Psalms, Music and Prophecy
By Ernest L. Martin, Ph.D., 1997/98
Transcribed and edited by David Sielaff, April 1, 2008
1 It contains excellent information on the structure of the Psalms that will greatly aid your understanding of this article. DWS ]
When the messages of the Psalms are understood in all their ramifications, it will be found that they have detailed teachings for us who live in this period called in the Holy Scriptures, the time of the end.
Let us begin with an overview of the Book of Psalms that we find in the Bible. We should realize that the 150 Psalms are not the only, or all, the psalms of the Holy Scripture. You will find psalms near the beginning of Scripture. You find them throughout Scripture in prophetic teachings. You find them at the beginning of the New Testament and in the Pauline epistles. Even in the Book of Revelation you have mentions of songs and words put to music.
A psalm is a message from God that is given music as its background. You might say that the words, with the singing, music, and the instrumental activity that takes place as the message goes forth, altogether is a type of a divine opera. Although each psalm is a very important message of God within a musical theme, we do not have the musical notation that the ancients used. We would need that musical notation to understand the type of instrumentalities they used, what type of cadence, or things of that nature. 2 We do not have such information today but we do have the words of the Psalms, which is of primary importance.
The Book of Psalms is not intended just to be for entertainment. They are meant to give teachings of God within a divine framework, within a chronological framework of the Scripture. It is a framework governed by the Holy Day seasons which God gave to Moses, and which we find even in the New Testament. As mature Christians today, it is not necessary for us to keep the Old Testament Holy Days as the Mosaic dispensation did. Still at the same time it is wise for us to be aware what those Holy Day systems or sequence of events actually happen to be, because there is a prophetic design to them. We can actually know prophetic teachings, chronologically arranged teachings that God has placed within His divine plan here on this earth if we pay close attention to the Holy Day seasons that God has given to mankind.
Besides the framework of the Holy Day system, we should also look at the Temple that was built in Jerusalem, the various compartments of the Temple, and the various individuals who performed in the Temple. Just by reading this Book of Psalms you can see there were certain individuals given responsibility for singing these psalms, at a particular sequence, at particular times, for particular reasons — and I might say, for particular messages. The messages have prophecy associated with it. This is one of the most important themes that we can understand.
In this presentation on the Psalms the emphasis will be upon prophecy, prophecy for our end times today. The Book of Psalms actually has as much prophecy in it as you would find in the Book of Isaiah, as much prophecy as in Jeremiah and in Ezekiel. And if you go to the New Testament, the Book of Psalms has as much prophecy as you would find in the Book of Revelation. There are sections in the Book of Revelation (also the Book of Daniel) which absolutely depend upon the teachings we find in the Book of Psalms.
If we Gentiles want to understand how God deals with the world, He does it almost exclusively through the nation of Israel. Israel was a priestly nation, a nation separated to be a type of mediatory example to the rest of the world on how God was dealing with humanity. We are all children of God, whether Israelite or Gentile, we understand that. At the same time God does call particular individuals, and sometimes He calls nations to perform particular feats for Him to teach His message of salvation, what we are on earth to perform, what we are to do, and particularly what we are to become. All of those things can be justifiably given in a rational way so that people will understand all the teachings of God.
This Book of Psalms is set out into 5 major divisions. The 5 divisions are exactly equal, according to the ancient Jews (they are correct on this), to the 5 portions of the Torah, the Law, that God gave to Moses back there in the wilderness. Each of the 5 divisions of that Law is reflected in the Book of Psalms. They are also in agreement with a series of 5 books called the Megilloth which were sung in the women’s section of the Temple. When you come to the New Testament “law” you actually have 5 divisions, the 4 gospels and Acts. All five together give the divine teaching of New Testament “law,” shall we say, just as the first 5 books of the Bible give us the Old Testament Law. The Book of Psalms was divided into 5 divisions for a purpose. The fact that the number 150 is the number of Psalms given to us is also for a purpose.
It is up to us to find out at this end of the age exactly what God means by these various divisions and the chronological framework that we find them in. Once we understand these things we suddenly have scales taken off of our eyes and out of our ears will go the plugs because we will be able to begin to understand what God will do in the next few years in advance of us.
This Book of Psalms in actual fact is a prophecy, 150 of them, divided into 5 divisions to put together the whole chronological flesh, shall we say, upon the skeleton of the body that He has given us from the very beginning of Genesis, through the Prophets, in Daniel, all the way to the end of the Book of Revelation.
The Book of Psalms figures prominently in introducing Jesus into the world and giving us prophetic details about Him. Prophecies introducing Jesus Christ into the world, to show His message, who He was, what He came to do, the redemptive process He has for each of us to be saved into the very family of God, all these things are introduced in many cases in the Book of Psalms. The matter of His crucifixion is found in the Book of Psalms. It is all within a chronological framework based primarily upon the divine Holy seasons that God gave ancient Israel. It is for us to know what those seasons were, to appreciate them and the symbolic significance of each of the seasons God has given Israel.
We find many, many things in the Psalms connected with Christ, but also relative to events relating to His second advent back to this earth. So by looking at these psalms, much detailed information is revealed to us about events that will occur in Israel, in Jerusalem, and in the entirety of this world. It is very important to us that we pay close attention to the Book of Psalms as it relates to the prophetic themes just on the horizon for us.
