Psalms: Ancient Israel
As we continue in our series “Discovering the Psalms,” we go to ancient Israel where we’ll learn about Psalms the Israelites used to worship God and welcome new kings. Much of the Psalms speak of sacrifices and kings. Chris will take us to the New Testament and show us how those Psalms were used in describing Jesus—our great sacrifice and King! Isn’t it amazing how the Bible connects?
Steve Conover: This is The Friends of Israel Today. I'm Steve Conover and with me is Chris Katulka. We're continuing our 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 said, "The Psalms are inspired responses of the human heart to God's revelation of himself." Christians for ages, have used this collection of prayers and praises in their churches and in their private times with the Lord.
Chris Katulka: Yeah, when we were thinking about doing this series, we call it “Discovering the Psalms” because really there are layers, it's almost like unpacking the different layers of the Psalms. And last week, we looked at the original expression of each of the authors and how the authors had an original reason for writing, a life circumstance. But today, we're going to learn how those original meanings, the original expression of each Psalm takes on a new shape for the community of Israel, for the Nation of Israel, as they worship the Lord.
Steve Conover: First in the news, Saudi Arabia's Embassy in Washington, DC, surprised many people when they sent out Rosh Hashanah greetings to the Jewish community in the United States wishing them a happy and sweet Jewish New Year. According to the report, it was the first time the embassy has sent such a message to Jewish people in America. The card said, "Happy Shana Tova," along with images of honey and apples, pomegranates, all the foods traditionally eaten at Rosh Hashanah feasts.
Chris Katulka: Steve, this is amazing. I mean to think about how far the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Israel has come. I think even today though, when you get on a plane, a Saudi Arabian plane and you're flying over Israel, they blur out Israel, or they like intentionally leave the name off of the country. There are still some, there's animosity there still, but you're seeing this slow softening that's happening as these two countries, they work together to really combat a common threat. I think this is what's driving it. It's the common threat and that common threat is Iran.
Israel and Saudi Arabia have been very intentional to share security information and to really help thwart the largest state sponsor of terrorism in the world. My hope is that these two countries continue to work together, that they can tear down some walls. Really for the sake of peace.
Chris Katulka: We're continuing our series on the Psalms, and Psalms are literally a series of songs written by individuals that were intended for personal and communal worship. I love the way that Stephen Lawson who wrote in the Holman Bible Commentary put it. He said, "No matter where a person is in the Christian life, whether up or down, soaring or struggling, there is a Psalm that speaks directly to the spiritual state of his or her heart. The Psalms are written to guide believers in the proper worship of God, and used rightly are to be sung devotionally, prayed fervently, preached evangelistically, and taught expositionally"
The primary purpose of the book of Psalms is found in its intensely God-centered focus to direct our hearts toward him in every life experience, and I said this last week, it's astonishing how relevant the Psalms are to us as believers 3,000 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 seem to almost flow right from my very own heart. And there's a reason for that because technology's going to change, culture is going to shift, but the human heart remains the same. The human heart from a 1,000 years ago has the same longings and empty holes that are looking to be filled. The same worries, anxieties, everything is the same that we have today.
As we're looking at the layers of the Psalms and let me explain to you what I mean by layers. Last week, we looked at the first layer of the Psalms, how each Psalm was written by an individual to lament a real situation, or to give thanks to God for a real circumstance in their life, or to simply praise God for his character or his nature. That's the original layer. But over time, those individual Psalms were collected and ordered on purpose. The individual Psalms written by David, Solomon, Cora, Asaph, Ethan, Hemann and other 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.
The Psalms became the hymnal in the prayer book for temple worship. They were organized for various events to aid in worship. And this is what we're going to study today. But there's another layer, too, because the Psalms as you see them now in the Old Testament were purposely placed in order. In Israelite history, someone took those divinely-inspired Psalms and ordered them into five books, and really these come to express and show the history and future of Israel. And finally, that last layer that we're going to look at later on, is the Psalms and what they mean for you, as a believer in the Lord.
