2 Samuel 23:1 refers to King David as “Israel’s singer of songs” (NIV), “the sweet psalmist of Israel” (KJV, ESV), “the favorite singer of Israel” (HCSB).Little wonder, for he’s identified as author of almost half of the psalms in our Bibles.
For me, reading the books of Samuel and the Psalms contemporaneously was really exciting as I got to place some of what David says in the Psalms in its historical context.
1 Samuel 19:11-18 ≡ Psalm 59
Saul sends his men to David’s house to kill him. In the psalm he asks God for deliverance from his enemies, describes their wickedness and expresses his trust in God. He ends the psalm on a note of praise.
1 Samuel 21:10-15 ≡ Psalm 34 ≡ Psalm 56
David, fearing for his life, flees to Philistia. The Philistines remember his previous acts against them and remind their king. David is afraid and pretends to be insane so that they won’t harm him.
Psalm 34 is a hymn of praise celebrating the deliverance.
1 Samuel 21:7; 22:9 ≡ Psalm 52
1 Samuel 23:19; 26:1 ≡ Psalm 54
Ziph was a town in southern Judah, so you’d expect them to be on David’s side. The Ziphites nonetheless give Saul GPS coordinates (as it were) of David’s hideout.
1 Samuel 22-26 ≡ Psalm 57 ≡ Psalm 63 ≡ Psalm 142
David spent years on the run from Saul, living in caves in the desert of Judah. These three psalms date from that period. They all express anguish and desperation: in Psalm 57, he is surrounded by ravenous beasts; in Psalm 63 he thirsts and longs for God; in the seven verses of Psalm 142 he uses the word ‘cry’ thrice. These were clearly trying times for David, yet he kept trusting and praising the Lord.
2 Samuel 8:13 ≡ Psalm 60
In the narrative in 2 Samuel, David was victorious over his enemies. Psalm 60 paints a less rosy picture. In it he laments God’s treatment and asks that He save and help His people. Putting the psalm in its historical context helped me understand verse 8, which I found slightly cryptic and amusing. Moab, Edom and Philistia were the nations David was battling at the time, and the verse expresses his disdain for them.
2 Samuel 11 ≡ Psalm 51
I don’t need to say anything here, do I?
2 Samuel 15 ≡ Psalm 3
2 Samuel 22 ≡ Psalm 18
These two chapters are identical. It is not known when David wrote this song in which he praises God for who He is and for what He had done in David’s life. The last verse proclaims that the Lord shows unfailing kindness to David and his descendants forever, no doubt pointing in part to great David’s greater Son!
One interesting thing that emerges is that David doesn’t say anything/ says very little in the narrative sections. The psalms thus let us in on what’s going on in his mind. Unsurprisingly, the thoughts of the man after God’s own heart are focused God-ward. If only I could be half as focused!