The book of Psalms is a collection of ancient prayers and songs that has wielded enormous influence on the religious thought of both Judaism and Christianity. Their power comes from their ability to move hearts and arouse the deep feelings of the soul. Their poetry contains literary allusions and insightful symbols which cause the listener to slow down and ponder the images portrayed. This, combined with music, which brings the Spirit, enables true rejoicing to be expressed, as well as the poignancy of deep emotions to be felt. The Psalms express the feelings you can’t put into words.

The Hebrew title of the book of Psalms is tehilim, which is a word coming from the Hebrew word halal, “to praise.” The same root forms the word hallelujah, meaning “praise to Yah” (Jehovah).  Our English name Psalms originated from the Septuagint (the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament) title of the book, psalmoi, plural of psalmos, meaning “the twitching or twanging with fingers,” associated mostly with the strings of a musical instrument. Later, psalmos came to mean “a song sung to the harp.”

There are seventy-two psalms attributed to David, ten to the sons of Korah, thirteen to Asaph a musician in David’s court, and one each to Solomon, Heman, Ethan, (leaders of the temple music) and Moses. The other fifty-one can be attributed to that most famous of all authors, “anonymous.”

In addition to the superscriptions indicating the author of the psalm, there are often instructions which contain words transliterated from the Hebrew and left untranslated. Generally, they seem to have been specific instructions to the singer or the musicians, or to have served as a note about the nature of the particular song. Selah is found seventy-three times in the Psalms. Probably selah was used to direct the singer to be silent, or to pause a little, while the instruments played an interlude or symphony.[i]

Anciently the Hebrews divided the one hundred and fifty psalms into five separate books that included, in today’s Bible, Psalms 1 through 41, 42 through 72, 72 through 89, 90 through 106, and 107 through 150. At the end of each division, the break is marked with a doxology, or formal declaration of God’s power and glory (see Psalms 41:13; 72:19; 89:52; 106:48). Psalm 150 is itself a doxology, an expression of praise to God. 

Types of Psalms

The Psalms of Ascent (120-34), which were recited during portions of the feast of Tabernacles—have been included in Judaism’s liturgy for more than two thousand years.  There are 15 steps of the temple going from the women’s court to the men’s court in the 2nd temple.  They were also sung on the way up to Jerusalem—geographically a higher place. 

Some psalms were not composed until the Jews were in exile in Babylon, Psalm 137, for example.  “They hung their harps and did not sing the songs of Zion.” These are the Psalms of Lament.

Many of the psalms give far-reaching predictions and are prophetic of Christ’s mission. Psalm 2 is a magnificent prophetic panorama of Messiah’s redemptive mission and his return as King of Kings. Psalm 22 is an amazing detailed prophecy of the suffering and death of Christ during his atonement for all mankind. Psalm 110 is a far-reaching prophecy of Christ as a perpetual Priest. Psalm 16 heralds his future resurrection, while Psalm 72 envisions the coming millennial kingdom.

No one can read the psalms without becoming aware that certain psalms and individual verses have a deeper, future significance beyond the simple meaning of the words. The Messiah is not mentioned by name, but his figure is foreshadowed, as later generations of Jews came to realize. The New Testament writers are quick to apply these verses to Jesus as the prophesied Messiah. The book of Psalms is quoted more often by New Testament writers than any other Old Testament book, over 115 times.

Highlights from This Week’s Study of Psalms

Psalm 102 is a prayer of the afflicted. It contains a plea from a person who feels abandoned—like a “vulture in the desert” or an “owl in the wilderness,” or “a lone sparrow on a rooftop.” He pleads with the Lord to hear his cry in his “time of trouble,” and answer him “speedily,” for he “withers like grass.”  He contrasts his fleeting state of misery with the eternal nature of God and alludes to a future time of deliverance. I love Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s comments on this psalm.

This psalm has direct overtones of a latter-day/millennial time in which Zion’s favored day arrives and “all the kings of the earth” shall acknowledge the One True King, Jesus Christ, who will “appear in his glory.” As always, this will be a King particularly mindful of the poor and the “destitute.” In a very conspicuous way, a line like verse 20—that  this Deliver will hear “the groaning of the prisoner” and “loose those that are appointed to death”—echoes Isaiah’s great Messianic passage (one of the greatest of all  Messianic passages in the Old Testament) that begins: The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord has anointed me to preach good tidings into the meek; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound” [Isaiah 61:1] (Holland, For Times of Trouble, 182).

Psalm 103 is written in beautiful Hebrew poetry. As a former English teacher, I appreciate the use of alliteration in every line in the Hebrew although it is not apparent in the English translation. It takes great skill to use the same root word in different forms to echo and emphasize the thought expressed, but it is a joy to read this in the original language. It is a kind of “thought rhyme.”

