Maurine and I have been blessed to attend many temple dedications all over the world. There is nothing so joyful as seeing the Saints gather to see these beautiful Houses of the Lord dedicated and made available for the work of the dead and the living. No matter where we are or what language is spoken, the unifying feeling comes from the music that is sung both outside and inside the temple and the Spirit that follows. “High on the mountain top, A banner is unfurled, Ye nations now look up, it waves to all the world!” (Hymns, no. 5) a choir sings as the Prophet comes out of the building to set the coverstone and talk to the Saints. “We thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet to guide us in these latter days,” the Saints sing with all their hearts as tears are streaming down their faces. “On this day of joy and gladness, Lord, we praise thy holy name; In this sacred place of worship, We thy glories loud proclaim! Alleluia, Alleluia, Bright and clear our voices ring, Singing songs of exultation To our Maker, Lord, and King!” (Hymns, no. 64) You can all picture this, can’t you? Well, in order to understand more clearly our study of the Psalms, you have to realize the Psalms were mostly sung, and most of the time at the Temple in ancient times!
Hello dear friends. We are Scot and Maurine Proctor and this is Meridian Magazine’s Come Follow Me Podcast where today we have our second week studying many of the Psalms together. Hasn’t this been an amazing eight months immersed in the ancient world and in the Old Testament? We have certainly loved it! Now, we live in Utah, so this may not happen everywhere, but we often overhear people talking on the aisle next to us or in the checkout line at Costco, comments about that week’s lesson. “And weren’t you amazed by what Hezekiah did?” or “I love Joshua’s strength,” or “Wouldn’t it be nice if we all looked upon the heart and not the outward appearances?” These are the kinds of things we are hearing said, and we love it! This week we continue to study the Psalms and one of the most important things you can do in your careful observations of these songs, hymns or psalms, is to see how they draw us closer to the Savior, Jesus Christ. 73 or 74 of the 150 Psalms we have in our current Bibles are attributed to David. It is said that in his lifetime he wrote thousands of Psalms. This was his way of singing praises to the Lord and through his and other’s inspired writings we see a glimpse into their journey to find the Savior.
My call to serve in the Swiss Temple from out of my mission in Germany, included my mission president telling the Temple President and Matron that I played the organ. I had worked on P-Days, while the other elders were playing basketball, practicing and memorizing about six or eight hymns, including More Holiness Give Me, A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief, Abide with Me ‘Tis Eventide, Father in Heaven, We Do Believe, Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow and maybe two or three others. I really didn’t play the piano at all and certainly I DID NOT play the organ. I was assigned to play prelude music on the organ for the second session every day, five days a week. It was nerve racking because I had no idea what I was doing. It was all memorization. I would play the hymn all the way through, then again, then do it an octive higher, then again a little softer, and then I would play my next hymn. We had a different language every week in the temple, the Swedes, the Finns, the Dutch, the Italians, the French, the Germans, the Danes—Saints from all over Europe. These precious Saints used to pass up little notes to me to play their favorite hymn with the number on the note. I would nod to them and look at my watch and give them the old, “I’ll try to get to it” look. Then I would start praying with all my heart that President Fetzer would come in to call everyone up for the session. I would look at the brother or sister and give that apologetic look and as they left, then I would wipe the sweat off my brow. But I have to say, though I knew so little, I felt the Spirit as I played those few hymns and apparently others were feeling the Spirit as well. The hymns in our day, the psalms in ancient times were to invite the Spirit and to draw the participant closer to the Lord.
We have been to Church in various countries of Africa many times. Few of them have musical instruments so the director will get up and hum the first line or two of the hymn, like “Redeemer of Israel” which would give them the pitch and then they will say, 1-2-3 and the whole congregation starts singing. The importance of the hymns and the psalms cannot be overemphasized. As we have been to Church all over the world the thing that brings us to the Spirit the most, when we can’t understand what is being said, is the hymns. In ancient Jerusalem, this too was an international melting pot and the Psalms, which were always sung or accompanied by a musical instrument, were there to edify and to lift and to bring the supplicant to the Spirit.
