Psalms: The Author’s Perspective
We’re starting a new series this week on the book of Psalms. Why do you read the Psalms? Does it give you comfort in times of pain? Or encouragement when someone has wronged you? Most of us use the words in Psalms as a salve to soothe our soul—and there is nothing wrong with that! In this series, we want you to look deeper at this precious book. From a bird’s eye view, we can see the overall pattern the book has and then begin to dig deeper and discover the way the verses and chapters shape this beloved book of the Bible.
This week Chris will focus on the author’s perspective in the Psalms. We’ll take a look at who the authors were and what the original intent was for their songs and poetry. We’ll see a pattern in the Psalms that we hope will give you a new and deeper perspective of the verses you read during times of rejoicing, heartache, and pain.
Steve Conover: This is the Friends of Israel Today. I'm Steve Conover, and as always, Chris Katulka's with me. Today we're beginning a four part series on Discovering the Psalms. The book of Psalms most vividly expresses the doubt and faith individuals have placed in the Lord as they walked with him. As one commentator put it, "The Psalms are inspired responses of human hearts to God's revelation of himself." And Chris, Christians for ages have used this collection of prayers and praises in their churches and in their private times with the Lord.
Chris Katulka: And that's why I think this entire discussion is going to be fantastic, where for the next four weeks, we're going to be looking at really the layers of the Psalms as we discover it. And today we're going to look at the original intent, when the Psalmist sat down and poured his heart out to God. We're going to look at why that was so important, that expression of poetry, that expression of song as they were going through a life circumstance. And then for the rest of this series, we're going to look at how that original expression took on a life of its own as it became a part of Israel's history, defining Israel's history, and even what it means for us today.
Steve Conover: It's going to be a great series, but first in the news, a team of Jerusalem-based researchers believes they have a cure for diabetes that could be brought to the public within the next few years. Israeli-based Betalin Therapeutics has developed the first bio-artificial pancreas, composed of pigs' lung tissue and insulin-secreting cells. The implanted artificial pancreas would measure the body's sugar level and release the correct amount of insulin needed to balance blood sugar.
Chris Katulka: So Steve, you're telling me in Israel they're going to be implanting pigs' lungs for curing diabetes?
Steve Conover: I am.
Chris Katulka: I hope it's kosher. But for the rest of the world dealing with diabetes, this is really a big step in the way that we're going to see potentially a cure. Right now, we only have a way of managing diabetes. My sister has diabetes and I see it. She is managing it. But this, the Israeli researchers are saying this is a cure, and this cure ultimately is going to take the diabetic pancreas and is going to infuse it with this pig lung, which is also giving out insulin, and the patient should never have to use injections anymore for insulin. And this is just really another way that Israel is blessing the world and bringing modern medical advancements to everyone.
Well, today we begin a four part series on the Psalms. And the Psalms are literally a series of songs that were written by individuals that were intended for personal and communal worship. And here's what I find so astonishing about the Psalms. I find it astonishing just how relevant the Psalms are to us as believers, 3000 years or so after they've been written. To think of just how much has changed over the years, and yet some of the Psalms I read almost seemed to flow right from my own heart. And there's a reason for that.
Despite the fact that technology has changed things and cultures have shifted dramatically, the human heart remains the same. The human heart from 1000 ago has the same longings that we do today, the same longings, the same empty holes that are looking to be filled, the same worries, the same anxieties, and it even has the same hopes. So for this four week studies on the Psalms, I want us to look at the Psalms in their entirety. We're not just going to look at one Psalm. We're going to look at the layers of the Psalms as we discover them.
And here's what I mean by layers. The Psalms are more than just simply a series of those individual songs that were written. See, that's just one layer. It's actually the layer that we're going to look at today. The Psalms were written by individuals, whether they were worried about a situation, or thanking God, or praising God. And that's what we're going to talk about.