Verses 1-3 presents the ideas of “forgiving iniquities,” and “healing diseases” as parallel thoughts. Truly, being forgiven of our sins can also heal us spiritually, replacing guilt and pain with joy and peace of conscience.  Jesus said, “Will ye not now return, repent of your sins, and be converted comment that I may heal you?” (3 Nephi 9:13)

Psalm 103:5 uses the phrase “thy youth is renewed as the eagle’s.” Each year the eagle sheds its old feathers and receives new ones. This may symbolically refer to our need to cast off our old sins and constantly be renewed by being born again through the Atonement of Christ.

Verses 8-9 speak about the Lord being “slow to anger” and “plenteous in mercy.”  We would do well to follow his example. This takes a lot of patience and “longsuffering,” as we grow in our discipleship. We need to stand out in a world quick to take offense.

“Let It Go”

The theme song from “Frozen” can teach us much. Many of the latest General Conference address dealt with the subject of letting things go instead of developing resentments, “being slow to anger” and “plenteous in mercy.”  Elder Neil L. Andersen taught us how to be peacemakers in April 2022 General Conference.

Social media posts of thoughtfulness and goodness are often quietly under the radar, while words of contempt and anger are frequently thundering in our ears, whether with political philosophy, people in the news, or opinions on the pandemic. No one or no subject, including the Savior and His restored gospel, is immune from this social phenomenon of polarized voices.

The Lord taught how to live, then and now, in a contemptuous world. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” He declared, “for they shall be called the children of God.”

By the shield of our faith in Jesus Christ, we become peacemakers, quenching—meaning to calm, cool, or extinguish—all the fiery darts of the adversary.

How does a peacemaker calm and cool the fiery darts? Certainly not by shrinking before those who disparage us. Rather, we remain confident in our faith, sharing our beliefs with conviction but always void of anger or malice.

What gives us the inner strength to cool, calm, and quench the fiery darts aimed toward the truths we love? The strength comes from our faith in Jesus Christ and our faith in His words.

One of Satan’s greatest weapons is contention. Elder Robert Wood has counseled:

The Lord has warned that from the beginning and throughout history, Satan would stir up people’s hearts to anger. Wherever we live in the world, we have been molded as a people to be the instruments of the Lord’s peace. We cannot afford to be caught up in a world prone to give and to take offense. Rather, as the Lord revealed to both Paul and Mormon, we must neither envy nor be puffed up in pride. We are not easily provoked, nor do we behave unseemly. We rejoice not in iniquity but in the truth. Surely this is the pure love of Christ which we represent.  (“Instruments of the Lord’s Peace,” Elder Robert S. Wood, April Conference 2006)

Characteristics of Christ Prophesied

Psalm 110:1  “The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.” This passage places the Son at the right hand of the Father, a relationship allowing for the unity of the Father and the Son in every spiritual aspect, while emphasizing the separate nature of their physical being. Jesus quoted this verse to the Pharisees and others he was teaching, highlighting his relationship to the Father and his role as the Messiah. (see Mark 12:36, Luke 20:42)                                      

Psalm 110:4  “Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.” This is one of only two places in the Old Testament where the great high priest  Melchizedek is mentioned by name. The other reference is in Genesis 14:18 which records Abraham paying tithes to Melchizedek. The apostle Paul quoted these verses twice in his Epistle to the Hebrews in his effort to emphasize Christ’s divine authority. (See Hebrews 5:6; 7:17, 21.) Elder Jeffrey R. Holland stated, “Melchizedek is clearly a very specific Old Testament type for the Christ that was to come in New Testament times.” (Holland, For Times of Trouble Holland, 184-85)

Enabling Our Prayers to Get Past the Ceiling

Psalm 116:1-2  “I love the Lord, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications. Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live.” I have often wondered how to get the Lord to “incline his ear” to my prayers. How to make sure they get past the ceiling. God has told us to “pray always,” and always have a prayer in our hearts. 

Henry B. Eyring has taught us that “mighty prayer” does not require using many words. “In fact, the Savior has told us that we need not multiply words when we pray. The diligence in prayer which God requires does not take flowery speech to the Lord or long hours of solitude. We can and must go often and carefully to the word of God. If we become casual in our study of the scriptures, we will become casual in our prayers.” He cites three causes for a “sad drift away from humble prayer.”

First, while God implores us to pray, the enemy of our souls belittles and then derides it. The warning from 2 Nephi is true: “And now, my beloved brethren, I perceive that ye ponder still in your hearts; and it grieveth me that I must speak concerning this thing. For if ye would hearken unto the Spirit which teacheth a man to pray ye would know that ye must pray; for the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray.”

Second, God is forgotten out of vanity. A little prosperity and peace, or even a turn slightly for the better, can bring us feelings of self-sufficiency. We can feel quickly that we are in control of our lives, that the change for the better is our own doing, not that of a God who communicates to us through the still, small voice of the Spirit. Pride creates a noise within us which makes the quiet voice of the Spirit hard to hear. And soon, in our vanity, we no longer even listen for it. We can quickly come to think we don’t need it.

