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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]

Example 2:

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.

Example 3.

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.

Conclusion: 

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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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.

Translations Matter

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. While the Septuagint (LXX for short) often departs from the Hebrew in significant ways, this is the translation of the Old Testament 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.

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. I find that the voice of Christ in Psalms is more readily apparent when reading from the Septuagint, and Christ is, after all, 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. I use it often.

Reference Bibles

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 a 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.

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(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, and others are old, but not as 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 example of a possible biblical reference 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.

As an example of 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 and 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 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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The Holy Spirit in the Reader

 

One of the functions of the Holy Spirit is to reveal Christ within the heart of every believer (See footnote). One of the ways he does this is through Scripture. When a believer in Christ prayerfully asks the Holy Spirit to open (explain, interpret, enlighten) a passage to the understanding of his heart, he will do so. In Jesus’ own words, “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13 ESV)

Photo by Josh Applegate

How does the Holy Spirit do this? Much in the same way as Jesus himself did when he walked with the two disciples on their way to Emmaus and later when he met with all the disciples in the upper room after his resurrection. He expounded the Scripture to them, giving them the key of himself as the all-pervasive subject of all of them.

Luke 24:27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (ESV)

Luke 24:44-49 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.  48 You are witnesses of these things.  49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (ESV)

Every believer in Christ—as one example, the woman at the well—has a story, or testimony, to tell about the living Lord Christ. So it is, that every believer in Christ is a witness to his resurrection. All believers in Christ are witnesses to his resurrection because they perceive him alive and well, living in their own heart. Therefore, because believers are his witnesses, Christ wants to prepare them in all ways to live well, to grow well, and to tell others about him—well! This preparation includes opening Scripture to their understanding, so that by its pure milk (1 Peter 2:2) and solid food (Hebrews 5:14) all believers may grow in maturity and become full partakers within the body of Christ, which is made up of other believers. The Holy Spirit alone can make this growth happen, and he alone is the one who opens Scripture in a living, personal way inside each believer’s heart and mind. Scripture becomes the food that feeds a Christian’s growth (Deuteronomy 8:3; Luke 4:4).

Additionally, God desires fellowship with people (1 Corinthians 1:9; 2 Corinthians 13:13; 2 Peter 1:4; 1 John 1:3). When God created humankind in his own image, he did so for the purpose of having fellowship with them. The whole point of the cross of Christ is the restoration of fellowship, or communal friendship, between God and man.

Here are some biblical examples to illustrate friendship between God and humans.

1) In Genesis 3:8-9, we read of God walking in the garden home of the first two human beings, Adam and Eve, talking with them. When Adam and Eve chose to follow the serpent rather than God, they were expelled from the garden of fellowship with God, and their spirits died to God.

2) In Isaiah 41:8, God calls Abraham, “my friend.” Jesus says to his disciples in John 15:15, “I have called you friends.”

3) Jesus’ name Immanuel means, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).

4) In John 4, when Jesus sat down and asked the woman at the well for a drink, he was asking for more than a bit of physical water. He was asking her for fellowship (think of having a cup of coffee and conversation with a friend in your favorite coffee shop.) And as a follow up to fellowship with just this woman, he spent two days in her town, meeting and talking with, eating and spending the night with her friends, the people of that Samaritan town.

5) Christ’s atoning death on the cross, resurrection, and ascension opened the gate into God’s very presence once more for every believer in Christ (Hebrews 4:16; 1 Corinthians 3:16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.)

One of the best places to experience the fellowship, friendship, favor, love, grace, and self-sacrifice of God is to spend time with him in Scripture, to “hang out” with him there. And one of the very best biblical places to do this is in Psalms, given that the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of your spiritual understanding to see the Lord Jesus Christ revealed in them in both the fullness of his humanity and in the fullness of his deity.

The psalms are the human prayers of Christ prophetically prayed to God his Father during his incarnation on earth. He prayed them thus prophetically through the Spirit-filled mouths of the psalmists and during his actual incarnation, as their words were very familiar to him—in fact they were his own words. The Father answers Christ’s prayers within the psalms as well. At times the reader becomes aware of back-and-forth dialogue between Father and Son (Psalms 3:4 and 2:7) and at other times the answer to the prayers forms part of a narrative (Psalm 18:3-6 and 18:7-19).

It is highly unlikely that anyone would hear the words of Jesus Christ in Psalms apart from the work of the Holy Spirit enlightening the eyes of their understanding.

Most people who love Psalms experience them as Scripture giving voice and words to their own personal heart cries as they face various seasons and situations in their lives. Going one step beyond that, the Holy Spirit coaxes us to hear, as well as our own heart cries, the heart cries of Jesus our Savior, who suffered and died in our place.

Experientially speaking, because of our amazement that God has taken our thoughts and printed them on the page of the Bible facing us—that he knows, understands, and loves us so much as to do that, and then to show us as we read that he has done so, and that he has the power to do all this—it is but a short step to realize that Jesus Christ was in all respects one of us, that these are also and primarily his heart cries, that he cried them first, before me. And because I know, feel, and experience my own pain, I also know, experience, and feel the pain of my Savior as a man. And I come to see and understand God’s amazing love for us in Christ. And then, Christ’s hope, his faithful endurance, his victories also become mine. And I grow in Christ’s faith and in God’s love both for Christ and for me.

It is an awesome thing to read Psalms this way, and it doesn’t happen without the Holy Spirit. We receive this by asking, asking God to open his word to us through his Holy Spirit. “Lord, show each believing heart who reads this and who desires to know—show them what you showed the two disciples on their walk to Emmaus. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

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 Notes: 
 John 15:26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. (Joh 15:26 ESV)
Ephesians 1:17-18 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, (Eph 1:17-18 ESV)
1 Corinthians 2:9-16 9 But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”–10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
 Ephesians 3:14-19 14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith– that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Eph 3:14-19 ESV)

 

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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 
  1. Woman at the Well–Shorter, fewer details, general comments: Link
  2. 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 is part of the world; this is the way God (in Jesus) loves him.

