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“To (King-Prophet) David We Gave Psalms” To Resonate Universally And Emotionally


To (King-Prophet) David We Gave Psalms To Resonate Universally And Emotionally

By Rabbi Allen S. Maller


The Qur’an states: “And We have preferred some prophets over others, and We gave (Prophet/King) David, Psalms.” (17:55) and Qur’an 4:163 again states “and to David We gave Psalms.”

The Zabur (Book of Psalms) is the third of the five longest books in the Hebrew Bible: Jeremiah (33,002 words), Genesis (32,046 words), Psalms (30,147 words), Ezekiel (29,918 words) and Exodus (25,957 words).

There are 150 psalms in the book of Psalms; 73 by Prophet David, plus 12 by Asaph David’s worship leader, and 11 by three repentant descendants of Korah’s family (Torah Numbers 16:1-50), 5 by other writers and about 50 nameless Psalms.

The Talmud names David and ten other authors: “David composed the book of Psalms with ten other elders (two of them non-Jews):  Adam, Melchizedek, Abraham, Moses, Heiman, Yedutun, Asaph, and three sons of Korach.” (Bava Batra 14b.)

Thus, the book of Psalms has more authors than any other single book in the Bible, which is only to be expected because every Christian and Jew needed the ability to express and articulate both supplication and thanksgiving, from those desperately seeking help from the one God of all humanity; to those expressing joy and gratitude to the one God who created the universe. These varied prayers have over the centuries frequently flowed from faithful hearts and minds.

The book of Psalms is the only book in the Bible that is actually written to God and is both God speaking to us and also God giving us a way to speak to him. Prophet Jesus quoted from Psalms more often than from any other book in the Hebrew Bible. So, there were as many as 50-60 different prophetic authors included in the Book of Psalms; it would be as the Qur’an states (40:78): “We already sent messengers before you (Prophet Muhammad). We have told you the stories of some of them, while others We have not.”

It is narrated from Abu Dharr that one day he asked the Messenger of Allah: How many prophets are there in all? He replied: One hundred and twenty-four thousand. He then asked: How many of them were messenger prophets? He replied: Three hundred thirteen from the above group. He asked: Who was the first of them? He replied: Adam…The first prophet among Bani Israel was Musa and the last of them was Isa; and they were in all six hundred (Jewish) prophets.” (Biharul Anwar, Vol. 11, p. 32.)

The Zabur (Arabic: زبور) according to Islam is the holy book of Dawud (David), one of the three holy books revealed by Allah before the Quran, alongside the Tawrat (Torah) of Musa (Moses) and the Injil (Gospel) of Īsā (Jesus). (Qur’an 4:163, 17:55 and 21:105).

The Zabur is a collection of 150 Hebrew hymns and songs originally written to be sung during worship in Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem and often called Dawud’s Zabur (Psalms of David). This does not imply that David wrote all of the Zabur, because the Zabur itself names several other Jewish prophets and holy men as having contributed to it; but more of the Zabur is attributed to David than to anyone else.

The Zabur of Prophet David, King of Israel, expresses beautiful poetic prayers and sacred songs; and also gives the believers of the three Abrahamic monotheistic religions a non-polemical way of understanding the Islamic concept of Tahrif, a term originating in the Qur’an. In its verbal form it indicates an accusation hurled four times (2:75; 4:46; 5:13; 5:41) against those Jewish leaders who quote their Scriptures wrongly out of context.

However, a distinction was made early in standard Tafsir (commentary); and especially in Islamic polemical books, between tahrif al-lafz and tahrif al-ma’na, the first referring to actual textual distortion or corruption, the second referring only to distorted interpretations of uncorrupted texts. Jews and Christians vehemently deny that their sacred texts have been intentionally changed to omit references to Prophet Muhammad; although they do admit that there are minor textual differences in various ancient versions of their ancient sacred texts.