The third cause is rooted deeply within us. We are spirit children of a loving Heavenly Father who placed us in mortality to see if we would choose—freely choose—to keep His commandments and come unto His Beloved Son. They do not compel us. They cannot, for that would interfere with the plan of happiness. And so there is in us a God-given desire to be responsible for our own choices.

That desire to make our own choices is part of the upward pull toward eternal life. But it can, if we see life only through our mortal eyes, make dependence on God difficult or even impossible when we feel such a powerful desire to be independent.

Those who submit like a child do it because they know that the Father wants only the happiness of His children and that only He knows the way. That is the testimony we must have to keep praying like a submissive child, in the good times as well as the times of trouble. (Eyring, “Prayer,” Ensign, November 2001, 16-17)

Cup of Salvation

Psalm 116:12 “What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me?” This is a great question to ask ourselves. Whenever I sing “I Stand All Amazed,” I ask myself this question. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf has given one answer:

Our beloved Father simply asks that we live by the truth we have received and that we follow the path He has provided. Therefore, let us take courage and trust in the guidance of the Spirit. Let us in word and in deed share with our fellowmen the amazing and awe-inspiring message of God’s plan of happiness. May our motive be our love for God and for His children, for they are our brothers and sisters. This is the beginning of what we can do in return for so much. (Uchtdorf, “O How Great the Plan of Our God!,” Ensign, November 2016, 22)

Psalm 116:13  “I will take the cup of salvation.”  What exactly is this cup? Of course, this could refer to the drink accompanying the thanksgiving offering, or one of the cups offered during the Passover meal, but I like to think of it as the sacrament cup. That cup is offered to me weekly as I renew my covenants with God. The Savior drank of the “bitter cup,” so that I don’t have to. In exchange, he offers me the sacrament cup as a witness of my gratitude for his vicarious suffering in my behalf.

God’s Kesed

Psalm 118 is a Messianic psalm, written in a princely style by the hand of a master. Ezra 3:10 suggests that it was sung at the founding of the second temple and when they sang it, they attributed it to David. The opening lines all end in the Hebrew refrain, l’olam kasdo, “His mercy endures forever.” The word kesed is my favorite word in Hebrew because it has such a multiplicity of meanings—constant  abiding faithfulness, loyal covenant love, loving kindness, the mercy of God towards men. It is so multi-faceted in meaning that it is difficult to translate into English. But this energetic grace and mercy endures forever. This refrain begins and ends the first verses of this psalm. It has the quality of a liturgy, and is used 34 times in the Psalms. This psalm was sung as part of the Passover ritual and Jesus would have sung it at the last supper with his disciples. As he sang the words “for his mercy endureth forever,” I wonder if he thought of how the endurance of God’s mercy would be tested to the utmost the next day in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross.

The Lord is My Strength and My Song

Psalm 118:6 “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear what can man do unto me?” The author of this psalm understood the principle of Romans 8:31: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” You plus God is always a majority.

Psalm 118:4  “The Lord is my strength and my song, and is become my salvation.” Those who love to sing “The Lord is My Light” will recognize the inspiration that comes from this verse. Miriam sang it after the Red Sea closed in upon Pharaoh’s army.

The Cornerstone of Christ

Psalm 118:22  “The stone which the builders rejected is become the head stone of the corner.” Jesus quoted this scripture in reference to himself. (See Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10: Luke 20:17), which suggests that although he would be “despised and rejected of men” in mortality (Isaiah 53:3), he was the one who would bring salvation to all mankind.  

What is a cornerstone? “A cornerstone is the first stone placed upon a building’s foundation, in a corner of the structure. What it does: A cornerstone bears much of the weight of a building’s outer structure, and it connects and unites two of the walls. After it is placed, all other stones and their angles are measured out from it. Anciently, a cornerstone would normally be one of the largest, most solid stones a builder had to work with. The builder would examine his stones carefully and select the best one as a cornerstone, rejecting any stones that didn’t appear suitable.” (“The Cornerstone,” Ensign, January 2016) 

This article goes on to point out what we can learn from this analogy.

A cornerstone is the first. Jesus Christ is the Firstborn of all the Father’s children (see Colossians 1:15–17; Hebrews 1:6; D&C 93:21), the first to be resurrected (see 1 Corinthians 15:20), the one who was to “go to prepare a place for [us]” in His Father’s house (John 14:2).

A cornerstone unites.  Jesus Christ “inviteth . . . all to come unto him” (2 Nephi 26:33). The Atonement of Jesus Christ allows us to repent, become sanctified through the Holy Ghost, and be reunited with Heavenly Father. The Apostle Paul showed that Jesus Christ, as the cornerstone, was the connecting point for the two “walls” of the Church in that day: the Apostles of the New Testament and the prophets of the Old Testament, perhaps illustrating the mix of Gentile and Jewish converts (see Ephesians 2:20).