The woman at the well is part of the world; this is the way God (in Jesus) loves her.

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).

Identification:

Nicodemus–welcomed by Christ.

Woman at the Well–welcomed by Christ.

Differences:

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:

John 3

 

John 4

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 Gospel 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

I. Introduction

A. Overview: A Second Go Round

B. Expect God to Speak to You—Yes, You!

1. Pursue Your Hunger

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

 

 

Jesus Evangelizes a Sinful Woman: Section I

Two Sections
  1. Shorter, fewer details, general comments
  2. Longer, more details, specific comparisons with Nicodemus

I’ve come to feel that the “woman at the well” has received a bad rap. Truthfully, I envy her and would like to be more like her. I mean, she had one on one with Jesus out in the middle of the desert; he revealed to her point blank that he was Messiah; she received him into her heart without struggle; and she instantly went out and testified to all the men in her own town, bearing much, much fruit, even a hundred fold (John 4:30, 35, 39-42). She really exemplifies Romans 8:28—in the end, everything in her life worked together not only for her own good but for the good of many others, because she loved God and was called by him according to his purpose.

Sadly, at times, I feel more like a female Pharisee than the woman at the well—judgmental, argumentative, way off base— while the woman at the well was sincere in her joy, generous with her treasure, sharing her love for Messiah with everyone. Or, sometimes I feel like a female Nicodemus, of the Sanhedrin—an expert in the law, the “teacher of Israel,” who came to Jesus by night, sneakily, in fear of being spotted and condemned by one of his own crowd, outed. And he never quite got it. At least not in those moments when he had that awesome opportunity to interview Jesus one on one and speak to him without the jostling crowds competing for his attention.

Photo by Thea Hoyer on Unsplash

So often in sermons and teachings, I hear the woman at the well being brushed off as a sinner, as though that were her one defining characteristic (1, 2). What ever happened to Romans 3:23 and 3:10? And when she learns that Jesus is a prophet and asks him a prophet’s question, we hear from some of the pundits that she is using an evasive tactic to divert attention away from her sin. Excuse me? We’ve already passed that part. Jesus scored. Can’t a woman whose sin falls into the category of sexual also have an intellect and a genuine interest in the big questions of Samaritan life—this mountain, that mountain, what is truth? She did better than Pilate on that one—she recognized Jesus for who he is. Or, do many commentators, especially those of an older generation, scorn her, finally, because she is a woman, period? Jesus, after all, was a ground breaker.

Yet, this story is mainly about Jesus, rather than the woman. We see him as a passionate evangelist. He really cared about people, all people, even people whom church ushers place near the back. You see, that is prejudice. Jesus sat this woman in the front row, directly, never in the back. This spot was reserved for her from all eternity past. He loved her, capital agape. He loved everything about her. We are wholes, not conglomerates of fractions. When we love someone, we must love all of them, because that’s who we are. The arm is not separable from the toe. He loved her as she was, and he loved what he knew she would become in him. He loved that she responded to his love by loving him in return. And he loved her town and all the people in it. I truly don’t think I would have done as well as the woman at the well. She, like Jesus, was a passionate evangelist who loved people.

Think: Jesus revealed himself to this woman more fully, more directly, and more quickly than to possibly anyone else in the Gospel narratives. What is God trying to tell us in this portion of Scripture? I can think of a few things—

  1. Jesus Christ, Messiah, God’s precious Son who reveals the heart of God to humans and who always does what God tells him to do, loves women.
  2. Jesus Christ loves sinful women.
  3. Jesus Christ, very God of very God, reveals himself gladly and directly to sinful women.
  4. Jesus Christ can use a sinful woman who believes in him to greatly advance his kingdom.
  5. Jesus Christ has no favorites.

This last point will be developed in Section II.

____________

1. “Consequently by all expectations, she is not a woman worthy of attention from the Son of God.  She is not a woman who is elevated. This is condescension.”
https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/43-20/messiah-the-living-water-part-1. MacArthur, John. Sermon: “Messiah: The Living Water, Part 1, John 4:1-15.” Grace to You, April 21, 2013. Accessed January 25, 2018.
“So when He speaks to this Samaritan woman, it is a shocking condescension. It is an unexpected condescension.”
https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/43-21/messiah-the-living-water-part-2. MacArthur, John. Sermon: “Messiah: The Living Water, Part 2, John 4:16-26.” Grace to You, April 28, 2013. Accessed January 25, 2018.
My comment on the above: It might be a “shocking condescension” for a person who judges by externals and sees himself as actually being quite above a person such as the woman at the well. But what if Jesus Christ, as revealed in his having become human, is in fact as humble in character as both his birth and death indicate he is? Was he posing when he chose poor, uneducated people to be his earthly parents? Was all that about being born in a stable and laid in a feed trough for animals a charade? I posit that Jesus humbled himself in “shocking condescension” by becoming human in the first place. From his great height next to God the Father, the difference between Nicodemus, the well-respected Jewish male rabbi, and the woman at the well does not even exist. To us who are proud in heart by nature, Jesus perhaps “shockingly condescended” to the woman, but more likely, for him, he did not view his sister that way at all.
2. Contra the above and in defense of the woman’s perceived immorality, see Reeder, Caryn. “In Focus: Revisiting the Woman at the Well.” Intervarsity, Graduate Women in the Academy and Professions, May 27, 2014. http://thewell.intervarsity.org/in-focus/revisiting-woman-well. Accessed January 25, 2018.

 

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Outline of Psalms Revisited

I. Introduction

A. Overview: A Second Go Round

B. Expect God to Speak to You—Yes, You!

1. Pursue Your Hunger

2. God Is Willing to Talk to You

3. Jesus Evangelizes a Sinful Woman: Section I

God Is Willing to Talk to You

Never think that you might not be good enough, smart enough, educated enough, rich enough, or important enough for God to talk to you personally. And if you think that God does talk to you, that does not mean that you are crazy (as in, why would God talk to you?).

Who in the Bible does God share himself and his thoughts with? Who are the ones to whom he opens his heart? The Psalms answer this question in a multitude of places: God loves those with a humble heart; a proud heart he despises.

