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Fausset's Bible Dictionary


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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 (1 Chronicles 16:4-9; 2 Chronicles 5:12-13). Shir, "a joyful thanksgiving song," is prefixed only to some. The various kinds are specified in Ephesians 5:19; "psalms (accompanied by an instrument), hymns (indirect praise of God), ... spiritual songs (joyous lyric pieces; contrast Amos 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 (Habakkuk 3:1; Isaiah 38:9); so David (2 Samuel 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" (2 Samuel 1:18), his enigmatical designation for "the song on him expert with the bow" (2 Samuel 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 (Luke 20:42), so His apostles (Acts 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 (Leviticus 1:68-71; Psalm 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" (Psalm 5:7) being mentioned is groundless, for in 1 Samuel 1:9; 1 Samuel 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" (Psalm 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: 1 Chronicles 15:21 Hebrew and margin, compare 1 Chronicles 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 1 Samuel 19:11; 1 Samuel 21:13-14; 1 Samuel 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 (2 Chronicles 29:30). This imitation of David's title, and still more the correspondence of his prayer to David's psalms (Psalm 102:24; Psalm 27:13; Psalm 49:1; Psalm 6:5; Psalm 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. Habakkuk 3:1, "Shiggaion," compare title Psalm 7:1, "Son of David"; Habakkuk 3:19, "to the chief musician on my stringed instruments" is derived from the titles Psalm 4; 6. So the "Selah" (Psalm 6:9; Psalm 6:13) 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 (2 Samuel 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. 2 Samuel 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 (1 Chronicles 25:1, "prophesy with harps"), much more the psalmists themselves. Asaph, the writer of some psalms, was a "seer" (2 Chronicles 29:30).

David spoke "in the Spirit." Christ testifies (Matthew 22:41-46), He classes" the Psalms," the chief book of the chetubim or hagiographa, with "the law and the prophets" (Luke 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 ascription of praise (Psalm 100), tehillah (Psalm 145).

(2) Psalms under sorrow, giving birth to prayer: tephillah, "prayer song" (Psalm 90), lehazkir "to put God in remembrance" of His people's needs (Psalm 38; 70), leanot "concerning the affliction" (Psalm 88), altaseheeth "destroy not" (Psalm 57; 58; 59).

(3) Didactic and calmly meditative: Psalm 1; 15; 31; 49. The title Maschil is absent from some didactic psalms and present in others, because its design is to mark as didactic only those in which the "instruction" is covert and so might be overlooked. Thirteen are so designated, mostly of David's time. The later, composed in times of national peril, breathe a spirit of too intense feeling to admit of the calm didactic style. Moreover Solomon's proverbs subsequently to David took the place of the didactic psalms. But some maschil psalms still were composed, and these more lyric in tone and less sententious and maxim-like in style than Proverbs.

ORDER. The Holy Spirit doubtless directed the compiler in arranging as well as the writers in composing the psalms. The first psalm begins, as the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3), and the second closes, with "blessed." Thus this pair, announcing the blessedness of the godly and the doom of the ungodly in the coming judgment, fitly prefaces the Psalms as John the Baptist's announcement of the final judgment preludes the gospel (Matthew 3). "A spiritual epitome of all history (Wordsworth); the godly "meditate in the law of the Lord," the ungodly "meditate a vain thing" (Psalm 1:2; Psalm 2:1). The five dosing the psalter begin and end with "hallelujah." The principle of arrangement is not: wholly chronological, though David's book of psalms is first of the five, and the post captivity book of psalms last; for Moses' psalm (Psalm 90), the oldest of all, begins the fourth book, and some of David's psalms are in the fifth. Also the 15 songs of degrees, i.e. ascents of the pilgrims to the three national feasts at Jerusalem, though written at different times, form one group.

Spiritual affinity and the relation to one another and to the whole modify the chronological arrangement. The arrangement in some instances is so significant as to indicate, it to be the work of the Spirit, not of the collector merely. Thus, Psalm 22 portrays Messiah's death scene, Psalm 23. His rest in paradise, Psalm 24. His ascension (Acts 2:25-27; Acts 2:37). "At the time the Psalms were written" they were not of such use to those among whom they were written as they are to us, for they were written to prophesy the New Testament among those who lived under the Old Testament" (Augustine on Psalm 101; 1 Peter 1:10-12.) The one great theme ultimately meant is Christ, the antitypical David, in respect to His inner life as the Godman, and in His past, present, and future relations to the church and the world (Luke 24:25; Luke 24:27; Luke 24:45-46). The Psalter rightly holds the middle place of the Bible, being the heart of both Old Testament and New Testament.

