Tag Archives: Praise

Out of Zion

Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people,
let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.
(Psalms 14:7)

Church and town at Sunrise

Verse 7 of Psalm 14 represents a crucial turning point. The psalm began as a meditation, that quickly turned to a lament, but now is a petition, looking forward to a time of praise and rejoicing.

David considers the hopeless of man left to himself. He mediates on the depravity and corruption of man, and realizes that if anyone can be saved, it must be through God’s grace and life-giving power.
But notice from where God’s salvation is to come: out of Zion!

What is Zion?

David could have prayed that salvation would come from hand of God. He could have said that salvation would come from the promised Messiah. And this would be true. But he expands his statement at the end of the psalm, praying that salvation will come out of Zion.

This is more than a reference to the physical city of Jerusalem, where Christ would be crucified and accomplish in time and space the salvation of God’s people. Zion is also used in Scripture as reference to the people of God.

Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion.
(Psalms 65:1)

God’s purpose in salvation includes its being fulfilled and accomplished by Christ-but also its application and proclamation in us! God is the One who saves. Notice—

Verse 7 continues: “When the LORD restores…”

Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people,
let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.
(Psalms 14:7)

It is the Lord who restores! But God uses means to accomplish His salvation. As God saves, we respond with joy and gladness-joy and gladness that compel us to share the good news of salvation with others. It is our joy and responsibility to spread the Gospel—out of Zion, knowing with confidence that God will work-His Word will go out and will not return void.

He has established us here as a church in this community for a purpose. I encourage you to think from this mindset—out of Zion. God has put us here to make Him known. Every friend, every acquaintance, every relationship is in your life for you to magnify Jesus Christ.

Read more from this sermon on Psalm 14 entitled “Out of Zion”

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A Song Book That Begins With Words of Wisdom

The Book of Psalms

The Book of Psalms is an important collection of songs in Scripture for the worship of God. These songs are commanded to be sung by God’s people in both the Old and New Testaments.

In the Old Testament they comprise the songbook of the Temple. God appointed the Levites to sing and teach the people to sing psalms to God in worship. As the people gathered in Jerusalem and brought their sacrifices, these were the songs being sung and heard in the congregation.

In the New Testament Paul sets the psalms at the forefront of church music, exhorting us in Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19 to sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. The psalms speak of Christ, point us to Christ, and find their ultimate fulfillment in Christ (Luke 24:44).

When you think of the book of Psalms, and remember the purpose and use of the psalms, its beginning may at first surprise you. It might not be what you would expect.

The psalms are about our communion with God in worship.

How then would you expect such a collection of songs to begin?

What opening words do you envision?

  • A lofty song of praise?
  • A hymn exalting the attributes of God?
  • A call to God’s people to come to the Temple and enter into His presence?
  • A call to God, asking Him to hear His people as they lift their voices?

All of these are songs you will find in abundance in the Psalter, but not at the beginning.

Let’s go to the Word of God and read how the Psalms begin:

Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.
The ungodly are not so,
But are like the chaff which the wind drives away.
Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment,
Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the ungodly shall perish.
(Psalm 1:1–6)

God opens His hymnal with a psalm of wisdom—a psalm for teaching that portrays a striking contrast between two groups of people: the ungodly and the righteous—those who are committed to walking according to the ways of God, and those who have forsaken that way.

For the righteous, the psalm offers a promise;
For the ungodly it declares a warning.

Continue reading this sermon from  Psalm 1 entitled “Two Paths and Two Ends.”

See more Sermons and Articles by Ken Puls

Above Image by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

 

Can Music Be Evil or Worldly?

Rock Guitar

You may have read books or watched videos that teach on music and warn against various styles of music, pointing to their association with things that are ungodly. Those discussions about music can be both helpful and at times misleading. They are helpful in that—

  1. They make us aware that we should be concerned about the music we hear.
  2. They expose some very real issues of sin and abuse of music to promote evil.

But they can be misleading in that—

  1. They tend to pick on just 1 or 2 styles of music (Rock, Pop), and give the rest a pass.
  2. They often misidentify the problem.

Let me give you some guidelines for thinking about music as it relates to sin. First we must realize that—

1) All music belongs to God.

All music that we create is a part of this world. And all music belongs to God as a part of His creation. God gave us music to enjoy and glorify Him in all of life.

2) Music itself cannot be “sacred” or “secular.”

When you are considering just the music—not music and words together—not music in other contexts—just evaluating the tune—music itself is not “sacred” or “secular.” It is a false dichotomy to divide music into categories—thinking that God has His music over here—music that He prefers and delights in—and the world has its music over there that it delights in and prefers—and the really bad stuff—that is the devil’s music.

There is no “God’s music,” “world’s music,” and “devil’s music.” It is all God’s music. No tone or beat has ever been sounded in this universe that does not belong to God.

Music is not inherently religious or worldly, good or evil. There is only music—which can be employed for worship, for recreation, for celebration, for numerous occasions in which we wish to raise our affections and give voice to our emotions.

3) Music can’t be evil because “evil is nothing, i.e. no–thing.”

Evil does not consist of things, be it bullets and guns or tones, rhythms and instruments. [For an explanation of this principle listen to the message by R.C. Sproul from the Ligonier National Conference held in June 2010 on “What is Evil and Where does it come from?”] Evil does not consist of things, rather—

4) Sin is an issue of the heart.

When we see music that is wed to words or actions that dishonor God, if we are not careful, we can come to the conclusion that the problem is the music, when the real problem is sin. Sin is always an issue of the heart. Sin is found in our motives and intents as we create and use music, not in the tones, rhythms, and instruments we use to create and make music. Music can certainly be used in sinful ways to express sinful desires and wicked intentions. But the music itself is just a tool.

It has been this way since the beginning. In Genesis 4:21 we read of Jubal—the father of those who play the lyre and pipe—the first time music is referenced in the Bible. Two verses later in Genesis 4:23 we have the first recorded song in Scripture—a boast exulting in murder and lust for revenge.

All styles of music can be abused in sinful ways. Often it’s styles like Rock and Pop that are targeted as “worldly” or “evil,” while styles such as Classical are championed as wholesome and safe. Critics point to the perverse lifestyle and evil intentions of many Pop and Rock musicians. And we should heed their warnings and be on guard against using music to sin against God. But honestly, all styles of music can be abused by sin. Classical, Rock, Pop, Country and Jazz can all express a wide range of emotion. And all have a history tainted by sin. All have had composers and performers whose lives have been shattered by sin. We need discernment to judge every style and genre of music. A better way think of music in regard to evil is—

5) Music can be used in ways that honor God or profane God.

When music honors God, it is intentionally composed or used to praise Him, acknowledge Him or celebrate what is good and right. Music that honors God does not necessarily need to be worship music. It can be music that celebrates life, love, marriage, family, children, home, and many other gifts of God—and celebrates these good gifts in God-honoring ways.

