What is a “michtam” in the Bible?

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Michtam in the Bible 

Michtam is recorded only six times in Tanach, only in the book of Psalms, and only in the first verse of these chapters. It is recorded in chapter 16, and in chapters 56 through 60. Two times it is recorded “michtam Le-David.” Four times it is recorded “Le-David michtam.” 

The root 

The root seems to be Caf-Tav-Mem. This root appears nine times in Tanach with the meaning “gold.” It also appears in Jeremiah 2:22.  Also, there is an Akkadian root “katamu” that means “to cover.” Based on this, some say that a “michtam” was a psalm of atonement.

Dictionary definitions

The Mirriam Webster states that Michtam is used in the Bible in the headings of Psalm 16 and Psalms 56 to 60 (AV) possibly to suggest atonement. 

The Easton’s Bible Dictionary says of Michtam i.e., “a poem or song found in the titles of Psalms 16. Some translate the word “golden”, i.e., precious. It is rendered in the LXX. by a word meaning “tablet inscription” or a “stelograph.” The root of the word means to stamp or grave, and hence it is regarded as denoting a composition so precious as to be worthy to be engraved on a durable tablet for preservation; or, as others render, “a psalm precious as stamped gold,” from the word kethem , “fine or stamped gold.” 

Meaning 

The introductory verses to the psalms often use liturgical and musical terms that are difficult for modern people to comprehend. Michtam is such a difficult word, that different etymological works such as Brown-Driver-Briggs and E. Klein, (A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language) are not ready to explain it. In addition, the King James Bible (1611) did not translate it and merely wrote “Michtam.” 

Relation 

In Isaiah 38:9, King Hezekiah’s song is introduced with these words: “A writing of Hezekiah king of Judah after his illness and recovery.” The Hebrew word for “writing” in this verse is miktab, which many Bible scholars believe is related to michtam.

Usage 

This word is part of the Hebrew liturgy, as Psalm 16 can be repeated aloud at funerals. Also, in the Sephardic ritual, it is repeated before Maariv on Motzei Shabbat. 

In His service, 

BibleAsk Team 

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