Other scriptures of the Old Testament have corresponding scriptures in the New Testament The Pentateuch and Old Testament histories answer to the Gospels and Acts; Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the prophets to the epistles; the Song of Solomon and Daniel to Revelation. The Psalms alone have no counterpart in the New Testament, except the songs of the Virgin, Zacharias and Simeon (Luke 1; 2), because the psalter belongs to both Testaments alike, being "the hymnbook of the universal church" (Wordsworth). There is scarcely a place in the Psalms where the voices of Christ and the church are not to be found (Augustine on Psalm 59). Christ's sufferings and conflict, ending in His reign, appear most in Books I, II; Israel's prostration in Book III; the fruits of His victory, the Lord s reign, and Israel's restoration after her past pilgrim state, in Book IV; the songs of degrees, i.e. the church's pilgrim ascents below, "coming up from the wilderness, leaning upon her Beloved," and her everlasting hallelujahs, in Book V.

AUTHORS: David composed 80 of the Psalms, Asaph wrote four, singers of his school front penned eight, the sons of Korah of David's and Solomon's times seven, Solomon two. To Jehoshaphat's time belong Psalm 47; Psalm 48; Psalm 83. (See JEHOSHAPHAT.) The occasion of Psalm 47 was his bloodless victory over Moab, Ammon, Edom, and the Arabians, who combined to drive Judah out of their "inheritance" (Psalm 47:4; 2 Chronicles 20:11). The title ascribes the psalm to "the sons of Korah," just as in 2 Chronicles 20:19 the Korahites are in front of the Jews' army "to praise the Lord God of Israel with a loud voice on high"; so Psalm 47:5 answers to 2 Chronicles 20:26. Psalm 47 was perhaps sung in the valley of Bernehah (blessing); Psalm 48 in the temple service on their return (compare Psalm 47:9). As Jehoshaphat was "in the fore front" of the returning people (2 Chronicles 20:27), so "Jehovah with the sound of a trumpet went up" to His earthly temple (Psalm 47:5).

So "the fear of God was on all the kingdoms" (Psalm 47:8-9; compare 2 Chronicles 20:28-29). The breaking of Jehoshaphat's Tarshish ships is alluded to Psalm 48:7, his ungodly alliance being as great a danger from within as the hostile invasion from without; both alike the grace of God averted. (See JAHAZIEL; BERACHAH.) To the time of the overthrow of Sennacherib's host under Hezekiah belong Psalm 46; Psalm 75; Psalm 76; Psalm 87. (See HEZEKIAH.) To the time of the carrying away of Israel's ten tribes belong Psalm 77; Psalm 80; Psalm 81. Judah intercedes with God for her captive sister; "of Asaph" in the title may mean only that one of his school wrote under his name as the master of the school. The remaining 46, except Moses' Psalm 90, were written just before, during, and after the Babylonian captivity. As the psalms took their rise in the religious awakening under David, so the long times of growing declension subsequently were barren of additions to the psalter. The only times of such additions were those of religious revivals, namely, under Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah (to whose reign probably belong Psalm 77; Psalm 92; Psalm 100; this series has the common theme, Jehovah's manifestation for His people's comfort and their foes' confusion).

The captivity taught the people a bitter but wholesome lesson; then accordingly psalmody revived. After the last new song sung to the Lord at the completion of the city walls under Nehemiah, no new psalm was composed under inspiration. The written word thenceforth took the place of the inspired speakers of prophecy and song. David gave the tone to all the succeeding psalms, so that, in a sense, he is their author. Recognition of God's retributive righteousness as a preservative against despair (in undesigned coincidence with the history, 1 Samuel 30:6), and the sudden interposition of divine consolation amidst sorrowful complaints, are characteristic of his psalms. They are more elevated, and abound in rare forms, from whence arises their greater difficulty. He first introduced the alphabetical arrangement; also the grouping of verses with reference to numbers, and the significancy of the recurrence of the names of God; also the combining of psalms in pairs, and in larger cycles. The divine promise to his line in 2 Samuel 7 forms the basis of many of his Messianic prophecies, as Psalm 138-145; compare with Psalm 140:1; 2 Samuel 22:49.

