Category Archives: Prayer

Conquering Prince and Lord of Glory

Sun beams shining across a field

This 18th century hymn by Gerhard Tersteegen is a timely reminder that God is the One who rules over heaven and earth. Even in days that seem tumultuous and uncertain, God is at work accomplishing His sovereign purposes. He is the One who holds the king’s heart and “turns it wherever He wishes” (Proverbs 21:1). When God humbled the proud king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar glorified God and confessed:

For His dominion is an everlasting dominion,
And His kingdom is from generation to generation.
All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing;
He does according to His will in the army of heaven
And among the inhabitants of the earth.
No one can restrain His hand
Or say to Him, “What have You done?”
(Daniel 4:34–35)

The hymn is a humble prayer addressed to God. It’s not a request that we would simply recognize God’s authority or rightly understand His sovereign right to rule. Rather, it is an entreaty that we would readily and willingly submit to God’s authority and rejoice in His conquest. Today is indeed a season of grace. May our heart’s desire resonant with the words of this hymn: 

“Come Thou King of glory, come, 
Deign to make my heart Thy home.”

The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”
The Lord shall send the rod of Your strength out of Zion.
Rule in the midst of Your enemies!
(Psalm 110:1–2)

Conquering Prince and Lord of Glory

Conquering Prince and Lord of glory,
Majesty enthroned in light;
All the heavens are bowed before Thee,
Far beyond them spreads Thy might;
Shall not I fall at Thy feet,
And my heart with rapture beat,
Now Thy glory is displayed,
Thine ere yet the worlds were made?

As I watch Thee far ascending
To the right hand of the throne,
See the host before Thee bending,
Praising Thee in sweetest tone;
Shall not I too at Thy feet
Here the angels’ strain repeat,
And rejoice that heaven doth ring
With the triumph of my King?

Power and Spirit are o’erflowing,
On me also be they poured;
Every hindrance overthrowing,
Make Thy foes Thy footstool, Lord!
Yea, let earth’s remotest end
To Thy righteous scepter bend,
Make Thy way before Thee plain,
O’er all hearts and spirits reign.

Lo! Thy presence now is filling
All the church in every place;
Fill my heart too; make me willing
In this season of Thy grace;
Come Thou King of glory, come,
Deign to make my heart Thy home,
There abide and rule alone,
As upon Thy heavenly throne!

“Conquering Prince and Lord of Glory” 
Words by Gerhard Tersteegen (1735)
Translated by Catherine Winkworth (1858)
Tune: SALZBURG
Music by Jakob Hintze (1622–1702)
Words and Music ©Public Domain

Download free sheet music (PDF), including a guitar chord charts and an arrangement of the hymn tune SALZBURG for classical guitar. 

More Hymns from History

More hymns arranged for Classical Guitar

O Lord I Would Delight in Thee

Lake and Waterfall

To have Christ is to have all we need! To rest in Him is more valuable and more satisfying that anything this life can offer. But too often the trials and troubles of this world overwhelm us and keep us from fully laying hold of the riches we possess in Christ.

John Ryland, an English Baptist pastor and hymn writer, understood this struggle of faith. In 1777 (the same year he wrote “Sovereign Ruler of the Skies”), he composed the hymn “O Lord, I Would Delight in Thee.” The hymn is a prayer expressing his desire for a “stronger faith” anchored in God’s sure Word. In it he exposes his own (and our) folly. We focus too intently on the parched world around us, whose “streams are dried,” bemoaning our thirst, when all the while Christ is near— “a fountain which will ever run with waters sweet and clear.” Ryland reminds himself of God’s goodness. “While Christ is rich,” we “can’t be poor”! Even if all the joys and blessings of this world fade away, Christ’s “fulness is the same.”

The hymn was written December 3, 1777 and published in Rippon’s Selection (1798). The lyrics were heartfelt and especially meaningful to the hymn writer. According to John Julian in the Dictionary of Hymnology, Ryland attached a note to the manuscript that read: “I recollect deeper feelings of mind in composing this hymn, than perhaps I ever felt in making any other.”

May God stir in us such heavenly desires! In these uncertain times, may we cast all our cares upon the Lord, and may our “great concern” be to love and praise Him more!

