Reading the Bible the Way It’s Written: Psalms

Thanksgivings and Hymns

Songs of Thanksgiving
Psalm 30
Psalm 34
Psalm 92
Psalm 116
Psalm 124
Psalm 138

Psalm 8
Psalm 19
Psalm 29
Psalm 46
Psalm 84
Psalm 103:1-13, 22
Psalm 104:24-35
Psalm 113
Psalm 114:1-8
Psalm 135
Psalm 147:1-11, 20c

Enthronement Hymns
Psalm 95
Psalm 96
Psalm 97
Psalm 98
Psalm 99
Psalm 47

More Psalms

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David playing the harp. Click to enlarge. See below for provenance.

Psalm 30, Songs of Thanksgiving (4/24/17)

Songs of Thanksgiving praise God for what he has done in specific historical circumstances to save the nation or an individual. I have the impression from Psalm 30 that David has been having a rough time. Maybe he’s been sick (vs. 2), even so sick he thought he might die (vs. 3). Maybe he’s been overcome with grief (vs. 11). Either way, the Lord has brought him back to health and joy (vs. 11-12), and David recognizes this and offers praise to God for it.

Psalm 34, Songs of Thanksgiving (4/25/17)

The introduction to this psalm is a little strange, because it was Achish, not Abimelech, before whom David changed his behavior (1 Samuel 21:9 – 22:1). There is no Abimelech associated with David. There was an Ahimelech, who was a priest, associated with David (1 Samuel 21:2-6) but no change in behavior.

When David was being pursued by Saul, he went to Gath (a Philistine city) to hide out. Somebody among King Achish’s servants thought they recognized David, which made David concerned that Achish would turn him over to Saul. David started pretending to be crazy (“changed his behavior”), and Achish said, “I’ve got enough crazy people around me! Get rid of this guy!” That isn’t explained, but my idea is Achish knew David wasn’t crazy, and he concluded that this wasn’t the real David.

In any case, David wrote this song of thanksgiving, and he escaped from Achish. Whether he wrote this song about that particular incident is a little up in the air.

Psalm 92, Thanksgiving (6/10/09)

One of the most difficult questions to answer is "Why did God ... " whatever. The psalmist tells us that the question itself is pointless, because we wouldn't understand the answer. Fortunately, there are many things about God that we do understand: God loves us, God is faithful, God takes cares of his people. Praise God, our everlasting king!

Psalm 116, Songs of Thanksgiving (4/26/17)

This song of Thanksgiving praises God for answering the writer’s prayers. Apparently the writer was having a bad time (vss. 3, 10-11). He prayed for help (vs. 4), and God heard his prayer (vss. 1-2). The rest of the psalm offers praise and thanks for God’s merciful goodness in rescuing the writer. This psalm is a good one to read whenever our prayers have been answered.

Psalm 124, Songs of Thanksgiving (4/27/17)

This song of Thanksgiving is a “song of ascents,” also translated as a “song of going up” or “song of degrees.” Jerusalem sits on the top of Mt. Zion, so when you go to Jerusalem, you have to go up. Just as we have hiking songs, the Jews who were going to Jerusalem for whatever reason – usually one of the feasts – would sing these songs as they walked along. This particular song of ascents thanks God for rescuing Israel from various nations who have attacked it in the past. Its happy lyrics befit a hiking song.

Psalm 138, Songs of Thanksgiving (4/28/17)

This lovely song of Thanksgiving praises God for his mercy to David.

Take a special look at vs. 1b: “I will make melody to you before the gods.” This is just about exactly what the Hebrew says; however, the Greek version of the Old Testament has “before angels” (that is, in the presence of angels). English translations vary. Quite a few say “gods”; some say “angels,” “the mighty,” or “heavenly beings.” God’s Word says “false gods,” just in case we are in doubt about who the gods in question are! Remember that the Jews were not really monotheistic until after the Exile. Although David worshiped and wrote songs for none but the true God, it’s possible that he accepted the common belief that there were other gods.

Reader Comment: Or he is praising God before the other gods in defiance of them & to show that God is the only God?

Regina’s Response: That’s also possible. Solomon actually worshiped other gods, or at least participated in their worship services, as did many of the other kings in David’s line, and practically every northern king. Prior to the Exile, most Jews accepted the reality of other gods and sometimes worshiped them (hence the Exile). David is one of my very few candidates for pre-Exilic monotheists, but I’d be a little surprised if he didn’t believe other gods existed at all. I’d have to look at every Davidic psalm, not to mention re-reading 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Chronicles to be sure.

Psalm 8, Hymns (5/1/17)

As we’ve seen, not all psalms are the same. So far we’ve looked at doxologies (very brief statements giving glory to God), laments (complaints asking for God to fix something), and thanksgivings.