Wordsworth suggests Psalm 41 and Psalm 71, at the close of Books I and II respectively, were written at the time of Adonijah's, Joab's, and Abiathar's conspiracy when David was old and languishing, yet "in the strength of the Lord God" enabled to rise afresh in the person of Solomon his son, whose throne in Messiah is to be everlasting, as Psalm 72 sets forth. Of Asaph's psalms, four are composed by David's chief musician: Psalm 50; Psalm 73; Psalm 78 (warning Ephraim not to rebel against God's transfer of their prerogative to Zion and Judah), Psalm 82; a didactic and prophetic character marks them all. Eight others (Psalm 74-77; Psalm 79-81; Psalm 83), marked by his name, belong to singers in later times, who regarded him as their founder, just as the sons (followers) of Korah regarded Korah. The Hebrew le-before a name in the title designates the author. Psalm 74:8 answers to Jeremiah 52:13; Jeremiah 52:17; the psalmist was probably one of the few Jews left by the Chaldaeans "in the land." So also Psalm 79:1 alludes to the temple's "defilement" by the Chaldees (Jeremiah 10:25 quotes Psalm 79:6).

The psalms of the sons of Korah are fourteen, of which seven belong to David's and Solomon's times, and seven to later times. Psalm 42; Psalm 43; Psalm 84; Psalm 86 (according to Hengstenberg, as occurring in the midst of Korahitic psalms though superscribed with David's name), refer to Absaiom's rebellion; Psalm 44 on the invasion of the Edomites (2 Samuel 8:13; 1 Chronicles 18:12; 1 Kings 11:15-16); Psalm 49 of general import; Psalm 45 on King Messiah's marriage to Israel and the church, in Solomon's time; Psalm 47; Psalm 48; Psalm 83, in Jehoshaphat's time; Psalm 46; Psalm 87, refer to Sennacherib's host overthrown before Jerusalem, in Hezekiah's reign; Psalm 85; Psalm 88; Psalm 89, before the Babylonian captivity.

Neither Heman nor the sons of Heman are named in the superscriptions, but the sons of Korah; perhaps because Heman, though musical and head of the Korahitic singers, was not also poetically gifted as was Asaph; Psalm 88, is gloom throughout, yet the title calls it (shir) a "song" of joy; this can only refer to Psalm 89 which follows being paired with it; it was when the "anointed" of David's throne (Josiah) had his "crown profaned on the ground," being not able to" stand in the battle" (Psalm 89:43), and his son Jehoahaz after a three months' reign was carried to Egypt by Pharaoh Necho (2 Chronicles 35:20-25; 2 Chronicles 36:1-4; Psalm 89:45); the title, "to the chief musician," shows the temple was standing, Josiah had just before caused a religious revival.

NUMBERS IN ARRANGEMENT. The decalogue has its form determined by number; also the genealogy in Matthew; so the Lord's prayer, and especially the structure of the Apocalypse. So Isaiah 1 represents Israel's revolt in seven, divided into three and four, the four for the sinfulness, and the three for the revolt. And Isaiah 52:13-53;Isaiah 52:12; the introduction three verses (Isaiah 52:13-15) with the concluding two verses (Isaiah 53:11-12) making up five, the half; the main part comprises ten (Isaiah 53:1-10), divided into seven for Messiah's humiliation (three of which represent Messiah's sufferings, four their cause, His being our substitute) and three for His glorification (Hengstenberg). Similarly, the form of the several psalms is regulated by numbers, especially seven divided into four and three. The correctness of our division into verses is hence confirmed. The criticism too which would dismember the psalms is proved at least in their case, and in that of whatever Scriptures are arranged by numbers, to be false.

NAMES or GOD. A similar proof of the correctness of the text appears in the fact that the ELOHIM psalms are peculiar to the first three books, those of David, Asaph, and the sons of Korah. So strange had "ELOHIM" become in later times that only the Jehovah psalms of David were inserted in the later books, excepting David's Psalm 108 introductory to Psalm 109 and Psalm 110. The three form a trilogy: Psalm 108 anticipating triumph over the foe, Psalm 109 the foe's condemnation, Psalm 110 Messiah's divine kingly and priestly glory. In the fifth book Elohim occurs only seven times, i.e. six times in Psalm 108 and once in David's Psalm 144. It is an undesigned coincidence and proof of genuineness that in independent sacred history David uses Elohim as a favorite term (2 Samuel 7; 1 Chronicles 28:20; 1 Chronicles 29:1). In Book I "Jehovah" occurs 272 times, Elohim 15 times; in Book II, Elohim 164 times, Jehovah 30 times; in Book III, Jehovah 44 times, Elohim 43 times; in Book IV, Jehovah 103 times, Elohim, not once; in Book V, Jehovah 236 times, Elohim 7 times.