O Lord, I Would Delight in Thee

“Delight yourself also in the Lord,
And He shall give you the desires of your heart.”
(Psalm 37:4)

O Lord, I would delight in Thee,
And on Thy care depend;
To Thee in ev’ry trouble flee,
My best, my only Friend.

When all created streams are dried,
Thy fulness is the same;
May I with this be satisfied,
And glory in Thy Name.

Why should the soul a drop bemoan,
Who has a fountain near—
A fountain which will ever run
With waters sweet and clear?

No good in creatures can be found,
But may be found in Thee;
I must have all things and abound,
While God is God to me.

O that I had a stronger faith,
To look within the veil;
To credit what my Savior saith,
Whose words can never fail.

He that has made my heav’n secure
Will here all good provide;
While Christ is rich, I can’t be poor;
What can I want beside?

O Lord, I cast my care on Thee;
I triumph and adore;
Henceforth my great concern shall be
To love and praise Thee more.

“O Lord, I Would Delight in Thee” 
Words by John Ryland, (1753–1825)
Music by John Herbert (1852–1927)
Words and Music ©Public Domain

Download free sheet music (PDF), including chord charts and an arrangement of the hymn tune LAFAYETTE for classical guitar. 

More Hymns from History

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Fear the Lord

Road and pool near mountains

Pages from My Prayer Book

“Lord, work in us that fear of You which is the beginning of wisdom. Let us be instructed by this wisdom, which is the fountain of life even as it teaches us to depart from the snares of death. Give us an undivided heart that we may fear Your name and keep Your commandments, which is the whole duty of man. Put Your fear in our hearts, that we may never depart from You. Let us be zealous for Your fear. Let us live in the fear of the Lord every day, and all day long.” 

  — from Matthew Henry’s A Way to Pray

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
But fools despise wisdom and instruction.
(Proverbs 1:7)

The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life,
To turn one away from the snares of death.
(Proverbs 14:27)

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter:
Fear God and keep His commandments,
For this is man’s all.
For God will bring every work into judgment,
Including every secret thing,
Whether good or evil.
(Ecclesiastes 12:13–14)

And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, 
that I will not turn away from doing them good; 
but I will put My fear in their hearts 
so that they will not depart from Me. 
(Jeremiah 32:40)

Here is a link to a PDF of the page from my Prayer Book

Find more writing and resources from Ken Puls

Rest in Christ

Road through Autumn Trees

Pages from My Prayer Book

Over the past many years, I have compiled a Prayer Book. It includes people I remember in prayer (family, church members, students and colleagues at the college where I teach), lyrics to songs (songs I have written, songs I find meaningful), Scripture passage (for meditation and memorization), as well as other notes and quotes.

One of the pages I visit often is an encouragement to learn patience and rest in Christ. On the page is a list of truths to remember (and preach to myself!) when facing difficult and uncertain times. I wrote down the list many years ago while taking notes in a Sunday School class. I don’t remember the date, but the class was taught by Steve Garrick when my family and I were at Heritage Baptist Church in Mansfield, Texas.

The notes have been valuable in pointing me many times back to God’s Word. In the uncertain times we face today, I hope you find them valuable as well.

Rest in Christ

Help me, Lord, to grow in patience and longsuffering, to learn more and more to rest in Christ.

Help me to remember:

  1.  God is absolutely sovereign. I must trust Him fully and not lean on my own understanding.
  2. God is always good—always. I must look to the cross and remember: He loves me and will do everything needed to complete the good work begun in me.
  3. God gave me my life for His glory, not the pursuit of my own pleasure. I must walk in contentment, submissive to His will.
  4. God never reveals my future or explains His decrees. I must walk by faith and not by sight.
  5. God hold me responsible for all my thoughts, actions, and reactions. I must walk in humble obedience to His Word. 

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22–23).

Here is a link to a PDF of the page from my Prayer Book.

Find more writing and resources from Ken Puls

Come Boldly to the Throne of Grace

Mountain reflection on water

We have every reason to pray. We are fragile and have great needs. God is great and does wondrous things (Psalm 40:10). We are burdened and weighed down by sin. God is “is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy” (Psalm 103:8). We are troubled and oppressed. God alone can save; salvation belongs to Him (Psalm 3:8). 

