Psalms 56-60: A Packet–Psalm 58 Enter Judgment
Ding-dong, the witch is dead! Which old witch? The wicked witch
Ding-dong, the wicked witch is dead. — lyrics from The Wizard of Oz. (1).
Question: Did the Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz celebrate death and vengeance, or were they celebrating the ending of cruel slavery suffered by all when wickedness ruled the land?
Judgment is an uncomfortable theme for many Christians and Christian critics who have been raised on John 3:16 and its sequel, “God is love,” in 1 John 4:8. How can judgment possibly be consistent with the teaching of 100% acceptance in Jesus Christ for every willing individual? Nevertheless, the theme of judgment, and yes, punishment, occurs cover to cover throughout the Bible. After describing the characteristics of the wicked, Psalm 58 focuses on the theme of judgment for the enemies of God and his Son, the King.
This author bears no animosity nor any judgmental attitude toward any people group anywhere in the globe. Jesus Christ broke down all walls of division separating any given portion of humankind from any other portion (Ephesians 2:14-3:21). We are all one in Christ, and love rules the day. The importance of this packet of psalms lies in their prophetic word of Christ. These psalms function as an aid to help along the nascent faith of unbelievers and all Christians everywhere. For those who still may doubt that Psalm 58 treats of Christ, perhaps the quotes in the Notes section may help (2).
Who are these wicked?
Verse 1 of Psalm 58 states a basic premise that the mouth is indicative of what lies in the heart.
Psalm 58:1 If ye do indeed speak righteousness, then do ye judge rightly, ye sons of men.
Christ in in the New Testament states it this way,
Matthew 12:34 Offspring of vipers! How are you able to say anything good, since you are evil? For the mouth speaks from what fills the heart. (NET)
And James in the memorable passage concerning the tongue, introduces the topic of how one’s speech relates to the whole person:
James 3:2 For we all stumble in many ways. If someone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect individual, able to control the entire body as well. (NET)
Psalm 58 LXE (Septuagint in English by Brenton) goes on to describe the “sons of men” (3) or “sinners” in verses 2-4:
2 For ye work iniquities in your hearts in the earth: your hands plot unrighteousness.
3 Sinners have gone astray from the womb: they go astray from the belly: they speak lies.
4 Their venom is like that of a serpent; as that of a deaf asp, and that stops her ears;
5 which will not hear the voice of charmers, nor heed the charm prepared skillfully by the wise.
Again, Jesus puts it this way:
Matthew 15:8 “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;
Mark 7:21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery,
John 8:44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
Matthew 13:38 The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one,
Matthew 23:33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?
Luke 7:31 “To what then should I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, yet you did not dance; we wailed in mourning, yet you did not weep.’
Matthew 13:13 For this reason I speak to them in parables: Although they see they do not see, and although they hear they do not hear nor do they understand.
The kind of people described in both Testaments above are the ones who opposed Jesus every step of his ministry. They are those whom the gospels call the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the priests, the chief priests and elders, the Sanhedrin, the lawyers, and the scribes. These are people who hated the truth of God and Christ, who hated the actions of love and good works, especially towards the down and out and poor of person and spirit. They were absolutely sure that they were right and all who disagreed with them were wrong and to be hated. They were proud in their hearts and disdainful of all who were different than they. They believed that they merited special, favorable treatment from God because they believed themselves to be superior to others. They were the religious authorities of Jesus’s day who sought to annihilate him.
What will be the fate of the wicked who hate God and his Christ?
Psalm 2 first prophesies the outcome for this set of people.
Psalm 2:1 Wherefore did the heathen rage, and the nations imagine vain things?
2 The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers gathered themselves together, against the Lord, and against his Christ;
3 saying, Let us break through their bonds, and cast away their yoke from us.
4 He that dwells in the heavens shall laugh them to scorn, and the Lord shall mock them.
5 Then shall he speak to them in his anger, and trouble them in his fury.
6 But I have been made king by him on Sion his holy mountain,
7 declaring the ordinance of the Lord: the Lord said to me, Thou art my Son, to-day have I begotten thee.
8 Ask of me, and I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the ends of the earth for thy possession.
9 Thou shalt rule them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces as a potter’s vessel.
10 Now therefore understand, ye kings: be instructed, all ye that judge the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice in him with trembling.