Psalm 72 shows evidence of tahrif that we can all agree upon. Psalm 72 which is attributed to Prophet Solomon not Prophet David, ends: “Praise be to the Lord God, the God of Israel, who alone does marvelous deeds. Praise be to His glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen. This concludes the prayers of David son of Jesse.” (72:18-20)

Yet there are several additional Psalms of Prophet David in the second half of the Book of Psalms/Zabur, other authors are also mentioned, and almost 50 Psalms have no name at all attached to them. So, it is clear that the order of the Psalms has changed, and Psalms from other God-inspired writers have also been added.

The Dead Sea scrolls found stored in the Qumran caves are a collection of 800-900+ texts, containing many ancient Biblical texts; which are the oldest Biblical texts in the world: 29% (223) of them are Biblical texts; and 39 of the 223 are manuscripts of Psalms. They were written during the three centuries prior to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. The first 90 psalms are in the same order as Jews and Christians use today; but the remaining 60 psalms differ in their order from those used since the fourth century. Most Muslims would consider this to be Tahrif, Christians and Jews consider this minor variations. Both sides are correct.

For example, Psalm 67, a short psalm song with a responsive chorus; begins with some phrases from the Blessing given by the Priests in the Jerusalem Temple (and is still used in every synagogue to this day) which is found in the Torah of Moses (Numbers 6:24-26). “The Lord spoke to Moses: ‘Speak to Aaron and his sons: Thus shall you bless the people of Israel. Say to them: The Lord bless you and protect you! The Lord deals kindly and graciously with you! The Lord bestows His favour upon you and grants you peace! Thus they shall link My name with the people of Israel, and I will bless them.'” That Prophet Aaron’s priests were chosen to bless people in God’s name is endorsed in other places in Biblical literature (Deuteronomy 10:8; 21:5) In fact, kohanim (descendants of Prophet Aaron’s priests) continue this practice, using the cited formula, to the present day.

This is the New International Version Translation (In Hebrew texts 67:1-7 is numbered 67:2-8)

1. May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine on us -

2. So that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.

3. May the peoples (tribes and nations) praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you.

4. May the nations be glad and sing for joy for you rule all peoples with equity, and guide the nations of the earth.

5. May the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you.

6. The land yields its harvest; our God blesses us.

7. May God still bless us, so that all the ends of the earth will fear him.

The term zabur is the Arabic equivalent of the Hebrew zimrah (Hebrew: “song, music.”) It, along with zamir (Hebrew: “song”), and mizmor (Hebrew: “psalm-song”) are derivatives of the Hebrew verb meaning: “sing, make music.”)  Several of the 150 psalms of the Zabur were sung during different daily or holy day prayers in the Jerusalem Temple and are still sung or chanted in Jewish synagogues and Christian Churches throughout the world today. Thus, the Psalms reflect all the varied incidents that can happen in life, both to the individual and to the whole Jewish nation.

Psalm 37 is the only psalm that is directly referred to in the Qur’an. It states: “We have written in the Zabur (Psalms) after the reminder [of Musa] that ‘My righteous servants shall inherit the earth.’ ” (21:105) This verse is a close parallel to five verses in Psalm 37, ascribed specifically to David, which states that believers should not lose hope and despair;  because eventually goodness always overcomes evil; and God’s “righteous servants shall inherit the earth.”

According to Psalm 37 the “righteous servants [who] shall inherit the earth” are: “For those who are evil will be destroyed; but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.” (37:9)

“But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity.” (37:11)

“The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously; Those the Lord blesses will inherit the land, but those he curses will be destroyed.” (37:21-2)

“Wrongdoers will be completely destroyed; the offspring of the wicked will perish. The righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever.” (37:28-9)

“Hope in the Lord and keep his way. He will exalt you to inherit the land.” (37:34)

This shortened version of Psalm 37 could be read at an Al-Jamuah or a Shabbat table:

“Do not fret because of the wicked; nor be envious of wrongdoers,

for they will soon wither like grass, and fade like green herbs.