But see, there's another layer, because as time went on, these Psalms took on a meaning beyond the authors who penned them. They became anthems. They became prayers. They became worship music used for the temple, used for the nation of Israel. The Psalms became essentially a hymnal and prayer book for temple worship. They were organized for various events to aid in worship. It's an amazing thing to see.
But there is another layer, because the Psalms as you see them now in the Old Testament, were purposefully placed in order. In Israelite history, someone took those divinely inspired songs and ordered them into five books. And eventually, these five books came to reveal the history and the future of Israel, the bright future for Israel. And finally, there's one more layer, and that layer is you.
The Psalms come full circle because the heart and soul David, Solomon, and the other writers put into their songs on an individual level, connect with you and me and our relationship with the Lord. And when you read certain Psalms, you identify with them right away because they become personal prayers. They become personal anthems. They become personal worship, just as it was for the original writers.
But today I want to focus on the original expression of the Psalms. The Psalms' writers who sat down and penned what is the largest collection ... Think about this. It's the largest collection of ancient poetry in existence, and this ancient poetry directly expresses the individual's emotions as a poet. As a part of the old Testament, this poetry is rooted, this is amazing, it's rooted in faith. The poet's faith is expressed in the Psalms, and their emotions and feelings are stirred by the thought of God. And they're directed, these songs, these Psalms are directed to him.
So first let's talk about the writers themselves. 74 of the Psalms are ascribed to King David, and he's really the most famous of all the Psalm writers. When we think of the Psalms, oftentimes people are directed right to King David. Two of them are ascribed to Solomon. 25 are ascribed to Korah, Asaph, Ethan, and Heman. Now 1 Chronicles 15:16-19 and 2 Chronicles 20:19 describe these men as musicians in David and Solomon's courts. One of the Psalms is ascribed to Moses, going way back to Moses. Now Psalms 120-134 are identified as songs of ascent. And 36 Psalms have no superscriptions at all. So you can see that a majority of the Psalms that we have are essentially penned by David, but there are also a lot of others who have written as well.
Now there are several different types of Psalms. A common Psalm is the lament Psalms, and these are Psalms where the writer cries out to God in distress and details his lamentable state, his difficulty. And he even tells God what he's either done for him or what he's not done for him. But then all of a sudden there's a turn. There's a change. The writer of the lament Psalm will have a turning point. He'll turn from his complaint, and then all of a sudden place his trust in the Lord, begging that God will act. And then he turns and praises God. So the lament Psalm begins with lamenting and often ends with praise. Lament Psalms actually make up the largest body of Psalms in the book. Nearly half of the Psalms written down are lament.
Just listen to Psalm 13, a Psalm of David, a lament Psalm of David who is crying out to God in his affliction, despite never receiving any immediate deliverance. He says this in Psalm 13, "How long, Lord, will you continue to ignore me? How long will you pay no attention to me? How long must I worry and suffer in broad daylight? How long will my enemy gloat over me? Look at me. Answer me, O Lord my God. Revive me or else I'll die. Then my enemy will say, 'I have defeated him.' Then my foes will rejoice because I'm upended. But I trust in your faithfulness. May I rejoice because of your deliverance. I will sing praises to the Lord when he vindicates me."
You can hear the pain in David's voice as he cries out to God. He's saying, "Hello God, are you out there? Do you hear me? Do you see what's going on down here?" But then there's that transition. Did you hear it? That in the center of his anxiety, David takes comfort in God's faithfulness, praising God because David knows God has not abandoned him. There's also thanksgiving Psalms. These Psalms begin with praise. Something as simple as, "I will praise." And then the Psalmist describes the reason for his praise. Usually it has something to do with what God has done for them, like a report of deliverance which gives the Psalmist a renewed desire to praise the Lord for his faithfulness.
