Psalms as Prayers of Christ
The Thesis: Many psalms record Jesus Christ praying to God and in them God replies, sometimes with speech, often with action.
Have you ever prayed a prayer to God, wishing he would reply, and he actually does? Do you remember how that feels? If God speaks to us, why wouldn’t he speak to his Son? Well, in Scripture he does!
There are two main biblical sources for the prayers of Christ to his Father God.
I. the Gospels
II. the Psalms
I. Three gospel accounts come to mind that record actual prayers of Christ. There are many more:
John 11:41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”
After the above address to his Father, Jesus commanded his friend Lazarus, who had been dead in the tomb for four days, to come out, and he did. Jesus had thanked his Father in advance, and the answered prayer was in fact the miracle.
Mark 15:34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The above cry to his Father, Jesus made from the cross. God’s reply was to resurrect his Son.
John 12:27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine.
Here again, Jesus cried out to his Father, and this time, God answered him with actual, audible words. This is not the first time that God the Father spoke to his Son with audible words. He also spoke audibly at Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:16-17; Mark 1:9-12) and at his transfiguration (Luke 9:34-35). Later in Scripture, after his ascension, Jesus in turn spoke down to Saul, who became Paul, in audible words.
II. The second place we hear the voice of the Lord in prayer is in the book of Psalms. Prophetically spoken, Psalms are filled with prayers of Christ to God his Father, prayers to be realized by Christ during his incarnation. In some of the psalms, God himself speaks; in others, only Jesus speaks. In many psalms, Christ, the one praying, reports that God has heard and replied. Most often, the replies are not words the reader can hear, but replies of action. The action can be of different kinds: some is simply reported by the one praying, who is Christ; other actions are described in detail for the reader to see and hear, such as in Psalm 18. Sometimes the reply can be found in the same psalm as the prayed request. Other times the reply can be located across the book in other psalms. All the psalmist’s prayers are answered somewhere within the book of Psalms. As mentioned, when Jesus prays in the Psalms, it is prophetically, by the Holy Spirit, through the prophet/writer, such as David. Much more will be said on this in future posts.
Psalm 22:1 To the choirmaster: according to The Doe of the Dawn. A Psalm of David. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? (See Mark 15:34 above and Matthew 27:35.)
God responded to the above cry with action. The psalmist reports the action in verse 21b and praises God throughout the rest of the psalm:
21b You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!
22 I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
23 You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! [and forward]
Psalm 5:1 To the choirmaster: for the flutes. A Psalm of David. Give ear to my words, O LORD; consider my groaning. 2 Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you do I pray.
While this psalm has no specific answer given within the psalm itself, other places in the psalter speak loudly of its answered prayer. One place might be Psalm 103:
2 Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,
3 who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
5 who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
Psalm 138:1 Of David. I give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise;
2 I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word.
3 On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased.
Verse 3 above is a reported answer to prayer. The entire psalm is one of praise and thanksgiving.
I look forward to delving into actual psalms in detail. Before we do that, however, I feel it would be practical and useful to describe a few of the books I have discovered that bear witness to my approach of hearing the voice of Christ in prayer to his Father within the book of Psalms. So, Lord willing, my next post will present other authors who read Psalms with this ear.
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Florida: How Exactly Can Jesus Help?
I cry with the survivors and with all America over the senseless deaths of seventeen beautiful young lives wastefully slaughtered in a single act of meaningless violence this past week. I cry over the hateful, invective-spewing division in America, as some scream, “Guns!” while others scream, “People!” As a Christian, I ask myself, how exactly can faith in Jesus Christ help at a time like this?
Two verses come to mind, one from the Old Testament and one from the New:
Isaiah 50:7 But the Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint (solid rock), and I know that I shall not be put to shame. (ESV)
Hebrews 10:5 Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me;
“For God so loved the world that he gave” his Son in a human body. Jesus wasn’t a bionic man, not a superman. His body of human flesh was just like yours and mine. Yet God made Jesus strong, like flint, like rock (Isaiah 50:7), so that he could withstand the suffering involved in human sacrifice. Yes, Jesus was a human sacrifice. He died a painful death nailed to a Roman cross.
Jesus Christ the man/Son of God then rose from the dead. Yes, he rose from the dead and sits at the right hand of God in the victory of God’s love over all death and all evil in the world.
How can faith in Jesus Christ help at a time like this? We will get through this. There is life beyond the grave. When we place our faith in Christ, we are placing our faith in the Rock. We are building our homes on the Rock, not on sand.
Matthew 7:24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.