When music profanes God, it is composed or used without thought of God, as an end in itself, making music to be an idol or empty. Or it is composed to celebrate or promote things contrary to God and His revealed will. And this can happen in all styles of music.

Music itself simply expresses and reflects emotion. It does not in itself distinguish between sinful expressions of emotion and pure expressions of emotion. All emotions can glorify God when channeled and expressed in God-honoring ways. God created our emotions for us to express to His glory. But emotions can be hijacked, misdirected and used in sinful ways. And music has certainly been abused and misused to express emotion in sinful ways. This world has produced some wonderfully passionate and expressive music. The music is for us to use and enjoy to God’s glory. The problem lies in that the world is often passionate and expressive about the wrong things. Their emotions have been hijacked and sent in sinful directions. And so the music they use to express themselves has been hijacked and misdirected as well.

[This excerpt is from the study “What Then Shall We Sing?” Read more from Part 1: Thoughts on Music.]

No Greater Passion

No Greater Passion

This past Sunday Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Florida celebrated the 30th Anniversary of Dr. Tom Ascol serving as pastor. I have had the privilege of serving with Tom and leading music at Grace since 2003. As part of the celebration I wrote a new song  with the help of Becca Sissons entitled “No Greater Passion.”

The chorus of the song has words very familiar to our church family. Pastor Tom has taught us to remember that the gospel is all about Jesus: “Who He is, what He’s done, and why it matters.”

The idea for the verses came from another pastor, whose words Tom borrowed as an encouragement to our church. Inspired by Spurgeon’s first words at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, these were the first words that Pastor Tom spoke from the pulpit when we began meeting in our new building on Easter Sunday, April 8, 2012:

This building has been prepared to serve the advance of the gospel here in Southwest Florida and around the world. Because of that I propose that the theme of all the preaching and teaching that will come from this platform shall be the person and work of Jesus Christ. We believe many things in this church. We love the law of God and delight in it because it is not only right but it is good. We love the great doctrines that are revealed in the Bible, especially those wonderful doctrines of God’s sovereign grace in salvation. But if asked what is our creed our answer must now and forever be, “Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” The one message that we have to proclaim to our community is simply this: “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.” His life, death and resurrection is our joy and our passion.

No Greater Passion

“For I decided to know nothing among you except
Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).

We have no greater passion,
No greater joy we own;
No other cause so great unites us
Than making Jesus known.
We have one simple message
That Jesus came to save;
To rescue dead and helpless sinners,
His life He freely gave.

Let our lives and our lips
Declare the gospel.
All praise to Christ we give!
Who He is, what He’s done,
And why it matters,
He’s the reason that we live.

We have no other answer,
When asked about our creed.
It’s Christ alone, His love compels us
To reach a world in need.
We have a great commission
To preach His Word to all,
At home, abroad and to hard places,
Wherever He may call.

Let our lives and our lips
Declare the gospel.
All praise to Christ we give!
Who He is, what He’s done,
And why it matters,
He’s the reason that we live.

We have no other refuge;
“To whom Lord shall we go?”
In You alone is life eternal,
No other hope we know.
We have one sure foundation
That can’t be overthrown.
We’re anchored firm in Christ our Savior,
Our Rock, our Cornerstone.

Let our lives and our lips
Declare the gospel.
All praise to Christ we give!
Who He is, what He’s done,
And why it matters,
He’s the reason that we live.

No other passion,
No other creed,
No other refuge,
This we believe.
No other passion
No other creed,
He’s the reason that we live.

Words by Ken Puls; Music by Ken Puls and Rebecca Sissons
©2016 Kenneth Puls and Rebecca Sissons

You can hear a recording of the song from our evening service on June 5, 2016:

Click here to download lyrics and free sheet music: including song sheet, chord chart and music arranged for instrumental ensemble.

—Ken Puls

A Crescendo of Praise

Crescendo Wave

The LORD reigns, let the earth rejoice;
let the many coastlands be glad!
(Psalm 97:1)

True worship is centered on God. We see this in Psalm 97 from the very first verse. We are to be glad and rejoice. Our God reigns! Our Lord is Sovereign over all. This knowledge should season every thought and flavor every prayer!

Notice that Psalm 97 begins with praise. The psalmist lifts his voice with confidence and joy starting with the very first verse. Not all the psalms begin this way. Many open with cries of distress or sorrow. The psalmist is afflicted, persecuted, facing suffering or weighed down by trials. In these circumstances, as the psalmist pours out his heart before God, you will find petitions, prayers and laments. But as you read the psalms, you will also discover that the focus doesn’t remain on the problems and difficulties and trials. Over and over throughout the psalms, the concern of the psalmist turns from his petitions and laments to God’s glory and praise.

Look, for example at Psalm 13. David begins the psalm in desperation:

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O LORD my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
(Psalms 13:1-4)

But then David turns his thoughts to God’s love and there is a noticeable shift:

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.
(Psalms 13:5-6)

Do you see the change in David’s focus as the psalm begins compared to how the psalm ends? As he meditates and remembers the God to whom he is praying, his heart is turned from sorrow to praise!

In fact, if you read through the entire book of Psalms, you will see a noticeable shift in its content. Early in the Psalter you find many petitions and laments, but as you grow closer to the end of the book, the petitions and laments grow fewer and fewer until from Psalm 145 to the end there is pure praise. The Psalms culminate in a crescendo of praise that builds to the last verse (Psalm 150:6) and resounds in the final command: “let everything that has breath praise the Lord!”

The Book of Psalms begins with a blessing. Psalm 1 tells us that we are blessed when we turn away from sin and evil, and we delight in the Law of God and meditate upon His Word day and night. Those who know God—know His name, His character, His promises, His salvation—those who delight in Him will be:

… like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
(Psalms 1:3)

The remainder of the Book of Psalms is a glorious testimony that this promise is true. In every distress and storm where the psalmist feared that he would wither or fall, when the psalmist looked to God and trusted in God and clung to God’s revelation of His character and promises and will, when he was confident that God would accomplish His purposes, then his focus turned from petition and lament to praise and rejoicing.

This is why Psalms is called in Hebrew a Book of Praises (Sepher Tehillium).

This has great implications for our worship today. If our desire is to have worship that honors God and enriches, encourages, and nourishes our souls, our greatest need to stop focusing on ourselves and remember God.

Think of this when we gather together for worship on the Lord’s Day. Think of this when we come together for prayer on Wednesday nights. As you voice your concerns and share your heart, honestly confess your difficulties and struggles, tell God your sorrows and troubles, but don’t stay there! Look to God! Our God reigns! Let your words dwell upon Him!

[This excerpt is from a sermon on Psalm 97 entitled “The God We Worship.” You can read the full sermon text here.]