Just listen to a section of Psalm chapter 30, again another Psalm of David. And it opens up like this, "I will praise you, O Lord, for you have lifted me up, and I did not allow my enemies to gloat over me. O Lord my God, I cried out to you and you healed me. O Lord, you pulled me up from Sheol. You rescued me from those descending into the grave, and then you turned my lament into dancing. You removed my sackcloth and covered me with joy. So now my heart will sing to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will always give thanks to you." Thanks is offered up to God for delivering David from his enemy. And for that reason, David thanks God and praises God.
But finally, there are praise Psalms, and these types of Psalms aren't necessarily connected to the writer's personal deliverance. Rather, they offer direct praise to God because of his character and nature. Here's a great Psalm. It's only two verses long. Psalm 117, "Praise the Lord, all you nations. Applaud him, all you foreigners. For his loyal love towers over us, and the Lord's faithfulness endures. Praise the Lord." Here the Psalmist is calling on all people, all nations, to praise God because of his loyal love and his faithfulness. Here the Psalmist is inviting and drawing the nations into praising the Lord.
These are the most common forms of Psalms: lament, thanksgiving, and praise. I'm going to say it again: lament, thanksgiving, and praise. I'll say it one more time: lament, thanksgiving, and praise. And I'm saying this over and over again so it sticks in your mind, because the truth is this: these Psalms reflect the heart of believers throughout the ages. We lament, we give thanks, and we praise God. Now these Psalms don't just appear out of thin air. Most of the Psalms we read come from a real life situation. And when we return, we're going to look at the real life circumstance that shaped Psalm chapter 64.
Steve Conover: Today we've been learning about the timeless nature of the Psalms and how the authors used the circumstances in their own lives to express their worship toward God. Chris, knowing the rich background and details in these writings deepens their meaning.
Chris Katulka: Yeah. That's why we have Dr. Charlie Dyer's book, 30 Days in the Land of the Psalms, that we want to offer you. This book will take you through the land of Israel and give you insights into the Psalmists' point of reference and the writing styles, to better appreciate this special book of the Bible. Some of the Psalms, they remain locked in a sense, containing references to places and objects. modern readers, they've never seen them. Maybe they've never been to Israel. They didn't get a chance to see the deserts, and they didn't get a chance to see the springs, and all these pictures that detail the Psalms. But see, Dr. Charlie Dyer's book will give better insight into the backgrounds of the Psalms, giving you the ability to better worship God.
Steve Conover: And you can order your copy of 30 Days in the Land of the Psalms by Charlie Dyer. Visit us at foiradio.org. That's foiradio.org, or you can call our listener line at (888) 343-6940. Someone will return your call during our regular business hours. Again, that's (888) 343-6940. To order in Canada, call (888) 664-2584. Again in Canada, call (888) 664-2584.
Chris Katulka: Welcome back, everyone. We are continuing our series on Discovering the Psalms, and we're looking at the layers of the Psalms. And today we've been talking about the original intent, the original expression of the Psalmists, who the writers were, and what the writers were writing about, what they were lamenting, their certain circumstances, or thanking God for his provision, or praising God for his faithfulness. For the most part, Psalms come from a unique life circumstance.
And one such Psalm is Psalm 46. Some scholars believe Psalm 46 is connected to 2 Kings chapter 18, the story in the Bible where King Hezekiah had to find out where to place his confidence when life wasn't going his way. King Hezekiah was a good king. he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. He tore down false places of worship. He made the temple in Jerusalem as the prime location for worshiping God. The Southern Kingdom of Judah finally had a king whose eyes were focused on pleasing the Lord. And just as everything was going great for Hezekiah, that's when it all started to fall apart.
The massive empire, Assyria, appeared at Hezekiah's doorstep with a large army, and the King of Assyria wanted payment from Hezekiah. And if he paid, the little city of Jerusalem wouldn't be destroyed. Hezekiah realized the odds were against him in Jerusalem, so in an act of desperation, he emptied the gold and silver from his banks. He took the gold and silver from the temple. He even started stripping the plated metals off the doors of the temple, anything to get the King of Assyria to leave. Hezekiah put his confidence in himself, and he paid the tribute to the King of Assyria and expected the army to leave.