Psalm 18:27 For you save a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down.

Psalm 69:33 For the LORD hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners.

Psalm 138:6 For though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar.

See also Psalm 22:6; 22:24; 146:8; 147:6; 149:4.

Again, who did Jesus reveal his true identity to? Who did he share himself with? He chose twelve disciples, some of whom were fishermen, one was a tax collector, none were religiously educated or well placed in the synagogue or society. He himself was born in a stable, and his legal father was a laborer, a craftsman who worked with his hands. His forerunner John the Baptist was something of a wild man who lived in the desert, wore camel hair clothing, and ate insects. Jesus ministered to the blind, the sick, the lame, the lepers, those possessed by demons, to sinners and women who committed adultery and other sexual indiscretions. These were his life, and these were his chosen environment.

Consider this. No one has ever risen from the dead, except Jesus. He had been crucified on a cross, and a soldier stuck a sword through his side. Water and blood, separate from each other, came out of the wound. Jesus was genuinely attested as dead. Then he was placed for three days in a cold, dark cave with a stone sealing the exit. Rising from the dead is a major event—it just doesn’t happen! So, to whom did Jesus show himself first? In a society in which a woman’s voice counted as nothing and women themselves were not greatly valued, Jesus, just having done what no human being had ever done before or since, first showed himself to Mary Magdalene, a woman who had once been possessed by seven demons (Luke 8:2; Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 1:9; John 1:1, 11-17). He showed himself to two disciples who were not among the inner circle, while they were walking to their dwelling in a town called Emmaus (Luke 24:1-33). He also showed himself to Peter and the other disciples (Luke 24:34, 36), who were all hiding behind locked doors.

The point is that Jesus did not appear before the Pope (there was none then), nor to the high priests, nor to the secular ruler Herod, nor Nicodemus, a well-respected teacher of the Jews, nor to any of the religious authorities of the time—not the scribes, nor the rabbis, nor lawyers, Pharisees, or Sadducees, all of whom were religiously educated and regarded as authorities. No, but he chose to show himself to those few whom the world might call “nobodies.”

Question: if you happened to be one of those “nobodies” who first saw Jesus, would you draw your religious beliefs from your own experience of just having encountered the risen Jesus, or would you base how you thought about fulfilled Scripture on the teachings of those experts who never encountered Christ after he rose from the dead?

It is true that later in New Testament history, Jesus did reveal himself to a very highly educated man, Saul, who after this encounter received the new name Paul. He is the one who wrote thirteen of the books of the New Testament and possibly Hebrews. Yet here are Paul’s own words:

NET Philippians 3:8 More than that, I now regard all things [the things in his prior list of accomplishments] as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things– indeed, I regard them as dung!– that I may gain Christ.

ESV 1 Corinthians 2:2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

1 Corinthians 1:26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

In other words, it wasn’t Paul’s great education that the Lord chose, but he chose Paul’s heart of passion, learned humility, and willingness to serve.

All these Scriptures and multitudes of others show that God wants to have an open doorway of direct communication with every single least one of those who believe in Jesus Christ. God definitely talks to “nobodies” always and forever, because there are no “nobodies” in his sight. God judges very differently than we humans do. He can and does look inside a person’s heart, and the important people to God are the ones who sincerely desire to know him.

 

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Psalms 2: Contents

1. Introducing Psalms 2 – A Second Go Round … Link

2. Pursue Your Hunger … Link

3. God Is Willing to Talk to You … Link

4. Jesus Evangelizes a Sinful Woman … Link

5. Jesus Evangelizes a Rabbi … Link

6. The Holy Spirit in the Reader … Link

7. Which Bible Should I Use? … Link

8. Psalms as Prayers of Christ … Link

 

 

Link to Prior Series on Psalms

Introducing Psalms 2 — A Second Go Round

 

 

Frankly, I wish I were a better writer. I wish I had the skill to write short and succinct. Get to the point, illustrate it, apply it–bim, bam, boom, an awesome post that hundreds of people would eagerly read in about one or two minutes max.

I’m not and I don’t.

All I am is a tiny person with an even smaller voice.

But I’m someone who loves the Lord with her whole heart, soul, mind, and spirit, and I love his Word. I believe that the Lord has given me the key to unlocking the Psalms (I’m certainly not claiming to be unique in that), and I want to share its treasures with you, for the one purpose that you, too, will find that key and enter into the most marvelous fellowship with the amazing Son of God/Son of Man whom they present.

I’m positive many of you already love the Psalms. If so, you might want to skip what I have to say. I’m mostly writing for those who are puzzled by Psalms or haven’t yet found a door for enjoying them more completely.

My goal in these posts is to write a Quicky Peek version, and then a longer, more detailed, somewhat academic version of the same material. I hope both versions are meaningful in themselves.

Please pray for me, and I’ll pray for you, and let’s see where this goes!

Link to Next in This Series

 

14. Psalms 12, 42, 72, 102, 132: Reading Across Psalms for a Complete Messianic Portrait

Bibliography

Outline of Series

I. Introduction

A. General Comments

I recommend the tiny devotional Bible, 31 Days of Wisdom and Praise: Daily Readings from the Books of Psalms and Proverbs (See Bibliography). Although the publishers labeled the book “devotional,” it contains not a single word of commentary. It is, rather, a Bible. What makes it unique is the arrangement of the Psalms for the thirty-one days of consecutive reading. Day 1 contains Psalms 1, 31, 61, 91, and 121; Day 2 Psalms 2, 32, 62, 92, and 122; and so forth, each day following the same numerical pattern of adding thirty to arrive at the next psalm.

While there is nothing magical about this arrangement, it gives the reader opportunity to read across the Psalms in a way which, whether by chance or design, often provides a spiritually profitable mix. For those readers who are familiar with the author of this blog’s understanding that the Psalms are basically and wholly about Christ, reading across the Psalms in a single setting provides connections among them that otherwise might be missed in a sequential only reading. That is, if a person only reads the psalms in numerical order, portions of the back-and-forth dialogue among them might be missed.

