Categories: David, Psalms
Who Wrote the Book of Psalms?
Your children will quickly answer that question with one word: "David." True, but that answer is only partly correct. The Psalms are closely related to King David for many reasons. He was known as "the sweet singer of songs." Some of the events referred to in the psalms were a part of his life. And, Josephus, an early historian wrote that David composed "songs and hymns to God in various meters."
But, sorry, that doesn't mean David wrote them all! However, he gets credit for collecting many of them. Note that Psalm 90 is attributed to Moses in the subtitle. Researchers believe that many came down in the oral tradition, written earlier by Moses, Abraham, and some of the prophets. Since the oral tradition can change the text with each retelling, we should thank David for seeing that they were finally put in written form. The final compilation was made in about 200 A.D.
These 150 songs were written for several different purposes: hymns used in temple ceremonies (Psalm 8), laments commemorating national calamities (Psalm 44), royal psalms connected with reigning kings (Psalm 2), individual petitions for God's help (Psalm 30), thanksgiving (Psalm 34), historical events (Psalm 78), wisdom songs related to good living (Psalm 37), and songs of ascent or degrees. This last category contains marching songs sung while ascending the hill of Jerusalem or another holy destination. Psalms in the 120's are in this category.
Looking at your Bible, you will find interesting sub-titles on many of the psalms. Some refer to an actual event while others are dedicated to the chief musician in various places. Most every village had one person, often unskilled, in charge of songs and instruments for services. It is believed that David rewarded some of these people with an original song of his own. Still others are sub-titled as David's prayer and a few are written for large choral groups. You'll note in some sub-titles the word Asaph. This is thought to be David's personal musician and the founder of the musicians guild. It might also refer to that group of singers.
David's son Solomon also wrote some of the psalms. As you know, he was charged with building the temple, a glorious task denied David because of some of the unsavory events in his earlier life. Many of the psalms for temple worship are attributed to Solomon.
It's interesting to note that some were added long after David's time during the captivity. Psalm 137 is one of these, and it eloquently describes this sad time as the captives long for their homeland. Reading this, one can appreciate the great sacrifices made and the strong love for their homeland.
So there appear to be at least two dozen different writers, making this book a true collection. At least twenty are ascribed to David himself. These include the beloved Psalm 23 that ties in with David's years of shepherding, Psalm 91 which has a reference to a disease virulent in David's time, and Psalm 139, which is very personal in nature.
Today, these songs are considered canon - canonical writings, books approved by Bible scholars and theologians centuries ago. They are beloved for their many memorable lines that speak to the heart, words such as: "Be still and know that I am God" (Psalm 89).
When you read The Book of Psalms (its official title), think of what these songs meant to the people at that time. They sang as they walked, they sang as they worked, they sang in their grief, they sang with thanksgiving. You can do the same.