Psalms 56-60 in the Septuagint (LXX in Greek and LXE in Brenton’s English translation) form a packet that tells a story. Demonstrating the coherence of these psalms as a unit, then developing the story they tell, will require more than one post. This first post will focus on the superscriptions of these psalms as an indication of their coherence.
What Is a Superscription?
As regards the Psalter, a superscription is the writing (script) above (super) the first verse. It could be thought of as a title, or sub-title, an overview, or a description of the purpose or contents of the psalm. In the Hebrew Bible, they are often thought to carry musical directions. Not every psalm has a superscription, but most of them do. Those who follow my blog regularly will know that I frequently ignore the superscriptions. Scholars generally agree that the superscriptions were added by an editor or editors some time after the psalm itself was written, perhaps when the psalms were gathered and arranged in one or more collections (1). As additions, they are not part of the psalm proper. For purposes of shining light on the presence and voice of Christ in the Psalms, rather than on any specific, historic occasion in the Old Testament, I find that many of the superscriptions are a distraction, rather than an aid. For this reason, I most often do not mention them in my comments. This time, however, I find that the superscriptions of Psalms 56-60 help tie these psalms together.
The Superscriptions above Psalms 55-61
I am including the psalms just before and after our packet to show that those in our packet have elements in common unique to themselves. Here are the superscriptions for Psalms 55-61 from Brenton’s Septuagint English translation (LXE).
Psalm 55:1 For the end, among Hymns of instruction by David. (LXE)
Psalm 56:1 For the end, concerning the people that were removed from the sanctuary, by David for a memorial, when the Philistines caught him in Geth. (LXE)
Psalm 57:1 For the end. Destroy not: by David, for a memorial, when he fled from the presence of Saul to the cave. (LXE)
Psalm 58:1 For the end. Destroy not: by David, for a memorial. (LXE)
Psalm 59:1 For the end. Destroy not: by David for a memorial, when Saul sent, and watched his house to kill him. (LXE)
Psalm 60:1 For the end, for them that shall yet be changed; for an inscription by David for instruction, when he had burned Mesopotamia of Syria, and Syria Sobal, and Joab had returned and smitten in the valley of salt twelve thousand. (LXE)
Psalm 61:1 For the end, among the Hymns of David. (LXE)
Three Elements in Common
There are three repetitive elements in the superscriptions: 1) “For the end,” present in every psalm listed; 2) “by David” or “of David,” present in every psalm listed; and 3) “for a memorial,” or “for an inscription,” present only in Psalms 56-60.
For a Memorial: A Unique Phrase
The complete phrase “for a memorial” (εἰς στηλογραφίαν, pronounced “ice stylographian”) is present only in the superscriptions of Psalms 56-60, while Psalm 16:1 (LXX 15:1) bears in its superscription just the word translated “writing” (στηλογραφία), without an article or preposition. The Greek word στηλογραφία (stylographia) only occurs anywhere at all in the Bible in these six psalms: 16, 56, 57, 58, 59, and 60. It occurs nowhere else. Because the entire phrase, “For a memorial,” occurs only in these five psalms, the conclusion is that the phrase “εἰς στηλογραφίαν, ice stylographian” ties these five psalms, 56-60, together.
The word στηλογραφία (stylographia), “a memorial,” has three parts: 1) style, 2) logos, and 3) graphia. A style in Greek (στήλη) is a block of stone or a slab often used as a buttress to a wall, as a monument, or as a pillar. (See Genesis 35:20 and Joshua 4:5-7). It may contain writing, as on a gravestone or tablet recording military victory, a treaty, dedication, or decree (2). Logos in Greek means “word” (see Matthew 8:8), and graphy means “writing” or “a thing written.” Putting these parts together, a stylography is a writing of words on a stone monument or pillar.
Isaiah 19:19 In that day there shall be an altar to the Lord in the land of the Egyptians, and a pillar to the Lord by its border. 20 And it shall be for a sign to the Lord for ever in the land of Egypt…(LXE)
As a superscription in a psalm, “for a memorial” indicates that the psalm is to function as though it were written in stone as a sign to be remembered by a future generation. (3)
For the End: An Infrequent Three Word Phrase in Scripture
The three word phrase “For the end” in English (4), which is “εἰς τὸ τέλος” in Greek, pronounced “ice-toe-telos,” is relatively rare in Scripture, when compared to all uses of τέλος, either alone or in prepositional phrases. Just counting the word τέλος itself, it occurs 146 times without the Apocryphal books, and 176 times with the Apocrypha, while the phrase, “εἰς τὸ τέλος” occurs 59 times, including the Apocrypha. Of these 59 occurrences of the three word phrase, “εἰς τὸ τέλος,” all but three occurrences are found in the superscriptions of various psalms. That is, Scripture uses these exact three words only three times apart from psalmic superscriptions. What are these three occurrences?
- The end of a river of water
LXE (Septuagint) Joshua 3:16 then the waters that came down from above stopped; there stood one solid heap very far off, as far as the region of Kariathiarim, and the lower part came down to the sea of Araba, the salt sea, till it completely failed (ἕως εἰς τὸ τέλος ἐξέλιπεν); and the people stood opposite Jericho.
ESV Joshua 3:16 the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. (ESV)
NET Joshua 3:16 the water coming downstream toward them stopped flowing. It piled up far upstream at Adam (the city near Zarethan); there was no water at all flowing to the sea of the Arabah (the Salt Sea). The people crossed the river opposite Jericho. [NET translation note: “Heb ‘the [waters] descending toward the sea of the Arabah (the Salt Sea) were completely cut off.’”]
Notice that all three translations place the focus upon the ending of the flow of the water, “and the lower part [of the waters] came down…till it completely failed LXE.” The point of the narrative is that at some time and place the water quit flowing, and that’s when and where the people crossed over. While we might say a phrase such as, “The water completely stopped flowing,” the visual focus is where the water stops and the dry ground begins, because that’s where Joshua and the people crossed over.
In Joshua 3:16 “εἰς τὸ τέλος” (ice-toe-telos) refers to the time and place where the river quit flowing.
- The end of a set time of years
LXE Daniel 11:13 For the king of the north shall return, and bring a multitude greater than the former, and at the end of the times of years an invading army shall come with a great force, and with much substance. (based upon Theodotian’s Septuagint Daniel)
ESV Daniel 11:13 For the king of the north shall again raise a multitude, greater than the first. And after some years he shall come on with a great army and abundant supplies.
NET Daniel 11:13 For the king of the north will again muster an army, one larger than before. At the end of some years he will advance with a huge army and enormous supplies.
Notice that the above verse is a prophecy, and its focus is upon its occurrence. When will the invading army come? The answer is that it will take place at the “end” of a set time of years. Implied, of course, is that the full period of time will have been “completed;” however, the point of the passage is that the king of the north will come at the end of this time.
In Daniel 11:3 “εἰς τὸ τέλος” (ice-toe-telos) means the end of a period of years.
- The end of the visible glory on Moses’s face
ESV 2 Corinthians 3:13 not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. [Based upon the narrative of Moses bringing down the two Tablets of the Covenant from the mountain, found in Exodus 34:29-35]
NIV 2 Corinthians 3:13 We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. [Personally, for simplicity and clarity, I prefer this translation.]
NET 2 Corinthians 3:13 and not like Moses who used to put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from staring at the result of the glory that was made ineffective. (5)
For those who might want to see the Greek: 2 Corinthians 3:13 καὶ οὐ καθάπερ Μωϋσῆς ἐτίθει κάλυμμα ἐπὶ τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ πρὸς τὸ μὴ ἀτενίσαι τοὺς υἱοὺς Ἰσραὴλ εἰς τὸ τέλος τοῦ καταργουμένου. (Bibleworks GT)
Paul’s thought throughout 2 Corinthians 3:6-18 is not necessarily easy to follow. Yet notice that the point of the phrase “εἰς τὸ τέλος” in verse 13 is that the glory on Moses’s face was fading away (τοῦ καταργουμένου), and Moses didn’t want the sons of Israel to gaze “upon the end” of that fading, that is, to see it finally disappear. In this case, I believe that the NIV gives the more literal translation and that this literal understanding is preferable to others which seek to pack too much nuance into too small a space. I believe Paul’s point was that the Old Covenant, as represented by the shining on Moses’s face, was passing away. Those who veiled their own hearts in Paul’s day were the ones refusing to recognize this change.
In 2 Corinthians 3:13 “εἰς τὸ τέλος” (ice-toe-telos) refers to the end of the process of fading away–i.e., the termination–of the visible shining on the face of Moses.
Application of “for the end” to the Titles of the Psalms
Based upon the consistency of meaning in the above three verses, which once again are the only places other than psalmic superscriptions in all of Scripture where εἰς τὸ τέλος (ice-toe-telos) in this exact three word phrase occurs, I propose that εἰς τὸ τέλος in the superscriptions of 56 Septuagint psalms means the ending of something that had formerly continued. In Joshua 3:16, a flowing river quit flowing, in Daniel 11:13 a certain period of time ended, and in 2 Corinthians 3:13, a visible glowing on Moses’s face gradually faded and ended. What is it that ends in the psalms that bear this superscription? That is a topic to be explored in a future post(s) as we continue unfolding this “packet” of related psalms, Psalm 55-60.
By David: A Common Element in Messianic Psalms
Apart from the psalm titles (the superscriptions), David is mentioned in very few places in the Psalter. The psalmic superscriptions ascribe David as author 73 times. While David may have written many psalms, and while some superscriptions describe events in his life, the Psalter is not about David–it writes about Christ (see Acts 2:25-36). Therefore, the historical information given about David in the titles of some of the five psalms being considered as a packet (Psalms 56-60) will not be treated here.
A superscription is not part of a psalm proper, although these titles or notes have been present above many psalms for a very long time. Nevertheless, the superscriptions of Psalms 56-60 have unique features that bind them together. Two unique or rare phrases have been discussed above. The presence of these two phrases and the attribution to David in each of Psalms 56-60 helps confirm the proposal that they belong together and may be considered as a packet.
1 See, for example, C. Hassell Bullock, who writes, “While some of the titles, perhaps most, may have been added long after the composition of the Psalms, they nevertheless must not be viewed as a haphazard exercise.” (Bullock, C. Hassell. Encountering the Book of Psalms. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001, 24.) Jennifer Dines, writing specifically about the Septuagint superscriptions in comparison with the Hebrew, states that, “There are a number of additional or expanded headings. Some of these are liturgical, but most are historicizing, especially about David. Some scholars think that the ‘historical’ expansions are subsequent to the original translation. On the whole, the translator [by which she means the one who translated from Hebrew to Greek] follows his source-text closely…Some scholars, however, demonstrate that the translation is less literalistic than often thought and that it contains many interpretational elements as well as stylistic devices that reveal a sophisticated rather than a mechanical approach to translation.” (Dines, Jennifer M. The Septuagint. London and New York: T&T Clark, 2004, 19.)
2 Information taken from Bibleworks Septuagint Supplement.
3 In Hebrew, the word that corresponds with stylographia is Miktam. The NET translation note (Psalm 59:1) states that the meaning of this word is uncertain, but “HALOT 582-83 s.v. defines it as ‘inscription.’” Miktam occurs only in Psalms 16 and 56-60.
4 I am aware that NETS (New English Translation Septuagint) translates “εἰς τὸ τέλος” as, “regarding completion.” After much study with the lexicons and concordance, I find that “for the end” most faithfully captures the complete meaning of the phrase. The Orthodox Study Bible, which also presents a modern translation, similarly writes, “for the end.”