A cornerstone aligns. Jesus Christ “marked the path and led the way, and ev’ry point defines” (“How Great the Wisdom and the Love,” Hymns, no. 195). He is our guide and our lawgiver, the one whose commandments we obey and whose words we heed.

“A cornerstone strengthens. Jesus Christ has taken upon Himself our sins so that we can be forgiven if we will repent. In this way, He strengthens us by removing the ill effects of sin. In addition, “the enabling power of the Atonement strengthens us to do and be good and to serve beyond our own individual desire and natural capacity” (David A. Bednar, “The Atonement and the Journey of Mortality,” Ensign, April 2012, 42–43).

Messianic Psalms

Psalm 118:25-26 “Save now, I beseech thee. O Lord… Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord.”

The words “save now” are in Hebrew hosanna, which is exactly what the crowd at the triumphal entry cried out. In these verses, we have an unusual prediction that was fulfilled exactly. The deliverer was to be welcomed with open gates (verse 19), hosannas (verse 25), and blessings (verse 26). Yet Jesus was the same chief cornerstone that would be rejected (verse 22) by the builders. On this Palm Sunday, Jesus was welcomed as the Messiah, and yet he was rejected and crucified only a few days later.

Psalm 118:27  “Bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar.” Although Christ’s sacrifice was willingly given, this verse is fulfilled in an unexpected way—the deliverer himself would be the sacrifice, bound to an altar. It is amazing to consider that Jesus sang these words with his apostles just hours before his crucifixion. He was bound to the altar of the cross as he submitted to the will of his Father.

The Acrostic Psalm

Psalm 119 is divided into twenty-two sections corresponding to the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Each section is titled with the corresponding name of the Hebrew letter and its English transliteration. This designation shows that in the Hebrew, the psalm forms an acrostic. (An acrostic is a poem or work of prose in which the initial letter of each line forms its own word or a peculiar pattern.)

In Psalm 119 each of the twenty-two sections has eight lines. Every line in  each section begins with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In other words, verses 1-8 all start in the original with aleph, verses 9-16 with beth, and so on. In an age when literature was often memorized and transmitted orally such devices were a valuable aid to memory. Psalms 25 and 34 also form acrostics with each new line beginning with a successive letter, but this design is not evident in the English translation.

The purpose of this psalm is to glorify God and his word, and it refers to scripture over and over again, in almost every verse.  There are eight basic words used to describe the scriptures:

Law (torah, used 25 times): its root word means “teach” or “direct,” and so coming from God it means “law” and “revelation.”

Word (dabar, used 24 times): The idea is of the spoken word or God’s revealed word to man. Torah is the Hebrew word used which stood for the Law, and is the word used to describe the first division of the Bible, that which we call the Pentateuch.

Judgments (mispatim, used 23 times): “…from shaphat, to “judge, determine, regulate, order, and discern.” These judgments show us the rules by which we should be regulated, so that we may discern between right and wrong.

Testimonies (edut/edot, used 23 times): This word is related to the word for witness, and invites remembrance of the covenant made between the Lord and Israel.

Commandments (misvah/misvot, used 22 times): The root of this word is from the word “to swear” or make aa covenant.’

Statutes (huqqim, used 21 times): The noun is derived from the root verb “engrave” or “inscribe,” emphasizing the authority of the written word.

Precepts (piqqudim, used 21 times): This is a word drawn from the duty of an officer or overseer who is responsible to look closely into the details of a situation and take action.

Word (imrah, used 19 times): Imrah is similar in meaning to dabar, yet a different term for word.

(Ideas from Enduring Word Bible Study, available online.)

Many books has been written about this psalm since it is the longest chapter in the Bible.

Song of Ascents—Families are a Reward from the Lord

Psalm 127 is titled “A Song of Ascents,” and is attributed to Solomon. It is one of the fifteen songs sung by travelers and their families on their way to Jerusalem, usually for one of the three yearly feasts, Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles.

The first verse speaks about “building houses.” “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.” It is probable that the “house” being built is actually a family, because it precedes a section that teaches that “children are an heritage of the Lord,” and children are a “reward” from the Lord. The word for a son (ben), and bat (daughter), and beit (house)  come from the same Hebrew root banah (to build). A home is built of more than bricks and timber. Sons and daughters build up a house, and that is the treasure worth protecting in the city, not the buildings. Otherwise, why are the watchmen protecting the city if not for the families that live in it? The family has always been the most important component of society. If it is a vain act to build a house without God, or guard a city without depending on God to preserve it, then it is even greater folly to try to raise a family without God.[ii]

Psalm 127:4-5  “As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are the children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them.”  Arrows must be carefully shaped. They must be guided with skill. They must be cared for, or they will not fly straight. They must be given direction, in order to fulfill their purpose.  If children are a reward from the Lord, then happiness is multiplied by having many children.