Trust in the Lord, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.

Be patient and wait for the Lord; do not be vexed by the prosperous who scheme

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him who will act.

God will make your vindication shine like light, and the justice of your cause like noonday.

Be still before the Lord, wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, Over those who carry out evil devices… but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.  Yet a little while, and the wicked will be gone; look diligently but they will not be there.

But the meek shall inherit the land, and delight in abundant well being.

The wicked borrow, and do not pay back, but the righteous are generous and keep giving;

for those blessed by God shall inherit the land; but those cursed by God shall be cut off.

Depart from evil, and do good; so you shall abide forever.

For the Lord loves justice; and will not forsake his faithful ones.

The righteous shall be kept safe forever, but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.

The righteous shall inherit the land, and live in it forever.

Wait for the Lord, keep God’s way, God will exalt you to inherit the land;

and you will look on the destruction of the wicked.

The rescue of the righteous is from the Lord who is their refuge in a time of trouble.

The Lord helps them and rescues them; rescues them from the wicked,

and saves them, because they take refuge in God.”

Islam claims the Psalms are God’s direct words and not just the inspired words of Prophet David; but they are written as though they were addressed to Allah. Indeed, the varied personalities of God’s human prophets from Prophets Noah and Abraham down to Prophets John and Jesus play a much larger role in the Bible than in the Qur’an. The great variety of human emotions expressed in different Psalms are explained by the great Bible commentator Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra in his Psalms commentary on the supplication plea in Psalms 82:8 “Arise, O Lord, judge the earth…” as a prayer by the poet himself, or on behalf of those who cry out against injustice, or he may be speaking prophetically” All these perspectives are correct depending on the particular circumstances. Many of the Psalms are prayers and supplications to God that King David prayed in times of trouble. Other psalms contain good advice, showing the way of true happiness through virtue and the fulfillment of God’s commandments (see Psalms 37, 89, 101, 105). 

A good example of another psalm beside Psalm 37, that connects Judaism, Christianity and Islam is Psalm 19; which refers us to the three ways of learning about God. The first six verses of Psalm 19 speak about God’s creation of the world of nature. The next five verses (7-11) speak about God’s revelations for the spiritual/moral world of believers: Torah for Jews, Injil for Christians and Qur’an for Muslims. The last three verses (12-14) speak about each believer’s personal inward spiritual, moral and religious experiences and commitments.

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

1. The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

2. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.

3. Transmitting speechlessly, radiating wordlessly; no sound is heard from them.

4. Yet their message goes out to all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.

5. Who is like a bridegroom coming out of his Huppah {wedding tent), like a champion rejoicing to run his course.

6. Rises at one end of the heavens and makes its (solar) circuit to the other; nothing is deprived of its warmth.

7. The Torah of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.

8. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.

9. The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. The decrees of the Lord are firm, and all of them are righteous.

10. They are more precious than gold, than pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from a honeycomb.

11. By them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

12. But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults.

13. Keep your servant also from wilful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression.

14. May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

So as the Qur’an states: “Surely, those who believe, and those who are Jews, and Sabians, and Christians; whosoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, and does works of righteousness, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.” (5:69)

Metaphors are used very frequently throughout the Hebrew Bible, especially in the Zabur of Prophet David; where Psalm 87 foresees Mount Zion as Holy for the Three Abrahamic Religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Psalm 87 also adumbrated a future peaceful joint tenancy of Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land.

Psalm 87 is one of the eleven Psalms 42—49, 84, 85, 87, and 88 written by three repentant descendants of Korah, the leader of a rebellion against Moses and God (Torah Numbers 16:1-35 and Qur’an Al-Qasas 28: 76-83). Samuel the prophet was one of Korah’s repentant descendants at the time of King David (1 Chronicles 6:31-39). Korah is mentioned in the Qur’an (28:76-83) by the name of Qarun (Arabic: قارون) as very wealthy and arrogant. He credited all his wealth to his own knowledge instead of to Allah and rebelled against Prophets Moses and Aaron.

