Songs in the wilderness
The book of Psalms is called Israel’s songbook. The lines and whole lyrics of many songs today are taken from the psalms. Even in secular circles, people quote the Bible and the book of Psalms without even knowing sometimes. Some people don’t know that the lyrics of the song “Turn, Turn, Turn” made popular in 1965 by the Byrds takes its lyrics from Ecclesiates 3:1-8. There are also some misunderstandings about the book of Psalms. So, let us examine some facts about the book, and then look at some spiritual meaning in them.
1. It has often been said that David wrote the psalms while he was a shepherd boy tending his father’s sheep. The introductions of the psalms and their content nor any evidence from 1Samuel-1Chronicles indicate that. So, when did David write his psalms? There is not enough internal evidence to pinpoint when 19 of them were written. The internal evidence indicates that he wrote 30 of them either during his flight from Saul or after he became king. In them he prays to God about his enemies who are out to kill him. This fits that time period and would be difficult to ascribe to his teenage years tending his father’s sheep in Bethlehem. He wrote 20 of them after he became king. In them he refers to himself as king or mentions other things that were specific to that time period. We can also refer to the introductions to some of the psalms because they give specific mention of the circumstances behind the writing of the psalm. David wrote 8 psalms between when Samuel anointed him to become the next king and when he actually took the position. These ones are particularly interesting because David wrote them while he was fleeing for his life from the current king, Saul, who attempted to kill him at least 20 times. This does not seem a convenient time to be sitting down and writing lyrics and music. David is called the sweet psalmist of Israel (2Sam 23:1). Yet the content of these psalms is sometimes not so sweet. He is praying to God against his enemies and even asking God to destroy them. This was under the Old Testament ethical system. We know that Jesus raised the bar in the New Testament. This is clear in Matthew 5-7, and particularly regarding enemies when He said to love and pray for them (Mt 5:38-48). However, it is important to note that David wrote Psalms 34, 52, 54-57, 59, and 142 while under great duress while fleeing for his life in the wilderness from the current king and his army all the while knowing God had called him to be the next king. How do we respond to stress, adversity, and animosity? Do we pray and worship God and place our faith in Him? Do we let God be in charge of our circumstances and the fulfillment of His promises? We may wonder why God got angry with Israel when they complained in the wilderness (Ex-Num), but not with David in these psalms. It is because Israel was complaining about God and David was complaining to God. Israel was accusing God of failure to provide and not asking Him for anything. David was bringing his issues to God in prayer and faith and asking for His help.
2. People assume that David wrote the whole book of Psalms. He did not. The book is a collection of 150 psalms from several authors. 73 of them are specifically called “A psalm of David” in the introduction. 4 more – 72, 73, 127, and 132 were apparently written by David.
Asaph wrote 12 psalms. While the most notable Asaph in the Bible was the worship leader in the days of David (1Chr 15:16, 1Chr 16:5-7 & 37, 1Chr 25:1-9), the content of some of Asaph’s psalms seems to indicate that they were written at a later time or were prophetic. For example, Psalm 74 speaks of the destruction of the sanctuary, Psalm 78 speaks of the tabernacle in Shiloh (vs 60) and the sanctuary that had been built (vs 69), Psalm 79 speaks of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Gentiles and the people of Israel having been taken prisoner, Psalm 80 describes Israel as plucked up, wasted, burned, cut down, and perished, and Psalm 83 speaks of the surrounding nations gathered together against Israel. These events all took place about 400 years after David. Doe we look to God even when under His judgment for our sins?
58 psalms have no specific indication of who the author was. Heman wrote Psalm 88. Ethan wrote Psalm 89. Moses wrote Psalm 90. Sometimes other people get the attention of people while others labor in obscurity. In the eternal scheme of God, it doesn’t really matter. He will reward every man according to his works. Will we do His will when nobody is watching or acknowledging us?
3. 11 psalms were written for the sons of Korah. These are possibly the descendants of the man that rose up against Moses in Numbers 16 and was destroyed with those that stood with him. However, his sons did not die with him (Num 26:11). Apparently, when Moses warned the people to separate from him so they would not be destroyed with him, his children took heed. Korah was a Levite, and the worship leaders were Levites. We don’t have to be under an unbiblical generational curse brought on us by the sins of our ancestors (2Ki 14:1-6, Eze 18, Jn 9:1-3). We can overcome any ungodly influence and be victorious Christians by the grace of God.