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Gathered Now We Come to Worship

Gathered now, we come to worship,
Hearts united, singing praise!
We would look to Jesus only,
Letting none distract our gaze.
May we offer music fitting
For the worship of our King.
Let us foremost seek His pleasure
As our voices join to sing.

Worship is not about our efforts, our pursuits, or our offerings. Worship centers on the glory and majesty of Christ Jesus. This hymn is a meditation on 2 Corinthians 4:5 “For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake.”

Check out the lyric video on youtube:

And download the music from band camp:

Click here to download lyrics and free sheet music: including song sheet, chord chart and music arranged for classical guitar.

—Ken Puls

 

Lessons from the Psalm Inscriptions: What Can We Learn?

Psalm Inscriptions

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

Conclusion: What Can We Learn?

The psalm inscriptions offer a unique perspective on music and worship for the church musician. In this series we have examined the inscriptions under five categories:

I. DESIGNATION: Those titles using the Hebrew preposition לֹ lamed.  They can denote the author(s) of the psalm, the recipient(s) of the psalm, to whom the psalm is dedicated, or possibly whom the psalm is about.

II. DESCRIPTION: Titles that state the type of poetic genre or musical composition. [psalm, maschil, song, praise, prayer, testimony, michtam]

III. EXPLANATION: Titles that provide a historical connection for the psalm. They relate the circumstances surrounding the composition of the psalm.

IV. APPLICATION: Titles that indicate the liturgical, devotional or didactic use of the psalm. [For the Sabbath Day, To Bring Remembrance, Of the Ascents]

V. INTERPRETATION: Titles that explain how the psalm should be musically interpreted or performed. [On Flutes, With Stringed Instruments]

[Download a PDF list of Psalm Inscriptions highlighted by category]

The psalms set a precedent and paradigm for church music through the ages. Although a measure of uncertainty still surrounds the meanings of some of psalm inscriptions, they are a part of God’s revelation in Scripture and have relevance for the present day. God has given us enough light to reveal some of their purposes within the Psalter. Those who serve God with the gift of music can especially benefit from a knowledge of these headings.

So what can we learn from the Psalm inscriptions? How can they be useful and encouraging to us as we magnify God through music in the present day? Here, in summary, are ten lessons we have gleaned over the course of the study:

1. The psalm inscriptions reveal a wide range of poetic and musical forms found in the psalms. These include psalms, songs, prayers, praises, testimonies, michtams, maschils, and shiggaions. This diversity in the Psalter sets a precedent for the vast tapestry of poetic and musical forms used in worship throughout church history.

2. The psalm inscriptions display a wide range of usefulness for music in worship. The psalms shape and accompany much of the content of Old Testament worship. They not only function as musical compositions, but also as prayers, wisdom literature and liturgical texts. According to the inscriptions, the poetic and musical forms in the Psalter provide helpful structure for singing, playing music, celebrating (at a wedding), petitioning God (in time of need), praising God, giving thanks to God, grappling with injustice, repenting of sin and declaring faith in God as He is at work in the lives of His people.

3. The inscriptions and especially the psalm texts themselves show the wide range of emotional expression possible and appropriate for worship. From the deepest valleys of anguish and despair in Psalm 88, to the sorrow and grief of Psalm 51, up to the highest peaks of joy and praise that culminate in Psalm 150, the psalms demonstrate the unmatched ability and usefulness of music to express such emotion. Enoch Hutchinson in Music of the Bible explains:

“The essence of lyric poetry is the immediate expression of feeling; and feeling is the sphere in which most of the psalms move. Pain, grief, fear, hope, joy, trust, gratitude, submission to God, everything that moves and elevates the heart is expressed in these songs.” [1]

4. The psalm titles demonstrate the wide range of musical expression possible in worship. Many types of instruments are mentioned in the inscriptions including stringed instruments, flutes, an instrument of Gath, as well as a host of others mentioned in the texts of the psalms themselves (such as Psalm 150). Vocal forces include solos (individual praise and lament) to “everything that has breath.”

5. The psalm inscriptions highlight the connection between music and God’s work in human history. They link the psalms to real situations recorded in Scripture and actual worship practices of ancient Israel and the Temple. We sing the words penned by David and other Old Testament songwriters as they looked to God for strength and help. We join our voices with God’s people in past ages, singing the words that carried their praise and comforted their hearts. The psalms remind us that we are part of something much larger than what we see God doing in our lives today. We are part of God’s covenant promises and plan of redemption that has shaped all of human history since the Garden of Eden to the present day.

6. The psalm inscriptions intimate a place for personal expression (I and me) in music for worship. The psalms are the heartfelt and authentic cries of David, Asaph and other songwriters, expressing their petitions and praises, their thanksgivings and laments. Though many of the psalms began as individual expressions of worship, expressed in the first person (I and me), God’s people in all ages have identified with the psalms and found an affinity with their message. We sing the words of the psalmists as our own because they express common experiences and feelings, such as remorse over sin, repentance of sin, praise to God, thanks to God, and adoration of God. The psalms demonstrate that we can address God in personal and intimate ways, though corporately as the gathered people of God.

7. The psalm titles suggest a connection between the popular or familiar music of the culture and music in worship. The sound of the music in the Temple was not markedly distinct from the music of the people. Temple musicians borrowed from familiar tunes, styles and instruments of the day. The psalms set a precedent for the church throughout its history to harness the music of the world for the glory of God. This is evident in the New Testament as well. In Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16, alongside psalms, Paul lists hymns, a musical form borrowed from pagan culture, first used to honor false Greek and Roman gods, but now synonymous with music of the church.

8. The psalm inscriptions reveal that our worship of God should extend beyond our times of gathered worship. The Psalms of the Ascents (120–134) were sung by Israel as they journeyed to the Temple in anticipating of corporate worship. We see David and others lifting praise and crying out to God in many situations and circumstances, in times of joy and in times of need. We can pray and sing to God at any time and in any place and He will hear us and answer us.

9. The psalm titles set a precedent for care and planning for music in worship. The psalmists were careful to include instructions concerning how the psalms should be musically performed. This involved care in using appropriate instruments and tunings, care in using the psalms for appropriate occasions, and care in finding the right tune to fit with a certain text. The psalm titles teach us the value of being thoughtful and intentional in preparing for and leading worship.

10. The psalm titles highlight the value of ministry of those who compose, compile, plan and lead music in worship. They remind us to give thanks for songwriters, musicians and worship leaders in the church. We need to encourage them and pray for them. We need to pray that God will raise up more servants in the church who will use their musical gifts for His glory and benefit of His people.

For more on Music and Worship, see “What Then Shall We Sing?”

Part 1: Thoughts on Music
Part 2: Thoughts on Music and Worship
Grid for Evaluating Music

Note:
[1] Psalm 4, 6, 54, 55, 61.

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 for this series: Lessons from the Psalm Inscriptions

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

The Light of Day

And by and by the day broke; then said Christian, He has turned “the shadow of death into the morning.”

