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The Psalms

The Psalms appears to be the hymn-book of the temple in Jerusalem, containing poems from more than one century, for many situations, and from both the northern and southern kingdoms. They offer us words suitable for the deepest despair to the highest praise of God. "They are poetry" but "Hebrew poetry does not use rhyme or the rhythms of speech, but derives its shape from the balancing of ideas."[10] This can take various forms: repetition of an idea in different words; contrast with the opposite idea; or "Merismus", mention of opposite extremes such as rich and poor, meaning everybody[21 p.16–17].

Psalms use poetic language, described in the comments on Genesis 4:23–24. "Probably all of us come to poetry with different literary expectations from those with which we approach prose" [21 p.123].

The origins of the Psalms are generally not stated so almost all that is believed about them is deduced and could be wrong; but the general consensus is that they are "the hymn-book of the second temple". Sometimes the context can be found which is very helpful. It is assumed that the Psalms were first collected around the time of King David (though some are older than that) and used in Temple worship, and then finally edited around the time of the Exile or soon after. We assume the psalms were chanted or sung. Perhaps there was a group of professional musicians and poets who wrote and performed them. The Psalms provide clearest picture of what the Temple worship was like, though some Psalms may have been intended for individual rather than corporate worship.

Most Bibles show sub-headings such as "A Psalm of David" for many of the psalms. The earliest copies from Qumran either lack these, or they differ from the ones used later, so they were a late addition to the text, and may be historically inaccurate.[ pp.80–81]

Unlike modern worship, there are more laments than praise songs. Many (such as 44 and 89) show exilic origins by dealing frankly with the contrast between what was hoped for, because God seemed to promise it, and God is good anyway, and what has happened. there is no answer to these disappoinments and puzzlements, except to gaze on God and his glory, and perhaps plead for relief.

"Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann describes many of the psalms as having a common movement: from 'orientation' (knowing where you are, where you 'stand'), through 'disorientation' (being confused and thrown off course by circumstance), to 'reorientation' (finding a new, deeper way to see the world and God)." [15]

Gunkel saw five groups ("books") of Psalms within the whole:

1. Psalms 1–41 "Psalms of David" (the headings are not original[1 p.xxxix] and in Hebrew "le David" means "to David" or "for David" but not "by David", though Jesus ascribes Psalm 110:1 to David in Matthew 22:43 and 2 Samuel 23:1 calls David "the sweet psalmist of Israel")
2.Psalms 42–72 Psalms of the Sons of Korah (using Elohist language). Psalm 65 mentions David in the heading but since it assumes the existence of the Temple, built after David's death, it does not seem to have been written in his lifetime. Psalm 53 is almost identical to Psalm 14 which is in the previous section.
3.Psalms 73–89 Psalms of Asaph (using Elohist language)
4.Psalms 90–106 Songs of Ascents
5.Psalms 107–150 more "Psalms of David".

Each of these "books" ends with a short refrain which does not form part of the psalm's content, but is printed in modern Bibles as if it did.

Within these books Gunkel found nine types:

  1. Hymns about the King or God e.g. Psalms 47, 93;
  2. cries for help e.g. Psalms 44, 74;
  3. laments for individual use e.g. Psalms 3, 5, 6, 7, 13;
  4. psalms of confidence;
  5. thanksgivings for individual use e.g. Psalms 30, 32, 138;
  6. pilgrimage songs (for the 3 annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem) e.g. Psalm 84, 122;
  7. thanksgivings for communal use e.g. Psalms 67, 124;
  8. wisdom poems e.g. Psalm 1, 112;
  9. others such as ordinations, e.g. Psalms 15, 60, 119.

Other categories can be used:

Royal Psalms: those that would only make sense if the king were present; these may date from King Solomon.

Primitive theology: e.g. Psalms 24, 104, 131 use pre-exile theology e.g. "Lord God of Hosts" and references to Shiloh. Some psalms definitely pre-date David e.g. Psalm 29:1 refers to "sons of gods" using the Canaanite word Baalim (though it is translated more acceptably in NIV).

It also seems that there are groups of Psalms in the editors mind that do not match the categories mentioned above; for example, Psalms 105 and 107 both review history in order to remind the hearer of how God has been seen at work in the past.

Note some pre-exile prophets seem to quote phrases from the Psalms (or vice versa).

Psalms 2 and 23 definitely date from King David's time. Psalm 18 = 2 Samuel 22 so we know these are David's words and we know the context. Some say Psalm 2 dates from David's coronation, but I disagree because it refers to Zion (= Jerusalem) which was not then conquered.

It is thought that the selection was done in the Southern Kingdom and reflects their wants, though some Northern psalms are included, e.g. Psalm 42:6–7, Psalm 53, and Psalms 80–81. Psalm 10 and 16 use a Northern dialect word for not: where we would expect to find the Southern word lo we find the Northern dialect word bal.

Psalm 45 is unique in not mentioning God. It may have been composed for the wedding of Ahab and Jezebel in 869 B.C.E., and makes use of a pun on Ahab's name: love is ahabh. Some Psalms are thought to be post-exile because like Ezekiel and 2nd Isaiah they dwell a lot on God's Glory (apparently hoping for a return to former glory); Psalm 103 resembles Isaiah 40–56.

Psalms need rhythm or metre. The usual forms of Hebrew poetry are found:


the Lord lift up the down trodden,
but the wicked he casts down


I have set up my King,
on Zion's holy hill


ascribe... [in general terms];
ascribe... [more specifically]; e.g. Ps 96:1–2


Question: who is the King of Glory?
Answer: ...

