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Sunday, 14 May 2017

Psalms

The best-known and probably the most often used book among the scriptures is the Book of Psalms. They are a collection of poetic hymns and prayers dating from various periods in the history of Israel. The collection was assembled so that it could be conveniently used at worship services.

Scroll of the Psalms. By Pete unseth - Wikipedia

The Psalms were written not merely as poems, but as songs for singing. More than a third of the psalms are addressed to the Director of Music.

The word 'psalm' literally means 'twang' or 'pluck', referring to the stringed instruments that were used to accompany the singing of psalms.

David Playing the Harp by Jan de Bray, 1670.

The book of Psalms contains 150 of the poetic hymns and songs and prayers. It is the longest book in the Bible.

King David is traditionally reckoned on having written 73 of the 150 Psalms in the Bible. These songs and prayers stand out as great poetry. They spotlight the heights and depths of human experience. "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He lays me down in pastures green" he wrote in the famous Psalm 23.

An 1880 Baxter process illustration of Psalm 23, from the Religious Tract Society's magazine The Sunday at Home

The biblical poetry of Psalms uses parallelism as its primary poetic device. Parallelism is a kind of rhyme, in which an idea is developed by the use of repetition, synonyms, or opposites Synonymous parallelism involves two lines expressing essentially the same idea. An example of synonymous parallelism:

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? 
The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? 
(Psalm 27:1)

The Psalms contain several prophecies that were later fulfilled in Jesus' lifetime. For instance is Psalm 22 in which David 22 16-18 gave an amazingly accurate description of the suffering the Messiah would endure hundreds of years later on the cross:

"Dogs have surrounded me. A band of evil men have encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I count all my bones: people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.”

When David wrote in verse 16 "they have pierced my hands and feet" he was prophesying the crucifixion centuries before the Romans introduced it. Two verses later he prophesies: "They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing" predicting the custom of Roman soldiers, referred to in the Gospel passage, of dividing up the clothing of executed criminals among themselves.

When Augustine of Hippo lay dying, he had the penitential psalms copied onto parchment and attached to the wall of his bedroom so he can read them during his last hours.

In 1640 Pilgrim settlers in Massachusetts published the first book in America, the Bay Psalm Book, which were metrical translations of psalms into English. Thirty learned and devout ministers translated them from the original Hebrew.

Title page of the Bay Psalm Book.

Matthew Maury (January 14, 1806 – February 1, 1873) used Psalm 8 as a guide when he discovered ocean currents in the 19th century At one time, when Maury was in bed recovering from a badly broken leg, he asked one of his daughters to fetch his Bible and read to him. She chose Psalm 8, the eighth verse of which speaks of "whatsoever walketh through the paths of the sea," he repeated "the paths of the sea, the paths of the sea, if God says the paths of the sea, they are there, and if I ever get out of this bed I will find them."

As soon as he was strong enough, Maury began his deep sea soundings and he found that two ridges extended from the New York coast to England. In 1847 he published the Wind and Current Chart of the North Atlantic, which showed sailors how to use the ocean's currents and winds to their advantage and drastically reduced the length of ocean voyages.

Charles Lindbergh's gravestone epitaph quotes Psalms 139:9, It reads: “Charles A. Lindbergh Born: Michigan, 1902. Died: Maui, 1974. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea.”

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