THE BOOK OF PSALMS

King David Playing the Harp.


The Psalms are beautiful poetic songs of prayer. The Psalms convey three important themes of Hebrew Scripture - that God is active in history, the necessity of human response to God through praise and prayer, and the beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord and to Trust in God. The Psalms of Hebrew Scripture are composed of songs of praise sung to God in divine worship, accompanied by a musical instrument. The word Psalm in Hebrew - תְּﬣִﬥָﬣ - tehillah - actually means praise or song of praise. King David sang a song of praise to the Lord when he was delivered from the grasp of his enemies and from the hands of Saul (Second Samuel 22:1). Their time of composition was primarily pre-exilic (before 586 BC, the time of the Babylonian exile) and post-exilic (after 516 BC), but the time probably ranges over five centuries. The authorship of 73 of the Psalms is attributed to David, although it is likely that he composed one or more of the 48 anonymous Psalms. Psalm 90 is attributed to Moses and Psalms 72 and 127 to Solomon.

The Psalms begin the Writings or Hagiographa in the three-fold division of the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and Writings of Hebrew Scripture. In the four-fold division of the Greek Septuagint, the Latin Vulgate, and the Christian Old Testament of the Bible, the Psalms are part of the Wisdom Literature, which includes in the following order: the Books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs. The Greek Septuagint and Latin Vulgate also included the Books of Wisdom and Sirach.

The Hebrew Psalms number 150, while the Dead Sea Scrolls as well as the Greek Septuagint Old Testament both contain Psalm 151 of David. The numbering of Psalms often differ by one, the Hebrew Psalter being one more than the Greek Septuagint and Latin Vulgate. The numbering here follows the original Hebrew. The Psalms are generally of three types: laments, both individual and communal; hymns; and songs of thanksgiving. Others are classified as royal psalms, some wisdom psalms, and others defy classification.

At one time, the Psalms were divided into five books to correspond to the Pentateuch of Moses. Book I includes Psalms 1-41, attributed to David. Book II comprises Psalms 42-72, authored by the Sons of Korah, Asaph, David, and Solomon. Book III has Psalms 73-89, composed primarily by Asaph and the Sons of Korah, with Psalm 86 by David and Psalm 89 by Ethan. Book IV contains Psalms 90-106 without named authors except for Psalm 90 (Moses) and Psalms 101 and 103 (David). Book V covers Psalms 107-150, which include Psalm 110 by David; Psalms 113-118, the Hallel sung during Passover; Psalms 120-134, the Songs of Ascents; and 138-145 composed by David.

Placing our
trust in God is found throughout the Scriptures, especially the Psalms. The Hebrew verb to trust -
בָּטַח - baṭaḥ - is recorded over 20 times in the Psalms alone, for example, 37:3, 91:2, and 112:7. Trusting in God means both to believe in God and to place our hope in Him. Thus in Greek one sees the word trust translated both with the verbs for faith - πιστεύω - I believe, have faith in, trust; and hope - ἐλπίζω - I hope, trust. Another Greek verb that conveys the meaning of trust is πέποιθα - I depend on, trust.

The Psalms have had a profound influence on both Eastern and Western culture. The most famous Psalm is King David's Psalm 23. Christ repeats verse five of Psalm 31 on the Cross, "Into thy hands I commend my spirit." Psalm 91 offers evidence of Guardian Angels. Psalm 95 (verse 1) contains the words
Laus Deo, the Latin for Praise be to God, which is inscribed on top of the Washington Monument. Psalm 103 confirms that Angels carry out the will of God. Psalm 118 (verse 24) was the inspiration for the World War I liberation song of Jerusalem, the world-famous Hava Nagila. Psalm 119 is an alphabetical psalm that expresses love for the Word of God, each eight-verse stanza beginning with one of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

The Psalms are notable for Prophecies of the Messiah, such as Psalm 2, fulfilled in Matthew 3:17, Psalm 22, fulfilled in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and Psalm 110. In fact, the greatest number of Old Testament quotations found in the New Testament are from the Book of Psalms, Psalm 110 being the most quoted by New Testament writers. For example, God declared his son Jesus Christ high priest according to the order of Melchizedek in Hebrews 5:10, which fulfilled Psalm 110, a Psalm of David, in which David announced to his royal successor - "You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek" (Psalm 110:4). Melchizedek, whose name is found only twice in Hebrew Scripture, was the king of Salem and a priest of God Most High, who brought out bread and wine and blessed Abram (Genesis 14:18).