For example, sometimes themes, or topics, become apparent when reading across. In my personal 31 Days Bible, I have written short thematic titles for some of the days, such as, “Yay, God!” for Day 3. This signifies for me that these psalms celebrate God’s victories. Again, I’ve written, “God Saves His Own,” for Day 11, and “War,” for Day 19. These examples are just my personal, devotional responses to what I read, as I discover what appear to be themes in a certain day’s grouping.

As another example, I find that some days contain sequences of the major events in Christ’s life, even though the numbers for the contiguous psalms are separated by thirty. These are the days I love the best. We see this in Day  28, where Psalm 88, which is often called the “darkest” psalm, is followed immediately by Psalm 118, a psalm filled with glory and light. Psalm 88 describes Christ’s crucifixion, his death, and his descent to the grave. Psalm 118, its sequel on Day 28, is a description of Christ’s resurrection and ascension to glory in tones of pure, joyful victory.

Psalm 88:15-18 From my youth I have been afflicted and close to death; I have suffered your terrors and am in despair. Your wrath has swept over me; your terrors have destroyed me. All day long they surround me like a flood; they have completely engulfed me. You have taken my companions and loved ones from me; the darkness is my closest friend.

Psalm 118:17-24 I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done. The Lord has chastened me severely, but he has not given me over to death. Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous may enter. I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation. The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

In these two quotations placed side by side, we see the complete gospel: the wrath of God on account of sin poured out upon Christ, Christ’s death, and immediately afterwards, his resurrection and ascension to be the head of the church, the gates of righteousness having been opened to life.

B. Day 12

It is not hard to find meaningful groupings of psalms when using 31 Days of Wisdom and Praise. For today’s study, I chose Day 12, which includes Psalms 12, 42, 72, 102, and 132. In this grouping, we see 1) in Psalm 12, the battle line drawn between good and evil as the lies of the wicked versus the truthful goodness of God’s word. In verses 5 and 7  we also see a promise of the Lord’s rising up to take action, which is what God did in Messiah in the New Testament. We also find 2) in Psalm 42,  a faithful man who suffers, 3) in Psalm 72, prayers for Messiah the King, 4) in Psalm 102, a poor, afflicted man pouring out his heart to the Lord and to whom the Lord replies in strong terms, attributing divinity to him, and 5) in Psalm 132, a celebration of God’s victories over hardship and enemies in the life of King David, who is a royal type of Christ. In this final psalm, both the suffering and glorious victory of the great King are clearly presented together. What this sequence of five psalms accomplishes, therefore, is to link the suffering man with the glorious, divine, and victorious Creator King Messiah, a link which apparently nearly everyone in Jesus’ time missed.

After his resurrection, Jesus said to his disciples with reference to the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer…” (Luke 24:44-46). But where in Psalms do we find that Messiah will suffer? Surely nowhere is such a direct statement made within the bounds of any single psalm. And yet, by reading across the psalms and by making reasonable literary connections among them, even as prompted by the Holy Spirit, we distinctly arrive at a portrait of Messiah that includes both suffering and glory, humanity and divinity. Such is “Day 12” in “31 Days of Wisdom and Praise.”

 

II. The Individual Psalms of Day 12

 

Psalm 12: God’s Word the Victor as the Battle Lines Are Drawn

1 Save, O Lord, for the godly one is gone;
    for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man.
Everyone utters lies to his neighbor;
    with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.

May the Lord cut off all flattering lips,
    the tongue that makes great boasts,
those who say, “With our tongue we will prevail,
    our lips are with us; who is master over us?”

“Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan,
    I will now arise,” says the Lord;
    “I will place him in the safety for which he longs.”
The words of the Lord are pure words,
    like silver refined in a furnace on the ground,
    purified seven times.

You, O Lord, will keep them;
    you will guard us from this generation forever.
On every side the wicked prowl,
    as vileness is exalted among the children of man.

A. Theme: God’s Truth Defeats the Enemy’s Lie as the Battle Lines  Are Drawn

1.  Characteristics of Liars and Their Lies

a. Verse 1: They are the norm everywhere

b. Verse 2: Everyone hides the truth and speaks falsely to the people around them, saying one thing out loud and saying something quite different to themselves. They pretend to be pleased by others, to agree, and to like these others, their neighbors, while at the same time their hearts stand poised against them.

c. Verse 3: The liars give meaningless compliments and agreements and speak proudly of themselves.

d. Verse 4: Those who deceive think they can get away with everything.

e. Verse 5: The purpose of much of the false words is to oppress the already poor and needy.

(Note on Verse 5: New Testament writers often quote from the Septuagint, which was the translation of the Old Testament in common circulation during their day. The English translation of Septuagint verse 5 proclaims God’s mind to clearly speak, that is, to prophesy, his intentions regardingsalvation.

LXE Psalm 12:5 {011:5} Because of the misery of the poor, and because of the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, saith the Lord, I will set them in safety; I will speak to them thereof openly. [Brenton, BibleWorks, Septuagint numbering Psalm 11:5])

2. Characteristics of the Lord’s Words, Verse 6: The Lord’s words are pure–not mixed, not hiding double meanings, exact and to the point, reliable, and of great value.

B. Outcome: The Lord Fights and Vanquishes the Wicked

1. Verse 7: The Lord has promised–he has spoken–and he will do as he spoke. He will keep the poor and needy safe forever from the oppressors of their own generation.

2. Verse 8: The wicked, in the meantime, will continue to walk about everywhere, honoring what is vile.

C. Sidebar: Internal Dialogue Present Within the Psalm

1. Verses 1-2 are a third person statement of the situation. The speaker is not identified; it may be a narrator or more likely either David speaking for the poor and needy or the congregation of the poor and needy themselves.

2. Verses 3-4 are a petition to the Lord by the unknown speaker.

3. Verse 5 is the Lord’s spoken response to the petition stated in verses 3 and 4. The Lord’s specific mention of the poor and needy in his reply adds weight to the view that these are the unknown, collective petitioners.

