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Reference: Psalms


The psalms are the production of various authors. "Only a portion of the Book of Psalms claims David as its author. Other inspired poets in successive generations added now one now another contribution to the sacred collection, and thus in the wisdom of Providence it more completely reflects every phase of human emotion and circumstances than it otherwise could." But it is specially to David and his contemporaries that we owe this precious book. In the "titles" of the psalms, the genuineness of which there is no sufficient reason to doubt, 73 are ascribed to David. Peter and John (Ac 4:25) ascribe to him also the second psalm, which is one of the 48 that are anonymous. About two-thirds of the whole collection have been ascribed to David.

Psalms 39, 62, and 77 are addressed to Jeduthun, to be sung after his manner or in his choir. Psalms 50 and 73-83 are addressed to Asaph, as the master of his choir, to be sung in the worship of God. The "sons of Korah," who formed a leading part of the Kohathite singers (2Ch 20:19), were intrusted with the arranging and singing of PS 42, 44-49, 84, 85, 87, and 88.

In Lu 24:44 the word "psalms" means the Hagiographa, i.e., the holy writings, one of the sections into which the Jews divided the Old Testament. (See Bible.)

None of the psalms can be proved to have been of a later date than the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, hence the whole collection extends over a period of about 1,000 years. There are in the New Testament 116 direct quotations from the Psalter.

The Psalter is divided, after the analogy of the Pentateuch, into five books, each closing with a doxology or benediction:

(1.) The first book comprises the first 41 psalms, all of which are ascribed to David except 1, 2, 10, and 33, which, though anonymous, may also be ascribed to him.

(2.) Book second consists of the next 31 psalms (42-72), 18 of which are ascribed to David and 1 to Solomon (the 72nd). The rest are anonymous.

(3.) The third book contains 17 psalms (73-89), of which the 86th is ascribed to David, the 88th to Heman the Ezrahite, and the 89th to Ethan the Ezrahite.

(4.) The fourth book also contains 17 psalms (90-106), of which the 90th is ascribed to Moses, and the 101st and 103rd to David.

(5.) The fifth book contains the remaining psalms, 44 in number. Of these, 15 are ascribed to David, and the 127th to Solomon.

PS 136 is generally called "the great hallel." But the Talmud includes also PS 120-135. PS 113-118, inclusive, constitute the "hallel" recited at the three great feasts, at the new moon, and on the eight days of the feast of dedication.

It is presumed that these several collections were made at times of high religious life: the first, probably, near the close of David's life; the second in the days of Solomon; the third by the singers of Jehoshaphat (2Ch 20:19); the fourth by the men of Hezekiah (29, 30, 31); and the fifth in the days of Ezra.

The Mosaic ritual makes no provision for the service of song in the worship of God. David first taught the Church to sing the praises of the Lord. He first introduced into the ritual of the tabernacle music and song.

Divers names are given to the psalms. (1.) Some bear the Hebrew designation shir (Gr. ode, a song). Thirteen have this title. It means the flow of speech, as it were, in a straight line or in a regular strain. This title includes secular as well as sacred song.

(2.) Fifty-eight psalms bear the designation (Heb) mitsmor (Gr. psalmos, a psalm), a lyric ode, or a song set to music; a sacred song accompanied with a musical instrument.

(3.) PS 145, and many others, have the designation (Heb) tehillah (Gr. hymnos, a hymn), meaning a song of praise; a song the prominent thought of which is the praise of God.

(4.) Six psalms (16, 56-60) have the title (Heb) michtam (q.v.).

(5.) PS 7 and HAB 3 bear the title (Heb) shiggaion (q.v.).

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(See DAVID; POETRY.) The Hebrew designation tehillim, "praises" or hymns," occurring only in the title of Psalm 145 and about 30 times in the body of the Psalms, applies only to some not to all the psalms. The glorification of God is the design of them all, even the penitentiary and precatory psalms; but tehilliym applies strictly to praise songs alone, tephillowt to the prayer songs; Psalm 17; Psalm 72 end, closing the second book of Psalms, Psalm 86; 90; 102 title. No one Hebrew title comprehends all.

The Greek Septuagint has given the title "Psalms" (from psalloo "to play an instrument") applied to the whole collection. The Hebrew mizmor designates 65 psalms; in the Syriac version it comprises the whole (from zaamar "to decorate"), psalms of artificial, adorned structure (Hengstenberg). "A rhythmical composition" (Lowth). "Psalms," the designation most applicable to the whole book, means songs accompanied by an instrument, especially the harp (1Ch 16:4-9; 2Ch 5:12-13). Shir, "a joyful thanksgiving song," is prefixed only to some. The various kinds are specified in Eph 5:19; "psalms (accompanied by an instrument), hymns (indirect praise of God), ... spiritual songs (joyous lyric pieces; contrast Am 8:10)."

