Psalms: Unique and Purposeful Structure
We are continuing in our series this week, “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. If we’re honest, many of us read the Psalms for personal comfort—and that’s okay! But as we start to peel layers off this popular book of the Bible, we see a unique structure that is in each of the 150 chapters. This week Chris will explain the layout of the Psalms and how they flow together.
As we look at the five books inside the Psalms we believe you’ll begin to see how God is in the intricate details God has in His Word. Looking at how the Psalms are laid out will show you that reading them for comfort and pleasure are not the only reasons we should be going there. We also see God’s plan in how He chose to layout Scripture. As believers in Jesus the Messiah, this should comfort even more, knowing that God is in the smallest details and we have nothing to fear.
If you missed the first two episodes of this series, click the links below to catch up.
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've walked with him. As one commentator put it, "The Psalms are inspired responses of human hearts to God's revelation of Himself." Christians of all ages have used this collection of prayers and praises in their churches and in their private times with the Lord.
Chris Katulka: We've been discovering Psalms by peeling back the layers of the Psalms. You know, we're not just looking at one Psalm throughout the entire book of 150 of them. We're actually looking at the structure of the Psalms. We're looking at how the Psalms were used in ancient Israel. We're looking at them even how they're used personally in our own lives. So we're looking at the Psalms as a whole and today, we're going to look at the structure of the Psalms, how they were arranged. They weren't just thrown in there randomly. There's a purpose to them to really tell the history of Israel. I'm excited about this one.
Steve Conover: Sounds great. Stay with us. Chris, you shared with me an article this morning from The Times of Israel about the growing number of Gazans who believe the weekly protests along the Gaza border have lost their way. The article goes on to say, "With little to show from 18 months of demonstrations and hundreds of people killed or wounded, many Gazans are beginning to question and even criticize the Hamas-led protests. This is unheard of in a territory where dissent is barely tolerated by Hamas."
Chris Katulka: Yeah, Hamas really has a lot of things clamped down in the Gaza strip. Not only do they clamp down on the media in the Gaza strip, international media that goes in, but they even clamp down on their own people. I can't stress enough to our listeners right now, when they hear the word Gaza or they think of the people in Gaza, there really is a humanitarian crisis going on in there right now. Just listen to some of these statistics. The population of Gaza is 1.6 million people. 38% of them live in poverty. 26% of them are unemployed. The average wage decline over the past six years is 20%. 54% of Gazans are food insecure and 75% receive aid. Over 90% of the water from the Gaza aquifer is undrinkable. Steve, the list goes on and on and on.
This is the problem is that the media and the UN, they want to blame Israel for this. That's where they point the finger right away. But see, Israel isn't the problem. If Gaza created peace with Israel, Israel would create peace with Gaza. Really, the problem is the leadership in Gaza. It's Hamas. They control everything, and I think people are starting to wake up. That's what we're reading here. They're waking up to Hamas's evil ways.
Chris Katulka: We're continuing our series on the Psalms and I want you to think about this for a moment, the Psalms are literally a series of songs written by individuals that were intended for personal and communal worship. They weren't all written at the same time. It's so important to understand that the Psalms actually span a time period that goes from Moses to Ezra and Nehemiah. That's essentially the whole story of Israel in the Old Testament. Really, it's just astonishing to me how Psalms that span all of Israel's history in the Old Testament are even relevant 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 almost seem to flow right from my own heart and there's a reason for that. The human heart from thousands of years ago has the same longings, has the same empty holes that are longing to be filled. It has the same worries. It has the same anxiety, and it even has the same hopes that we do today. There's that connection that's there from the ancient past to today, a desire to connect with God, to worship with God as an individual, to understand God, to know God more, to trust in God, to follow God. All of that is wrapped up in the Psalms.
And you know what? We're not really looking at one individual Psalm. We're actually looking at the Psalms as a whole, and we're looking at the layers of the Psalms. Let me explain to you what I mean by layers as we're discovering the Psalms here. In the beginning of our series, we looked at the first layer of the Psalms, how each one was written by an individual to lament a real situation or to give thanks to God for real circumstances 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. There's a purpose to the structure of the Psalms. The individual Psalms that were written by David, and Solomon, Korah, and Asaph, and others, these Psalms took on a meaning beyond the authors who penned them. They became anthems, and prayers, and worship music for the temple. The Psalms became the hymnal and the prayer book for temple worship. They were organized for various events to aid in worship, and this is what we studied last week. But there's another layer, the one we're going to look at today.
