What are the Psalms of lament? (what is a lament in the bible?)

I find it a blessing that psalmist prayers can help us overcome our daily sorrows. Unable to cope with the hardships he was facing, I advised my friend to recite Psalm 23 to gain strength and courage to keep pushing.

Yesterday, he asked me what the meaning behind this Psalm was, and if there were others like it. Since I have spent a considerable part of my years as a theologian studying the Book of Psalms, I was able to fully address his question.

Inspired by our discussion, I decided to share my knowledge with those of you who may also wonder, “What are the psalms of lament?”

Some theologians strongly believe that psalms of lament are templates believers should use to pray when overcome by grief. They also believe that psalms like Psalm 35 can be used to seek God’s salvation from your distress. Others hold that the entire book of Psalms contains prayers of lamentation that can help you pray about your sorrows articulately.

In this article, I invite you to join me as we delve into gaining a deeper understanding of psalms of lament and how you can use them.

Read along to find the answers to these questions and more.

What is a lament in the bible?

Some theologians speculate that a lament, as used in the bible, refers to an expression of regret, grief, and sorrow.

They posit that the book of Lamentations in the bible is an ideal embodiment of the collection of laments, with Lamentations 3:1-5 being one example.

Some bible scholars believe you can find a lament almost in any other book of the bible, too. For example, they say that in John 11:33-36, Jesus laments over the death of his friend, Lazarus.

Accordingly, some theologians say that a lament is also an expression of disappointment and mourning.

They reference Nehemiah 1:4, where the bible says that Nehemiah mourned for several days after receiving news that Jerusalem had fallen: “So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.”

Others believe that the book of Psalms in the bible contains laments, too, with Psalm 130:1 having an opening line to such a lament.

Why are they called psalms of lament?

Some bible scholars believe that Psalms of lament have that name because they present to the Lord difficult situations and call upon Him for help.

Some bible scholars believe that a Psalm of lament goes beyond that and showers the Lord with praises for offering His help. Some add that these psalms also express and affirm trust in the Lord in response to His salvation.

Furthermore, some bible scholars hold that Psalms of Lament have that name because they are a unique form of worship and theology in themselves.

They posit that a psalm of lament reminds believers of truth, helps them exercise their faith, and has a transformative energy.

Some Christians believe that psalms of lament are called so because they carry intense emotions of pain and sorrow.

What are the different types of psalms of lament in the bible?

What are the Psalms of lament? 
What are the different types of psalms of lament in the bible? Image source: Pixabay

Psalms of individual lament

Some theologians posit that psalms of individual lament cover diverse isolated problems that only you as an individual face.

These theology scholars identify Psalm 86 as the best example of a psalm of individual lament.

In Psalm 86:14, for example, the bible says that David pleads with the Lord to respond because the people after his life disregard the Lord: “O God, the proud have risen against me, And a mob of violent men have sought my life, And have not set You before them.”

Psalms of Communal lament

Some bible scholars believe that psalms of communal lament cover issues that concern your community or nation. Others affirm that these psalms address problems that face all the people of God.

These scholars mention Psalm 12 as the best example of Psalms of communal lament, as it covers a cry for help due to the widespread sinning in society.

What are the characteristics of psalms of lament?

Intense emotions

Most bible scholars agree that psalms of lament contain intense emotions meant to express anguish and affliction.

It is their opinion that these psalms are emotional because they present genuine concerns and petitions for help from the Lord. Those scholars hold that these psalms are sentimental when expressing gratitude to the Lord for His help.


Some theologians say that these psalms are poetic and are singable. They posit that these psalms are hymns that you can sing as a fellowship to the Lord for salvation.

They hold that you can especially use communal psalms of lament for this purpose.

Distinct four-part structure

Some bible scholars believe that Psalms of Lament have a distinct structure composed of four sections as follows:

  1. Salutation: Address the Lord.
  2. Description: Describe your problem to the Lord.
  3. Request: Plead with the Lord for His help.
  4. Valediction: Affirm your trust in the Lord.

What can Christians learn from the psalms of lament?

what is a lament in the bible?
What can Christians learn from the psalms of lament? Image source: Pixabay

Some bible scholars believe that you can learn how to effectively cry out to God during affliction. They say that various kinds of psalms of lament can help you structure your prayers of lament articulately.

Others propose that psalms of lament can show you how to approach sad, confounding moments.

How do you use Psalms of lament in prayer?

Some bible scholars propose that you should use psalms of lament in prayer to talk about your pain in great detail.

They believe that as you do so, you also understand the extent of the trouble that you are in, thereby building your faith in the Lord firmly.

They further posit that you also use psalms of lament in prayer to rejuvenate your confidence in the Lord. These scholars say that these prayers help you turn to God even when you do not know how to.

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