Hope and help are always close at hand, yet too often we fail to pray. The very reasons that should compel us to seek God in prayer become the cause of our discouragement. We feel weighed down by our needs and undone by our sin. We feel weak and ashamed. We wrongly conclude that God will reject us when we come to Him. We think that He will turn us away, and so we do not pray.

Daniel Herbert’s hymn, “Come Boldly to the Throne of Grace,” is a welcoming encouragement to pray. Though we are “wretched sinners,” we can lay our load at Jesus’ feet. Though we are “lost and blind and lame” in our sin, the Lord will befriend us. Though we are “bankrupt” and feel the terrible weight of sin’s condemnation, we are assured of the promise: “The Lord will take you in.” Because of Christ we can “come boldly to the throne of grace” and “obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).  

Come Boldly to the Throne of Grace

Come boldly to the throne of grace,
Ye wretched sinners come;
And lay your load at Jesus’ feet,
And plead what He has done.
“How can I come?” some soul my say,
“I’m lame and cannot walk;
My guilt and sin have stopped my mouth;
I sigh but dare not talk.”

Come boldly to the throne of grace,
Though lost and blind and lame;
Jehovah is the sinner’s Friend
And ever was the same.
He makes the dead to hear His voice,
He makes the blind to see.
The sinner lost He came to save,
And set the pris’ner free.

Come boldly to the throne of grace,
For Jesus fills the throne;
And those He kills He makes alive,
He hears the sigh or groan.
Poor bankrupt souls; who feel and know
The hell of sin within,
Come boldly to the throne of grace,
The Lord will take you in.

“Come Boldly to the Throne of Grace” 
Words by Daniel Herbert (1751–1833)
From Selection of Hymns edited by William Gadsby, 1838
Tune: HERBERT
Music by Tom Wells, 2001
Words ©Public Domain
Music ©2001 Tom Wells (Used by Permission)

Tom Wells (Heritage Baptist Church in Mansfield, Texas) composed the tune for this hymn. Download free sheet music (PDF), including a guitar chord charts and an arrangement of the hymn tune HERBERT for classical guitar. 

More Hymns from History

More hymns arranged for Classical Guitar

Lord We Come to Hear Your Word

Pulpit and Bible

When we hear or read God’s Word, we should always pray for understanding and wisdom. And when we have opportunity to gather with the church and sit under the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, we should pray for the pastor. Apart from God’s grace, all our efforts to worship and serve Him will be in vain.

Lord We Come to Hear Your Word

A Prayer for God’s Grace in Worship

Lord, we come to hear Your Word.
Shine Your light! Unsheathe Your sword!
Send Your Spirit forth in pow’r.
Come and bless Your church this hour.
We confess, our thoughts have strayed;
Minds distracted and dismayed.
On the Son fix now each thought;
Help us worship as we ought.

Lord, as we prepare to hear,
Wake each soul, unstop each ear.
Conquer every stubborn heart;
Mercy, saving grace impart.
We confess, without Your grace,
Vain our efforts in this place.
Send illumination’s light;
Open eyes and give us sight.

Lord, we lift up to Your care
Him who stands now to declare
Truth that teaches, warns, consoles;
Bless this feast to feed our souls.
For Your Word, O Lord, we yearn;
Empty, let it not return.
Come, accomplish all Your will —
Draw, convict, give life and fill.

For Your Word, O Lord, we yearn;
Empty, let it not return.
Come, accomplish all Your will —
Draw, convict, give life and fill.
Draw, convict, give life and fill.

Words ©1998 Kenneth A Puls

New Music and Arrangement by Drew Hodge ©2012 Desert Springs Church

Listen to this setting of “Lord, We Come to Hear Your Word” recorded at Desert Springs Church in Albuquerque, NM.

 

And download the music from band camp:

 

More Music on Bandcamp by Desert Springs Church

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Behold the Throne of Grace

Because of Christ, we have every reason to pray in faith and hope! Because Christ, our Great High Priest has sprinkled the Mercy Seat with His own shed blood, we can now come boldly to the throne of grace and lay hold of mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14–16, NKJV).

In Christ we have full access to the Father! We are forgiven and redeemed. We are loved and accepted. We have the full measure of God’s embrace. He has given us Christ! What then will He withhold?