But it wasn't enough. The King of Assyria returned with his massive army surrounding Jerusalem, and he asked Hezekiah a profound question that can be found in 2 Kings chapter 18, verse 19, when he says, "What confidence is this in which you trust?" Clearly, Hezekiah first put his confidence in his own ability to handle the great King of Assyria. It's seen in the way he emptied out the banks and the temple of their gold and silver. Now with no money to give and nowhere to turn, Hezekiah places his confidence in the Lord's strength and not his own. And even though there were 185,000 Assyrian soldiers surrounding the tiny city of Jerusalem, King Hezekiah placed his trust in the Lord.
This amazing Biblical story is really the setting for Psalm chapter 46, when God tells Hezekiah, "Be still and know that I am God." As Hezekiah looks out over the city walls at a sea of Assyrian soldiers that filled his view and probably filled his heart with fear, the Psalmist reminds Hezekiah in Psalm 46, verse 1, "God is our strong refuge. He is truly our helper in times of trouble and present trouble. For this reason, we do not fear when the earth shakes, when the mountains tumble into the depths of the sea, when its waves crash and foam, and the mountains shake before the surging sea."
I can only imagine the crippling fear Hezekiah felt when he saw that massive army outside the walls. And I'm sure images of the city burning, the temple falling, and his people being carried away into exile plagued the King. Hezekiah, the King who did everything right, found his world shaken to the ground, just as it says in Psalm 46. The Psalmist reminds us, though, that when it feels like all of God's creation, the earth, the mountains, the oceans, are shaking, God is our refuge and strength. Even as everything is falling apart, God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble. Our God is not just the God of the past and the future, but a source of strength and confidence right here, right now, in this very moment.
So even though the odds were against Hezekiah, he had no reason to fear because God is going to help him now in this present moment. And when the odds are against us and we feel overwhelmed, it's common for us to just take matters into our own hands, to solve problems in our own manner, just like Hezekiah did. But the Psalmist in Psalm 46 challenges us to see things differently. See, first, understand God is our all the time refuge and strength, in both moments of great joy and moments of indescribable trouble. Then you'll have nothing to fear, even if the whole world is shaking.
The hardest part is to put things in that order. Like Hezekiah, I typically fear something, act on my own, and then fail miserably. That's called putting confidence in yourself. But then after I fail, I recognize God is my refuge and strength. And you know what? Psalm 46 takes an original story, an original circumstance, and begs us to put our confidence in God first, and then every fear becomes an opportunity to watch God work.
Steve Conover: Israel, on the verge of becoming a state, a teenage Holocaust survivor arrives on her shores alone. His name is Zvi Kalisher. Little did he know, his search for a new life in the Holy Land would lead him to the Messiah. Zvi, enthusiastic to share his faith, engaged others in spiritual conversations, many of which can be found in our magazine, Israel My Glory. While Zvi is now in the presence of his Savior, his collective writings, from well over 50 years of ministry, continue to encourage believers worldwide. Now, Apples of Gold, a dramatic reading from the life of Zvi.
Mike Kellogg: Two of my sons and my daughter are now serving at the Lebanese front in the army. Recently I received a letter stating that the army wants me also, but I said, "Not this time." I want to remind the military officials that I am now 53-years-old and actively served in all four of Israel's previous wars, performing the most dangerous job. One of the officers said, "But you know how serious the situation is." I replied, "Yes, and I have given you my three children. If you must have me, then you must also take my wife and my youngest son. Then all of our family will be in the army."
The officer said, "You may stay home for now, but be ready if we call you." "I am always ready," I said. He asked, "What do you mean?" I told him, "I am ready to preach the good news of God to all who will listen." "But you never went to yeshiva." A yeshiva is a religious school. "Did Israel's prophets go to a yeshiva," I asked him. "When the Lord called Moses, did he ask him what type of education he had? No. He simply told Moses to do his will. God himself put the words in Moses' mouth. That is how it is with me."