Following the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 587 BC, when animal sacrifice could no longer be continued, a sacrifice of praise was instituted among the Jewish people during the Babylonian Exile, which included readings of the Torah, Psalms, and Hymns throughout the day. The risen Christ applied the Psalms to himself when he said to his disciples: "Everything written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled" (Luke 24:44). This sacrifice of praise continued within Christianity as the Liturgy of the Hours or the Divine Office, of which the Psalms remain an essential part. The Divine Office has evolved throughout the centuries, and today is said five times throughout the day: Matins or Office of Readings; the Lauds or Morning Prayer; Daytime Prayer; Vespers or Evening Prayer; and Compline or Night Prayer.

This page includes the King James Version of Psalm 23, which is ingrained in the American conscience, and the Seven Penitential Psalms, which bring comfort to a repentant heart (6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143). The most famous of the seven is Psalm 51, which is called the Miserere after its first word in Latin and is said every Friday at Lauds in the Liturgy of the Hours.

Psalm 23 is from the 1611 Authorized King James Version of The Holy Bible, now in the public domain. The Seven Penitential Psalms are from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. All rights reserved throughout the world. Used by permission of the International Bible Society.



PSALM 6

A Psalm of David.
For the leader, with stringed instruments, "upon the eighth"

1 O LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger
or discipline me in your wrath.
2 Be merciful to me, LORD, for I am faint;
O LORD, heal me, for my bones are in agony.
3 My soul is in anguish.
How long, O LORD, how long?
4 Turn, O LORD, and deliver me;
save me because of your unfailing love.
5 No one remembers you when he is dead.
Who praises you from the grave ?
6 I am worn out from groaning;
all night long I flood my bed with weeping
and drench my couch with tears.
7 My eyes grow weak with sorrow;
they fail because of all my foes.
8 Away from me, all you who do evil,
for the LORD has heard my weeping.
9 The LORD has heard my cry for mercy;
the LORD accepts my prayer.
10 All my enemies will be ashamed and dismayed;
they will turn back in sudden disgrace.



PSALM 23

A Psalm of David.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil;
my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.



PSALM 32

A Psalm of David.
A Maskil

1 Blessed is he
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the man
whose sin the LORD does not count against him
and in whose spirit is no deceit.
When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer.
Selah
5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, "I will confess
my transgressions to the LORD
and you forgave the guilt of my sin.
Selah
Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you
while you may be found;
surely when the mighty waters rise,
they will not reach him.
You are my hiding place;
you will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance.
Selah
8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you and watch over you.
9 Do not be like the horse or the mule,
which have no understanding
but must be controlled by bit and bridle
or they will not come to you.
Many are the woes of the wicked,
but the LORD's unfailing love
surrounds the man who trusts in him.
11 Rejoice in the LORD and be glad, you righteous;
sing, all you who are upright in heart!



PSALM 38

A Psalm of David.
For remembrance

1 O LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger
or discipline me in your wrath.
2 For your arrows have pierced me,
and your hand has come down upon me.
3 Because of your wrath there is no health in my body;
my bones have no soundness because of my sin.
4 My guilt has overwhelmed me
like a burden too heavy to bear.
5 My wounds fester and are loathsome
because of my sinful folly.
I am bowed down and brought very low;
all day long I go about mourning.
My back is filled with searing pain;
there is no health in my body.
8 I am feeble and utterly crushed;
I groan in anguish of heart.
9 All my longings lie open before you, O Lord;
my sighing is not hidden from you.
10 My heart pounds, my strength fails me;
even the light has gone from my eyes.
11 My friends and companions avoid me because of my wounds;
my neighbors stay far away.
12 Those who seek my life set their traps,
those who would harm me talk of my ruin;
all day long they plot deception.
13 I am like a deaf man, who cannot hear,
like a mute, who cannot open his mouth;
14 I have become like a man who does not hear,
whose mouth can offer no reply.
15 I wait for you, O LORD;
you will answer, O Lord my God.
16 For I said, "Do not let them gloat
or exalt themselves over me when my foot slips."
17 For I am about to fall,
and my pain is ever with me.
18 I confess my iniquity;
I am troubled by my sin.
19 Many are those who are my vigorous enemies;
those who hate me without reason are numerous.
20 Those who repay my good with evil
slander me when I pursue what is good.
21 O LORD, do not forsake me;
be not far from me, O my God.
22 Come quickly to help me,
O Lord my Savior.



