In almost every service, a psalm is read or sung. What exactly are psalms?
The Book of Psalms, in the Old Testament of the Bible, is a vast collection of poems, hymns, and prayers assumed to be written over many hundreds of years. In fact, the first psalms are believed to have originated with Moses in 1440 BC.
Most of the authors remain unknown to us although 73 are sometimes attributed to King David, a notorious king and poet who lived around 1000 BC. The psalms are “not instructional but are intended as expressions of the heart”.
A study of the psalms reveals much about the history and faith of the Israelites. Many are beautiful pieces of poetry that have been sung in Christian churches and in Jewish synagogues throughout the ages.
Psalm 139 is a beautifully written reflection. Its authorship is attributed to King David who speaks of God’s omnipresence. Some believe it was written against the idolatrous worship of the sun which was common in other religions of the time. In simple terms, this psalm is an ode to God:
You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. 5 You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.
13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. 17 How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God! How vast is the sum of them! 18 Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand— when I awake, I am still with you.
19 If only you, God, would slay the wicked! Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty! 20 They speak of you with evil intent; your adversaries misuse your name. 21 Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you? 22 I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies. 23 Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.