In fact, David understood when he was writing his psalms that they were not only for his generation but for us today 3:
“O God, you have taught me [David] from my youth: and hitherto have I declared your wondrous works. Now also when I am old and gray headed, O God, forsake me not: until I have shown your strength unto this generation, and your power to everyone that is to come.”
That means all generations to come. These prophecies are intended to give us teaching for the future. They are put in a particular order as a design to show us what will be happening in a step by step manner. As I said these psalms were designed to be sung in the Temple at Jerusalem. The psalms have a history to them. David’s first collection contained only 72 psalms. As time went on, in the time of Isaiah and Hezekiah, other psalms were composed, ordered and put into a proper arrangement.
The final structure of 5 divisions of the Psalms was put together by Ezra the priest, in the 5th century BC. When Jesus was here on earth and the Temple was in existence, these psalms were being sung at a regular time, with a regular schedule, around the Holy Day seasons of God, and that people could get divine messages from God relative to the Holy Day prophetic themes uttered at the time.
They have a theme that relates primarily to the liturgy performed in the Temple, particularly in the time of Christ and at the beginning of the ekklesia, the starting of Christianity. That is the time when Jesus the Messiah came to Israel and the apostles were teaching. That is also the time when most of the prophecies dealing with individuals in the Book of Psalms were fulfilled.
The theme of these 150 Psalms is basically an elaboration on the holy days of the Mosaic calendar. The calendar of the Old Testament is an agricultural one based upon the seasons of the growing of crops. The 5 Books of the Psalms in their overall teachings are a commentary on the Festival seasons performed in the Temple to give teaching to Israel.
The Psalms, as musical operettas, were sung in the Temple at particular times to help people understand what those time periods were all about. They relate primarily to the Holy Days of Israel starting in the spring with the Passover season, then next in the late springtime with Pentecost (the Firstfruits season). Then was a period of ceremonial importance (not a festival), the 9th/10th of Ab in the 5th month when the Temple was destroyed. That reflected upon God’s judgments on Israel from time to time. After that is the Tabernacles period which starts with the Day of Trumpets, Rosh Hashanah. Then finally in the Jewish calendar there is Purim which is the last part of winter. 4 It occurs in the month just prior to Passover of the next year. Not only do the 5 divisions of these Psalms center on the 5 festival periods of Israel, but they also relate directly to the 5 books of the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). These 150 Psalms are grouped for a particular purpose, to tell a story. Let me give you details about the 5 divisions or books of the Psalms. 5
(1) The first division, called the Genesis book by the Jews, equates with the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament, comprises Psalms 1 to 41 inclusively. This division has to do with judgment. It has to do with trial, with experience of human life. The 22nd Psalm is the very passage which Jesus himself, when He was on the tree of crucifixion, cried out to His Father, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” It is a psalm of judgment, of punishment, a psalm in which God is present. The 23rd Psalm is a psalm of salvation expressing how God will come in the times of greatest trial, in the times of greatest difficulties that we might have, and He is always there at our side to show us that we are His children, and that the things that we go through are for a purpose. That is what we must realize.
(2) The second division, called the Exodus book consists of Psalms 42 to 72. Go to the end of Psalm 72 and you will read an interesting statement. It says:
“Blessed by the Lord God, the God of Israel, who only does wondrous things. And blessed be his glorious name forever [David is speaking], and let the whole earth be filled with his glory; Amen, and Amen.”
That is how the division ends except for one verse which I did not cite and that is the conclusion. Look at the last verse, Psalm 72:20, which ends the second book of the Psalms: “The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended.” In the middle of the Psalms we find the second division coming to an end. Notice there were 72 Psalms in the first two divisions of the Book of Psalms. That is 3 times 24. Keep that in mind because it will be a very important point later on this design.
These Psalms were put in order for a particular reason. Some of the Psalms are actually repeated from one division to another. Do you know that Psalm 14 in the first book is almost exactly the same as Psalm 53 in the second book? There is one word of difference between both of them. 6 Why have it repeated? That is how a teacher is. David was the same way. We find that in a particular context Psalm 14 would fit. At a later time it also fit another context and David changed just the single word. Most interesting.
You will also find Psalm 70 agrees with Psalm 40:13–17, and Psalm 60:9–19 agrees with Psalm 108:10–13. We have repetition which in particular contexts give further information about intended teaching.
(3) The third division is the Levitical book. It agrees with the third book of the Torah of Moses. It includes Psalm 73 to Psalm 89 inclusively. The 3rd division has to do with a period of destruction. All of them are destruction Psalms. They agree with the 9th/10th of Ab, between Pentecost and Tabernacles, the day both Temples were destroyed 600 years apart. The first occurrence was in the time of Nebuchadnezzar, the other was in the time of Titus of Rome.
To commemorate the day of Nebuchadnezzar destroying the city and Temple, the prophet Jeremiah commanded a book he wrote to be read from that day forward. It was the Book of Lamentations which prophesied the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the utter demolition of the Temple ending of Mosaic services for over 70 years. It prophesied the destruction precisely. On the 9th/10th of Ab of the 5th month of the Hebrew calendar in the high summer, August of our time, every year on that day they were to read the Book of Lamentations.