PSALM 51

A Psalm of David, when Nathan the Prophet
came to him after his affair with Bathsheba.
For the leader

1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are proved right when you speak
and justified when you judge.
5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
6 Surely you desire truth in the inner parts ;
you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.
7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will turn back to you.
14 Save me from bloodguilt, O God,
the God who saves me,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise.
18 In your good pleasure make Zion prosper;
build up the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then there will be righteous sacrifices,
whole burnt offerings to delight you;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.



PSALM 102

The prayer of one afflicted and wasting away
whose anguish is poured out before the Lord.

1 Hear my prayer, O LORD;
let my cry for help come to you.
2 Do not hide your face from me
when I am in distress.
Turn your ear to me;
when I call, answer me quickly.
3 For my days vanish like smoke;
my bones burn like glowing embers.
4 My heart is blighted and withered like grass;
I forget to eat my food.
5 Because of my loud groaning
I am reduced to skin and bones.
6 I am like a desert owl,
like an owl among the ruins.
7 I lie awake; I have become
like a bird alone on a roof.
8 All day long my enemies taunt me;
those who rail against me use my name as a curse.
9 For I eat ashes as my food
and mingle my drink with tears
10 because of your great wrath,
for you have taken me up and thrown me aside.
11 My days are like the evening shadow;
I wither away like grass.
12 But you, O LORD, sit enthroned forever;
your renown endures through all generations.
13 You will arise and have compassion on Zion,
for it is time to show favor to her;
the appointed time has come.
14 For her stones are dear to your servants;
her very dust moves them to pity.
15 The nations will fear the name of the LORD,
all the kings of the earth will revere your glory.
16 For the LORD will rebuild Zion
and appear in his glory.
17 He will respond to the prayer of the destitute;
he will not despise their plea.
18 Let this be written for a future generation,
that a people not yet created may praise the LORD :
19 "The LORD looked down from his sanctuary on high,
from heaven he viewed the earth,
20 to hear the groans of the prisoners
and release those condemned to death."
21 So the name of the LORD will be declared in Zion
and his praise in Jerusalem
22 when the peoples and the kingdoms
assemble to worship the LORD.
23 In the course of my life [a] he broke my strength;
he cut short my days.
24 So I said:
"Do not take me away, O my God, in the midst of my days;
your years go on through all generations.
25 In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
26 They will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
Like clothing you will change them
and they will be discarded.
27 But you remain the same,
and your years will never end.
28 The children of your servants will live in your presence;
their descendants will be established before you."



PSALM 130

A Song of Ascents

1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD;
2 O Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.
3 If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins,
O Lord, who could stand?
4 But with you there is forgiveness;
therefore you are feared.
5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
6 My soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.
7 O Israel, put your hope in the LORD,
for with the LORD is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.
8 He himself will redeem Israel
from all their sins.



PSALM 143

A Prayer of David, when he was in the cave.
A Maskil.

1 O LORD, hear my prayer,
listen to my cry for mercy;
in your faithfulness and righteousness
come to my relief.
2 Do not bring your servant into judgment,
for no one living is righteous before you.
3 The enemy pursues me,
he crushes me to the ground;
he makes me dwell in darkness
like those long dead.
4 So my spirit grows faint within me;
my heart within me is dismayed.
5 I remember the days of long ago;
I meditate on all your works
and consider what your hands have done.
6 I spread out my hands to you;
my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.
Selah
7 Answer me quickly, O LORD;
my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me
or I will be like those who go down to the pit.
8 Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.
9 Rescue me from my enemies, O LORD,
for I hide myself in you.
10 Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God;
may your good Spirit
lead me on level ground.
11 For your name's sake, O LORD, preserve my life;
in your righteousness, bring me out of trouble.
12 In your unfailing love, silence my enemies;
destroy all my foes,
for I am your servant.



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