5 The reader can decide for him or herself if the NET translation or note brings any clarity to this verse: “27 )tn Or “end.” The word τέλος (telos) can mean both “a point of time marking the end of a duration, end, termination, cessation” and “the goal toward which a movement is being directed, end, goal, outcome” (see BDAG 998-999 s.v.). The translation accepts the interpretation that Moses covered the glory of his face with the veil to prevent Israel from being judged by the glory of God (see S. J. Hafemann, Paul, Moses, and the History of Israel [WUNT 81], 347–62); in this case the latter meaning for τέλος is more appropriate.”
Contra this unnecessarily complex interpretation, consider that BDAG itself (2nd edition, p 811) places this verse under the primary meaning of τέλος, meaning: “1. end–a. in the sense of termination, cessation…the end of the fading (splendor) 2 Cor 3:13.” Another verse BDAG lists for the second meaning in the quoted section above is 1 Timothy 1:5, “…the preaching has love as its aim.” “But the aim of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.”
Note that in the two examples given by BDAG the differences are clear and simple. The verse from 2 Corinthians refers to a literal, concrete termination of a physical phenomena (the glowing on Moses’s face), while the verse from 1Timothy nicely illustrates BDAG’s second meaning of “end, goal, outcome.”
While Psalm 28 states the fact of Christ’s resurrection, Psalm 30 prophetically records Christ’s retelling after-the-fact and his rejoicing over this happy outcome.
2 O LORD my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. 3 O LORD, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit. (Psalm 30 ESV)
11 Thou hast turned my mourning into joy for me: thou hast rent off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness; 12 that my glory may sing praise to thee, and I may not be pierced with sorrow. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to thee for ever. (Psalm 30 LXE) Note: “pierced with sorrow” reflects a single word in Greek for “pierced” or “pricked.” In both Testaments, it is nearly always used in this metaphorical sense with the concept of sorrow, which is not part of the word itself.
Structure of Psalm 30
It’s good for the reader to remember that the Psalter is a book of ancient Near Eastern poetry. The poetic and literary conventions were a bit different back then. However, if the Christian reader keeps the basic fact of the prophet David’s being a voice of Christ foremost in thought, then the more often she reads Psalms, the easier it becomes to understand the abbreviated, minimalized structure inherent in its poetry. Certain word choices within the poem also underlie its resurrection theme.
Since Psalm 30 is relatively short, I will use some space here to print it out fully and fill in words in places where a narrator’s explanatory voice would prove helpful. As always, it is good to consult more than one translation.
29(30) For the end, a Psalm and Song [literally, a psalm of a song] at the dedication of the house of David.1 I will exalt thee, O Lord; for thou hast lifted me up, and not caused mine enemies to rejoice over me.2 O Lord my God, I cried to thee, and thou didst heal me.3 O Lord, thou hast brought up my soul from Hades, thou hast delivered me from among them that go down to the pit.4 Sing to the Lord, ye his saints, and give thanks for the remembrance of his holiness.5 For anger is in his wrath, but life in his favour: weeping shall tarry for the evening, but joy shall be in the morning.6 And I said in my prosperity, I shall never be moved.7 O Lord, in thy good pleasure thou didst add strength to my beauty: but thou didst turn away thy face, and I was troubled.8 To thee, O Lord, will I cry; and to my God will I make supplication.9 What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to destruction? Shall the dust give praise to thee? or shall it declare thy truth?10 The Lord heard, and had compassion upon me; the Lord is become my helper.11 Thou hast turned my mourning into joy for me: thou hast rent off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness;12 that my glory may sing praise to thee, and I may not be pierced with sorrow. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to thee for ever.–Available at https://ebible.org/eng-Brenton/PSA029.htm. Accessed August 16, 2019.
- The speaker addresses the Lord his God: verses 1 through 3.
- The speaker addresses the Lord’s saints: verses 4 through 10.
- Within the address to the saints, the speaker records how his condition changed from prosperity (vs 6) to tragedy (vs 7), how he proposed in his heart to call upon the Lord (vs 8), the words of his prayer (vs 9), and the final outcome (vs 10).
- The speaker addresses the Lord: verses 11-12.
- John 1:1-18 is a Christian condensation of the book of Genesis.
- Jesus often called himself the “Son of Man,” or “Son of Anthropos,” rather than any number of other names he might have chosen. (See, for example, Matthew 12:40, Mark 10:45, Luke 6:5, and John 1:51.) By choosing this name, he indicates that he came to bring salvation to the entire human race.
- Jesus claimed the Old Testament spoke prophetically of himself (Luke 24:26-27).
- With reference to something Jesus spoke or did, the Gospel writers repeatedly made statements such as, “as it is written,” and that what a certain prophet or Scripture foretold, “might be fulfilled.”
- Jesus in his public ministry made many references to the Law.
- The New Testament quotes from Psalms close to 100 times, most of these with regard to Jesus’s ministry.
- The authors of the letters base the bulk of their evangelism upon the words, actions, and events of the life of Christ, and they weave these pieces of factual recent history into theological arguments bound together by the Scripture of the Old Testament. They constantly sought to prove how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament Messianic promises.
- “for the end”: This phrase is found in the superscript, which is not part of the biblical text. The words before the first verse of any psalm have been added by ancient text editors. “For the end” in Greek is “εἰς τὸ τέλος”, roughly pronounced eess-toe-tell-os, (Psalm 29:1 BGT). I have come to observe that this phrase in itself refers to Christ, since he is the “end” or goal, of our faith. He is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. Further, Christ himself stated on the cross, “It is finished.” In Greek, this is “τετέλεσται”, pronounced teh-tell-ess-tay (John 19:30 BGT). This Greek word is a verb that means, “to bring to a close, to finish, to end.” (Thayer’s Lexicon)
- “at the dedication of the house of David”: Jesus referred to his body as the “temple,” or dwelling place, i.e., house, of God. (See John 2:19-22 and Mark 14:58)
- “thou hast lifted me up” (vs 1): As explained above, the Greek verb could be used either of the crucifixion (John 12:32, which is a different Greek verb but is translated “lifted up” in English) or the resurrection, in the sense of to be lifted, or drawn up from under, as though someone were beneath and pushing up; or in the sense of pulling someone up from under something. We say that someone or something “lifted my spirits.”
- “not caused my enemies to rejoice over me” (vs 1): My favorite media depiction of Christ’s resurrection is from an old BBC animated production of C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In this particular film version, as they considered the dead Lion Aslan, the scary, animated beasts who opposed him were very nearly throwing a party to celebrate his death. Aslan was Lewis’s symbol for Christ. We can imagine the celebration in Satan’s realm had Christ remained in his grave.
- “I cried to thee, and thou didst heal me” (vs 2): Christ did indeed cry out to God, so much so, that he sweat as it were great drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. He also cried from the cross itself, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” In the second clause, the Greek word “heal” is the same word used in Septuagint Isaiah 53:5. It refers to both physical healing and spiritual healing from sin. These together form a complete salvation. Christ was healed physically from death. He was spiritually healed from sin, as the sacrificial lamb of God upon whom was laid the sins of the world. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (ESV)
- “thou hast brought up my soul from Hades, thou hast delivered me from among them that go down to the pit” (vs 3): This verse most definitely speaks of death and dying. Most English translations acknowledge this. The NET writes, “O LORD, you pulled me up from Sheol; you rescued me from among those descending into the grave.”
- “ye his saints” (vs 4): “Saints” is a favorite word for God’s people in the Psalter, in Daniel, and in the New Testament. When reading a psalm in which the events of the speaker’s life strongly evoke the events of Christ’s life, and when this speaker turns in his speech to directly address the people of God as his “saints,” a careful reader should sit up with ears alert. The translation version here can make a difference. Brenton, The Orthodox Study Bible, the ESV, KJV, and NKJV translate the Scripture with the word “saints,” while the NIV, NET, and CJB, say either “faithful ones,” or “faithful followers.” NETS translates the Greek word as his “devout.”
- “thou didst turn away thy face, and I was troubled” (vs 7): As mentioned above, Jesus in his passion perceived that God had turned away and even abandoned him.
- Verses 8-10, again as mentioned above, are entirely suitable to the passion and resurrection of Christ.
- “my glory” (vs 12): The ESV uses the word “glory” 161 times in the New Testament. Many of these occurrences refer to Christ. Jesus uses the phrase, “my glory,” in John 17:24, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” Although King David may have had a certain kind of glory, I am sure that his glory is nothing compared to that of the Son of God.
- “that my glory may sing praise to thee, and I may not be pierced with sorrow” (vs 12). The ESV states, “that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.” The Septuagint expresses greater lexical depth. Its Greek word “pierced” is another example of what could be a double meaning. First, while the Greek word used in this verb does not in itself contain the concept of sorrow, most often the Greek verb is used in a context where sorrow is connoted. The idea is that if one’s emotions are pierced with sorrow, this will lead to the person’s silence. The Septuagint word choice can carry this meaning. Additionally, Christ was, of course, literally pierced, first, by the crown of thorns upon his head, next by the nails that fixed him to the cross, and lastly, by the soldier’s spear thrust into his side. If this piercing had resulted in permanent death, that would indeed have been a most sorrowful outcome for all concerned. And, a permanent, final death would have ended in silence. As a tie-in with the first clause about “my glory,” Scripture associates Christ’s glory with his eternal existence, both as crucified-then-resurrected man and as divine God. The Lord of Glory (1 Corinthians 2:8 and James 2:1) chooses to use that glory to praise the Lord, his God. The sorrowful silence of death was defeated by the joyfully glorious resurrection unto praise.
4. A final means by which a careful reader is alerted to the crucifixion/resurrection theme of Psalm 30 is the “plot” of the psalm. The plot traces the movement in the life of the psalm’s speaker from the happiness and well-being that proceeded from God’s favor, into death, and then back from death to life, and finally to joy, praise, and thanksgiving. That the speaker turns to an audience he calls the Lord’s “saints” and commands them also to praise the Lord for his action of turning the sorrow of condemnation into the joy of life restored–the darkness of night into the light of morning– strongly favors Christ as being the protagonist. He intends that the church share the salvation God gave him by means of his resurrection victory.
The Reader May Choose Either of Two Ways to Read This Blog. 1) Wade through my horrible writing style, or 2) Read the words on this photo. As regards Psalms, the photo sums up my heart.
For those who choose to wade through my arduous writing, begin here.
The text of Psalm 28(27 in LXX):
What I want to draw attention to in this post is the phrase found in verse 7: The Septuagint translation reads, “my flesh has revived,” while the ESV, based upon the Masoretic text, reads, “my heart exults.”
Consider this statement by Natalio Fernández Marcos, a current Septuagint scholar:
The Fathers of the Church did not formulate specific exegetical rules as did the rabbis, however they relied on a few principles or criteria of interpretation common to them all: the principle of the unity of the biblical text of the two Testaments, the interpretation of the Old in the light of the New, and the conviction that all the texts of the Old Testament spoke of Christ and of Christian mysteries. (Natalio Fernandez Marcos, The Septuagint in Context: Introduction to the Greek Version of the Bible, translated by Wilfred G. E. Watson (Brill: Leiden, the Netherlands, 2000), 342.