To this day the Jews read the entire 3rd division of the Psalms where they see nothing but destruction, destruction, destruction. Those Psalms are placed to be read at a particular time period in the festival season of Israel to emphasize that God is in charge on this earth, and that it was no accident that the Temples were destroyed on the 9th/10th of Ab. That day has been a day of infamy in the history of Israel and the Jews.
There is prophesied to be yet another destruction of the city and Temple of Jerusalem. Yet that is not the end of things. God has a plan. He has a plan for saving Israel. He has a plan for redeeming the world. God’s plan does not stop with the destruction of Jerusalem.
It is interesting that the 3rd division of the Psalms has to do with the destruction of the Temple and the 3rd book of the Law is all about the Levites who have control of the Temple. See the relationship? That is not an accident. This is all arranged for your understanding.
(4) The fourth division is the Numbers division which agrees with the Book of Numbers. It goes from Psalm 90 to Psalm 106. Psalm 90 is a psalm of Moses. 7 It is a most important Psalm to occur at the very beginning of that fourth division. The Numbers book speaks about the wanderings of the children of Israel when God was their complete protector in the wilderness.
What is the theme of the 4th division of the Psalms? It is all about the millennium, a time when God rules on earth, and all Israel is living in safety, immersed in the wilderness of nations, under the protection of God. This 4th division has to do with the Tabernacles period which starts with Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Trumpets, the 1st day of the 7th month. During this period all the psalms of the 4th division were read in the Temple.
The theme in these psalms of the Millennium reflects the Feast of Tabernacles after the time of Solomon when the people of Israel were living in houses. They were to come out of those houses, and live in tents or booths during the 7 or 8 days of the particular time of the Feast of Tabernacles.
There are 17 psalms that make up this 4th division. 8 True, Psalm 91 is a psalm of destruction, but that is at the “beginning” of the Millennium. In the Book of Revelation we find described a time of great seismic and celestial disturbances, a time of great havoc on earth when asteroids will come (one in particular) and strike this earth with a violence that will cause most all life to be extinguished. 9 You need to know how we can be saved from that type of asteroid destruction prophesied to come in the future. Psalm 91 says that people can be protected during that period.
From Psalm 91 on, the 4th division is all about God reigning on this earth and how joyful and wonderful the teaching of God will be, and how the whole world will come to an understanding of the knowledge of the truth.
(5) The fifth and last division is called the Deuteronomy division in relation to the last book of the Torah, the Old Testament Law. Deuteronomy is a recapitulation of the first four books of the Law. It is a time when the children of Israel came into the civilized area out of the wilderness into the Holy Land. All of the laws in the Book of Deuteronomy have to do with a civilized existence in the land of Israel.10
Psalm 107 starts the 5th division and it goes to Psalm 150, 44 in all. When you read those psalms, you find that they also all have to do with recapitulation, a summing up of everything. These psalms actually deal with the Great White Throne Judgment period and relate to the Jewish festival of Purim, the final mopping-up operation of God’s plan.
How many letters are in the Hebrew alphabet? There are 22. The number of the psalms in this division is double 22. It symbolizes the complete double teaching of God, where He will reach out to save all people, starting with Israel. When you read the whole of the Psalms in this division, all will be finally redeemed. The 44 psalms (22 + 22), along with the psalms of the other four divisions equal 150 altogether.
Compare Deuteronomy with the first four books, you will find the major contrast is (1) in the first four books they were in the wilderness. (2) In Deuteronomy they are preparing to enter into the land that God gave to them. When you read those 44 books of the 5th division of the Psalms, 2 x 22, you will find the whole significance is in that type of a context. Take my word for it at the present time, but study it yourself and you will see that is the case. 11 When you read it closely the last division of the Psalms, 107 to 150 deals with the period of the Great White Throne Judgment. 12
Solomon built the Temple in 7 years. Solomon took the design that David and Samuel the prophet had given to him, and then Solomon put into order the various divisions of the Temple and the personnel that would operate in the Temple. Among the personnel would be a group of priests and a group of Levites who would perform liturgical works at various times of the year, particularly at the Holy Day seasons. 13 At those times they would read portions of the Old Testament particularly the Law and the Prophets, and the Book of Psalms. They would read them in historical contexts, contexts in which messages were being given by the liturgy going on in the Temple at the time.
That Temple (and Tabernacle) represented God’s house on earth. It represented His divine palace in heaven and a replica of the Garden of the Eden back in the first chapters of Genesis. 14 When the Temple was finally built out of stone in Jerusalem, only then do we find psalms being given to be sung to instruments at particular times. That is where the Book of Psalms comes in. That is why the first 72 Psalms were those that David and Samuel arranged to give to Solomon for him to put into practice once the Temple was built.
When we come to the time of King Hezekiah and Isaiah in the 8th century BC, another group of psalms were added at that time, another division. Yet another division was added in the time of Jeremiah near the Babylonian captivity in the 6th century BC. The final 5th division was added to the Psalms by Ezra the priest, who put together the entire Old Testament in its final present form.
These Psalms are intimately connected with the liturgy of the Temple which represented God’s divine palace, His home in heaven. The Holy of Holies in the Temple represented His divine throne. The Holy Place (just to the east and outside of the Holy of Holies), contains the altar of the golden incense where only priests could go. It also represented a portion of God’s house in heaven.
