Lesson – 7 Worship in the Psalms

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Read for your study: Ps. 20:3; Psalm 49; Ps. 54:6; Psalm 73; Ps. 78:1–8; 90:1, 2; 100:1–5; 141:2.

Memory Text: “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God” (Psalm 84:1, 2, NIV).

Introduction: Psalms has been a wonderful resource for thousands of years to enrich a person’s spirit, both in public worship and in the believer’s private devotional life. The word “Psalms” comes from a Hebrew root word that means “to sing with instrumental accompaniment.” Thus, the Psalms were songs sung in praise and worship of God as part of the worship in Israel. There are 150 psalms that make the longest book in the Bible.

Though Hebrew poetry predates the time of David, he seems to be the first person to use psalms for praise and worship. Seventy-three psalms are attributed to David, a great poet and musician. He is known as “the sweet psalmist of Israel” (2 Samuel 23:1). It is no doubt that under the inspiration and guidance of the Spirit he composed psalms as a shepherd, on the run from Saul, and later as king. Throughout his life he sang and composed, and in the process rejoiced in his God.

It has often been pointed out that the book of Psalms is the book of human emotions. Indeed, every experience of man’s heart is reflected in this book. No matter what mood one may be in, some psalm will reflect that mood. For this amazing book records every one of man’s emotions and experiences. Those who have discovered the “secret of perpetual emotion” certainly ought to get acquainted with the book of Psalms.

For instance, if you are fearful, read Psalm 56 or Psalm 91 or Psalm 23 (we all know that one, of course). And if you are discouraged, read Psalm 42. If you happen to be feeling lonely, then read Psalm 71 or Psalm 62. If you are oppressed, with a sense of sinfulness, there are two marvelous psalms for you: Psalm 51, written after David’s dual sin of adultery and murder; and Psalm 32, a great expression of confession and forgiveness. And then, if you are worried or anxious, I would strongly recommend Psalm 37 and Psalm 73. If you are angry, try Psalm 58 or Psalm 13. If you are resentful, read Psalm 94 or Psalm 77. If you are happy and want some words to express your happiness, try Psalm 92 or Psalm 66. If you feel forsaken, try Psalm 88. If you are grateful and you would like to express it, read Psalm 40. If you are doubtful, if your faith is beginning to fail, read Psalm 119. And we could go on and on, because all 150 psalms have to do with life experience.

David found himself in all of these situations; experienced all these emotions and was given by God the gift of capturing the emotions of his full life’s varied experience and putting them in beautiful lyrical terms. These became the psalm book or hymn book of Israel. Many of these psalms were written to be sung in public. How fascinating it would be to hear these songs, in their original tongue, sung with the music that first accompanied them.  Let us dive in to our study to know the beauty and purpose of these Psalms!

Worship the Lord, Our Maker

Scholars point out that the entire book of Psalms is divided into five sets or books and parallel the Pentateuch, or the first five books of the Bible. Those first five books were designed by God to give us the pattern of God’s working in a human life, or in the whole of creation, or in the whole of world history, and God always follows the same pattern, whether with an individual or with a nation. He takes them through the same steps, for God never changes. And those five steps were revealed by divine inspiration in the first five books of the Bible.

The Psalms follow the same steps, reflecting the reactions of the human heart to this pattern of God’s working in man’s life. To begin with, the first book of psalms — Psalms 1 through 41 — is equivalent to the book of Genesis and has essentially the same message. It is the cry of human need. It is the expression in beautiful, poetic terms of the human heart’s deepest need. It follows closely the story of the book of Genesis. It begins in Psalm 1 with the picture of the perfect man just as Genesis begins with man in the Garden of Eden. Then in Psalm 2, you have man in his rebellion. Psalm 19 is another song in praise of God as Creator. It describes who God is and why He is worthy of worship and declares His greatness. So, Psalm 1 through Psalm 73, we see man in his rejection, and right on through in the following psalms, the grace of God is introduced. And as we read through this book we will hear the human heart’s expression of deep-seated longing, of its separation from God, it’s calling out to God in need.

Judgment from His Sanctuary – The third book of psalms, Psalm 73 through Psalm 89, corresponds to the book of Leviticus. Leviticus is the book of the tabernacle of worship; the discovery of what God is like when man comes before him and what he himself is like in the presence of God.

Leviticus is the book that reveals the inner workings of man’s heart: we see his need, his deep consciousness of his own sin, and the discovery of what God offers to do about it. And in these psalms, 73 through 89, the same pattern is carried out. Psalm 73-75, for instance, is an exquisite expression of man’s awareness of God’s judgment in the inner heart. Psalm 78 is a record of God’s unbending love: although God loves man, he will never let him get away with anything. He never compromises, he never bends; he gives in to man’s plea for mercy, but is absolutely relentless in cutting away sin. This means that His judgement is pronounced. Then, when man is ready to acknowledge his sin, and to agree with God’s judgment concerning sin, God deals with him in love.

Psalm 81 describes the new strength that God offers man, and Psalm 84 wonderfully portrays the continuous provision that God offers us. This is the beauty of God’s judgement mingled in His Love, Grace and Mercy from His Sanctuary. It is a double-edged sword: deserved punishment on the wicked and the defense of the oppressed and humble (Pss. 7:9, 10; 9:7–12; 75:2; 94:1–3, 94:20–22; 98:9). Thus the sanctuary, the place of worship, becomes a haven of refuge for the distressed, says the author.

“Like the Beasts That Perish” Quite a number of psalms talk about social injustice. The rich take advantage of the poor. The powerful abuse the weak. (Psalm 49)

Question: Does it give us satisfaction when we think of these issues to realize that rich and poor alike end up in the grave?  Is it helpful to realize that we all depend on the same plan of salvation?