4. Verses 6 is a third person statement describing the Lord’s words.

5. In verse 7, first person plural speakers address the Lord in second person. This also adds weight to the view that the unknown speaker of the petition in verses 3 and 4 is the collective of the poor and needy.

6. Verse 8 is a third person narrative-like summary of the situation, a repetition in content of verses 1 and 2.

7. Even in this short psalm, therefore, at least two and possibly three speaking voices can be identified.

Takeaway: What do we learn from this psalm? What should our actions be?

I learn that I should not listen to the myriad of voices around me, voices that try to lead me away from the sure ground of faith in the Lord and in His Word. God’s Word is eternal, and in his Word I should trust, stand, and abide.

Can you put in your own words what this psalm means to you?

Summary: Psalm 12 sets the stage for the remaining psalms of Day 12. The battle is between the Lord and the wicked, and the weapons are the durable, true words of the Lord against the deceptive untruths of his enemies.  The Lord promises to arise and take salvation action to save the poor and needy.

Psalm 42: Faith Fights Depression

To the choirmaster. A Maskil of the Sons of Korah.

1As a deer pants for flowing streams,
    so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
    for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
    “Where is your God?”
These things I remember,
    as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
    and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
    a multitude keeping festival.

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my salvation and my God.

My soul is cast down within me;
    therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
    from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
    at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves
    have gone over me.
By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
    and at night his song is with me,
    a prayer to the God of my life.
I say to God, my rock:
    “Why have you forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning
    because of the oppression of the enemy?”
10 As with a deadly wound in my bones,
    my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me all the day long,
    “Where is your God?”

11 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my salvation and my God.

A. Portrait of a Faithful Man Who Suffers

We’ve all been in this situation. We’ve placed all our hope in the Lord and have been careful to obey all the principles of his Word. We’ve gone regularly to church and have truly enjoyed worshiping with like minded believers. But then, God disappears. He no longer speaks to us, especially in the night watches of our souls. News from a godless culture assaults us day by day. Personal troubles come, and it seems as though we are drowning in a sea of difficulties. Worse still, it seems as though the attacks upon us are coming from God himself! (Vs 7: “all your breakers and waves have gone over me.”) And we have enemies, adversaries, those who oppose us with intent to harm. Then these, not only trying to hurt us, taunt us in our suffering, “Where’s your God now?” “Why doesn’t your God save you?” “What good is your faith?” “Why has God abandoned you?” “See, we don’t need God. God is not even relevant.”

B. Faith’s Response

1. The suffering believer in this psalm does what believers always do–he turns to the Lord, crying out to him from his pain and sorrow:

1 As a deer pants for flowing streams,
    so pants my soul for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God,
    for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God? …

6 My soul is cast down within me;
    therefore I remember you…

I say to God, my rock:
    “Why have you forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning
    because of the oppression of the enemy?” …

11 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my salvation and my God.

2. The psalmist has a strong apprehension that it is God himself who afflicts him, even though there is an actual enemy oppressing him.

7 Deep calls to deep
    at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves
    have gone over me.

I say to God, my rock:
    “Why have you forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning
    because of the oppression of the enemy?”

Does this make sense to our faith? If God is the one who afflicts us, then what hope do we possibly have?

Two things:

1) If it is God who afflicts, then it is also God who will save.

2) We know positively that our enemy does not love us, whereas we also know positively that God does love us. Eventually his love will pull us through.

3) No matter how strong the storm, if God is with us in the boat, then we are safe.

3. The fact that the psalmist ultimately places responsibility for his affliction at the feet of God causes us to think of Christ, because he knew that it was the Father’s will that he suffer and be sacrificed for our sins. It was exactly the Father’s will that sent Christ to the cross. Further, in this one specific instance of Christ, it was indeed God’s wrath against sin that poured out upon him in punishment and inflicted pain.

4. Nevertheless, this psalm itself does not specify that this suffering person is Christ. That will come later in Day 12.

5. [SIDEBAR] There is however an important theological understanding to be gained here. Once the connections among psalms have been made, once the disciples’ eyes had been opened to the reality that all the prophets and psalms speak of Christ and his suffering (Luke 24:25-27 and Luke 24:44-47), then it was possible for the New Testament writers to go back and learn of Messiah’s suffering as proceeding from his Father’s own will.

 ESV Hebrews 2:10 For it was fitting that he [God], for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.

ESV 1Peter 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 [the Holy Spirit present within the Old Testament prophets] predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.

Where then in the Old Testament do the prophets specifically speak of the sufferings of Christ? One place is in Psalms, and in this psalm in particular, if the reader can see Christ in it, as for example in verse 4, which reminds us of Christ leading the jubilant throng to the temple on what came later to be known as Palm Sunday.

C. Doubt and despair are two of the enemies afflicting the psalmist, and against these two he fights back mightily, knowing that God’s love will manifest and save him in the end.

… Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my salvation and my God.

By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
    and at night his song is with me,
    a prayer to the God of my life.

Psalm 72: Prophetic Prayer for Messiah the King

(Link to Text of Psalm 72)

This is a prayer psalm that speaks blessing upon the King, the Son of the King of Kings. As the psalm closes with the transition from verse 17 to verses 18 and 19, it becomes difficult to decipher whom is being spoken of–God the Father or the Royal Son, so close are they in nature and glory. It can be seen that verse 17 supports the view that verses 18 and 19 are also about the Royal King, since the blessings desired for the Lord are eternal. The “Lord, the God of Israel,” in verse 18 is Yahweh Elohim in Hebrew, which the Septuagint version renders as, “the Lord, the God, the God of Israel.”

17 May his name endure forever, his fame continue as long as the sun! May people be blessed in him, all nations call him blessed!

18 Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things.

19 Blessed be his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory! Amen and Amen! 

A. Petitions for the King’s Endurance and Blessing

5 May they fear you while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations! 

8 May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth!
9 May desert tribes bow down before him, and his enemies lick the dust!
10 May the kings of Tarshish and of the coastlands render him tribute; may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts!
11 May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him! 