Psalm 128 is also a “Song of Ascents,” and like Psalm 127, it focuses on God’s work through the family. It is compared to a “fruitful vine,” and “olive plants.” These were two important crops in Israel. Unlike staples like wheat or corn, grapes and wine from the “fruitful vine” and oil from the “olive plants” were not essential for survival, but they greatly enriched life. In fact, wine and oil are biblical symbols of the abundant life. Olive trees take a long time to mature and bear fruit. If they are patiently cultivated, they will continue to produce a valuable crop for centuries. They are a symbol of longevity and productivity.

Psalm 128:6 “Yea, thou shalt see thy children’s children, and peace upon Israel.” Since people usually traveled to Jerusalem as families, there was a lot of attention given to family relationships in the Songs of Ascents. If the Israelites “feared the Lord,” the blessing peace would be evident in their families and communities, and in the kingdom as a whole.[iii]

God’s Peculiar Treasure

Psalm 135 begins and ends with “Praise the Lord,” the Creator and Redeemer, and almost every verse quotes another Old Testament passage. In listing reasons why the Lord should be praised, the psalmist begins with a simple declaration of God’s goodness. He has chosen Jacob for his “peculiar treasure,” or segullah in Hebrew (Psalm 135:4). This refers to Exodus 19:4-6, where the Lord tells Israel that he has chosen them for a “kingdom of priests” and a “holy people.” The word he uses is “peculiar” which we think of as meaning “odd or strange.”  But it is derived from the Latin pecuiaris meaning “private property.”  It is also related to the word pecuniary meaning something having to do with money. In Hebrew this word segullah means “prized and sedulously preserved,” also “separate, select, guarded, endeared, shut up, protected.” So when the Lord called the children of Israel his segullah, he was saying that they were his richly adored, valuable belongings. We belong to the Lord. He treasures us, cherishes us, and loves us. He does not want to part with us. He has purchased us like an expensive treasure. Paul says “ye are bought with a price,“ therefore glorify God.  It sobers me to think of the price the Lord paid to make us his.

The psalmist then recounts all that God has done to deliver his people from Egypt, sending signs and wonders into their midst with mighty miracles, and bringing them to a promised land “for their heritage.” He then contrasts his mighty power with pagan idols, “which are the work of men’s hands.” “They have mouths, but they speak not; eyes have they, but they see not; They have ears, but they hear not; neither is there any breath in their mouths” (Psalm 135:15-17). God created man “in his own image, male and female created he them.” We bear the image of our God, and are living, breathing, human images of him, who were to reflect and be like him. But if human hands were used to make idols, they would reflect, and be like the idols they made—blind, deaf, lifeless, and powerless.  As the scripture says, “Those who make them are like them.”  To put anything of our own creation, whether it Is wealth, or fame, or power, in the place of God, as an idol, is to begin this process. Idolaters are spiritually dead and the best in them is gone.

His Mercy Endures Forever

Psalm 136 is a special psalm, with each one of its 26 verses repeating the sentence, “His mercy endures forever.” The assembled people of Israel said or sang this response to the direction of the leader of the service. Picture a great multitude of people gathered in the Temple courts. As a priest or Levite would call out a reason to give God thanks, the people would respond with, “For his mercy endures forever.” In Jewish tradition this song has been called the Great Hallel, or great psalm of praise.

As we have mentioned before, “mercy” is the translation of the Hebrew word hesed, which may be understood as God’s grace, his loyal love, and his covenant love unto his people. This word connotes great feeling. Hesed combines loyalty to a covenant with true love and mercy. The psalm makes a skillful transition from God’s great wonders in the past to the evidence of his help in the present. He is not only a deliverer, but a provider of “food to all flesh,” not just to Israel. Psalm 136:25). The fact that God has provided every living creature with the food suited to its needs is overwhelming evidence of his wisdom and goodness.[iv]

Psalms of Lament

Psalm 137 is the mournful song of the exiles who hung their harps upon the willows by the rivers of Babylon and “wept when they remembered Zion.” They wept over the death of so many of their loved ones, for the loss of their beautiful temple, and the destroyed city of Jerusalem. They wept over the cruelty of their captors as they were forced to march from Judea to Babylon. They wept over the loss of almost all they owned, including the desire to sing the songs of Zion, hence, their hanging harps. It would take a long time for them to be able to sing those songs in a foreign land. The joy of their religious life had vanished. The singer promised that he would never forget Jerusalem, and even gave a curse upon himself if he did. “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth” (Psalm 137:5-6).