The psalms were used in connection with worship services conducted in the Temple at Jerusalem. Some of them were sung by the pilgrims on their journeys to the Central Sanctuary, for all of the faithful were required to attend services at this place at least once a year if it was at all possible for them to do so.
The Psalms (from Greek psalmos “song”) are poems and hymns. In its present form, the book of Psalms consists of 150 poems or psalms divided into five books (1–41, 42–72, 73–89, 90–106, 107–150)
The writers of the Psalms shared deeply personal feelings in their poetry as I’m sure you’ve noticed. David and the other writers wrote about feeling discouraged, afraid, and remorseful. At times, and especially in the case of David, they even seemed to feel abandoned by God, and some psalms carry a tone of frustration or desperation. This is where we can begin to draw strength from the Psalms, you can make connections with the ancients and find that their lives were a lot like our lives.
All of us, at one time or another, have had feelings like these, so, reading the Psalms can help you know that you aren’t the only one. But you’ll also find psalms that can encourage you when you’re having such feelings, because the psalmists also praised the Lord for His goodness, marveled at His power, and rejoiced in His mercy. They knew that the world is burdened by evil and sin but that the Lord is “good, and ready to forgive” (See Psalms 86:5). They understood that having faith in the Lord doesn’t mean that you’ll never struggle with anxiety, sin, or fear. It means that you know Who to turn to when you do.
I have always loved King David. I love his faith and courage and his faithfulness to the Lord before his serious sins. Let’s explore some of his feelings as he is trying to find mercy and forgiveness from the Lord after his serious sins have been committed:
Follow with us in Section 51, starting in verse 1:
1 Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.
5 Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.
9 Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.
12 Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.
13 Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee. (Psalms 51:1-13)
David is in such pain over his transgressions and sins. As a gifted psalmist, he is writing out and singing his pleas before the Lord. He is trying to get the attention of the heavens.
This reminds me of Alma the Younger in his quest to obtain forgiveness of his great sins:
12 But I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins.
13 Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell; yea, I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments…
… and in fine so great had been my iniquities, that the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror.
15 Oh, thought I, that I could be banished and become extinct both soul and body, that I might not be brought to stand in the presence of my God, to be judged of my deeds.
This is written in psalmist form, just as the psalms in the Old Testament.
16 And now, for three days and for three nights was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul.
And I am so moved at what happens next and Alma’s description of finding Jesus Christ:
17 And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.
18 Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.
19 And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.
20 And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!
21 Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy. (Alma 36:12-21)
Isn’t this the song of all of our hearts? O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me!
And one of the tools that Satan uses on us, with a heavy dose of shame and remorse, is that he gets us to turn away from God, to even deny that he exists so that we don’t have to face him. Here, too, we receive strength and truth from the Psalms:
The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity: there is none that doeth good.
2 God looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, that did seek God. (Psalms 53:1-2)
He IS watching and he waits for us with open arms. And while we are yet afar off, He comes running to greet us and to embrace us and to welcome us back into the fold. (See Luke 15:20)
We know that this life is a time of testing and we have a mighty, Heavenly Host, ready and waiting to help us, protect us, guide us and lead us safely home to our Heavenly Father.
And look at David’s continued pleadings in Psalm 55:
1 Give ear to my prayer, O God; and hide not thyself from my supplication…
4 My heart is sore pained within me: and the terrors of death are fallen upon me.
5 Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me, and horror hath overwhelmed me.
6 And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest.
7 Lo, then would I wander far off, and remain in the wilderness. Selah.
8 I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest.
Then David says:
16 As for me, I will call upon God; and the Lord shall save me.
17 Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice. (See Psalm 55: 1; 4-8; 16-17)
Scot, I noticed the word ‘Selah’ was used in that section. It’s worth mentioning this particular word. Many scholars disagree on what this means.
The New American Standard Hebrew Lexicon defines the Hebrew word (סֶֽלָה) as “to lift up, exalt.”
Some scholars believe that Selah was a musical notation possibly meaning “silence” or “pause;” others, “end,” “a louder strain,” “piano,” etc. Still, others think it is similar to a musical interlude, “a pause in the voices singing, while the instruments perform alone.”
