As a young Christian I kept a handmade journal which I titled, “A Prayer Warrior’s Songbook.” In it I copied Scripture, because these were what sustained me in those years of direct and vigorous spiritual battle against the dark forces of fear, evil, and imprisonment that rose against my young life of faith in Christ. Similarly, the entire Psalter could be titled, “The Prayer Warrior’s Songbook.”
Sometimes in our reading, we bump into an author who thinks as a soul sister or brother would. In the first pages of Patrick Henry Reardon’s book, “Christ in the Psalms,” I find such a brother. He writes:
To pray the psalms correctly, then, it is very important that we properly identify the enemies…The enemies here are…those hostile forces spoken of in the very first verse of the Book of Psalms–‘the counsel of the ungodly.’ ‘For we do not wrestle,’ after all, ‘against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places’ (Eph. 6:12) To relinquish any one of the psalms on the excuse that its sentiments are too violent for a Christian is a clear sign that a person has also given up the very battle that a Christian is summoned from his bed to fight. [Psalm 3:5] The psalms are prayers for those engaged in an ongoing spiritual conflict. No one else need bother even opening the book.” [emphasis added] (Reardon, Christ in the Psalms, 6)
Did we get that? “The psalms are prayers for those engaged in an ongoing spiritual conflict.”
Psalms form a horizontal cross-section that bears witness to the spiritual battle that led to and included the crucifixion of Christ. Spread across centuries of preparation for the cross, there are a series of petitions and intercessions, interspersed with worship, by the battling psalmist himself and by a chorus of prayer team members, who celebrate his final victory.
II. The Suffering Christ of the Gospels
Luke 24: 25 And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! 26 “Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.
Luke 24: 44 Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are 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 He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, 47 and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
A. The Gospels Chronicle a Suffering Christ
- Matthew 8:20 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
- NAU Matthew 9:3 And some of the scribes said to themselves, “This fellow blasphemes.”
- Matthew 9:11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
- Matthew 9:34 But the Pharisees said, “He casts out demons by the prince of demons.”
- Matthew 27:29 and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!”
- Mark 3:5 …”Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
- Mark 6:2 And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
- Mark 11:18 And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.
- Luke 4:2 for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry.
- Luke 4:28 When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29 And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff.
- Luke 22:21 But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table.
- Luke 22:52 Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs?
- Luke 23: 35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”
- John 8:59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
- John 10:31 The Jews picked up stones again to stone him.
- John 11:8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?”
- John 19:18
B. The Gospels Chronicle a Christ Who Stood Alone
- John 1:10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. 11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not.
- John 2: 23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.
- Mark 1:35 And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.
- Matthew 14:23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone,
- John 6:15 Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
- Matthew 26:56 “But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left him and fled.
- Luke 22:61 And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.”
III. David the Forerunner and Type of Christ
A. God Selected David and Bestowed Great Promises on Him and His Seed
1 Samuel 16:1 The LORD said to Samuel…”I have provided for myself a king…”
1 Samuel 16: 12 …And the LORD said, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he.” 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David from that day forward…
2 Samuel 7:4 But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan… 5 “Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD:…12 “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.” 17 In accordance with all these words, and in accordance with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.
Psalm 78:70 He chose David his servant and took him from the sheepfolds;
Ezekiel 34:23 And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.
Ezekiel 34:24 And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the LORD; I have spoken.
Ezekiel 37:24 “My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes.
Isaiah 22:22 And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.
Revelation 3:7 “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.
B. David and the New Testament
Matthew 1:1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Matthew 9:27 And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed him, crying aloud, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.”
Matthew 12:23 And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?”
Matthew 21:15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that He had done, and the children who were shouting in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became indignant.
Mark 12:35 And Jesus began to say, as He taught in the temple, “How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? 36 “David himself said in the Holy Spirit, ‘THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, “SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, UNTIL I PUT YOUR ENEMIES BENEATH YOUR FEET.”‘ 37 “David himself calls Him ‘Lord’; so in what sense is He his son?” And the large crowd enjoyed listening to Him.
Luke 1:32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,
John 7:42 Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?”
Acts:2 30 [Peter speaking] “And so, because he was a prophet and knew that GOD HAD SWORN TO HIM WITH AN OATH TO SEAT one OF HIS DESCENDANTS ON HIS THRONE, 31 he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that HE WAS NEITHER ABANDONED TO HADES, NOR DID His flesh SUFFER DECAY. 32 “This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. 33 “Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. 34 “For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says: ‘THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, “SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, 35 UNTIL I MAKE YOUR ENEMIES A FOOTSTOOL FOR YOUR FEET.”‘ 36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ– this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Acts 13: 22 [Paul speaking] “After He had removed him, He raised up David to be their king, concerning whom He also testified and said, ‘I HAVE FOUND DAVID the son of Jesse, A MAN AFTER MY HEART, who will do all My will.’ 23 “From the descendants of this man, according to promise, God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus,
Romans 1:1 … the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,
Revelation 5:5 And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
Revelation 22:16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”
B. David and the Psalms
Most agree that these are the psalms written by David:
- Psalms 3 through 41, except Psalms 10 and 33
- Psalms 51 through 70, except Psalms 66 and 67
- Psalms 86, 101, 108-110, 122, 124, 131, 133, 138-145
Many would agree with the following statement:
The humanism of the Psalter is a humanism rooted in the Incarnation. The Psalter is not human merely because it speaks for an in general, but because it speaks for Christ. The underlying voice of the Psalms is not simply “man,” but the Man. To enter into the prayer of this book is not merely to share the sentiments of King David, or Asaph, or ne of the other inspired poets. Indeed, in a theological sense the voices of these men are secondary hardly more important than our own. The foundational voice of the Psalms, the underlying bass line of its harmony is, rather, the voice of Jesus Christ, the only Mediator between God and man (Reardon, 13).