We can see by the principles of biblical exegesis the Church Fathers employed that their focus was upon Christ. After Jerome, however, the focus in the Western church, as distinct from the Eastern, shifted away from presenting Christ as central to Old Testament Scripture toward “correcting” the Church’s Old Testament text to place it in agreement with the Hebrew texts that rabbis were using and attested to. After Augustine’s time, the Old Greek text, and Latin texts based upon the Greek text, were substituted with a Hebrew text and translations that agreed with rabbinical texts. These rabbinical Hebrew texts had been edited centuries before the Masorites began copying them. Also, the Masorites introduced vowel points, which were not present in the original Hebrew texts. By the end of the first millennium, a single Old Testament Jewish Hebrew text, known as the Masoretic, dominated the Bibles produced by the Western Church. This remains so today, while the Eastern Church continues to use the Septuagint.
For all practical purposes, Western exegesis seemingly lost sight of the fact that the New Testament authors were largely quoting and relying upon the Septuagint as their Old Testament text. We find Western biblical theologians bending over backward, as it were, to explain the theology of the New Testament writers. The prevailing consensus was, “How did they ever get that out of this?” One common response to explain some of the surprising ways New Testament authors apply Old Testament Scripture was to say that the New Testament authors were “inspired,” i.e., they were specially permitted by the Holy Spirit to pull rabbits out of a hat–but we may not imitate them.
Some of the mind boggling mental gymnastics performed to explain the hermeneutics of New Testament authors involve words, phrases, and concepts such as sensus plenior, fuller meaning, allegory, typology, Midrash, Pesher, authorial intent, continuity or discontinuity of the Testaments, canonical approach, and others. Most of these terms and concepts are beyond the grasp of everyday Bible reading believers, including myself. I find that the simplest way to “find Christ in the Old Testament” is to read the Psalter from the Septuagint. (I make no claims of having read other portions of this translation.) When reading the Psalter from the Septuagint, all that’s needed is to let the text speak for itself.
For example, Psalm 28 provides a beautifully simple example of my meaning.
<<A Psalm of David.>> To thee, O Lord, have I cried; my God, be not silent toward me: lest thou be silent toward me, and so I should be likened to them that go down to the pit.
2 Hearken to the voice of my supplication, when I pray to thee, when I lift up my hands toward thy holy temple.
3 Draw not away my soul with sinners, and destroy me not with the workers of iniquity, who speak peace with their neighbours, but evils are in their hearts.
4 Give them according to their works, and according to the wickedness of their devices: give them according to the works of their hands; render their recompense unto them. (Psalm 27(28):1-4 LXE) (1)
For one whose ears are attuned to the crucifixion and the voice of David prophetically expressing the voice of Christ, the first three verses draw attention to the cross. Verse 1 indicates that the supplicant perceives God’s persistent silence towards him, and that his life is in grave danger (2). This accords well with Psalm 22:1, those words having been spoken by Christ on the cross and cited in the New Testament (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34).
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? I groan in prayer, but help seems far away. (Psalm 22:1 NET) (3)
Verse 2 is a direct statement of the psalmist’s action of prayer throughout the entire psalm–he is lifting his hands in supplication to his Father, just as Jesus did throughout his ordeal on the cross.
Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.
(Luke 23:46 ESV)
Psalm 31:5 Into thine hands I will commit my spirit: thou hast redeemed me, O Lord God of truth. (Psalm 31:5 LXE)
Verse 3 speaks of the cross in two manners. First, “Draw not away my soul with sinners,” can reference at least one of the two condemned men hanging on crosses of their own on either side of Jesus (4). Second, “destroy me not with the workers of iniquity, who speak peace with their neighbours, but evils are in their hearts,” is an apt description of Judas, who traveled with Jesus as one of his twelve and later betrayed him with the peaceful words, “Greetings, Rabbi!” (Matthew 26:49) and a kiss of brotherly fellowship. The prayers of verses 3b and 4 were answered when Judas was destroyed as a worker of iniquity (Matthew 27:3-10).
What do Verses 6-7 tell us?
6 Blessed be the Lord, for he has hearkened to the voice of my petition. 7 The Lord is my helper and my defender; my heart has hoped in him, and I am helped: my flesh has revived, and willingly will I give praise to him. (LXE)
Psalm 27(28) is a psalm whose action is straightforward: A supplicant cries out to the Lord, pleading with him not to ignore his prayers, lest he die and go to the pit. He asks that his soul not be carried away with evil doers, as though that were a possibility. He prays that the Lord will bring upon the evil ones his justice for their evil deeds, bringing back upon themselves what they themselves have done to others, vs 4. Verse 5 may be a choral or narrator’s comment that the Lord will indeed judge them with destruction that will not be undone (5). Verse 6 announces in first person again that the psalmist’s prayer has been answered, that God heard and replied. In verse 7, the psalmist rejoices in the Lord, reflecting upon the completed action of his prayer. He adds the fact that his body “has revived,” verifying the meaning of his words in verses 1 and 3 as pleas for escape from death. The words, “My flesh has revived,” signals resurrection. The final verses, vv 8-9, sound once more like the voice of the chorus or narrator, summing up the action of the psalm with the phrase, “The Lord is the strength of his people, and the saving defender of his anointed.” Additionally, verse 8 identifies the supplicant as the Lord’s “anointed,” his Christ in Greek, his Messiah in Hebrew (cf. Psalm 2:2 and others).
So why would the Septuagint translation of an ancient Hebrew text contain a revelation of resurrection, while our modern versions, based upon the less ancient Masoretic text, do not? Scholars are still using their best detective work to sort this out. However, they do know that the Septuagint translates a Hebrew text extant approximately 1,000 years before the oldest Hebrew texts the world now owns, the Aleppo (10th century) and Leningrad (11th century) Codices (6). Scholars tell us that while the Masoretic text can be reliably traced back nearly a millennia, the Septuagint received strong verification with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, dated between the first and third centuries BCE. Scholars thereby confirmed that back in those days, there existed more than one pedigree of Hebrew text (7). For whatever reasons, the Hebrew Masoretic text does not speak of resurrection in Psalm 28:7, while the Greek Septuagint version does. The Greek version and the Dead Sea Scrolls bear witness to the existence of an ancient Hebrew text that did include those words of resurrection.
Should a reader who applies Psalm 28(27 LXX) to Christ become alarmed that none of its verses are quoted in the New Testament?
Short answer: Not at all. You won’t be alone in seeing the resurrection in verse 7.
Encouragement Number One: The Existence of Good Texts and Translations
Under this point, first, consider the various translations available to us with this reading. We have already seen Brenton’s Septuagint. Next, the following is an original translation of Psalm 28:7 from the Masoretic Hebrew by Bishop Horsley of a prior century:
Jehovah is my strength and my shield; On Him my heart hath-placed-trust, and I am helped; My flesh hath-resumed-its-bloom [C], and from my heart I will praise Him. (Horsley, see footnote 8)
As explained in footnote 8, Horsley chose to substitute the Septuagint for the Hebrew and justified in his critical notes his reasons for doing so. “My flesh hath-resumed-its-bloom,” in Horsley’s translation is literal Greek.
The third translation is the Orthodox Study Bible, an original English translation from the Greek Septuagint used currently in many Orthodox churches. Verse 7c states, “And my flesh revived,” identical to Brenton. The study notes for this psalm begin, “Ps 27 is a prophecy concerning the death and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ…” (9)
Fourth, the recently completed New English Translation of the Septuagint, NETS, translates this portion of verse 7, “and my flesh revived.”
Finally, for those of you who have access to a Greek dictionary, the Greek text reads, “ἀνέθαλεν ἡ σάρξ μου” (Psalm 27:7 BGT).
Encouragement Number Two: Common Sense and Faith
In addition to the veracity of the Greek text, the New Testament itself encourages us to apply verses of the Psalter to Christ, even though we may not find all such verses quoted in the New Testament. Bear with me as I develop this argument.
First, even Jesus’s own disciples missed the message of the Old Testament with regard to the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ. Jesus called them, “foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe” (Luke 24:25). We readers learn from this that the truths of Christ are apprehended by faith, but that these truths are manifest in Old Testament Scripture. After chastising his disciples for their lack of faith, Jesus walked back through these verses and taught his disciples (Luke 24:44-47). Now, Jesus blessed us with the gift of the Holy Spirit, who performs this same teaching function for us by walking us back through the Old Testament, including Psalms, and illuminating the text to our hearts, so that we, too, may discover and believe these things. Now we who have the advantage of hind sight, how is it that we should continue to miss these texts? Do we also wish that Jesus will say to us, “Foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe?”
As a second point in this argument, how many pages are contained in the Old Testament you use at home? And how many pages are in the New? My home Bible has 879 pages in its Old Testament and 262 pages in the New. The Psalms alone are 84 pages. The Psalms in my home Bible contain 32% of the number of pages in its New Testament. John the Apostle spoke to this subject. He said the following words:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31 ESV)
Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:25 ESV)
Even though John made reference to Jesus’s “signs,” or miracles, and the things he did, the point holds that there is too much material to be written down. Moving on, the portions of the New Testament which are not the Gospels are all letters. Have you ever written a letter? And when have you ever written down everything in that letter that is on your heart to say? We don’t write that much. As another example, how many have ever written a report, a term paper, a discussion response, a letter to an editor of a newspaper, or the like? When we write such things, we give examples to support our viewpoint, but do we ever write down everything that we know?
The point is that the New Testament could not possibly quote all the Scripture in the Old that makes reference to Christ, simply for lack of space.
There is more to say on the topic of how Messianic references are established. Many scholars and the study portions of many editions of Scripture limit the Christological Old Testament prophecies to those which are exactly quoted in the New Testament. One of my study Bibles contains a chart on page 742 called, “Messianic Prophecies in the Psalms.” It lists 20 examples containing 22 verses. It gives Psalm 22 four separate listings, Psalm 69 two separate listings, Psalm 110 two listings, and Psalm 118 two. Did the author of this chart intend the reader to conclude that the portions of Psalms 22, 69, 110, and 118 that were not quoted are not therefore Messianic? Did they possibly mean that since other verses are not particularly quoted, we may not be certain that they are included and had better play it safe? This is called “atomization” of Scripture–deconstructing the Bible into tiny pieces answerable only to themselves. When I grew up, I thought that the New Testament quotations were like rabbits out of a hat. How did they get that out of this? I see now that I used to read my Bible as though it were separate little pieces disconnected one from another. When reading Psalms, I ignored the overall context–Christ–and the cohesive themes–Christ. I have since learned to read differently. Since Psalm 22 is given 4 separate listings, this means that all of Psalm 22 is about Christ, since it reads as a cohesive unit. The entirety of Psalm 69 is one cohesive unit, as well as Psalms 110 and 118. Since New Testament authors chose verses from these psalms to quote in connection with what later happened to Jesus, that most definitely does not mean that only those verses are about Christ. No writer quotes an entire book–all writers choose their quotations to make specific points, many of which are representative.
Compare this atomized approach to what Jesus most likely did. When Jesus taught his Emmaus Road disciples and later all the disciples gathered in the upper room, did he teach them to memorize that list of 20 examples, or did he teach them how to read the psalms with himself in view? I believe the latter.
Finally, one argument that evangelicals hear taught again and again is that the New Testament authors were “inspired.” Yes, of course they were. But all Christians who receive the Holy Spirit are also inspired. The New Testament authors alone were inspired to write the Bible. None of us has been chosen to write even one word of Scripture. However, we have been chosen to read the Bible. And the same Spirit that taught the New Testament authors how to write the Bible is the same Spirit, one and the same Spirit, that teaches us how to read the Bible.
