David’s Steleae: The Psalms as Public Memorials and Private Prayers

violin-and-psalm“I will tell of the marvellous things You have done.” Psalm 9:1b

“I will exalt You, Lord, because You have rescued me.” Psalm 30:1a

A stele is “an upright stone slab or pillar bearing an inscription or design and serving as a monument, marker, or the like.” [Source: Dictionary.com] They were widely used in the Near East millennia before David, and well after his time. It was standard practice for kings to have steles and statues of themselves made as positive propaganda to support their reign. However, David didn’t follow this practice. In line with the *ten commandments, he didn’t have himself pictured with a representation of YHWH behind him, neither did he carve his achievements in stone. Apart from the book of Samuel and 1 Chronicles, the only memorials we have to David are his Psalms, some of which could be likened to victory steles, and others which have an interesting function.

Roughly half of all the Psalms that are attributed to David were sent to the choir director and made public, and 50% of those Psalms were written when he was in great distress. We don’t know how the other Psalms were used, but it is possible that the ones which have not been specifically marked as “for the choir director” were in his personal collection, then organised into books after his death. His Psalms which are marked as prayers: 17, 86, and 142, were notably not sent to the choir director.

Some of the Psalms that were made public had national themes: Psalm 60 was written while David grappled with Israel’s failures in the battle in the Valley of Salt, and is noted as being useful for teaching; the wording of Psalm 67 is a mix of a prayer and a benediction; and Psalm 58 is an outspoken challenge to the people of Israel on justice [see the final chapter below for clarification]. David also sent Psalm 53 to the choir director, making a public statement of faith with “only fools deny God.”

Using my own classification of the Psalms (I get lost in the theological classifications, so I divided them further for my own use), these are the victory Psalms that David wanted sung before the Lord:

  • Psalm 9: I will tell of all the marvellous things You have done.
  • Psalm 18: When rescued from Saul and the enemies in that period of time.
  • Psalm 20: May the LORD answer all your prayers.
  • Psalm 21: How the king rejoices in Your strength, O LORD!
  • Psalm 30: Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.

The Psalms of joy and wonder, plus David’s statements of faith that were sent to the choir director include Psalms 8, 11, 19, 62, 65, 66, 67, 53 and 58.

One thing which occurred to me when looking at which Psalms were attributed to specific events and could be considered memorials, is that there are no Psalms specifically linked to David’s most notable victories such as killing Goliath, bringing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem, or his battle achievements. He didn’t mention God’s special covenant with Him, or his plans to build the temple; (neither did David ask for it to be named after him.) This is a testament to David’s humility, despite the moral dips which occurred with Bathsheba and the census.

The stone tablet with the code written on it. This was placed in a public space so that all could read it.

The stone tablet with the code written on it. This was placed in a public space so that all could read it.

God is always the focus of David’s songs, which is another significant difference between him and any other ruler. He never claims honour or victory for himself. For an example, read the **Code of Hammurabi which has massive chunks at the beginning and end, glorifying and justifying the rule of Hammurabi. For example: “Hammurabi, the prince… making riches and increase, enriching Nippur and Dur-ilu beyond compare… who conquered the four quarters of the world, made great the name of Babylon…who enriched Ur; the humble, the reverent, who brings wealth…”

David’s work shows that he was transparent in how he talked about his life in public and that he wasn’t hung up on appearances. He freely admitted his faults and struggles and the glory for his successes always went to the Lord. Psalm 51, which speaks of his correction by Nathan over Bathsheba, and how sin affected him, was made public. Whether that was to address his sin because it was public knowledge, or whether it was to be used as a teaching aid to strengthen the faith of the people and encourage righteousness, or both, I honestly don’t know.

Psalm 3, which was about when he fled from Absalom, Psalm 34 where he escaped from Philistine territory feigning madness and Psalm 52, where he was betrayed by Doeg to Saul, weren’t marked for use by the choir director either. Not using Psalm 52 appears odd, as all the other betrayal Psalms were publicly sung. Perhaps it wasn’t copied or notated correctly, or perhaps David had some private reason for not sending it on? I wish I knew.

These are the Psalms which have a definite event associated with them and could be considered a form of victory stele.

  • 7 – concerning Cush of the tribe of Benjamin
  • 18 – rescued from all enemies and Saul [PUBLIC]
  • 30 – dedication of the temple / house [PUBLIC]
  • 54 – betrayed by Ziphites [PUBLIC]
  • 56 – seized at Gath [PUBLIC]
  • 57 – when fled from Saul and went to the cave [PUBLIC]
  • 59 – soldiers watching his house [PUBLIC]

The last point of interest is David’s request that two Psalms which relate to persecution by Saul, (57 and 59,) be sung to the tune “Do Not Destroy.” Knowing the old title attached to that melody would add a clear message to the Psalm, which would be noted by anyone knowing that piece of music. Other Psalmists also requested the same for their work.