Selah is translated as “intermission” in the Septuagint (LXX) which is the earliest Greek translation of the Old Testament. (https://www.christianity.com/wiki/christian-terms/what-does-selah-mean-in-the-bible.html)
Selah occurs 71 times in the Psalms. “Thirty-one of the thirty-nine Psalms that include the word Selah are titled, ‘to the choirmaster,’ which seems to connect this word to musical notation.” (Ibid)
This brings us back to how the Psalms were used. In our day, we study them by reading them. The ancients sang them accompanied by musical instruments or without. And they sang them, as we have said, mostly at or in the Temple.
Back to King David, he sings his faith and praise for Jehovah, who is Jesus Christ, in Psalm 62:
5 My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him.
6 He only is my rock and my salvation: he is my defence; I shall not be moved.
7 In God is my salvation and my glory: the rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God.
8 Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us. Selah. (Psalms 62:5-8)
Jesus Christ truly is our Rock, our Salvation, our Defence and we are safe to trust in Him at all times for He is our Refuge—our only safe place.
That’s my favorite way to read, study and ponder the Psalms—to find those Messianic passages that talk of Jesus Christ and to relate to those who are seeking to find Jesus, because that is also my quest.
Now, we get a clearer view of the ancients by a brief look at the community of Qumran, on the shores of the Dead Sea, in ancient Israel.
The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, beginning in 1947, gives us some deeper understanding of the Psalms themselves. The community of Qumran, for as long as two-and-a-half centuries, were copying and preserving the scriptures. Their practice was to copy a book of the Old Testament onto another scroll of animal skin or parchment.
“[One scholar] notes that “the raw totals [of the biblical books discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls] probably also indicate which books were used frequently”; that is, Psalms (36 copies), Deuteronomy (29 copies), and Isaiah (21 copies) were likely held in great esteem by the inhabitants of Qumran. The historical books (e.g., Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, and Chronicles) were probably less important to the religious goals of the Qumranites.” (LDS Perspectives on the Dead Sea Scrolls http://bookshelf.deseretbook.com/book/832)
And speaking of the Dead Sea Scrolls, I was fascinated to learn that there were more Psalms discovered in these 2,000-year-old scrolls than we have in our current Bible texts. We have at least 8 or 9 Psalms that are non-canonical but might not have been classified as apocryphal, in other words, if they had been known at the time of the compilation of the Bible, they may have been included. My favorite of these heretofore unknown Psalms is one called Hymn to the Creator. Here is a translation of that Psalm:
9 Great and holy is the Lord, the holiest unto every generation.
9-10 Majesty precedes him, and following him is the rush of many waters.
10-11 Grace and truth surround his presence; truth and justice and righteousness are the foundation of his throne.
11-12 Separating light from deep darkness by the knowledge of his mind he established the dawn.
12 When all his angels witnessed it they sang aloud for he showed them what they had not known:
13 Crowning the hills with fruit, good food for every living being.
13-14 Blessed be he who makes the earth by his power, establishing the world in his wisdom.
14-15 By his understanding he stretched out the heavens, and brought forth [wind] from his st[orehouses].
15 He made [lightning for the rai]n, and caused mist[s] to rise [from] the end [of the earth]. (https://zadokway.com/2021/11/hymn-to-the-creator/)
I love the discovery of lost scriptures. The Book of Mormon, of course, tops them all, but this is exciting to see further truth and light coming out of the earth in our day.
I especially love the Messianic prophecies in the Psalms—there are many of these. Let’s look at Psalm 69 for a moment and see if this sounds familiar. Remember, this was written just before 1,000 BC:
20 Reproach hath broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none.
21 They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink. (Psalm 69:20-21; see also Mark 15:29-32; John 19:28-30)
In the testimony of Mark we read of the crucifixion:
29 And they that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads, and saying, Ah, thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days,
30 Save thyself, and come down from the cross.
31 Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among themselves with the scribes, He saved others; himself he cannot save.
32 Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe. And they that were crucified with him reviled him.
And also in the testimony of John the Beloved we read:
28 ¶ After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst.
29 Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a sponge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth.
30 When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.
Watch all through the Psalms for the beautiful Messianic prophecies.