12 Accept correction, lest at any time the Lord be angry, and ye should perish from the righteous way: whensoever his wrath shall be suddenly kindled, blessed are all they that trust in him. (LXE)
Psalm 58 is very similar to Psalm 2 in its approach. The basic premise of both psalms is that God has a Son with whom he is well-pleased. The Son, while sojourning on earth, will encounter opposition from enemies, who will be defeated. God warns them in advance of the consequences of their rebellion, and he encourages them to repent and receive his favor. (4)
Psalm 58:6 God has crushed their teeth in their mouth: God has broken the cheek-teeth of the lions.
7 They shall utterly pass away like water running through: he shall bend his bow till they shall fail.
8 They shall be destroyed as melted wax: the fire has fallen and they have not seen the sun.
9 Before your thorns feel the white thorn, he shall swallow you up as living, as in his wrath.
Jesus himself, the one who loved his Father so much that he willingly conformed to the Father’s will to provide a life raft for the sinking human race by dying a most painful death upon the cross, said this about the future of his enemies:
Matthew 11:21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.
Matthew 23:13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.
Matthew 23:34 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, 35 so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar.
Matthew 23:37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 38 See, your house is left to you desolate.
Matthew 8: 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Matthew 13: 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers,
42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Matthew 24:1 Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. 2 But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
Luke 19:41 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
And as in Psalm 2, Psalm 58 pronounces blessing upon the righteous:
10 The righteous shall rejoice when he sees the vengeance of the ungodly: he shall wash his hands in the blood of the sinner.
11 And a man shall say, Verily then there is a reward for the righteous: verily there is a God that judges them in the earth.
Likewise, Jesus pronounces blessing upon the righteous.
Matthew 13:43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.
The destruction of the temple and Jerusalem in 70 CE fulfilled in whole or in part the prophecies of judgment pronounced in Psalms 2 and 58 against God and his King. (5) Looking ahead, Psalm 59 records again the speaker’s trials by the hand of his enemies, his expressions of faith in prayer, his expectations of vindication, and his prophecies of future judgment upon his enemies. In spite of the Wizard of Oz lyrics at the beginning of this article, neither Psalm 58 nor Psalm 59 are what one might call “happy.” God’s standards are higher than Hollywood’s, even when it comes to the little Munchkins celebrating the wicked witch’s demise. Happiness does come, but it must await Psalm 60.
1 Full lyrics and copyright information available at https://www.google.com/search?ei=vv20XaCHNMSUsgWrtLfgBA&q=wizard+of+oz+lyrics+ding+dong+the+witch+is+dead&oq=wizard+of+oz+lyrics+ding&gs_l=psy-ab.1.0.0j0i22i30l3.805142.810221..813139…0.0..0.70.1396.24……0….1..gws-wiz…….0i131j0i67.cBktK4kg-Eg. Accessed October 26, 2019.
2 John Barclay’s preface to Psalm 58: “The rulers of the people met, Like wolves around a lamb combin’d Against the Lord of glory set, Contrive the death they had design’d: But ah! the blood they mean to shed, (Which flows for our eternal weal,) Shall be for ever on their head, And more inflame the flames of hell. (Barclay, 57)
Samuel Lord Bishop Horsley writes concerning Psalm 58. “This Psalm has no obvious connection with any particular occurrence in the life of David; but it is connected remarkably with the history of Christ.” (Horsley, 139)
Andrew Bonar writes, “O that the sons of men would hear in this their day! O that every ear were opened to these words of The Righteous One reasoning with the ungodly in prospect of the day of vengeance.” (Bonar, 179)
3 Translations based upon the Hebrew Masoretic text generally ascribe the subsequent description to rulers.
4 See Bonar in Note 2. The quotation applies here, also.
5 See https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/maps/primary/josephussack.html and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Jerusalem_(70_CE)#Destruction_of_Jerusalem.
Psalms 56-60: A Packet–Psalm 57 Let All Peoples Rejoice!
Revelation 7:9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Excerpt from below: “Following a long pause equivalent to the three days Christ spent in the tomb, the psalmist-worshiper-musician breaks into his joyful peals of praise, which continue to the end of the psalm.”
Link to Septuagint Psalm (56)57
Psalm 57 is so similar to Psalm 56 that it could be considered an expansion of it. Psalm 56 focuses upon the enemies of Christ and closes with statements expressing his great faith and hope in God’s resurrection of him. Psalm 57 picks up these themes and develops the significance of the resurrection portion, while looking back upon the duress experienced under the persecution of the enemies, which led to the cross.