Now, if you didn't get a chance to listen to last week's message and you're interested in starting the series from the beginning, just go to foiradio.org, and there you can find all of our past episodes from the beginning of this series, and even episodes from really the very beginning of our radio program.
Now today, I want to focus on how the Psalms were used as a standard for worship in ancient Israel. As the ancient Israelites worshipped God, these individual Psalms took on a form of community worship for all of Israel in several different ways. In Psalm 102:18 the Psalmist says this about God. "That he will rebuild Jerusalem and the nations will respect and honor the Lord and how God will answer the prayers of the destitute." And in verse 18 the Psalmist says this, "Let this be recorded for a generation to come so that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord."
That's exactly what the Psalms have come to be. The Psalms were meant to continue on for the benefit of Israel, as a whole, and many scholars believe these Psalms would have been sung in the temple since the temple was really the center point of national worship for the people of Israel. Remember, there was no division between church and state back then. The temple was the place for national worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It shouldn't be surprising to hear that many of these Psalms may have accompanied sacrifices in the temple.
For instance, Psalms chapter four verse five says this, "Offer the prescribed sacrifices and trust in the Lord." Or Psalm 27:6 says this, "Now I will triumph over my enemies who surround me. I will offer sacrifices in his dwelling place and shout for joy. I will sing praises to the Lord." And of course, there's Psalm 107:22 that says, "Let them present thanks offerings and loudly proclaim what he has done."
Notice how the sacrifice offered leads to individual worship. You remember he says, "I'll offer a sacrifice, I will sing praises." And corporate worship, as well. It says, "Let them loudly proclaim what he has done." So there's individual worship, but then there's also corporate worship there, as well. These are several Psalms that could be linked to ancient worship as sacrifices were being offered in the temple. In the past, scholars actually believed sacrifices were offered in silence. That the only thing that you could hear was the bleeding of the lamb, as it was being offered as a sacrifice on behalf of the offerer, the substitutionary atonement there.
But now that we're beginning to understand the levels of the Psalms, the deeper levels of the Psalms, you can see how these Psalms essentially were mixed in corporately for worship as these sacrifices were being offered up. Even during the three feasts of Israel that required all the Jewish people to come to Jerusalem, Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles, Psalms would have been sung aloud in the temple. For Passover, Psalm 23, Psalm 105, Psalm 114, Psalm 135, 136, and 147. These Psalms, they paint a picture of God's redemption for his people. Psalms 113 and 114 were sung before the Passover meal, and Psalms 115 through 118 were sung after the meal.
This is why in the New Testament, after Jesus finishes celebrating and eating the Passover meal, Matthew chapter 26 verse 30 says, "That they left singing a hymn. They went out to the Mount of Olives." That's what they were singing, Psalms 115 through 118, in accordance to really the liturgy, the worship structure that came out of the temple. The Psalms also celebrated national events for Israel. Remember, there was no separation of church and state, like I said. One of the duties of the Kings of Israel was to defend the country from attacks using military strength.
Just listen to Psalm 20, a Psalm that would have been sung while going into battle. Listen to this, "May the Lord answer you when you are in trouble. May the God of Jacob make you secure. May he send you help from his temple. From Zion, may he give you support, some trust in chariots and others in horses, but we depend on the Lord our God. They will fall down, but we will stand firm. The Lord will deliver the King and he will answer us when we call him for help." This is a Psalm that would've been recited going into battle and even certain Psalms were recited. Think about this, when the King of Israel was enthroned, like Psalm 2, Psalms 21, Psalms 72, one of my favorites, and Psalm 110.
Just listen to some of these enthronement Psalms. Imagine an enthronement moment when a King of Israel would take his throne. Listen to some of these Psalms, "I, myself, have installed my King on Zion, my Holy Hill. The King says, I will announce the Lord's decree. He said to me, you are my son and this very day I have become your father. For the King trusts in the Lord and because of the sovereign Lord's faithfulness, he is not upended."
