Psalm 138 to 145 – David’s Journey

Psalm 138 to 145

This group of psalms (138 to 145) has recently got my attention.  They are in the Book Five of Psalms and are with the psalms known as the “Songs of Ascent.”  These were songs that pilgrims sang as they went up to Jerusalem and the Temple.  Outside of Books One and Two, this is the largest grouping of psalms attributed to David the writer.  The original subtitles are in my NIV and many Bibles like my Holman Study Bible add their own titles to give people a sense of the contents of the psalm.

These psalms were probably grouped by whoever did the editing and grouping of the psalms into the form we know today.  I like to think about where and when psalms were written and read them in those possible contexts.  Only Psalm 142 gives you a time frame and that is “in the cave” referring to David’s outlaw days (1 Samuel 22) when he was hiding from King Saul.  Two (139, 140) are “for the director of music” which may indicate that they were written after he went to Jerusalem, three (141, 143, 145) are identified as a “psalm of David”, and Psalms 138 and 144 are just “of David.”

The first verse or two in each of these Psalms gives you a good idea of why they were written.  Most are truly songs of praise or thanksgiving but they seem to have been written at crucial or highlight points in David’s life.   I guess I have started to look at them as a journey through David’s life.  Psalm 138 could have been after Samuel anointed him and they go to Psalm 145 that has the sound of an older mature king who is looking back at his life and wanting his people to look ahead to the life and purpose in God.



You are not sure how much you can take? If one more thing goes wrong! Can I just stop and think for a moment, please? It has been bleak for so long when will things get better?

The Hebrew word that might describe your condition in all of these is ataph. In the KJV it is translated “overwhelmed” and in the NIV it is rendered “faint.” My Strong’s Concordance states that it means being shrouded or clothed and extends from the idea of darkness. The word ataph is not the only word for “faint” but it caught my eye in Psalm 142:3 and 143:4. Ataph is also used in Psalm 61:2, 77:3, and in 102:Title. I often test the definition back into the passage, so I tried: overwhelmed and shrouded in darkness. Both caught the idea of the verse and I liked overwhelmed better than faint in those verses.

In Psalm 142 and 143 David is having a bad time because in both of these “his spirit was faint” (NIV). Psalm 142 is identified as when David was “in the cave.” I associate that time with 1 Samuel 22 which is right before the saving of Keilah (see Hero to Horror). Several of the psalms in this section (138 to 145) I would place in that period of time before Keilah. Psalms 138 to 145 are all attributed to David. This section of Book Five of the Psalms has been referred to as the “Songs of Ascent.” These would have been sung as people went to the Temple.

David faced many ataph moments in his life but the most telling one on how he handled these overwhelming times is 1 Samuel 30:6b – “David found strength in the Lord his God.”