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Psalm(s), The Book of

RELATED: Bible, Old Testament
AUTHOR: David, Moses, Solomon
READ: American Standard Version, King James Version, New American Standard Bible
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Easton's Bible Dictionary

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 ( Acts 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 , 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 ( 2 Chronicles 20:19 ), were intrusted with the arranging and singing of Psalms 42 , 44-49 , 84 , 85 , 87 , and 88.

In Luke 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 Psalms 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.

Psalms 136 is generally called "the great hallel." But the Talmud includes also Psalms 120-135. Psalms 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 ( 2 Chronicles 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 (Greek. 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 (Hebrew) mitsmor (Greek psalmos, a psalm), a lyric ode, or a song set to music; a sacred song accompanied with a musical instrument.

(3) Psalms 145 , and many others, have the designation (Hebrew) tehillah (Greek 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 (Hebrew) michtam (q.v.).

(5) Psalms 7 and Habakkuk 3 bear the title (Hebrew) shiggaion (q.v.).


Hitchcock's Dictionary of Bible Names

(no entry)


Smith's Bible Dictionary

The present Hebrew name of the book is Tehillim, "Praises;" but in the actual superscriptions of the psalms the word Tehillah is applied only to one, ( Psalms 145:1 ) ... which is indeed emphatically a praise-hymn. The LXX. entitled them psalmoi or "psalms," i.e., lyrical pieces to be sung to a musical instrument. The Christian Church obviously received the Psalter from the Jews not only as a constituent portion of the sacred volume of Holy Scripture, but also as the liturgical hymn-book which the Jewish Church had regularly used in the temple.

Division of the Psalms . --

The book contains 150 psalms, and may be divided into five great divisions or books, which must have been originally formed at different periods.

Book I.

is, by the superscriptions, entirely Davidic nor do we find in it a trace of any but Davids authorship. We may well believe that the compilation of the book was also Davids work.

Book II.

appears by the date of its latest psalm, ( Psalms 46:1 ) ... to have been compiled in the reign of King Hezekiah. It would naturally comprise, 1st, several or most of the Levitical psalms anterior to that date; and 2d, the remainder of the psalms of David previously uncompiled. To these latter the collector after properly appending the single psalm of Solomon has affixed the notice that "the prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended." ( Psalms 72:20 )

Book III.,

the interest of which centers in the times of Hezekiah stretches out, by its last two psalms, to the reign of Manasseh: it was probably compiled in the reign of Josiah. It contains seventeen psalms, from Psalms 73-89 eleven by Asaph, four by the sons of Horah, one (86) by David, and one by Ethan.

Book IV.

contains the remainder of the psalms up to the date of the captivity, There are seventeen, from Psalms 90-106 --one by Moses, two by David, and the rest anonymous.

Book V.,

the psalms of the return, contains forty-four, from Psalms 107-180 --fifteen by David, one by Solomon and the rest anonymous. There is nothing to distinguish these two books from each other in respect of outward decoration or arrangement and they may have been compiled together in the days of Nehemiah.

Connection of the Psalms with Israelitish history . --

The psalm of Moses Psalms 90, which is in point of actual date the earliest, faithfully reflects the long, weary wanderings, the multiplied provocations and the consequent punishments of the wilderness. It is, however, with David that Israelitish psalmody may be said virtually to commence. Previous mastery over his harp had probably already prepared the way for his future strains, when the anointing oil of Samuel descended upon him, and he began to drink in special measure, from that day forward, of the Spirit of the Lord. It was then that, victorious at home over the mysterious melancholy of Saul and in the held over the vaunting champion of the Philistine hosts, he sang how from even babes and sucklings God had ordained strength because of his enemies. Psalms 8. His next psalms are of a different character; his persecutions at the hands of Saul had commenced. When Davids reign has begun, it is still with the most exciting incidents of his history, private or public, that his psalms are mainly associated. There are none to which the period of his reign at Hebron can lay exclusive claim. But after the conquest of Jerusalem his psalmody opened afresh with the solemn removal of the ark to Mount Zion; and in Psalms 24-29 which belong together, we have the earliest definite instance of Davids systematic composition or arrangement of psalms for public use. Even of those psalms which cannot be referred to any definite occasion, several reflect the general historical circumstances of the times. Thus Psalms 9 is a thanksgiving for the deliverance of the land of Israel from its former heathen oppressors. Psalms 10 is a prayer for the deliverance of the Church from the highhanded oppression exercised from within. The succeeding psalms dwell on the same theme, the virtual internal heathenism by which the Church of God was weighed clown. So that there remain very few e.g. Psalms 15-17, 19, 32 (with its choral appendage, 23), 37 of which some historical account may not be given. A season of repose near the close of his reign induced David to compose his grand personal thanksgiving for the deliverances of his whole life, Psalms 18 the date of which is approximately determined by the place at which it ia inserted in the history. ( 2 Samuel 22:1) ... It was probably at this period that he finally arranged for the sanctuary service that collection of his psalms which now constitutes the first book of the Psalter. The course of Davids reign was not, however, as yet complete. The solemn assembly convened by him for the dedication of the materials of the future temple, 1 Chronicles 28, 29, would naturally call forth a renewal of his best efforts to glorify the God of Israel in psalms; and to this occasion we doubtless owe the great festal hymns, Psalms 65-68, containing a large review of the past history, present position and prospective glories of Gods chosen people. The supplications of Psalms 69, suit best with the renewed distress occasioned by the sedition of Adonijah. Psalms 71 to which Psalms 70 a fragment of a former psalm, is introductory, forms Davids parting strain. Yet that the psalmody of Israel may not seem finally to terminate with hint, the glories of the future are forthwith anticipated by his son in Psalms 72. The great prophetical ode, Psalms 45, connects itself most readily with the splendors of Jehoshaphats reign. Psalms 42-44, 74 are best assigned to the reign of Ahaz. The reign of Hezekiah is naturally rich in psalmody, Psalms 46, 73, 75, 76 connect themselves with the resistance to the supremacy of the Assyrians and the divine destruction of their host. We are now brought to a series of psalms of peculiar interest, springing out of the political and religious history of the,separated ten tribes. In date of actual composition they commence before the times of Hezekiah. The earliest is probably Psalms 80 a supplication for the Israelitish people at the time of the Syrian oppression. All these psalms --80-83-- are referred by their superscriptions to the Levite singers, and thus beer witness to the efforts of the Levites to reconcile the two branches of the chosen nation. The captivity of Manasseh himself proved to be but temporary; but the sentence which his sins had provoked upon Judah and Jerusalem still remained to be executed, and precluded the hope that Gods salvation could be revealed till after such an outpouring of his judgments as the nation had never yet known. Labor and sorrow must be the lot of the present generation; through these mercy might occasionally gleam, but the glory which was eventually to be manifested must be for posterity alone.