Here's another one. "Oh, God, grant the King, the ability to make just decisions. Grant the King's son the ability to make fair decisions." That's from Psalm 72. Here's another one, "Here is the Lord's proclamation to my Lord, sit down at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool. The Lord extends your dominion from Zion, rule in the midst of your enemies." These are Psalms that would have been read aloud as the new King of Israel would have taken his throne in.
Isn't it fitting, that Peter is preaching to the men of Israel in Acts chapter two he says this, "This Jesus God has raised up. We are all witnesses of it. So then exalted to the right hand of God and having received the promise of the Holy spirit from the father, he has poured out on what you both see and hear for David did not ascend into heaven, but he himself says, the Lord says to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet. Therefore, let all the house of Israel know beyond a doubt that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified both Lord and Christ."
Listen, Peter just used an enthronement Psalm. He's letting the people of Israel know in Acts chapter two, "Jesus is the Messiah and He is ruling at the right hand of the Father. All things have come into His control." And that's why when we come back, we're going to see how one hymn that we know and we love, and we sing, followed the same path of many of these Psalms that we've just looked at how they go from an original intent to a corporate worship intent. So I want you to stick around.
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 Lands of the Psalms that we want to offer you. This book will take you through the land of Israel and give you insight into the Psalmist 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 that 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 dot O-R-G, or you can call our listener line at (888)343-6940 someone will return your call during our regular business hours. Again, that's eight (888)343-6940. To order in Canada, call (888)664-2584. Again in Canada, call (888)664-2584.
Chris Katulka: Welcome back, everyone. We've been talking about the beauty of the Psalms and how these Psalms that were written by individuals took on a meaning that benefited and blessed all of Israel. How some of the Psalms written by David will become both Psalms that were sung by Israel going into battle, as they placed their trust in the Lord, or songs that were sung as sacrifices were being offered up to the Lord, or even Psalms that were sung during the Feasts of Israel, like Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles.
The reality is this, the church has done something similar. We've taken songs and poetry that were written by an individual in the middle of their personal calamity and turn them into a worship song, sung corporately around the world. I'm reminded of Horatio Spafford in 1871, who is an American lawyer and church elder, he lost his four-year-old son and he died of scarlet fever.
And then two years later, business demands kept Spafford from joining his wife and four daughters on a family vacation in England, where his friend D. L. Moody would be preaching. And on November 22nd, 1873, while crossing the Atlantic on a steamship, the ship was struck by an iron sailing vessel killing 226 people, including all of Spafford's daughters. His wife Anna survived. And when she arrived in England, she sent a telegram to Spafford that read, "Saved alone." As Spafford sailed to England to join his wife, he wrote the hymn, “It is Well with My Soul.”
Here is a man that poured out all of his grief into a poem, into a hymn. "When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot thou has taught me to know it is well, it is well with my soul." This was a personal grief, a personal loss, much like the first layer of the Psalms that we've been talking about. Psalms that were born out of an individual circumstance, be it painful, or even for reasons to praise. Horatio's words made their way from a hotel piece of paper the day he heard his daughters died, to almost every hymnal sitting in the pocket of church pews around the world.
Horatio's words became words of comfort for countless Christians around the world, some corporately in churches every Sunday. A hymn to orient believers on the Lord, even when everything feels like it's falling apart around them and an anthem, that the church would stay focused on Christ, the bride in the middle of the storm. It is well with my soul. Why? Because Christ has regarded my helpless state and has shed his own blood for my soul. Just like the Psalms, here you can see how an individual life circumstance expressed in a poem and song became a way corporately for the church to worship the Lord.
Steve Conover: Israel on the verge of becoming a state, a teenaged 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. Whilst Zvi fee is now in the presence of his Savior, his collected 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: I often go to the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Many go to the wall to read the Psalms. They arrive very early and read so fast, no one can understand them so they can return to their homes as soon as possible. I recently saw a group of young men there, who were reading the Psalms in this manner and I approached one young man whose Bible was open to Psalm 24.