"What do you want to speak about?" the officer asked. I replied, "I want to tell you about our need for salvation." "But we are close to victory in the North," he said. "No, we are not," I responded. "'It is not by might nor by power, but by the Spirit of the Lord,' Zechariah 4:6. The Lord has fought for us in the past, and he is doing so again. Even though my children are in the North, I have peace because my trust is in the Lord. Why should we fear? We can be sure of his victory." Then the officer asked, "Where do you get your confidence?" I told him, "'God is my salvation. I will trust and not be afraid,' Isaiah 12:2. If you are afraid, believe in the Son of God as I did."
We began a long conversation about faith in the Lord. And finally he said, "We never knew that you and others like you were so bound to the land of ours." I told him, "We believe in the same Heavenly Father, read the same Bible, and are loyal officers of Israel. We love our country. I have given my three children to fight for this land, and I can give even more." "What is that," he asked. I replied, "As I told you, you can take me if you must." "If this turns into a big war, you must go," he said. "We do not have as many people as our enemies."
I agreed. "Yes, but at times like this, we must trust in the Lord. Do not be afraid, but remember what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and all of Egypt. If this war becomes big, I will be there without even being called." The officer then said, "We have learned a lot today about you and others like you, whom we always thought of as negative. But we know that two negatives always make a positive." I was grateful for the opportunity to meet these military people and to change their minds about true believers.
Steve Conover: We're happy you joined us today. Chris, we'll be back in the Psalms again next week. What can we expect?
Chris Katulka: Yeah, so we're moving from the original intent of the author, the original expression of the author, that original story that really drove the reason a Psalmist would write, and now we're going to move further in history. And we're going to see how Israel took those Psalms and used them for corporate worship as a nation at the Temple. I'm really excited about it.
Steve Conover: The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry has been sharing the love of the Messiah and supporting Israel and the Jewish people since 1938. If you feel led to support our work, or you simply want to reach out to us, visit foiradio.org. Again, that's foiradio.org. In the US, you can call our listener line at (888) 343-6940. That's (888) 343-6940. Write to us at FOI Radio, PO Box 914, Bellmawr, New Jersey, 08099. Once again, that's FOI Radio, PO Box 914, Bellmawr, New Jersey, 08099. Call our Canada office at (888) 664-2584. That's (888) 664-2584. Let us know where you're listening when you call or write.
Our host and teacher is Chris Katulka. Today's program was produced by Tom Gallione, co-written by Sarah Fern and Jesse King. Our theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong, and I'm Steve Conover, executive producer. The Friends of Israel Today is a production of the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. We are a worldwide Christian ministry, communicating Biblical truth about Israel and the Messiah, while fostering solidarity with the Jewish people.
30 Days in the Land of the Psalms
By Charles H. Dyer
30 Days in the Land of the Psalms will take you through the land of Israel and give you insight into the psalmists’ points of reference and writing styles to better appreciate this special book of the Bible. Some of the psalms remain “locked” in a sense, containing references to places and objects modern readers have never seen and can’t picture. Charlie Dyer’s book will help give better insight into the backgrounds of the psalms, giving you the ability to better worship God!
Apples of Gold: Not This Time!
In 1981 three of Zvi’s children were serving in the Israeli Defense Force in Lebanon. They called on Zvi to serve also. Being in his fifties and already serving in four previous wars, Zvi declined. While speaking with the military, Zvi reminded them that victory is in the hands of the Lord. He explained his devotion to the Lord and to his country, helping the Israeli officers to know what true believers of Christ were like.
Zvi’s story is available in Elwood McQuaid’s book, “Zvi: The Miraculous Story of Triumph over the Holocaust,” available at our online store.
More stories from Zvi are also available in his book, “The Best of Zvi,” available at our online store.
The Friends of Israel Today and Apples of Gold theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong.