22 July 2022
My daily reflections on the Psalms in my morning blog prayer diary, which began in March, come to a conclusion tomorrow morning (23 July 2022) with my reflections on the last of the Psalms, Psalm 150.
The Psalms, also known as Tehillim, is slim in sizes a book yet towers in importance in the Bible and in literature. This is, for example, the only book in the Bible to be included in whole in the Book of Common Prayer.
In English, this collection is known as the Psalms from the Greek ψαλμοί, which means ‘instrumental music.’ The Hebrew name Tehillim (תהילים), means ‘praises,’ the Psalms contain many praises and supplications to God.
Traditionally, many of the psalms were composed by King David, who is referred to as the ‘sweet singer of Israel’ (II Samuel 23: 1). Almost half the psalms are preceded with ‘Mizmor Ledavid’ (‘A Song to David’) or another opening line ascribing it to David.
Some of the Psalms have no attribution, while some have the names of others such as Asaph, the Sons of Korah, Solomon and Moses. The Talmud says David composed this book with the input of 10 Elders, although only some of whom are named.
The Book of Psalms is divided into five smaller sections or books. The Jewish sages compare this to the Torah, which also contains five books.
When the Temple stood in Jerusalem, the Levites would sing and play music. There were special psalms for each day of the week, as well as Psalms reserved for when the First Fruit (bikkurim) were brought, and other special occasions. The Hallel (Psalms 113-118) were sung when the Passover sacrifice was brought.
The psalms give us the word Hallelujah. The word Hallel means ‘praise, and the Psalms of Hallel often contain the word הללוי-ה, which means ‘praise God,’ rendered in English as ‘hallelujah.’ In all, this word occurs 24 times in Psalms, all of them in the final third of the book, and never in any other books in Scripture.
In all, there are 150 psalms. Despite the different traditions about numbering the Psalms, the sum total is 150. Interestingly, however, the Talmud says there are 147 Psalms, corresponding to the years of the life of Jacob, the common ancestor of all Jews. This discrepancy is because there are certain Psalms (such as Psalms 1 and Psalms 2) that were originally considered a single chapter.
The shortest psalm is Psalm 117, the longest is Psalm 119, the average length of a psalm is 17 verses. Psalm 119 has 176 verses. Following the Hebrew Alphabet, it has 8 verses starting with each of the 22 letters (22x8=176).
Several other psalms are alphabetical in their literary structure.
Three times every day, Jewish people say Psalm 145, known as Ashrei, since it is often preceded by a line from Psalm 84: 5, which begins with this word. Along with Psalm 25, it has one verse for every letter. According to the Sages, saying it regularly guarantees a person’s place in Paradise since it praises God with every letter of the alphabet, and it includes the request: ‘Open your hand and satisfy every living thing [with] its desire.’
A standard edition of Psalms is also divided into seven parts, one for each day of the week, as well as 30, one for each day of the month. The daily portion of Psalms, as it is said on the monthly cycle, can be part of a daily study regimen.
In times past, there were many simple Jews for whom even an elementary Torah class may have been too advanced. Many of them, however, knew how to read. With tears and with love, they would read copious psalms, expressing their most intimate desires and their sincere wish to come closer to God.
The Midrash tells us that when King David compiled the Psalms, he had in mind himself, every Jew, and every circumstance. No matter who you are or what the situation, the words of the Psalms speak the words of your heart and are heard on high.
In the Calendar of the Church, we are in Ordinary Time. Today we also celebrate the feast of Saint Mary Magdalene (22 July 2022). Before today begins, I am taking some time this morning to continue my reflections drawing on the Psalms.
In my blog, I am reflecting each morning in this Prayer Diary in these ways:
1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;
2, reading the psalm or psalms;
3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.
Psalm 149 is second last psalm in the Bible and the fourth of the five final concluding praise Psalms in the Book of Psalms (Psalm 146 to Psalm 150). In Latin, Psalm 149 is known as ‘Cantate Domino,’ sharing an opening line with Psalm 96.
Psalms 146 to 150 form the culmination or crescendo of the Book of Psalms as a whole. These six psalms correspond to the six days of creation.
Psalms 149 is a psalm of thanksgiving for God’s role in the people’s history, granting them victory in war and ensuring the ultimate victory of justice over cruelty and aggression. The worshippers, the people and community of faith, are invited not only to sing but to dance and to make music.
The people are called to sing ‘a new song’ to Lord, new perhaps because God continually reveals more of himself to the faithful. These hymns are accompanied by ‘dancing … tambourine and ‘lyre’ (verse 3).
The ‘two-edged’ sword (verse 6) may be a reference to the dual nature of history: on the one hand, the house of Israel must fight its own battles; on the other, it must always be conscious of the providential pattern of history and the role of God in its survival and success.
But for New Testament uses of similar imagery see:
‘The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing as far as the division until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart’ (Hebrews 4: 12).
‘… and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force’ (Revelation 1: 16) … ‘These are the words of him who has the two-edged sword’ (Revelation 2: 12).
Citing verses 5 and 6, the Talmud (Berakhot 5) says the praises said by the pious on their beds refer to the recital of the Bedtime Shema. The Shema is like a ‘double-edged sword’ that can destroy both inner and outer demons and evil spirits.
Saint Augustine of Hippo says the phrase has a mystical meaning, dividing things temporal and things eternal.
Psalm 149 (NRSVA):
1 Praise the Lord!
Sing to the Lord a new song,
his praise in the assembly of the faithful.
2 Let Israel be glad in its Maker;
let the children of Zion rejoice in their King.
3 Let them praise his name with dancing,
making melody to him with tambourine and lyre.
4 For the Lord takes pleasure in his people;
he adorns the humble with victory.
5 Let the faithful exult in glory;
let them sing for joy on their couches.
6 Let the high praises of God be in their throats
and two-edged swords in their hands,
7 to execute vengeance on the nations
and punishment on the peoples,
8 to bind their kings with fetters
and their nobles with chains of iron,
9 to execute on them the judgement decreed.
This is glory for all his faithful ones.
Praise the Lord!
The theme in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) this week is ‘Turning Point,’ looking at the work of the Diocese of Kurunegala in the Church of Ceylon in Sri Lanka. This theme was introduced on Sunday.
Friday 22 July 2022 (Saint Mary Magdalene):
The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:
Today we celebrate the feast of Mary Magdalene. May we give thanks for her life and resolve to include people of all kinds in the life of the Church.
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org