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Psalms about Future Events

If King David authored Psalms, how is it that several of the Psalms talk about events which occurred long after David’s time. Some examples are Psalm 74 which talks about the destruction of the Temple, and Psalm 137, about the Babylonian Exile (“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat and also cried as we remembered Zion”).

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Thank you for your good observation. This general issue is discussed primarily in the context of Psalm 137, which was clearly written in reference to the First Temple’s destruction and the Babylonian Exile – which occurred hundreds of years after King David’s death.

Before addressing the primary issue, one important clarification is due. What you stated in your question is not entirely true. It is clear that King David was not the sole author of all of the psalms. A large number of them are attributed to other authors, such as Asaf, Heiman, and Moses. The Talmud (Baba Batra 14b) states that King David authored the Book of Psalms together with “ten elders,” most of them contemporary to David, but several much earlier. (It’s possible the other authors served as the inspiration for the other psalms and David put them in their final forms. See Rashi to Talmud there and Ibn Ezra’s introduction to Tehillim. Also, although two psalms are attributed to David’s son Solomon (72 & 127), the commentators explain that David wrote them in honor of his son, the future king.)

In terms of Psalm 137, about the Babylonian Exile, the Talmud (Gittin 57b) explains that God showed King David a prophetic vision of the Temple’s destruction, and he was stirred to write a psalm about the future tragedy. The Talmud in fact notes that David was even shown a vision of the Second Temple’s destruction. This is why at the end David calls on God to remember the acts of the Children of Edom (Rome) and to punish them as well.

More generally, the Talmud observes that King David wrote Psalms with Divine inspiration (see Talmud Pesachim 117a, Brachot 4b), and thus he very often alludes to future events. See for example Psalm 126.

A second opinion appears in Ibn Ezra’s introduction to the Psalms, that such chapters of the Psalms were written much later, by one of the actual exiles in Babylonia. According to this opinion, Psalms was not completed until a much later time in history.

It should be noted that even according to this opinion, Psalms was presumably completed at around the time of the Babylonian Exile. This was still the era of prophecy – at (or before) the times of such figures as Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, Mordechai, and Malachi. Other books of the Torah were still being recorded. Psalms too, in its entirety, was a sacred work written with Divine Inspiration. Generations later, the Men of the Great Assembly recognized this and determined that Psalms deserved to be a part of the Torah.

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