Craig C. Broyles captures the “flashback” nature of the first portion of the psalm when he writes, “Thus, verses 2-4, 6 may function largely as a confession of trust or a testimony, not as a lament.” (Broyles, 244) What Broyles lacks in his interpretation, however, is the basic thesis that Christ is the speaker of this and many other psalms like it. Hearing the voice of Christ in the psalmist’s prophetic words is the key that unlocks the relationship of the psalm’s various parts. (See Luke 24:25-27, 44)
A great help to the modern reader is to envision a readers’ theater setting for this and many other psalms. In such a theater, there would be a “stage” where actors in identifying costumes or wearing identifying facial masks would speak the lines of the psalms. The words our Bibles present record the readers’ words, but not stage directions, and very few narrative elements that would connect or interpret the speeches. The psalms often are abbreviated scripts. One interpretive help is knowing that Christ the Messiah, Son of God (See Psalm 2), is most often the first person speaker. A second help is knowing the basic outline of Christ’s incarnation: his mission, good works, the enemies who opposed him, his passion and death, resurrection, and ascension into glory and dominion. Keeping both these points forefront in the mind will help the reader connect the various portions of any given psalm.
The Structure of Psalm (56)57
First, Psalm 57 could well be a continuation of Psalm 56, even though the entire Psalter is not arranged in this sequential fashion. Often the reader must jump around among the psalms to uncover sequential material. But here verse 13 of Psalm 56 provides a strong connection to Psalm 57.
Psalm 56:13 For thou hast delivered my soul from death, and my feet from sliding, that I should be well-pleasing before God in the land of the living. (LXE)
[LXE means Septuagint in English. The version I love and use is Brenton’s. See footnote one for more information about the Septuagint.]
The phrases, “thou hast delivered my soul from death,” and “before God in the land of the living,” indicate resurrection from death. The ESV translation is very similar:
For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life. (ESV)
Psalm 57 develops the resurrection theme, beginning with a flashback to the prayer Christ prayed, possibly in the Garden of Gethsemane:
Psalm 57:1 Have mercy, upon me, O God, have mercy upon me: for my soul has trusted in thee: and in the shadow of thy wings will I hope, until the iniquity have passed away. (LXE)
The function of the flashback is to state the nature of the problem the psalmist faced before his deliverance and to recall the prayer he prayed while under duress.
Verse 2 also states as a recollection before deliverance the resolve of the speaker, “I will cry to God most high.” The next phrase in verse 2, “the God who has benefited me,” is better translated as a present, “the God who benefits me.” (2)
Verse 3 launches into a past tense narrative of God’s saving actions, which continues through verse 4. After reading the verses below, compare these to the highly dramatized narrative of the resurrection found in Psalm 18:14-19.
3 He sent from heaven and saved me; he gave to reproach them that trampled on me: God has sent forth his mercy and his truth;
4 and he has delivered my soul from the midst of lions’ whelps: I lay down to sleep, though troubled. As for the sons of men, their teeth are arms and missile weapons, and their tongue a sharp sword. (LXE)
[Translation note: In Brenton’s translation, the word “though” is italicized. This indicates that this connecting word is not in the original Greek. If translated as written, one would say, “I lay down to sleep, troubled.” I believe Brenton erred here in supplying the word “though.” The original wording is best for a simple reason. To say, “I lay down to sleep, though troubled,” forces a meaning upon the original of a literal sleep, as in overnight or a nap. On the other hand, while “I lay down to sleep, troubled,” does not preclude the meaning of a night’s sleep in the midst of angst, it allows for the metaphorical sleep of death, as in Matthew 27:52, Isaiah 14:8, 43:17, and 1 Kings 11:43. I believe that the sleep of death is the primary meaning of this passage, in agreement with Psalm 22:1, “O God, my God, attend to me: why hast thou forsaken me?” and with Luke 22:44, “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground,” while Jesus prayed in the Garden.]
In verse 5, we see what Christians often sing and marvel over–the glory of the cross:
5 Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens; and thy glory above all the earth. (LXE)
This exclamatory verse interrupts the narrative of the actions of the enemies in verses 4-6. The ESV and NET place an exclamation point at the end of the line. Verse 6 continues the narrative, but differs from verse 4 in that it gives the final outcome of defeat for God’s enemies.