Faith in Christ helps us because Jesus as a fellow-sufferer has already won victory over death. He now stands in the fullness of life restored and carries us with him. Suffering does end. We will get through this. There is life on the other side. It is the strength of Jesus’ love that carries us through.
My prayers are with the survivors and with America right now.
Which Bible Should I Use?
Which Bible Should I Use?
A quick, short answer is that you should use a Bible that you like, one that you are most likely to pick up and read. Actually reading the Bible is more important than which translation you use, especially since the Holy Spirit is the one who will be opening the Scripture to you (See The Holy Spirit in the Reader.)
Every English language Bible is a translation, since for the most part, the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament was written in Greek. The modern versions of these languages are not identical with the older languages used during the years the Bible was written. All Bibles in languages other than the original Hebrew and Greek are translations. Therefore, there will be differences among them—this is unavoidable! English translations I have regularly used and recommend include the ESV and the NIV, especially the older, 1985 version. The New King James Version and the King James Version are also good.
Good translations stick very closely to the wording of the original language, even including word for word reproductions of what some might call idioms. A good translation also preserves gender specific pronouns when the meaning might be thought either to support a specific person of a certain gender or a reference to humanity in general. The best rule of thumb is to let the language of Scripture speak for itself, and a good translation does just that.
For studying Scripture, paraphrased translations are poor starting points. A paraphrase is a translation in which words have been added, others dropped, and exact words of the original languages have been substituted by other words that the translators consider to be more palatable or understandable to modern tastes or sensibilities. The NIV sticks to the original intent of the biblical authors without use of word for word translation (dynamic equivalence), while the KJV, the NKJV, the NASB, and more recently the ESV stick to a close translation of both the intent and the actual words of the original languages (formal equivalence). The Message Bible is an example of a translation that is extremely paraphrased, and the NET Bible paraphrases freely as occasions suit the translators’ or the editors’ tastes.
For hearing Christ’s voice in the Psalms, a translation which sticks as closely to the original language as possible is preferable over a paraphrase.
One translation that is ancient is the Septuagint. The Septuagint is an early Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament (including Daniel, which was written in Aramaic.) While the Septuagint (LXX for short) often departs from the Hebrew in significant ways, this is the translation that the authors of the New Testament used, since many, if not most people in New Testament biblical times no longer spoke or wrote Hebrew. Greek was the international language of common exchange when the New Testament was written, and the New Testament was written in Greek with the Septuagint largely used for quotations from the Old Testament. For Jesus and his early followers, “Scripture” meant the Septuagint.
While not all scholars would be in agreement, I believe that God chose the Septuagint as the Old Testament to be used by authors of the New Testament for good reason. One reason is that the voice of Christ in Psalms is more readily apparent when reading from the Septuagint than from the Masoretic (Hebrew), and for Christians, Christ is the point of the entire Bible (3).
Since the Septuagint is a Greek translation, most readers must read a translation of it, just as most readers must read a translation of the New Testament itself, rather than the original Greek. Lancelot Brenton’s English translation of the Septuagint is the best translation I have found, even though there are some newer translations. I often use Brenton’s Septuagint, abbreviated LXE, the Septuagint in English.
I recommend choosing what is commonly called a Reference Bible. The references may appear on the left or right margins of the page, down a center column of the page, or in horizontal rows across the foot of the page. For my own ease of reading, I prefer either the center or side column references.
Most of what the reference columns contain are references to other portions of Scripture. In some cases, there might be a note that refers to a different possible translation or to a different manuscript tradition (1).
Some of the references refer to single words that appear elsewhere in Scripture. These are useful in doing word studies. Others refer to phrases or concepts that appear elsewhere in Scripture. Still others refer to entire verses that appear or are quoted elsewhere in Scripture. Often this last kind of reference has a back and forth movement between the Old and New Testaments. Exact repetitions of verbiage elsewhere in Scripture are called citations, and I find these the most useful form of reference.
A forward citation is a reference at a particular verse in the Old Testament which notes the occurrence of the words in that verse at a certain point or points in the New Testament. A backward citation is a reference at a verse in the New Testament that has its counterpart in the Old Testament. Both of these citation types are useful and necessary for the reader. Not all reference Bibles give both forward and backward citations for all verses. Some do a better job than others. Some give backward citations but largely ignore the forward. A good reference Bible is the ESV, since it gives fairly complete citations in both forward and backward directions. On the other side, I find that the NET Bible lacks a fair number of forward citations for the book of Psalms. This means that verses of some psalms are found in the New Testament that the NET Bible fails to point out in the Old Testament (2).
