Sunday: The Psalms in Ancient Israel’s Worship

Daily Lesson for Sunday 31st of December 2023

Read 1 Chronicles 16:7, Nehemiah 12:8, Psalms 18:1, Psalms 30:1, Psalms 92:1, Psalms 95:2, Psalms 105:2, Colossians 3:16, and James 5:13. What were the occasions that prompted the writing of some psalms? When did God’s people use the Psalms?

The Psalms were composed for use in private and in communal worship. They were sung as hymns in temple worship, as suggested by the musical annotations that mention instruments (Psalms 61:1), tunes (Psalms 9:1), and music leaders (Psalms 8:1).

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In the Hebrew Bible, the title of the book of Psalms, tehilim, “praises,” reflects its main purpose—that is, the praise of God. The English title Book of Psalms is derived from the Greek psalmoi, found in the Septuagint, an early (second and third century B.C.) Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible.

The Psalms were an indispensable part of Israel’s worship. For example, they were used in temple dedications, religious feasts, and processions, as well as during the setting down of the ark of the covenant in Jerusalem.

“The Songs of Ascents” (Psalms 120:1-7−134), also known as the pilgrimage songs, were traditionally sung during the pilgrimage to Jerusalem at the three major annual festivals (Exodus 23:14-17). The “Egyptian Hallel” (Psalms 113:1-9:1-9−118) and the “Great Hallel” (Psalms 136:1-26) were sung at the three major annual festivals, including the festivals of the New Moon and the dedication of the temple. The Egyptian Hallel received a significant place in the Passover ceremony. Psalms 113:1-9:1-9 and 114 were sung at the beginning of the Passover meal and Psalms 115:1-18−118 at the end (Matthew 26:30). The “Daily Hallel” (Psalms 145:1-21−150) was incorporated into the daily prayers in the synagogue morning services.

The Psalms did not only accompany the people’s worship, but they also instructed them on how they should worship God in the sanctuary. Jesus prayed with the words of Psalms 22:1-31 (Matthew 27:46). The Psalms found a significant place in the life of the early church, as well (Colossians 3:16, Ephesians 5:19).

Though we, of course, do not worship God in an earthly sanctuary like the temple, how can we use the Psalms in our own worship, whether in a private or in a corporate setting?


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