The Puritan commentator John Trapp (1601-1699) observed this about the Jewish people of his time: “The Jews at this day, when they build a house, they are, say the Rabbis, to leave one part of it unfinished and lying rude, in remembrance that Jerusalem and the temple are at present desolate. At least, they use to leave about a yard square of the house unplastered, on which they write, in great letters, this of the psalmist, ‘If I forget Jerusalem.’” [v]

Psalm 137:7  “Remember, O Lord, against the sons of Edom…” The psalmist is appealing to God to remember the conduct of the Edomites during the destruction of Jerusalem.” The children of Edom in the days of Jerusalem’s destruction by Babylon cried, “Rase it, rase it, to its very foundation.” The Edomites were a sister-nation to Israel, the descendants of Esau, the brother of Jacob (Israel). They should have supported and sympathized with Jerusalem when the Babylonians came against it. Instead, they enjoyed Jerusalem’s distress and wanted the city to be completely destroyed. Even more than the destruction of the city, they wanted to destroy the “foundations” of Jehovah’s rule on the earth and his election of a chosen people. Because they had done this, Ezekiel later prophesied that the Lord would “stretch out his hand against thee, and make thee most desolate” (Ezekiel 35:1-15).

Psalm 137:8  “O daughter of Babylon, who are to be destroyed…” Here, the future generations of Babylon are given notice that they would be destroyed as a result of God’s judgment. No doubt the singer had seen the horrible image of “little ones being dashed against a rock” in the conquest of Jerusalem, and prayed the Babylonians would receive the same treatment. He may have known of Isaiah’s prophecy that “their little children will be dashed to pieces before their eyes” (Isaiah 13:16). Today, Edom is a desolate waste, and there is nothing left of Babylon and her famous “Hanging Gardens.”

From Mourning to Joy

Psalm 138, titled “a psalm of David,” is fittingly placed next to Psalm 137, which described the inability of the people to sing before their conquerors. Psalm 138 boldly declares that even the kings of the nations will praise Jehovah. (see Psalm 138:4)

David begins with the bold declaration that he would hold nothing back in his praise of the Lord. He would praise God with his “whole heart” before the Lord. He would sing praise unto him “before the gods,” yet another reference to a plurality of gods in Hebrew scripture. “Though the Lord be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly: but the proud he knoweth afar off” (Psalm 138:6). As infinitely great as God is, he still regards the lowest of his creations, especially the humble who are “little in their own eyes.”

“Lord, You Have Searched and Known Me”

Psalm 139 is also attributed to David. He prayed. “O Lord, you have searched and known me.” David knew that the Lord knew him personally. Those who worshipped pagan gods often believed that their gods were hostile or indifferent to them. Sadly, many today have similar feelings toward God. David knew that the Lord cared enough to have searched and known the hearts of each man and woman. It is not that God knows everything, but that he knows me. He knew his comings and goings, and the very words his tongue pronounced. David knew that God knew him better than he knew himself. He says, “This knowledge is too wonderful for me” (Psalm 139:6). He cannot grasp it. It overwhelms him. He is amazed that the Almighty God would know him so intimately.

David recognizes that God is present everywhere, and he is always aware of him. (Psalm 139:7-9) Not even death can separate him from God’s love. God’s “right hand” would hold him no matter what might come. (Psalm 139:10) The right hand is the covenant hand, and represents the power of God’s hesed or covenantal love. Even in darkness, the light of God will shine, and know of his deeds which are hidden from the eyes of men.

David wrote that “he was fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). As David reflected on his miraculous body, he explained how God “possessed my reins” or, in other words, “created my inward parts” (Psalm 139:13a). “The . . . human body is the most complicated and curious [creation] that can be conceived. It is, indeed, wonderfully made; and it is … so exquisitely … delicate, that the slightest accident may impair . . . in a moment some of those parts essentially necessary to the continuance of life; therefore, we are fearfully made. And God has done so to show us our frailty, . . . and [make us] feel the necessity of depending on the all-wise . . . care and providence of God.” [vi]

David speaks about God knowing him and caring for him personally from the time he was in his mother’s womb. “Thine (the Lord’s) “eyes beheld my [yet] unformed substance, and in thy book were they all written, [even] the days which were preordained when as yet there was none of them” (Psalm 139:16). John Dummelow comments: “The Psalmist himself, all his days, and all their happenings, were in the mind of God before he was born.” [vii] Like Jeremiah 1:5, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee.” God has known our spirits from the premortal existence.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts.” David invited the Lord to continue to search his heart “to see if there be any wicked way in me,” and to “lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). Why would David invite the Lord to “search him” and “know his heart and thoughts?” Jeffrey R. Holland taught, “In every waking hour of our lives and every moment of our discipleship we should be able to say these words with honesty. That is an interview the Lord is constantly giving us (whether we agree to it or not). He is searching our hearts, and he surely knows our thoughts. We would do well to be worthy of such an examination ‘at all times and in all things, and in all places.’”[viii]

The Hallelujah Psalms

Psalm 146 begins a series of five psalms known as the Hallelujah Psalms. One reason for this grouping is that each Psalm begins and ends with the word hallelujah. In earlier psalms, we have studied the doubts and fears of the writers. We have witnessed the people of God in their defeats and victories, their ups and downs in life. We have encountered those struggling with faith and rebellion. All this is behind us now, and every word in these psalms is praise. Hallelujah is a compound word made up of two Hebrew words: hallel (an imperative verb meaning ‘praise’) and jah (a contraction of the name for God, Jehovah). So hallelujah means ‘Praise the Lord (or Jehovah).’