“Do Not Destroy” is also the melody which was selected for Psalm 58: “Justice—do you rulers know the meaning of the word?” In Bible Hub’s interlinear Bible, “ruler” is elem, or congregation. [Strongs Number 482] It is a masculine word, which is culturally correct as the assembly of believers was all male in David’s time. Some Bibles say gods, some say sons of men. There is no correct consensus. It is a source of profound frustration to me that words such as this are so poorly translated in our Bibles, and a reminder to dig deeper to find the true meaning of the Word of God.

*“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” Exodus 20:4-6

**The Code of Hammurabi translated by L.W. King http://www.general-intelligence.com/library/hr.pdf  and the Louvre Museum’s page on it: http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/law-code-hammurabi-king-babylon


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The King David Project by Cate Russell-Cole is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://cateartios.wixsite.com/kingdavidproject.

Please note that this does NOT apply to any of the images on this site except for the free Psalm images which are marked as free. Most photos are purchased stock photos. It is ILLEGAL for you to take and use them, whether for yourself, commercially or for a non-profit venture such as a church or Bible Study. If you have not bought these photos from the source, the stock photography company has every right to sue you.


When the Prayer of Jabez Hasn’t Worked for You

2016-01-14_13-59-30_01When I get to Heaven, I want to meet Jabez and see what he is like, because he sounds like an exceptionally special man, with a beautiful character.

“There was a man named Jabez who was more honourable than any of his brothers. His mother named him Jabez because his birth had been so painful. He was the one who prayed to the God of Israel, “Oh, that You would bless me and expand my territory! Please be with me in all that I do, and keep me from all trouble and pain!” And God granted him his request.” 1 Chronicles 4:9-10

Years ago, friends came to me and said, “you HAVE to read this book! This prayer of Jabez will change your life.” I had stopped reading Christian books earlier, as I found I was depending on them more than on the Word of God, but I did look up the prayer and thought, “wow. I can see why this book is popular.” To be kept from all trouble and pain, know God and be blessed materially, who wouldn’t want that? Then I noticed that a lot of posters and gift items with the prayer of Jabez were appearing in our local Christian book shop. I had to decide, was this prayer a fad, or a really good idea?

For Jabez, this prayer is the best idea he ever had and his prayer inspires me. However, I never prayed the prayer, as it’s not my prayer. It demonstrates a way of praying that could be beneficial… however, and this is where it all falls apart in our lives, as I don’t have the character of Jabez, God could not produce the same results in my life without me becoming a spoiled brat. I know I would lose touch much of my motivation to seek the Lord, because I was so blessed, I didn’t need Him as much. Plus how many critical lessons do we learn from pain, like it or not? An easy life didn’t sound wise to me.

God is a pro-level Father. He would never, ever, give a gift to any of His children that would harm them, or pull them away from Him to any degree. Neither will He do anything that stops us from making our own decisions and often, subsequent mistakes. I am a master of the art of getting myself into trouble and because of free will, there is a limit to what God can halt in my life. Even if God was answering my prayer in the same way He blessed Jabez, my own life choice bloopers could effectively erode away what God was trying to give me.

So what can we learn from Jabez? To be honourable. What does that mean? According to several dictionaries, it means to have high standards, be deserving, be consistently righteous so that you are worthy of praise and it won’t go to your head. It means being a person who is fair, courteous, respectful, lawful, unselfish, actively resisting corruption and sin, and to have integrity. Honour is built on submission to God, obeying the Word of God and showing the fruit of the Spirit to everyone, regardless of whether they are deserving or not. It’s a hard thing to achieve.

So be comforted. The Lord has heard your prayers and done what is best for you. He will be working in the background to bring about His perfect, loving will for your life and if you submit to Him, you’ll thrive. What comes may not look like what Jabez had, but it doesn’t have to. It will be specially, carefully, tailor made FOR YOU by the Father who knows you so well. That is a greater act of love than simply making your life easy.


For more encouragement, have a look at these articles on the life of King David:

“How Long?” When Answers to Prayer Don’t Seem to Arrive

When You Can’t Be An Overcomer: Coping With Spiritual Failures

The Habits That Built King David’s Faith

The Power of Praying the Psalms

“But I Will Trust in You…” King David and the Art of Bouncing Back

Yesterday’s Hero: Ancient Politics or, How to Keep a King Humble (on suffering)

For all articles, please visit From Despair to Deliverance, the King David Project: http://cateartios.wix.com/kingdavidproject

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Please note that this does NOT apply to any of the images on this site except for the free Psalm images which are marked as free. Most photos are purchased stock photos. It is ILLEGAL for you to take and use them, whether for yourself, commercially or for a non-profit venture such as a church or Bible Study. If you have not bought these photos from the source, the stock photography company has every right to sue you.