There are many terms which we do not understand e.g. Selah which some suggested was a pause but may be an action e.g. congregation to stand or turn round. This word is generally translated "side" but is given as "rib" in the second creation narrative in Genesis 2. (The fact that it appears right at the end of some psalms rules out some possible meanings such as a change of soloist, tune or key.) Seir seems to be a song with instruments; Maskill seems to be a didactic poem set to music.



cf. Jeremiah 17:7–8. The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3–11, Luke 6:20f) can be seen as a re-working of this psalm, but with a bias towards the poor.


The idea of delighting in the law may seem strange to us. That is because we misunderstand the word "Law". The Jews rejoiced that they had been given a covenant relationship with God. This fallen world damages our purity and the Law contained remedies for that. Jesus was often exposed to impurity—​he ate with tax collectors and sinners, touched the dead, etc—​which was clearly the right thing to do under the circumstances. You cannot tackle evil by remaining holy and aloof.


The mention of fruit in season implies patience, which in turn requires trust in God, until that season comes. See also the comment on Revelation 22:2.


Some say Psalm 2 dates from David's coronation, but I disagree because it refers to Zion (=Jerusalem) which was not then under David's control.


These verses are quoted in Acts 4:25–26.


This verse is quoted in Mark 1:11 and Acts 13:33.


Disappointment breeds cynicism, but see the hope that Jesus brought in John 1:46.


When Jesus cursed the tree and it withered in Matthew 21:19, the disciples may have seen it as comparable with these verses.


This verse is quoted in Hebrews 2:6.


See Appendix 2 Angels.


This verse is quoted in 1 Corinthians 15:27–28. Under his feet: cf. footstool in Psalm 110:1.


Psalms 9 and 10 have Acrostic structures; the verses start with each letter in the Hebrew alphabet (an idea developed in Psalm 119).


This Acrostic psalm (which is a continuation of psalm 9) uses a Northern dialect word for not: where we would expect to find the Southern word lo we find the Northern dialect word bal.


cf. Habbakuk 2:20.


See Appendix 2: Poor.


This psalm is particularly relevant to people in ongoing suffering including refugees. "We met an Iraqi refugee family who had a traumatic story fleeing from Mosul in Iraq. The family had been separated while fleeing and didn't know whether the other half of the family were alive. It took them two years to be reunited in Jordan. After we listened to their powerful story, I asked whether there had been a passage of scripture that had been meaningful to them during this harrowing experience. The daughter started to read Psalm 13 in Arabic. As she read, the whole family (there were three generations there: the grandmother of the girl, her parents and her brother) all started crying." [14]


"How long": cf. Psalm 35:17, Revelation 6:10.


This psalm is almost identical to Ps 53.


This psalm is believed to be an "entrance liturgy" for use at the start of a temple service. It shows the kind of worshipper the Lord is seeking.


Tent means the same as the tabernacle, which housed the Ark while the Hebrews were wandering. The hill represents Jerusalem, where the Temple was in later years. Both represent the holy place where God dwelt.


This verse places truth in the context of God's will, along the lines expounded by Dietrich Bonhoeffer[2]; see comment on Exodus 20:16.


This psalm uses a Northern dialect word for not: where we would expect to find the Southern word lo we find the Northern dialect word bal.

See comment on Luke 24:25–27.


These verses are quoted in Acts 2:25–26.


This verse was quoted in support of Christian teaching about resurrection by St Peter in Acts 2:27–28 (with the following verse) and St Paul in Acts 13:35.


See comment on Luke 24:25–27.


This self-righteous claim can only be fulfilled by Jesus.[17 p.112]


See 2 Samuel 22; we know these are David's words and we know the context.

Waters: see Appendix 2 Water.


cf. Ps 34:6, Ps 120:1 and Jonah 2:2; this Psalm probably pre-dated Jonah so he was quoting from memory in his hour of need.


Kadesh: see Appendix 3 Kadesh.


cf. Matthew 5:7 in the Beatitudes.


cf. Luke 1:52 in the Magnificat.


This psalm is a key one for understanding the Jewish mind; it emphasizes how the law is a guide to be grateful for, not a burden to be resented; cf. Ps 23:4.


Sweet: cf. Ezekiel 3:3, Revelation 10:10.


This psalm of complaint was quoted by Jesus when he was in distress on the cross (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 5:34); the end of the psalm indicates the hope he clung to. The distress of this Psalm is followed by hope in Psalm 23 and triumph in Psalm 24.

See comment on Luke 24:25–27.


The reference to being cast-off (the Tyndale translation) indicates that the person suffering the horrors described in this psalm was a scapegoat in the sense of the Law of Moses (Leviticus 16:8f).


cf. Matthew 27:43.


Much of this psalm described the experiences of Jesus on the cross.


cf. Matthew 27:48.


cf. Matthew 27:35.


cf. Matthew 27:47.


cf. Matthew 27:35, John 19:24.


Meek: see Appendix 2 Meek.


The psalm is comforting, ansering the complaint of Psalm 22, but perhaps not true in all circumstances. It can be seen as finding its fulfilment in the feeding of the 5,000. Compare verse 2 (green grass) with Mark 6:39, and verse 2 (abundant food) with Mark 6:42. God provides a "land flowing with milk and honey" once again (like Exodus 3:8), representing heaven on earth.