How many reading this are teachers? Or, were you ever a student? Does a math teacher teach you how to do a certain set of particular math problems only, or does the teacher teach you how to “do math?” Does a history teacher teach only a specific set of facts, or does the teacher also teach students how to read history, perceive history in the making, think about history, and uncover historical facts beyond the material in the course? God gave his people the Bible, and he gave his people the Holy Spirit to help them read it. If the Spirit witnesses in your heart that Psalm 27(28) is about Christ and that verse 7 in the Septuagint English version is a prophecy of his physical resurrection, or a re-blooming, a re-viving, a re-vivifying, a bringing-to-life-again of his flesh, then please allow your faith in God to be stronger than what the academic pundits may be telling you about how you may and may not read Scripture.
1 In some Bibles, the numbering of some psalms differs in the Septuagint. The Brenton edition that I own differs in its numbering system from my ESV. In Brenton’s LXE Psalm 27 is the ESV’s Psalm 28. The title of this blog follows the ESV numbering.
2 Most major English versions translate the Hebrew as, “the pit,” with the definite article; the Septuagint translator uses the definite article as well. NET writes, “the grave,” indicating of which pit, i.e., the pit of death, the psalmist speaks. Interestingly, however, the Complete Jewish Bible (CJB) and Pietersma’s translation found in the New English Translation Septuagint (NETS), both translate an optional grammatical indefinite, “a pit.” In other words, both the Greek and Hebrew allow for either a definite or indefinite interpretation. Context, then, is the determiner. What is the significance of this choice, definite or indefinite? “A pit,” I propose, keeps the reader’s mind focused on imagery local to the time of David, perhaps an actual pit in the ground, such as Joseph’s brothers threw him into, while “the pit,” definitely speaks of death, which does allow the reader’s mind to travel to Christ on the cross.
3 As a word to the reader to use more than one reference Bible, please hear that while NET has extensive notes about the Hebrew language and use of its words for this verse, including the fact that the literal, “the words of my groaning,” in Hebrew are sometimes applied to a lion’s roar and sometimes to human groaning, NET notes say nothing about the far more significant Christian citation of this verse in Matthew and Mark, which record Christ’s words while being crucified. I was forced to go to another translation, in this case ESV, to discover the exact NT citation of Psalm 22:1. A person reading Psalms for the very first time in their life might not realize that Christ spoke these words while dying, unless someone tells him or her.
4 I prefer the Septuagint here, because it distinctly speaks of the soul being drawn away, which can indicate the afterlife of punishment. Other English verses sound more as though it is the body that will be dragged off with sinners. If this is the case, however, then it would match the fact of Jesus’s life that indeed his body was not dragged off and disposed off with the two criminals. The rich man Joseph of Arimathea, a “highly regarded member of the Council,” (NET) buried Jesus alone in his own fresh tomb.
5 Bishop Horsley divides Psalm 28 with just such an “oracular voice,” in verse 5b. See Horsley, Samuel Lord Bishop. The Book of Psalms; Translated from the Hebrew: With Notes, Explanatory and Critical. London: 1815, Volume 1, 59.
6 Timothy Michael Law, When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013, 21.
7 Ibid., 20-26. See also, “Psalm 28: Why the Septuagint? Part 1–Background,” by the author of this blog, available at https://onesmallvoice.net/2019/08/03/psalm-28-why-the-septuagint-part-1-background/, accessed 8/06/2019.
8 Praise God for his saints of former days! Bishop Horsley, see footnote 6, made an original translation from the Hebrew. For verse 7, in his critical notes, he writes that he consulted the LXX. He quotes the Greek text, and states that he confirmed this text with the Latin Vulgate. He believed the Septuagint translation, and posited a Hebrew text used by its translator in which two Hebrew words were transposed. He consulted the Syriac and found that it confirms his postulate for one of the Hebrew words. The good Bishop also writes, “Bishop Lowth approves this reading.” (Horsley, Psalms, Volume 1, 213-214).
9 Academic Community of St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, Elk Grove, California. The Orthodox Study Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008, 699.
What is the Septuagint? The Septuagint (LXX) is the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament of the Bible, dated from the second to third centuries BCE. Why is the Septuagint important?
The LXX was the Bible of the authors of the New Testament. Its ubiquity can be seen not only in the quotations from the Old Testament in the New but also in the hermeneutic techniques and in many other forms of influence.
The LXX was transmitted in Christian circles once it was adopted as the official Bible of the Church.
…the LXX was also the Bible of early Christian writers and the Fathers of the Church, and even today continues to be the Bible of the Eastern Orthodox Church … The Greek version, either directly or through the Old Latin [which was translated from the Greek, not from Hebrew], provided the basis for Christian interpretation of the Old Testament, an interpretation which regulated the religious and social life of early Christianity (See footnote 1 for here and above).
Near the end of the first century and the completion of the writings that would comprise the New Testament, we enter into a period known as the Patristic age, characterized by the writings of the church fathers. …during this time the Septuagint was the Bible of the church: in its original Greek form, in its revisions, and in early translations into Latin used mostly in the North African church. The formation of Christianity–through preaching, teaching, apologetics, theological formation, and liturgical practices–depended almost entirely on the Septuagint as the Old Testament (2).
Many modern Bibles use the “Masoretic” Hebrew textual tradition for the Old Testament. In other words, the Hebrew text that is the basis of many modern translations was produced by the Masoretes. This textual tradition received its final, edited form in the centuries following the birth of Christ, although the oldest complete text is the Aleppo, dated at 930 CE. (3) On the other hand, many scholars agree that the Septuagint uses a Hebrew text that lies outside the Masoretic tradition. In other words, the Hebrew texts used as the basis for the Septuagint, which was translated in the centuries before Christ, possess a lineage distinct from the Hebrew texts which later became finalized as the Masoretic. Academic studies of the Septuagint textual tradition blossomed in the decades following the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
… the Hebrew Vorlage of the Greek Psalter may have differed in places from the extant Hebrew text (4).
The oldest layers of the Latin versions can attest text forms of great value for restoring the LXX and can even be used to recover some readings that have disappeared from Greek manuscripts and go back to a Hebrew text that is different from the Masoretic (5).
The above statements clearly contradict a popular notion that the current Masoretic Hebrew text is very nearly the original Hebrew Bible. As it turns out, there was more than one lineage of early Hebrew text. The world no longer has ancient copies of the Vorlage (prior version) of either the Septuagint translation or the Masoretic text. Textual critics must perform a great deal of detective work to piece together the facts of the origins of these Bibles (6).
Reconstructing the textual history of the LXX would be complicated enough if there had been but one Hebrew edition (preserved as the MT) from which the original Greek translation was made. The evidence of the Judean Desert material [i.e., Dead Sea Scrolls], however, confirms that the Hebrew text itself circulated in more than one form during the very time that the first Greek translation was being made. In other words, at least some of the elements of the LXX previously attributed to translation technique or recensional [editing] activity are now known to represent a Hebrew Vorlage different from the MT (7).
How does this affect you and I when we read the Bible?
Have you ever wondered why Old Testament quotations by New Testament authors, such as the Apostle Paul and the gospel writers Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, often seem to differ from the same Old Testament passages in our modern Bibles? Based on the above discoveries, the answer lies in the fact that these authors likely used the Septuagint text, which differs somewhat in wording and focus from our modern English versions, which are mostly based upon the Hebrew Masoretic texts (8). For example, consider the following quotations:
When the reader of John 1:23 turns to the Old Testament to find the source of the quotation John uses, she will encounter a slightly different verse. In most modern versions, except those following the Greek Orthodox tradition, the Isaiah verse that John quotes has the additional phrase, “in the desert.” Well, John just left that out, you say. After all, he also left out the phrase, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” Okay, but this is not the only verse that differs. There are many such differences between our versions of the Old Testament and the New Testament quotations of it. Consider the following:
You took up the tent of Moloch and the star of your god Rephan, the images that you made to worship; and I will send you into exile beyond Babylon.’ (Acts 7:43 ESV)
But when you look up this quotation from Amos 5:26 in most translations, you will find that the quotation doesn’t match the OT verse:
You shall take up Sikkuth your king, and Kiyyun your star-god– your images that you made for yourselves, (Amos 5:26 ESV, the phrase “and I will send you into exile beyond Babylon” is from verse 27).
Compare the above modern translation based upon the Masoretic text with the Septuagint of Amos 5:26:
Yea, ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god Raephan, the images of them which ye made for yourselves (Sir Lancelot Brenton translation of the Septuagint)
Clearly, the New Testament author was quoting the Septuagint (9).
Some of the differences in the Masoretic text tend to erase or minimize references to Messiah that come across strongly in the Septuagint. The following chart is from the “Orthodox Life” website: https://theorthodoxlife.wordpress.com/2012/03/12/masoretic-text-vs-original-hebrew/, accessed August 1, 2019.
In the chart above, the right hand column for Psalm 40:7 is very similar to the NIV, ESV, and KJV. The NET gives its own interpretive paraphrase, “You make that quite clear to me!” Note that the New Testament in Hebrews 10:4-10, far left column, appears to quote the Septuagint to its immediate right, rather than the Masoretic text underlying the quotation on the far right. If we were to follow the NET, then the messianic prophecy in Hebrews 10:5, “…a body you have prepared for me,” is transformed into, “You make that quite clear to me!”
As another example in the chart above, among the English versions NIV, ESV, KJV, and NET, for Isaiah 7:14, NET is the only translation that insists upon the phrase, “this young woman.” The other three translations do say, “virgin,” perhaps following the Septuagint’s lead.
Modern biblical versions sometimes consider the Septuagint to help decipher Hebrew that doesn’t always appear clear. An example of this is found in Psalm 22:16 (LXX 21:17), “They pierced my hands and my feet,” as in the Septuagint, versus, “like a lion, my hands and my feet,” as in many, but not all, extant Hebrew manuscripts. Although the NET Bible has a very long study note for the lion phrase, both its translation and its study note fall far short of the simple note found in the ESV for its translation, “They have pierced my hands and feet.” The ESV translators chose to follow extant texts that differ from the MT. They explain, “Some Hebrew manuscripts, Septuagint, Vulgate, Syriac; most Hebrew manuscripts like a lion they are at my hands and feet.” So, some Hebrew manuscripts do say, “They have pierced my hands and feet.” In explanation of the lack of specific NT citations in the far left column, the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion imply rather than state that the soldiers nailed Jesus’s hands and feet to a cross; they state he was “crucified,” which by definition means to be suspended by nails to a cross. In confirmation of this, Luke 24:40 reads, “And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.” John 19:37 reads, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.” Again, John 20:25 speaks of nail marks in Jesus’s hands. But once again, the main point is that the Complete Jewish Bible and the NET choose to pass by a prophecy of the crucifixion in Psalm 22:16 when they choose to follow certain Hebrew texts rather than the Bible of the early Christian church, the Septuagint. And please note again that some Hebrew texts do contain what later became the Christian reading of this text.
The Septuagint Today
- Carefully consulting the study notes of the ESV reveals that this recent translation often follows the reading of the Septuagint, Vulgate, and Dead Sea Scrolls in verses that differ significantly from the Masoretic text. Some of the notes indicate the comparative readings, as in Deuteronomy 32:43. Interestingly, the NET, which translates only the Masoretic Text for the Deuteronomy verse, gives no study notes at all, even though this is a verse with several instances of multiple readings.