The Psalms, as you see them now in the Old Testament, were purposefully ordered by a psalter. In Israelite history, someone took those divinely-inspired Psalms and ordered them into five books. These books reveal in some way the history and future of Israel. We're going to talk about that today. But there's one more layer too that we're going to look at next week, and that is the layer that is you and me, you and me. The Psalms come full circle because the heart and soul of David, Solomon, and other writers, the heart that they put into their songs and their Psalms on an individual level connect with you and your relationship with the Lord. When you read certain Psalms, you identify with them. They become personal prayers, personal anthems, personal worship, just as it was for the original writers.
Let me just say this, if you want to go back and listen to the entire series so far, I want to encourage you to go to foiradio.org and they're on our website. You can find all the past episodes to our Psalms series, Discovering the Psalms, and other episodes as well. That's at foiradio.org.
Now, today, I want us to look at the third layer of the Psalms. This third layer is actually the layout, the actual structure of the Psalms as you have them today in your Bible. At some point Israel's history, someone took these divinely-inspired Psalms and purposefully ordered them in a way to tell a story. Psalms 1-150 are not a hodgepodge of writings. No, they're purposefully ordered. They're there to tell a story. Some believe it was one person that would have ordered all the Psalms together, and there are others who believe it developed over time.
First, let me just say this. If you get a chance to open up to the first Psalm, Psalm chapter one, you'll see that not only does it describe the first Psalm, but it also labels the first Psalm as the beginning of the first book of Psalms. Go through the Psalms. I want you to look at this. Throughout the Psalms, there's actually five books. The first book is Psalms 1-41. The second book is Psalms 42-72. The third book is Psalms 73-89. The fourth book is Psalms 90-106. And the fifth book is Psalms 107-150. This isn't just a modern phenomenon that they're arranged in books. This actually even goes back to the dead sea scrolls. They were divided into certain books, five different books.
Here's what's amazing about the end of each book, they all end with a doxology. They all end with praise to the Lord. I want to read these to you. Listen, Psalm 41, the end of book one says this, "Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and amen." Psalm 72 that ends book two says, "Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things. Blessed be His glorious name forever. May the whole earth be filled with his glory. Amen and amen." Psalm 89 that ends book three says, "Blessed be the Lord forever. Amen and amen." Psalm 106:48 ends book four and it says, "Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. And let all the people say, 'Amen.' Praise the Lord."
Finally, the last Psalm, Psalm 150, is an entire doxology. The whole thing ends all of the Psalms. I want to read it to you because it's just a few verses. But listen to this. "Praise the Lord. Praise God in the sanctuary. Praise Him in His mighty heavens. Praise Him for His mighty deeds. Praise Him according to His excellent greatness. Praise Him with trumpet sound. Praise Him with lute and harp. Praise Him with tambourine and dance. Praise Him with strings in pipe. Praise Him with sounding cymbals. Praise him with loud, clashing cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord." That is how Psalms ends.
See, the Psalms were arranged to tell a story. They were purposefully organized. Early Jewish thought from rabbis believed that just as Moses gave the five books of the law, the Torah, so David gave the five books of Psalms to Israel. That theory comes from what's called Midrash Tehillim, which is an ancient commentary on the book of Psalms. This theory is quite interesting, and it actually carries some weight and here's the reason why. There is definitely a link between the value of the law and the Torah, the first five books of Moses. Torah actually means law. What comes across in the first five books of Moses is this, that God is King. He's the creator, and He's the King. The first five books of the Psalms that they say David gave actually shares the same values. There's an appreciation of the law.
The Psalms cause us to meditate on the law, to elevate the law of God. Why? Because the Lord is the King. God is King. One writer put it this way, "That's quite likely the point of Psalm 119, an acrostic poem on the Torah that exhausts the Hebrew alphabet to enunciate the meaning of the law. To survey the entire alphabet was a symbolic way of exhausting the human language to say the unutterably deep things of the soul." Essentially, again, the structure of the Psalms were arranged to point people to God the King and to honor and revere His law. But see, there's even more to the structure of the Psalms. One that is laid out to really, I think, reveal the faithfulness of God, to show the plan of God. All this, again, comes from the order. It comes from the structure of the five books of the Psalms. So be sure to stick around to hear this promise that's laid out right in the book of Psalms.
