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Friday, June 24, 2011

King David and the Psalms

Blessed Fra Angelico
ca. 1400 - 1455
King David
From Psalter
1443-45
Tempera and gold on parchment
395 x 275 mm
Museo di San Marco, Florence

Jean de Rély (d 1498). and Atelier du maître de Jacques de Besançon
Le Roi David jouant de la lyre. Portrait de Charles VIII
King David playing the Lyre. Portrait of King Charles VIII
From Latin Psalter with French translation
c. 1498
Illuminated manuscript on parchment
RC-C-03768, MSS LATIN 774 Folio 1
Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris


The oldest texts of the Book of Psalms contain 73 titles that include the expression “ledawid” (“of David”). Thus the attribution of these psalms to the authorship of King David. Some scholars dispute the fact that he actually wrote these Psalms.

However David had many qualities which led to his fame as a psalmist. He was a renowned as a musician and a poet. He was a man of deep feeling, emotion and imagination. He truly worshipped God. He had a wide and varied experience. He was endowed with the Spirit of God.

In Psalm 63:1 he wrote:

“O God, Thou art my God; I shall seek Thee earnestly; my soul thirsts for Thee, my flesh yearns for Thee…“

Again in Psalm 51:11 he wrote:

“Do not cast me away from Thy presence, and do not take Thy Holy Spirit from me.”

The Psalter ministers to the needs of the private devotional life. Thus the many Psalters from the medieval eriod and before. Such Psalters which are in museums and libraries demonstrate the great veneration afforded to the use of the Psalter and the reading of the Psalms

But as can be seen from the post below, often in the history of the Church and in the history of a nation, some great conflict or event has carried the use of the Psalms out from the realm of private prayer into the open places of a tumultuous world.

But in their origin the Psalms and the Psalter were a part of the life and prayer and song of the writers themselves

Geerhardus Vos said of the Psalms:

"The deeper fundamental character of the Psalter consists ... that it voices the subjective response to the objective doings of God for and among his people.

Subjective responsiveness is the specific quality of these songs.

As prophecy is objective, being the address of Jehovah to Israel in word and act, so the Psalter is subjective, being the answer of Israel to that divine speech."
Geerhardus Vos, Eschatology of the Psalter, The Princeton Theological Review 18 (Jan. 1920) 1-43

Of King David and the Psalms, the Pope recently said (on Wednesday last):

"[T]he Jewish tradition has also given specific titles to many of the psalms, attributing them in great part to King David.

A figure of notable human and theological depth, David is a complex personality who passed through the most varied experiences fundamental to life. A young shepherd of his father's flock -- passing through the ups and downs and at times dramatic events of life -- he becomes king of Israel, the shepherd of God's people.

Although a man of peace, he fought many wars; an untiring and tenacious seeker of God, yet he betrayed His love, and this is characteristic: He always remained a seeker of God, even though he sinned gravely many times; a humble penitent, he received divine forgiveness, even divine pity, and he accepted a fate marked by suffering.

Thus, in all his weakness, David was a king "after God's own heart" (cf. 1 Samuel 13:14); that is, a passionate man of prayer, a man who knew what it meant to petition and to praise.

The connection of the Psalms with this illustrious king of Israel is important, then, for he is a messianic figure, the Lord's Anointed, in whom the mystery of Christ is in some way foreshadowed"