Now, you might think offhand that anything in your modern hymnal is a hymn, but even there you find doxologies, carols, choral settings for communion and so on, responsive readings, calendars, liturgies, etc. Not everything is a hymn. The same is true in the book of Psalms. Hymns praise God for being God and for his work in nature or history, and Psalms contains some songs that are hymns. One of my favorites is Psalm 8, which stands in awe of what God has accomplished in the universe and is more than a little puzzled that such a creator would worry about us.

The gittith is apparently a stringed instrument.

Psalm 19, Hymns (5/2/17)

Psalm 19 is another familiar hymn. It praises God for his work in both nature and history: in nature, for the creation that reveals God’s glory, and in history, for the law that that reveals God’s holiness. Franz Josef Haydn probably did the most famous modern setting of the first part of this hymn; here’s a performance of it by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The music was most likely simpler when the chief music-maker and his singers performed it, but on the other hand, they probably sang the entire song and not just the first three verses.

The other part of this hymn that you will probably recognize is verse 14: “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.” This is very often used either before or after a sermon as a prayer that God will guide both the preacher in speaking and the congregation in listening.

Psalm 29, A Hymn (6/1/09)

This week we're going to think about voices, mostly about the VOICE OF GOD. Everybody knows that God has this big, deep, rumbling voice, right? Like James Earl Jones. Have you every heard God depicted as a tenor? Probably not. And as a matter of fact, this is one of those rare places where pop culture lines up with scripture. Not only does scripture portray God as a basso profundo, but his voice is full of majesty and power – power to break cedars and shake the wilderness. No wonder God was able to speak the cosmos into existence!

Psalm 46, Hymns (5/3/17)

This hymn is “of the sons of Korah,” so probably it was written by a professional musician working at the Temple. Alamoth means “girls,” so it might be intended for soprano or falsetto voices, or it may have been sung to a tune called “The Maidens” (thus the International Standard Version). I suspect that most translations leave these words in Hebrew because the translators don’t know for sure how they should translate them!

Remember that hymns praise God for his work in nature or history. This one seems to me to praise God that the singers have survived some sort of natural disaster, possibly an earthquake. Notice the mountains that move and shake in vss. 2 and 3 and the earth that become like wax in vs. 6. Nevertheless, the holy place of the tents of the Most High, presumably Jerusalem, was not affected (vs. 5).

Psalm 84, Hymns (5/4/17)

Our modern hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” includes the words, “Lord Sabaoth his name, from age to age the same.” Sabaoth is Hebrew for “hosts” (that is, “armies”), and the phrase “LORD Sabaoth” or “LORD of hosts” occurs a couple hundred times in the Bible. (Modern translations often have “armies.”) We see this name four times in this hymn praising God for his power in nature and history.

By now you are familiar with the chief music-maker, the gittith, the sons of Korah, and Selah.

Psalm 103:1-13, 22, A Hymn  (2007)

Vs. 8 of today's psalm contains the most common description of God found in the Bible: "The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love."

Psalm 104:24-35 (2007)

As you read the psalm, remember that in both Hebrew and Greek, the word for "spirit" and "wind" or "breath" is the same.  The Holy Spirit is especially associated with breathing life into all of God's creatures.

Psalm 113, A Hymn (2007)

I have a CD by Ladysmith Black Mambazo.  Except for one song, all the lyrics are in Zulu.  Therefore, I now know three words in Zulu:  Jesu, Amen, and Alleluia.  These words are recognizable in just about every language, because instead of translating them, we Christians usually just moved them bodily into each new language.  Today's psalm begins and ends with "Hallelujah," given in many translations as "Praise ye the LORD!"  In Hebrew, Hallelu means "praise ye" (or "y’all praise") and
Yah is a short form of the name of God.  As you sing and listen to choirs this Christmas season, know that you are praising God in the same words as Christians around the world.

Psalm 114:1-8, A Hymn (2007)

What's your position on the Bible?  Do you think every word is "literally" true?  Do you think it is "inerrant"?  Do you think it "contains everything necessary for salvation"?  Do you think it is "the word of God" or "inspired by God"?  Christians get into a lot more conflict than they should about these positions.  John tells us the attitude we need to bring to the discussion:  "Beloved, let us love one another!"  Today's psalm is a clear example of the poetic use of figurative, not literal, language.  The Hebrew tradition used figurative language in a lot of places where we would not, however, so you have to be careful about saying that a passage must be meant literally because it's written as prose.  Here is a summary of some of John Wesley's rules for interpreting scripture:

Psalm 135, Hymns (5/5/17)

Psalm 135 is a hymn that praises God for being God (vss. 1-7, 13-14, and 19-21) and for his work in history (vss. 8-12). It also spends one stanza sneering at the idolatrous and worthless gods of the surrounding nations (vss. 15-18). Notice the name “Jah” or “Yah” in vs. 3. This name of God is used independently primarily in the psalms; elsewhere it is frequently used as a combining form in Hebrew names, like Hezekiah, which means, “Strengthened by God.”

