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David wrote about half of the Psalms; various authors, including Asaph, Korah and his sons, Moses, Heman, Ethan, Solomon, Jeduthun, and still others who remain unidentified, wrote the rest. Ezra, Nehemiah or some other post-exilic scribe then compiled the psalms into one book. Psalmos is Greek for the Hebrew word mizmor, which comes from zamar, “to sing with instrumental accompaniment.”

A deeply sensitive and emotional musician, David frequently expressed himself through music. His life experiences occasioned the writing of songs that express the full range of human emotions. The Psalms frequently allude to his experiences, and NT references substantiate his significant contribution to the book’s authorship. Asaph, a Levite, served David as a choir leader. Korah’s children led the temple worship. Heman was Samuel’s grandson and also a music leader in the temple. Jeduthun was a temple musician. Those psalms which do not name their author have been attributed to Ezra, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel or Haggai.

The Writing and Purpose of the Psalms

David the PsalmistScholars disagree over the exact dating of the Psalms, but the songs in it were written over many centuries, from the time of Moses to the Babylonian captivity. Since 1929, archaeologists have unearthed hundreds of Ugaritic tablets in northern Syria which contain Canaanite mythological and religious stories. The Hebrew in Psalms varies only slightly from Ugaritic. Some psalms which scholars had dated during the Maccabean period contain phrases that are now known to have been common in the second millennium B.C. but not during the Hellenistic period. The discovery of the Ugaritic tablets reveals that Psalms is older than previously thought; quite possibly all the songs were written pre-exile and collected shortly after the captivity ended in 537 B.C.

When the ark returned to Jerusalem, the importance of public worship and its rituals increased. Music was one of the most important worship rituals. Psalms became the temple hymnbook. The people knew many psalms by heart. Using stringed instruments, musicians accompanied the choir and congregation’s singing or chanting of specific psalms for each day of the week after the daily sacrifice. Other psalms were specific to feast days. As the sacrificial system ceased, daily prayers replaced the daily sacrifices. After the temple’s destruction, the psalms were read as prayers alongside the Law and the Prophets. Through time and across cultures, Psalms has continued to play a significant role in both individual prayer and corporate worship for nearly all denominations.

A Psalm for Everyday Living

PrisonersIn Hebrew, Psalms is written in lyric poetic form. Translation into English destroys some of the poetic rhythm but its rhythm of thought, or parallelism, remains. In parallelism, two-line couplets express a thought in the first line which the second line then reiterates, contrasts, or expands.

A psalm may be found for almost every human experience, from disappointment and discouragement to hope, faith and triumph. The book’s authors readily express their true feelings to God, resulting in a universal cry of the human heart. Some psalms are so filled with despair they contain no note of hope; others are so full of praise they contain no hint of gloom. Many foretell the Messiah’s coming, suffering, death and triumph. Throughout all pervades the theme of God’s greatness and man’s utter dependence on Him. God is the ultimate solution.

Today, Psalms demonstrates the intense joy of true religion. The most widely used book of the Bible attests to the fact that it’s okay to be honest with God about your feelings, even “negative” ones.
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