Now morning being come, he looked back, not out of desire to return, but to see, by the light of the day, what hazards he had gone through in the dark. So he saw more perfectly the ditch that was on the one hand, and the mire that was on the other; also how narrow the way was which led between them both; also now he saw the hobgoblins, and satyrs, and dragons of the pit, but all afar off, (for after break of day, they came not nigh;) yet they were discovered to him, according to that which is written, “He discovers deep things out of darkness, and brings out to light the shadow of death.”

Now was Christian much affected with his deliverance from all the dangers of his solitary way; which dangers, though he feared them more before, yet he saw them more clearly now, because the light of the day made them conspicuous to him. And about this time the sun was rising, and this was another mercy to Christian; for you must note, that though the first part of the Valley of the Shadow of Death was dangerous, yet this second part which he was yet to go, was, if possible, far more dangerous; for from the place where he now stood, even to the end of the valley, the way was all along set so full of snares, traps, gins, and nets here, and so full of pits, pitfalls, deep holes, and shelvings down there, that, had it now been dark, as it was when he came the first part of the way, had he had a thousand souls, they had in reason been cast away; but, as I said just now, the sun was rising. Then said he, “His candle shines upon my head, and by his light I walk through darkness.”

The Light of Day

Christian has had a long and difficult journey through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, but now the dawn is breaking. After being oppressed and confounded in the darkness, he welcomes the light of day with praise to God. He quotes from the book of Amos, acknowledging that God is the One who is sovereign over night and day, over darkness as well as light.

He made the Pleiades and Orion;
He turns the shadow of death into morning
And makes the day dark as night;
He calls for the waters of the sea
And pours them out on the face of the earth;
The Lord is His name
(Amos 5:8)

It is God who graciously sends the light:

Unto the upright there arises light in the darkness;
He is gracious, and full of compassion, and righteous.
(Psalm 112:4)

And exposes and uncovers the darkness.

He uncovers deep things out of darkness,
And brings the shadow of death to light.
(Job 12:22)

In Bunyan’s allegory the light represents the Word of God:

Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path.
(Psalm 119:105)

We are called to heed this Word as we walk through this dark world:

And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts (2 Peter 1:19).

Early in his pilgrimage Christian was taught to prize and seek the light. When Evangelist first pointed Christian to the Wicket Gate (representing Christ as the Way to life), Christian could not yet see the Gate. Evangelist then directed him to “yonder Shining Light” (representing the Word of God). It is by God’s revealed Word that we see clearly the Way to salvation. It is God’s Word that points us to Christ, who is the Word made flesh (John 1:14) and the true Light of the world (John 1:9). When Isaiah prophesied of the coming of Jesus, he described it as the dawning of day across a land shrouded in the shadow of death:

The people who walked in darkness
Have seen a great light;
Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death,
Upon them a light has shined.
(Isaiah 9:2)

Isaiah’s refrain is echoed in the song of Zacharias when the prophecy is fulfilled at Jesus’ birth:

Through the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us;
To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace.
(Luke 1:78–79)

If we are to find peace and hope in this life, we must find Christ. There is nothing more valuable as we face the darkness of this world than laying hold of Christ in His Word. In Christ there is life and light. In Christ we have nothing to fear. He is our strength and salvation.

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the strength of my life;
Of whom shall I be afraid?
(Psalm 27:1)

Throughout The Pilgrim’s Progress Bunyan has emphasized the necessity of reading and heeding God’s Word. The story opens with Christian reading his Book in a field, where it warned him to flee from the wrath to come. He was directed to follow its light as he sought a way of escape from Destruction. He heard valuable lessons for his journey when the Word was opened to him at the House of the Interpreter. He was taught to wield the Word as his sword in the armory of Palace Beautiful.

Now as light dawns in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Bunyan highlights the importance of God’s Word for navigating the trials and temptations of this life. In the story, as the sun is rising, Christian gains a better perspective of what lies behind him as well as lies before him. He can better see the difficult trials he has just experienced and the dangers from which God has protected him. And he can better discern and anticipate what might lie ahead. The light gives him the advantage. In the light the fiends of the valley are driven back.

Likewise, in the light of God’s Word, we are better able to make sense of previous trials. And we are better prepared to face new trials. The light allows us to see the true nature of sin and temptation. In the light sin loses its power to allure and confuse us. We see it as abhorrent and conspicuous. In the light we see the ploys and perils of sin. We can better steer clear and avoid its entanglement. In the light we see the charm of this world fade and grow dim, outshined by the beauty and splendor of Christ. Nothing that sin or this world can offer us will ever compare to the joy of knowing Him. We need God’s Word to keep the light of Christ shining brightly on our path.

The light of day makes Christian both thankful and careful. He is grateful for all that God has brought him through and vigilant to stay clear of snares that would draw him away and threaten his soul. The Way is filled with danger. And even greater dangers lie ahead for Christian. But in God’s mercy the sun is rising and Christian can see the Way forward. As he presses on he recounts with Job “the days when God watched over me; when His lamp shone upon my head, and when by His light I walked through darkness” (Job 29:2–3).
May God help us always to seek and walk in the light of His Word:

Oh, send out Your light and Your truth!
Let them lead me;
Let them bring me to Your holy hill
And to Your tabernacle.
(Psalm 43:3)

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2015 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Lessons from the Psalm Inscriptions: Titles of Interpretation

Played by Flutes

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

Titles of Interpretation

The inscriptions included at the beginning of many of the psalms offer valuable instruction for church musicians. They provide brief glimpses of the worship practices of ancient Israel and the Temple. In earlier posts we considered four categories of titles: designation, description, explanation and application. The final category of psalm inscriptions is interpretation.

Thirteen inscriptions included in the first three books of the Psalter relate to interpretation, clarifying how the psalm was musically performed or sung. These inscriptions always follow the designation to the chief musician (lamnatstsech). Although these headings are the most difficult of the five types to satisfactorily understand and adequately translate, they include terms that most likely denote musical instrumentation, voicings, melody or tune names, and musical styles. All but one use the preposition ‘al meaning upon or according to or the proposition b meaning with.

Instrumentation

Three of the headings appear to indicate musical instrumentation. They refer to stringed instruments, flute or wind instruments, and an unknown instrument of Gath.

With Stringed Instruments

An instruction to perform with stringed instruments appears in five psalms. [1] The singular with a stringed instrument occurs in two psalms. [2]

The Hebrew inscription binginoth consists of the preposition b meaning with or on and the plural form of the noun neginoth. Neginoth comes from the root nagan meaning to touch (strings) or to play a stringed instrument. [3] Most modern versions translate the inscription as with stringed instruments or simply for strings. The KJV leaves the term untranslated as on Neginoth.

