its fall. The “royal psalms” concern the legitimacy and authority of the Davidic dynasty (Ps 2, Ps 18, Ps 20-21, Ps 45, Ps 72, Ps 89, Ps 101, Ps 110, Ps 144). Ps 89, in its two parts, first affirms city and king (verses Ps 89:1-37) and then grieves over their failures (verses Ps 89:38-51).    

Many psalms reflect a different, narrower matrix than that of the temple: namely, the clan or family. Many of the laments, for example, probably functioned in what we might call “rituals of rehabilitation” wherein an intimate, face-to-face community followed a pattern of speech (and perhaps gesture) in restoring members to well-being through healing, forgiveness, or reconciliation. Such restoration countered many forms of “death,” including not only sickness but also imprisonment, social isolation, and shame. For good reason many of the laments end in praise and thanksgiving, all of which is ritually enacted.

The psalms are scripted to be sung and recited repeatedly. With each occurrence, they imagine again the daily life of Israel—whether in the grand drama of the temple or in the more ordinary circumstance of daily life—as an arena in which the presence, power, and purpose of Yahweh is decisive and in which the community (and its members) lives under the rule, guidance, and protection of Yahweh. For all that it borrowed from a broader cultural context, Israel’s worship and its use of the psalms are distinctive because of the distinctiveness attributed to Yahweh as a figure in the psalms. They situate the memory, life, and hope of Israel (and eventually of the world) as life given by Yahweh and lived back to Yahweh. That liturgical imagination, in all of its various venues, was rendered with creative artistry even as it was linked to the real life of Israel.

Walter Brueggemann, "Psalms in Israel's Worship", n.p. [cited 4 Dec 2022]. Online:


Walter Brueggemann

Walter Brueggemann
Professor Emeritus, Columbia Theological Seminary

Walter Brueggemann is professor emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary. He has recently authored The Practice of Prophetic Imagination (Fortress, 2012), Journey to the Common Good (Westminster John Knox, 2010), and Truth-Telling as Subversive Obedience (Wipf & Stock, 2011).

A sequence of rulers from the same family.

The standardized collection of practices—ceremonies, readings, rituals, songs, and so forth—related to worship in a religious tradition.

The structure built in Jerusalem in 516 B.C.E. on the site of the Temple of Solomon, destroyed by the Babylonians seventy years prior. The Second Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E. by the Romans responding to Jewish rebellion.

Ps 73-83

(Psalms 73-89)
Plea for Relief from Oppressors
A Psalm of Asaph.
1Truly God is good to the upright,
to those who are pure in heart.2But as for me, my f ... View more

Ps 42-49

(Psalms 42-72)
Longing for God and His Help in Distress
To the leader. A Maskil of the Korahites.
1As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs ... View more

1Chr 6:33-37

33These are the men who served; and their sons were: Of the Kohathites: Heman, the singer, son of Joel, son of Samuel,34son of Elkanah, son of Jeroham, son of E ... View more

1Chr 15:19

19The singers Heman, Asaph, and Ethan were to sound bronze cymbals;

Ps 47

God's Rule over the Nations
To the leader. Of the Korahites. A Psalm.
1Clap your hands, all you peoples;
shout to God with loud songs of joy.2For the Lord, the ... View more

Ps 93

The Majesty of God's Rule
1The Lord is king, he is robed in majesty;
the Lord is robed, he is girded with strength.
He has established the world; it shall never ... View more

Ps 96-99

Praise to God Who Comes in Judgment
1O sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.2Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
tell of his salvation fro ... View more

Ps 46

God's Defense of His City and People
To the leader. Of the Korahites. According to Alamoth. A Song.
1God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trou ... View more

Ps 48

The Glory and Strength of Zion
A Song. A Psalm of the Korahites.
1Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised
in the city of our God.
His holy mountain,2beautif ... View more

Ps 76

Israel's God—Judge of All the Earth
To the leader: with stringed instruments. A Psalm of Asaph. A Song.
1In Judah God is known,
his name is great in Israel.2His ... View more

Ps 84

The Joy of Worship in the Temple
To the leader: according to The Gittith. Of the Korahites. A Psalm.
1How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of hosts!2My sou ... View more

Ps 74

Plea for Help in Time of National Humiliation
A Maskil of Asaph.
1O God, why do you cast us off forever?
Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pas ... View more

Ps 79

Plea for Mercy for Jerusalem
A Psalm of Asaph.
1O God, the nations have come into your inheritance;
they have defiled your holy temple;
they have laid Jerusalem ... View more

Ps 2

God's Promise to His Anointed
1Why do the nations conspire,
and the peoples plot in vain?2The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel tog ... View more

Ps 18

Royal Thanksgiving for Victory
To the leader. A Psalm of David the servant of the Lord, who addressed the words of this song to the Lord on the day when the Lor ... View more

Ps 20-21

Prayer for Victory
To the leader. A Psalm of David.
1The Lord answer you in the day of trouble!
The name of the God of Jacob protect you!2May he send you help f ... View more

Ps 45

Ode for a Royal Wedding
To the leader: according to Lilies. Of the Korahites. A Maskil. A love song.
1My heart overflows with a goodly theme;
I address my verse ... View more

Ps 72

Prayer for Guidance and Support for the King
Of Solomon.
1Give the king your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to a king's son.2May he judge your people wi ... View more

Ps 89

God's Covenant with David
A Maskil of Ethan the Ezrahite.
1I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever;
with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness ... View more

Ps 101

A Sovereign's Pledge of Integrity and Justice
Of David. A Psalm.
1I will sing of loyalty and of justice;
to you, O Lord, I will sing.2I will study the way that ... View more

Ps 110

Assurance of Victory for God's Priest-King
Of David. A Psalm.
1The Lord says to my lord,
“Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies your footstool.”
2The L ... View more

Ps 144

Prayer for National Deliverance and Security
Of David.
1Blessed be the Lord, my rock,
who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle;2my rock and my for ... View more

Ps 89

God's Covenant with David
A Maskil of Ethan the Ezrahite.
1I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever;
with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness ... View more

Ps 89:1-37

God's Covenant with David
A Maskil of Ethan the Ezrahite.
1I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever;
with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness ... View more

Ps 89:38-51

38But now you have spurned and rejected him;
you are full of wrath against your anointed.39You have renounced the covenant with your servant;
you have defiled h ... View more

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