Psalm 151

By Mary Jane Chaignot

The canonical Psalter in both the Hebrew and Christian Bibles contains 150 Psalms. Yet, some copies of the Septuagint (LXX) contain an additional psalm. It is labeled as one "falling outside the number." It appears to have been authored by David and is a first person account of his anointing by Samuel and his later victory over Goliath. Basically, the Psalm praises God for what He has accomplished through David.

In point of fact, there are many Psalms that impute authorship to David or apparently refer to events in his life. Yet, Psalm 151 is the only one that does so in an unambiguous manner. Despite this note of authentication, scholars are not so quick to attribute actual authorship to David. For a long time, the only copy of this Psalm was found among Greek manuscripts. Several identify it as being "outside the number" of canonical writings, though one (Sinaiticus) includes it and labels its Psalter as "The 151 Psalms of David." It was believed that this Psalm was written around the beginning of the second century C.E.

Much of this changed, however, with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1956. Included in that discovery was a fragmentary leather Psalter that included roughly forty of the known Psalms (though not in any particular order), plus an additional eight that are not part of the canon. They were all written in Hebrew. Psalm 151, as it now reads in Greek, appears to be a combined version of two of these Hebrew Psalms. For ease of identification, the discovery of Ps. 151a is a longer version of 151:1-5; it is more than twice its length. Ps. 151b starts with 151:6-7 and then breaks off, leading scholars to assume the rest has been lost. The discovery of this Dead Sea Scroll means that the Psalms had to be written before the first half of the first century C.E., and possibly before the third century B.C.E. The language and phrasing still argue for a date later than David's time. An unknown author combined them into one Psalm sometime before the third century C.E. (It is also noteworthy that another document among the Dead Sea Scrolls claimed that David wrote 3,600-4,000 Psalms and hundreds of additional songs.) There is, of course, no way to verify that David actually wrote the words of Psalm 151 or any of the others that have been attributed to him.

It is unknown whether the inclusion of Psalm 151 among the Dead Sea Scrolls means that the Qumran community considered this to be canonical in the sense that these documents foreshadowed what would become known as the traditional Psalter. Some would say that it does, while others think these scrolls might have been a collection of devotions and prayers used by the community. In other words, this could have been their hymnal. Since this discovery, scholars think the Greek version is a translation from original Hebrew documents.

The Psalm is fairly straightforward. The only ambiguous phrase occurs in verse 3. The Psalm, as it is now written, claims that the mountains and hills do not tell of God's glory. As a result, David had to take up this task himself, yet many other Psalms claim that the various aspects of nature do sing God's praises and give honor to His creation. The Psalm also emphasizes David's stature within his family. He was not only the youngest, but also the smallest, of all the brothers. Yet he was the one that God chose. Prominence is also given to Samuel as God's messenger, whose job it was to anoint a king. This fits very well with the message of 1 Sam 16:7, where God states, "… the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart."

This has important theological implications as well. The Psalm repeatedly claims that God chose David, who was the least of all his brothers. It also claims that the others were more handsome and taller (possibly more capable). Yet, God deliberately chose David. It attests to the fact that God's ways differ from humanity's. In a deep way, this point might offer comfort to later generations. By reminding people of David's inauspicious beginnings, the Psalm could inspire or encourage people who were probably feeling very inauspicious while facing dominating nations. It reminded them that God is not impressed by outward appearances. Indeed, he can use the smallest of figures to accomplish his goals and to keep his people safe. This, though, would have timeless application throughout the ages.

There are two sections to this Psalm: 1:1-5 – God Chooses David; 1:6-7 – David's Victory over the Philistine.

I – 1:1-5 – God Chooses David

  • 1:1
    • David's account of his anointing
    • This is a first person account
    • He was the youngest of all his brothers, also the smallest
    • His job was to tend his father's sheep
    • (Some Syriac versions include the notation that David had killed a lion and a wolf – despite his small size.)
  • 1:2-3
    • His commitment to worship
    • David made the harp that he used
    • He also made a lyre
    • David used these musical instruments to give glory/praise to the Lord
    • The idea is that he used his time tending sheep to sing praises all the time
    • Obviously, God hears everything and he heard David
    • Some scholars argue that this is the reason why David was chosen in the first place
    • (The Hebrew version is much longer: "The mountains do not witness to him, nor do the hills proclaim; The trees have cherished my words and the flocks my works. For who can proclaim and who can bespeak and who can recount the deeds of the Lord? Everything has God seen, everything has he heard and he has heeded." According to this version, because the mountains and hills were silent, David had to step up to the plate. This presumed silence of nature might also be the reason why this part was not included in the Greek translation.)
  • 1:4
    • God sent his messenger
    • This is an obvious reference to Samuel
    • Samuel was sent by God to specifically anoint David 
  • 1:5
    • The brothers
    • Samuel anointed David despite the fact that his brothers were bigger and more handsome
    • God was not pleased with them; God saw in their hearts
    • God had Samuel anoint David
    • (The Hebrew version of this is as follows: "He sent his prophet to anoint me, Samuel to make me great; My brothers went out to meet him, handsome of figure and appearance. Though they were tall of stature and handsome by their hair, The Lord God chose them not. But he sent and took me from behind the flock and anointed me with holy oil, And he made me leader of his people and ruler over the people of his covenant.")
    • God's choosing of David was completely intentional
    • Theologically, it means that God sometimes acts in mysterious ways
    • God's choosing of the weak and ill-equipped ensures that victory can only be attributed to God
    • As a metaphor, it was also meant to encourage those who felt small in the face of oppressive nations

II – 1:6-7 – David's Victory over the Philistine

  • 1:6
    • David's encounter with Goliath
    • David is again the speaker here
    • He went out to meet
    • Goliath (who is not mentioned by name) Goliath cursed him by his idols 
  • 1:7
    • David's victory over Goliath
    • After felling Goliath with a slingshot and a smooth stone (though nothing is written about this), David beheaded him with his own sword
    • In so doing, David removed the disgrace of Israel
    • He restored its honor


deSilva, David. Introducing the Apocrypha. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2002.

Harrington, Daniel. Invitation to the Apocrypha. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans. 1999.

Meeks, Wayne, ed. The Harper Collins Study Bible. San Francisco, CA: HarperCollins Publishers. 1993.

Metzer, Bruce, Ed. The Oxford Annotated Apocrypha. New York: Oxford University Press. 1965.

Mills, Watson and Richard Wilson, eds. Mercer Commentary on the Bible. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press. 2002.

Old Testament Apocrypha

Christian Apocrypha