Psalm 9 – What about those Psalm Titles?

Psalm 9 has some notable characteristics, and is the subject of some disagreement among scholars, although toward minor matters.  To begin with, the psalm is an acrostic, though certainly not on the level of Psalm 119.  It uses the first eleven letters of the Hebrew alphabet,although one is missing.  There have been some that suggest Psalm 9 and 10 were once a single psalm because the latter is also an acrostic.  But they are much too different.  The insignificance of an acrostic in this case is such that some scholars have even questioned that as an intent. Then, there is the matter of the superscription or title.  As noted in this blog previously, these titles are not part of the inspired word, but they are ancient.  There are critics that dispute the accuracy of these titles when they explicitly link a psalm to a particular historical event in scripture or a location (such as being written when David was in the wilderness of Judah).  But such critics have not given convincing reason for such doubt.

It is important to remember that the Psalms were written for song and prayer, and have been used for both since the time they were written.  In the ESV, this one reads “To the choirmaster: according to Muth-labben. A Psalm of David.”  Those first three words occur 55 times in the superscriptions of chapters of the Book of Psalms.  Other translations read “For the chief musician…”  What follows is usually obvious musical instruction, such as “with stringed instrument.”

Smith's Bible Dictionary 1863

Smith’s Bible Dictionary 1863 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But occasionally, what follows may be simply be “a psalm of David,” which was undoubtedly instruction enough at one time as to its musical execution. Or, as in this case, what follows may be a phrase suggesting that it be sung a particular way, or set to the tune of another song known at the time the superscription was written.  Scholars do not agree on what the Hebrew letters that were transposed as Muth-labben actually mean.  The NKJV and RIV both take the stance that this means that the psalm is to be sung “to the tune of “Death of the Son.'”

Two other instructions are within the body of this Psalm.  One is “Selah,” which according to Smith’s Bible Dictionary:

“is found only in the poetical books of the Old Testament, occurs seventy-one times in the Psalms and three times in Habakkuk. It is probably a term which had a meaning in the musical nomenclature of the Hebrews, though what that meaning may have been is now a matter of pure conjecture. (Gesenius and Ewald and others think it has much the same meaning as our interlude,–a pause in the voices singing, while the instruments perform alone.)”

Before the word “Selah” in verse 16, we have another word (“Higgaion”), which is generally accepted as instruction for a pause of meditation (more info at this link to Topical Bible“).  Together with “Selah,” this would suggest a longer period of pause with musical direction and meditation following verse 16’s praise of God for what He has done, before continuing the psalm.

When Nahash, king of the Ammonites, died, David sent some men to his son Hanun to comfort them. Hanun insulted David's men by shaving their beards and cutting their robes off at the buttocks (2 Samuel 10:1-5)

When Nahash, king of the Ammonites, died, David sent some men to his son Hanun to comfort them. Hanun insulted David’s men by shaving their beards and cutting their robes off at the buttocks (2 Samuel 10:1-5)

Which brings us to another point over which there is some disagreement.  That is whether the psalm is about an actual victory already won over an enemy (see verse 4), a plea for God to grant such a victory (e.g. verse 13), or a statement of certainty by the psalmist that such victory would come (e.g. verse 3).  According to Coffman, George Rawlinson believed that the psalm is about David’s victory over Ammon and Syria (2 Samuel 10:6-14).

What the psalm is really about is thanksgiving and praise to God.  With the exception of the petitions in verses 19-20, almost the entire psalm praises God and thanks Him for all that He has done, and for His constant care.  That is the lesson of this psalm, what its words are to be used for, and how we should do the same:

“I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and exult in you;
I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.”

Read or listen to audio of ESV version of this selection from this link.

/Bob’s boy

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