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? (Romans 8:31–32)

John Newton’s hymn “Behold the Throne of Grace” celebrates the promise we have of bold access to the presence of God in Christ. It encourages us to remember the promise and preach it to our own souls. In Christ God freely gives us all things, not so we can obtain and cling to “the world’s poor toys” but so we can have and cling to Christ, who is our greatest need and ultimate joy.

The hymn is from Book 1 (“On Selected Texts of Scripture”) of the Olney Hymns published in 1779 by John Newton and William Cowper. It is included along with two other hymns under the Scripture text: “Ask what I shall give thee” (1 Kings 3:5).

Prayer and Watchfulness

Behold the Throne of Grace

Behold the throne of grace,
The promise calls us near,
There Jesus shows a smiling face
And waits to answer prayer.

That rich atoning blood,
Which sprinkled round we see,
Provides for those who come to God
An all prevailing plea.

My soul, ask what thou wilt,
Thou canst not be too bold;
Since His own blood for thee He spilt,
What else can He withhold?

Beyond thy utmost wants
His love and pow’r can bless;
To praying souls He always grants,
More than they can express.

Since ’tis the Lord’s command,
My mouth I open wide;
Lord open Thou Thy bounteous hand,
That I may be supplied.

Thine image, Lord, bestow,
Thy presence and Thy love;
I ask to serve Thee here below,
And reign with Thee above.

Teach me to live by faith,
Conform my will to Thine;
Let me victorious be in death,
And then in glory shine.

If Thou these blessings give,
And wilt my portion be;
Cheerful the world’s poor toys I leave,
To them who know not Thee.

Amen.

“Behold the Throne of Grace”
Words by John Newton (1779)
Tune: STATE STREET
Music by Jonathan Woodman, 1844
Words and Music ©Public Domain

Download free sheet music (PDF), including a guitar chord charts and arrangements of the hymn tune STATE STREET for classical guitar and for instrumental ensemble.

More Hymns from History

More Hymns arranged for Classical Guitar

Increase Our Faith O Lord

Too often we become discouraged and infrequent in our prayers because we focus on our troubles rather than the power of God and the promises in His Word. We don’t know God as we should, we don’t think of Him as we should, and so we fail to trust Him as we should. We don’t cry out to Him as we should in prayer and praise.

This hymn is the fruit of a study on prayer from a prayer meeting at Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL, taught by our Associate Pastor, Jared Longshore. It is an exhortation to pray and look to God in faith. And it is a prayer that God would stir up faith in us that we would be quick to remember Him and seek Him.

Increase Our Faith O Lord

“… for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move;  and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20).

Increase our faith, O Lord!
We look to You today.
Remind us of Your Word and pow’r,
Come stir our hearts to pray.

Look down on us in love,
Draw near us in this place.
With confidence, we come in Christ
To seek the throne of grace.

Because we do not ask,
We often lack what’s good.
If we would only look to God
And trust Him as we should!

Our faith, it seems so small,
Yet You, Lord, are so great!
So help us bring petitions large,
In You we trust and wait.

If we but had the faith,
Small as a mustard seed,
Then we would see the mountains move
For God has power indeed.

There’s nothing that’s too hard,
No good thing He’ll withhold.
So let us bring our prayers in faith,
We cannot be too bold.

Look down with mercy, Lord
And hear the prayers we raise,
That we might see Your power displayed
And offer thanks and praise.

Words ©2017 Ken Puls

Download the lyrics and free sheet music for this hymn, including an arrangement of the tune HOLY ROOD for classical guitar.

More Hymns and Songs from Ken Puls Music

Now May the God of Peace

“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23, ESV).

A Prayer of sanctification that God would deepen our repentance and strengthen our faith in the daily battle against remaining sin.

Lord, I desire Your will
My heart yearns to obey
Though daily I am faced with sin
Enticing me away

So, help me rise each day
Battle and war with sin
Until I see You face to face
And final vict’ry win

Lord, You have so designed
Sin to remain in me
That as I struggle, watch and pray
I learn humility

So, help me to obey
Holiness to pursue
Deepen repentance when I fail
Strengthen my faith in You

I rest within the hope
Your Spirit dwells in me
Completing that which was begun
So holy I may be

Now may the God of Peace
Sanctify me wholly
And keep me blameless ’til the day
Christ comes in victory

Words ©1992, 2015 Kenneth A Puls

Read more about how this hymn came to be written and download free sheet music (PDF), including chord charts for acoustic guitar, an arrangement of the tune for Classical Guitar, and an arrangement of the tune for Instrumental Ensemble.

