Psalms: King, enthroned

If you consider that the current arrangement of the book of Psalms is more or less deliberate (rather than casual or random), some illuminating trajectories emerge. One is the general movement from lament to praise: Psalms 3-7 are anguished laments while Psalms 145-150 are unfettered praise. Another trajectory is the identity of the king.

The psalms are arranged in five books. Books I&II (Psalms 1-41 and 42-72 respectively), the king most often referred to is David (or his descendants). This section of the psalms speaks of the Davidic dynasty in positive terms with idealism and great hopes. Psalm 89, at the end of Book III, begins by recounting God’s promises to David in lofty terms. But after the selah of verse 37, things go south. The psalmist bewails the Lord’s rejection and wrath; David’s kingdom is nothing like what God had promised.

Book IV begins with a psalm of Moses, taking us all the way back to Israel’s beginnings—before David and before the monarchy. Book IV also rings with the cry, “The LORD reigns!” (Psalms 93:1, 96:10, 97:1, 99:1). David and his kingdom may be gone, but there was a throne behind his throne, and that throne will last forever. Finally, in Book V, the last king we hear about is Yahweh (Psalm 149:2).

So what?

Close to six hundred years after the destruction of the royal house of David, an angel appeared to a Galilean woman and announced to her that to her son would be given the throne of his father David (Luke 1:32). A little over three decades later, she watched as he died with this notice above his head: The king of the Jews (Mark 15:26 and parallels). In Jesus of Nazareth the kingship of David and the kingship of Yahweh converge. But wait, there’s more!

Those who believe in Christ await His return to rule uncontested (Revelation 19:15-16). Everyone will acknowledge His kingship (Philippians 2:9-11), some willingly and others not. Which group shall you be in?

This post is based on sermons by John Woodhouse and Christopher Wright.

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The psalms in the epistles

, David in prayer, by Master of the Ingeborg Psalter [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
David in prayer, via Wikimedia Commons
What does the New Testament say about the purpose of psalms in the Christian’s life?

  • The psalms are a means of edification (1 Corinthians 14:26)
  • They are a means or expression of being filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18-20)
  • They are a means through which the word of Christ dwells richly in us (Colossians 3:16)
  • They are a means of teaching and admonishing (Colossians 3:16)

Praying and praising with the psalmists

David in prayer, by Master of the Ingeborg Psalter (Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)
King David in prayer, via Wikimedia Commons

“What can miserable Christians sing?” someone once asked. Short answer: the psalms (read the long answer).

In the psalms we read raw human responses to and about God—be they the heights of praise as in Psalms 148-150 or the depths of despair in Psalm 88. The psalms teach us to praise God, in particular for His work of salvation (see Psalm 105); they give us words for praise when our prayers are answered (see Psalm 30). They also teach us to lament.

The lament psalms are among the most quoted in the New Testament. Jesus prays Psalm 22 on the cross; the early church quotes Psalms 69  and 109 (Acts 1:20); one of the prayers of the saints in heaven (Revelation 6:10) echoes Psalms 79:10, 94:3 and 119:84.

This certainly gives us warrant to use them today, one, because not every Christian is happy all the time. Two, by praying the laments, those among us who are happy can learn to empathise, as the apostle Paul exhorted us to “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).

So the next time you feel on top of the world—or utterly crushed by it—pick up your Bible and simply read out a psalm or two aloud. If you’re particularly diligent, perhaps you could start the discipline of reading a set number of psalms a day. The God who came to the psalmists’ rescue is ready to respond to your cry.

Further resources:

This post draws on material from Praying the Psalms by Gordon Wenham (MP3). You may also have a look at the Psalms section here on this blog.


What to do with those psalms in which David expresses hate for his enemies

In a reflection on Psalm 25, D.A. Carson has the following to say:

ONE OF THE STRIKING FEATURES OF the Psalms, especially the psalms of David, is the theme of enemies. This makes some Christians nervous. Does not the Lord Jesus tell us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:43–47)? Yet here David prays that God will not let his enemies triumph over him (Ps. 25, especially v. 1), calls them “treacherous” (Ps. 25:3), and complains that they have increased and fiercely hate him (Ps. 25:19). It is inadequate to ascribe the two stances to differences between the new covenant and the old.

Preliminary reflections include:

(1) Even Jesus’ teaching that his followers love their enemies presupposes that they have enemies. Jesus’ requirement that we love our enemies must not be reduced to the sentimental notion that we all become so “nice” that we never have any enemies.

(2) New Testament believers may have enemies who must at some level be opposed. The apostle Paul, for instance, says that he has handed Hymenaeus and Alexander over to Satan to teach them not to blaspheme (1 Tim. 1:20). Both 2 Peter 2 and Jude deploy pretty colorful language to denounce fundamental enemies of the Gospel. Even if his language belongs to hyperbole, Paul can wish that the agitators in Galatia would emasculate themselves (Gal. 5:12). The Lord Jesus himself—the same Jesus who, while dying on the cross, cries, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34)—can elsewhere denounce his enemies in spectacularly colorful language (Matt. 23). It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that, unless we are to accuse the apostles and Jesus of hypocritical inconsistency, the demand that we love our enemies must not be reduced to the sentimental twaddle that merely smooths enemies out of existence.