When you come outside you come to the table of the Lord which is the altar of burnt offering. That represented God’s divine table where He would eat in heaven. What happened there at that section of the Temple in Jerusalem represented things that were happening in heaven. This was the court of Israel outside the court of the priests. This was where all of the Psalms were sung. They were not sung inside the priestly section but on the outside where not only God, the priests, the Levites (who were the singers and the players of instruments) could hear, but all Israel could hear.
The Temple functioned as a physical symbol of spiritual things that actually take place in heaven. It is to show mankind on earth how God works, what God does for His own enjoyment, what He has for His instruction, what He has for fellowship with His people, and so forth. God is very interested in music. He is not only interested in the human voice, but also instruments, musical arrangements, and things of that nature, which are in His house to be used and performed at particular times to His enjoyment.
King David, who was not a Levite but was from the tribe of Judah, arranged the Psalms under the auspices of the prophet Samuel to give a type of musical, operatic message to the Israelites who would assemble for Passover services, on the Sabbaths, at Pentecost, at Tabernacles, and so forth. These Psalms when they were sung would reemphasize the teachings of the messages of the Holy Days being observed at that particular time. Because these Psalms are intimately connected with God’s home, His palace, God has concerts at His palace. His concerts are these Psalms. Some of the Psalms are merry; some of them are instructive, while others are rather sad. Some of the psalms in particular sections talk of destruction, whereas other sections of the psalms are very happy, joyful, and triumphant. 15
The last 5 psalms are completely triumphant and tell of victory, how mankind through Israel and God’s Messiah will triumph into a victorious union with God in His heavenly palace. These psalms then, are what you might say, operatic themes performed in God’s palace. They have a message to them that God wants all of us to understand within a chronological framework.
Let us look for a moment and see how David, under the orders of Samuel, put all of this into operation. Go back to 1 Chronicles chapter 25 and you will find David giving instructions on how things were to be organized and arranged in the Temple once it was built. The Psalms figure in very, very prominently on this. Remember that David’s first collection of Psalms were 72 in number. That is 3 x 24. I will come to why that is important in just a moment.
We find in the chapter before, the 24th chapter of First Chronicles, the instructions for the 24 orders of priests (24:1–19) and then the Levites (24:20–31). In the New Testament John the Baptist’s father, Zacharias, was of the 8th order of these priests just before Jesus was born. The 8th order was that of Abijah as you find in 1 Chronicles 24:10. Zacharias was performing his function in the Temple according to the order that David and Samuel had given to be able to bring a message to the people. What these 24 priest orders would do is that one of the orders would work 1 week, from Sabbath to Sabbath, and then the second order would take over Sabbath to Sabbath. Then the third order would take over Sabbath to Sabbath, and so on, all the way to the 24th order of priests.
However, at the beginning of the year, in springtime, in the second or the third week you would have Passover, when all 24 priestly orders would come together for service. They would rescind the weekly arrangement and all of them would work in shifts for that one week. Afterward it would carry on that the next order in rotation would go for one week, the next order for the next week, and so on until Pentecost.
Pentecost is only a one day festival, but because it called for all males to come to Jerusalem, it was an opportunity for teaching and instruction. The weekly cycle was again rescinded and all 24 orders of priests would be at Jerusalem and they would teach the people for one whole week. After that week was over they would resume the 10th, the 11th, the 12th, the 13th, the 14th, orders each week and go all the way to the 24th week.
Twenty-four weeks is about half a year. What they would do then is that after Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Trumpets (when all priests and Levites would participate), which would be the beginning of the civil year, they would begin the process all over again.
The first order of priests would work in the Temple to do all of the daily offerings and things of that nature. When the Day of Atonement would come along, we would find all the priests being there again. Then at the Feast of Tabernacles, when everyone would come together, the priests would again rescind the weekly occurrences and all 24 orders would be there.
As soon as the Festival of Tabernacles was over, they would go back to the weekly cycle, Sabbath noon to Sabbath noon. They would go through all 24 orders of them until they would reach to the end. But 24 plus 24 makes 48. That is not quite a year is it? The biblical calendar is lunar and not exactly in agreement with the solar calendar. In fact we know the 48 weeks is fine. For about three weeks they all came together for the three festival seasons: Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. You put those in there and you get nearly the whole of the 52 weeks. What it means is that you then find that the priests would in one year’s time do two administrations in the Temple each separated by a 6 month period, with all working various shifts during the festivals. Now this is the way that the priests would do it. They would go 24, 24 and they would start over and go 24 again.
Notice that the first collection of Psalms that David compiled was 72 in number. Singing one psalm per week, that would go for almost a year and a half. Later when Ezra expanded the entire collection of the Psalms, he went from a catalog of psalms that lasted a year and a half, and he added enough psalms to last another year and a half, making 144 Psalms (2 x 72). Then he added 6 more psalms to bring it up to the number of weeks in a year. The 6 additional psalms made a total of 150, enough to cover a complete 3-year period during which the entire Book of Psalms would be read within this priestly environment.