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. [4]

Idelsohn adds: “These two instruments were the most important ones, without which no public religious ceremony could be held.” [5]

Upon Flutes

The inscription el-hanechiloth occurs only in Psalm 5. It consists of the preposition el meaning upon and the plural form of the noun nechilah which most likely denotes a flute. [6] Most modern versions translate the heading as for flute accompaniment or simply for flutes. As with neginoth the KJV leaves this term untranslated, upon Nehiloth.

Flutes were primarily used on special occasions and festivals in the worship of Israel, including Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles. [7] According to Edersheim, “the flute was also used by the festive pilgrim-bands on their journey to Jerusalem, to accompany ‘the Psalms of Degrees,’ or rather of ‘Ascent,’ sung on such occasions.” [8] This heading does not appear on any of the Songs of Ascent, however, all of the psalms in Book V lack titles of application.

When flutes were used in the Temple, they were highlighted as solo instruments as Edersheim notes:

In the Temple, not less than two nor more than twelve flutes were allowed, and the melody was on such occasions to close with the notes of the flute alone. [9]

Upon the Gittith

The instruction ‘al-hagitith appears in three psalms. [10] The Hebrew phrase consists of the preposition upon ( ‘al), the definite article h and an uncertain term gittith.

The term gittith most likely refers to a musical instrument named after the Philistine city of Gath. [11] David spent time in Gath when he was fleeing from Saul (1 Samuel 21:10–15). He would have been aware of their musical practices. Kraus suggest, however, that the term “probably refers to a melody” and should be rendered according to the Githitic (tune). [12] The KJV, NAS, NIV, ESV and NRSV all leave the term untranslated. The NKJV has on the instrument of Gath.

Voicings

The two headings indicating a certain voicing or tuning of the stringed instruments are the first of the headings to appear in Scripture outside the Psalter. They are found in 1 Chronicles 15:20 and 21 where David prepares to bring the ark to Jerusalem and appoints Levites to oversee the worship of God.

The singers, Heman, Asaph, and Ethan, were to sound bronze cymbals; Zechariah, Aziel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Unni, Eliab, Maaseiah, and Benaiah were to play harps according to Alamoth; but Mattithiah, Eliphelehu, Mikneiah, Obed- edom, Jeiel, and Azaziah were to lead with lyres according to the Sheminith. Chenaniah, leader of the Levites in music, should direct the music, for he understood it (1 Chronicles 15:19–22).

The use of the inscriptions in this historical context reveals that they are ancient, going back at least to the beginning of David’s reign as king.

According to Sheminith

The heading ‘al-hasheminith occurs in Psalms 6 and 12. The term is unclear, but likely instructs the instrumentalist to tune to or play in a lower key.

The KJV, NIV, ESV and NRSV leave the term untranslated. NKJV has on an eight-stringed harp. The NAS has upon an eight-stringed lyre. Klein suggests two possible meanings: a musical instrument probably of 8 strings or an octave. [13] Peter Craigie, in his commentary, renders it upon the octave implying a lower tuning or bass accompaniment, which, he says, “would be appropriate to the solemn theme of the psalm.” [14]

According to Alamoth

A similar heading to sheminith occurs in Psalm 46, ‘al-‘alamoth. This term is also uncertain, but is likely a compliment to sheminith, especially in light of their use in 1 Chronicles 15:20–21. Alamoth, therefore, would denote a tuning to or playing in a higher key.

The KJV, NKJV, NAS, NIV, ESV and NRSV all leave the term untranslated. Klein refuses to speculate on this term saying it is “of uncertain origin and meaning.” [15]

Melodies

At least seven headings in the psalms suggest the use of pre-existing tunes or well-known melodic patterns to perform the psalm. Idelsohn explains the role of these tunes in Israel’s worship:

The vocal song of the Temple, like all religious song among the ancient and primitive nations, drew its sap from the folk song, though foreign tunes may have occasionally crept in. These Temple songs—folk-tunes modified and sanctified—were in turn copied by the ‘representatives of the people,’ the Anshe Maamad, from all parts of the country, who learned the melodies together with the texts, and would carry them to their homes. [16]

Curt Sachs further clarifies the use of these melodic patterns:

Oriental music has always been, and still is, composed in well-defined designs or melodic patterns. These melodic patterns might be compared to the three Greek orders or styles in architecture, the composition of which had detailed rules with which the artist was compelled to comply, and only within these specifications could he follow his personal interpretation. In music, melodies using the same scale, and relating to each other by their general mood, belong to one melodic pattern. [17]

According to Aijeleth Hashachar

The tune Aijeleth Hashachar is found only with Psalm 22. The KJV and NAS leave the title untranslated, but other versions have spawned a number of suggested translations. These include: The Deer of the Dawn (NKJV and NRSV), The Doe of the Morning (NIV), and Doe of the Dawn (ESV).

According to Jonath Elem Rechokim

The title ‘al-Jonath Elem Rechokim occurs only in Psalm 56. The terms in the heading are uncertain and have produced a number of various translations: The Silent Dove in Distant Lands (NKJV), A Dove on Distant Oaks (NIV), The Dove on Far Off Terebinths (NRSV and ESV). The KJV and NAS leave the title untranslated.

According to Shoshannim

The inscription ‘el-shoshannim means literally upon Lilies. Of the seven inscriptions that likely refer to tune names or melodic patterns, this one presents the most difficulty. It occurs in three psalms, 45, 69, and 80. Psalm 45 is a song of love replete with praise and adoration. Psalm 80, however, is a lament containing a refrain that pleads with God for revival. It seems improbable that two psalms of such different character could be performed with the same musical setting.

The phrase is literally translated as Lilies (NKJV, NIV, NRSV, and ESV). The KJV and NAS leave the title untranslated.

According to Shushan Eduth

The title ‘al-shushan appears only in Psalm 60. Although the term ‘eduth meaning a testimony is often included as part of the tune name, it should be considered as a separate title of description, as in the heading to Psalm 80. The title ‘al-shushan consists of the preposition according to (‘al) and the noun lily (shushan) which appears in the plural form in Psalm 45, 69, and 80. Commentators who attached ‘eduth to this title assume unnecessarily that the noun shushan is in the Construct state and must be linked with the following term. The translation of the title should read, however, to the tune “A Lily.”

The KJV, NAS and ESV leave the title untranslated. Translated tune names include: Lily of the Testimony (NKJV) and The Lily of the Covenant (NIV and NRSV).

According to Muth-labben

The heading ‘almuth labben occurs only in Psalm 9 (Psalm 10 is a continuation of this psalm and does not have its own heading.) Owen suggests that the title derives from the words ben meaning son and ‘almah meaning young woman. He translates the performance instruction as soprano voice of boys. [18] Other scholars suggest the first word in the title relates to the Hebrew root muth meaning to die. [19]

The KJV, NAS, ESV and NRSV leave the title untranslated. NKJV and NIV translate the name of the tune as Death of the Son.