Hengstenberg suggests the reason of David's predilection for "Elohim." The pagan regarded Jehovah as designating the local God of Israel, but not God absolutely, possessing the whole fullness of the Godhead. So David felt it unnecessary to express "Jehovah," because He was unquestionably Israel's God; it was only contested whether He was Elohim. David boldly, in the face of mighty nations, asserts the nullity of their gods and the sole Godhead of Jehovah; compare Psalm 18:31, "who is Elohim but Jehovah?" Jehovah is understood before Elohim in Elohim psalms, as the doxology at the end of the second book recognizes, "blessed be Jehovah Elohim" (Psalm 72:18). Latterly when the falsely called Elohim of surrounding nations began to be honoured in Israel the term gave place to Jehovah for expressing the true God. Psalm 18 is "a great hallelujah, with which David retires from tide theater of life."

I. The first book (Psalm 1-4) the Davidic-Jehovah psalms.

II. The second book (Psalm 42-72) the Elohim psalms; namely, of David's singers, the sons of Korah (Psalm 42-49), Asaph's (Psalm 1.), then David's Elohim psalms (Psalm 51-71), Solomon's Elohim psalm (Psalm 72).

III. Psalm 73-89, the Jehovah psalms of David's singers; of Asaph (Psalm 73; Psalm 83), of the sons of Korah (Psalm 84-89). Thus in the arrangement the Jehovah psalms (Jehovah being the fundamental name) enclose the Elohim psalms; so the first book doxology begins with Jehovah; the second has, let Jehovah Elohim be praised; the third, let Jehovah be praised.

IV. (Psalm 90-106.) The psalms of David in the last two books are inserted as component parts into the later cycles. The subscription, Psalm 72:20, "the prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended," distinguishes the detached from the serial psalms of David; so Job 31:40 is not contradicted by his again speaking in Job 40; Job 42. Moses' Psalm 90 is put after David's and his singers' psalms, because David was so preeminent as the sweet psalmist of Israel. Psalm 91-100 are connected. Then follows David's trilogy, Psalm 101-103, and the trilogy of the captivity (Psalm 104-106).

V. Psalm 107-150 are (excepting David's psalms incorporated) after the return from the captivity. The dodecad Psalm 108-119, is composed of a trilogy of David introducing nine psalms sung at laying the foundation of the second temple. Psalm 119 is the sermon (composed by Ezra) after the Hallel, to urge Israel to regard God's word as her national safeguard. Psalm 120-134, the pilgrim songs ("songs of degrees"), namely, four psalms of David, one of Solomon, and ten nameless ones, are appropriate to the time of the interruption of the temple building. (See EZRA.) Psalm 135-146 (including David's psalms incorporated with the rest) celebrate its happy completion.

Psalm 147-150 were sung at the consecration of the city walls under Nehemiah. J. F. Thrupp (Smith's Bible Dictionary) maintains that as Psalm 73-83 do not all proceed from Asaph, but from members of the choir which he founded, so the psalms in Books III, IV, V, inscribed with the name of David, were written by his royal representatives for the time being (Hezekiah, Josiah, Zerubbabel, etc.), who prefer honouring the name of their ancestor to obtruding their own names. But why then should one of the psalms in question be inscribed with" Solomon" rather than David? The psalms accord with David's circumstances; their containing phrases of David's former psalms is not inconsistent with his authorship, as the sacred authors often repeat their own inspired words. The Chaldaisms of Psalm 139 are due to David's adapting uncommon phrases to a lofty theme.

In 2 Maccabees the collection of David's psalms is attributed to Nehemiah. Jerome, Ep. ad Sophronium, and the Synopsis in Athanasius, ascribe the collection to Ezra, "the priest and ready scribe in the law of Moses" (Ezra 7:6; Nehemiah 8:9). (On SHIGGAION, etc., see the words as they occur.) Finally, if we would "taste the honey of God" we must "have the palate of faith." "Attune thy heart to the psalm. If the psalm prays, pray thou; if it mourns, mourn thou; if it hopes, hope thou; if it fears, fear thou. Everything, in the psalter, is the looking glass of the soul" (Augustine on Psalm 96 and Psalm 30). The heart, the lips, and the life must be in accord with the psalm, to derive the full blessing. "

Bibliography Information
Fausset, Andrew Robert M.A., D.D., "Definition for 'psalms' Fausset's Bible Dictionary". - Fausset's; 1878.

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