—Ken Puls

Lessons from the Psalm Inscriptions: Titles of Description

A Song A Psalm

Lessons from the Psalm Inscriptions
In Leading God’s People in Prayer and Praise

Titles of Description

The second type of psalm inscription is a title of description. It indicates the musical or poetic genre of the psalm. Although we use the word “psalm’ to refer to all 150 songs in the Psalter, there are actually more than just psalms in the book of Psalms. The inscriptions suggest that there are at least eight types of musical composition represented. The first four are fairly clear in their meaning: psalm, song, prayer and praise. The last four are less certain: testimony, michtam, maschil and shiggaion.

The use of these terms in the inscriptions indicates that some overlap may exist in their meanings. While 82 psalms employ only one descriptive term, 15 use two in combination, and one, the double inscription in Psalm 88, uses three. Fifty-two psalms have no descriptive title.

Psalm

The most frequent title of description is psalm (mizmor). It appears in the heading of 57 psalms. It is the only descriptive term in 43 headings. [1] In 12 psalms it occurs in combination with song (shir). [2] In the double inscription of Psalm 88 it is used with both shir and maschil. In Psalm 80 it is used with testimony (‘eduth).

Mizmor is a noun meaning psalm or accompanied song. [3] The noun is a derivation of the verb zamar. Zamar has two meanings in the Old Testament. In the context of agriculture it means to prune (pluck) a vine; in the context of music, the verb means to play (pluck) a musical instrument, or sing to the accompaniment of a plucked (stringed) instrument. [4] The verb (associated with music) occurs 45 times in the Old Testament, all in the Pi’el (intensive stem) and all in the context of praise. All but four occurrences are in the Psalms. Twenty-two occurrences of zamar are in psalms that include the inscription mizmor. The Theological Word Book of the Old Testament (TWOT) and BDB Hebrew Lexicon suggest broader meanings for zamar: to make music, [5] or to make music in praise of God. [6] The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (TDOT) concludes, however, that zamar “is used in OT Hebrew solely in the sense ‘sing praises (accompanied by stringed instruments).’” [7]

According to The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament the original meaning of mizmor is a song sung to an instrumental accompaniment. [8] The TDOT defines the term as a song (with instrumental accompaniment). [9] This accompaniment would be predominantly by stringed instruments. Stringed instruments were especially important for the accompaniment of the psalms in the Temple worship, as Edersheim explains:

That music was chiefly sustained by the harp (Kinnor) and the lute (Nevel). Of the latter (which was probably used for solos) not less than two nor more than six were to be in the Temple orchestra; of the former, or harp, as many as possible, but never less than nine. There were, of course, several varieties both of the Nevel and the Kinnor. The chief difference between these two kinds of instruments lay in this, that in the Nevel (lute or guitar) the strings were drawn over the sounding-board, while in the Kinnor they stood out free, as in our harps. [10]

By the time of the New Testament the term psalm was used especially, though not exclusively to refer to the collection of songs used in worship in the Temple. The title for the Book of Psalms in the Septuagint (LXX) is the Greek word Psalmoi, from which the English title is derived. Jesus used this term when He said that what was written about Him in the Psalms “must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44). When Paul provided a paradigm for music in the church, he began his list with singing psalms (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16).

Song

Seventeen psalms are described only by the term song (shir). [11] Fifteen of these are the Songs of Ascent, songs that the people of Israel would sing on their way to Jerusalem and the Temple to celebrate the pilgrimage festivals (Deuteronomy 16:16–17). Eight psalms are described by the combination mizmor shir [12] and four with shir mizmor. [13] The double inscription of Psalm 88 has shir mizmor and maschil. One psalm, Psalm 45, is called A Song of Loves and a maschil.

Shir is a noun that simply means song. [14] It has a wide variety of sacred and secular uses. It is used of celebrating a journey (Genesis 31:27) as well as rejoicing in God (Exodus 15:1). While shir appears primarily in joyful contexts, it is also used in the headings of poems expressing lament (e.g. Psalm 88). It describes the singing of one voice (David’s solo in Psalm 18) as well as the combined praise of many voices, “The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad” (Psalm 126:3).