Buckley[9 p.119] connects being made to lie down in green pastures with our habit of always being busy; we don't want to slow down, but that's what we need.


cf. Psalm 138:7. Since "he leads me in paths of righteousness" there is a right path (or perhaps a choice of paths) on which the Christian will be safe. cf. Ps 121 and Deuteronomy 28:1–6. In Isaiah 30:21 the promise of guidance is there again but adversity is to be the teacher. This leads naturally into the triumph in Ps 24.


This psalm is often read superficially to promise peace and tranquillity, yet it is clear that opposition and evil are always nearby; Psalm 138:7 agrees. The psalm actually tells us that though opposition and evil may seem to surround us, they can never cut us off from the love and power of God (cf. Isaiah 43:2). The idea of "God with us" anticipates the Gospel of "Immanuel"—​see Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 28:20.


The first part of this verse is puzzling. It might indicate that by God's protection we can thrive in safety despite the presence of enemies (perhaps after their defeat), or an opportunity to show evildoers God's goodness. Are we expected to invite our enemies to the table[24]?

The psalm seems to say that the righteous are blessed, as does Deuteronomy 28:1–9 and Ps 121. Ps 104:15 associates the wine with which the cup overflows with gladness, and the oil with which one is anointed with a shining face. But other interpretations are possible; Jesus was anointed "for burial" (Mark 14:8) and used the word "cup" to refer to the suffering that he was called to bear (Matthew 26:39). For other examples of anointing[3 p.62] see 2 Corinthians 1:21f, Ephesians 1:13, 4:30, 1 John 2:20, 2:27.


This psalm uses pre-exile theology e.g. "Lord God of Hosts". This psalm's purpose seems liturgucal.


See comment on the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3–11).


Meek: see Appendix 2 Meek.


This self-righteous claim can only be fulfilled by Jesus.[17 p.112]


This verse is sometimes used when washing is done liturgically, for example, during Holy Communion.


cf. Romans 8:31–39. This psalm's purpose seems liturgucal.

Jesus fulfills this verse: see John 8:12.


Perhaps the writer wanted an experience like Samuel's in 1 Samuel 3:1–9.


(GNB only) The opposite of faith is despair.


"The psalmist is in despair, calling out to God. It may be the king himself who is speaking; certainly he feels close enough to the temple to appeal to the holy sanctuary, the most sacred part of the temple".[22]


This psalm's purpose seems liturgucal. The Hebrew refers to "sons of gods" using the Canaanite word Baalim (it is translated acceptably in NIV).


cf. Acts 2:2–4.


Kadesh: see Appendix 3 Kadesh.


cf. 1 Kings 8.


When the people of Nazareth rejected Jesus's ministry they took him to a cliff to throw him off, but he escaped (Luke 4:29–30). Jesus also quoted verse 5 from the cross (Luke 23:46).


Sin covered: see Appendix 2 Sin.


Someone with no guile isn't necessarily polite; see John 1:47.


This verse is telling us that failing to confess our sins before God is unhealthy.


This verse helps us to understand the word "waters" which in the Old Testament seems to mean something threatening and bad. The image is of a desert flash-flood which destroys everything in its path.


CS Lewis wrote that the natural response of God's people should be praise, but the natural response of the lost is complaint.


cf. Ps 18:6, Ps 120:1, and Jonah 2:2; this Psalm probably pre-dated Jonah so he was quoting from memory in his hour of need. His memory would be helped by the psalm's Acrostic structure.


cf. Elijah and Gehazi seeing the army of God in 2 Kings 6:17.


cf. Exodus 12:9 and John 19:36.


cf. Psalm 13:1–2, Revelation 6:10.


It is not clear whether this means that animals as well as people are redeemed, or just sustained in life. The various bible translations use different words.


cf. Ezekiel 47:1, Revelation 22:1.


This psalm has an Acrostic structure.


This idea is quoted by Jesus in Matthew 6:33. Presumably it means, if you make God's will your heart's desire, that wish will be granted.


cf. James 1:19–20


cf. Matthew 5:5. There is a similarity between this verse and the promise of security in the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 11:8 for example).


Meek: see Appendix 2 Meek. Jesus quoted this verse in his third Beatitude, Matthew 5:5.


This event is comparable with Matthew 21:19 and Mark 11:12–21.


cf. Luke 23:49.


This psalm seems prophetic. We do not know its original significance, but Jesus kept silence before the chief priests and elders and Pontius Pilate (verse 9 echoes Matthew 27:12 and 14) and felt forsaken on the cross (verse 12 echoes Matthew 27:46).


See comment on Hebrews 13:13–14.


cf. Hebrews 10:5–9.


cf. Matthew 26:50.


This last verse is not part of the psalm itself but a short ending to the first "book of Psalms" (see introduction).


This psalm shows signs in verse 6 of originating in the Northern Kingdom. Psalms 42 and 43 are often combined into one psalm in Hebrew manuscripts[25 p.83]. The sons of Korah are mentioned in 1 Chronicles 9:19.


This verse implies that the psalmist cannot go to the Temple (or perhaps, if the psalm is old, Shiloh) to worship, and is consequently distressed. It was not until the exile that the people accepted that God is present and can be worshipped anywhere; see comment on Psalm 131.


Psalms 42 and 43 are often combined into one psalm in Hebrew manuscripts[25 p.83], which is why psalm 43 lacks a heading.


These verses are practically identical to Psalm 70.


This psalm compares earlier beliefs about God with the experience of exile and asks "why"? It ends with a plesa for help. The sons of Korah are mentioned in 1 Chronicles 9:19.


This psalm may have been composed for the wedding of Ahab and Jezebel in 869 B.C.E., and makes use of a pun on Ahab's name: affectionate love is ahabh in Hebrew. The sons of Korah are mentioned in 1 Chronicles 9:19.