Returns for Our Faith: Examining What We Expect From God

vending machineIn 2000, I had the pleasure of talking to a Messianic Rabbi about where I felt the church was heading. At that time, my life and faith were both dramatically changing, and as a result, I was really frustrated in my church life. Everything was the same old, same old. Where I wanted to press in deeper to God, I felt held back. I was taking a fresh look at what I had taken for granted for many years, and what bothered me the most, was how we were treating the Lord.

I told the Rabbi that we were treating God like a vending machine. We inserted:
a) time in church, and/or
b) tithes and gifts, and/or
c) the expected praise and worship, and/or
d) the expected Bible study, and/or
e) the expected prayer…
… then we expected God to spit out blessings, healing and deliverance in return, as we’d done what the Word said to do.

But what about the times when prayers didn’t get answered, no matter how obedient we were? What then? What about when God seemed to be saying, “no.” But… but we’d done what was asked and expected, so where were our answers? I knew Christians that were confused by that, and in the past I had been too.

Let me take you back further to 1989, when after being offered life insurance, a Christian friend of mine said, “I don’t need insurance, I’ve got God!”

She was right, however, she was also wrong. Reliance on the Lord is the ultimate faith, however, she was in danger of turning the Lord into an insurance policy. It was again, taking faith and turning it into a contractual arrangement.

The Lord loves to give to His children. Jesus said: “keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask Him.” Matthew 7:7-11

We can seek, yet a balance is needed. One day after school, I came home and found that my parents had been shopping. Often they’d bring me back some small thing, but this day, I asked outright what I had gotten and was told, it was nothing. My mother angrily informed me later, that she had gotten me a treat, but because I got greedy, she acted as any wise parent would, and held it back. Can we get so greedy with the Lord, that He sometimes finds it wise to do the same? This may be one of the many answers.

The strongest people in the Bible, are those who loved God unconditionally through sheer hell. I am referring to Moses, Job, John the Baptist, Paul and King David. All of them lived out their faith the hard way. They went through the most severe trials, not just discomfort, all because they were serving God. At times answers did not come, or were delayed.

Just then a hand touched me and lifted me, still trembling, to my hands and knees. And the man said to me, “Daniel, you are very precious to God, so listen carefully to what I have to say to you. Stand up, for I have been sent to you.” When he said this to me, I stood up, still trembling.

Then he said, “Don’t be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day you began to pray for understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your request has been heard in heaven. I have come in answer to your prayer. But for twenty-one days the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia blocked my way. Then Michael, one of the archangels, came to help me, and I left him there with the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia. Now I am here to explain what will happen to your people in the future, for this vision concerns a time yet to come.” Daniel 10:10-14

“Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.” Job 13:15a

Just because you are a Christian, don’t expect to get it easy, or to get everything you want. Being a child of God is about being faithful and devoted to your Heavenly Father, no matter what.

We don’t believe to receive, we believe because we know and love God.

In John 16:33 Jesus said plainly, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” Because of the sin in the world, that applies to all of us, no exceptions.

hope-candle-blueSo if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you.” 1 Peter 4:19

“The righteous person faces many troubles, but the LORD comes to the rescue each time.” Psalm 34:9

So despite the temptation to believe in any theology that gives us a promise of a guaranteed answer, whether that be prosperity, healing or any blessing, we have to bite the bullet and be prepared for life to be rough at times. It does not mean we haven’t pleased God, or that we aren’t overcomers; neither does it mean that the Lord has deserted us. There is nothing to be gained by blaming ourselves, or God, for falling short of impossible standards of quick victory. Moses had bad days, as did David. [Refs: Numbers 11:10-15 and Psalm 6:1-7] They were both honest with God and knew that in good time, answers would come. If you have read the full accounts of their lives, you’ll know that God did fulfil His promises and care for all their needs. They are our role models. The same principles apply equally to our lives.

The secret to success in not in any specific Bible verse or prayer, it is in our genuine love for the Lord, which motivates us to stay close to Him – no matter what.

“Let all that I am wait quietly before God,
for my hope is in Him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress where I will not be shaken.
My victory and honour come from God alone.
He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me.
O my people, trust in Him at all times.
Pour out your heart to Him,
for God is our refuge.” Psalm 62:5-8

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Please note that this does NOT apply to any of the images on this site except for the free Psalm images which are marked as free. Most photos are purchased stock photos. It is ILLEGAL for you to take and use them, whether for yourself, commercially or for a non-profit venture such as a church or Bible Study. If you have not bought these photos from the source, the stock photography company has every right to sue you.