(3) A very good case can be made for the view that the primary concern of Matthew 5:43–47 is to overthrow personal retaliation, to eschew the vendetta, to overcome the evil we receive by the good we perform, to absorb the hatred of an opponent and return love. But none of this denies for a moment that the other person is an enemy. Moreover, those in leadership may, out of love, feel obligated to protect the flock by chasing out a wolf in sheep’s clothing, by exposing the charlatan, by denouncing the wicked—without succumbing to personal venom.

(4) One measure of whether one’s response is the hatred of vengeance or something more principled that cherishes God’s holiness and leaves room for forbearance and love, is the set of associated commitments. In David’s case, these include trust (Ps. 25:1–3, 4–5, 7b, 16, 21), repentance and faith (Ps. 25:7, 11, 18), and covenantal fidelity (Ps. 25:10).

via For the Love of God.

See also either or both of these posts:

Addendum: Dr George Guthrie interviews Dr David Howard on the same topic:

The singing king

2 Samuel 23:1 refers to King David as “Israel’s singer of songs” (NIV), “the sweet psalmist of Israel” (KJV, ESV), “the favorite singer of Israel” (HCSB).Little wonder, for he’s identified as author of almost half of the psalms in our Bibles.

For me, reading the books of Samuel and the Psalms contemporaneously was really exciting as I got to place some of what David says in the Psalms in its historical context.

1 Samuel 19:11-18 ≡ Psalm 59

Saul sends his men to David’s house to kill him. In the psalm he asks God for deliverance from his enemies, describes their wickedness and expresses his trust in God. He ends the psalm on a note of praise.

1 Samuel 21:10-15 ≡ Psalm 34 ≡ Psalm 56

David, fearing for his life, flees to Philistia. The Philistines remember his previous acts against them and remind their king. David is afraid and pretends to be insane so that they won’t harm him.

Psalm 56 is a prayer  for deliverance in which he describes his predicament, expresses his trust, and makes a vow of thanksgiving while remembering past mercies.

Psalm 34 is a hymn of praise celebrating the deliverance.

1 Samuel 21:7; 22:9 ≡ Psalm 52

Doeg the Edomite tells Saul of David’s location. David addresses his psalm to a boastful and evil man, telling him of God’s coming judgment. He closes the psalm in praise.

1 Samuel 23:19; 26:1 ≡ Psalm 54

Ziph was a town in southern Judah, so you’d expect them to be on David’s side. The Ziphites nonetheless give Saul GPS coordinates (as it were) of David’s hideout.

David asks for God to save him from ruthless men, expressing his trust. He makes a vow of thanksgiving and remembers past deliverance.

1 Samuel 22-26 ≡ Psalm 57 ≡ Psalm 63 ≡ Psalm 142

David spent years on the run from Saul, living in caves in the desert of Judah. These three psalms date from that period. They all express anguish and desperation: in Psalm 57, he is surrounded by ravenous beasts; in Psalm 63 he thirsts and longs for God; in the seven verses of Psalm 142 he uses the word ‘cry’ thrice. These were clearly trying times for David, yet he kept trusting and praising the Lord.

2 Samuel 8:13 ≡ Psalm 60

In the narrative in 2 Samuel, David was victorious over his enemies. Psalm 60 paints a less rosy picture. In it he laments God’s treatment and asks that He save and help His people. Putting the psalm in its historical context helped me understand verse 8, which I found slightly cryptic and amusing. Moab, Edom and Philistia were the nations David was battling at the time, and the verse expresses his disdain for them.

2 Samuel 11 ≡ Psalm 51

I don’t need to say anything here, do I?

2 Samuel 15 ≡ Psalm 3

Absalom, David’s second-born son, stages a coup forcing his father to flee Jerusalem. In the short psalm, David describes his situation, expresses his trust and cries out for deliverance.

2 Samuel 22 ≡ Psalm 18

These two chapters are identical. It is not known when David wrote this song in which he praises God for who He is and for what He had done in David’s life. The last verse proclaims that the Lord shows unfailing kindness to David and his descendants forever, no doubt pointing in part to great David’s greater Son!

Conclusion

One interesting thing that emerges is that David doesn’t say anything/ says very little in the narrative sections. The psalms thus let us in on what’s going on in his mind. Unsurprisingly, the thoughts of the man after God’s own heart are focused God-ward. If only I could be half as focused!

If the psalmist had PowerPoint…

… and a short attention span, he may have come up with the following:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Thank goodness David had more inspired creativity than that, and wrote a psalm that moves us to worship God for all He is.

Based on the meditation for July 6 in For The Love of God.

Okay, okay, I just wanted to try out the slide-show feature in WordPress.

What manner of man is this?

When Jesus calmed the storm, the disciples were terrified and amazed and asked among themselves what Jesus’ true identity was  (Matthew 8:27; Mark 4:41; Luke 8:25). Maybe one of the following verses came to their minds:

who stilled the roaring of the seas,

the roaring of their waves,

and the turmoil of the nations.

-Psalm 65:7

You rule over the surging sea;

when its waves mount up, you still them.

-Psalm 89:9

Mightier than the thunder of the great waters,

mightier than the breakers of the sea—

the LORD on high is mighty.

-Psalm 93:4

He stilled the storm to a whisper;

the waves of the sea were hushed.

-Psalm 107:29

Source: I can’t remember…