In total there are seven holy days. After Israel returned from their Babylonian exile the festival of Purim, exemplified by the Book of Esther in the Old Testament, was added to celebrate the rescue of God’s people from destruction and genocide. So there are 8 holy day periods when you include Purim which comes at the very end of the calendar.
Chapter 24 of First Chronicles dealt with the priests. But 1 Chronicles chapter 25 dealt with the singers who would perform these Psalms. There were three divisions of those singers, picked as individuals with talent given to them by God, not only to sing but to perform musical composition by playing instruments. They knew the notations which we do not have at the present time.
Over a 3-year period these 150 Psalms would be sung in a particular order. Two 3-year periods make 6 years. In the 7th year, which is the Sabbatical year, they read the Psalms through in one year rather than in a 3-year period. This is fairly well known. 16 Once you get that formula in mind you can get the prophetic themes, and prophecy will come alive because these symbols of the festivals and Temple are also for our instruction.
When David and Samuel put together the 24 courses of the priests, they also made 24 courses of the Levites, particularly Levitical singers, who were very talented in musical instruments. They would perform these educative songs in the order that David and Samuel gave to them.
The messages that they would give in this operatic form of teaching would have prophetic impact. That was a central reason why the Psalms were given in the first place. They were to be performed so that all Israel would be able to hear these Psalms, and hear them within prophetic contexts, chronological or holy day contexts, in which the people would then begin to apply much of the teaching of the Psalms.
For example, on the day of Trumpets, when the horn is lifted up, they had a particular Psalm that they would read at that time. It is surprising just how clear and plain the teaching of the day of Trumpets becomes when a particular Psalm that was designed for it is performed on that particular Holy Day. It really makes New Testament sense, not just Old Testament sense.
Like flesh being put upon the skeleton of a prophetical framework, the full body of teaching would be given as time would go on. These Psalms were not meant just for entertainment. They were meant for instruction in prophetical matters, dealing with occurrences in God’s own palace up in heaven, reflected with the priests and the Levites on earth. It is very important we realize these points.
“Moreover David, and the captains of the hosts [the army] separated to the service of the sons of Asaph, Heman, Jeduthun ...”
1 Chronicles 25:1
These are the three divisions of the Levitical singers. It was the armed forces, the military generals with David, who put the singers into their arrangement in the Temple. Why would military men have anything to do with this? It is because the musical instruments that were being used, the cadence, and the type of music being performed, was rather like marching music in many cases, on occasions when the military was on the move. Not all of them are that way. Some are in the minor key, when the topic is about destruction, sadness, and things of that nature. Usually however, they are given with a great deal of exaltation. Some of the Psalms are very upbeat and with trumpets sounding and with other instruments, at particular times that would give emphasis to the words that were being sung, chanted, or spoken.
You have certainly viewed movies, for example. Close your eyes and think about the music that accents the story, the pictures, and the dialogue. There is music most all the time in every movie, even in a drama. Music is used for emphasis to the events that are happening. That is the way we do it today. They were doing it that way in the Temple — to emphasize the messages that we find in the Psalms, which were all placed in a particular order for a reason.
David and the captains of the hosts of the army came together. They separated the three divisions of the Levites, and put them into 24 orders to go along with the priests. There are certain Psalms they would sing.
Samuel was a seer and was the first one to be called by the title “prophet.” After this time most often the term “prophet” was used and not the term “seer.” It changed just about this time right here, the time of Samuel and David. So Heman was the king’s seer. Heman’s sons also were seers. What did they do? They were seers in the words of God. We find the words making up these Psalms, musically performed by these men, were actually put together (as we would say today) by the Holy Spirit of God. These are words engendered not by the men themselves, but by the Word of God. Look at verse 6.
“And God gave to Heman fourteen sons and three daughters. All these were under the hands of their father for song in the house of YHWH, with cymbals, psalteries, and harps, for the service of the house of Elohim, according to the king's order to Asaph, Jeduthun, and Heman.”
1 Chronicles 25:5–6
That was their job. They were to perform songs and music. Notice the next verse.
“So the number of them, with their brethren that were instructed in the songs of YHWH, even all that were cunning, was two hundred fourscore and eight.”
1 Chronicles 25:7
Now 288 is an interesting number in itself. It is 12 times the 24. These numbers keep coming back up all the time, 24, 12, 12 tribes of Israel. There was a morning sacrifice and an evening sacrifice so 2 x 12 is 24, 24 priests, 24 singers. The first 72 Psalms are those of David, 3 times 24. More were added later and the number goes to 144 with 6 Psalms added at the end. All these were designed to be read at particular times to give a prophetic emphasis to the messages being taught in the Temple at that time.
Verse 5 is most interesting, that “All these were the sons of Heman the king’s seer in the words of God, to lift up the horn.” The horn was a military instrument that called the armed forces together. A horn woke the army up in the morning and put them to bed at night. When a battle would take place, the horns would sound to announce various maneuvers and actions to be taken. It was a way of communicating to the military forces various things that should be done or that were going on.
All the musical instruments used by these three divisions of the Levites in their 24 orders were used to give messages to the people who were assembling at God’s house, the Temple. That is why it is important for us that we might understand what these Psalms are all about.