- The Orthodox faith has always used the Septuagint as their Old Testament Bible. According to Wikipedia, the world wide population of Eastern (Greek) Orthodoxy is 200-260 million people.
How does this impact us? Think about this. What is your favorite biblical translation, the one you use in your personal devotions and worship on a daily basis? Would you call that book, “the Bible?” Isn’t it for all practical purposes your Bible? Truth is that whenever a people group receives a Bible in their own tongue and uses it regularly, it becomes for them the Bible. If I happen to live in Papua New Guinea and I am a native, and if I receive a Bible that has been translated into my native language, then that translation for me is the Holy Word of God. Chances are it is the only Bible I will ever read.
Perhaps the most important cultural impact of the LXX in early Christian literature is due to the many translations of it into the main languages of late antiquity.
Not only did Christianity adopt a translated Bible as the official Bible, but from its beginnings it was a religion that favoured translation of the Bible into vernacular languages. Unlike Jewish communities, the Christian communities did not feel themselves to be chained to the Hebrew text as such but only to its contents, nor were they tied to the Greek text of the LXX. The new translations, as distinct from [what (inserted to correct text)] happened with the Aramaic Targumim, became independent and took the place of the original in the life of the communities. This attitude conferred on the new versions of a Bible a status unlike that of the Jewish translations. They were not merely an aid to understanding the text but they replaced the original with authority. Hence, biblical translation is spoken of as a specifically Christian activity.
It is appropriate to note that, with the exception of the Aramaic translations, most of the ancient versions of the Bible were made from the LXX and not from the Hebrew. Not even the Peshitta or the Vulgate, most of which was translated from Hebrew, are immune to the influence of the LXX.
–The entire quotation above is contiguous from Natalio Fernandez Marcos, The Septuagint in Context: Introduction to the Greek Version of the Bible, translated by Wilfred G. E. Watson (Brill: Leiden, the Netherlands, 2000), 346.
Worldwide, among believers of all times and places, there is not now nor has there ever been one, single, original Bible. And, like the Ark, Aron’s staff, and the cross of Christ, if there once were such a Bible, it is quite unavailable to everyone now. Believers have always used the Bible they like and the one that is at hand. And why should any believer be told by a group of remote scholars that “their” Bible is incorrect for purposes of “exegesis?” Modern scholarship has declared that Jesus’s followers and the authors of the New Testament used the Septuagint as their Bible. For these people, the Septuagint was God’s Holy Word.
But even deeper than all written texts and translations, God himself protects the substance of his Word by the gift of the Holy Spirit, who indwells each believer’s heart. The aggregate of the Spirit inspired beliefs of all Christians creates what is known as the “rule of faith.” It was by the “rule of faith” that the early church established the traditions of what was genuinely from the Lord and what was not. The “rule of faith,” not a body of influential and elite scholars, determined which gospels and which letters were genuinely from God. After many centuries, an important standard for canonicity was the “rule of faith,” that is, what the church as a body determined was orthodox, based upon what was spoken by the apostles and later repeated by word of mouth to all believers. What the “rule of faith” determined was Scripture, became New Testament Scripture (10). A group of church elders did no more than put their seal of approval upon those letters and gospels which the body of Christian believers through usage over time agreed to be the apostles’ teaching. This explains why there are two Bibles for two branches of Christian faith, namely, the Western and the Eastern.
Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery. (NET)
Are we free to choose? Scholars come, and scholars go, but the Word of our God stands forever. Personally, in my private devotions and worship, almost since my beginning in Christ, I have relied upon the Septuagint Bible and its English translation by Brenton for the book of Psalms and the book of Isaiah. I love this version because I find it speaks of Christ more directly than many of our other English choices. And isn’t Christ who the Bible is entirely about?
1 Natalio Fernandez Marcos, The Septuagint in Context: Introduction to the Greek Version of the Bible, translated by Wilfred G. E. Watson (Brill: Leiden, the Netherlands, 2000), 338-339.
2 Timothy Michael Law, When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible (Oxford University Press: New York, 2013), 118-119.
3 “The Aleppo Codex, the oldest Hebrew Bible that has survived to modern times, was created by scribes called Masoretes in Tiberias, Israel around 930 C.E. As such, the Aleppo Codex is considered to be the most authoritative copy of the Hebrew Bible. The Aleppo Codex is not complete, however, as almost 200 pages went missing between 1947 and 1957.” Overview summary by Bing, original article available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aleppo_Codex, accessed August 3, 2019.
4 Karen H. Jobes and Moises Silva, Invitation to the Septuagint (Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, 2000), 278.
5 Natalio Fernandez Marcos, The Septuagint in Context: Introduction to the Greek Version of the Bible, translated by Wilfred G. E. Watson (Brill: Leiden, the Netherlands, 2000), 357.
6 Jennifer M. Dines, The Septuagint (T&T Clark Ltd: New York, 2004), 24 and 41-62.
7 Karen H. Jobes and Moises Silva, Invitation to the Septuagint (Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, 2000), 281. See pages 273-287 for further information on the history of the text of the Septuagint.
8 An interesting, easy-to-read article on this topic appears at this link: https://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-study/topical-studies/does-the-new-testament-misquote-the-old-testament.html. Another appears here: http://orthochristian.com/81224.html.
9 See Fr. John Whiteford, “The Septuagint vs. the Masoretic Text“ in Orthodox Christianity, http://orthochristian.com/81224.html, accessed August 1, 2019.
10 Andreas J. Kostenberger, L. Scott Kellum, Charles L Quarles, The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown (B&H Academic: Nashville), 2009, 9. See also https://www.earlychurchtexts.com/public/tertullian_on_rule_of_faith.htm, accessed 08/02/2019.
In Psalm 25, the psalmist admits his guilt; in Psalm 26, he maintains innocence. How can both be true? Both Psalm 25 and Psalm 26 are ascribed to David. Psalm 25:7-11 and verse 18 confess and deal with the sin issue, while Psalm 26 in its entirety is a statement of the psalmist’s righteousness. Surely this anomaly needs an explanation?
Oddly, many commentators skip over the superscription attributing these psalms to David. It does not appear to be an item of interest, perhaps for the reason often stated that no specific incident in David’s life can be connected to either of them. Be that as it may, whenever a reader ascribes a psalm to a human person as its subject, certain difficulties may be encountered. For example, while Scripture attests fully to David’s sin with Bathsheba, it proves more difficult to justify David as the author of Psalm 26, since according to Scripture, he was not innocent, but a shameful adulterer and murderer (2 Samuel 11-12:15). Several commentators face this difficulty by modifying the meaning of “innocent” to refer to one’s attitude of loyalty to God when attempting to enter his temple, rather than to a meaning of moral purity and sinlessness. They claim that the speaker in Psalm 26 does not claim moral perfection, but a relative righteousness in comparison with his enemies, who hate God outright. But are these weasel words? 
Fortunately for the reader, consistently applying a few basic premises to the Psalter as a whole serves to clear up such difficulties. These premises are 1) that the Psalter is poetic prophecy of the Christ, and 2) that Christ is the speaker in the first-person singular psalms, especially those ascribed to David. Let’s apply these premises to Psalms 25 and 26.
First, consider these statements from the New Testament.
God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God.
(2 Corinthians 5:21 NET)
He committed no sin nor was deceit found in his mouth. (1 Peter 2:22 NET)
For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, (Romans 8:3 ESV)
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us– for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”– (Galatians 3:13 ESV)
…25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (Romans 4:25 ESV)
9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9-10 ESV)
As we read these New Testament quotations in the light each one sheds upon the other, it becomes clear that Christ himself was without sin of any kind. He was morally perfect. Yet, he was the sacrificial lamb who not only took upon himself the sins of people, but even more than that, became sin for us.
Next, consider the question, how would you reveal this information to a people who were only being taught for the very first time a multi-person God? One of the purposes of the Psalter was to reveal that the one God has a Son (see Psalm 2:7).
Finally, to comprehend from poetry that God’s Son suffered and died as a sacrifice for sin would be no easy matter for Old Testament worshipers. God is holy, eternal, and sovereign–how then can he confess sin and die as a sacrifice? People in that era basically thought in concrete terms rather than spiritual. God designed the sacrificial system in order to teach about sin and atonement in a concrete way. The Psalter is a poetic application and spiritual extension of that concrete symbolism–not necessarily easy in that era for people to grasp.
Consider, even for many of us, who possess the facts of Jesus’ life as presented in the Gospels, it may be difficult to envision how one person could be innocent and guilty at the same time (see 2 Corinthian 5:21 above). When the Psalter was being written, I believe it fair to say that the vision of God’s people was far more limited than our vision today.
The solution? Two prophetic poems rather than one. Nevertheless, difficulties of comprehension still remained.
The Psalter reveals that the Christ was coming, that he was God’s holy King, that he would have enemies who falsely accuse and kill him, and that he would be raised from the dead to occupy God’s throne. Did God’s people understand all this? Scripture tells us that very few understood.
10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully,
11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. (1Peter 1:10-11 ESV)
7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.
8 None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1Corinthians 2:7-8 ESV, Read also to the end of the chapter.)
25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!
26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”
27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27 ESV)
44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”
45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,
46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead,
47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. (Luke 24:44-47 ESV)
Application and Exhortation to Faith: We today do not need to be “foolish” and “slow of heart” to believe. We have Christ’s own word that the Psalms were written about him. It behooves us to search out what they say and to stand upon the assurance of biblical faith that we who live in New Testament times most certainly do not need to limit our understanding of the Psalter to what a listener of that era may or may not have understood about the coming Christ. The Psalter is an amazing book, and we cheat ourselves if we do not see Christ predominantly in it.
For more on Christ in his mediatorial role, see Penitential Psalms: Psalm 51–A Personal God of Love and Psalm 25: Change of Person and Multiple Speakers.
1 See, for example, each of the following in its discussion of Psalm 26: 1) Bonar, Andrew A. Christ and His Church in the Book of Psalms: 150 Inspirational Studies. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1978. 2) Reardon, Patrick Henry. Christ in the Psalms, 2nd edition. Chesterton: Ancient Faith Publishing, 2011. 3) Belcher, Richard P. Jr. The Messiah and the Psalms: Preaching Christ from All the Psalms. Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, Ltd., 2006.
One thing is true about the Psalter: it is not to be skimmed, or read quickly. The psalms are meant to be mulled and chewed in a quiet atmosphere in which the alarm clock has been turned off. When read in such a manner, the psalms reveal details of form which add to reader comprehension. Scholarly tradition holds that the Psalter was performed in temple liturgies, that is, out loud where worshipers gathered. Many psalms lend themselves to a readers theater approach that would help to clarify their meaning to physically present listeners (see “Psalms 9 and 10: A Readers Theater”). Psalm 25 can be included in this grouping.
If I were the director, or worship leader, in charge of setting up Psalm 25 for dramatic presentation, I would assign parts in the following way:
- Speaker 1: the individual lifting his prayer to God
- Speaker 2: the chorus
Who are the speakers?
Concerning the identities of the speakers, the individual, Speaker 1, could be you or I. In a deeper sense and in alignment with the basic premise of this blog, the speaker is Jesus Christ. Psalm 25 uses this prosopological approach (speaking in-character as though using a dramatic mask, or costume) to prophesy of the coming Messiah in his human and mediatorial role. Speaker 2 could reasonably be any of the following: 1) an actual chorus of speakers who stand above and beyond the action as an interpretive narrator, 2) the voice of Scripture, as though personified, or 3) the voice of the Holy Spirit. Verse 22, “Redeem Israel, O God, from all their troubles!” favors an actual chorus (#1 above) or the voice of the Holy Spirit in intercession ((#3 above; see Romans 8:27).