IV. How Structure and Content Coincide in Psalms
A. First person singular (“I”) petitions for deliverance from trouble and suffering are most often psalms of David. Exceptions are Psalms 42, 43, and the great Psalm 88, all superscribed with the name “Sons of Korah.”
Psalm 31:1 To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. In you, O LORD, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me! 2 Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily! Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me! 3 For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me; 4 you take me out of the net they have hidden for me, for you are my refuge. 5 Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God.
B. First person plural (“we”) petitions: Likewise, David most often stands alone making intercession for himself. Psalms does not record many national or communal prayers on behalf of the suffering king. Communal laments and petitions for God’s help mostly reflect the suffering of the people or of the nation.
Psalm 74:1 A Maskil of Asaph. O God, why do you cast us off forever? Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture? 2 Remember your congregation, which you have purchased of old, which you have redeemed to be the tribe of your heritage! Remember Mount Zion, where you have dwelt. 3 Direct your steps to the perpetual ruins; the enemy has destroyed everything in the sanctuary!
EXCEPTIONS: Psalms 80 and 139
In Psalm 80:15 and 17, a Psalm of Asaph, a spokesperson for the nation of Israel intercedes in prayer for the nation and for God’s “son” in English versions based upon the Masoretic text. The Greek text has “son of man” in both verses and male “man of your right hand” in Psalm 79:18 LXX.
Psalm 80:15 the stock that your right hand planted, and for the son whom you made strong for yourself. (ESV)
Psalm 80:15 and restore that which thy right hand has planted: and look on the son of man whom thou didst strengthen for thyself. (LXE)
Psalm 80:17 But let your hand be on the man of your right hand, the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself! (ESV)
Psalm 80:17 Let thy hand be upon the man (ἄνδρα) of thy right hand, and upon the son of man whom thou didst strengthen for thyself. (LXE)
While it is possible that all these phrases refer to the nation of Israel, it seems highly likely that God intends one or more of the references to refer to the Christ.
In Psalm 132 a spokesperson of the people/nation acknowledges before God, “David your servant,” in connection with David’s suffering, while at the same time pleading for David’s posterity, Zion, the people.
Psalm 132:1 A Song of Ascents. Remember, O LORD, in David’s favor, all the hardships he endured,
1. These facts (A and B above) reflect in the New Testament, for in the New Testament, time and again, we see Christ alone interceding for himself and his disciples, rather than vice versa.
Rather than praying to God for their Teacher, the disciples mostly argued among themselves about which of them would be greatest in God’s kingdom. Judas betrayed Christ. The three disciples chosen by Jesus to accompany him into the Garden of Gethsemane, when asked by Jesus to watch and pray with him, fell asleep. All of them ran away during Christ’s hour of greatest need, and Peter denied him three times. None of them expected or prayed for the resurrection, and many of them had difficulty believing in the resurrection when it did occur.
2. These facts (A and B above) underscore that the church as community was not birthed until after Jesus Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension, and his sending of the Holy Spirit.
3. The Psalms reflect the reality that Jesus stood alone.
D. The majority of David’s prayers–not all–are petitions for God’s help in his great troubles. He was the suffering shepherd/king.
Psalm 22:19 But you, O LORD, do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid!
E. The remainder of David’s prayers are praise celebrations of God’s goodness and the victories he grants David.
Psalm 34:1 Of David, when he changed his behavior before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away. I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. 2 My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad. 3 Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together! 4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.
F. Israel’s communal psalms (first person plural) about the king mostly reflect the king’s glories and victories. They thank and praise God for the king in his splendor and might. They mostly do not mention the king’s sufferings.
Psalm 45:1 To the choirmaster: according to Lilies. A Maskil of the Sons of Korah; a love song. My heart overflows with a pleasing theme; I address my verses to the king; my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe. 2 You are the most handsome of the sons of men; grace is poured upon your lips; therefore God has blessed you forever. 3 Gird your sword on your thigh, O mighty one, in your splendor and majesty! 4 In your majesty ride out victoriously for the cause of truth and meekness and righteousness; let your right hand teach you awesome deeds! 5 Your arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies; the peoples fall under you. 6 Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness; 7 you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions;
1. Israel’s community psalms about the glories and victories of their king reflect the fact that the church was birthed after Jesus’ resurrection (victory over sin and death) and ascension into glory. The church per se only knows Christ post-resurrection.
2. Unlike the community of Israel as represented in the prayers of the psalms (see B above), the church remembers Christ’s suffering in the memorial ordinance of communion, in its liturgies, and in other group and individual prayers that praise and thank God for Christ’s suffering and sacrifice on her behalf.
V. Praying the Psalms Today
A. Praying for Ourselves as Individuals
B. Praying for Ourselves as Christ’s Body, His Church
C. Praying the Psalms as a Means of Entering Into, Acknowledging, and Appreciating the Sufferings of Christ the Incarnated Man