Fourteen psalms carry notes giving, for the most part, specific historical information setting the context in which the psalms are to be understood. In some cases the event noted is not known from the OT, as in Ps 7, or is a general situation, as in Ps 102. In most cases the contexts called to mind reflect other OT texts as follows:
|Ps 3||2Sa 15:1-18:33||Flight from Absalom|
|Ps 18||e.g., 1Sa 19:1ff.; 24:1ff.; 26:1ff.; 2Sa 5:17ff.; 8:1ff.; 10:1ff.||Deliverance from enemies like Saul|
|Ps 34||1Sa 21:10ff. (Psalms have Abimelech; 1 Sa has Achish)||Expulsion by Abimelech|
|Ps 51||2Sa 11:1ff.||Confrontation by Nathan|
|Ps 52||1Sa 22:6ff.||Betrayal to Saul by Doeg|
|Ps 54||1Sa 23:14ff.||Betrayal to Saul by the Ziphites|
|Ps 56||1Sa 21:10ff.; 22:1ff.; 27:1ff.||Capture by Philistines|
|Ps 57||1Sa 24:1ff.||Hiding in a cave from Saul|
|Ps 59||1Sa 19:8ff.||Surveillance by Saul|
|Ps 60||2Sa 8:3ff.; 10:15ff.||Battle against Aram Naharaim|
|Ps 63||e.g., 1Sa 22:1ff.; 24:1ff.||In the Judean desert|
|Ps 142||e.g., 1Sa 22:1ff.; 24:1ff.||Hiding in a cave|
Just which of these were actually penned by the composer of the psalms in question and which have been provided as commentary on the psalms we can no longer determine with certainty. Evidence from the LXX and the Targums suggests these and other parts of the superscriptions either (1) continued to be added as the OT text was copied and edited or (2) differed in the different textual traditions behind these translations.
Whatever their origin, these “historical” notes along with other information in the superscriptions now stand every bit as much a part of the canonical text as the poems themselves. In many cases the content of the psalm itself, though compatible with the historical setting given, would not necessarily suggest the event noted more than any other similar situation. The classic penitential prayer, Ps 51, for example, has no marks demanding association with David's sins with Bathsheba and his response to Nathan, though of course it is eminently appropriate to that terrible set of events. Nevertheless, the poem must now be read in that context, a frame of reference that influences, indeed enhances, the reader-prayer's understanding of the poem.