Many of the individual psalms in Book 2 are laments, as in Book 1, but there are also psalms that call down blessings on a human king and psalms that insist that God is king over both Israel and other lands. Again, like Book 1, Book 2 contains a number of psalms associated with David, but it also includes psalms that are associated with various guilds, such as the Korahites.
Choirs of Korahites
Music at the Temple was generally overseen by a number of guilds made up of members of the tribe of Levi, one of the twelve tribes that made up the original nation of Israel. Levite families worked as priests and worship leaders and assistants for the Jewish nation. It is not clear whether the guild members composed the psalms or merely preserved them and sang them. Subtitles to some individual psalms give instructions to these guild members about how to sing and accompany particular songs, sometimes even assigning a certain tune.
Psalms 42–49 are credited to the Korahites, as are Psalms 84, 85, 87, & 88 in Book 3. The Korahites were members of a guild of singers descended from Korah (2 Chroncles 20:19). The psalms in Book 2 that are ascribed to the Korahites include three laments, the first of which (Psalm 42), speaks of panting for God in the way that a thirsty deer pants for water. (A similar image is found in Psalm 63:1, attributed to David, where the psalmist thirsts for God “Like parched land thirsts for water.”) In contrast, the Korahite psalm 45 is a royal wedding hymn, addressed to a king and queen on their wedding day.
Other Korahite psalms celebrate God as commander of the nations and protector of Jerusalem and its Temple. Psalm 47 asserts that God is king not only of Israel but of all peoples, the people of the kingdom that is to come, which is evoked in the Lord’s prayer.
Psalm 49, the last psalm attributed to the Korahites in Book 2, stresses that all of us will die, rich and poor alike. We can can buy up all the real estate in the world, but in the end, we’ll give up all those lands “for a cemetery plot.” (Psalm 49:11).
More about David
Book 2 ends with a collection of 18 Davidic psalms (51–65, 68–70). Of these, eight psalms address incidents in David’s life: Psalms 51, 52, 54, 56, 57, 59, 60, and 63. Another, Psalm 53, is nearly identical to Psalm 14. This repetition indicates that the five books of Psalms were put together separately, not by a single editor at one given point in time.
The psalms tied to incidents in David’s life need not be thought of as historical pieces but may be turned into personal prayers. For example, the subtitle of Psalm 51, a kind of sinner’s song, claims that this lament was written in response to David’s sin of seducing Bathsheba then having her husband killed. However, there is nothing in the psalm itself that ties it to David or anyone else. It is simply the impassioned plea of a sinner for forgiveness. And it can certainly be used by any of us to ask forgiveness for whatever sins we may have committed. (The blood mentioned can be thought to represent any injuries we have caused to others.)
A number of psalms praise God and thank him for his many gifts and for the mighty deeds he has performed to save his people. Psalm 68 praises God because he looks after orphans and widows, the lonely, and prisoners; It also praises God for leading Israel to victory and rescuing Israel when needed. It then describes a procession of Israel’s tribes into the Temple and concludes by praising God, who is mighty, majestic, and the source of strength for his people.
Get the bad guys
Other psalms ask God for his protection from all sorts of danger and insult. In particular, Psalm 69 calls out,
“Please God, “save me
I’m neck-deep in rising water
I’m sinking in the mud.” (Psalm 69:1–2).
It goes on to complain that
“I don’t have enough hairs on my head
To represent people who hate me for no good reason.” (Psalm 69:4).
These spiteful people, the psalmist continues, have been falsely accusing him of theft and making fun of him for fasting and praying. Furthermore, gossips gossip about him and drunks sing about him. Finally, when the psalmist was desperately searching for compassion, his foes “seasoned my food with poison. And they tried to quench my thirst with vinegar.” (Psalm 69:21) Some Christians see the giving of vinegar to the thirsty as a prophecy of Jesus on the cross. The psalm concludes with a promise to praise God in return for help.
Psalm 70, which calls for God to stop the people who laugh at the psalmist and want him dead, is very similar to Psalm 40:13–17 in Book 1, but the subject of old age is added here. Psalm 71:18 pleads, “God, don’t ignore me when I’m old and gray.” It then alternates calls for help in old age with lavish praises of God’s goodness.
Psalm 52 remembers that God can be trusted to punish those who do wrong, telling these villains that God is going “to beat you into the dirt forever . . . deport you from the land of the living” (Psalm 52:5). Psalm 58 is even harsher. Forgetting all about “love your neighbor,” it is a bitter curse on those who do evil, asking God to “smash the teeth / Right outta their mouths” (Psalm 58:6) and let evildoers “die slowly, like snails dissolving into slime” (Psalm 52:8).
Dying kings and newly crowned kings.
Kings are also the subject of a few of the psalms in Book 2. Psalm 61 is a lament by a king who is gravely ill. A request is made in verse 6 of this psalm to “Let the king live a long life. / Let him see grandkids and great-grandkids.” This brings to mind the story of Hezekiah in 2 Kings 20, where the dying king is granted 15 more years of life in answer to his prayer.
In contrast, Ps 72, the final psalm in Book 2, seems to be celebrating the coronation of a new king. The psalm calls down blessings on the king, asking that his reign to be peaceful and prosperous and predicting that the king will be just and will care for the needy. Then, at the end of verse 16, the psalm breaks off from its main subject, the king, and ends with a doxology (a call to praise God). This doxology was probably added to the original psalm by the person compiling the collection to give it the traditional ending for a Book of the Psalms.
The end, except it’s not
Psalm 72 is followed by a note that says that the psalms of David, the son of Jesse, are ended. As Psalm 72 itself seems to come to an end with verses 18–19, It is possible that an earlier collection of psalms ‘of David’ ended with this note. It is not, however, the last of the psalms associated with David. Eighteen more will follow, 15 of them in Book 5. This fact bolsters the argument that the five books of psalms were not put together at the same time. When this note was added at the end of Book 2 the editor probably expected no more psalms to follow. The final three books of psalms, then, were probably added at a later date.