Friday, July 24, 2015
Praying the Psalms with David: Reflecting on the Davidic Nature of the Psalter
If you are familiar at all with the book of Psalms, you’ve likely heard of the association of the Psalter with King David. David was a musician before he was king. The stories about David in the books of Samuel record him playing music for king Saul (1 Sam 16:14–23) and singing songs at key points in the narrative (e.g., 2 Sam 1:17–27). Just as Moses is associated with the five books of the Law (Genesis–Deuteronomy), David is linked with the five books of the Psalms.
About half of the books 150 psalm carry the title “Of David.” This phrase does not necessarily imply authorship in the original Hebrew. There are undoubtedly psalms in the book composed by David, but the various titles to the psalms (whether “of David” “Of Moses” “Of Korah among others) may also be dedications. Regardless, the constant refrain “Of David” through the psalter gives the book a Davidic feel and functions to serve key theological and interpretive functions. First, David models the life of prayer by showing that even a great leader must live out of dependence not on human power but on God. Second, the references to David serve to link the prayers and praise of the Psalter with real life events. The implication is that the Psalms are prayers forged in actual life settings so that we can confidently use them in our daily lives. Last, since David was idealized as Israel’s great king, the connections to David point to the hope of God’s people for the renewal of God’s reign and kingdom. As followers of Jesus, we recognize these longings are fulfilled in Jesus, and these model prayers continue to help us live confidently in the knowledge that Jesus will return triumphantly to usher in fully God’s abundant future.
Beginning with Ps 3, there are 13 psalms that specifically link the content of the psalm to a context within the life of King David. For example, Psalm 3 invites us as readers to ponder David’s state when we was fleeing from the rebellion led by his own son Absalom against his leadership (see 2 Samuel 15–17). This reference is meant to give a context for reading the psalm. We are to imagine ourselves in a desperate situation in which we are surrounded by foes, including potentially people whom we have trusted deeply but who are now betraying us. The reference to David does not mean that we can only pray this psalm if we are in the precise situation as David. Instead it shows how a righteous king such as David models prayer for God’s people today. The psalms with explicit links to David’s life are Pss 3, 7, 18, 34, 51, 52, 54, 56, 57, 59, 60, 63, and 142.
As we pray the psalms, let us assume the posture of Israel’s greatest king and lift our prayers to David’s and our true king: the LORD.