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: 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've been in the process of discovering the Psalms. We're not going Psalm by Psalm. Instead, we're looking at the Psalms as a whole, and we're peeling back the layers of the Psalms. We started with the original meaning of the individual who wrote it and then how the Psalms became meaningful to a nation, the nation of Israel, and the way they worshiped and showed devotion to the Lord. Now, we're looking at the arrangement of the Psalms. The Psalms, they were not just written at one time. They were actually songs that were written throughout Israel's history. They spanned from Moses to Israel's captivity.
See, one of the stunning aspects of the arrangement of the 150 songs that we have is how they are organized to reveal Israel's history and future. Have you ever thought about that before? Have you ever thought about the fact that when you go to the Psalms, you're actually reading the history of Israel? The five books of the Psalms that we've been talking about connect to five different stages of Israel's past and future. Let's look at them one by one. Book one begins with the story of the reign of King David. The first two Psalms of the first book open with the call to study and delight in the law and to acknowledge God's kingship. But the remaining 39 Psalms in book one are all about David's life, the King, the human, the warrior David, the parent David, ultimately, God's servant David. The majority of the songs in book one are actually laments but ends with Psalm 41 thanking God. It's the story of King David's reign, a reign full of difficulty and hardship but grateful and reliant on the true King, the Lord, the God of Israel.
Book two, then. We moved from book one to book two. Much like book one, it contains lament songs. Again, some of them are attributed to David, but it's all leading to the end of book two where it seems David is handing his authority of King of Israel over to his son, Solomon, in Psalm 72. Psalm 72 opens like this. Listen, "Give the King your justice, Oh God, and your righteousness to a King's son." So book two ends with the prayers of David, the son of Jesse, and they end with this transfer of power from David to Solomon.
In book three, David only has one Psalm. So you're seeing how David fully occupies almost book one in Psalms. Then he becomes less of a person in book two and now when we get to book three, David only has one Psalm that's represented here. The rest are attributed to Korahites and Asaph, who were temple singers during the reign of David and Solomon. You can almost see how David moves to the background of the Psalms in book three. Now, it's the community, not an individual now in book three, it's the community who laments. It's community hymns. They are crying out to God in Psalms 74 and it sounds like this, "Oh, God, why have you cast us off forever?"
Psalms 78 nearly ends the book three with a lament. "Your wrath is swept over me. Your dread assaults. Your anger overwhelms me. Your terror destroys me. They surround me like water all day long. They joined forces and encircle me. You cause my friends and neighbors to keep their distance. Those who know me, leave me alone in the darkness." See, book three ends with the community of Israel in shambles, a picture of Israel being carried away into exile, a picture of Jerusalem and Judah being destroyed. Now that the nation of Israel is scattered among the world and exiled in the land, the people had come to rely on God to watch over them.
We're moving from book three to book four. Book four ends with the longing the Jewish people have to return from exile. Listen to the end of book four here. It says, "Deliver us, Oh Lord our God. Gather us from among the nations. Then we will give thanks to your Holy name and boast about your praiseworthy deeds." The call, the desire for Israel to return to the land to be gathered among the nations. I believe the people of Israel are returning to the land today as we see God working, but not completely yet. They've not all returned to the land. It's almost as if right now if you look at our current circumstances, we're almost in book four of the book of Psalms. It's amazing.
Book four gives way to book five, a book of hope. Remember, David faded away after book two and now in book five, David returns. And now, we're going up to Jerusalem. Psalm 107:1, "Give thanks to the Lord for He is good. His loyal love endures. Let those delivered by the Lord speak out, those whom He delivered from the power of the enemy and gathered from the foreign lands from East and West, from North and South." See, in book five, Israel celebrates their restoration to the land and God's hand moving throughout history to make it happen.
You know, let me end with this. I love that David returns in book five. I don't believe it's talking here about ancient King David, but instead, a son of the King David who would be influential in returning his people to the land and restoring them physically and spiritually. I believe that King is King Jesus, the Son of David. The history of Israel, think about this, is woven in the structure. It's woven in the layout and the organization of the Psalms, from King David to the division of the kingdom of Israel to the exile of Israel and finally, her glorious return as we end with this. Psalm 122:1, "I was glad because they said to me, 'We will go to the Lord's temple. Our feet are standing inside your Gates, Oh Jerusalem.'"