Take the apostle Paul. He said that the psalms are just not for inspiration, but they are for admonishment (warn, exhort) and for teaching (instruction). They are for knowledge. He said,
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”
Psalms were used as a means of not only inspiration but also for instruction and for admonishment. These Psalms are put in a particular order, and some are repeated in various contexts to emphasize the messages being given at that point in the Temple liturgy. You and I will not be able to understand these things very well if we do not know about the Temple. It will add tremendously to the understanding of these psalms once we comprehend exactly what that is all about, but it is easy to understand.
These are Old Testament matters, I know, but at the same time they deal with themes designed in the plan of God before the foundation of this world (Luke 11:50; John 17:24; 1 Peter 1:20; Ephesians 1:3–4; Hebrews 4:3, 9:23–26). If you want to understand what will happen in the next few years in advance of us, study what the Psalms tell us because they are actually prophecies. They are prophecies not only of Jesus being introduced into the world, but prophecies of what will happen future to us. The man of sin, the son of perdition, the beast power, is mentioned time and time again in these Psalms. Specifically, events mentioned in the Book of Revelation and the Book of Daniel dealing with the end times are detailed in the Book of Psalms and in a chronological framework that will show you when these things will occur.
When Daniel says at the end of the age that we will understand these things more and more (Daniel 12:4), and we are growing in grace and knowledge, it does not mean we understand them completely now. However, the more we understand and comprehend what was going on in the Temple at the various times with these Psalms, and begin to apply them at the particular symbolic time periods that God designed so that we can understand the framework prophecy, you will be amazed how clear things can become.
Some were to be psalms of joy, others were psalms of reflection, and others were to be psalms of praise. Still others were to be Psalms of punishment or reflection upon repentance and upon sins and things of that nature.
When you put this all together you begin to see an importance of these Psalms, the musical notation that went with them, and the words as well as the cadence, all the methods they were using at the time, were there to emphasize what was in God’s mind that He was giving to His servants in His own home, in His own palace, in His Temple there in Jerusalem. This expression is continued in the Book of Revelation:
“And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odors, which are the prayers of saints. And they sung a new song, saying,
“`You are worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for you were slain, and have redeemed us to God by your blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And have made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.'”
This is a song being given here. It is a new song of 7 seals presented as a long psalm that had notation and instruments and singing within a context of prophetic teaching, within a Holy Day context, within the context of God’s home, His palace, His Temple in heaven. When you put all these things together, you will find that God is giving throughout the entirety of His scripture here, a message of His divine plan for humanity. It centers primarily on Israel, but notice how it speaks about other nations, other kindreds, tongues, peoples, and nations, and how they will be drawn into all of this as well.
In the Book of Revelation, the last and 49th book of the Bible, the 7th x 7th book of the Bible, we find God’s divine household in heaven, with His 24 servants, and with the various divisions. They are singing in that vision scene.
The singing is not only triumphant (as it will be finally), but it is also of a dirge in some cases. 17 You have it in the minor key. You have prophecies which show destruction. There are individual psalms and even whole sections of Psalms that show destruction. In fact the third division of the Psalms, Psalms 73 to 89, is all about destruction continually. It is sung in the minor key. It is not sung with vivaciousness in a sense of exaltation, joy, happiness, victory or triumph. It is exactly the opposite.
In the fourth division, from Psalm 90 to Psalm 106, you will find Psalms of triumph. Why? It is because the Lord reigns, the Lord will be on earth, the Lord will instruct, the Lord will give knowledge throughout the earth as the waters cover the sea.
Whole sections of those Psalms are presented in a different type of an environment. When you put all 150 together within the time periods, and put them with the New Testament prophecies and the Book of Revelation, we will see that these prophecies from the Psalms are for us today. We can learn from these Psalms. It is time we begin to see exactly what the Book of Psalms is all about.
When Samuel and David put together this liturgy for the Temple at Jerusalem, they first ordered 72 songs to be sung (later increased to total 150 by Ezra) they said in 1 Chronicles chapter 25 for the king’s seer Heman to sing these prophecies, for Jeduthun to sing these prophecies, and for Asaph to sing these prophecies. They were not only to sing them, but let they were to play these prophecies with the horn, with the psaltery, with the cymbal, with all of these musical instruments, with all Israel around hearing God’s messages coming forth from these singers in the Temple according to the arranged schedules and times.
Knowing this background information, the messages of God in the Psalms can make sense as never before. As we put information together, we will see that God has a message through music for you and for me. It is a pertinent one because the Psalms are prophecy.
These Psalms were to be sung in the Temple. 18 This is important simply because in the prophecies of the scripture, we are told that there will be a Temple built again in the city of Jerusalem. When they rebuild that Temple, a priesthood will also be reestablished. In addition the Levitical singers will also be established, once more to perform the prophetic and chronological Book of Psalms in that Temple during the festivals. The singers and their teachings are an integral part of the Temple services and rites.
In that last 7 year period while the Temple services are conducted, sacrificial services will be performed for the first 3½ years, and then they will be cut off, stopped. Until that time the Temple services will be in operation. You cannot have a Temple without proper furnishings. You cannot have a Temple without proper personnel doing the work that God has ordained back in the time of Moses.
In this Temple to be built in Jerusalem they shall have these liturgical services inaugurated once more. At that time I feel we will be able to understand some of the teachings that will occur and take place during that seven year period by paying close attention to (1) what will be occurring in the Psalms, and (2) what will be read at the particular times in the liturgical readings not only what is being read in the Psalms but also in the readings of the Law and the Prophets as well.
