Old Testament Psalms in the Book of Mormon

The below post is an excerpt of an article I wrote a few years ago. If you’re interested in more depth, as well as references, download the full article here.

The Psalms provide powerful messages of praise and worship. They appear in the Old Testament and are frequently quoted in the New Testament. In fact, one religious scholar noted, “Next to the book of Isaiah, no book is so frequently quoted in the New Testament as the Psalter.”

Given that the Psalms are frequently quoted in the New Testament, one wonders if they also appear in the Book of Mormon. Although Psalms are not specifically mentioned as being on the brass plates, certainly some of what we today have as the book of Psalms could have been included on the plates. In addition, early Book of Mormon authors such as Nephi could have been familiar with some Psalms based on their experiences in Jerusalem.

A careful analysis shows that there could be more than forty allusions to the Book of Psalms in the Book of Mormon. Sixty-three percent of these potential allusions to Psalms come from either Nephi or Jacob, a fact that makes sense given their cultural closeness to the plates of brass and the culture of temple worship in Jerusalem.

Another interesting finding is that with one exception that is clearly attributable to Moroni, there are no apparent allusions to Psalms in the book of Ether, sections of which are drawn from material that pre-dates the brass plates.

Consider two connections between the Old Testament Psalms and the Book of Mormon. First, the prophet Jacob records, “Wherefore we labored diligently among our people, that we might persuade them to come unto Christ, and partake of the goodness of God, that they might enter into his rest, lest by any means he should swear in his wrath they should not enter in, as in the provocation in the days of temptation while the children of Israel were in the wilderness.” The italicized portions of this verse bear a clear connection to Psalm 95:8, 11 which state, “As in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness…Unto whom I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest.”

This shared text cannot be coincidental. This is doubly the case when we see another allusion to Psalm 95 at the end of Jacob’s record. In Jacob 6:6, he exhorts, “Yea, today, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts; for why will ye die?” These words directly echo Psalm 95:7-8: “To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your heart.”

Thus Jacob alludes to Psalm 95 at the beginning of his book (Jacob 1:7) and as he concludes it (Jacob 6:6). It appears that Jacob uses these two statements to communicate to readers the importance of coming unto Christ and not hardening our hearts.

Another example of how Book of Mormon authors use Old Testament Psalms is Nephi’s use of several Old Testament psalms in what is popularly called “the Psalm of Nephi” in 2 Nephi 4.

Of the 660 words comprising the Psalm of Nephi, approximately 20% are key words or phrases that are also found in the biblical Psalter. While some of these are words used throughout scripture, others are significant, and appear only in these two passages. Here is the Psalm of Nephi, with potential allusions to Psalms in italics.

Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord [Psalm 27:13, 33:5] in, showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities [Psalm 31:10]. I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me. And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins [Psalm 38:3]; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted [Psalm 13:5, 26:1, 33:21]. My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; and he [Psalm 106:9] hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep. He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh. He hath confounded mine enemies, unto the causing of them to quake before me. Behold, he hath heard my [Psalm 116:1] cry by day, and he hath given me knowledge by visions in the night-time. And by day have I waxed bold in mighty prayer before him; yea, my voice have I sent up on high; and angels came down and ministered unto me. And upon the wings of [Psalm 18:10, 104:3] his Spirit hath my body been carried away upon exceedingly high mountains. And mine eyes have beheld great things, yea, even too great for man; therefore I was bidden that I should not write them. O then, if I have seen so great things, if the Lord in his condescension unto the children of  men, hath visited men in so much mercy, why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions? And why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh? Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul [Psalm 143:12]? Why am I angry because of mine enemy [Psalm 5:8, 8:2, 27:11, 69:18]? Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul. Do not anger again because of mine enemies [Psalm 5:8, 8:2, 27:11, 69:18]. Do not slacken my strength because of mine afflictions. Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord [Psalm 107:19, 28], and say: O Lord, I will praise thee forever [Psalm 52:9]; yea, my soul will rejoice in thee [Psalm 9:2, 85:6], my God, and the rock of my salvation [Psalm 89:26]. O Lord, wilt thou redeem my soul [Psalm 49:15]? Wilt thou deliver me out of the [Psalm 69:14] hands of mine enemies [Psalm 31:15]. Wilt thou make me that I may shake at the appearance of sin? May the gates of hell be shut continually before me [Psalm 38:17, 44:15, 50:8], because that my heart is broken and my spirit is contrite [Psalm 34:18, 51:17]! O Lord, wilt thou not shut the gates of thy righteousness [Psalm 118:19] before me, that I may walk [Psalm 56:13] in the path of [Psalm 23:3,119:35] the low valley, that I may be strict in the plain road! O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness! O Lord, wilt thou make a way for mine escape before mine enemies! Wilt thou make my path straight before [Psalm 5:8] me! Wilt thou not place a stumbling block in my way—but that thou wouldst clear my way before me, and hedge not up my way, but the ways of mine enemy. O Lord, I have trusted in [Psalm 13:5, 33:21] thee, and I will trust in thee [Psalm 55:23, 56:3] forever. I will not put my trust in the [Psalm 4:5, 73:28] arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the [Psalm 4:5, 73:28] arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm. Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh. Yea, my God will give me, if I ask not amiss; therefore I will lift up my [Psalm 63:4, 121:1] voice unto thee; yea, I will cry unto [Psalm 57:2] thee, my God, the rock of my [Psalm 62:7, 89:26, 94:22, 95:1] righteousness. Behold, my voice shall forever ascend up unto thee, my rock [Psalm 18:2, 46, 28:1, 31:3, 42:9, 62:2, 6, 71:3, 78:35, 92:15]and mine everlasting God. Amen.

When the multiple connections to psalms are added together, Nephi could have alluded to potentially 47 different Psalms in just eighteen verses. It stretches one’s imagination to believe that Joseph Smith could have been responsible for making all these connections, particularly with the understanding that the Psalm of Nephi was likely translated in less than two hours. I believe these allusions stem from Nephi’s mediations on the Psalms. Nephi’s apparent familiarity and love of the psalms can provide motivation for Latter-day Saints to follow Nephi’s example and become deeply familiar with the language of praise and worship as found in the Old Testament Psalms. 

If you’re interested in more depth, as well as references, download the full article here.