“David Playing the Harp by Jan de Bray, 1670.”
As noted throughout this blog, each set of Sunday Bible readings – in the Anglican Lectionary – includes a psalm. (Or portion of a psalm.) And, each set of Daily Office readings usually has at least three psalms and sometimes more. (For more on that see DOR?)
Which means that people who follow the Lectionary spend a lot of time on the psalms, and some people may wonder why. As to why we spend so much time on them, the Church itself – including the Catholic “Mother of All Churches” – spends a great deal of time on the psalms. Aside from that, the psalms are widely recognized as critical to spiritual growth.
To begin with, the Hebrew Bible – Tanakh, or what Christians call the Christian Old Testament – is divided into three parts. The Torah, or “Teaching” – also known as the Five Books of Moses – is followed by Nevi’im (the prophets), then comes the Ketuvim (‘Writings’) that constitute the third section of the Hebrew Bible. The Book of Psalms is the first book of the Ketuvim:
The English title is from the Greek meaning “instrumental music” and, by extension, “the words accompanying the music.” There are 150 psalms in the Jewish and Western Christian tradition[, ] divided into five sections, each closing with a doxology (i.e., a benediction) … probably introduced by the final editors to imitate the five-fold division of the Torah.
See Psalms – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikipedia added that the “version of the Psalter in the American Book of Common Prayer prior to the 1979 edition is a sixteenth-century Coverdale Psalter. The Psalter in the American Book of Common Prayer of 1979 is a new translation, with some attempt to keep the rhythms of the Coverdale Psalter.” (This blog is based in large part on the American Book of Common Prayer.)
Among other things, the Psalms are key to meditating on the Bible.
See for example Psalm 1:2, “Their delight is in the law of the Lord, and they meditate on His law day and night;” Psalm 77:12, “I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds;” Psalm 119:15, “I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways;” Psalm 119:23, “The evil have been sitting and plotting against me, but I have been meditating upon your commandments;” and Psalm 119:48, “I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes.”
And incidentally, Psalm 119 – home of three of the five quotes above – “is the longest psalm as well as the longest chapter in the Bible… It is the prayer of one who delights in and lives by the Torah, the sacred law. With its 176 verses, Psalm 119 has more verses than 14 Old Testament Books and 17 New Testament Books.” See Psalm 119 – Wikipedia.
Getting back to King David (seen above), Wikipedia noted he is credited for writing 73 of the 150 psalms in the Bible, along with some 3,600 tehilim (songs of praise) plus other compositions,” according to “one of the Dead Sea Scrolls (11QPsa).” And it seems that David got started singing and going on to write such psalms after he was called to the court of King Saul. (Not to be confused with “Saul of Tarsus” who later became Paul the Apostle, “second only to Jesus Christ” in New Testament importance. See The Apostle Paul (Saul of Tarsus) – Missionary Giant, and also Saul – Wikipedia, the first ruler of the United King of Israel and Judah, circa 1082-101 B.C. The Apostle Paul is said to have been born about the year 5 A.D., and died around 67 A.D.)
Returning to the subject of David and his “call to courtship:”
As punishment for his previous misdeeds, Saul was tormented by an “evil spirit from the Lord” (1 Samuel 16:14) and it was suggested he send for David, a young warrior famed for bravery and his lyre playing. Saul did so, and made David one of his armor-bearers. From then on, whenever “the spirit from God came on Saul, David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.”
See David – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. As far as the spiritual efficacy of reading and studying the psalms, see Thomas Merton’s Praying the Psalms (Liturgical Press 1956), where he noted the Catholic Church has “always considered the psalms her perfect book of prayer:”
There is no aspect of the interior life, no kind of religious experience, no spiritual need of man that cannot be depicted and lived out in the Psalms.