TITLES. Their genuineness is confirmed by their antiquity (which is proved by their being unintelligible to the Septuagint translators of the Hebrew into Greek), and by their presence in the greatest number of manuscripts, and in fragments of Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion. Their obscurity and occasional want of connection with the psalm's contents (as title Psalm 34) are incompatible with their origination from forgers. The orientals, moreover, usually prefix titles to poems (Hab 3:1; Isa 38:9); so David (2Sa 23:1). The enigmatical titles, found only in the psalms of David and of David's singers, accord with Eastern taste. They are too "poetical, spirited, and profound for any later collector" (Hengstenberg). So David's "bow song" (2Sa 1:18), his enigmatical designation for "the song on him expert with the bow" (2Sa 1:22).

The historical hints in some titles give a clue to the dates. If the titles were added by later hands, how is it that they are wanting in those psalms where conjecture could most easily have had place, namely, the non-Davidic psalms of the fourth and fifth books, whereas they appear in the most regular and complete form in David's psalms, next in those of his singers? Now these are just the ones where conjecture is given no room for exercise; for the titles do not apparently illustrate these psalms, but are a memorial of the events which most deeply impressed David's own mind. In the last two books the historical occasions do not occur in the titles, because cycles of psalms mainly compose these books, and among such cycles psalms of an individual reference hardly have place.

DIVISIONS. Davidic basis of the whole. The Psalms form one "book"; so the Lord refers to them (Lu 20:42), so His apostles (Ac 1:20). The fathers, Ambrose (on Psalm 40) and Jerome to Cyprian (2:695), describe the Psalms as five books in one volume. Based on and corresponding to the historical Pentateuch, they form a poetical "Pentateuch" (Epiphanius, de Mens., c. 5), extending from Moses to the times of Malachi "the Hebrew history set to music an oratorio in five parts, with Messiah for its subject" (Wordsworth). The Psalms, like the Pentateuch, being used in divine worship, are the people's answer to God's address to them in the law, i.e. the expression of their pious feelings called forth by the word of God. The close of each of the five books is marked by a doxology. The "blessed be the Lord God of Israel" is taken up by Zacharias, as fulfilled in Christ (Le 1:17; Ps 106:48). Book I includes Psalm 1-41; Book II, Psalm 42-72; Book III, Psalm 73-89; Book IV, Psalm 90-106; Book V, Psalm 107-150.

Book I is according to the titles Davidic; accordingly there is no trace of any author hut David. The objection from the "temple" (Ps 5:7) being mentioned is groundless, for in 1Sa 1:9; 3:3, it is similarly used for the tabernacle long before Solomon's temple was built. The argument for a post-Babylonian date from the phrase "bring back the captivity" (Ps 14:7) is invalid; it is a Hebraism for reversing one's misfortunes (Job 42:10). Nor does the acrosticism in Psalm 25 prove a late date, for acrosticism appears in psalms acknowledged to be David's (Psalm 9). In Books II and III David's singers have borrowed from David (excepting "a song of the beloved" Psalm 45, and Psalm 46, "upon Alamoth") everything peculiar in his superscriptions; see Psalm 42; 43; 44; 84; 86. "Selah" is restricted to David and his singers; but "hallelujah" is never found in his or their psalms.

So also "to the chief musician," (committing the psalm to the music conductor to prepare for musical performance in the public service: 1Ch 15:21 Hebrew and margin, compare 1Ch 15:22,) is limited to David's and their psalms. The writer of 2 Samuel 22 evidently turned into prose David's poetical superscription (Psalm 18); so the writer of 1Sa 19:11; 21:13-14; 23:19, had before him the titles of Psalm 34; 54; 59. Hezekiah's "writing" (miktab) alludes probably to David's miktam (a "secret," or "song of deep import"), Psalm 56; 57 titles, for it was he who restored David's psalms to their liturgical use in the temple (2Ch 29:30). This imitation of David's title, and still more the correspondence of his prayer to David's psalms (Ps 102:24; 27:13; 49:1; 6:5; 30:9), is a presumption for the authenticity of David's and his singers' psalms and their titles.