Psalm 87 has often been considered a difficult to understand Psalm: because until our own generation the events it foresees were unknown. In the Hebrew Bible all human beings are categorized as being either Jews (the only monotheist ongoing community during that twelve hundred year period) or Gentiles (non-Jewish polytheists). Psalm 87 foresees a distant future when two peoples (Israelis and Palestinians) share the Holy Land; and three religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) share the holy sites around Mount Zion.

Here is my translation and Tafsir of Psalm 87. By Korah’s descendants: A Psalm. A Song.

1. On the holy mount stands the city he [Prophet David or God] founded;

2. The Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the [mundane] dwellings of Jacob.

3. Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God.

4. Among those who know me (God) I mention Rahab and Babylon; Philistia too, and Tyre, with Sudan/Ethiopia [5 individual polytheistic nations] “This one was born there,” they [each] say.

5. And of Zion it shall be said [in the future]: “This one and that one were born in it”; for the Most High himself will establish it.

6. The Lord records, as He registers [all] the peoples, [saying of all humans] “This one was born there.”

7. Singers and dancers alike say: “All my springs are in you.”

First notice that the name “Jerusalem” which occurs 660 times in the Hebrew Bible does not occur in Psalm 87. Jerusalem existed as a pagan city for centuries before King David conquered it a decade or two after 1,000 BCE, when it became known as the City of David. The City of David covers only about 15 acres on Mount Zion one of the several hills of Jerusalem. In the historical account of the Biblical Book of Samuel, after the death of Saul (Arabic: Talut), David (Arabic: Dawud) was made king of the entire nation of Israel (i.e., all twelve tribes), and led his army to capture the city of Jerusalem from the pagan Jebusites (2 Samuel 5: 6-7). Upon winning the city, Prophet David “…took up residence in a fortress and called it the City of David… He became more and more powerful, because the Lord God Almighty was with him” (Bible, 2 Samuel 5:9–10).

King David was a pious and passionate warrior like many of Prophet Muhammad’s closest companions. God made David - whose name appears in the Qur’an sixteen times, in nine different sûrahs - a “vicegerent” (khalîfa in Q 38:26), a title that the Quran otherwise gives only to Adam (Q 2:30): “O David! We did indeed make you a vicegerent [khalifah] on earth: so judge between men in truth [and justice]…” (38:26) This is why Psalm 87:1 begins with a reference to King David as a political leader khalifah agent of God who turned a pagan city into a holy site.

The phrase “City of David” (Hebrew: עיר דוד, Ir David; Arabic: مدينة داوود, Madinah Dawud) is used for ancient Jerusalem and Mount Zion 45 times in the Hebrew/ Jewish Bible. The Hebrew word for mountain is in the plural in Psalm 87:1 so it applies not only to Prophet Solomon’s Temple site; but to all the holy sites of Jews, Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land, including: the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Golgotha, which in Aramaic means “skull hill”. Christians often refer to the crucifixion site as Mount Calvary.

The last four verses declare that while now nations identify themselves with their geographical homeland saying: Rahab (a symbol for Egypt) and Babylon, Philistia and Tyre, with Sudan-Ethiopia saying, “This one [myself] was born there (and there and there),”. Yet sometime in the future there will be a peaceful joint tenancy of Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land: “And of Zion it shall be said: ‘This one AND that one were [each] born in it” so in the future: “The Lord records, as he registers the [future] peoples: “This one was born there.” for all monotheists [Jews, Christians and Muslims] are spiritually also born there [in the Holy Land]. This is not a merger of peoples because each people (community) retain its own culture and religion, yet they are transformed from two separate gloves into one pair of gloves; just as singers and dancers are very different but both can share the same music.

The book of Psalms closes with Psalm 150:1–6: “Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens! Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness! Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! Let everything that has breathe praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!”