Also, Psalms – Wikipedia made the following points: 1) the Psalms have been used throughout traditional Jewish worship, for thousands of years. (See also On “originalism”.) 2) Many Jews complete the Book of Psalms on a weekly or monthly basis. 3) The reading of psalms is viewed in Jewish tradition as a vehicle for gaining God’s favor. 4) The Psalms have remained an important part of worship in most Christian Churches. 5) In the early centuries of the Church, it was expected that any candidate for bishop would be able to recite the entire Psalter from memory (all 150 psalms). 6) Several conservative Protestant denominations sing only the Psalms, and do not accept the use of any non-Biblical hymns. And 7) The Psalms have always been an important part of Catholic liturgy as well, as Merton noted.
For more on the Anglican and/or Prayer Book take on the psalms, see The Psalter.
See also The Significance of the Psalms | Bible.org, which said that Psalms is one of two Old Testament books most frequently quoted in the New Testament. (The other most-quoted OT book is Isaiah). The article added, “In their preaching and writing, the apostles often quoted from the Psalms as biblical proof of the fact that Jesus was the promised Messiah of the Old Testament.” For example, Peter quoted Psalm 16:8-11 as proof that Jesus must be raised from the dead in Acts 2:24-36. Thus, “Any book so prominent in the minds of the New Testament writers should also be important to us.” (Emphasis added.)
See also The Daily Office | From the Diocese of Indianapolis (aka “dailyoffice.org”):
Psalms are the poetry and songbook of Jesus’ day. All we have are the words, not any music that was sung with them, but the words themselves are musical. Christ and all the Jews were taught the Psalms as children and probably memorized them… The Psalms are the essence of Morning and Evening Prayer. Scripture instructs, while prayers request; psalms worship, and that’s the point of the Office. Worship is the only intelligent response to the overwhelming lovingness of God.
This then is why we spend so much time on the psalms, for reasons including to “gain God’s favor” and to make better and greater spiritual growth (like Thomas Merton, below).
The upper image is courtesy of Psalms – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
The lower image is courtesy of the Thomas Merton Center website, discussed further below.
As to David playing the harp, see David – Wikipedia, which noted First Samuel, Chapter 16, about Saul, the first-ever king of Israel, being tormented by an evil spirit as noted above.
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A lectionary is a “book or listing that contains a collection of scripture readings appointed for Christian or Judaic worship on a given day or occasion. There are sub-types such as a ‘gospel lectionary’ or evangeliary, and an epistolary with the readings from the New Testament Epistles.” See Lectionary – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, which added that the practice goes way back: “The Talmud claims that the practice of reading appointed Scriptures on given days or occasions dates back to the time of Moses.” Wikipedia added that the Roman Catholic Mass Lectionary – the Roman Rite of Mass – “is the basis for many Protestant lectionaries, most notably the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL).” (The readings in this blog are based on the RCL.)
As to “the Catholic ‘Mother of All Churches.’” The phrase including “mother of all” came into the popular lexicon in 1990-91, “after its use by Saddam Hussein, then president of Iraq, in reference to the Gulf War as ام المعارك (umm al-ma‘ārik, ‘mother of battles‘).” See mother of all – Wiktionary, and also Mother of all | Define Mother of all at Dictionary.com, referring to “mother of all, the greatest or most notable example of,” as in: “the mother of all mystery novels.”
For more on Thomas Merton – and/or his book Praying the Psalms – see On Thomas Merton.
The lower image is courtesy of the Thomas Merton Center website, which noted, “His writings include such classics as The Seven Storey Mountain, New Seeds of Contemplation, and Zen and the Birds of Appetite. Merton is the author of more than seventy books that include poetry, personal journals, collections of letters, social criticism, and writings on peace, justice, and ecumenism.”
(Ecumenism is “an interdenominational initiative aimed at greater Christian unity or cooperation. The term is used predominantly by and with reference to Christian denominations and Christian Churches separated by doctrine, history, and practice. Within this particular context, ecumenism is the idea of a Christian unity in the literal meaning: that there should be a single Church.” See Ecumenism – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. For more on that subject, Google the phrase “there are no denominations in heaven.”)