Verse 3 cautions us not to put our trust in princes or men. We are sure to be disappointed when we put our trust in man, “in whom there is no help.” Nephi said, “I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed it is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh” (2 Nephi 4:34). 

In contrast to this, “Happy is he that has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God.” God never disappoints those who hope in him.  Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught:

Hope is one leg of a three-legged stool, together with faith and charity. These three stabilize our lives regardless of the rough or uneven surfaces we might encounter at the time. The scriptures are clear and certain about the importance of hope. The Apostle Paul taught that the scriptures were written to the end that we “might have hope.” (Romans 15:4) Hope has the power to fill our lives with happiness. Its absence . . . can make “the heart sick” (Proverbs 13:12).

Hope is a gift of the Spirit. It is a hope that through the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the power of His Resurrection, we shall be raised unto life eternal and this because of our faith in the Savior. This kind of hope is both a principle of promise as well as a commandment, and, as with all commandments, we have the responsibility to make it an active part of our lives and overcome the temptation to lose hope.[ix]

I have always felt that hope was the neglected virtue of this triad—faith, hope, and charity. The opposite of fear is hope. Fear is anticipating that something bad will happen. Hope is anticipating that something good will happen. Fear is paralyzing. Hope is revitalizing.

The psalmist gives some more reasons to hope in God. When we realize that the Lord is the creator of “heaven, and  earth, the sea, and all that therein is,” we realize the breadth of his power. “He “keeps truth forever,” and executes “judgment for the oppressed,” “gives food to the hungry,” and “loosest the prisoners” (Psalm 146:6-7). 

God is especially aware of the marginalized—the stranger, the widow, and the fatherless. These are the most defenseless members of society and are virtually helpless. In biblical society, they have no place in the structure of the community and no one to defend them but God. Many scriptures reiterate God’s awareness of how his children treat the disadvantaged. This is the “litmus test” of their discipleship. “Pure religion and undefiled before God the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).

The Lord shows great love and compassion to the poor, the afflicted, and the needy, yet he also brings justice against the wicked, and turns their way “upside down” (Psalm 146:9). He frustrates their plots and designs and turns them upside down and makes them the victims of their own shenanigans. He reveres the evil order of things. Praise the Lord for this. Hallelujah! How fortunate we are that “He shall reign forever, even to all generations” (Psalm 146:10).

Psalm 147 asks all creation to sing hallelujah to the Lord for his power and mercy. There are so many reasons to praise God. Although God is omnipotent and his power is infinite, his care is intimate. He knows each of his creations by name. He is able to count the stars and call each of them by name.  Scientists estimate there are a billion trillion stars in the observable universe, and yet God knows the exact number. If God knows the names of the stars, he certainly knows me.

He gathers the “outcasts of Israel,” and “builds up Jerusalem” to receive them. He heals the broken-hearted, and binds up their wounds. He lifts up the meek. “His understanding is infinite.” (See Psalm 147:2-6) His majesty extends in both directions, from the span of the universe, to meeting each individual need.

Our God cares for all his creations by preparing rain for the earth, and making the grass grow. He gives each beast its food, even the “young ravens.” The mention of this particular bird is interesting because they were considered unclean by the Jews and they were forbidden to eat them as food. They are greedy scavengers and are forsaken by their mothers as soon as they can fly.[x]  Their keeping is wholly left to divine providence. (See Psalm 147:8-9)

Although the Lord has created “the strength of the horse” and of man, this is not what delights him. He takes pleasure in those who reverence and trust him, and those who find their hope in his mercy. (see Psalm 147:10-11)  He has power to send forth storms of snow and ice, and then melt them by his word. He likewise “sends forth his commandments” and by these words he can melt even the hardest hearts, if they will but receive them. He has shown “his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto Israel,” as his chosen people, but he has not “dealt so with any [other] nation.” Israel has the privilege and responsibility to bless all the families of the earth with God’s word. (See Psalm 147:15-20) Again, hallelujah!

A Creation Psalm

Psalm 148 continues this theme as a creation psalm. This psalmist calls upon all God’s creation to sing hallelujah in praise to the Lord, for “He commanded, and they were created” (Psalm 148:5) From the sun, moon, and stars, his creations extend to “all deeps” with its “dragons,” or great sea creatures. His created all things upon the earth, including “flying fowl” down to the tiniest “creeping thing,” and extending to his “saints,” his hasidim. One of my favorite things about this psalm was discovering that the saints is translated hesed, which is my favorite Hebrew word, as I have told you repeatedly. We, as saints, need be the ones administering this “covenant love,” and “lovingkindness” to all those who touch our lives. This explains why President Nelson has made us “ministers” of God’s mercy, instead of just visiting teachers. (April 1, 2018 during Sunday afternoon Conference.)