6 They have prepared snares for my feet, and have bowed down my soul: they have dug a pit before my face, and fallen into it themselves. Pause. (LXE)
Following a long pause equivalent to the three days Christ spent in the tomb, the psalmist-worshiper-musician breaks into his joyful peals of praise, which continue to the end of the psalm.
7 My heart, O God, is ready, my heart is ready: I will sing, yea will sing psalms.
8 Awake, my glory; awake, psaltery and harp: I will awake early.
9 O Lord, I will give thanks to thee among the nations: I will sing to thee among the Gentiles.
10 For thy mercy has been magnified even to the heavens, and thy truth to the clouds.
11 Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens; and thy glory above all the earth. (LXE)
What Broyles found strange (see paragraph 2 above) was the perceived dissonance between the opening strain of individual lament followed by the shouting praise to God on an international and cosmic level (Broyles, 243). He concludes that the speaker “is a representative liturgist speaking on behalf of the people of God, who regularly experience opposition from non-believers” (ibid). Yes! He still falls short, however, by not recognizing that Christ is here being prophesied as the representative of not only his own people according to his flesh but the entire human race internationally. The non-believers in Christ’s case were the religious leaders whom he called out on many occasions.
25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me,
26 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep.
27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.
28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:25-28 ESV)
The same chapter of John from which the above quotation is taken also announces the international and racially inclusive nature of God’s glorious victory in Christ:
John 10:16 I have other sheep that do not come from this sheepfold. I must bring them too, and they will listen to my voice, so that there will be one flock and one shepherd. (NET)
Psalm 57 is a joyful psalm of praise and thanksgiving for God’s victory in overcoming the psalmist’s enemies. The voice in the psalm is the prophetic voice of Christ. We know this by comparing this psalm with other psalms, such as Psalm 22, which are widely accepted as messianic prophecies. We also recognize Christ prophetically in the speaker’s voice of Psalm 57 through application of hindsight, comparing this psalm with events of Jesus’s life, as recorded in the gospels. The use of hindsight is not to be disparaged–Jesus himself gifted his disciples and the church with the light of understanding that hindsight brings (See Luke 24:25-27). While Psalm 57 gives the joyful outcome for those who gladly receive Christ’s mediation for them, looking ahead, Psalm 58 describes the outcome of judgment upon the enemies of God and his Son, those enemies who dug a pit and fell into it themselves, Psalm 57:6.
1 See the chapter in this blog on the Septuagint, “Psalm 28: Why the Septuagint?” and the Bibliography for many books specifically about this marvelous treasure. Authors to note are Jennifer Dines, Natalio Marcos, Karen Jobes and Moises Silva, and Timothy Michael Law.
2 See NETS on this phrase, “to God who acts as my benefactor.”
Psalms 56-60: A Packet–Psalm 56
RECAP: Based upon the evidence of the superscriptions, or titles, placed before the body of the psalms by an unknown editor from antiquity, the reader is justified in considering Psalms 56-60 as a packet, especially in the Greek version known as the Septuagint. Alone of all the psalms, these five psalms contain both the phrase, “for the end, εἰς τὸ τέλος” and “for a memorial, εἰς στηλογραφίαν.” (See Psalms 56-60: A Packet–Part 1, The Superscriptions.) The meanings of these two unique phrases were explored in the article at the just named link. Further, an extended study of “for the end” can be found at Psalms 56-60: “For the End”–Its New Testament Meaning. Additionally, the reader might want to recall that the premise of this blog is that many, if not most or even all, of the psalms are prophetic of the life, death, resurrection, and kingship of the Lord Jesus Christ (1).
Although there is a single speaker throughout the psalm, Psalm 56 (see also Septuagint) has three characters: the speaker, his enemies, and God. Verses 1 and 11 identify the enemy as “man, ἄνθρωπος,” verses 2 and 9 as “enemies” and “many warring against me,” verse 4 as “flesh,” and verse 7 as “people, λαός.” Additionally, verses 3, 5, and 6 refer to the enemy in the singular or plural pronoun forms, he, they, and their. Every verse except verses 2, 5, and six make reference to God. The presence of God and the enemies are inextricably interwoven throughout this prayer by the faith of the protagonist, the speaker.