Psalm 25 (NIV) in text blocks, or panels
- Panel 1
- Speaker 1, verses 1-2:
1 In you, Lord my God, I put my trust. I trust in you; 2 Do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me.
- Speaker 2, verse 3:
No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame, but shame will come on those who are treacherous without cause.
- Panel 2
- Speaker 1, verses 4-7:
4 Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; 5 guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.
6 Remember, O Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. 7 Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O Lord.
- Speaker 2, verses 8-10:
8 Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways. 9 He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. 10 All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful for those who keep the demands of his covenant.
- Panel 3
- Speaker 1, verse 11:
11 For the sake of your name, O Lord, forgive my iniquity, though it is great.
- Speaker 2, verses 12-14:
12 Who, then, is the man that fears the Lord? He will instruct him in the way chosen for him, 13 He will spend his days in prosperity, and his descendants will inherit the land. 14 The Lord confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them.
- Panel 4
- Speaker 1, verses 15-21:
15 My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare. 16 Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. 17 The troubles of my heart have multiplied; free me from my anguish, 18 Look upon my affliction and my distress and take away all my sins. 19 See how my enemies have increased and how fiercely they hate me! 20 Guard my life and rescue me; let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. 21 May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope is in you.
- Speaker 2, verse 22:
22 Redeem Israel, O God, from all their troubles!
What are the advantages of viewing Psalm 25 this way?
The main advantage of reading Psalm 25 in this statement/response format is that the interplay between God and petitioner becomes apparent. In Panel 1, the individual addresses God, acknowledging his trust in him. He asks God that he would not be put to shame and that God would rescue him from his enemies. Then, the chorus, which could be the Holy Spirit, also addresses God directly. This speech differs from the former in that it states general, biblical principles about the nature and actions of God. It answers the needs of the first speaker with reassurance. “God, no one who puts their faith in you is ever put to shame. As for the enemies, they will be the ones put to shame, since they act treacherously without provocation. Speaker 1 is vindicated and reassured by these statements. Notice that the second person direct address to the Lord made by Speaker 2 in verse 3 is joined by third person statements of general principles. This contrasts with the second person direct address and first person statements of a personal nature in verses 1 and 2. The grammar supports the perception of two distinct speakers, and this becomes more apparent as the poem progresses.
In Panel 2, Speaker 1 asks the Lord to teach and guide him, because God is the one he looks to as Savior. All his hope is in the Lord constantly; there is no one else this individual relies upon. He reminds the Lord and asks the Lord to remember his great mercy and love which stretch back to the beginning. He also brings up the sin issue, asking the Lord to forgive him. He cites two reasons: 1) he is older now and knows better, and 2) he is counting on God’s love and goodness.
In response to this speech, Speaker 2, still in Panel 2, indicates in third person that the Lord is indeed good and upright. He does instruct sinners in how to improve their walk. Speaker 2 specifically mentions “the humble,” thereby implying that Speaker 1, as one of the humble, will be guided in what is right and that the Lord will answer his request positively by teaching him. In other words, “Don’t worry. The Lord hears and will answer your prayer by forgiving you and giving you the guidance you seek.”
In Panel 3, the first person individual speaker very simply repeats his request for forgiveness (verse 11), including the elaboration that his iniquity is very great. Speaker 2 responds in much the same fashion as the first time. This speaker never states, “The Lord does forgive you.” Rather, speaking in third person about the sinner and about the Lord, Speaker 2 implies the Lord’s forgiveness through descriptions of ongoing relationship. First, he describes the kind of person the Lord forgives. This person(s) is one who “fears” the Lord (verses 12 and 14). We learn contextually, by reading many psalms, that “to fear the Lord” means to be humble toward him, both in acknowledgment of his rights as the one and only sovereign creator and in acquiescence, or submission, to those rights. The Lord chooses a path, or “way,” for that person who fears him and will instruct him on how to live his life, or to walk in that “way.” Speaker 2 continues in verse 13 to pronounce a blessing from the Lord to such a person and his descendants. Verse 14 goes deeply into the blessing in store for the persons who fear the Lord, “14 The Lord confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them.” The teaching is remarkable, that to be forgiven means to be drawn in to close and intimate relationship with the Lord Almighty. And so the reader sees by example and illustration what it means when the Lord forgives the great iniquity of those who confess and repent.
Panel 4 contains the longest speech by the first person individual supplicant. It is like a final fireworks, as the end of the prayer-poem approaches. It causes the reader to question whether Speaker 1 has heard the responses given by Speaker 2 earlier in the prayer. Certainly the conditions have not yet changed. Descriptions of these become more personal and detailed, “I am lonely and afflicted” (vs 16) and in “anguish” (vs 17). The hatred of his enemies toward him is described as being fierce (vs 19). Verse 18 includes a request that the speaker’s sins be not just “forgiven,” as in verse 11, but more than that, taken away.
Verse 21 adds a new element to the prayer. Even though the supplicant perceives himself as a sinner, he requests that integrity and uprightness would protect him. The English translation does not indicate whose integrity and uprightness are being specified. Are they abstract, stand-alone qualities, are they characteristics of God, or are they indicative of the supplicant, in spite of his confessed sins? The Septuagint translation interprets the underlying Hebrew text (vorlage) differently, “The harmless and upright joined themselves to me: for I waited for thee, O Lord.” This is very interesting. First, such a statement supports well the interpretation that Christ in this psalm speaks in a mediatorial capacity. Secondly, in his incarnation, the poor and afflicted, the harmless (disenfranchised) ones, did attach themselves to Christ. Their very belief in him as God’s Son indicates their “uprightness” before the Lord (metaphorically their truth, “straightness,” sincerity according to Thayer). On the other hand, if Speaker 1 is making reference to his own integrity and uprightness, this would support the underlying premise of the righteous one confessing mediatorially the sins of others throughout the psalm.
Speaker 2 closes both this panel and the psalm with a prayer that Israel that would be redeemed, or saved, from all their troubles. Both the Hebrew and Greek use a masculine singular for “his troubles,” a grammar supported by the NET. If the Holy Spirit is Speaker 2, “Israel” could be the kingdom or it could be a special name for Christ in his mediatorial capacity (confer Hosea 11:1 and Matthew 2:15). This summary prayer in verse 22 accords well with the interpretation that the individual supplicant, Speaker 1, has spoken throughout the psalm in a mediatorial capacity.
Why does a grammatical shift of person indicate a change of speaker?
Verbs in many languages express “person,” the English word used to describe who the subject of the verb is speaking about. Some languages also use pronouns to help clarify meaning. For example, a sentence may say, “I run,” or “We run,” “You run,” or “He runs,” etc. Why is it important to notice person in speech?
Let’s set up an imaginary scenario. Let’s pretend that I am talking to you and that you and I are alone together. Let’s further assume that no one is listening in. I may make statements such as, “I am hungry,” or, “I want you to help me.” I may say, “You are doing a good job.” The common practices of ordinary language are such that grammatical person remains consistent during a speech segment. So let’s say I am talking to you, and your name is Viva. I might say something like, “Viva, I’m hungry. I want you to help me get some lunch ready.” However, I wouldn’t say, “Viva, I’m hungry. I want you to help me get some lunch ready. Viva is a good and kind person who always helps whoever asks her,” if the situation hadn’t changed and I was still talking directly to you, Viva. If I did speak like that, a hypothetical reader (who is now listening in) might think that 1) I was speaking to a very young child, 2) that Viva had a learning difficulty of some sort, 3) perhaps I was trying to brainwash Viva, or 4) that I was making a dramatic aside to an outside party listening in. Number 4 might occur if I were on a reality TV show and I suddenly turned to speak in third person about Viva to the assumed audience. These possibilities serve to demonstrate that in normal direct address to someone labeled, “you,” when the two persons are alone together, the speaker continues to use second person throughout a consecutive speech segment. They do not grammatically shift to third person and speak about the person whom they previously had been addressing, if nothing in the setup has changed. Such a shift would normally imply the presence of a third party to the conversation.
In the example given above, a reader might see on the printed page, “Viva, I’m hungry. I want you to help me get some lunch ready. Viva is a good and kind person who always helps whoever asks her.” Rules of ordinary, common speech would cause the reader to assume the presence of a third person, who either 1) speaks the final sentence or 2) to whom the final sentence is being spoken. The type of written material would influence the reader’s conclusions concerning which of those two possibilities is correct. For example, if the reader is reading a novel, she might assume the narrator spoke that last line to the reading audience.
The above example illustrates the principle that in ordinary, plain speech an individual who directly addresses another individual does so continuously throughout the speech event. The speaker does not switch second person “you,” to third person “he,” if continually addressing the same individual. If I am speaking directly to you, I would not suddenly begin referring to you in third person, not while I am still talking to you directly.
Therefore, when we as readers encounter grammatical changes of person in a single speech event, such as second person switches to third person and back again, we normally assume another individual to be present, either as speaker or as listener. As demonstrated above, Psalm 25 continuously switches from reference to the Lord in second person to reference about the Lord in third person, and back again. For example, consider verses 7b-8, “7b According to your love remember me, for you are good, O Lord [second person]. 8 Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways [third person].” Verse 7b addresses the Lord directly in second person, you. Verse 8 without warning switches to describing the Lord in third person, he and his. As readers daily schooled in the norms of plain, ordinary speech, we would naturally begin looking for explanations to explain the shift.
What possibilities might explain the shift of person in Psalm 25?
In Psalm 25, there are various possibilities that might explain the shift in person.
- The first person speaker turns from addressing the Lord in second person to addressing himself about the Lord in third person.
- The first person speaker turns from addressing the Lord in second person to addressing an assumed audience about the Lord in third person.
- A third party privy to the prayer makes narrative statements to the Lord (verses 3 and 22) or about the Lord (verses 8-10 and 12-14). In this scenario, the first person speaker either may or may not be aware of the third party who functions as a narrator.
Let’s discuss each of these possibilities one at a time.
- The first person speaker addresses himself about the Lord. In this scenario, the supplicant, that is, the first person speaker, begins by addressing the Lord directly using first and second person, “In you, Lord my God, I put my trust,” (verse 1). Then, even though his prayer hasn’t ended, he breaks off addressing the Lord and begins talking about the Lord in third person, “Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways (verse 8). Is he now talking to himself about the Lord?
- If number one is the case, then the entire prayer becomes a kind of metacognitive debate. If he is talking to himself, it would appear to be an attempt to convince himself that the Lord will answer his prayer because that is the Lord’s nature. This would preclude (leave out) his waiting on the Lord in order to receive the Lord’s reply. The psalmist does indeed state in verse 5 LXX that he has waited on the Lord all day long; the NIV uses the word “hoped” rather than “waited.” Trying to convince oneself about the reliability of the Lord is not the same as waiting on the Lord to answer one’s prayer. Possibility one, therefore, must be rejected.
- The first person speaker turns from addressing the Lord in second person to addressing an assumed audience about the Lord in third person.
- If number two is the case, that the supplicant turns to address an audience, as in a liturgical setting, then the intimacy of the personal confessions and appeals would be broken. This scenario seems unlikely in that the passion and intimacy of the prayer directed to the Lord lead one to believe that the prayer is genuine and earnest, as prayed by a real person in a real situation. If the prayer was originally conceived for a liturgical setting, then its basic premise would be false. An honest reader must reject this notion.