Meekness: see Appendix 2 Meek.


It is claimed that this Psalm supports the idea that the playwright William Shakespeare contributed to the King James Bible in 1606 when he was 46 years old. The 46th word of the psalm, in verse 3, is "shake". The 46th word from the end, ignoring "Selah", is "spear" in verse 9.[19 p.144] The sons of Korah are mentioned in 1 Chronicles 9:19.


The sons of Korah are mentioned in 1 Chronicles 9:19.


It is said that the concept "the joy of the whole earth" is supported in the following verses by concepts related to the four points of the compass, described from the point of view of a worshipper in the Temple facing East. In verse 2 we have mention of North; then the East wind in verse 7; then ships of Tarshish, which must be West of the worshipper on the Mediterranean sea; and the reference to Right indicates the South.


These words would have been irreconcilable with reality once the kingdom fell to Assyria in 587 BCE. We are fortunate that such passages were not suppressed but re-interpreted.[21 p.73–74].


The sons of Korah are mentioned in 1 Chronicles 9:19.


The reference to rich and poor is an example of the literary device "merismus" which means using opposites to indicate totality, that is, rich + poor = everyone.


This verse gives early warning, perhaps the earliest warning, that no matter how many sacrifices one brings to the temple, they can never be enough to pay off one's sins and give salvation. However, CS Lewis thought the psalm refers to the price of eternal life, rather than salvation from sin[17 p.35].


cf. Acts 2:2–3.


See comment on Haggai 2:8.


This psalm may be have been used for may be exilic penitence, though it is clearly based on David and Bathsheba.


David has not only sinned against God, but also Bathsheba and Uriah. This is consistent with the words of Nathan the prophet in 2 Samuel 12:1–12. Perhaps this verse means that as king he can ride roughshod over the laws of the nation, but not God's laws.


This verse, alongside Romans 5:12, is used to justify belief in Original Sin. This is a complicated question. For example, research shows that "the seeds of racism are in our nature" though they do not make racist attitudes inevitable, and racist attitudes need not lead to violent oppression.[7]


Hyssop: see Appendix 2: Hyssop.


See comment on 2 Samuel 12:13.


cf. 1 Samuel 15:22.


"Broken" probably means that we should accept God as a broken-in horse accepts a rider.

cf. Matthew 5:2f. Joel 2:12–13 is traditionally read on Ash Wednesday, and people are expected to respond by having a cross drawn on their foreheads with the ashes of last year's palm crosses, and the minister then reads Psalm 51:17. The tradition of celebrating Palm Sunday is very old; Egeria recorded experiencing it in about 381 CE, and the existence of different traditional dates for Palm Sunday in the Eastern and Western branches of the Church points to it having originated before Constantine legalized the church in 315 CE.[4]


This psalm shows signs of originating in the Northern Kingdom. It is almost identical to Psalm 14.


This Psalm seems clearly messianic, as shown by verses 6–7, which affects how the rest is interpreted.


A dove and the desert are connected at Jesus's baptism by John (Matthew 3:17 & 4:1; Mark 1:10 & 1:12; Luke 3:22 and 4:1).


These verses prophesy that the Christ will be betrayed by a close friend.


These verses indicate that the Christ will die within a single day.


These verses prophesy that the Christ will be betrayed by a close friend.


See Appendix 2 Sword.


cf. John 14:12.


Psalm 65 mentions David in the heading but since verse 4 assumes the existence of the Temple, built after David's death, it does not seem to have been written in his lifetime.


This seems to describe Jesus stilling the storm in Luke 8:23.


This verse connects valleys being filled and mountains lowered with fruitful productivity (cf. Isaiah 26:7), unlike other verses where the connection seems military. This affects the interpretation of the prophesy in Isaiah 40:4. Hebrews 12:13 uses this as a metaphor for throwing off any "sin that entangles" (Hebrews 12:1) which seems to be the thought behind Proverbs 4:26.


It is easier to remember to pray when we are in trouble than to give thanks afterwards cf. Luke 17:17.


cf. Isaiah 59:2: pray after first confessing your sins.


This psalm used to be used regularly in Christian worship and was known as the Deus misereatur after the opening words in the Latin translation. The opening verse is drawn from Numbers 6:24–25


cf. Numbers 10:35 and Judges 5.


The Hebrew grammar makes the bearers of the tidings feminine[21 p.105]. cf. Mark 16:13, Luke 24:11.


See comment on Ephesians 4:8.


cf. Matthew 12:46–50


This verse is quoted in John 2:17.


This verse was fulfilled in Matthew 27:34. See comment on Matthew 5:44.


These verses are quoted in Romans 11:9–10, and cf. the blindness of the hostile phasisee Saul in Acts 9:8.


This verse is quoted in Acts 1:20.


This psalm is practically identical to Psalm 43:13–17.


This psalm is basically a reflection on old age.


The thoughts expressed here resemble those of Solomon on becoming King in 1 Kings 3:9.


This verse was fulfilled by the visit of the Magi at the Epiphany—​see comment on Matthew 2:1.


It is not clear whether verse 15 repeats verse 10 or refers to a different situation.


The last two verses are not part of the psalm itself but a short ending to the second "book of Psalms" (see introduction).


The thoughts expressed here resemble those of Job 21.


This psalm views loss through the eyes of faith. The psalmist does not react to disaster with despair, but turns to God, asking "why?" and pleading for help, reminding him of past mercies.