Compared to mizmor, shir is a more generic term with a broader meaning. Kraus explains in his commentary on the Psalms:

A differentiation between [shir] and [mizmor] could be stated only in this way, that [shir] probably originally and preponderantly denoted the vocal, cantillating presentation of a psalm, whereas [mizmor] primarily referred to singing accompanied instrumentally. [15]

While mizmor is a more specific designation indicating a song written for both voice and instruments (see above), shir simply denotes song or singing in general.

Prayer

Four psalms are designated as a prayer (tehillah). [16] In all four psalms, the psalmist expresses a trouble or difficulty. In light of this, Kraus suggests that the term in the Psalter means a prayer of lament or bidding prayer. [17] Psalm 90, for example, is titled: “A Prayer of Moses, the Man of God.” The psalm laments the fleeting days of man and is an extended petition for mercy and help:

Return, O LORD! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
(Psalm 90:13-15)

In one sense most of the 150 psalms could be titled a prayer, since in the vast majority God is personally addressed. The psalms are valuable models for prayer, exemplifying both praise and petition. Book II of the Psalter ends in Psalm 72:20 with the words: “The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended.” This seems to indicate that most of the poems at least in the first two books were considered as prayers.

Praise

Only one psalm, Psalm 145, has the descriptive title tehillah, meaning praise, song of praise or praiseworthy deed. [18] Praise, however, is a term fitting for the entire Psalter. Praise is ultimate to the psalms. With the exception of Psalm 88, all the psalms include expressions of praise to God. [19] The Psalter is named in Hebrew tehillim (the plural of tehillah), meaning Praises. Although the Psalter begins with instruction (Psalm 1 contrasts the way of the wicked with the way of the righteous), and continues with many petitions and laments, it culminates in a loud crescendo of praise at the end (145–150). Everything in the book—prayers and teachings, joys and sorrows—moves toward praise to God. The psalm that bears the title of praise stands at the beginning of the final crescendo calling on all creation to glorify God.

The noun tehillah is derived from the verb halal (found only in the intensive stems in Scripture), meaning to praise. [20] Several psalms that center on joy and praise are included in a collection of psalms sung especially during the festival celebrations at the Temple. Sendrey explains:

Among the psalms sung at the high holidays, the group of the Hallel-psalms occupied the most prominent place. To this group belonged the “Egyptian Hallel,” as Pss. 113–118 are called in the rabbinic literature, the Great Hallel,” Pss. 120–136, and Pss. 146–148, specifically called the Hallel-psalms. [21]

As a descriptive term tehillah denotes a poem written to honor and extol the Lord, as Psalm 145:1–2 exemplifies:

I will extol you, my God, O King;
And bless your name forever and ever.
Every day I will bless you,
And praise your name forever and ever.

According to 1 Chronicles 16:4 praise was one of the three primary activities of the Levites as they ministered before the ark in the Tabernacle. The abundant use of praise in the psalms, even in petitions and laments, reveals that praise was an essential element in the music and worship of ancient Israel.

Testimony

The noun ‘eduth meaning a testimony, a witness or covenant is found in the heading of two psalms. It appears in Psalm 60 with michtam and in Psalm 80 with mizmor. The term is often used in the Old Testament to refer to God’s Law, the Ten Commandments. In Psalm 78:5–8 it appears with law (torah) where Asaph reminds God’s people of the command to teach God’s Word to children of each generation “that they may set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God.”

In Psalm 60 ‘eduth follows the phrase ‘al-shushan, meaning literally upon a lily. Some translations of Scripture connect the two headings as one. The KJV, ESV and NAS leave the headings connected and untranslated. The NKJV has Set to “Lily of the Testimony.” The NIV is similar: To the tune of “The Lily of the Covenant.” However in Psalm 80, where ‘eduth follows a similar phrase with the plural noun ‘el-shoshannim meaning upon Lilies, several versions treat the headings as separate titles of description. The plural noun is clearly in the Absolute state rather than Construct state (meaning it stands alone and is not linked to the following term). It can be translated to the tune “Lilies.” A Testimony, but not to the tune “Lilies of a Testimony.” The NKJV correctly reads: Set to “Lilies” A Testimony. As does the ESV: According to Lillies. A Testimony. The NAS also separates the headings while leaving them untranslated: set to El Shoshannim; Eduth. The NIV, however ignores the Absolute state of the noun shoshannim and connects both headings as in Psalm 60. The NIV reads: To the tune of “The Lilies of the Covenant.” The KJV connects the headings and leaves them untranslated.

