The Psalter was an evolving book. Some psalms were added much later than others. Some psalms were moved around later for one reason or another. Book Two of the Psalter provides conclusive evidence of these assertions. And this observation will help us to better understand the book’s design and message.
Book Two: Ending
Note first the concluding verse of Book Two – “The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended.” This verse is at the very end of a psalm attributed to Solomon.
We know that Psalm 72 ends Book Two because of the whole conclusion formula – “Blessed be YHWH, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things. Blessed be His glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with His glory! Amen and Amen! The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended” (Psalm 72:18-20).
Aside from the last sentence, the first four of five books of the Psalms end in a similar way.
Book Two: Subtitles
Given that final verse (Psalm 72:20) one would expect that all of the Psalms before Psalm 72 would be Davidic and all of the Psalms after Psalm 72 would be attributed to others. Yet only 55 are explicitly attributed to David of the 72. And there is at least one psalm in every book attributed to David (no doubt this is on purpose). Almost half of the Psalms in the Psalter (73, one or two more than the number of Psalms in Books One and Two) are labeled as Davidic.
In Book Two there are 18 psalms attributed to David. Interestingly, there are exactly 18 psalms attributed to David within Books Three to Five. These psalms in Books Three to Five are as follows: Psalms 86, 101, 103, 108, 109, 110, 122, 124, 131, 133, 138, 139, 140, 141, 142, 143, 144, and 145. Some of these are Davidic collections (more than one psalm next to each other).
18+18=36. You will remember that there were 37 in Book One.
The Psalms that are not labeled as Davidic in Book Two are as follows: two without subtitles, two that do not mention names, one of Asaph, one of Solomon, and seven of the Sons of Korah.
It appears then that there was an earlier version of the Psalter that was all Davidic and ended with the verse now found as Psalm 72:20. Then later as more Psalms were added some of the Davidic ones were moved around.
By keeping at least one Psalm in every book as Davidic and by putting those 18 psalms in the other three books, the later editor(s) made sure to keep the whole Psalter identified with David (and thus with the King David who was to come).
In the form we have now there are eight psalms in Book Two with historical information–plus another one for the memorial offering.
Order on Purpose: Psalms 42-49
The first eight Psalms of Book Two demonstrate that the Psalms are definitely put next to each other on purpose.
First, seven of the eight are attributed to the Sons of Korah.
Second, the second psalm in this book has no subtitle, but it is united to the first by the use of the same refrain.
And third, their subtitles appear to be grouped: the first three are maskils and the last three psalms.
That refrain is: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God” (Psalm 42:5-6a, 11, 43:5).
Book Two: Order on Purpose
The next Psalm is attributed to Asaph (Psalm 50:1).
Then we have fifteen that are Davidic. The first one is “a psalm of David” (Psalm 51:1), then there are four maskils of David (Psalms 52-55), then five miktams of David (Psalms 56-60), and the last five are just labeled as “of David” (Psalm 61:1), or “a psalm of David” (Psalms 62-65). These subtitles appear to group these psalms.
After those psalms we have two labeled in chiastic contrast: “To the choirmaster. A song. A psalm” (Psalm 66:1) and “To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. A psalm. A song” (Psalm 67:1). Thus note the reversal in order of “a song” and “a psalm.”
On either side of these two are Psalms 65:1 and 68:1 both labeled as “To the choirmaster. A psalm of David. A song.” Thus these four psalms follow a chiastic pattern.
Finishing out the subtitles are one “To the choirmaster: according to Lilies. Of David” (Psalm 69:1), “To the choirmaster: Of David, for the memorial offering” (Psalm 70:1), one without a subtitle (Psalm 71), and the final psalm is “of Solomon” (Psalm 72:1) – the son of David.
Musical directions and tunes also appear to be somewhat grouped in Book Two. Take, for example, the miktams of David. The first is according to “Dove on Far-off Terebinths” (Psalm 56:1) the next three according to “Do Not Destroy” (Psalms 57-59), and the final one according to “Sushan Eduth” (Psalm 60:1).
So there are multiple reasons that one psalm might be next to another or in the order that they are found in the Psalter.
Well-Known Psalms in Book Two
Book Two begins with the lines we know from “As the deer” (Psalm 42:1).
Psalm 51 is a common prayer of confession of sin. The historical info says this was after David’s sin with Bathsheba, but the poem never mentions this. Instead it is a prayer for each one of us to confess our sins.
Psalm 53:1 “The fool says in his heart: ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity, there is none who does good.”
Psalm 72: The Key Royal Psalm
Psalm 72, the one said to be “of Solomon,” is a royal psalm. These are found at key places, like this, in the Psalter. It is an explicitly Messianic royal psalm. Remember some royal psalms are explicitly about God as king and some are explicitly about the human king who points us to Jesus. Some among this latter category are more explicitly Messianic than others.
I mentioned before that this Psalm forms an inclusio with Psalm 1 because the conclusion says, “Blessed be…” and Psalm 1 opens “Blessed be.” But perhaps it would be better to treat verses 18-20 separately (as we have already dealt with them earlier anyway as the conclusion to Book Two) and observe that the inclusio actually better fits for Psalm 1:1 and Psalm 72:17. Speaking of the Messianic king Solomon says, “May his name endure forever, his fame continue as long as the sun! May people be blessed in him, all nations call him blessed!” The King is the representative blessed man of Psalm 1.
Gerald Wilson helpfully notes the following: “’His name’ links back to the growing theme of the universal authority and dominion of Yahweh that has marked the sequence of Psalms 56-72. Throughout these psalms it has been the name of God that has focused the praise of the psalmists. The king has appeared in these psalms as well, but his name—the king’s name—is never the object of praise. Here at the end of Psalm 72, however, at the end of Book 2 of the Psalter (the book that in combination with the first constitutes the collection of ‘the prayers of David son of Jesse’), the line between this king and God are becoming blurred. This king will so rule that the reign of God will be extended to the earth, and the earth will respond with abundant produce.” And “this king will usher in the blessing of Israel and of all the families of the earth that was promised to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3.” The psalm speaks clearly of Messianic expectation!
Within the psalm we read lines like these: “May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River [Euphrates] to the ends of the earth! May desert tribes bow down before him and his enemies lick the dust! May the kings of Tarshish and of the coastlands render him tribute; may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts! May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him!” (Psalm 72:9-11, cf. Gen 10:2-4, 6-7).
Psalm 72 twice mentions the sun: “May they fear you while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations!” (Psalm 72:5) and “May his name endure forever, his fame continue as long as the sun” (Psalm 72:17a). These are poetic ways of expressing for all time.
But most important is the key characteristic of the Messianic king – he cares for and protects the poor. Psalm 72:2, 4, 12-14 all explicitly are talking about this key characteristic. This psalm then would both tend to undermine the historical kings descended from David and Solomon (as they failed to do this) as well as point forward to the true Son of God.