The opening verses of this psalm show that it is about God judging the ungodly. They have to drink foaming wine, that is, wine that has not finished its fermentation but still contains live yeast. The live yeast would continue fermenting in the drinker's gut, causing problems. The ungodly also have to drink the dregs, the lees where dead yeast cells accumulate, which taste disgusting. The ungodly choose what is not good for them, and God allows their actions to have their natural consequences. To some extent the judgment is not imposed by God but results from the sinners actions.


cf. Luke 1:52.


Meek: see Appendix 2 Meek.


This psalm probably originated in the Northern Kingdom.[5 p.74]


cf. Isaiah 43:16, Mark 6:49.


cf. Psalm 105.


A hint of Holy Communion can be seen in the reference to flesh, cf. John 6:51f.


See comment on Genesis 6:1–4.


Evel angels: see Appendix 2 Evil.


These verses are believed by some to imply the Ark of the Covenant as shown as such in square brackets in NIV. This latter bit might refer to the capture of the Ark at the fall of Jerusalem but might equally well refer to the capture by the Philistines or even something not involving the Ark at all.


cf. Jeremiah 10:25.


"Shine forth"—​not in the light, because he is the light; cf. the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:2, Mark 9:2, Luke 9:28). This psalm originated in the Northern Kingdom, and "Joseph" is often used to denote the nation of Israel.[5 p.73]


The fact that only three tribes are listed suggests that this psalm originated around 733–732 BCE when the rest of the Northern Kingdom had been overrun by Assyria.[5 p.74]


See Appendix 2 Vineyard.


There is nothing wrong with passers-by picking grapes, because it is specifically permitted by Deuteronomy 23:24. So the removal of the vineyard's protection is the owner's way of ensuring that the generosity required by the Law is observed.


The man referred to must be the King of the Northern Kingdom, using the same language as Psalm 89:21.[5 p.74] See comment on Matthew 25:31–46, and see Appendix 2 Son of Man regarding parallels with the Son of Man in the Gospels.


This psalm is about a joyful occasion (verse 1) so the sound of trumpets did not herald danger: see Appendix 2 Trumpet.


"Joseph" means the nation of Israel: see on Ps 80:1.


These two verses are an example of the imperfect tense being used in prophecy to refer to a single historical event, and this psalm originated in the Northern Kingdom.[5 p.63]


cf. Matthew 10:40–42, Matthew 25:31–46.


The "weak and fatherless" are those who lack power, support and influence, for example, the aged, unwell, disabled, disenfranchised, abused and the poor.


See comment on John 10:34.


God's glory demands that all things are his; and so God's glory demands that salvation is open to all peoples.


The sons of Korah are mentioned in 1 Chronicles 9:19. This psalm seems to relate to a temple made of masonry, rather than the portable Tabernacle used before King Solomon built it. Apparently the descendents of Korah continued to serve there.

This psalm uses Elohist language, and alternately speaks to God and about God. Its sentiments would encourage pilgrims going up to the temple. It is divided into three sections by the mysterious word "selah", which means "side"; was it sung alternately by two groups? The three sections each discuss blessing in a different context: the first longs for blessing; the second finds blessing during a journey, and the third anticipates blessing in God's presence.

So the while the pilgrimage may pass through dry and difficult places, God's grace may be found even there, strengthening our hope of blessing with God. You don't have to be in the temple or in heaven to receive God's blessing, but you do have to apply yourself to finding his way and worshipping him.


Does this refer to heaven, or the temple?


The temple is important not for itself but because God may be found there.


The house sparrow is resident all year round, while the swallow is a summer visitor. The psalm celebrates residents and visitors together in the temple.


God welcomes sparrows in his house; by implication he welcomes people too.


This verse resonates with desert dwellers' dreams.


Does this ask God to look at the king or the priests?


cf. verse 10, Jeremiah 5:25, and Matthew 7:9.


The sons of Korah are mentioned in 1 Chronicles 9:19.


John the Baptist preached a similar message, later taken up by Jesus, in Matthew 3:2.


This psalm seems liturgical. Was this verse fulfilled by John the Baptist preparing the way of the Lord by preaching repentance (Luke 3:3–4)?


This self-righteous claim can only be fulfilled by Jesus.[17 p.112]


cf. Exodus 34:6–7, Numbers 14:18, Joel 2:12–13.


Commentators agree that this psalm is unclear. It is best understod by comparing it with John's vision of a new Jerusalem in Revelation 21:2 f. The new Jerusalem is not a place but a community of godly people. This psalm celebrates the presence of people from all nations in that community.

The sons of Korah are mentioned in 1 Chronicles 9:19.


"Rahab" is a reference to Egypt, so this verse mentions the traditional enemies to both east and west.[20 p.350].


Jesus may have found this psalm appropriate when he suffered alone.

The sons of Korah are mentioned in 1 Chronicles 9:19.


This psalm starts by rehearsing belief about God, and then contrasts that with the disaster of the fall of the nation and exile of its people. The language is military, which is appropriate both because military defeat led to the exile, and as a good metaphor for the ensuing conflict of ideas.

There are indications that verses 2–3 and 6–19 of this psalm are from an earlier hymn[26 p.92].


cf. Matthew 8:27, Matthew 14:32, Mark 4:39.


This is about as strong and unequivocal a promise as it is possible to give (Prof. Walter Moberly calls it "the strongest affirmation in the whole Old Testament"), and seemed to rule out the exile that has occurred.


This may be the earliest suggestion that one might call God "Father".


God's promise to David appears to have been broken due to failure to keep its conditions. These verses are thought to refer to the end of David's royal line in 587 BCE[26 p.92].