15 Long may he live; may gold of Sheba be given to him! May prayer be made for him continually, and blessings invoked for him all the day!

17 May his name endure forever, his fame continue as long as the sun! May people be blessed in him, all nations call him blessed! 

19 Blessed be his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory! Amen and Amen! 

B. Characteristics of and Petitions For His Nature

1 … Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the royal son!
2 May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice!
3 Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness!
4 May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor!

6 May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth!
7 In his days may the righteous flourish, and peace abound, till the moon be no more!

12 For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper.
13 He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.
14 From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight.

C. Messiah as Glorious King

Notice that in Psalm 72, which has been considered Messianic, there is no mention of suffering or of hardship of any kind. The psalm deals only with the glory of the King, his righteousness, the peace that shall accompany him, and the eternity of his reign.

Recap:

  • Psalm 12–Messiah but no suffering
  • Psalm 42–Suffering but no Messiah
  • Psalm 72–Messiah but no suffering

Psalm 102: The Afflicted Man and Messiah God Joined

Psalm 102 is one of the more puzzling psalms in Scripture, predominantly as a consequence of the way it is quoted in the book of Hebrews.

(Link to Psalm 102 Bible Gateway)

Reading through Psalm 102 in most, if not all, of the English translations gives many people the sense that the voice of the poor, afflicted suppliant continues throughout the entire psalm. That is, many, if not most, commentators hear one person speaking throughout the psalm, that person being the poor, afflicted suppliant. In verse 24, most English versions add punctuation and some add grammatical changes which preclude any other interpretation. The ESV, for example, adds the grammatical interpretation, “you whose years” in place of the accurate  translation, “your years” (ESV Psalm 102:24). The King James Version is literal and conveys an accurate translation of the actual Greek words in Psalm 102:24 (KJV). Except for the punctuation marks, which of course are not present in the Greek, and the word “please,” the New English Translation, though not literal, is accurate as well (NET). (See these three versions in Parallel).

Contrary to the single speaker interpretation of Psalm 102, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews appears to hear additionally the voice of God speaking to the person pleading to him in this psalm. The writer of that letter hears two speaking voices, not one:

Hebrews 1:10 And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; 11 they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, 12 like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.” (ESV) [This is a quotation of Psalm 102:24b-27.]

To perceive that the writer of the letter to the Hebrews hears God in Psalm 102 addressing the Son, it helps to read Hebrews 1:10-12 in the  context of the entire chapter, since verses 10-12 are part of a longer sentence that begins in verse 8 and part of a longer argument, which begins in verse 1.

ESV Hebrews 1:1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 

Hebrews 1:8 But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. 9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” [a quotation of Psalm 45:6,7]

Hebrews 1:10 And [this conjunction links verse 10 to the portion of verse 8 which reads, “But of the Son he says…”], “You, Lord [i.e., you Lord, the Son], laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; 11 they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, 12 like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.” [Psalm 102:24b-27]

[Link to the entire chapter: Hebrews 1]

Following the rules of plain, common sense English, an ordinary reader can perceive that the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews sees a reference to Christ in Psalm 102:24-27 and that in his mind it is God speaking to Christ from within that psalm:

 …God spoke (Hebrews 1:1)…But of the Son he [God] says (:8)…And (:10) [God continues to speak of the Son] You, Lord, (:10) laid the foundation of the earth…etc. [from a direct quotation of that portion of Psalm 102]

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews plainly perceives more than one speaker in Psalm 102:24-27. He hears the voice of the poor suppliant pleading with God that he might live. Secondly, he hears the voice of God replying to the poor suppliant’s request. The nature of that reply indicates that the first speaker, the poor suppliant, is Christ the Son, and the second speaker is God.

The alternative single speaker point of view claims that only one person, the poor suppliant, speaks throughout the entire psalm. That is, all the words of the entire psalm, including those in verses 24-27, belong to the voice of the poor suppliant. Those who cling to this point of view interpret that the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews, divinely inspired,  perceives the Holy Spirit as having taken the words of the poor suppliant addressed to God in verses 24-27 and applied them as having been addressed to Christ by the poor suppliant. In other words, the single speaker point of view claims that in the poor suppliant’s prayer to God is buried a prayer to Christ as Creator, recognizable apparently only to the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews because he was under the influence of the Holy Spirit. I have every confidence that the writer of Hebrews was indeed divinely inspired. Nevertheless, this interpretation contorts the contexts of both Psalm 102 and Hebrews 1 beyond the bounds of plain, literary credulity.  It is an interpretation to which most ordinary readers would never arrive. Thus, Hebrews 1:10-12 has remained a puzzle for ages: How did the writer of Hebrews arrive at his conclusion that Christ is present as divine Creator in Psalm 102:24-27?

Despite the difficulties just described, very few writers embrace the viewpoint of two speakers in dialogue within Psalm 102. A two speaker viewpoint inescapably implies that the poor, afflicted suppliant pleading for his life in Psalm 102 is also Christ the divine Creator. Is it because such a viewpoint would upset the hermeneutical rules of many that most commentators fall short of this mark? Is it difficulty in ascribing the mindset of the poor suppliant to Christ? Or is it something else? Why does it seem impossible that the poor suppliant in Psalm 102 prophetically speaks out the voice of Christ in his incarnation and passion? Doesn’t Christ himself just before his ascension teach his disciples that any of them who do not see the predictions of Messiah’s sufferings in the Old Testament, including the psalms, are both “foolish” and “slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (Luke 24:25 ESV and Luke 24:44-46)?

Perhaps reading Psalm 1o2 in the Septuagint, which the Hebrews’ author most likely did, will help a great deal, as the context clearly proclaims two speakers:

LXE Psalm 102:23 He [Speaker 1: the poor suppliant] answered him [Addressee: God] in the way of his strength: [Note that this narrative sentence must be spoken by a third party, neither the suppliant nor the addressee.]