- A third party privy to the prayer makes narrative statements to the Lord (verses 3 and 22) or about the Lord (verses 8-10 and 12-14).
- Verse 3 is problematic in that the statements are second person addressed to the Lord and third person about those who are treacherous without provocation. It may be spoken by a narrator (a dramatic chorus viewing the prayer from the outside or the Holy Spirit), or it may be spoken by the supplicant. I feel it is the Holy Spirit, due to its content and tone, which differ from the statements in first person of personal need. Verse 3 aside, the remaining verses fit well with assignment to a third party.
- Is the first person speaker aware that third party proclamations about the nature and character of the Lord are being inserted into his prayer from time to time? It appears not. While it seems as though the Speaker 2 statements are spoken in reply to and with regard to the contents of the statements by Speaker 1, the reverse does not seem to be the case. Statements by Speaker 1 remain consistent throughout the psalm. His thoughts do not seem to have responded to the words of reassurance consistently spoken by Speaker 2. Therefore, I believe that we the reader can hear these inserted statements, but Speaker 1 does not.
- Of the three possibilities set forth to explain the grammatical shift in person within the prayer that is Psalm 25, I believe that the third possibility appears most probable in that it best explains the normal rules of speech under which we all function.
- There are changes of grammatical person throughout Psalm 25.
- These indicate a change of speaker.
- Speaker 1 is an individual supplicant confessing his suffering and sin to the Lord, asking forgiveness, and asking the Lord for his intervention in overcoming his enemies.
- Speaker 2 is an outside voice apparent to the reader of the psalm, but not apparent to the supplicant.
- The content of the statements by the two speakers vary considerably.
- Statements by Speaker 1 are all spoken in first and second person. They express anxiety, urgency, stress, emotional pain, confession of sin, and a beseeching attitude of trust and hope in the Lord. These are consistent throughout the psalm.
- Statements by Speaker 2 are all spoken in second and third person. They express strong confidence in the Lord’s consistent love, goodness, and faithfulness toward those who fear him by keeping the demands of his covenant. They express no anxiety.
- Psalm 25 is consistent with other psalms that clearly and directly indicate Christ as King, mediator, and persecuted supplicant.
- Most likely Speaker 1 in Psalm 25 is the prophetic, in-character (prosopological) voice of Christ during the trials of his incarnation.
- Most likely Speaker 2 is the voice of the Holy Spirit having heard the prayers of Christ and also praying to the Lord God on behalf of Christ and Israel.
- All of the above is consistent with Scripture considered as a whole and in parts, both Old and New Testaments.
How do these conclusions, based upon consideration of the grammatical changes of person in Psalm 25, help the reader’s faith?
First, two speakers are better than one. Two speakers implies the supernatural presence of deity listening to the words of the psalmist’s prayer. The supplications of this prayer will be answered. This informs the reader that her prayers will also be heard, understood, accepted, and answered. Our Lord is Spirit, but he is God who sees, hears, and speaks.
Psalm 145:19 NIV He fulfils the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them.
Second, the presence of two speakers implies the presence of the Trinity within the words of Psalm 25: The Lord God to whom the supplications are directed, Christ the mediator making supplication for himself and the people he represents, and the Holy Spirit, the Helper, who helps the supplicant in his prayer.
Finally, the words and prayers of Speaker 2 are highly reassuring and certainly speak to people of faith of all times and places. By reading Psalm 25 with the understanding that Christ our mediator is praying for his mission and for the forgiveness of our sins and that the Holy Spirit is in full agreement with the words of his prayer, our faith is helped.
A popular myth in circulation today says that the God of the Old Testament was harsh, stern, cruel, and mean–an unforgiving judge eager to punish, while the God of the New Testament, as represented by Jesus Christ, is all love. Psalm 25 gives the lie to this myth. In Psalm 25, God is all-over invitation, love, and goodness to those who acknowledge him and want those things.
Psalm 25 is a prayer by an individual person surrounded by strong enemies. He asks the Lord for help and rescue from them, even as he confesses his sin and asks forgiveness. He asks the Lord to teach and guide him. He looks to the Lord always, and places his hope in the Lord.
In response to these petitions and statements of hope and faith, an unidentified narrative voice provides strong reassurances concerning God’s nature and actions toward those who humble themselves and seek him, just as the psalmist is doing. Listen to these words from Psalm 25 NIV.
3 No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame, but shame will come on those who are treacherous without cause.
8 Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
9 He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.
10 All the ways of the LORD are loving and faithful toward those who keep the demands of his covenant.
12 Who, then, are those who fear the LORD? He will instruct them in the ways they should choose.
13 They will spend their days in prosperity, and their descendants will inherit the land.
14 The LORD confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them.
Did you catch that? God is “good…upright…loving…faithful” toward those who “fear the Lord.” To “fear” the Lord in this context means to give him belief, honor, respect, and an honest attempt at obedience. To these people the Lord promises relationship When Scripture speaks verse 14, “The Lord confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them,” this is a biblical way of saying that the Lord will meet and speak with those who want him. He will share himself with them. They will spend time together in fellowship. What more could any human want than to be in a special relationship of friendship with her creator?
How is all this possible?
The other portions of Psalm 25 show a person in deep prayer with the Lord, fighting as it were for his very life. He confesses sin, confesses belief, hope, and trust in the loving goodness of the Lord, and asks the Lord to rescue him from his strong enemies. This could be a recorded prayer of Jesus Christ, our mediator, when he took on human flesh and nature and died as a sacrifice upon the cross for us. In the verse below, to “intercede” means to pray for someone:
Romans 8:34 Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died–more than that, who was raised to life–is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. (NIV)
The God of the Old Testament is the God who appointed Christ his Son to die for us as one of us. Was God being “mean” to his Son? No, they both were displaying God’s love for us. God is love, and God loves in the Old Testament, just as much as in the New. Psalm 25 assures us of his love.
A Bit of a Meandering Approach…
I remember the third stanza of Psalm 24 (verses 7-10) from my Sunday School childhood. Our teacher had selected this psalm for her class to memorize and present in a little program to the church. What did it mean? Who knows? We were never taught. My young mind created an image of large and heavy, wood and iron gates, fairytale style, cranking themselves up all by themselves, so that a King on a horse could enter over a stone road paved in large, boulder-like slabs to whatever it was that lay beyond. Did I know that the King was the Lord Almighty Jesus Christ at his ascension? No, not at all. The words held no concrete meaning for me at that point in my life. Actually, that the words came from “the Bible” meant nothing to me either. Nevertheless, I always remembered those few lines of this little poem. Our teacher had us perform the psalm chorus style. Although I enjoyed following her stage directions to deliver these final verses in a loud, strong voice, no internal emotion accompanied my recitation. No wonder, since the words held no meaning for my tiny life.
I reread this poem in January, and in the margin I wrote, “Awesome.” Then I forgot about it. This morning, when I read it again, my first reaction was one of confusion. What does Stanza 1 have to do with Stanza 2? And how do we get from there to Stanza 3? Nevertheless, I knew that something amazing was happening in the third stanza, and I wrote the one word response, “Wow.”
Finding the psalm to be beyond me, I went straight to my most spiritual commentator, John Barclay. In light of what I’ve written here, you my reader may understand why I burst out laughing, as in “LOL!”, when I read what Barclay had written. He wrote bunches, far more than normal.
Although it seems perfectly true, as all the commentators say, that this Psalm (and perhaps all the rest) was used to be sung in parts, by the different bands of sacred music which David (no doubt by the direction of the Holy Ghost) had appointed for the service of the Sanctuary; yet, if we attend any further than that, to the dull, dry, bare, and beggarly disquisitions of the carnally-minded … [academics] …, concerning the procession of the ark, its being received into the temple, and set upon its own place, with such like childish ideas, and nugatory [worthless, trivial] observations, retailed and enumerated every day, and almost in every place of worship, in the most stale and tedious manner imaginable; now do we find our whole spirit, fervor, and devotion, in the most amazing manner, all at once, as if it were by enchantment, damped, destroyed, and shrunk to nothing, after the manner, if we may so say, of the plump kine [cows], and full ears of corn, which were devoured and swallowed up by the lean, thin, blasted and shriveled!–But if, ceasing from the… [academicians], we take the spirit of the Psalm from the Spirit who inspired it, and read it in its own light, the light of its parallels, and especially the light of the New Testament, we will find, instead of the darkness of the Mosaic veil, the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus, filling our whole hearts… (Barclay, 147).
I hope you were able to wade through that–he did, after all, write those words in the early 1800’s, before texting, Twitter, and bit-speech were ever invented. I laughed when I read his impassioned description of dry, dead academia because of the confidence and unabashed moxy he displays in his vigorous attack of the “letter” that kills (2 Corinthians 3:6). I laughed because he sums up my thought exactly and bludgeons where I barely dare to hint.
So, what did Barclay (and others in my bibliography) find in Psalm 24? In short–a summation of the entire Bible and gospel.
Stanza 1, which is verses 1 and 2, represents Christ before time in his sovereignty and great creative act, as God and with God.
1 The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, 2 for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers. (ESV)
His parallel verses are John 1:1 and Colossians 1:17. I would add a phrase from Hebrews 1:3, “he upholds the universe by the word of his power.”
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 He was in the beginning with God.
3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:1-3 ESV)
16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities– all things were created through him and for him.
17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Col 1:16-17 ESV)
Stanza 2 extends from verse 3 through 6 and displays Christ in his sinless human nature making atonement as mediator between those sinners who nonetheless desire God, and God in his holiness. It is by the obedience of belief in this one man Christ that God declares every willing human righteous, who is “found in him… not having a righteousness of [their] own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” (Philippians 3:9 ESV) This verse from Philippians is almost a restatement of Psalm 24:3-6 and presents the gospel message in a nutshell. In Psalm 24, verses 3-5 refer to Christ, and verse 6 to his followers.
3 Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? 4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. 5 He will receive blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation. 6 Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah (ESV)
Stanza 3, verses 7 through 10, closes this short psalm with a dramatized declaration of Christ’s victory in battle over sin and death and his ascension to kingly reign alongside his Father in heaven–Christ is both Savior and Lord, both human and God, the point of connection between earth and heaven. Verse 8 makes reference to the battles Christ fought in his incarnation as human, and verse 10 displays him as the LORD of hosts, the King of glory, coequal with God.
7 Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. 8 Who is this King of glory? The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle! 9 Lift up your heads, O gates! And lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. 10 Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory! Selah (ESV)
A Bit of Editorial Meditation
There is no doubt that it is difficult for us as readers today to comprehend the life and vitality of these 10 verses. We are inundated by media that proclaim a worldview in staunch contrast and opposition to the faith-view presented in Psalm 24. Further, we are limited by a contemporary language that has descended to near illiteracy. Finally, we experience noise all around us constantly, noise which distracts us and robs us of contemplative moments when we can simply ask God by his Spirit to open the understanding of our spirit made in his image.
Yet these are not insurmountable obstacles. I believe a deeper issue lies at the heart of our inability to appreciate God’s biblical treasure map to us, our love letter-in-a-bottle, that is, Holy Scripture. The issue is pinpointed when we answer the question, Who do I worship? Negotiating daily life in today’s age has taught me to place myself at the center of everything. How am I doing? How do I rate? Are my needs being met? Am I performing adequately? Even our church worship services tend toward the me, me, me. Have I met God today? Have I been fulfilled by this service? Rather than, Have I presented God with a sacrifice of worship that pleases him?