The people are mystified and disillusioned at their exile and can only ask "why?"


This last verse is not part of the psalm itself but a short ending to the third "book of Psalms" (see introduction).


This psalm sems liturgical. 2 Peter 3:8 quotes its concept. The Rabbis thought that God had organised the life of the universe to reflect life on earth (or vice versa) so that the pattern of the days of the week, ending with a day of rest, was mirrored in the universe. The concept of a day equalling a thousand years prompted them to develop this idea further, saying that the universe would therefore last seven millennia exactly. This leads to the idea that references in prophecy to "time, times and half a time" indicate half the life of the universe, taking us from the beginning to its mid-life point, or perhaps from there to the end. See also periods of 42 months in Daniel 9:24 and Revelation 11:2.

"When Jesus came to redeem mankind, He came to free us from the boundaries of time."[6 p.100]


cf. Genesis 6:3 and comment on Genesis 5:27.


cf. Luke 13:34.


This psalm seems liturgical. cf. Matthew 2:16–18, a dangerous time for Jesus and his family, Judges 7:7, and Isaiah 43:3.


See comment on Luke 24:25–27.


Sometimes God says to us "your plans are too small". Our God is a great God and he does great things. We can only follow him in this respect if we think great thoughts ourselves. Some psychologists say people think small thoughts when confined in a small office, and big thoughts when given bigger one. Our vision of God will profoundly affect the things we think he wants to do.


"It is thought that this psalm, which is categorised as an enthronement psalm, was used as part of an enthronement ceremony in the temple. But importantly and interestingly, it was God who was being proclaimed king."


See comment on Romans 11:1.


cf. Luke 1:51.


This psalm (traditionally known to Anglicans as the Venite, named after the first word in the Latin translation) is a covenant renewal but does not mention the Ark. One might therefore ask which covenant is in mind. Given that the psalms were compiled in a royal court, it might the covenant with David that there will always be someone of his line to rule for him (2 Samuel 7:16). Jesus fulfils this covenant.


cf. Exodus 17:7.


This psalm seems liturgical, and reminds the worshipper to bring offerings. Verse 13 makes it particularly relevant to the Advent season. cf. 1 Chronicles 16:23–33.


This Psalm is traditionally known to Anglicans as the canticle Cantate Domino, named after the first words in the Latin translation.


This psalm might have been used with the final words of verses 3, 5 and 9 as a refrain[16]. The statement in verse 6 that Moses was a priest is reasonable because he was Aaron's brother, so he came from the same tribe as the priests who were Aaron's descendents.


This Psalm is traditionally known to Anglicans as the canticle Jubilate, named after the first word in the Latin translation.


cf. Matthew 9:11.


1 Corinthians 6:9 echoes these thoughts.


cf. Hebrews 1:10.


This psalm resembles Isaiah 40–56. Verses 2–3 are fulfilled in Mark 2:9.


This psalm seems liturgical and uses pre-exile theology e.g. "Lord God of Hosts", the "hosts" being a swarm of lesser gods. Some commentators say it is based on an ancient Egyptian hymn to Aten (the sun disc) [17 p.73] by the monotheist pharaoh Akhenaten, the words of which are quite appropriate to the worship of Yahweh. Monotheism was not new in Egypt[18], raising the possibility that Egyptian monotheism might have influenced the thinking of Moses while he was brought up in pharaoh's court[17 p.74].

Much of the psalm is a celebration of the creation, and can be compared with Genesis 1.


Hebrews 1:7 draws attention to this verse which says that winds are his messengers and his angels are tongues of fire. Then Hebrews 1:14 says that angels are spirits that minister to God's people. Thus the observation of the sound of wind and sight of flames in Acts 2:2–3 recalls Psalm 104:4, and Hebrews reinforces the suggestion that not only the Son and the Holy Spirit but also angels were active at the birth of the church. See also Numbers 9:15.


The psalmist desribes a world in which everything is there because God has created it, and everything has a purpose. The various geographical features, some of which are useless to us, provide habitats for the glorious variety of wildlife.


cf. 1 Chronicles 16:8–22.


God's commands apply to all the world.


cf. John 20:17.


cf. Genesis 37:28.


cf. Genesis 39:20.


cf. Genesis 41:13.


cf. Genesis 41:40–42.


cf. Exodus 19:15


"Ham" means Egypt. The miracles done there are summarised in the verses that follow.


cf. Exodus 10:21f.


cf. Exodus 7:14f.


cf. Exodus 8:1f.


cf. Exodus 8:16f.


cf. Exodus 9:13f.


cf. Exodus 10:1f.


cf. Exodus 11–12.


cf. Exodus 12:35–36.


cf. Exodus 16.


cf. Exodus 17.


cf. Genesis 15:14.


cf. Exodus 13:9.


The psalmist believes that God removes the wicked from the land, but Jesus's teaching in Luke 13:1–5 denies this.


cf. 1 Chronicles 16:35–36.


This last verse is not part of the psalm itself but a short ending to the fourth "book of Psalms" (see introduction).


This psalm uses four examples of God giving help when asked in a time of need: people lost in the desert, prisoners being released, sickly people being healed, and merchants rescued from a storm at sea.


cf. Genesis 21:14.


The person lost in the desert might be Hagar (Genesis 21:16).


cf. Jonah 1:17.


cf. Acts 16:26.


cf. Mark 4:39.


Jesus fulfilled this verse in John 6:21.


In some translations of this verse God claims Edom by throwing down his sandal, as in Ruth 4:7–8.