The psalms of Book IV. --

bear generally the impress of this feeling. We pass to Book V. Psalms 107 is the opening psalm of the return, sung probably at the first feast of tabernacles. Ezra 3 A directly historical character belongs to Psalms 120-134, styled in our Authorized Version "Songs of Degrees." Internal evidence refers these to the period when the Jews under Nehemiah were, in the very face of the enemy, repairing the walls of Jerusalem and the title may well signify "songs of goings up upon the walls," the psalms being from their brevity, well adapted to be sung by the workmen and guards while engaged in their respective duties. Psalms 139 is a psalm of the new birth of Israel from the womb of the Babylonish captivity, to a life of righteousness; Psalms 140-143 may be a picture of the trials to which the unrestored exiles were still exposed in the realms of the Gentiles. Henceforward, as we approach the close of the Psalter, its strains rise in cheerfulness; and it fittingly terminates with Psalms 147-150 which were probably sung on the occasion of the thanksgiving procession of Nehe 12, after the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem had been completed.

Moral characteristics of the Psalms . --

Foremost among these meets us, undoubtedly, the universal recourse to communion with God. Connected with this is the faith by which the psalmist everywhere lives in God rather than in himself. It is of the essence of such faith that his view of the perfections of God should be true and vivid. The Psalter describes God as he is: it glows with testimonies to his power and providence, his love and faithfulness, his holiness and righteousness. The Psalms not only set forth the perfections of God; they proclaim also the duty of worshipping him by the acknowledgment and adoration of his perfections. They encourage all outward rites and means of worship. Among these they recognize the ordinance of sacrifice as in expression of the worshippers consecration of himself to Gods service. But not the less do they repudiate the outward rite when separated from that which it was designed to express. Similar depth is observable in the view taken by the psalmists of human sin. In regard to the law, the psalmist, while warmly acknowledging its excellence, feels yet that it cannot so effectually guide his own unassisted exertions as to preserve him from error Psalms 19. The Psalms bear repeated testimony to the duty of instructing other in the ways of holiness. Psalms 32, 34, 51 This brings us to notice, lastly, the faith of the psalmists in righteous recompense to all men according to their deeds. Psalms 37, etc.

Prophetical character of the Psalms. --

The moral struggle between godliness and ungodliness, so vividly depicted in the Psalms, culminates in Holy Scripture, in the life of the Incarnate Son of God upon earth. It only remains to show that the Psalms themselves definitely anticipated this culmination. Now there are in the Psalter at least three psalms of which the interest evidently centers in a person distinct from the speaker, and which, since they cannot without violence to the language be interpreted of any but the Messiah, may be termed directly and exclusively Messianic. We refer to Psalms 2, 45, 110, to which may perhaps be added, Psalms 72. It would be strange if these few psalms stood, in their prophetical significance absolutely alone among the rest. And hence the impossibility of viewing the psalms generally, notwithstanding the drapery in which they are outwardly clothed, as simply the past devotions of the historical David or the historical Israel. The national hymns of Israel are indeed also prospective; but in general they anticipate rather the struggles and the triumphs of the Christian Church than those of Christ himself.


International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

(no entry)



bible commentary, bible history, bible reference, bible study, book of psalm(s), five books of psalms, hagiographa, michtam, mitsmor, old testament, praises, psalms, psalter, shiggaion, shir, tehillah, tehillim, the great hallel



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