[SUPPLIANT:] tell me the fewness of my days. 24 Take me not away in the midst of my days:

[ADDRESSEE, GOD, AND HERE, SPEAKER NUMBER TWO:] thy years are through all generations.
25 In the beginning thou, O Lord, didst lay the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands.
26 They shall perish, but thou remainest: and they all shall wax old as a garment; and as a vesture shalt thou fold them, and they shall be changed.
27 But thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.
28 The children of thy servants shall dwell securely, and their seed shall <1> prosper for ever.

Written in paragraph style:

He answered him in the way of his strength, “Tell me the fewness of my days. Take me not away in the midst of my days.” 

“Thy years are through all generations…”

(Link to NETS translation of Septuagint Psalm 102 {101}) (Link to Brenton’s translation of Psalm 102)

The Septuagint’s use of the phrase, “He answered him…,” is a textual signpost indicating that two speakers are present and engaged in ongoing dialogue. If a reader becomes aware that the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews quoted from the Septuagint, then he can readily follow the logic of his divinely inspired understanding in Hebrews 1:10-12 that God is indeed speaking to Christ in Psalm 102:24-27, since Christ is identical to the poor suppliant.

Concerning the text the author of Hebrews may have used, the Septuagint reading quoted above is present in all versions of the Septuagint this author could find, and no content variants seem present that might challenge the two speaker viewpoint. Clearly, if, as is widely assumed, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews 1) had the Greek version of Psalm 102 in front of him, 2) had the Holy Spirit within him, and 3) was aware of Christ’s teaching on Old Testament prophecy in regard to the sufferings of Messiah, then today’s reader can more readily understand how he came to the conclusion he did regarding Christ as Creator within the context of Psalm 102. I want to add that any reader today, who reads Psalm 102 from the Septuagint or from an accurate English translation of the Septuagint, using a clear mind and following the rules of ordinary, plain, common sense language construction, should be able to see and agree that the concept of two speakers in dialogue within this psalm holds considerable merit, especially as confirmed by the book of Hebrews.

One can also notice that the author of Hebrews perceives many of the Old Testament passages he quotes in chapter 1, including those from Psalms, as having been spoken by God to the Son. Indeed, internal dialogue by various parties within single psalms is not uncommon. See, for example, the dialogue present in Psalm 12, discussed just above.

(For further direct speech from Father to Son see Psalm 110 and for a further example of speech/content blocks see Psalm 21 and Psalm 21: A Structural Analysis on this blog).

SUMMARY: If, as the writer of Hebrews indicates, God addresses his Son within the bounds of Psalm 102, then this psalm directly connects the suffering man with Messiah Lord God in a most powerful way.

Following are quotations from authors who subscribe to the single speaker interpretation of Psalm 102 in which the words of the poor suppliant to God are wrenched from their context and applied out of context in Hebrews 1, as though 1) God through the Holy Spirit were taking the poor suppliant’s words addressed to himself and using them as the poor suppliant’s words addressed to Christ, or 2) as if the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews through inspiration of the Holy Spirit were taking the poor suppliant’s words to God throughout the entire passage and applying them in these few sentences as God’s words to Christ. Neither of these two interpretations follows the rules of plain, ordinary grammatical and literary understanding. They seem rather to be contortions employed to avoid the conclusion that in Psalm 102 the poor suppliant is Christ in the suffering of his incarnation addressing God his Father. That is, there are two speakers in dialogue, not one.

Footnote 1.1

Albert Barnes sums up well the predicament of many commentators who attempt to explain in this portion of the Letter to the Hebrews what is for them the author’s surprising use of Psalm 102 as direct speech by God to the Son.

No one, on reading the Psalm, ever would doubt that it referred to God; and, if the apostle meant to apply it to the Lord Jesus, it proves most conclusively that he [Jesus] is divine. In regard to the difficult inquiry, why he applied this to the Messiah, or on what principle such an application can be vindicated, we may perhaps throw some light by the following remarks. It must be admitted, that probably few persons, if any, on reading the Psalm, would suppose that it referred to the Messiah; but (1.) the fact that the apostle thus employs it, proves that it was understood, in his time, to have such a reference, or, at least, that those to whom he wrote would admit that it had such a reference. On no other principle would he have used it in an argument. This is at least of some consequence, in showing what the prevailing interpretation was. (Barnes, Albert, “Notes on the New Testament Explanatory and Practical: Hebrews,” Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Available at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/barnes/ntnotes.xxii.i.x.html?highlight=psalm,102#highlight, accessed July 30, 2017.)

Footnote 1.2

Charles Spurgeon sets the tone perhaps for many commentators who perceive a single speaker throughout, according to Spurgeon’s view, a patriot who mourns for the plight of his nation and yet who ultimately finds hope in God:

24. “I said, O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days.” He betook himself to prayer…”Thy years are throughout all generations.” Thou livest, Lord; let me live also. A fullness of existence is with thee, let me partake therein. Note the contrast between himself pining and ready to expire, and his God living on in the fullness of strength for ever and ever…25 “Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth.” Creation is no new work with God…[the quote continues in this same vein.] (Spurgeon, Charles, The Treasury of David: Containing an Original Exposition of the Book of Psalms; A Collection of Illustrative Extracts from the Whole Range of Literature; A Series of Homiletical Hints upon Almost Every Verse; And Lists of Writers upon Each Psalm in Three Volumes, Peabody: Henrickson Publishers, No Date, Vol. 2, 257.)

Footnote 1.3

Craig C. Broyles succinctly expresses the majority viewpoint that Psalm 102 is breathed by a single speaker throughout. Notice in the following text, however, that he focuses on the clear contrast between verses 23-24a and 24b-28, which in the dual speaker view is exactly where the dialogue occurs. He also accurately identifies the other major blocks of texts and their easily recognizable transitions.