Reference Bibles Yes, Study Bibles No
While a good study Bible should contain an excellent set of forward and backward references, not all do (2), and study Bibles contain lots more than simple references. More than one study Bible contains commentary that can only be regarded as biased to favor one form of biblical interpretation over another. For new Christians and for anyone seeking to hear directly from the Holy Spirit through Scripture, it is best not to consult a study Bible for Psalms. Even a reference Bible is not necessary for anyone familiar with the facts of Christ’s life as presented primarily in the Gospels and Acts, and also in the New Testament letters, since the Holy Spirit is able to ring the internal bells of recollection to connect the psalms with the actual events of Christ’s life.
Unfortunately, most academic scholars and editors in today’s chilly climate reject the idea that the book of Psalms was written by God, through human psalmists, with the Lord Jesus, God’s Son, as God’s intended primary speaker of those prayers. In other words, God always intended Psalms to be the prophetic prayers of Jesus Christ pointing towards his incarnation. Then, during his incarnation, he lived out those same prayers. The notes of some study Bibles reflect disbelief in a tight unity of Scripture and provide a purposefully negative influence upon readers who are seeking to hear the prophetic voice of Jesus Christ within the psalms of Scripture. These study Bibles should be avoided if your purpose is to hear the voice of Jesus Christ praying the psalms.
In a later post, Lord willing, I will write about authors who are favorable to the view of Christ in the Psalms.
(1) The original Bible was written in pieces, not all at the same time and not all at the same place. Each piece was carefully copied again and again by hand. No one has the original of any Scripture. Some of the existing copies are very, very old, while others are simply old. Some of the existing copies are copied from a copy which was copied from a copy and so on. Over time, the existing copies came to contain small differences. When these differences persist over time, they become known as “manuscript traditions.”
(2) One such example is found in Psalm 2:1-2, “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? 2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,…” (ESV). Everyone familiar with the lyrics of Handel’s Messiah should recognize that for centuries these time-honored words from Psalm 2 have been commonly considered to be about Jesus Christ.
In a good use of references, the ESV at the very beginning of the first verse of this set of two verses in Psalms points out a citation in Acts 4:25-26, in which Psalm 2:1-2 is quoted exactly. The NET Bible, however, makes no mention anywhere in their voluminous notes for these two verses in Psalms that they are directly quoted in Acts. When the reader turns to Acts 4:25-26, the ESV cites Psalm 2:1-2 at the very outset of those verses, while the NET Bible places the reference to Psalms in the very last of eight long, arduous notes.
Further, the biblical speakers in Acts 4:24-25, just before the quotation from psalms, describe the quotation with these words, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,” (ESV). This is a very clear, scriptural, God-inspired statement (2 Timothy 3:16) that attributes the original verses in Psalms to God as author. A reader can safely assume that God knew what he meant and meant what he said when he inspired David as the go-between mouthpiece for his words. The aggregate of the NET notes, however, seems to suggest that the meaning of what God said through David as it concerns Christ was a human development through time in Israel’s long history, was only finalized by the Apostle Paul (who is not a Christian in Acts 4), and that it was not the direct intention of God from the very beginning. But the short text in Acts makes clear that those original Christians understood and quoted God’s original intention. It often seems that the editorial/translation stance of NET Bible, as just exemplified, is that the Old Testament should be read according to the assumed or academically reconstructed “theological context” of the human authors and listeners of the biblical era in which it was written, rather than the eternal theological context of God. This translation and notes should be avoided by readers who are desirous of hearing Jesus Christ’s voice praying the psalms.
(3) I extend my apologies to any reading this blog who might not see Christ as the point of the entire Bible. However, this blog is openly devoted to Christ. Christ is this blog’s only reason for existence.
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Hebrew Couplet in John 3 and 4: Jesus Evangelizes a Rabbi Section 2
John the Gospel writer wrote chapters 3 and 4 like a poetic couplet written in Hebrew. We miss a great deal of meaning if we read about Nicodemus without considering the woman at the well, and we miss a great deal of meaning if we read about the woman at the well without considering Nicodemus. Each of these narratives is like one line of a single couplet of Hebrew poetry.
This Blog Has Two Sections
Woman at the Well–Shorter, fewer details, general comments: Link
Nicodemus–Longer, more details, specific comparisons
Hebrew poetry of the Old Testament, especially in Psalms, features couplets. A Hebrew couplet consists of two lines of poetry that are independent, yet connected. The second line commonly repeats the first line by using a slightly different image, by adding a detail or example, by extending the meaning of the first line, or by particularizing the first line in some way. Examples abound.