Now, knowing that the Psalms were sung in ancient times and likening these things to us, have you had wonderful experiences with the hymns and with music in the Church? Has it moved and strengthened your testimony and witness of Jesus Christ? We’ve certainly had many of these experiences.
Of course, Scot, one of those is when you and our daughter, Mariah, and our son, Andy, sang If You Could Hie to Kolob that Shabbat morning at the BYU Jerusalem Center. With that amazing Stephen Williams accompanying, and the backdrop of the ancient city of Jerusalem behind you—it was one of the most eternal moments I’ve ever experienced. The way you put that composition together with parts and with all five verses, I thought I would burst with emotion and with joy.
“Me-thinks the Spirit whispers, “No Man has found ‘pure space,’ Nor seen the outside curtains, Where nothing has a place.” The works of God continue, And worlds and lives abound [this is about where I lost it], Improvement and progression Have one eternal round.” (Hymns, no. 284) That music touched the deepest, resonant chords of my soul that day.
I know, I was so filled with the Spirit I felt like I could barely sing—but we were blessed. And I remember being in a small American Military Branch on my mission in Germany. This was in Sohren. Our conductor in sacrament meeting that day was a young military wife. She was pregnant and the sacrament hymn that day was Eliza R. Snow’s “Behold the Great Redeemer Die.” I don’t know what it was about that precious sister’s spirit that day, but as a young missionary singing along, I kept looking up at her and the more we sang, the more touched she was. “While guilty men his pains deride, They pierce his hands and feet and side; And with insulting scoffs and scorns, And with insulting scoffs and scorns, They crown his head with plaited thorns.” At this point tears were streaming down her face. I knew, that she knew the Savior. And because of her strong witness of Him, the Spirit began to speak to me and tell me that every word of that hymn was for me that day. “Father, from me, remove this cup. Yet, if thou wilt, I’ll drink it up. I’ve done the work thou gavest me, I’ve done the work thou gavest me; Receive my spirit unto thee.” Now I felt her witness so deeply and I was crying with joy, crying because I had been drawn nearer and nearer to the Savior and I knew with all my heart that He died for me and for all who would follow Him. I’ve never forgotten that moment with sacred music.
I love that, Scot. That was my young missionary who would later become the father of this large family. I’m so grateful for that sister’s spirit that day. And, of course, you and I have been blessed to be at so many Temple dedications and we have witnessed beautiful music all over the world. Every time we sing The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning, the Spirit truly does come. It’s as if music opens the windows of heaven and the Spirit comes down and fills the hearts of all those in that space. We’ve heard choirs sing the most touching hymns at the coverstone ceremonies and in the celestial rooms of many temples. We’re always amazed that 18 or 20 voices can bring such a full and rich sound. Of course, nothing, for us, was as great as when 90 members of the Tabernacle Choir sang, “Come, Come Ye Saints” in the first dedicatory session of the Nauvoo Temple on June 27, 2002. We’ve talked about this before but we shall never forget that when they started to sing, our spiritual and temporal ears were opened and we could hear the angels join them in singing. It was beyond remarkable. It was so full of the Spirit. We will never forget the feelings that came to us through music from an earthly and heavenly choir.
And I remember learning the hymns from my mother who taught our little Rolla Ward during the old “practice hymn” singing time of Sunday School. I’ll never forget learning, for the first time, Though in the Outward Church Below, with the music by Mozart. It was in our old hymnbooks, I think it was hymn number 102. But, Mom called up four males from the audience to sing that amazing, moving bass part. I was one of them, I believe Darrell Ownby was one and Harold Romero and maybe Nord Gale or Ken Clifford. Wow! When we go to the chorus with that moving bass part: “For soon the reaping time will come, And angels shout the harvest home,” do you remember that hymn and that bass part?! It is part of the foundation of my testimony because when I was up there singing that bass part with the congregation singing as well—I felt something, and it wasn’t emotion, or excitement, or chemical reactions—it was the Spirit of the Lord that had come into my heart and I loved it and I knew that “Jesus ere long will weed the crop, And pluck the tares in anger up.” How that hymn blessed my life growing up!
