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.
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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