Craig C. Broyles describes the enemies with these words, “…lurkers who hound and press their attack. (NIV ‘slanderers who hotly pursue…lurk’) They conspire, hide and watch the speaker’s steps…social prowlers hiding in secret.” (2)
How does Psalm 56 match the life of Christ? Compare the three verses below, which are the only three verses in Psalm 56 that make no mention of God, with the New Testament verses that follow them.
2 Mine enemies have trodden me down all the day from the dawning of the day; for there are many warring against me.
5 All the day long they have abominated my words; all their devices are against me for evil.
6 They will dwell near and hide themselves; they will watch my steps, accordingly as I have waited patiently in my soul.
–Septuagint, Brenton’s English Translation (LXE)
Matthew 12:14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted against him, as to how they could assassinate him. (NET)
Matthew 22:15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. (ESV)
Matthew 26:59 Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death,
Mark 14:1 Now the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. (NIV)
Luke 5:17 One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there. They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick. (NIV)
John 12:9 Now a large crowd of Judeans learned that Jesus was there, and so they came not only because of him but also to see Lazarus whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests planned to kill Lazarus too, (NET)
Clearly, Psalm 56 is descriptive of the enemies who hounded Jesus throughout every step of his public ministry. Psalm 56 also describes well the faith of Messiah, Jesus. Compare these verses from Psalm 56 with the gospel accounts of Jesus’s faith and trust in God.
3 They shall be afraid, but I will trust in thee.
4 In God I will praise my words; all the day have I hoped in God; I will not fear what flesh shall do to me. (LXE)
9 Mine enemies shall be turned back, in the day wherein I shall call upon thee; behold, I know that thou art my God.
10 In God, will I praise his word; in the Lord will I praise his saying.
11 I have hoped in God; I will not be afraid of what man shall do to me. (LXE)
John 11:41 So they took away the stone. Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you that you have listened to me. 42 I knew that you always listen to me, but I said this for the sake of the crowd standing around here, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, he shouted in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” (NET)
John 17:1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. (ESV)
Matthew 26:53 Or do you think that I cannot call on my Father, and that he would send me more than twelve legions of angels right now? 54 How then would the scriptures that say it must happen this way be fulfilled?” (NET)
John 19:30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (ESV) (3)
The last verse of Psalm 56, verse 13, prophesies the resurrection:
13 For thou hast delivered my soul from death, and my feet from sliding, that I should be well-pleasing before God in the land of the living. (LXE) (4)
And what of the enemies? They will be punished by God.
7 Thou wilt on no account save them; thou wilt bring down the people in wrath. (LXE)
Psalm 56 is not a happy psalm. It describes a faithful worshipper hounded by many enemies who seek to harm him. It prophesies God’s punishment upon those enemies (verse 7). But nevertheless, on the bright side, it shares the great faith of the speaker, who believes in God, trusts him, and thanks him for salvation from death, even before all this comes to pass.
Note: Footnote 4 contains a brief word study from verse 13.
1 See Psalm 2, A Royal Psalm, Psalm 2, Blessings to the King, and Christ in the Psalms: An Annotated Bibliography.
2 Broyles, Craig C. Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Psalms. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999, 241.
3 In John 19:30, the original (Greek) word for the phrase, “It is finished,” or, “It is completed!” (NET), is τετέλεσται, from the verb form of the noun found in the superscriptions of Psalms 56-60 (and so many other psalms, as well). When Jesus said, “It is finished,” the reader might ask, What is finished? According to the word studies of the prior two posts, Jesus’s many statements in the gospels concerning the fulfillment of the Scripture concerning him (see for example Luke 4:21 and Matthew 26:54 above), the New Testament letters, and Acts, what has been “finished” or “completed” is the sum total of all the Old Testament prophecies concerning the life and death of Messiah, the King. That which had been continuing–i.e., the prophesies concerning Messiah up to the point of his death–had reached their conclusion, their fulfillment, and were now at a close. Everything that needed to be done had been done, and this is the ending, the close, the completion, of that portion of prophecy that had been in place for many hundreds of years. Psalm 56 was written to prophesy of Messiah’s public ministry, and the events of Jesus’s life fulfilled those prophecies.