The disciples used this verse to justify appointing a new member of the Twelve Apostles to replace Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:20).


See comment on John 14:12.


This psalm can be regarded as in two contrasting sections: in verses 1–4 a warrior king is appointed priest, and in verses 5–7 a priest is given the power of a victorious warrior king. This psalm inspired the author of Hebrews. However, the Hebrew, and to a lesser extent the Greek translation, are very unclear.[13]


Jesus quoted this verse in Matthew 22:43, Mark 12:36, Mark 14:62 and Luke 20:41. See comment on Luke 24:25–27. Footstool: cf. Hebrews 1:13 and cf. Psalm 8:6.


Melchizedek is also mentioned in Genesis 14:18–20 and Hebrews 5–7.


This is an acrostic poem, having one clause starting with each letter in the Hebrew alphabet, implying that the man who fears the Lord has all-round capability. A parallel poem about "the good wife" is found in Proverbs 31:10–31.


These are known as "Hallel" ("praise God" as in "Halleluiah") psalms and are sung at the Passover. After the Last Supper they went out to Gethesemane "after they had sung a hymn" (Matthew 26:30, Mark 14:26).


This Psalm was sung at Passover immediately after the Passover dialogue ("What does this mean? ...") and before the second cup of wine was drunk. The other Hallel Psalms, nos. 114–118, were sung after the meal of lamb and bread, between the third and fourth cups.


This verse recalls Joshua 3:16.


Water came from the rock in Numbers 20:11.


Nowadays we don't fashion precious metals into idols (unless a charm bracelet is idolatrous), but worship the value of the metal instead.


Flame: see Appendix 2 Hell.


This psalm becomes particularly meaningful when it is read as a Messianic psalm. Imagine how significant these words would seem to the Disciples when they witnessed Jesus's passion and arrest a couple of hours after singing this psalm with him at the first Lord's Supper.


cf. the Lord's Supper.


At first sight verse 15 appears (when read in isolation, rather than in the context of a messianic psalm) to refer to martyrdom. However, other verses say that the life of a saint is precious too. The reference to death is more general than martyrdom, rather it is about the creature going to be with its creator for ever. There is a clear sequence that death provides release from captivity which is freedom to worship. See Ps 116:15–17 and John 12:24, and comments on Romans chapters 5–6 for discussion of death being the solution not the problem.


This verse is quoted in Romans 15:11.


See comment on Luke 24:25–27. cf. Acts 4:11.


cf. Matthew 21:9.


This verse was quoted at Jesus's entry into Jerusalem in Luke 19:38.


This psalm is Acrostic; it comprises a group of eight verses beginning with each letter in the Hebrew alphabet.


The puzzling phrase "exceeding broad" is translated "boundless in NIV. Perhaps it means: affecting all aspects of life, in all places, at all times.


This verse imagines that we are walking along a path on a dark night (cf. Exodus 13:21, Nehemiah 9:19). Without a light our situation is hopeless; we can follow the path if we have a torch, but we cannot see as far ahead as we would in daylight.

Jesus fulfills this verse: see John 8:12.


In the first edition of the Authorized Version of the Bible, the word "princes" was mis-spelled "printers".[8 p.3]


cf. Jesus's parables about the Treasure in the Field and the Pearl of Great Price in Matthew 13:44–46.


See Appendix 2 Servant.


cf. Ps 18:6, Ps 34:6 and Jonah 2:2; this Psalm probably pre-dated Jonah so he was quoting from memory in his hour of need.


The poetry of this psalm is beautiful. The idea that the believer is safe provided they are obedient also occurs in Ps 23 and Deuteronomy 28:1–9. It relies on God's incessant care, total power and complete knowledge, which Jesus had to set aside in order to live among us. The idea of guidance, but with promised adversity instead of blessing, occurs in Isaiah 30:21; perhaps we should not regard blessing and adversity as opposites.


It is said that the Hebrew of this verse literally reads "from where my help does not come" making it a contrast between the worthless idols of the land of exile and the one true God.


This is propaganda for the centralization of power in Jerusalem.


cf. Matthew 19:28, Acts 8:1. The Twelve will judge the tribes of Israel; they will do it in Jerusalem; so it is fitting that they stayed there when all other Christians fled.


These two psalms appear to be placed next to one another on purpose; Psalm 123 is a cry for help and Psalm 124 is the response.


This psalm uses pre-exile theology e.g. "Lord God of Hosts". The Rabbis had developed an idea that the Law was given in 70 languages, representing all 70 nations in their numerology. The "Lord of Hosts" was in their mind attended by a host of 70 lesser gods, each of whom ruled a nation, and who sometimes rebelled against God's rule. An example of the use of this imagery appears in Daniel 10:20–21 where the Prince of Israel is named Michael, meaning "presence of God"—​a privilege then unique to Israel) and he is at war with princes of other nations. During the Exile they realised that God reigned in Babylon too, not some other "Prince of Babylon", so the concept was gradually dropped.

This psalm uses maternal imagery and emphasizes humility, and may have been written by a woman[11].


Jaar means Kireath-Jearim [12].


This is the only place where the Ark is mentioned specifically in the Psalms, but see Ps 78:60–61.


cf. 2 Samuel 7:6–16.


cf. Mark 12:28–31.


This psalm celebrates God's great deeds, beginning in verse 5 with the Creation (Genesis 1) and moving on in verse 10 to the final plague (Exodus 11:1), the escape from Egypt in verse 11 (Exodus 14:21) and in verse 17 the defeat of the inhabitants of the Promomised Land (Numbers 21:21).