1. Let your steadfast love come to me, O LORD,
your salvation according to your promise; (Psalm 119:41)
2. How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. (Psalm 36:7)
3. My God in his steadfast love will meet me;
God will let me look in triumph on my enemies. (Psalm 59:10)
John 3:16 itself is like two couplets of Hebrew poetry:
1. For this is the way God loved the world:
He gave his one and only Son,
2. so that everyone who believes in him will not perish
but have eternal life. (John 3:16 NET)
In John 3:16 above, Jesus says that God gives “everyone” who believes in the Son eternal life. To illustrate this statement, John gives two examples of “everyone”: first, Nicodemus in John 3, and then the woman at the well in John 4. These are two very different people, yet identical. While the differences are external, the points of identification are essential. The two taken together form a continuum of humanity with Nicodemus at one extreme and the woman at the well at the other. The two examples together are like a Hebrew couplet of poetry that illustrate the couplets in John 3:16 above:
Nicodemus’s great learning and righteousness are not enough to earn him everlasting life;
God’s love, working through faith, grants him life.
The woman at the well’s lack of education and sin are not enough to deny her everlasting life;
God’s love, working through faith, grants her life.
The two sets of couplets just above can be shortened into one couplet, then expanded with another in order to tell the full gospel account of Nicodemus and the woman at the well recorded in John 3 and 4.
Learning and righteousness will not bring you in;
Ignorance and sin will not keep you out.
God’s love, working through faith, are necessary and sufficient for all.
God alone in his love gives eternal life through belief in his Son.
Differences between the two:
Nicodemus–a man, Jewish, a rabbi, well known, well-respected, educated, a teacher, close follower of the law.
Woman at the well–a woman, a Samaritan (pagan), anonymous, not respected, not educated, an adulteress.
Identification of the two:
Nicodemus–unable to enter God’s kingdom without the Spirit of Life (Christ).
Woman at the well–unable to enter God’s kingdom without the Water of Life (Christ).
Nicodemus–welcomed by Christ.
Woman at the Well–welcomed by Christ.
Nicodemus–slow to believe and receive.
Woman at the well–quick to believe, to receive, and to go share with others.
We can see the relationship between the two chapters if we align the verses in a table format:
2 “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God,”
19 “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.
3 Jesus answered … “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
23 …true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth…
6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh,
and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
24 God is spirit,
and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Progress towards Faith Breaks Down
Progress towards Faith Continues
9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”
25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.”
10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel
and yet you do not understand these things?
26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
28 So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people,
29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?”
John the writer devotes great detail to demonstrate his point about Jesus’ teaching concerning the Kingdom of God. We can summarize Jesus’ teaching like this:
In order to enter the Kingdom of God…
1. No one is so rich that Jesus is not necessary (Nicodemus);
No one is so poor that Jesus is not sufficient (the woman at the well).
2. Jesus is necessary for everyone to enter the Kingdom of God;
Jesus is sufficient for everyone to enter the Kingdom of God.
3. Jesus is necessary and sufficient for all to enter the Kingdom of God.
John 3:16 For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (NET)
The Gospel of John shows us that everyone who is born again receives the Spirit of God. Everyone who believes in Christ God’s Son receives the Spirit of God. God is a living God who speaks with everyone who receives his Spirit. The Spirit of God is Christ, God’s Son. If you believe, then God gives his Spirit to you, and God’s Spirit will talk with you.
This is what Jesus accomplished on the cross. The cross of Christ wiped out the sin that separates all humankind from Holy God. With sin gone and Christ in its place, there is no longer need for Holy God to maintain his distance from human hearts. Every believer in Jesus Christ God’s Son reunites with God through Christ and the Holy Spirit.
This is why Scripture is alive to all who believe. This is why as you faithfully and persistently read the Psalms, you will begin to hear God speaking to your heart through them. You will begin to hear the prayers of Christ within the Psalms as the Holy Spirit interprets them to your heart.
All humankind is somewhere on the continuum between Nicodemus and the woman at the well. Everyone needs Christ. Jesus God’s Son makes himself available to all.
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Outline of Psalms Revisited
A. Overview: A Second Go Round
B. Expect God to Speak to You—Yes, You!
2. God Is Willing to Talk to You
3. Jesus Evangelizes a Sinful Woman: Section I
4. Jesus Evangelizes a Rabbi: Section II
5. The Holy Spirit in the Reader