You don’t? Well, let me ‘splain. We get the idea right away this is some kind of musical instruction, but we get sort of hung up on that nearly unpronounceable “m” word (just say it with confidence—it’s not that difficult).
There are many different thoughts about what “muth-labben” means: some divide the word up [לַבֵּן מוּת עַלְ (al mut labben)], which can be read “on the death of the son.” Others, based on the Greek translation of the Old Testament keep it all together as one word, עַלְמוּת (almut) which can be understood as a musical instruction, such as “sung with a young voice.” Why could it not be both: the tune is “on the death of the son,” and it is intended for the principle instrument: a young voice?
David was very specific to include this instruction and while it may be debated as to whether or not the superscript of any psalm is inspired (I believe they are), we should slow down long enough to consider what the musical direction tells us about the piece. Think about that (Selah)!
Our 2 ½ year old grand-daughter likes to play outside and she has an affinity to spreading out her blanket on the ground, laying down and going to sleep. She is not particularly tired when she does this—she just feels safe. A person is most vulnerable when they are asleep and she feels she can drop in the grass and rest, no matter what else is happening in the world.
Perhaps if we read Psalm 9 with a child’s voice, we may get an idea of the smallness, the frailty, the humility and child-like dependence of the writer on God. The writer is King David, but don’t let the office he holds influence your thinking. Here’s what I mean: we can safely guess that he wrote this Psalm (and Psalm 10—they go together) sometime between the events of 1 Samuel 17 (the defeat of Goliath and the pursuit of the Philistine army out of Israel) and the events of 2 Samuel 1-8, where we find recorded the death of certain sons.
- 2 Samuel 1: Saul and Jonathan are dead and David mourns with a warning (2 Sam 1:20—do not give the enemy the opportunity to question the greatness of God because of the death of Saul and his son);
- 2 Samuel 2-3: after David is anointed King over Judah, Joab (nephew and servant of David) kills Abner (a commander of Saul’s army) and David mourns;
- 2 Samuel 4: Ish-boseth (son of Saul) is killed and David mourns.
- 2 Samuel 8:1 credits David with finishing the work that Samson started, beginning with God using David to defeat the Philistine champion.
Another clue we may have of the child-like dependency and performance of this psalm is the fact that it is an imperfect acrostic; that is, the first letter in each word of the each line is in alphabetical order (though there are a few letters missing). Here is the point: even a child can remember that God is Deliverer and we can rest in Him with full assurance. Now that opens the door to thanksgiving (9:1ff)!