Yes, the church is included in Psalm 24:6, but it’s not a psalm about the church, it’s a psalm about Jesus Christ. In order to fully appreciate Psalm 24 I need to accept that it’s a psalm not about me–it’s not about my successes and failures, my needs, my wants, my poverty, my riches–it’s a psalm about the person and fantastic success of Jesus Christ in his eternality and temporal mission. In all honesty, I find that most of my waking thoughts are about myself. Most of the living I do is an attempt to make my self happy, to fulfill my needs as I perceive them, and yes, even when I go to church. To let all that go and to find contentment in extolling an outsider–not myself–that is today’s challenge. To let someone else’s success be my own–that is rest. I do it for my favorite football team–why can’t I do it for Jesus Christ?
Am I making sense?
Psalm 143 is the final psalm in the grouping historically know as the Penitential Psalms. The other six psalms are: Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143. Psalm 143 clearly states where the Christian’s focus should abide: God.
- When reading through Psalm 143, the repetition of certain words pop out. Repetition is a strong clue when deciphering any passage of Scripture. In general, according to the way language functions, the more often a word or concept gets repeated, the more important it becomes. Repetition of variants of the word “you” or “your” are striking in Psalm 143. These occur in 10 of the 12 verses, or 83.3% of the time. By comparison, variants of “you” occur in 54.5% of the verses in Psalm 32, and the least percentage, 21.7%, occurs in Psalm 38.
- Additionally there are five verses in which the word “Lord” occurs in direct address to God.
- Repetitions of “you” and “Lord” demonstrate to the reader where the psalmist’s focus lies.
Interestingly, in the only two verses in which the psalmist does not address God directly (as displayed in the words “you,” “your,” and “Lord”), his focus shifts first, to the enemy (vs 3), and second, to himself (vs 4) in an introspective examination of how his spirit is doing.
3 The enemy pursues me,
he crushes me to the ground;
he makes me dwell in the darkness
like those long dead.
4 So my spirit grows faint within me;
my heart within me is dismayed.(NIV)
Were the psalmist’s focus to remain on the enemy and the landscape within his own spirit, Psalm 143 would be depressing, rather than uplifting to faith. As it is, Psalm 143 encourages both the psalmist who prays this prayer and the reader, whose heart can join in, as she applies the prayer to Christ in his suffering and to her own circumstances.
In Psalm 143, the reader encounters words and phrases such as: mercy, faithfulness, righteousness, relief, what your hands have done, morning, unfailing love, my trust in you, the way I should go, to you I lift up my soul, I hide myself in you, your will, you are my God, your good Spirit, level ground, your name’s sake, your unfailing love, I am your servant. Psalm 143 teaches us to focus our thoughts and prayers upon the Lord, and our hearts will be lifted up.
What about Penitence?
As this study has shown, several of the so-called Penitential Psalms have little or nothing to do with traditional concepts of penitence, such as confession and remorse for sins committed. Verse 2 is the only verse out of the 12 that approaches the topic of sin. And it appears to do so only in order to dismiss it quickly.
2 Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you.
Within the context of the psalm itself, this is as much as to say, “I am not interested in confession of my sins right now, for the enemy is pursuing me hotly and I shall soon be crushed to death (vs 7) if you do not help me quickly right now.” Why should God help him? The psalmist answers, “For I am your servant” (closing words of vs 12). Either the psalmist is arrogant in his deft brushing aside of the sin question, or he is confident of a special relationship between himself and his God. Rather than displaying arrogance, the psalmist appeals to God’s grace, which has been established in long relationship with him.
The question for each of us as readers is, Do I have this confidence before the Lord in my hour of greatest need? Am I certain of my relationship with him? Or, do I feel a need to be punished for my sins before I can ask and expect God to help me? Fortunately for the psalmist, the firm ground of his relationship with God had been established long before he cried out to the Lord in this psalm. He was secure in his overall position of obedient servant to an all-powerful, loving God. Therefore, he was able to apply himself whole heartedly to his most pressing need of asking God to save and rescue him from immediate trouble and danger.
Now is the time for each one of us to examine our relationship with God, so that when we need his help the most, we will be free to ask quickly, just as God is free to give. The ground has already been laid by the saving work of Jesus Christ upon the cross. Reader, have you laid hold of Christ’s blessing? I encourage you to enter into prayer with Jesus Christ right now, in order to make sure that you are his servant. The moment when you need his help the most is not the time to begin to debate with yourself on all kinds of issues and paroxysms of guilt and repentance. Get all that settled in advance, now, so that when you face an emergency, you, the Lord’s servant, will be able to immediately claim your birthright in Christ and quickly ask for the help you need.
Is all this contained in Psalm 143? Ask the playwright and set designer, and he will tell you, yes, it is. Read it for yourself, and see.
This concludes the series on the Penitential Psalms. Link to the first chapter of the series
1 [A Song of Degrees.] Out of the depths have I cried to thee, O Lord. 2 O Lord, hearken to my voice; let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication. 3 If thou, O Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? 4 For with thee is forgiveness: 5 for thy name’s sake have I waited for thee, O Lord, my soul has waited for thy word. 6 My soul has hoped in the Lord; from the morning watch till night. 7 Let Israel hope in the Lord: for with the Lord is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption. 8 And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities. (Psalm 129(130) LXE, Brenton)
Prophecy, if prophecy, must tell a story. A large function of the Psalter is to prophesy. The seven penitential psalms (6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143) prophesy of Christ: his innocence, the sacrificial nature of his atoning death, his human suffering, his resurrection, and the victory of his people. These portions of the life of Christ are not necessarily presented in chronological order within the penitential psalms. While other psalms speak of Christ’s suffering (Psalms 6, 32, 38, 102, and 143), Psalm 130 speaks from the grave (the depths) without making direct statements of suffering. Rather, the unique element of Psalm 130 is an extreme period of waiting, “For thy name’s sake have I waited for thee, O Lord, my soul has waited for thy word. My soul has hoped in the Lord; from the morning watch till night,” (Psalm 130:5-6 LXE). It is not difficult for faith to hear within these verses the voice of Christ as he waits within the grave for his resurrection.
Further, Psalm 130 contains no direct statements of personal sin or guilt, as do Psalms 38 and 51. Rather, Psalm 130 is a penitential psalm of atonement, due to its discussion of sin and forgiveness without personal confession of any sort. The word forgiveness in verse 4, which is ἱλασμός (il-as-mohss) in Greek, is a relatively rare word in Scripture, although it plays an enormous role in Christian evangelism and doctrine. Arndt and Gingrich (1) define it with two meanings: 1) propitiation or expiation, and 2) a sin-offering. While the major English translations (they are translating from Hebrew, not Greek) have “forgiveness” in verse 4, they use words such as “Day of Atonement” in Leviticus 25:9, “ram of atonement” in Numbers 5:8, “sin-offering” in Ezekiel 44:27, “propitiation” or “atoning sacrifice” in 1 John 2:2, and the same for 1 John 4:10. All of these occurrences in the Greek Septuagint are represented by the word ἱλασμός (il-as-mohss), which is translated as forgiveness in Psalm 130:4 (LXE Brenton) or atonement (NETS, Pietersma). (See footnotes 2 and 3.) Important to our discussion of the seven penitential psalms, this is the only occurrence of this word anywhere in the entire Psalter.
Who will receive the atoning forgiveness of verse 4? Verses 7 and 8 each name Israel. Israel, in the New Testament sense of the word (Romans 11:26), includes all believers, both saints of the Old Testament and saints of the New. What at first glance might seem to be a psalm of personal lament, therefore, is an intercessory prayer for the beneficiaries of Christ’s death. When God answers the Lord’s prayer for resurrection from the grave (verses 1-2 and 5-6 above), then his “unfailing love” (verse 7) and “full redemption” (verse 7) will be magnificently realized, for “He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins” (verse 8).
Comments: For those readers who consult commentaries, you might find that the point of view I present above, namely, that Christ is the subject of this prayer/poem–he is the one who is praying to God his Father from the grave–is underrepresented (4). The thesis of my approach is simple: the Psalter in its first person singular prayers speaks the voice of Christ.
I want to repeat what I wrote in the first post of this series on penitential psalms, “My purpose here is to hold up a road sign to you that says, “Have you tried this pathway through Psalms?” The pathway we will consider is Christ and his cross. Even in the so-called grouping of seven Penitential Psalms, we find Christ ever present and revealed. These psalms are not primarily about experiencing emotions of penitence designed to lead us to repentance. Rather, they are primarily about the life of Jesus Christ during his incarnation. My premise is that Psalms reveal Christ. He is their primary focus. As we see Christ revealed, we also learn about God’s love for us, and that is what makes them important” (The Penitential Psalms: A Fresh Look–New Series).
Premising Christ as speaker in all the penitential psalms at first appears to provide obstacles, the most difficult being what to do with a psalm of pure confession, such as Psalm 51. However, when we consider the seven psalms as a unified whole with the understanding that Christ is speaker throughout (except of course in those places which imply or directly state that God is addressing Christ, Psalm 102), we see that a clear picture of the several elements of the complete gospel emerges:
- Christ’s passion of human suffering (Psalms 6, 32, 38, 102, and 143)
- Christ’s innocence (Psalms 6, 102, and 130)
- the wrath of God upon Christ, the wrath that achieved propitiation (Psalms 6, 32, 38, 102, and 143)
- the persecution of Christ by his enemies (Psalms 6, 38, 102, and 143)
- Christ’s identity as both God and man (Psalm 102)
- Christ’s resurrection (Psalm 102:13)
- Christ’s prayer for his resurrection (Psalm 130)
- end results for Israel (or Zion) and the Church won by Christ in his victory through the cross (51, 102, and 130)
When the reader perceives Christ in their center, the penitential psalms (and the Psalter as a whole) gain a cohesion and sense of meaning that a consideration of each psalm separately does not provide. Also, this viewpoint provides deeper and more certain theological meanings than the isolated concepts of confession and repentance might individually supply. These psalms offer a great hope for the one who reads, a hope placed on the solid ground of the actions of the Son of God, rather than upon the alternative actions of an unnamed sinner with whom the reader must strain to identify. Once again, my purpose here is to hold up a road sign that says, “Have you tried this pathway through Psalms?” My prayer is that as you spend time with the Lord, asking him to reveal his presence to you within the words of Christ as expressed in these seven psalms, that God through his Holy Spirit will answer your heart to the fullest extent.
1 Arndt, William F. and F. Wilbur Gingrich, Editors. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2nd Edition. Revised and Augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker from Walter Bauer’s Fifth Edition, 1958. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1979.
2 Brenton, Sir Lancelot C. L. The Septuagint Version: Greek and English. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1970.
3 Pietersma, Albert, ed. A New English Translation of the Septuagint: The Psalms. Translated by Albert Pietersma. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. Available online at http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/nets/edition/24-ps-nets.pdf. Accessed April 27, 2018.
4 John Barclay hears only the voice of Christ in Psalm 130. See Barclay, John. The Psalms of David, and the Paraphrases and Hymns: With a Dissertation on the Book of Psalms, and Explanatory Introductions to Each. Edinburgh: James Gall, 1826. Reprinted Digitally by Forgotten Books, registered trademark of FB &c Ltd., London, 2017. Available at http://www.ForgottenBooks.com, 2017. A better quality copy is available at https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=nyp.33433068259260;view=1up;seq=205;size=75. Accessed April 11, 2019.