4 A Note on translations: “…that I should be well-pleasing before the Lord” in the Greek is equivalent to “that I may walk before God” in the Hebrew. The latter translation is the closest in meaning to the Hebrew idiom, while the former accurately translates the Greek. Each of these phrases implies faithful obedience that pleases God. This is much more than the phrase to “serve God” (NET) allows for, since many people throughout both biblical and secular history have in their own minds “served God,” while performing tremendous acts of evil. Saul, who later became Paul the apostle, “served God” with his whole heart in the days when he went from town to town persecuting and murdering Christians. (Galatians 1:11-14) Did not the chief priests and Pharisees of Jesus’s day think that they were serving God when they forced Pilate to crucify him? (See John 11:49-50.) Examples from post-biblical history are prolific; the reader can think of many.
Further, the phrase, “in the land of the living,” (LXE) and “in the light of life,” (ESV) mean “not dead,” as opposed to “as I enjoy life.” (NET) The context of the complete verse requires the meaning, “not dead.”
Psalm 56:13 For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life. (LXE)Psalm 56:13 For thou hast delivered my soul from death, and my feet from sliding, that I should be well-pleasing before God in the land of the living. (ESV)
Psalms 56-60: “For the End”–Its New Testament Meaning
In the prior post (The Superscriptions), we learned that the phrase, “for the end,” or “εἰς τὸ τέλος” in Greek, pronounced ice-toe-telos, means that something that was formerly continuing comes to an end. Apart from the Psalter, this exact phrase is infrequent in Scripture. Only three examples outside Psalms can be found. In Joshua 3:16, a river of water quits flowing, allowing the Israelites to cross the Jordan. In Daniel 11:3 a period of years comes to an end. And in 2 Corinthians 3:13 the visible shining on the face of Moses faded away and ceased. Although the meaning of this three word phrase in the superscriptions to the psalms cannot be known with certainty, due to the lack of context in the titles, it is possible that the phrase carries the same sense in the psalmic superscriptions as it does in the three passages mentioned just above. If the meaning is the same, then the reader needs to ask, What is coming to an end that was formerly continued?
The Ending of Prophecy
Peter in the New Testament identifies David, to whom Psalms 56-60 are attributed, as being a prophet. (See Acts 2:29-30.) Many, if not most, of the psalms prophesy of Messiah.
A genuine prophecy has two parts: 1) the prophetic statement, and 2) its fulfillment. If a prophecy never arrives at its goal (telos), then it has no completion (telos). Goal (or aim), completion, and fulfillment are all meanings within the semantic range of definition of the word “τέλος, telos.”
Deuteronomy 18:22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him. (ESV)
So, “εἰς τὸ τέλος” (ice-toe-telos) can indicate that the period of prophecy is coming to an end by means of its fulfillment. In this sense, the focus would be on the ending of the prophecy, upon that which fulfills it, upon its termination.
Luke 22:37 For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled (verb form τελέω) in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” (ESV) (Literally, “the things concerning me have an end.” KJV, τὸ περὶ ἐμοῦ τέλος ἔχει.)
The Person or Thing that Fulfills a Prophecy
Under the first definition “end” of “τέλος” Joseph Thayer in his lexicon writes, “equivalent to he who puts an end to: τέλος νόμου Χριστός, [the end of the law is Christ]. “Romans 10:4 For Christ is the end of the law, with the result that there is righteousness for everyone who believes (NET). The Orthodox Church appears to have adopted this sense of the word in the Septuagint, which is the Bible of the Old Testament this church uses. The Orthodox Study Bible writes for example, under Psalm 56 (57), “Ps 56 prophesies the death and Resurrection of Christ (the End, v. 1).”
Christ the End
In addition to Luke 22:37 and Romans 10:4 (see above for both), there are two verses in Revelation in which Christ is “the end.”
Revelation 21:6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. (ESV)
Revelation 22:13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (ESV)
So we see that Christ is the goal of prophecy, the fulfillment of prophecy, and the termination of prophecy. All Scripture is wrapped up and completed in Christ.
What in Scripture Finds Its Ending in Christ?
In this section we will combine Luke 22:37 and 2 Corinthians 3:13.
Luke 22:37 For I say unto you, that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me, And he was reckoned among the transgressors: for the things concerning me have an end. (KJV)
2 Corinthians 3:13 And not as Moses, which put a vail over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished: (KJV)
Comparing these two verses, the verse in Luke seems straightforward and easier to understand. NET Bible expands the more literal KJV, “For I tell you that this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was counted with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me is being fulfilled.” In this prequel to his crucifixion, Christ tells his disciples that the Old Testament prophecies about his sacrificial death are shortly going to happen. That is, they are about to be fulfilled, part two of a genuine prophecy (see above, under “The Ending of Prophecy”).