C S Lewis suggests that this unpleasant psalm, triggered by invasion by an unholy foreign army, should be used as an allegory showing how we should respond ruthlessly when our thoughts are invaded by unholy desires.[17 p.113]


People are described as weeping beside the rivers of Babylon, suggesting that this psalm contains the response of the first wave of exiles to the news that the destruction of their homeland was now complete.


The mention of the Euphrates shows that as a result of their sin they had been taken right back to where Abram lived before his call, and also they had lost the spiritual advantages they had come to rely on. The exiles could not see how one could possibly worship God without access to the Temple. Gradually over the exile years they thought this through, and realised that God is Lord of everywhere, as psalm 139 proclaims.


The sentiment expressed here was honest but not in accordance with God's will. Jeremiah spoke against such thoughts in Jeremiah 29:7. CS Lewis saw it as a sign of the "natural result of injuring a human being." He adds that the natural response is not the right response, because it lacks empathy, public spirit, and God's grace. Despite what some people think, "natural" does not mean "good".[17 p.26]


cf. Psalam 23:4.


cf. Job 23.


cf. Isaiah 65:24.


cf. Amos 9:2–3, Jeremiah 23:23–24.


cf. Genesis 28:11.


"Wings of the dawn" = east; "far side of the sea" = west.


cf. Job 17:12–13.


cf. Job 10:8–11.


"When I awake" can be applied to resurrection; Jesus said that Lazarus had fallen asleep as a way of saying he had died (John 11:11).


The psalm elegantly ends by returning to the theme of verse 1: God's examination of his creature. To some people, the knowledge described in this psalm would be terrifying. Nothing is hid from God; there are no secrets. But the psalmist's ability to face the truth and to trust in God's mercy overcomes such fear.


See comment on Proverbs 25:21–22.


Jesus applied this principle in John 8:7; "all have sinned".


The psalmist emphasises the power of God's word; also in verse 8.


See verse 5, Mark 6:34.


This was probably a reference to Exodus 16:4, but is also relevant to Jesus feeding the 5,000 (Matthew 14:14–21 etc.) and 4,000 (Matthew 15:32–38 etc.).


It is interesting to compare the ideas in this psalm with the Magnificat (Luke 1:46f).


The middle part of the psalm is about hope (v.5) and the importance of putting one's hope in the right person.


cf. the messianic manifesto in Isaiah 61:1f. A prisoner was miraculously freed in Acts 12:7f.


This psalm has a rhythmic structure; verses 7–8 echo 1–2.


Meek: see Appendix 2 Meek.


The idea of waters over the earth echoes Genesis 1:6–7.


NRSV says young and old worship "together", emphasising that worship is a communal activity.


Meek: see Appendix 2 Meek.


The two-edged sword is the instrument of vengeance as in Revelation 1:16 and 2:12. The mention of iron being used by the Israelites suggests a late date.


This last psalm brings the psalter to a fitting ending (see introduction).


  1. Anderson, A A 2 Samuel in the Word Biblical Commentary series (edited by D A Hubbard et al) Dallas:Word Inc., 1989
  2. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Ethics
  3. The Study of Liturgy
  4. Godfrey, Revd Nigel (then Principal, Southwark OLM scheme)
  5. Davies, G Hosea Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press "Old Testament Guides" 1993, 1998 edition
  6. Nouwen, Henri Creative Ministry
  7. Buchanan, Mark "Born prejudiced" in New Scientist 17 March 2007 p.43
  8. Campbell, Gordon Bible—​The Story of the King James Version Oxford: OUP 2010
  9. Buckley, Anthony Worthy of Trust – 40 reflections on our loyalties and credibility Godalming: Highland Books 2016
  10. Winter, Revd David The Songs of Ascent in New Daylight (introduction to 8 October 2016)
  11. Winter, Revd David Calm and quiet in New Daylight 20 October 2016
  12. Winter, Revd David A place for the Lord in New Daylight 21 October 2016
  13. Barker, Dr Margaret Who was Melchizedek and who was his God? 2008 p.5. Online, available from: http://www.templestudiesgroup.com/Papers/Melchizedek_Barker.pdf, accessed 5 February 2017
  14. Chat with out Chief Exec in the Bible Society magazine "word in action" summer 2017 p.2
  15. Zundel, Veronica From suffering to hope: Psalms 73–80 in New Daylight 5 November 2017
  16. Jones, Andrew The community worships God's holiness in New Daylight 15 February 2019
  17. C S Lewis Reflections on the Psalms
  18. T G H James An introduction to Ancient Egypt London: British Museum 1979
  19. Bragg, Melvyn The Book of Books London: Hodder & Stoughton 2011
  20. Broyles, Craig Psalms in the "New International Biblical Commentary" series Peabody, Massachusets: Hendrickson and Carlisle: Paternoster 1999
  21. Coggins, R Introducing the Old Testament Oxford: OUP, 2001
  22. Harry Smart in Bible Reading Fellowship's New Daylight Bible notes for 11 July 2020
  23. Geoffrey Lowson in Bible Reading Fellowship's New Daylight Bible notes for 21 November 2022
  24. Veronica Zundel in Bible Reading Fellowship's New Daylight Bible notes for 31 May 2023
  25. David Willgren Davage "Why Davidic Superscriptions Do Not Demarcate Earlier Collections of Psalms" in Journal of Biblical Literature Vol 139 no 1 pp 67–86
  26. Marcel Krusche "A Collective Annointed? David and the people in Psalm 89" in Journal of Biblical Literature Vol 139 no 1 pp 87–105

© David Billin 2002–2024