More Noncanonical Songs of David

Four additional Songs of David were published in More Noncanonical Scripture (edited by Bauckham, Davila and Panayotov (Eerdmans, 2013). Geert Wouter Lorein and Eveline van Staalduine-Sulman provide the introduction and translation for the songs.

These four songs may have been part of a larger liturgical collection, but only these four survived in the Cairo Genizah in a tenth century manuscript. Despite this, many consider these psalms to come from a much earlier period, possibly the Qumran community. As Lorein and van Staalduine-Sulman comment, this is possible but no definitive proof exists for these Psalms originating with the Qumran community. In fact, the eschatological use of David in the psalms seems to point more toward the Targum and early rabbinic writings than Qumran (MNS, 261). Nevertheless, As Lorein and van Staalduine-Sulman conclude an origin for these psalms in the later-Qumran period “seems a valid option” and suggest these psalms were among the manuscripts discovered at Qumran about A.D. 790 and were taken to the Qaraite community in Cairo around A.D. 800.

David Flusser published a translation of these Psalms and concluded the way David is portrayed has some affinity with the world of the Essenes, the universal tone “accords better with the environment which produced the Biblical Antiquities” (Judaism and the Second Temple Period I, 282).

These psalms make use of earlier canonical psalms as well as prophetic material for example, in 1:14-23 (note the Roman numeral refers to the column rather than the psalm).

Psalm I.14-23 You prophesied by Your spirit through the mouth of Your servant for I have brought nigh the end and You will no longer delay it. 15 From the beginning You swore to David Your servant and You anointed Jesse’s root with Your mercy. 16 You sustained his arm with Your holiness, for he established Your praise up to the ends of the earth. 17 You established his name as a pillar of the world, and as a repairer of a breach and as a re-builder of ruins. 18 The rejected cornerstone, which the builders rejected, rose to be the head of all nations. 19 You made him inherit turban and crown with joy and You called out his name to be praised among all nations. 20 Righteousness and justice You have multiplied in his days and well-being and blessings without number. 21 All the righteous chosen ones shout for joy before Your face, for they rejoice in the <de>sirable la<nd>. 22 By his mouth You sanctified the great Name, and all day long he recites Your powerful songs I 23 You made his greatness (as) the great number of all angels’ and You appointed him king of all nations for ever.

David is called “your servant” and the Root of Jesse, both are messianic titles, Isaiah 11:1 combines a root from the stump of Jesse and the Spirit of the Lord. In I.17 the Davidic figure repairs the ruins, a likely allusion to Isaiah 58:12. In I.18 there is a clear allusion to Psalm 118:22: “the rejected cornerstone, which the builders rejected, rose to be the head of all nations.”  In Isaiah 28:6 the Lord himself is a crown of glory for his people, in I.19 the Davidic figure inherits a crown with joy which causes the nations to praise him. Likewise, Isaiah 62:2 the messianic figure will be a “crown of beauty” and royal diadem in the hand of God. In the second psalm, the Davidic figure is a “light for the nations” (2:8) Isa 42:6, Luke 2:31-32, Acts 13:47).

In the third song, the Davidic figure “heals the brokenhearted and binds up the bones of the oppressed, he turns mourning into gladness trembling and fear into great forms of trust.” (IV.1-2). Healing the brokenhearted appears in Psalm 34:18 and 147:3, but also in the good shepherd passage in Ezekiel 34:16 where the Lord himself will shepherd his people and will “bind up the injured.” Turning “mourning to joy” is language drawn from Jeremiah 31:13, a text Johan alludes to in John 16:20.

These examples serve to show the writers of these liturgical psalms used the expectation of an idealized Davidic king who would in some way restore God’s rule to Israel. The nations will acknowledge this Davidic ruler and it will be a time when God’s people will magnify the glory of the Lord in their camps and all idolatry will disappear from the people of the Lord (II.16-19). If it is the case these psalms pre-date the first century, they are more evidence the early Christian movement resonated with Second Temple Judaism as the described Jesus as the son of David and the good shepherd who turned mourning into joy (Matthew 5:4; 9:15; 11:17-18).



Flusser, David, “The Apocryphal Psalms of David,” pages 258-82 in Judaism and the Second Temple Period I: Qumran and Apocalypticism. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2007.