All who are made in his image should praise the Lord—kings, princes, judges, children, and young and old should raise their voices should blend their voices in song. This verse reminds us that at a future day, “every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:10-11).

Psalm 149 speaks of a “new song” that will be sung in praise of the Lord.  (Psalm 149:1) Revelation 14:3 echoes this idea as “a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, . . . and I heard the voice from harpers harping with their harps: and they sung as it were a new song before the throne . . . of God.” Doctrine and Covenants 84:98 speaks of the “new song” that will be sung when the Lord bring Zion to the earth. Doctrine and Covenants 84:99-102 gives the words to this “new song.” It will be interesting to see who puts them to music! 

Let Israel rejoice” in their creator and “praise him in the dance,” and “with the timbrel and the harp.” These were expressions of their joy and gratitude that “the Lord takes pleasure in his people” (Psalm 149:2-3).

“The Lord will beautify the meek with salvation.” God highly values the quality of meekness  in his children. (Psalm 149:4) What exactly is meekness, and why would the Lord value it so highly? Elder David A. Bednar explained,

“The Christlike quality of meekness often is misunderstood in our contemporary world. Meekness is strong, not weak; active, not passive; courageous, not timid; restrained, not excessive; modest, not self-aggrandizing; and gracious, not brash. A meek person is not easily provoked, pretentious, or overbearing and readily acknowledges the accomplishments of others.”[xi]  What a great list of qualities! Meekness is truly “power under control.”

“Let the high praise of God be in their mouth, and a two-edged sword in their hand” (Psalm 149:6)  In poetry, it is not enough to merely communicate the meaning, more feeling can be achieved through painting a picture.  Psalm 149:6 compares the “praises of God” in their mouth, to a “two edged sword” in their hand.” Hebrew poetry employs parallelism, or thought rhyme to express its art and beauty. To see the parallelism, it is necessary to read the Hebrew text, which renders the “two-edged” sword, as a “two-mouthed” sword. The two aspects of power in this sword could represent the “sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17), as well as an actual practical means of defense. The sword of the Spirit is able to strike deadly blows against falsehood and wickedness. We have a responsibility as “spiritual warriors” to take a stand for the kingdom of God, which may prove difficult and costly in today’s world of compromised standards.

Psalm 150 closes not only this section of the Hallelujah Psalms, but the entire Book of Psalms with a doxology. It is an eloquent cry to all creation to praise Jehovah. All creatures that have breath should praise God in his sanctuary, the wide expense of sky known as the firmament. He should receive this praise for his “mighty acts,” and his “excellent greatness.” The first six verses repeat this injunction over and over—the entire orchestra of God’s people should praise Jehovah. No instrument is to be left out—trumpet (shofar), lute, harp, timbrel, flutes, pipes (mistranslated as dance), and clashing cymbals. In other words, everything you have maybe used to worship God.

This broad list of musical instruments tells us that God wants people of every class and group to praise him. The horn was a curved animal horn played by the Levites and blown on special occasions when the trump was to be sounded.  Timbrels were played by women as they were dancing and playing on stringed instruments. Loud cymbals and pipes were played with strength and celebration, and the collection of all these instruments would have filled the room with sound. Revelation 5:13 tells us that this will happen: “And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: ‘Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!’” The last line could be nothing less than “Hallelujah!  Can you hear Handel’s “Messiah” in these final words?

Concluding Thoughts

The Psalms invite us reflect on the Lord’s power and his infinite mercy. To show our gratitude for the many things he has done for us we can raise our voices in praise. The Psalms express the feelings of gratitude we are unable to put into words. If you had to choose one word to sum up the main message of the Psalms, “praise” would be a good choice. This praise takes different forms for different people and situations. It may involve singing, praying, or bearing testimony. Psalms can comfort us in our suffering, and point us to the Savior.[xii] Singing is another way of praying, and lightens the heart. “The song of the righteous is a prayer unto me” (Doctrine and Covenants 25:12). Indeed, the Lord delighteth in the song of the heart.”

[i]The Institute Old Testament Student Manual has a long list of what other words mean if you are interested. 

[ii] See Enduring Word Bible Commentary on this verse.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Leo Modena of the Rites of the Jews, in Enduring Word Bible Commentary on this verse.

[vi] Adam Clarke’s Commentary on Psalm 139:14

[vii] John Dummelow’s Commentary on Psalm 139:16.

[viii] Holland, For Times of Trouble, 146.

[ix]  Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “The Infinite Power of Hope,” 21.

[x] See Enduring Word Bible Commentary on this verse.

[xi] David A. Bednar, Ensign, 2018

[xii] See Come Follow Me Lesson for this week.