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The Psalms – For chanting one’s way to reach the feet of God

Most of the psalms have a poetic touch and are beautiful in its composition. They are mellifluous in words and melodious to the ears. Out of the 150 psalms, 73 psalms were authored by David with Hebrew title.

The Psalms – For chanting one’s way to reach the feet of God

By K L Joseph
The Psalms are religious sacred songs or poems. The psalms are also hymns of praise, which were sung by the   people of   Israel in their daily worship of God.The psalms were originally written in Hebrew language.

The Book of Psalms in the Old Testament contains 150 sacred songs which are spread over in five books. Each book contains specified number of  psalms starting from 1-41 in  Book No. 1,  42-72 in Book No. 2, 73-89 in Book No. 3, 90-106 in Book No. 4 and  from  107-150 in Book No. 5 respectively.

Most of the psalms   have a poetic touch and are beautiful in its composition. They are mellifluous in words and    melodious to the ears. Out of the 150 psalms, 73 psalms were authored by David with Hebrew title. David sung the psalms to the accompaniment of the harp, a stringed musical instrument played by plucking with the fingers. 

The harp was traditionally considered to have been used by those in heaven to sing praises for God. It  might  be  due to  this  traditional  belief, David  sung  the psalms to the accompaniment of the harp. Few situations have been given in the Old Testament to show that David was very much attached to the use of this stringed musical instrument. 

In the First Book of Samuel, in chapter 16.14-23, David is seen playing   on his harp.  When the King Saul was tormented by an evil spirit sent by the Lord   (Sam. 16.14-23), his servants   sought the order from the King to bring in David, the son of Jesse, to play his harp.  When  David   was brought  in, he  played  his harp and then  the  evil spirit  stopped  tormenting  the King  and  left him. Again in Chapter 18.10 of the First Book of Samuel, David is seen playing his harp.

Also  in  chapter 13.8 of the First Book of Chronicles,  it is written  that  David  and all the people danced  with  all their  might  to honour God, while  moving  the Covenant  Box  on a  new cart. They sang and played musical instruments-harps, drums, cymbals and trumpets.

Leaving 73 psalms written by David, 77 psalms   are   remaining. Out of the 77 psalms, 12 psalms were written by Asap and 11 psalms by the clan of Korah. The remaining psalms are believed to have originated from others.

Each psalm signifies its intended purpose. Some psalms are meant to seek God’s help.  Some are meant to seek God’s protection. There are also psalms to pray for forgiveness, salvation and   God’s help for punishment   of enemies etc.

Out of the 150 psalms, seven   are the   penitential psalms, which carry expression of penitence or penance. They are Psalm Nos 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130 and 143.  

Surprisingly, however, the oldest of the psalms appears in the Second Book of the Old Testament “Exodus” in chapter 15. 1-18. This  particular psalm, which does not appear in the Book  of  Psalms, was sung by Moses and the people of Israel  praising God after the Lord had enabled them to triumph over the pursuing Egyptian Army, by parting the waters of the Red Sea, and making a dry ground  at its bottom to enable them to cross  over.  

The pursuing Egyptian Army with their chariots, horses and drivers etc…. met with a watery grave, when the  Lord  brought  back the waters to drown them, after his people had safely crossed the Red Sea.

The Psalms have taken a prominent place in the Liturgy of the Eucharist of the Syro Malabar Churches. These psalms have gone into the Liturgical Order of the Eucharist i.e psalms Nos. 144, 145, 146, 84, 15, 141:2, 19:1, 19:2, 45:1-2, 106:48, 46:7-8,  115:13,  62:8  and 51.

Unfortunately, the  Psalms  are not  sung in the way  they  ought  to  be  sung  during the  Liturgy of the Eucharist. They have been expressed more in the form of prayers at various stages of the   worship, instead of chanting them as sacred songs with due accompaniment of the musical instruments.

The purpose of chanting Psalms while worshiping God is to create a holy ambience in order to lift our hearts unto him, unhindered by   evil thoughts or impure images, for making our spiritual connection with him. The Psalms written  by  the David are best suited for this  intention, as  no other sacred  songs or hymns  can  surpass  its  beautiful  lyrical  composition  and  meaning of the words used.

During this Advent let us sing together the most famous American Carol song Joy to the World written by Isaac Watts in 1719 based on Psalm 98:

Joy to the World; the Lord is come;
Let Earth receive her King
Let every Heart prepare him Room
And Heaven and Nature sing.

(K L Joseph is a Church lay writer from Trichur)

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