Lorein, Geert Wouter; Staalduine-Sulman, Eveline van, “A song of David for each day: the provenance of the Songs of David” Revue de Qumran 22 (2005): 33-59.


Psalm 72 – A Messianic Psalm?

The header does not explicitly refer to a historic event in the life of David or Solomon, although it seems clear that the Psalm refers to the Davidic Covenant.  But the language of the Psalm is grand and universal – the King will rule the whole world and the prosperity of the King rivals the Garden of Eden.  Since the details go beyond Solomon (or any other king of Israel or Judah), it is assumed by many Jewish and Christian writers that this Psalm is Messianic, referring to a future restoration of Israel when the land will be expanded and peace and prosperity will finally come to Israel.

As one of the  ten “royal” psalms (2, 18, 20, 21, 45, 72, 101, 110, 132, and 144:1-11), this psalm is usually interpreted as messianic.  It is not surprising to find that early Christians saw this psalm as referring to the coming Kingdom of God.  Of interest, however, is the use ease at which this psalm can be used as a description of the coming kingdom.  The Messiah is a son of David who will reign in glory; all of the nations will honor him, the extent of his kingdom is worldwide; the duration of his kingdom is eternal.   The Targum on this psalm clearly interprets it as messianic:  “O God, give Thy regulations of right to the King Messiah” (cited by Keil and Delitzsch, 5:479).

But this same sort of hyperbolic language would be said about any Ancient Near East king.  For this reason, W. E. Oesterley declared that this Psalm was not at all messianic, but merely a coronation Psalm using the language of ancient Oriental royal courts (The Psalms, 337).

I say all this to point out a methodological problem when approaching the Psalms.  There are several “horizons” which may color my reading of the text.  First, Psalm 72 may read completely within the world of the psalm itself, in this case as a coronation hymn used by the kings of Israel and Judah.  At this level, I might be concerned with the words and syntax of the psalm as well as other Ancient Near East parallel hymns.

Second, the psalm can be read as a part of a developing theology in the Hebrew Bible.  At this point I may choose to read other texts which use similar language in a sort of intertextual strategy to connect Psalm 72 to the overall themes of the Hebrew Bible, in this case, messianic themes.

Third, the psalm can be read in the light of later interpretation, either the Targumim or Christian interpretation.  Since I am a Christian, I may read this psalm in the light of the New Testament fulfillment in Jesus. The basis of the  kingdom in Psalm 72 is compassion toward the poor and afflicted.  Clearly this is something that the ministry of Jesus sought to emphasize as he preached the Kingdom of God.

Which is the right method?  My approach is to read the psalm, as much as possible, within the world of the Psalm, but then begin to draw lines from that world to the larger world of the Hebrew Bible, then finally to potential Christian interpretations.  The intended point of the Psalm was a coronation hymn, but within the context of the whole canon of Scripture, than coronation hymn takes on messianic implications.  Within the context of the Christian canon, it takes on implications which include a specific messiah, Jesus.

Here is what I mean:  This psalm takes the ideas of the Davidic Covenant and places it in a worship setting, possibly for a coronation ceremony or covenant renewal ceremony.  There are reminders of the terms covenant, the blessings for obedience, and some basic duties listed.  Perhaps the king heard this psalm at his coronation in order to encourage him to keep the covenant with a whole heart.  But the language would be hyperbolic even if it is applied to Solomon.  While many nations honored him and he ruled a large territory, the Psalm is universal – all the nations will honor this son of David.  It is possible, contra Oesterley, that the Psalm influences other Messianic texts (or vice versa), such as Isaiah 11, Micah 5:3, 6; Zech 9:9ff.  What is more, the language of the Psalm may be echoed by the presentation of Jesus in the synoptic gospels.  Jesus has compassion on the poor (Matt 9:35-36, for example).  As Marvin Tate suggested,  “. . .this psalm is not in the strict sense messianic. It deals with an earthly king. It was at least in part the frustration of these hopes that led to the development of the messianic idea in Israel” (Psalms 50-100, 226).

This seems to me to be a balanced approach to the Royal Psalms which allows for a serious engagement of the Psalm, but also for a reflection on the theology of the Hebrew Bible and late Christian use of the Hebrew Bible.