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A Maskil of the Sons of Korah

“To the Director: A Maskil of the Sons of Korah.”

(Psalm 42:1 [superscript in English translations])

Psalm 42 begins what we typically refer to as the second book of Psalms. The psalm that precedes this one ends with the great refrain:

“Blessed is Yahweh, the God of Israel—

From eternity unto eternity, Amen and Amen.”

(Psalm 41:14 [verse 13 in English translations])

This refrain shows up in essentially the same form at the end of chapter 72, 89, and 106. Of course the entire psalm 150 carries with it the same kind of language of this refrain. These refrains have traditionally marked the end of one book of Psalms and the beginning of the next book. While book one contains Psalms that have traditionally been attributed to David, this second book also contains a number of psalms by the Sons of Korah as well.

We will discuss these Sons of Korah further when we look at Psalm 49, let it suffice to say that Korah was one of those who rebelled against Moses in Numbers 16, yet God, in his mercy, preserved Korah’s sons and set them to work in the Tabernacle. As we look at these psalms by the Sons of Korah, I think that it is worth remembering that sometimes people are resentful when they receive God’s discipline; yet these Sons of Korah recognize the grace of God in the discipline and what we have in these psalms are great words of praise, salvation, and trust in the Almighty God of Israel. What a wonderful testimony for us!

The term Maskil is probably derived from the Hebrew verb lkc (sakal), which means, “to understand.” Typically, this has been seen either as a liturgical term or a musical tune or beat to which this psalm would be sung. Some scholars have thus understood these Maskils to be memory verses and others have suggested that it is simply a designation for wisdom literature put to music (though there are certainly other wisdom psalms that are not described as Maskils).

However this psalm is to be sung or categorized, it is clear that this psalm contains a model for us in terms of how we approach God and his Word. Jesus said in Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are the ones who are hungering and thirsting for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.” Indeed, this psalm gives us a tremendous picture of what it looks like in our lives when we do hunger and thirst for righteousness. My prayer is that we are not only hungry for the righteousness that comes from God and is expressed in his Word—just as the deer pants for the water, may we indeed long for God and his Word.

Sing with Understanding

“God is King over all of the earth; sing a maskil!”

(Psalm 47:8 {verse 7 in English Translations})

 

Once more, to drive the great Truth home, the psalmist proclaims that God is indeed the sovereign king over all of his creation — and he indeed is not done doing so! Surely it is true that we need to be reminded of this great truth regularly for though our words don’t betray or disbelief; our actions regularly betray that we do not believe this to be true. We act as if we are our own masters and kings, yet God is king and sovereign over all he has made.

There is something curious about the way some translations handle the final word of the psalm. The last term is the Hebrew word lyI…kVcAm (maskiyl). The term itself appears 13 times in the superscripts of the psalms identifying the type of song that a given psalm happens to be. In each of these cases, the term is usually left untranslated. This verse contains the 14th use of the term in the Hebrew Bible, yet here, most of our English Bibles seem to translate it in some way, whether it be rendered “a song of praise” or “sing with understanding,” it is being rendered in a way that it is never rendered any of the other times it is found in the Bible, which seems odd to me — hence here, as in the superscripts, I have left the term untranslated.

Leaving it untranslated, though, does not mean that the term does not communicate any valuable information. It is believed that lyI…kVcAm (maskiyl) is derived from the term lAkDc (sakal), which refers to having insight or understanding in a particular area. Arguably, one could state that these psalms labeled as Maskils are psalms of understanding or Truth (of course, that term can apply to all of the psalms) — and note, that this particular psalm is not listed as a maskil, it is only commanding us to sing a maskil.

I am afraid that one of the things that we have lost in our culture is a deep understanding for theology and for the theology of our hymns. While I do enjoy praise music and we incorporate it into our worship services, there is no question that the lyrics, while not necessarily bad, don’t teach a great deal of theology. Granted, it is true that many of our traditional hymns don’t teach us much either, but that statement cannot be consistently made across the spectrum of our hymnody — much of which is deep in the meaning it contains. In any case, many western believers have fallen into the trap of singing words without reflecting what it is that they are saying — often singing things that are entirely contrary to the way they live:

“I love to tell the story of Jesus and his love…”

“I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold…”

“Take my life and let it be, consecrated Lord to Thee…”

“Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus, just to take him at his word…”

“Righteousness, Righteousness, is what I long for…”

And the list goes on…

My point is not to condemn singing or the songs we sing…not for a moment! My point is that we fail to pay close attention to what it is that we are singing and we fail even more to attend our lives to living out the words of the songs we sing. If we sing words without understanding, is that of any value to us or interest to God? Loved ones, may we take the command of the psalmist to heart and indeed sing songs with our understanding as well as with our voices.

A Maskil of the Sons of Korah

“To the Director: A Maskil of the Sons of Korah.”

(Psalm 42:1 [superscript in English translations])

 

Psalm 42 begins what we typically refer to as the second book of Psalms. The psalm that precedes this one ends with the great refrain:

“Blessed is Yahweh, the God of Israel—

From eternity unto eternity, Amen and Amen.”

(Psalm 41:14 [verse 13 in English translations])

This refrain shows up in essentially the same form at the end of chapter 72, 89, and 106. Of course the entire psalm 150 carries with it the same kind of language of this refrain. These refrains have traditionally marked the end of one book of Psalms and the beginning of the next book. While book one contains Psalms that have traditionally been attributed to David, this second book also contains a number of psalms by the Sons of Korah as well.

We will discuss these Sons of Korah further when we look at Psalm 49, let it suffice to say that Korah was one of those who rebelled against Moses in Numbers 16, yet God, in his mercy, preserved Korah’s sons and set them to work in the Tabernacle. As we look at these psalms by the Sons of Korah, I think that it is worth remembering that sometimes people are resentful when they receive God’s discipline; yet these Sons of Korah recognize the grace of God in the discipline and what we have in these psalms are great words of praise, salvation, and trust in the Almighty God of Israel. What a wonderful testimony for us!

The term Maskil is probably derived from the Hebrew verb lkc (sakal), which means, “to understand.” Typically, this has been seen either as a liturgical term or a musical tune or beat to which this psalm would be sung. Some scholars have thus understood these Maskils to be memory verses and others have suggested that it is simply a designation for wisdom literature put to music (though there are certainly other wisdom psalms that are not described as Maskils).

However this psalm is to be sung or categorized, it is clear that this psalm contains a model for us in terms of how we approach God and his Word. Jesus said in Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are the ones who are hungering and thirsting for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.” Indeed, this psalm gives us a tremendous picture of what it looks like in our lives when we do hunger and thirst for righteousness. My prayer is that we are not only hungry for the righteousness that comes from God and is expressed in his Word—just as the deer pants for the water, may we indeed long for God and his Word.