The Uses of the Psalter -- By: Charles Lee Feinberg

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 105:418 (Apr 1948)
Article: The Uses of the Psalter
Author: Charles Lee Feinberg


The Uses of the Psalter

Charles Lee Feinberg

Important as other phases of the interpretation of the Psalter may be, and we should be the last to minimize the significance of any aspect, none is of greater importance than the use for which the Psalter was intended. Upon this field archaeology has shed much light and made notable contributions. The two scholars who have made the most intensive study of the manner in which the Psalter was utilized in the life of the Hebrew people, based upon their researches into the results of archaeological findings, are Hermann Gunkel and Sigmund Mowinckel, the former a German and the latter a Norwegian scholar. The lines of investigation that they suggest are carried out also by the English C. C. Keet and the American John P. Peters. From the conclusions of these scholars it is clear that the Psalter was collected for use in the Temple liturgy and meant to fill the need for every form of worship.1 Welch claims that the Psalter was no private collection of hymns, but an official one. However, though these hymns were intended in large measure for use in the Temple worship and its God-appointed rituals, they have been able to separate themselves from their original setting and usage, maintaining their place in the community’s religious life after the destruction of the Temple and the discontinuance of its services.2

So much has been written upon and argued for the liturgical use and purposes of the Psalter that, it is to be feared,

some have lost sight of the devotional purposes of the Psalms. We shall deal at length with the liturgical purposes of the collection, but it seems logical and fitting to point out the place that the Psalter had in the private devotional life of the Hebrew people. Again we need to be reminded that the Psalms are poetry, and as such emerge from deep feeling and experience. In this manner the individual psalms or poems arose. The godly one in Israel, directed of the Spirit of God, found his heart full to overflowing, and he set forth the stirrings of his heart and soul with the pen of the ready writer. One such poem actually tells this experienee:

“My heart overfloweth with a goodly matter;
I speak the things which I have made regarding the king:
My tongue is the pen of a ready writer.”3

Such expressions of heart experiences served not only the spiritual needs of those who set these thoughts to poetry, but ministered to the requirements of their coreligionists. They were utilized for private devotions. Oesterley asserts that a number of ...

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