We are in a time of mass communications and we can know what is happening in the Middle East in a Temple in Jerusalem very, very quickly. But God has already established as a sign certain events that have taken place in history which will repeat themselves. One of the keys to understanding prophecies of the scripture is the fact that we have repetition in prophecy. 19
We need to understand how that repetition works. So if the Temple was destroyed in the 9th of Ab over a 600 year interval of time, God sees significance in that particular day in the biblical calendar. We should pay attention. The 3rd division of the Psalms for example agrees remarkably with that period of time when Jerusalem was destroyed both in the time of Nebuchadnezzar and also in the time of Titus the Roman General (and later on Roman Emperor). Both destructions occurred on the same day.
These times are significant. When the Temple is reestablished in Jerusalem and the teaching of the Law and the teaching of the Prophets is presented in a particular time sequence, along with these musical Psalms (understood with proper notation), together they will have profound prophetic significance and instruction for us. It will pay us to begin now to understand what these things are all about ahead of time so we can have advanced knowledge of what will take place in the last 7 years of the time of the end prophesied in the Book of Daniel. Those 7 years constitute a Sabbatical period and the Book of Psalms is written around a Sabbatical time.
The details are important in interpreting the Psalms for us today. Examine those details in the Psalms written by David, Asaph, Solomon, Moses, Hezekiah, or by others, and the order they are put together into 5 divisions by Ezra the priest who established the Temple services after the Babylonian captivity.
When we see what Ezra has done by putting them into a particular order, and you study and learn about the liturgical time periods in which those Psalms were read (and we come closer to notice events in those psalms as the time of the end approaches), then we will begin to understand a prophetical sequence of events, that will actually mention identifiable groups and individuals. These people will be doing things to bring to pass the final generation and the final 7 years of God’s plan before the millennium begins.
After King Hezekiah of Judah cleansed the Temple, he restored and reformed the cult rituals, including the presentations of the psalms. We are given an extended account in 2 Chronicles 29:1–31:21. Note particularly the music that was performed in the rededication ceremony:
“And he set the Levites in the house of YHWH with cymbals, with psalteries, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, and of Gad the king's seer, and Nathan the prophet: for so was the commandment of YHWH by his prophets. And the Levites stood with the instruments of David, and the priests with the trumpets. And Hezekiah commanded to offer the burnt offering upon the altar. And when the burnt offering began, the song of YHWH began also with the trumpets, and with the instruments ordained by David king of Israel. And all the congregation worshipped, and the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded: and all this continued until the burnt offering was finished. And when they had made an end of offering, the king and all that were present with him bowed themselves, and worshipped. Moreover Hezekiah the king and the princes commanded the Levites to sing praise unto YHWH with the words of David, and of Asaph the seer. And they sang praises with gladness, and they bowed their heads and worshipped.”
2 Chronicles 29:25–28
The priests and Levites were not merely banging away on pots and pans, and plucking taught strings, and blowing trumpets. They were performing highly sophisticated musical compositions. King Hezekiah reformed the Temple procedures in much the same way that David, Samuel, and Solomon initiated them. Something similar will likely take place when the next Temple is constructed, wherever and whenever that may be. Note again how God operates:
“Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executes my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.”
L. Martin, 1997/1998
Edited by David Sielaff, April 2008
By David Sielaff
Jesus and His apostles sang hymns at the last supper (Matthew 26:30, Mark 14:26). The texts do not say whether anyone played an instrument or what the song was. Although music in worship has little attraction to me, it is biblical and proper. Music and song were important in the New Testament ekklesia as it was in the Temple up to 70 AD. Quite simply music was (and is today) a way to teach theology so it can be easily remembered. The few passages in the New Testament that mention music and song make us wonder, what kind of songs or hymns did they sing? Did they sing psalms from the Old Testament, contrary to the tradition in the synagogues? Did they use the Greek Old Testament, the LXX? None of this can be known with certainty. However, it is clear that the apostle Paul makes significant mention about music and song in parallel passages to two Gentile ekklesias. 20
Ephesians 5:15, 8–21
“See then that
you walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, … but be
filled with the Spirit;
“Let the word
of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom;
These passages that Paul wrote to the ekklesia at Colossae and the unnamed ekklesia (generally understood to be Ephesus) definitely indicate that “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” were intended to be an integral part of their worship as a group.
Paul admonishes the Gentile ekklesia at Corinth to sing as they should pray with their mind (with understanding) as well as with their heart (with emotion):
“What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding [mind] also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding [mind] also. …
How is it then, brethren? when you come together, every one of you has a psalm, has a doctrine, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.”
1 Corinthians 14:15, 26 21
Christ likened His body to the Temple (John 2:21). Collectively the ekklesia of God is the Body of Christ (Colossians 1:18, 24). To be sure “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” are being sung and performed in the Temple of God which is His ekklesia. Your individual body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16–17, 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21–22).
“For through him [Christ] we both have access [direct access!] by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore you are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household [family] of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together grows unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom you also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.”
When you sing or recite psalms, even the negative psalms, you are performing within the Temple of God because you are part of that Temple, you are praising God in His sanctuary (Psalm 150:1)!