Habakkuk similarly leans upon David's superscriptions, as also upon his psalms. Hab 3:1, "Shiggaion," compare title Ps 7:1, "Son of David"; Hab 3:19, "to the chief musician on my stringed instruments" is derived from the titles Psalm 4; 6. So the "Selah" (Ps 6:9-10) which occurs only in the psalms of David and his singers. The absence of the authors' names from most of the psalms in the fourth and fifth books implies that none of them have an individual and personal character, as the Davidic psalms have. In all such the psalmist represents the community. The later groups of psalms rest on the Davidic, and echo the poetry of David. Even in the psalms of David's singers, the authors, except Asaph (Psalm 1; 74) who was immediately associated with David, do not give their individual names.

PRINCIPLE OF SELECTION. Not all Israel's lyric poetry but only.

(1) such as is directly religious is included in the psalter, therefore not David's dirge over Saul and Jonathan (2Sa 1:17-27). Also

(2) only the psalms applicable to the whole church and therefore suited to the public services of the sanctuary. The individual psalmist represents the religious community whose mouthpiece he is. 2Sa 23:1; David sings in his typical and representative character; no other psalmist in the book has personal references. Hence Hezekiah's prayer (Isaiah 38) and Jonah's thanksgiving are excluded as too personal.

(3) Only such as were composed trader the Holy Spirit's inspiration. The very musicians who founded the sacred music were inspired (1Ch 25:1, "prophesy with harps"), much more the psalmists themselves. Asaph, the writer of some psalms, was a "seer" (2Ch 29:30).

David spoke "in the Spirit." Christ testifies (Mt 22:41-46), He classes" the Psalms," the chief book of the chetubim or hagiographa, with "the law and the prophets" (Lu 24:44). The Messianic prophetic element in David leans on Nathan's prophecy (2 Samuel 7). Subsequent prophets develop David's Messianic predictions. The Psalms draw out of the typical ceremonial of the law its tuner spirit, adapting it to the various requirements of the individual and the congregation. By their help the Israelite could enter into the living spirit of the law, and realizing his need of the promised Saviour look for Him of whom the Psalms testify. They are a treasury from which we can draw the inner experiences of Old Testament saints and express our corresponding feelings, under like circumstances, in their divinely sanctioned language of praise and prayer.


(1) Psalms of joy and gratitude, shir, lethodah "for confession" or as

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1. Title and place in Canon.

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This word occurs in the O.T. only in connection with the Psalms of David and those in the Book of Psalms. David is called "the sweet psalmist of Israel." 2Sa 23:1. There can be no doubt that in connection with the 'singers,' and the praising God with instruments, the Psalms were used. We read "sing psalms unto him," "Make a joyful noise unto him with psalms," etc. In N.T. days, for a time at least, the Psalms of David may have been sung by believers, but there were also hymns and spiritual songs, and it is to be remarked that in the singing at the institution of the Lord's supper a hymn (?????) is spoken of, not a psalm (??????). See PASSOVER. The latter Greek word (besides the occurrences which refer to the Book of Psalms) is found in 1Co 14:26; Eph 5:19; Col 3:16.

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PSALMS. The book of Psalms is a collection of hymns, or sacred songs, in praise of God, and consists of poems of various kinds. They are the productions of different persons, but are generally called the Psalms of David, because a great part of them was composed by him, and David himself is distinguished by the name of the Psalmist. We cannot now ascertain all the Psalms written by David, but their number probably exceeds seventy; and much less are we able to discover the authors of the other Psalms, or the occasions upon which they were composed. A few of them were written after the return from the Babylonian captivity. The titles prefixed to them are of very questionable authority; and in many cases they are not intended to denote the writer but refer only to the person who was appointed to set them to music. David first introduced the practice of singing sacred hymns in the public service of God; and it was restored by Ezra. The authority of the Psalms is established not only by their rank among the sacred writings, and by the unvaried testimony of ages, but likewise by many intrinsic proofs of inspiration. Not only do they breathe through every part a divine spirit of eloquence, but they contain numberless illustrious prophecies that were remarkably accomplished, and are frequently appealed to by the evangelical writers. The sacred character of the whole book is established by the testimony of our Saviour and his Apostles, who, in various parts of the New Testament, appropriate the predictions of the Psalms as obviously apposite to the circumstances of their lives, and as intentionally composed to describe them. The veneration for the Psalms has in all ages of the church been considerable. The fathers assure us, that in the earlier times the whole book of Psalms was generally learned by heart; and that the ministers of every gradation were expected to be able to repeat them from memory. These invaluable Scriptures are daily repeated without weariness, though their beauties are often overlooked in familiar and habitual perusal. As hymns immediately addressed to the Deity, they reduce righteousness to practice; and while we acquire the sentiments, we perform the offices of piety; while we supplicate for blessings, we celebrate the memorial of former mercies; and while in the exercise of devotion, faith is enlivened by the display of prophecy. Josephus asserts, and most of the ancient writers maintain, that the Psalms were composed in metre. They have undoubtedly a peculiar conformation of sentences, and a measured distribution of parts. Many of them are elegiac, and most of David's are of the lyric kind. There is no sufficient reason however to believe, as some writers have imagined, that they were written in rhyme, or in any of the Grecian measures. Some of them are acrostic; and though the regulations of the Hebrew measure are now lost, there can be no doubt, from their harmonious modulation, that they were written with some kind of metrical order; and they must have been composed in accommodation to the measure to which they were set. (See Poetry of the Hebrews.) The Hebrew copies and the Septuagint version of this book contain the same number of Psalms; only the Septuagint translators have, for some reason which does not appear, thrown the ninth and tenth into one, as also the one hundred and fourteenth and one hundred and fifteenth, and have divided the one hundred and sixteenth and one hundred and forty-seventh each into two.