I asked if he understood what he was reading at supersonic speed? He replied, "It is my job to come here every day and read the Psalms. Are you now trying to teach me how to read them?" I told him, "The Lord is not concerned with who can read the Psalms the fastest. He is concerned with what is in your heart. I see your Bible is open to Psalm 24, do you know the one about whom King David is speaking?"
The other young men around them entered the conversation and examined the passage. After a few minutes they ask, "Why should we break our heads trying to interpret this Psalm? A rabbi will tell you." They then called to the rabbi who came over and immediately asked me, "What do you want with these young men?" I responded, "Rabbi, as a believer in God, I am against this degrading of our God. You call on him every day when you say the Shema Yisrael, yet here you read about him as if you are not interested or do not even know who he is. In his Psalm, it is written, lift up your heads and the King of Glory shall come. Who is this King of Glory? Tell me, rabbi, do you know who this King of Glory is? If you would read this Psalm slowly to understand the meaning, you would know the one about whom it is written. All the time you and these young men spend here at the wall is nothing more than what King Solomon said in Ecclesiastes chapter one verse two, "Vanity of vanities; all is vanity."
The rabbi thought for a long time and finally asked, "Who gave you the authority to come here and tell these people how to read the Psalms?" I replied, "If you read Ezekiel 33, you will learn who gave me the authority and responsibility to come here and warn wicked people like ourselves to turn to the Lord." The rabbi shouted, "How can you say I am wicked?" "Because you worship idols and dance around the golden calf," I replied, "But I worship the living God. I never sacrificed a chicken as a personal offering for my sins and Yom Kippur, because Isaiah 53 said, "The Lord is my atonement."
As soon as I mentioned Isaiah 53, they immediately realized I believed in Christ, and am, in their opinion, an apostate. I asked him to inspect my Bible to see if it is the true Hebrew Scriptures. The rabbi examined it and admitted, "This is our Bible." "Now that you know that," I said, "Let me show you how I came to believe in Christ, not according to any other books such as the ones you study, but according to God's Word. In it, I found my Savior, the one whom you called this man."
Our conversation lasted for several hours. I pray those seeds will grow into understanding in their minds and hearts, so they will one day come to know the Lord as their Savior.
Steve Conover: We're so glad you joined us today, Chris. We'll be back in the book of Psalms again next week. Please tell us what we'll hear.
Chris Katulka: Yeah, we looked at the original intent and then we saw how those Psalms moved to become corporate worship for Israel, but the Psalms were even organized into different books, five books, and so we're going to look at how those five books were organized, and really how they drive the history of Israel during their exile. I think it's going to be a good time.
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, please visit foiradio.org. Again, that's FOI Radio dot O-R-G. In the US, you can call our listener line at (888)343-6940. Again in the US, that's (888)343-6940. Write to us at FOI Radio, P. O. 914, Bellmawr, New Jersey, 08099. Once again, that's FOI Radio, P. O. Box 914, Bellmawr, 08099. You can call our Canada office at (888)664-2584. Again, in Canada, that's (888)664-2584.
Steve Conover: 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!
Psalms: Modern Day
We’ve been learning that the book Psalms are songs and poetry. Chris will show us how we’re still singing songs of encouragement and praise by new authors in our churches today. We’ll hear how the tragic story of a businessman led to the writing of one of the most popular and comforting hymns of our time.
If you missed Part One of this series, Listen Now
Apples of Gold: The Expert
Many arrive at the Western Wall early and read so fast that no one can understand them. This is so they can return to their homes as quickly as possible. Upon encountering some of these men at the wall, Zvi asks, “I see your Bible is open to Psalm 24. Do you know the one about whom King David is speaking?” Listen to this week’s dramatic reading from the life of Holocaust survivor, Zvi Kalisher, to find out more about this conversation.
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.
» Hymns of Comfort and Praise, by Timothy Shaw