According to Machalath (Leannoth)

The title of Psalm 53 uses the uncertain term machalath with the preposition according to (‘al); Psalm 88 uses both machalath le‘annoth introduced by according to (‘al). Marvin Tate says in his commentary that the phrase is “assumed to be a tune or chanting pattern to be used with the psalm.” [20] The KJV, NKJV, NAS, NIV, ESV and NRSV leave the terms untranslated, implying this possibility.

Do Not Destroy

The heading ’al-tashcheth appears in four psalms. [21] It consists of the negative particle ’al and the Hiphil (causative active) form of the verb shachath meaning to spoil, ruin, or wipe out. [22] The KJV and NAS leave the title untranslated. The NKJV, NIV, NRSV, and ESV all translate the title as Do not Destroy.

The inscription may relate to Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 9:26, or David’s words in 1 Samuel 26:9, or more likely, to the words of a song recorded in Isaiah 65:8 which begins:

Thus says the Lord:
“As the new wine is found in the cluster,
and they say, ‘Do not destroy it,
for there is a blessing in it,’
so I will do for my servants’ sake,
and not destroy them all.”

Marvin Tate explains:

The “do not destroy it” expression seems to have been a popular saying or proverb which reflected the idea of a vineyard keeper refusing to destroy grape-vines when the first clusters of grapes were bad. The vines still had the blessing of life in them and a potential for future production. Like the vines, Israel had brought forth the grapes worthy of destruction but Yahweh would not destroy Israel because she still contained a blessing (cf. Isa 28:23-28). [23]

Styles

According to Jeduthun

This heading referring to Jeduthun, one of David’s chief musicians, appears in two psalms (62 and 77). Jeduthun’s name also appears in a title of designation (with the preposition  לֹ) in Psalm 39. Tate suggests that the title in Psalm 62 and 77 employing the preposition ‘al may be “referring to a tune or musical setting, according to which the psalm was to be sung.” [24] The Hebrew preposition, however, is best translated here as according to. [25] Kraus suggests the proper rendering “After the manner of Jeduthun’s music making,” [26] denoting a particular style for which Jeduthun was known.

Conclusion

Although the titles of interpretation are the most difficult to translate, they do shed some light on the use of music in worship.

First, the titles indicate a measure of thoughtfulness and planning in the preparation and performance of music. The musicians who served in the Temple were intentional in choosing what instruments were used (strings, flutes, and even an instrument of Gath) and the key or tuning of the musical setting (lower or higher). They used specific melodic patterns or tunes to accompany certain psalms. They even used the musical settings or styles of particular composers (as with Jeduthun). The titles of application serve to remind us to put thought and care into the planning of music for worship.

Second, the titles also suggest a rich crossover between the music of the Temple and the popular music of the people (sung in homes, in the fields and in other cultural settings). Temple musicians borrowed from well-known or popular settings; they included melodic patterns that were familiar to the people. This is a point worth noting. There are some who have concluded that sacred music (music used in the worship of God) should have a decidedly distinct sound or style from secular music (music used for other purposes in the world). The psalm inscriptions, however, suggest that the musical style and arrangement of sacred and secular are not so markedly separate.

In the New Testament Paul provides a paradigm for church music that encompasses a vast array of musical sounds and styles down through history and around the world. We are to sing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16) to the glory of God. The music of the church begins with the psalms, rooted in the worship of ancient Israel. But even in the psalms we see the beginnings of the varied sounds of praise in worship. Along with popular melodic patterns accompanying some of the psalms, we see remarkably, instructions to use an instrument (or possibly a tune) from Gath. A part of the musical tradition from a city of the Philistines, one of Israel’s enemies, is selected and sanctified for use in worship.

The psalms set a musical precedent for worship that God will accomplish in fuller measure in the New Testament through the church. Throughout church history, God has added and continues to add many musical styles and sounds to His praise. As the gospel goes out in the power of God’s Spirit, conquering hearts and lives, people from each generation and from every tribe and tongue and nation add their voice to the music of the church. There is not one sound that is solely sacred, but a vast array of musical composition that God is weaving into a tapestry of praise for His glory.

Notes:
[1] Psalm 4, 6, 54, 55, 61.
[2] Psalm 67, 76.
[3] The New Brown–Driver–Briggs–Gesenius Hebrew and English Lexicon [BDB], 618.
[4] 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.
[5] Abraham Z. Idelsohn, Jewish Music: Its Historical Development (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1929; reprint, New York: Dover Publications, 1992), 8.
[6] John Joseph Owens, Analytical Key to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1992), 3:263.
[7] Edersheim, The Temple, 79-80.
[8] Edersheim, The Temple, 80.
[9] Edersheim, The Temple, 80.
[10] Psalm 8, 81, 84.
[11] Ernest Klein, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English. (New York, MacMillian Publishing Company, 1987), 111.
[12] Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalm 1–59: A Commentary, trans. Hilton C. Oswald (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 1988), 31.
[13] Klein, Etymological Dictionary, 666.
[14] Peter C. Craigie, Psalm 1-50, Word Biblical Commentary, eds. David A. Hubbard, et al., vol. 19 (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983), 90.
[15] Klein, Etymological Dictionary, 473.
[16] Idelsohn, Jewish Music, 20.
[17] Curt Sachs, The History of Musical Instruments (New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1940), 126.
[18] Owen, Analytical Key to the Old Testament, 3:269.
[19] Klein, Etymological Dictionary, 327.
[20] Marvin E. Tate, Psalm 51-100, Word Biblical Commentary, eds. David A. Hubbard, et al., vol. 20 (Dallas, Texas: Word Books, 1990), 394.
[21] Psalm 57, 58, 59, 75.
[22] William L. Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1988), 366.
[23] Tate, Psalm 51-100, 77.
[24] Tate, Psalm 51-100, 120.
[25] Tate, Psalm 51-100, 120.
[26] Kraus, Psalms 1-59: A Commentary, 30. See also BDB, 393.

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)

Lessons from the Psalm Inscriptions: Titles of Application

Song of Ascents

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

Titles of Application

The inscriptions included in the book of Psalms provide helpful insights into the composition and usefulness of psalms in the worship of God’s people. Thus far in our study of the psalm inscriptions we have examined headings related to designation, description and explanation. The fourth category is application.

Eight inscriptions concern the application of the psalms. Twenty-three psalms in the Psalter contain these inscriptions in their titles. Unlike the titles of designation and description, headings that include an inscription of application never list more than one application. Titles of application denote how the psalm was used or should be used in worship. They can be divided into three groups.

    1. Liturgical (related to Israel’s observance of the festivals and holy days)
    2. Devotional (related to appropriate expressions and occasions for worship)
    3. Didactic (related to instruction and edification)

Liturgical

Three headings relate to the liturgical use of the psalm: for the dedication of the Temple, for the Sabbath Day, and of Ascents.

