Old Testament Essays (Sep 2019)

The Role of Psalms 135-137 in the Shape and Shaping of Book V of the Hebrew Psalter

  • Nancy L. DeClaissé-Walford

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 32, no. 2
pp. 669 – 686


Read online

Book V of the Psalter (Pss 107-150) is an interesting collection of psalms. After the opening Ps 107, celebrating God’s rescue of humanity from various dangerous situations, psalms attributed to David appear again after a virtual absence since Book II. These Davidic psalms (Pss 108-110 and 138-145) “frame” a grouping of festival psalms that are introduced by two brief alphabetic acrostics (Pss 111 and 112). Seemingly tucked away just after the Songs of Ascents (Pss 120-134), and before the resumption of psalms of David, lie Psalms 135-137, two magnificent community hymns followed by a heartfelt community lament. This essay explores the role of these psalms in the “shape” and “shaping” of the story of the Psalter. It will conclude that the psalms offer a highly stylized recitation of Israel’s history that made a world for the postexilic community, recounting Yahweh’s work in creation, summarizing the Pentateuchal stories of the ancestors (Pss 135-136) and providing a snapshot of exilic life in Babylon (Ps 137). Their assurance of Yahweh’s presence and provisions allow David, in Psalms 138-145, to lead the postexilic people in blessing, praise, and thanks to the sovereign God.