Psalm 103:1-13, 22, A Hymn  (2007)

Vs. 8 of today's psalm contains the most common description of God found in the Bible: "The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love."

Psalm 147:1-11, 20c, A Hymn (2007)

Notice that in today's reading from the Psalms, the last verse is "20c."  This means that "Praise the LORD!" is the third phrase in the verse, and the first two phrases have been omitted.  The United Methodist Church is a context church, not a proof-text church.  This means that normally we read a whole passage, without omitting verses or skipping around.  A "proof text" is usually a verse (or sometimes a part of a verse, or – at its very worst – a part of a verse from here combined with part of another verse from there) that is used apart from its contextual meaning to "prove" a particular doctrinal point.  In your studies, be careful about proof-texting.  One of my Greek teacher's favorite warnings is, "Context is everything!"

Psalm 95, Enthronement Hymns (5/8/17)

Enthronement Hymns celebrate God as king. The Israelites had no earthly king until the time of King Saul, and there was considerable tension between the proponents of a human king (who mainly wanted someone to lead them in battle) and those who held that they already had a king, namely, God (read Judges and 1 Samuel). Even during the time of the kings, however, God was still King of Kings, who ruled all creation (vss. 4-7).

Even those of us who are not scholars can deduce a broad dating for this psalm. It was after the time of Moses and the events of vss. 8-11. It was before the time of the Exile, because vs. 3 still acknowledges the existence of other gods. So, okay, that’s a thousand years, but at least we know that the psalm is not very early or very late.

Psalm 96, Enthronement Hymns (5/9/17)

This Enthronement Hymn celebrates God as king not only of the children of Israel, but also of the other nations, whether they know it yet or not. The song we looked at yesterday reminded the children of Israel what God their king had done for them; today’s song seems to be directed at everybody and everything else. The other peoples of the world, whose gods are false gods (vs. 5), are instructed (vs. 3) as to the nature of the Lord, the only true God (vss. 4-6, 11-13). More importantly, they are invited to participate in his worship (vss. 1-2, 7-10)! What a concept! Invite someone today!

Psalm 97, Enthronement Hymns (5/10/17)

Another theme that seems to run through Enthronement Hymns is that God is a king of righteousness and right judgment (vss. 2-7). God’s decisions give us joy (vs. 8-9, 11), providing we love the Lord and hate evil (not evildoers! you need to love them, too!) (vss. 10-12).

Psalm 98, Enthronement Hymns, Make a joyful noise unto the LORD. (11/19/09)

I've never quite understood why so many people think that the Old Testament is full of anger, wrath, and vengeance and that the New Testament is all sweetness and light.  The only explanation I can think of is that they haven't read either the Old Testament or the New Testament.  In fact, the Old Testament is a rich source of joy and celebration, as we see in today's reading.

Psalm 99, Enthronement Hymns (5/11/17)

This Enthronement Hymn continues to celebrate God as a king of righteousness and true judgment. A couple of things tell us that was written after the time of David. First, it talks about Samuel, who was the prophet who anointed David as king. Second, it talks about Zion (vs. 2) as God’s holy mountain (vs. 9). Until the time of David, Jerusalem didn’t belong to any of the tribes of Israel. David conquered it, made it his capital, and brought the Ark of the Covenant there from Gibeah. God’s seat of government is “on the winged ones” (the cherubim that are on the top of the Ark of the Covenant), which is located in Zion (Jerusalem).

Psalm 47, Enthronement Hymns (5/12/17)

We read a song the other day that invited all peoples to join in the worship of the Lord, the only true God. Today’s Enthronement Hymn does the same (vss. 1, 9), although it does include a bit of saber-rattling in vss. 3-4. Most of the song, however, is devoted to praising God, king not only of Israel but of all the earth.

More Psalms
Psalms – Doxologies, Laments, and Songs of Trust
Psalms – Thanksgivings and Hymns
Psalms – Royal Psalms and Others

Copyright 2007, 2009, 2017 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved. This page has been prepared for the web site by RPB.
The woodcut showing King David playing the harp is from the family Bible of John O. Spencer and Lydia Bunn, married 18 Nov. 1857 in Hector, Schuyler Co., NY. A partial listing of the posted images from this Bible is given at
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Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the Bible-study participants.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers for their support and enthusiasm.  All errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.

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