For the Dedication of the Temple

Psalm 30 includes the inscription a song for the dedication of the Temple (shir-hanukkath habbayith). This psalm was likely written for the dedication of Solomon’s Temple. [1] The NAS translates the phrase literally at the dedication of the House. The KJV and NKJV combine this heading with the heading to David and translate the inscriptions together as at the dedication of the house of David. The NIV and ESV interpret the the Hebrew term habbayith (meaning house) as referring to the Temple. The NIV and ESV have good reason to make this connection. In 2 Chronicles 5:1 the Temple is called the house of Yahweh. The phrase the dedication of the house of God (hanukkath beyth elohim) is found in both verses 16 and 17 in Ezra 6 referring to the dedication of the Temple when it was rebuilt following the exile. The term Hanukkah (dedication) became firmly associated with the Temple in 164 B.C. when Judas Maccabæus established a festival celebrating the reinstitution of worship in the Temple following the desecrations of Antiochus Epiphanes. [2] The festival is mentioned in John 10:22 and includes the singing of Psalm 30.

This heading presents several difficulties in relation to Psalm 30. The psalm is ascribed to David although the Temple had not yet been built. The Temple is not mentioned anywhere in the lyrics to the psalm. In the psalm David rejoices that God heard his prayer and healed him. He thanks God that his enemies have not gained victory over him (verse 1) and he and his lineage are now firmly established in God’s blessing. It is likely in this psalm that David was looking forward in hope to the time when his son would reign and build a House for God. God had promised that David’s house (his son) would built His House (the Temple).

When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever (2 Samuel 7:12-13).

It may have been David’s desire that when the House of God was built and dedicated to the Lord, among the first praises lifted in song would be David’s own thanksgiving to God:

That my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever!
(Psalm 30:12)

For the Sabbath Day

Psalm 92 is a song for the Sabbath Day, a song set apart for use on Israel’s most treasured day of the week. On the first Sabbath Day God rested from His work of creation. In this psalm the psalmist remembers what God has done and in verse 4 proclaims:

For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work;
At the works of your hands I sing for joy.

On the seventh day of every week, Israel was to rest from labor and celebrate together a holy convocation. The Sabbath was a full day sanctified to the Lord for the purpose of gathering the community together for worship. The psalmist confirms in verse 13 that those who “are planted in the house of the LORD” shall “flourish in the courts of our God.”

In the Temple worship a certain psalm was sung on each day of the week. Alfred Sendrey explains:

On the first day of the week, Psalm 24 was sung in remembrance of the first day of creation. No reason is known for the choice of the other daily psalms. On the second day the Levites sang Psalm 48; thereafter through the week, Psalm 82, 94, 81, 93, and on the Sabbath Day, Psalm 92, which bears this indication in its heading. [3]

Of the Ascents

The heading hamma’eloth appears in a collection of fifteen psalms (120–134). The NKJV, NAS, NIV, and ESV all render the term of Ascents. The KJV has of Degrees. The phrase shir hamma’eloth consists of the noun shir (song) in Construct state (meaning it must be linked to the following term) [4] followed by the noun ma’elah in the plural with the definite article (ha) attached. The phrase is best translated A Song of the Ascents.

Marvin Tate in his commentary observes that all the songs tend to be brief and are pre-occupied with Zion, the City of God (Jerusalem). [5] They were sung by Israelites as they traveled to Jerusalem for worship at the Temple, especially during the three pilgrimage festivals each year: Passover, the Feast of Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles. [6] Sendrey comments:

The short verses, written in an unaffected popular vein not found in other psalms, make it easy to believe that these songs of ascent gradually took shape among the yearly caravans of pilgrims that marched from all corners of Israel to the holy site of Jerusalem. In time they were probably made into a small songbook, whose collective title, “Songs of Ascent,” may have been affixed to each of the songs when the collection was taken into the Psalter. [7]

The Songs of the Ascents expressed the longings of the nation to be in Jerusalem at the time of these festivals and take part in the joyful celebrations in worship of God.

Some commentators have associated the Songs of the Ascents with physical aspects of the Temple, identifying them with the fifteen steps that lay between the Court of Women and the Court of the Israelites, as Sendrey explains:

The oldest rabbinical tradition connects these fifteen steps with the fifteen psalms referred to, saying that the Levites used to stand at the former, while singing the latter at the Feast of Tabernacles during the ceremony of the Water-libation. Since the number of the psalms and of the steps was identical, the rabbinic writers concluded that each psalm was sung on one of the steps. [8]

These steps (ascents) are mentioned in the description of the Temple in Ezekiel 40:26, 31.

Devotional

Four titles of application suggest appropriate expressions of devotion in worship at specific occasions: petition (in time of need), love (at a wedding), gratitude (for answered prayer), and sorrow (in time of affliction).

To Bring Remembrance

The heading to bring remembrance (lehazekir) appears in two psalms (38 and 70). It consists of the preposition to (le) and an infinitive construct verb from the root zkr in the Hiphil (causative active) stem meaning to mention or to remember. [9] In the Qal (simple active) the verb can mean he remembered, called to mind or he mentioned. [10] According to the TWOT, the term has three ranges of meaning: (1) “completely inward, mental” such as to think (about), to meditate (upon), to remember; (2) “mental accompanied by action” such as to pay attention (to); and (3) “forms of audible speaking” such as to mention, declare, recite, proclaim, invoke, commemorate, accuse, confess. [11] The TWOT concludes: “Cognate evidence indicates that the third group of meanings is closest to the verb’s root meaning.” [12] Concerning the origin of zkr, Klein states:

According to some scholars the original meaning of this base would have been “to prick, pierce”, whence “to fix in one’s mind” — to remember. [13]

While the root meaning of the term is clear: remembrance, scholars have debated as to what the Hiphil suggests, remembrance of God (commemoration) or from God (invocation). Klein suggests that the term in the Hiphil means: he caused to be remembered, he mentioned, or he commemorated. [14] The TWOT claims that the “meaning ‘to cause to remember’ for the Hiphils is dubious.” [15] The active nature of the stem seems to lean toward causing God to remember rather than causing God to be remembered.

The NIV favors this meaning, rendering the term a petition. Owens prefers the translation to invoke. [16] The NAS and ESV link the term to an act of worship in the Temple service, for a memorial and for the memorial offering. Peter Craigie explains in his commentary: “The word is sometimes associated with the ‘memorial offering’ … as described in Lev 2:2 and 24:7.” [17]

Along with the two psalm titles, the phrase to bring remembrance also appears in 1 Chronicles 16:4 where it describes one of the three activities to which the Levites were appointed. Through music they were to bring petition, invoking God’s care and remembrance of His people; give God thanks for all He did in His people’s behalf; and praise God’s name that He might be exalted, glorified and honored.

