The 150 psalms in the book of Psalms have often been categorized into various types. There is no one way to organize the psalms, but most systems include similar categories with only slight variations. Biblical scholar Hermann Gunkel’s system covers the following categories:
Hymns: Many of the psalms are simple hymns or songs of praise. For example, Psalm 8 is a hymn that begins, “Lord, our Lord, / how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (verse 1).
Lament or Complaint Psalms: These include songs that express sadness to God or complaints against God’s enemies. For example, Psalm 3 is a lament psalm that begins, “Lord, how many are my foes! / How many rise up against me!” (verse 1). Some complaint psalms sound quite negative, though they are set within a context of God responding in love or power. Psalm 44:23–24, for example, says, “Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep? / Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever. / Why do you hide your face / and forget our misery and oppression?”
Royal Psalms: Several psalms were performed in the presence of kings or dignitaries. Psalm 18:50 states, “He gives his king great victories; / he shows unfailing love to his anointed, / to David and to his descendants forever.”
Thanksgiving Psalms: These songs of thanks include both thanksgiving from individuals (such as Psalms 30, 32, and 34) and from the community (such as Psalms 67 and 124). One of the best-known thanksgiving psalms is Psalm 100. Verses 4–5 proclaim, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving / and his courts with praise; / give thanks to him and praise his name. / For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; / his faithfulness continues through all generations.”
Wisdom Psalms: While many psalms discuss aspects of wisdom, certain psalms such as Psalms 1, 37, and 49 focus on the theme of wisdom, speaking of the fear of the Lord or offering words of wisdom. Psalm 1:1–3 is a great example: “Blessed is the one / who does not walk in step with the wicked / or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, / but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, / and who meditates on his law day and night. / That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, / which yields its fruit in season / and whose leaf does not wither— / whatever they do prospers.”
Smaller Genres and Mixed Types: Some psalms include a mix of types. Psalms 9, 10, and 123 are examples. Other psalms have only a small number in their category, such as psalms regarding the stories of Israel (Psalms 78, 105, and 106). The Songs of Ascent, written to be sung by worshipers on their way up to Jerusalem, also represent a smaller genre that includes mixed types (Psalms 120—134).