Inductive Bible Studies,

[Copyright by W. R. HARPER, 1887.]

PREPARED BY PROFESSORS W. R. HARPER (Yale University), W. G. BALLANTINE (Oberlin Theol. Sem.), WILLIS J. BEECHER (Auburn Theol. Sem.), and G. S. BURROUGHS (Amherst College).


Thirty-Third Study.—The Psalms of Asaph.

[The material of this "study" is edited by Professor Harper.]



1. This class of Psalms may, perhaps, as well be considered here as anywhere. It includes pieces of different centuries.

2. The following literature will be of service in this and the following lesson: Perowne's Psalms, Introduction, vol. 1, pp. 75-80; Murray, Origin and Growth of the Psalms, pp. 232-246 and 192-208; Binnie, The Psalms, pp. 70-73; and the various commentaries on the particular psalms.


1. Psalms of Asaph.

(1) How many? In what books found?

(2) Biblical references to Asaph (1 Chron. 6:39; 15:19; 16:5; 2 Chron. 29:30; Neh. 12:46). Complete the references and make inferences as to Asaph's character, position and offices.

(3) References to Sons of Asaph (1 Chron. 25:1,2; 2 Chron. 20:14; 35:15; Ez. 2:41). What of companies or guilds of poets and musicians in Judah?

(4) Other Asaphs (2 Kgs. 18:18; Neh. 2:8) ?

2. Titles.

(1) Of Asaph. Three inferences as to authorship;

(a) written by Asaph himself;

(b) by the Sons of Asaph (cf. use of Aaron, 1 Chron. 12:27);

(c) after the manner of Asaph.

(2) Study, to ascertain their meaning, the following expressions occurring in the superscriptions: Ps. 75, al-tash-heth (cf. Pss. 57,58,69); Ps. 77, after the manner of Jeduthun (cf. Pss. 39, 62; same as Ethan, 1 Chron. 16:41; 15:19); Ps. 80, Shoshannim Eduth (cf. Pss. 60,45,69); Ps. 81, gittith (cf. Pss. 8,84).


1. Read carefully Pss. 50, 73-83. Make notes on the following points:

(1) As to the style, state whether clear, smooth, heavy, slow, rapid, etc. Give illustrations of qualities observed. Is the style affected by the didactic purpose of the writer? or the liturgical?

(2) As to contents, classify these Psalms roughly according to the prevailing idea of each as historical, national, prophetic, personal.

(3) Specify the characteristic elements

(a) in the expressions peculiar to them, e.g., use of Divine names, 50:1,14; 73:11,20,28; 76:6; 77:10,11; 78:35,41, etc.; in the imagery employed, 74:1; 77:20; 78:52; 79:13; 80:1; in the names given to the people, 77:15; 78:5; 79:7; 80:1,2; 81:5.

(b) In the ideas predominant in them, e. g., of God, 50:6; 75:7; 76:9; 82; historical elements, 74:12-15; 77:13-20; 78; 81:5-7; relation of people to God, 74:2; 77:15; 78; 71; 79:1; 80:8,9.

(4) Compare these Psalms with those of David as to style and thought, e. g., Pss. 19,23,51.


1. Read it carefully two or three times, note connection of thoughts and logical divisions (cf. study 10), frame a title descriptive of the contents and picture the judgment-scene.

2. Examine the following textual points: (1) "God, even God the Lord " (cf. marg. and Josh. 22:22). Why the accumulated titles? (2) "Out of Zion" (cf. Pss. 48:1-3; 76:2). (3) "He shall call." Purpose? (Deut. 4:26;. Isa. 1:2.) (4) "Covenant by sacrifice" (Ex. 24:5; Num. 10:10). (5) "Glorify me." (6) "The wicked." Jews or Gentiles? (7) "Declare my statutes." (8) "Mother's son." Evidence of polygamy? (9) "Ordereth his conversation." Other translations?

3. Notice the manifestation of God in v. 2, a theophany. Other theophanies: Deut. 32:2; Hab. 3:3. Study the scene, learn the meaning and purpose of a theophany and observe its prominent place in Hebrew history.

4. Observe

(1) the representation of God (v. 4) and make a word-study of " judge" to determine its application to the relations of God to his people; compare Ezek. 33:20; Ps. 7:11; 82:1 with 1 Sam. 3:13; Ezek. 11:10; with Gen. 30:6; Deut. 32:36; Ps. 68:5, etc.; with Gen. 16:5; 1 Sam. 2:25, etc.

(2) The teaching concerning ritual (vs. 8-15) and trace similar views both previous (Deut. 30:6; 1 Sam. 15:22; Ps. 40:6; 51:16) and in later times (Hos. 14:2; Mic. 6:6-8, etc.). What twofold conception of religion here? (v. 23.)

(3) How could a Psalm containing such views be used in the temple service?

5. Is there anything in the form or thought of the Psalm inconsistent with its being written by Asaph the " seer"?


1. Seek in this Psalm to explain the following: v. 4, " no bands in their death;" v. 6, " pride is as chain;" 8, " utter oppression;" v. 10, " his people; " " waters of a full cup are wrung out;" v. 17, " sanctuary of God;" v. 20, " despise their image."

2. Endeavor to realize the situation of the writer both outwardly-surrounded by arrogant and scoffing atheists (heathen?) and himself suffering and needy-and inwardly, struggling with a spiritual difficulty as to the moral government of the world. Is there anything in the Psalm to indicate that it has any other than a personal bearing?

3. Consider this problem of "the prosperity of the wicked under the divine government" and the writer's solution (vs. 17-26). Compare with Job (42:12), Pss. 37:21-26; 49:12-20, and decide which of these passages represents the highest point reached by O. T. thought on this subject. What is the N. T. teaching (Mk. 10:23-31; Rom. 2:4; etc.)?

4. Study vs. 23-26, noticing carefully the expressions used: (a) do they yield a thought of earthly communion with God merely, or (b) does the writer believe in an unending personal relation to God? Cf. Ps. 16:5,9-11; 49:15. Other passages?


1. As a study in criticism collect all the internal evidence bearing on the date of Pss. 74, 75, 76, 80 and 83 and compare with events in Jewish history which might serve as the occasion for writing each Psalm: e. g., in Ps. 74,

(1) notice expressions cast off forever, perpetual ruins, carved work, sanctuary on fire, profaned, burned up all the synagogues, no more any prophet, dark places of the earth;

(2) interpret of the invasion of Nebuchadnezzar, 2 Chron.36:19; Jer. 52:13; or

(3) of the Maccabean period. Similarly treat Ps. 79. Compare Pss. 75, 76, 80 with 2 Kgs. 19; with Ps. 83, cf. 2 Chron. 20.

2. From passages such as Pss. 50:7-23; 73:12-26; 76; 77:13-20; 80:8-15, etc., form a general idea of the intellectual and spiritual characteristics of Asaph and the Asaphic school.

3. Give briefly a summary of the contribution of these Psalms to the religious thought and life of Israel and through them the ethical and spiritual teachings for our times, e. g., spiritual conceptions of religion, principles of divine judgment, witness of history to God's providence (Ps. 78), etc.