Jesus in Luke quoted Isaiah:
Isaiah 53:12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors. (ESV)
When Christ stated, “the things concerning me have an end,” his primary meaning is that Isaiah’s prophesy is about to be fulfilled. NET Bible captures this nicely, “what is written about me is being fulfilled.” A secondary meaning within the context of the theology of the New Testament is that the ending itself, which was Christ’s passion followed by his resurrection, had a purpose, a goal, and a result beyond the mere fact of fulfillment. This ending Paul explores in 2 Corinthians 3. The phrase used so frequently in Psalms, “εἰς τὸ τέλος” (ice-toe-telos) appears in verse 13, where it is translated as “at the outcome” in the ESV, and “at the result” in the NET, and “the end” in the NIV.
Printed below from BibleGateway’s ESV is the portion of the passage concerning us. Please read this passage. 2 Corinthians 3:3, 6-18.
3 And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
7 Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? 9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. 10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.
12 Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, 13 not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome [εἰς τὸ τέλος (ice-toe-telos)] of what was being brought to an end. 14 But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:3, 6-18 ESV)
Note: This author prefers Thayer’s primary lexical definition (1a) of τέλος, (telos) in verse 13, as opposed to that used in the translation above. Thayer writes the meaning of τέλος as, “1. end, i. e. (a.) termination, the limit at which a thing ceases to be.” This author believes Paul’s intended meaning to be, “… 13 not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the final disappearance [termination] of what was being brought to an end.” In other words, because the visible glory of the Lord’s presence, which came with the giving of the Law, was fading away with time, Moses, not being as bold as Paul, placed a veil over his face, so that the Israelites might not witness the final disappearance of that glory. But Paul has hope, because the glory which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit, increases with time. This results in boldness of preaching for Paul.
The following chart summarizes the main point of Paul’s passage: the glorious New Covenant of Spirit righteousness through Christ has replaced the less glorious Old Covenant of condemnation through the Law, which even in Moses’s day could have been perceived as fading away and ending, that is, coming “to an end (εἰς τὸ τέλος, ice-toe-telos)”, if Moses had been bold enough not to cover his face with a veil to hide this fact (verses 12-13).
The Significance of “εἰς τὸ τέλος, for the end“ in the Psalter
First, seen in the light of the New Testament, a light which opens one’s eyes as though a veil had been lifted, psalms that bear in their titles the phrase, “εἰς τὸ τέλος, for the end,“ describe how the end of the era current at the time of their writing would come about. That is, these psalms describe how events would unfold in the life of Messiah that would bring an end to all that went before, including the era of those readers. A large part of what went before was the Law of Moses.
Romans 8:2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. (ESV)
Paul said it, not this author. This is not a harsh overstatement. Consider, the Lord of life, the King, the Anointed Messiah, and Son of Jehovah Almighty in Psalm 2, the Lord who sits at the right hand of God in Psalm 110, the eternal Creator of Psalm102–consider that this One died a shameful death by cruel crucifixion. Nothing in existence could possibly be harsher than that death on a cross. Such a poignant death must have had poignant reasons and results. Among these was the end of the old death-bringing order of Law given by Moses and the replacing of it with the new life-giving order of righteousness in the Spirit through Christ (2 Corinthians 3:4-18).
Colossians 2:14 [He canceled]…the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (ESV)
“For the end” also signifies Christ himself. Christ is the end of the Old Covenant and the foundation of the New. He is the end toward which the history of Israel moved. The packet of psalms, 56-60, foretell what he did in order to merit the identity and name, The End.
Revelation 21:6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.” (ESV)
Revelation 22:13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (ESV)
What if “for the end” means “for the chief musician,” as many Bibles translate?
Christ is the Chief Musician. As speaker of most of the first person psalms and as head of his worshiping body, Christ leads the congregation in praise and thanksgiving to his most wonderful Lord, the God who saved him. He leads his people in worshiping faith.
“For the end” is a beautiful way of alerting the reader that the psalms which follow this superscription are special psalms to which the reader should pay special attention. As we continue to travel through this packet of five psalms, 56-60, which all bear this three word title and the words, “for a memorial,” I pray that the Lord would bless us so as to remove the veil that lies by nature over our hearts before we turn to Christ.