In both headings ‘eduth should be regarded as a separate inscription meaning Testimony or Covenant. Both psalms bearing this description are similar. They portray the petitions of the covenant people who, due to their own sinfulness and rebellion, have fallen out of fellowship with God. Psalm 60 begins:

O God, you have rejected us, broken our defenses;
you have been angry; oh, restore us.
(Psalm 60:1)

The refrain in Psalm 80: 3, 7, and 19 echoes the same theme:

Restore us, O God;
let your face shine, that we may be saved!

Michtam

Michtam is the only descriptive heading in five psalms. [22] Psalm 60, the longest heading in the Psalter, has both michtam and testimony. The meaning of michtam is less certain, but it likely comes from a root meaning inscribed or written down, denoting a song that is preserved for public use or public benefit. The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon offers the most likely translation of the term, an inscription. [23] Peter Craigie, in his commentary, agrees, stating that the “most probable” meaning is inscribed. [24]

All six occurrences of michtam involve psalms that express some kind of trouble. Marvin Tate in his commentary suggests that these are “all psalms of distress and crisis, in which the speaker moves to confidence and assurance that enemies will receive appropriate consequences for their deeds.” [25] Cragie adds: “Tentative support for this interpretation may come from the six psalms entitled Miktam in the Psalter; four, in their titles, are associated with times of crisis, which might have been events of sufficient moment to warrant recording an inscription.” [26] The michtam was a way for the psalmist to write down or inscribe both his cry to God and his confidence in God, so that when deliverance came, all would know that the God of Israel hears and answers the prayers of His people.

Maschil

This term maschil occurs at the beginning of twelve psalms: in ten headings as the only designation, [27] once with the heading Song of Loves (Psalm 45), and once with shir mizmor (Psalm 88).

The meaning of maschil is uncertain. The KJV, NAS, NIV, and ESV all leave the term untranslated. The NKJV translates the term as a contemplation. Scholars have proposed a variety of possible meanings. Ernest Klein suggests that the term means wise, skillful, or intelligent and refers to ” a kind of didactic poem.” [28] Kraus also calls the term “an ‘artistic song’ or ‘didactic song.’” [29] This is supported by the use of the term as a participle in 2 Chronicles 30:22 where it refers to Levites who were skilled in the worship of God and were responsible for teaching God’s people. A maschil then denotes a lyrical poem used in the teaching ministry of the Levites. These are songs filled with counsel and instruction.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
(Psalm 32:8)

The use of maschil in Psalm 53 demonstrates some overlap in the psalm inscriptions. Psalm 53 from Book II in the Psalter is designated as a maschil; Psalm 14 in Book I is called a psalm (mizmor). Both have identical texts except for the name used of God in the second verse. [30]

Shiggaion

The meaning of shiggaion is also uncertain. Most modern versions of Scripture leave the term untranslated. The NKJV renders the term a meditation. Kraus suggests the rendering lamentation. [31] The term occurs in the Psalter only in Psalm 7, although it is also used in Habakkuk 3. Both songs compare the wrath of God toward the wicked with the mercy of God toward the righteous.

Shiggaion may relate to a root in Hebrew meaning to go astray. [32] This would suggest the rendering wandering psalm implying an uneven poetic meter or the expression of unsettled thoughts. This would be fitting for the text in which David grapples with the curses spoken to him by Cush. In Psalm. 7:3-5 David prays:

O LORD my God, if I have done this,
if there is wrong in my hands,
if I have repaid my friend with evil
or plundered my enemy without cause,
let the enemy pursue my soul and overtake it,
and let him trample my life to the ground
and lay my glory in the dust. Selah

David resolves at the end of the psalm:

I will give to the LORD the thanks due to his righteousness,
and I will sing praise to the name of the LORD, the Most High.
(Psalm 7:17)

Habakkuk also grapples with a difficult issue, God’s use of the Babylonians as a means to chastise His people. In Habakkuk 3:16 he laments:

I hear, and my body trembles;
my lips quiver at the sound;
rottenness enters into my bones;
my legs tremble beneath me.
Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble
to come upon people who invade us.

