In light of yesterday’s meditation on song (šiyr, H7892), another blessed OT word concerning music is psalm. The Hebrew is mizmôr (H4210), which appears fifty-nine times in the OT, only in the Psalms, and always in the title (e.g., 3–6; 8–9; 11–15; 18–41). It is derived from the verb zamar, “to make music primarily on stringed instruments,” and oh, what music we find in the Psalms! We discover in the Psalms the very depths of theology and spiritual truth. Mizmôr, then, is a praise song accompanied by a stringed musical instrument (as David sang a psalm while playing his lyre). This is all the more significant since in fifty psalms the words “To the chief Musician” also appear.
It is instructive to compare mizmôr with šiyr. While mizmôr appears only in the Psalms and only in a title, šiyr “is not confined to the Psalter and within the Psalter itself is used both as a title and in the psalm proper.” Perhaps even more significantly, while šiyr can also refer to a secular song (e.g., Isa_23:16), mizmôr always refers to a religious song, which we could define as “a sacred, inspired poem of praise.” It is also significant that both words occur together in Psa_30:1; Psa_65:1 (literally, “A Psalm-Song”), emphasizing both the voices (šiyr) and the accompanying musical instruments (mizmôr).
Music is truly a wonderful gift. For millennia, music has fascinated and captivated mankind, who have invented an enormous number of instruments, from the complex to the simple. Far more important, however, are “songs,” because they are composed of words.
We would do well to remind ourselves that the book of Psalms (Sēper Tehillim, “Book of Praises”) was the hymnbook of Israel, a book of sacred, sound, and solemn poems of theological depth. Oh, that we would desire such depth in our churches! Let us abandon the trite and trivial and embrace what is true and tasteful.
Scriptures for Study: Read Psalms 30, meditating on both ideas of psalm and song.