The content of the two psalms possessing the inscription also sheds light on the meaning. Psalm 38 begins: “O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger.” It continues with pleading and petition, concluding in verses 21–22: “Do not forsake me, O LORD; O my God, be not far from me! Make haste to help me, O LORD, my salvation.” Psalm 70 is also clearly a petition, beginning: “Make haste, O God to deliver me!” It concludes: “O LORD, do not delay.” In both psalms David is invoking God’s attention and remembrance. He is asking for God’s protection and care in the midst of suffering and trouble. David uses the same term used of Noah in Genesis 8:1, “and God remembered Noah.” Remembrance here does not refer simply to knowledge—that Noah would come to God’s mind. It rather implies action. God took special care of Noah and all on the ark. It is this care and concern that David earnestly seeks from God in these psalms.

Of Love

Psalm 45 bears the inscription a song of loves (shir yedidoth). The KJV, NKJV, and NAS translate the phrase as Song of Love. The ESV uses Love Song. The NIV has Wedding Song. In light of the content of the Psalm 45, Peter Craigie also favors wedding song. He comments:

There can be little doubt that this poetic composition originated in the wedding celebration for a particular king, composed for the occasion; subsequently, it would have been used frequently at royal weddings. [18]

The phrase shir yedidoth consists of the noun shir in Construct state followed by a plural adjective yedidoth. It is best rendered as A Song of Loves. The title is appropriate to the content of the psalm that not only depicts the beauty of a royal wedding, but also prophetically portrays the glory of Christ, the Messiah, and the beauty of His bride, the church.

For Thanksgiving

Psalm 100 begins with the inscription a psalm for thanksgiving (mizmor letodah). The KJV renders the term letodah of praise. The NKJV and NAS use the word thanksgiving. The NIV and ESV have for giving thanks. The noun todah is derived from the verb yadah which means to confess, praise or give thanks. [19] The TWOT explains:

This cognate noun, being derived from yada, basically means “confession,” either of sin or of God’s character and works. The term was employed uniquely in reference to the sacrificial system of Israel One could bring a “thank-offering” (or “praise-offering”) in which he would make declarations of praise to God and/or confession of sin to God as he offered his sacrifice. [20]

Owens prefers the translation for the thank offering, linking the psalm to its original use in the liturgy of the Temple accompanying the sacrifices. [21] According to the ceremonial law, a worshipper could bring a peace offering for giving thanks (Leviticus 7:12-15). Often these were offered in fulfillment of a vow, when God had heard and answered a plea or petition. This thanksgiving sacrifice is mentioned in Psalm 50:14-15 where Asaph writes:

Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and perform your vows to the Most High,
and call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.

As noted above with bringing to remembrance (offering petition), the giving of thanks (yadah) was one of the three primary duties of the Levites as they served God before the ark. [22] The title is fitting to the text as verse 4 of the psalm commands those who come to worship God:

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!

For the Afflicted when he is overwhelmed and pours out his complaint

Psalm 102 is a prayer for the afflicted, for use by those who are physically suffering and need to cry out to God for relief. The noun ‘ani translated afflicted refers to those who are overwhelmed by want, poor, wretched or in misery. [23] The psalmist here contemplates his frailty in comparison to God’s firm endurance. Singing psalms is not just for the joyful and glad of heart. The rich content of the Psalms offers as well words for those suffering affliction and in anguish.

Didactic

One title of application found in the Psalter denotes a didactic use of the psalms. The Psalter has, along with its primary purpose of glorifying God, a secondary purpose of edifying the people of God. Through the singing of psalms as God is worshipped, His character and acts are proclaimed to the benefit of the church. His people can learn as they pray and sing and take comfort in the knowledge they gain of their God.

For Teaching

The inscription for teaching (lelammed) occurs in the longest title in the Psalter, the double heading of Psalm 60. The KJV and NAS render this heading to teach. The NKJV and NIV use for teaching. The ESV reads for instruction.

Marvin Tate notes that the heading for teaching implies that the psalm was written “to encourage or inform the people.” [24] An example of this application is seen in Deuteronomy 31:19 where Moses is commanded by God to write down (kithbu) and teach (lamdah) a song to the children of Israel. In this instance the song was to be “a witness for me against the people of Israel.”

Sendrey connects this title to the descriptive term michtam, which may denote a poem written down for the benefit of the community to teach and preserve truth:

The various psalms containing miktam originally may have formed a small independent collection, with Psalm 60 as the initial poem, expressing in its heading the purpose of the entire group, i.e., “to be taught to youth.” [25]

Conclusion

The titles of application help us understand some of the purposes for the psalms as they were used in Temple worship. The psalms provide the content for corporate worship: at the dedication of the Temple, on the Sabbath Day, and even on the journey to participate in gathered worship. We see various activities and situations in which God intends to invoke prayer and praise from His people in song: in times of joy (a wedding) and sorrow (when afflicted); in times of need (petition) and satisfaction (thanksgiving). We also see the value of the psalms in teaching us how to pray and how to praise our most worthy and exalted God.

Notes:

[1] 2 Chronicles 5–6.
[2] Alfred Edersheim, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services as They Were in the Time of Christ (New York: F. H. Revell, 1874; reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1987), 333–34.
[3] Alfred Sendrey, David’s Harp: The Study of Music in Biblical Times (New York: New American Library, 1964), 93.
[4] In Construct state shir would be translated into English song of.
[5] Marvin E. Tate, Psalm 51-100, Word Biblical Commentary, eds. David A. Hubbard, et al., vol. 20 (Dallas, Texas: Word Books, 1990), 220.
[6] See Exodus 23:14-17; 34:18-26; Leviticus 23; Deuteronomy 16:1-17.
[7] Sendrey, David’s Harp, 84.
[8] Alfred Sendrey, Music in Ancient Israel (New York: Philosophical Library, Inc., 1969), 99.
[9] William L. Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1988), 89.
[10] Ernest Klein, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English. (New York, MacMillian Publishing Company, 1987), 198.
[11] Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament [TWOT], 1:241.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Klein, Etymological Dictionary, 198.
[14] Ibid.
[15] TWOT, 1:242.
[16] John Joseph Owens, Analytical Key to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1992), 2:735.
[17] Peter C. Craigie, Psalm 1-50, Word Biblical Commentary, eds. David A. Hubbard, et al., vol. 19 (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983), 303.
[18] Ibid., 338.
[19] TWOT, 1:364.
[20] Ibid., 1:365
[21] Owens, Analytical Key to the Old Testament, 3:433.
[22] 1 Chronicles 16:4. “Then he appointed some of the Levites as ministers before the ark of the LORD, to invoke [bring petitions], to thank, and to praise the LORD, the God of Israel.”
[23] Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon, 278.
[24] Tate, Psalm 51-100, 101.
[25] Sendrey, David’s Harp, 85.

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)