Well, the very first time I remember feeling the Spirit of the Lord was when I was a very little girl and we sang the sacrament hymn, “I stand all amazed.” I really couldn’t have been older than five or six. We sang, “I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me, Confused at the grace that so fully he proffers me. I tremble to know that for me he was crucified, That for me, a sinner, he suffered, he bled and died. Oh, it is wonderful that he should care for me Enough to die for me! Oh, it is wonderful, wonderful to me!” (Hymns, no. 193) As we sang that, I started to cry and I didn’t really know why. It moved my whole soul and I felt it every time we sang that sacred hymn.
Think of how these words have blessed your life:
We’ll sing and we’ll shout with the armies of heaven,
Hosanna, hosanna to God and the Lamb!
Let glory to them in the highest be given,
Henceforth and forever, Amen and amen!
And these words:
High on the mountain top
A banner is unfurled.
Ye nations, now look up;
It waves to all the world.
In Deseret’s sweet, peaceful land,
On Zion’s mount behold it stand!
And how many times have we sung these words in General Conference together?
Redeemer of Israel,
Our only delight,
On whom for a blessing we call,
Our shadow by day
And our pillar by night,
Our King, our Deliverer, our all!
We know he is coming
To gather his sheep
And lead them to Zion in love,
For why in the valley
Of death should they weep
Or in the lone wilderness rove?
And we all know how that hymn moved so deeply the newly-called Apostle, David A. Bednar, who reported:
“Six months ago, I stood at this pulpit for the first time as the newest member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Both then and even more so now, I have felt and feel the weight of the call to serve and of the responsibility to teach with clarity and to testify with authority. I pray for and invite the assistance of the Holy Ghost as I now speak with you.
“This afternoon I want to describe and discuss a spiritual impression I received a few moments before I stepped to this pulpit during the Sunday morning session of general conference last October. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf had just finished speaking and had declared his powerful witness of the Savior. Then we all stood together to sing the intermediate hymn that previously had been announced by President Gordon B. Hinckley. The intermediate hymn that morning was “Redeemer of Israel” (Hymns, no. 6).
Now, the music for the various conference sessions had been determined many weeks before—and obviously long before my new call to serve. If, however, I had been invited to suggest an intermediate hymn for that particular session of the conference—a hymn that would have been both edifying and spiritually soothing for me and for the congregation before my first address in this Conference Center—I would have selected my favorite hymn, “Redeemer of Israel.” Tears filled my eyes as I stood with you to sing that stirring hymn of the Restoration.
Elder Bednar continued: “Near the conclusion of the singing, to my mind came this verse from the Book of Mormon: “But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance” (1 Nephi 1:20).
“My mind was drawn immediately to Nephi’s phrase “the tender mercies of the Lord,” and I knew in that very moment I was experiencing just such a tender mercy. A loving Savior was sending me a most personal and timely message of comfort and reassurance through a hymn selected weeks previously. Some may count this experience as simply a nice coincidence, but I testify that the tender mercies of the Lord are real and that they do not occur randomly or merely by coincidence. Often, the Lord’s timing of His tender mercies helps us to both discern and acknowledge them.” End of quote. (Bednar, David A., The Tender Mercies of the Lord, General Conference, April 2005)
And, of course, we all know that because of that experience Elder Bednar had from hearing that hymn, he reminded us of the scriptural term “tender mercies” and helped us to recognize those in our lives. How many of us use the term “tender mercy” regularly in our lives? We certainly do! And this started with a hymn, a psalm of praise!
I think you listeners know what I mean. This is what music and lyrics can do for us and it’s what the ancients felt as they sang the Psalms. The words and music invited the Spirit. The prophecies and language of the psalms drew them closer to Jesus Christ in ancient times. We are now two thousand years from the time of Christ’s ministry on the earth. They were about a thousand years from the time when Christ would come. Both groups have been striving to draw closer to Christ—and hymns and psalms help in that process.
That’s all for today. We’ve loved being with you. Next week we will have our third and concluding section of reading on the Psalms with a lesson entitled: “Let Every Thing That Hath Breath Praise the Lord.” Thanks to Paul Cardall for the music that accompanies this podcast and, as always, we are grateful for our producer, Michaela Proctor Hutchins. Have a wonderful week and see you next time.