Like David, Habakkuk resolves in the end that he will praise God:

yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
GOD, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.
(Habakkuk 3:18–19)

Conclusion

There are at least eight types of musical composition represented in the Book of Psalms: psalm (an accompanied song, usually with stringed instruments), song (singing with or without accompaniment), prayer (a petition for mercy and help), praise (honoring and exalting God), testimony (a prayer of contrition from God’s covenant people), michtam (an inscription to mark a significant event), maschil (a song of instruction), and shiggaion (a complaint grappling with evil and injustice).

These titles of description are part of the rich diversity found in the Psalter. The psalms are filled with a wide range of expression in worship, from lament to joy, from a single voice to a vast convocation, from quiet and stillness to loud, reverberating praise. Added to this, shaping this expression, are a variety of poetic and musical forms. These forms encourage the worshipper to sing, play music, pray, praise, grapple with injustice, repent of sin, gain wisdom, and write down significant events when we placed our confidence in God. The music of the Psalter stands as the fount of church music and sets a precedent for the rich variety and abundance of poetic and musical forms used in worship through history.

Notes:

[1] Psalm 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 12, 13, 14, 15, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 29, 31, 38, 39, 40, 41, 47, 49, 50, 51, 62, 63, 64, 73, 77, 79, 82, 84, 85, 98, 100, 101, 109, 110, 139, 140, 141, 143.
[2] Psalm 30, 48, 65, 66, 67, 68, 75, 76, 83, 87, 92 and 108.
[3] Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament [TWOT], 1:245; William L. Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1988), 189.
[4] Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon, 89–90; Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, trans. and ed. M. E. J. Richardson (New York: E. J. Brill, 1994–2003), 1:273–274. This meaning of the verb occurs in Leviticus 25:3 and Isaiah 5:6 (The Song of the Vineyard).
[5] TWOT, 1:245
[6] The New Brown–Driver–Briggs–Gesenius Hebrew and English Lexicon [BDB], 274.
[7] Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament [TDOT], 4:98.
[8] Koehler and Baumgartner, Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon, 2:566.
[9] TDOT, 4:94.
[10] Alfred Edersheim, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services (New York: F. H. Revell, 1874; reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1987), 78-79.
[11] Psalm 18, 46, 120–134.
[12] Psalm 30, 65, 67, 68, 75, 76, 87, 92.
[13] Psalm 48, 66, 83, 108.
[14] Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon, 367-68; BDB, 1010
[15] Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalm 1–59: A Commentary, trans. Hilton C. Oswald (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 1988), 22.
[16] Psalm 17, 86, 90, 120.
[17] Kraus, Psalms 1-59: A Commentary, 26
[18] [BDB, 239; Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon, 387; TWOT, 1:218.
[19] Even in Psalm 88, the psalmist expresses his concern for the praise of God in verse 10.
[20] Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon, 80–81
[21] Alfred Sendrey, Music in Ancient Israel (New York: Philosophical Library, Inc., 1969), 176-77.
[22] Psalm 16, 56–59.
[23] Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, Hebräisches und Aramäiches Lexikon zum Alten Testament, 3d ed. (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1967 – 1990), 551. “Aufschift.”
[24] Peter C. Craigie, Psalm 1-50, Word Biblical Commentary, eds. David A. Hubbard, et al., vol. 19 (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983), 154, note 1.a.
[25] Marvin E. Tate, Psalm 51-100, Word Biblical Commentary, eds. David A. Hubbard, et al., vol. 20 (Dallas, Texas: Word Books, 1990), 66.
[26] Craigie, Psalm 1-50, 154, note 1.a.
[27] Psalm 32, 42, 52, 53, 54, 55, 74, 78, 89, 142
[28] Ernest Klein, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English. (New York, MacMillian Publishing Company, 1987), 391
[29] Kraus, Psalms 1-59: A Commentary, 25.
[30] Psalm 14 uses Yahweh LORD. Psalm 53 has Elohim God.
[31] Kraus, Psalms 1-59: A Commentary, 26
[32] Craigie, Psalm 1-50, 97.

This series is based on a seminar paper for “Special Research in Church Music” at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (May 1995).

See a Table of Contents (thus far) for this series: Lessons from the Psalm Inscriptions

(Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV) ©2001 by Crossway)