1 Portland, OR: ASK Publications, 1994, 2004. Appendix 1 is available online at http://www.askelm.com/restoring/res040.htm. In this article the Hebrew terms “psalms” (mizmowr) and “songs” (shiyr) are used interchangeably although there are technical and important distinctions. That is a discussion for a later time. DWS
2 Finding and understanding of the musical notation of biblical psalms would be a discovery of major historical importance. It would contribute greatly to our understanding of general Hebrew poetry, and indeed poetry of many ancient peoples. It would give us much information as to the meaning of words, phrases, special vocabulary, idioms, and figures of speech. King David was a master of music and psalms, both in writing, performing, and arranging, collaborating with Nathan the prophet, Gad the Seer, and Asaph the leader of music for the arrangement of music for the Temple to be built by David’s son Solomon (1 Chronicles 6:31–53, 15:16–22, 25:1–7; 2 Chronicles 8:14). DWS
3 David was called a prophet by Peter in Acts 2:29–30 and by his own identification in 2 Samuel 23:2: “The Spirit of YHWH spoke by me, and his word was in my tongue.” DWS
4 The festival of Purim began out of events presented in the Book of Esther. It was not a festival commanded by Moses. DWS
5 The 5 divisions of the Psalms also correspond to the 5 books of the Megilloth which were read or performed in the Women’s portion of the Temple in Jerusalem. See “Appendix 1” in footnote 1 above. DWS
6 The only difference is that the Hebrew in Psalm 14:7 the text reads, “when YHWH brings back the captivity of his people” and Psalm 53:6 has, “when Elohim brings back the captivity of his people.” Otherwise the two psalms are identical. DWS
7 Psalm 90 is the only song contained in the Book of Psalms authored by Moses. However, other songs of Moses exist. The first song mentioned is in Exodus 15:1–19. It is apparently this song sung in heaven and referred to in Revelation 15:3. Just before his death Moses composed another song, Deuteronomy 31:30–32:47, that looked back at Israel’s 40 years experience of God’s salvation in the exodus from Egypt and sojourn in the wilderness. Moses tells of the lessons Israel learned, their failures, and God’s glory through them as an example to the nations. He also gave warnings of future punishments if they sin. DWS
8 The psalms of the 3rd division, Psalms 73 to 89, are also 17 in number, the same as the 4th division. Seventeen is an interesting number in Scripture. Some people say the number 17 is a fingerprint of God, but in an esoteric way. That number does not occur much, except in this Book of Psalms. ELM
10 In the Book of Leviticus chapter 11 it speaks about animals that you can eat and others that you cannot eat. All the animals mentioned in Leviticus are desert animals, but in the Book of Deuteronomy, speaking about the same topic, the animals there are those you would find in a civilized area of the land of Canaan. ELM
11 In other words, the first 22 of the 44 psalms of the 5th division relates to being in the wilderness. The second 22 psalms relate to being in the promised land. DWS
12 This is reflected in the Book of Esther, celebrated at Purim that concludes the agricultural year, one month before Passover and a time of great darkness, a time when there is no growth. It answers to the last harvest period of God. When you really look at it closely it deals with the Great White Throne Judgment. And so too does the last book of the Psalms, 107 to 150. ELM
13 The Levites were one of the twelve tribes of Israel. The priests were a clan, a family of the Levites. All priests were originally descended from the family of Aaron, Moses’ brother. DWS
15 I am reminded that most rulers throughout history have held concerts at their palace to celebrate or commemorate their rule or special occasions. In the United States concerts and recitals at the White House are a much sought after social occasion of the business, political, and social elite of the nation. DWS
16 Most Commentaries will provide this basic information. DWS
17 A dirge is a somber song expressing mourning or grief. It is usually a slow, mournful musical composition. It can also be a poem of eulogy or of mourning. Funeral songs are frequently dirges in Western culture. DWS
18 Psalms were not sung or performed in the synagogues in the diaspora, like they were in the Temple, but they did study the Psalms. In the synagogue of ancient times they only read the Law and the Prophets. In the Temple environment, however, there had to be professionally trained Levitical singers to perform the Psalms. ELM
19 See Dr. Martin’s last article, “The Great Generation and Modern Prophecy” at http://askelm.com/prophecy/p021201.htm where many examples of two-fold and even three-fold repetitions of cyclical events are demonstrated from the Bible. DWS
20 Professor Ralph Martin shows that Philippians 2:5–11 is likely part of an early Christian hymn in A Hymn to Christ: Philippians 2:5–11 (Inter-varsity Press, 1997). Most mentions of music in the NT are all in epistles to Gentile ekklesias. DWS
21 Most modern versions correctly note that the word “understanding” is better translated as “mind,” which is indeed the case. Of the 24 occurrences of the Greek word nous, the King James translators rendered 21 of them as “mind” and three occurrences (2 in 1 Corinthians 14:15) as “understanding.” Understanding Scripture requires an act of your mind, Luke 24:44–46:
“And he said unto them, ‘These are the words which I spoke unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written  in the law of Moses, and  in the prophets, and  in the psalms, concerning me.’ Then opened he their understanding [mind, nous], that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, ‘Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day.’” DWS
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