It is very justly observed by Dr. Allix, that, "although the sense of near fifty Psalms be fixed and settled by divine authors, yet Christ and his Apostles did not undertake to quote all the Psalms they could, but only to give a key to their hearers, by which they might apply to the same subjects the Psalms of the same composure and expression." With regard to the Jews, Bishop Chandler very pertinently remarks, that "they must have understood David, their prince, to have been a figure of Messiah. They would not otherwise have made his Psalms part of their daily worship; nor would David have delivered them to the church to be so employed, were it not to instruct and support them in the knowledge and belief of this fundamental article. Were the Messiah not concerned in the Psalms, it would have been absurd to celebrate twice a day, in their public devotions, the events of one man's life, who was deceased so long ago, as to have no relation now to the Jews and the circumstances of their affairs; or to transcribe whole passages from them into their prayers for the coming of the Messiah." Upon the same principle it is easily seen that the objections, which may seem to lie against the use of Jewish services in Christian congregations, may cease at once. Thus it may be said, Are we concerned with the affairs of David and of Israel? Have we any thing to do with the ark and the temple? They are no more. Are we to go up to Jerusalem, and to worship on Sion? They are desolated, and trodden under foot by the Turks. Are we to sacrifice young bullocks according to the law? The law is abolished, never to be observed again. Do we pray for victory over Moab, Edom, and Philistia; or for deliverance from Babylon? There are no such nations, no such places in the world. What then do we mean, when, taking such expressions into our mouths, we utter them in our own persons, as parts of our devotions, before God? Assuredly we must mean a spiritual Jerusalem and Sion; a spiritual ark and temple; a spiritual law; spiritual sacrifices; and spiritual victories over spiritual enemies; all described under the old names, which are still retained, though "old things are passed away, and all things are become new," 2Co 5:17. By substituting Messiah for David, the Gospel for the law, the church Christian for that of Israel, and the enemies of the one for those of the other, the Psalms are made our own. Nay, they are with more fulness and propriety applied now to the substance, than they were of old to the "shadow of good things then to come," Heb 10:1. For let it not pass unobserved, that when, upon the first publication of the Gospel, the Apostles had occasion to utter their transports of joy, on their being counted worthy to suffer for the name of their Lord and Master, which was then opposed by Jew and Gentile, they brake forth into an application of the second Psalm to the transactions then before their eyes, Ac 4:25. The Psalms, thus applied, have advantages which no fresh compositions, however finely executed, can possibly have; since, beside their incomparable fitness to express our sentiments, they are at the same time memorials of, and appeals to, former mercies and deliverances; they are acknowledgments of prophecies accomplished; they point out the connection between the old and new dispensations, thereby teaching us to admire and adore the wisdom of God displayed in both, and furnishing while we read or sing them, an inexhaustible variety of the noblest matter that can engage the contemplations of man.

Very few of the Psalms, comparatively, appear to be simply prophetical, and to belong only to Messiah, without the intervention of any other person. Most of them, it is apprehended, have a double sense, which stands upon this ground and foundation, that the ancient patriarchs, prophets, priests, and kings, were typical characters, in their several offices, and in the more remarkable passages of their lives, their extraordinary depressions and miraculous exaltations foreshowing him who was to arise as the head of the holy family, the great prophet, the true priest, the everlasting king. The Israelitish polity, and the law of Moses, were purposely framed after the example and shadow of things spiritual and heavenly; and the events which happened to the ancient people of God were designed to shadow out parallel occurrences, which should afterward take place in the accomplishment of man's redemption, and the rise and progress of the Christian church, (See Prophecy.) For this reason, the Psalms composed for the use of Israel, and by them accordingly used at the time, do admit of an application to us, who are now "the Israel of God," Ga 6:16, and to our Redeemer

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