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  • Writer's pictureRick LoPresti

When did David write his psalms?

The book of Psalms contains 150 psalms. 73 of them are directly attributed to David in their openings. Some others can likely be attributed to him based on their content. They are not in chronological order. It has been said that David wrote his psalms when he was a shepherd boy. There is no evidence of that. Some of David’s psalms seem to have been written while Saul or maybe Absalom was pursuing him based on their content against his enemies. In 19 of the openings, they specifically state when David wrote them. This gives us insight into their context and meaning and the life and character of David, especially how he responded to adversity, and his relationship with God. He prayed for God to deliver him and to judge his enemies which was an Old Testament norm. Jesus raised the bar in the sermon on the mount (Mt 5) and said to love your enemies and pray for them (Mt 5:43-48). David’s psalms also show his ups and downs like we all have, yet they also show his ability to abide in his relationship with God no matter what was happening in his life. They also show us the difference between complaining about God like Israel did in the wilderness and complaining to God in prayer about circumstances while worshipping Him and acknowledging His goodness. Here is a list of the 19 Davidic psalms that specifically state when David wrote them in their openings:

Ps 3 – when he fled from Absalom (2Sam 15-18)

Ps 7 – concerning the words of Cush the Benjamite. The only Cush mentioned in the Bible

besides this man is the son of Ham who was the father of Nimrod (Gen 10:6-8, 1Chr 1:8-10).

This man lived about 1,500 years before the man mentioned in this psalm. Based on verse 4

and the fact that Cush was from the same tribe as Saul, it may be that the event David is

referring to happened while Saul was chasing David.

Ps 18 – the day God delivered him from Saul and his enemies (1Sam 31, 2Sam 22)

Ps 30 – at the dedication of his house (2Sam 7, 2Sam 11, 2Sam 15:35, 2Sam 16:21-22, 2Sam

19:5 & 11 & 30, 1Chr 14:1 - built),

Ps 34 – when he acted like a madman to escape Abimelech (1Sam 21:10-15)

Ps 51 – when Nathan confronted him with his sin (2Sam 12)

Ps 52 – when Doeg told Saul of his meeting with Abimelech (1Sam 21-22)

Ps 54 – when the Ziphims betrayed David’s location to Saul (1Sam 23:14-29, 1Sam 26:1-4)

Ps 56 – when the Philistines took him in Gath (1Sam 21:10-15?)

Ps 57 – when he fled from Saul in the cave (1Sam 24:3-10, 1Sam 22:1, 1Chr 11:15)

Ps 59 – when Saul sent men to his house to kill him (1Sam 19:11)

Ps 60 – when Joab fought Edom and killed 12,000 (1Chr 18:12-13, 2Sam 8:2, 1Chr 18:1-2, Ps

60:8 – Moab washpot, over Edom)

Ps 63 – when he was in the wilderness of Judah (1Sam 18-26, vs 11 – the king = 2Sam 15-18?)

Ps 72 – for Solomon (2Sam 23, 1Ki 1, 1Chr 29, vs 20 – prayers ended indicates toward end of


Ps 127 – a song of degrees for Solomon (2Sam 23, 1Ki 1, 1Chr 29)

Ps 131 – a song of degrees (degrees means ascent up stairs so some think it meant the temple

which was built after David. David gave Solomon the blueprints (1Sam 28:11-12).)

Ps 132 - a song of degrees (remember David)

Ps 133 – a song of degrees

Ps 142 – when he was in the cave (1Sam 24:3-10, 1Sam 22:1, 1Chr 11:5)

There are several psalms that open with the phrase “To the chief musician” (39 times by David, 5 by Asaph, 1 by Heman). This indicates they were written to be performed by the appointed singers and musicians at the tabernacle and later the temple. Six of them are included in the 19 which indicate when they were written as indicated above:

Ps 52 - when Doeg

Ps 54 - Ziphims

Ps 56 - Philistines took him in Gath

Ps 57 – when he fled from Saul in the cave

Ps 59 – when Saul sent to his house to kill him

Ps 60 - when Joab returned from battle with Edom

Psalms 39 and 62 say they were written to Jeduthun, one of the chief worship leaders (1Chr 16:41-42, 1Chr 25:1-6, 2Chr 5:12). David did not set up his tabernacle and institute the singer/musician schedule until after Saul was dead and he was king (1Chr 9:33, 1Chr 15:16-27, 1Chr 16:4-6, 1Chr 23:3-6, 2Chr 8:14). So, since psalms 52, 54, 56, 57, and 59 were written to the chief musician but refer to events before Saul’s death, does that mean “when” in the openings means the situation was written about later and means the situation that was written about rather than the time the psalm was actually written? Either way, they reflect on the character of the man who was the “sweet psalmist of Israel (2Sam 23:1)” and a man after God’s heart (1Sam 13:14). What comes out of us during adversity? Is it prayer and worship, or is it bitter complaining against God? It is one of the main tests of our character and relationship with God.

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