Titles and Terms found in the Psalms

Titles Of Literary Or Musical Genre

1. Song (shir)
a. normally a reference to songs sung in the temple
b. suggests a vocal rendering (rather than instrumental)
c. when used in conjunction with mizmor (psalm), it suggests accompanied singing
d. used as the heading for Psalms 120-134, “songs of ascent” (shir hamma’ aloth)
1) these are pilgrimage psalms (going to Jerusalem to worship)
2) see Ezra 2:1; 7:9 – describes the going up from the Babylonian exile
3) the term was later applied the fifteen steps leading up to the temple proper and the temple singers would sing one psalm on each step
2. Psalm (mizmor)
a. used fifty-seven times
b. suggests playing a musical instrument
c. four times, the musical instrument is specified – 33:2; 98:5; 144:9; 147:7
3. Miktam
a. there is no consensus on the meaning of this term
b. it occurs in the titles of Psalms 16, 56, 57, 58, 59, and 60 (which are all Davidic psalms)
c. suggestions as to what Miktam means:
1) “gold” (a golden psalm)
2) “atonement” (an atonement psalm)
3) “indelible”
4) “silent prayer” (covering the lips in secrecy)
4. Maskil
a. it occurs in the titles of thirteen psalms: 32, 42, 44, 45, 52, 53, 54, 55, 74, 78, 88, 89, and 142
b. it also occurs in Ps. 47:7
c. some have rendered it as “artistic psalm” or “didactic psalm”
d. a participle with the same root occurs at 2 Chron. 30:22, which describes Levitical activity
e. presenting songs and poems in a skilled, intelligent, and artistic way
5. Shiggaion
a. the term only occurs at the heading of Psalm 7
b. the plural form occurs at Hab. 3:3
c. it comes from a verb which means “to err” or “to wander”
6. Tehilliah (“song of praise”)
a. it normally used in the sense of “praise” (22:25; 33:1; 34:1; 40:3; 48:10; 65:1; 71:8; 100:4; 106:12, 47; 119:171; 147:1; 148:14; 149:1)
b. see also Psalm 145
7. Tefillah (“prayer”)
a. appears in the titles of five psalms: 17, 86, 90, 102, and 142
b. it also occurs in Hab. 3:1
c. it is the general term for prayer in the Psalms as well as in the Old Testament
8. Selah
a. possibly refers to a musical note that signals reaching a crescendo
b. it may signal the worshippers to utter a worshipful cry (similar to “Amen”)
c. not strictly a title
d. 3:2, 4, 8; 4:2, 4; 7:5; 9:16; 24:6

Titles With Musical Terms

1. Lamenatstseakh (“to the choirmaster”)
a. occurs in the title of 55 psalms and in Hab. 3:19
b. the verb form means “to lead,” “to excel,” or “to be a the head” (see Ezra 3:8; 1 Chron. 23:4; 2 Chron. 2:2)
c. provides instruction concerning speed, inflection, and other stylistic considerations
2. Binginoth and ‘al-neginoth
a. Binginoth (“stringed instrument”) occurs in the titles of Psalms 4, 6, 54, 55, 67, and 76
b. ‘al-neginoth (“to run over the strings”) occurs in the title of Psalm 61
c. these psalms were to be recited or sung to the strains of stringed instruments
3. ‘al-hashminith (“according to the eighth”)
a. some suggests that the instruments are tuned for the bass singers
b. some suggest that it refers to the “eighth string”
c. it occurs in the titles of Psalms 6 and 12
4. ‘al-muth, ‘almuth labben, and ‘al-alamoth
a. probably all three phrases are variants with one meaning
b. “according to maidens” – 1 Chron. 15:20
c. the soprano key
d. they occur in the titles of Psalms 9, 46, and 48

Titles With Musical Tunes

1. ‘al-gittith
a. used in the titles of Psalms 8, 81, and 84
b. possibly a musical instrument that originated in Gath
c. it may also refer to the “winepress” and suggest a “vintage song”
2. ‘al-tashkheth (“do not destroy”)
a. used in the titles of Psalms 57, 58, 59, and 75
b. used in Isa. 65:8, where the expression seems to refer to a vintage song
3. ‘al-‘ayyeleth ha-shachar (“on the hind of the dawn”)
a. used in the title of Psalm 22
b. we do not know what this tune was
4. ‘al-shoshannim (“on the lilies”) and ‘al-shushan eduth (“according to the lily testimony”)
a. occurs in the titles of Psalms 45, 60, 69, and 80
b. has something apparently to do with “those whose situations change for the worse”
5. ‘al-yonath ‘elem rekhoqim (“set to the dove of the far-off terebinths”)
a. occurs in the title of Psalm 56
b. we do not know what this tune is

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