Steve Conover: Now, Apples of Gold, a dramatic reading from the life and ministry of Holocaust survivor, Zvi Kalisher.
Mike Kellogg: For many years, Israelis have been singing about the Messiah's coming. Not many are aware he has already come. That is why I go to the Western Wall every Monday and Thursday when 13-year-old boys celebrate their bar mitzvahs. One recent Monday, I decided to give Bibles containing both testaments to all of the boys. I knew they would receive prayer books from family and friends, but there is no divine presence in those books. Before leaving home that day, I prayed, asking God to guide me and give me the words to say. In Israel, you must go slowly and carefully when you approach people with the Word.
When I arrived at the wall, I approached a few young Ethiopian boys after the ceremony and I said, 'I want to give each of you a gift in honor of your bar mitzvah.' At first, they were afraid to accept the Bibles, but I explained, 'There is a big difference between these Bibles and the prayer books you have received. Your prayer books were written by men, great rabbis to be sure, but nevertheless just men. The Bible was written to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God.' After a while, an ultra-Orthodox man carrying a large shofar approached us. I asked, 'Why have you brought a shofar? It's not a holiday.' He said, "You are right.' I then told him, 'The Scriptures say the shofar is symbolic of announcing their salvation of the Lord.' He replied, 'When the Messiah comes, I will blow this shofar.'
I opened my Bible and I read Isaiah 53:5-6. 'He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement for our peace was upon Him and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned everyone to His own way, and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.' I asked, 'This passage shows the Messiah has already come and someday, He will come again.' The man was very interested and read for himself the remainder of this chapter. All of the sudden, his countenance changed. He began to smile and was full of joy, saying, 'Now is the time to announce the salvation of the Lord. He has come, and now He must come back.' And then he blew the shofar loudly.
Many came over to see what was happening. Some rabbis heard the shofar and one came over to ask what I was selling to these unsuspecting people. When he realized I believe in Christ, he asked to see my Bible. I gave it to him and pointed out portions in the Old Testament, but he quickly turned to the back and upon seeing the New Testament asked, 'Do you think this belongs in our Holy Bible?' 'Yes,' I replied. To my amazement, he seemed very interested and looked through it. Finally, he put the Bible in his pocket and walked away. What a wonderful day. I pray the Ethiopian boys will read the Bibles and come to faith in the Lord Jesus. I pray that ultra-Orthodox man who blew his shofar will understand the things I told him and surrender his life to the Lord. I pray the rabbi will read the Bible and his long-blinded eyes will be open to the Messiah."
Steve Conover: Let me just say as we close, we're so glad you spent these last 30 minutes with us. Chris, we'll be back in the Psalms one last time in the series next week. How does it all wrap up?
Chris Katulka: We just looked at the history of Israel through the Psalms, King David, Solomon, the division of the kingdom, a time of turmoil and exile, but then ultimately giving way to the hope, the return of the land. You know what? The amazing thing about the Psalms is that they come full circle. We use the Psalms to worship God. The Psalms actually mean something to us in many ways as believers. They help us pray and worship God, and I'm going to show us next week how much the Psalms mean to us. I think that we are lamenting but also looking forward to a day when we will see God face to face, a hope that we all look forward to.
Steve Conover: We can't wait, Chris. 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 United States, you can call our listener line at 888-343-6940. Once again, in the U.S., that's 888-343-6940. Write to us at FOI Radio, P.O. Box 914, Bellmwar, New Jersey 08099. Again, that's FOI Radio, P.O. Box 914, Bellmawr, New Jersey, 08099. In Canada, call our office at 888-664-2584. Again, you can call us in Canada at 888-664-2584. Please 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. 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: A Fruitful Day
For many years, Israelis have sung about the Messiah’s coming. Not many are aware that He has already come, which is why Zvi goes to the Western Wall every week to hand out Bibles. Hear about the wonderful opportunities he had to share about Jesus the Messiah to many at the Wall in this dramatic reading from the life of Zvi Kalisher.
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.