How encouraging for us to learn from the song we have sung many times, “This world is not my home; I’m just a passing through… It is so true! We all should know by now, the things of this world are so temporary, so easily lost. We are pilgrims and strangers in this world. Jesus Himself has promised that He has gone to heaven ‘to prepare a place for us, and He will come again to take us that where He is we may be also.’ John 14:2-3


Worship and the Sanctuary – God asked Moses to build Him a Sanctuary so that He could dwell among them. In other words, He wanted a close communion with His people where they would come every day to worship Him, to meet Him, to commune with Him.

Though judgement seems to flow from the Sanctuary, yet David established orders of musicians and singers to bring regular organized worship before the tent in Jerusalem which David had pitched for the ark of God.

First Chronicles tells us:”Kenaniah the head Levite was in charge of the singing; that was his responsibility because he was skillful at it….” (1 Chronicles 15:22)

“He appointed some of the Levites to minister before the ark of the LORD, to make petition, to give thanks, and to praise the LORD, the God of Israel: Asaph was the chief, Zechariah second, then Jeiel …. They were to play the lyres and harps; Asaph was to sound the cymbals, and Benaiah and Jahaziel the priests were to blow the trumpets regularly before the ark of the covenant of God. That day David first committed to Asaph and his associates this psalm of thanks to the LORD….” (1 Chronicles 16:4-7)

Question: What is the relationship between psalms, prayers, songs, and worship?

Scholars believe that the institution of the Jewish synagogue developed during the exile, when worship at the temple was no longer possible. Even after the temple was built following the exile — and rebuilt by Herod — synagogues flourished, even in Jerusalem, the city of the temple itself (Acts 6:9). At the destruction of Jerusalem, some 400 to 500 synagogues were found in the city. A synagogue could be formed by as few as ten males. The synagogue was the local house of worship. Jesus attended the synagogue regularly (Luke 4:16) and taught in synagogues up and down Galilee.

Question: What was worship like in the synagogues of this era?

They were devoted to prayer and the reading of the scripture. We have a number of indications that the Jews used psalms regularly on feast days as well as in their synagogue worship.

George Foot Moore quotes, “It would seem natural that with other features of the temple worship, the songs of the Levites at the morning and evening sacrifices should be imitated in the synagogue. The first group of psalms to be so employed was Psalms 145-150; but it appears that in the middle of the second century AD, the daily repetition of the psalms was a pious practice of individuals rather than a regular observance of the congregation.”  Joachim Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus (Oxford: Basil Blackwood, 1955), pp. 30-31, especially fn. 1 on page 31.

The Passover ritual, too, drew heavily on the Psalms. The “hymn” sung by Jesus and the apostles at the conclusion of the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:30) on the night of Passover was doubtless one the psalms prescribed for the occasion — the second half of the Hallel (Psalms 114-118 or 115-118).

Lest We Forget!

God has revealed Himself to us through His servants the Prophets, through Nature, and through His Son Jesus Christ. He has also revealed Himself through history. Three of the longer psalms in the Old Testament hymnal are Psalms 78, 105, and 106 that recount Israel’s history. Commenting on our own history, Ellen White writes, “We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us and His teaching in our past history. {Life Sketches 196.2}

From Synagogue to House ChurchPsalms were part of worship. Early Christianity was practiced in the temple and in the homes of believers (Acts 2:46). When Apostle Paul would take the Gospel to a new city, he would typically begin by attending the local synagogue and teaching there about Jesus. Eventually, the Christians would be driven out of the synagogues and formed their own congregations, which were essentially Christian synagogues governed by elders (Acts 14:23). Several passages of scripture indicate that psalms were part of the worship in these early house churches:

(1 Corinthians 14:26) “When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.”

(Ephesians 5:18b-19a) “Be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.”

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16) “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise.” (James 5:13)

After the original apostles died, psalms continued as part of the worship of the church. Tertullian (c. 160-225 AD) mentions singing songs from the scripture as part of the Lord’s Supper celebration. Church historian Arthur McGiffert notes, “In the church of Rome nothing except the Psalms and New Testament hymns (such as the Gloria in Excelsis, the Magnificat, the Nunc Dimittis, etc.) was, as a rule, sung in public worship before the fourth century.”

Isaac Watts (1674-1748) set a new direction for independent or congregational churches when he published his Psalms of David in 1719. The best known of these today are probably “Our God, Our Help in Ages Past” (Psalm 90) and “Joy to the World, the Lord Is Come” (Psalm 98).

The Psalms are the prayer book of the church. When we know the Psalms, we have the language we need for prayer. Their richness and diversity give us permission to bring before God whatever we are feeling and experiencing. The Psalms help us to put even our most painful experiences into a context of prayer that, ultimately, ends in praise,” says Laura Smit, chapel dean.

Jesus quoted the psalms while hanging on the cross when he prayed “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1) and “Into your hands, I commit my spirit” (Ps. 31:5).

Echoing God’s direction in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 to fill your heart and life with God’s commands, Psalm 119 says that God’s law is sweeter than honey, something to hide in your heart, and contemplate while lying awake.

Throughout history the Psalms have often been central in both corporate worship and personal devotional practice. As the psalms have remained strong, the church has been revived and personal spiritual life has been enriched. Imagine it. A sanctuary full of people singing, praying, and dancing their way through the entire Psalter—in one glorious worship extravaganza.

Isn’t it about time to renew the ancient practice of the Psalms in our congregation and in our life?

God Bless You!!!

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