102:23-24a / Although the praise of God’s permanence continues in verses 24b-28, a lament and a petition that resume the earlier theme of my days are interjected here. Their effect is to create a striking contrast. While the lament is brief, it focuses entirely on God’s role in the distress: he–that is, the praised Yahweh of verses 12-22–cut short my days. The petition then returns the psalm to direct address: Do not take me away…in the midst of my days; your years go on through all generations. Thus, although verses 24b-28 are formally praise, there is also a note of complaint: “I am not permitted to live a full generation, but you continue through all generations.” [My comment here: in a devotional sense, I personally cannot help but feel that for someone to be jealous and even mildly to chastise God regarding his eternity in view of the plaintiff’s own short days would be somewhat blasphemous. Is that a viewpoint God would want to exult in Scripture?] (Broyles, Craig C., Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Psalms, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999, 392-393.)

Following are quotations from sources who subscribe to a dual speaker interpretation of Psalm 102. Christ is the poor suppliant addressing the Father in this psalm, and within the psalm the Father replies. His reply to Christ, the poor suppliant/Creator, is recorded in Hebrews 1:10-12.

Footnote 2.1:

101 [102. The Orthodox Study Bible uses the Septuagint numbering system, in which Psalm 101 Septuagint is Psalm 102 in most other English translations. The superscription is also numbered separately as verse 1.] Ps 101 is about a [present in the source] a poor man, when he was depressed and poured out his supplication before the Lord (v. 1). This Man is Jesus, who became poor for our sakes and interceded with the Father for our salvation (see also 2Co 8:9; Heb 5:7). The Lord to whom He prays is the Father (v.2) [vs 1 in most English translations], and vv. 3-12 [vv 2-11 in English translations not using the Septuagint numbering system] describe Jesus’ extreme anguish for us (see also Mt 26:38). He also rose again for our salvation, for He is the Lord over death (when You rise up, v. 14) [13]. He is the Creator of the world (vv. 26-28 [25-27]; see also Heb 1:10-12), and He also created the Church (vv. 19, 23, 29) [18, 22, 28], composed of Gentiles as well as Jews (v. 16) [15].

1:10-12 [Hebrews 1:10-12] In this quotation from Ps 101:26-28 [102:25-27], God the Father (v. 9) is addressing Another as “Lord,” that is, as God.

[Both quotations above are from: The Academic Community of St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, The Orthodox Study Bible, Thomas Nelson: Nashville, et al., 2008, copyright by St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, Used by permission. All rights reserved, 748 and 1654.]

Footnote 2.2:

PSALM CII. In this Psalm we behold the sufferings of Christ, as expressed in his own person, by the Holy Ghost, from the beginning to verse 12, contrasted with the following glory, as declared by the same Spirit in the person of the Father, from verse 12 to 23. Then, from the 23d to the middle of verse 24, the dialogue is again renewed, as at the beginning of the Psalm, in the person of the Son–to whom, from the middle of verse 24, to the end of the Psalm, the Father is again represented, as replying according to the former manner, mentioned from ver. 12 to 23: for so this Psalm, ver. 25, &c. is expressly applied and interpreted by the Holy Ghost, Heb. I. ‘Unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever–And thou, Lord, in the beginning, hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands,’ &c.–‘And they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.’ (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, page 336. Digitally reproduced by Forgotten Books, London: FB&c Ltd., 2017, http://www.ForgottenBooks.com.)

Note that as presented in the above quotation, John Barclay views Psalm 102 as a two speaker dialogue throughout. He divides the Psalm in this manner:

Speaker 1, Christ: verses 1-11,

Speaker 2, God the Father: verses 12-22,

Speaker 1, Christ: verses 23-24a,

Speaker 2, God the Father: verses 24b-28.

Barclay credits the Holy Spirit for assigning these divisions. He appeals to Hebrews 1:10-12 to confirm these divisions, as by the same Holy Spirit .

Footnote 2.3

Psalm 102 is one of the most, perhaps the most, remarkable of all the psalms, and presents Christ in a way divinely admirable. Verse 10 gives the occasion of the cry with which the psalm begins. Christ is fully looked at as man chosen out of the people and exalted to be Messiah, and now, instead of taking the kingdom, He is rejected and cast off…He looks to Jehovah, who cast down Him whom He had called to the place of Messiah, but who now meets indignation and wrath...The whole scene, from Christ on earth to the remnant in the last days, is one...His strength had been weakened in His journey, His days shortened. He had cried to Him able to deliver, to save from death. Was Zion to be restored and no Messiah—He weakened and cut off? Then comes the wondrous and glorious answer: He was Himself the creator of the heavens and the earth. He was ever the same. His years would not fail when the created universe was rolled up like a garment. The children of His servants would continue and their seed be established before Him. The Christ, the despised and rejected Jesus, is Jehovah the Creator. The Jehovah we have heard of coming, is the Christ that came. The Ancient of days comes, and Christ is He, though Son of man. This contrast of the extreme humiliation and isolation of Christ, and His divine nature, is incomparably striking. (Darby, John, John Darby’s Synopsis, Whole Bible, Psalm 102, Available at Christianity.com, “Psalm 102 Bible Commentary: John Darby’s Synopsis,” https://www.christianity.com/bible/commentary.php?com=drby&b=19&c=102#%5B1%5D, Accessed on November 17, 2017.)

Footnote 2.4

The apostle refers to the 102nd Psalm–a psalm which, without apostolic teaching, I doubt if any of us would have had the boldness so to apply; for in many respects it s the most remarkable of all the psalms–the psalm of the afflicted One while His soul is overwhelmed within Him in great affliction, and sorrow, and anxious fear…Then it is that God the Father replies to Him, “Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands.”  (Saphir, Adolph and Cortesi, Lawrence. The Epistle to the Hebrews: An Exposition. Public Domain. Available at http://juchre.org/saphir/heb2.htm, accessed July 30, 2017.)

Psalm 132: Prayer for the People of the Victorious King Who Endured Hardships

(Link to the Text of Psalm 132)

 Psalm 132 unifies and completes both the psalm portion of Day 12 of 31 Days of Wisdom and Praise and the life and mission of Jesus Christ.

In Psalm 132 we see a prayer (vss  1 and 10) for God’s anointed one, David’s descendant, that the mission begun in David’s humiliation would find its eternal completion in God’s anointed one, whom God promised would be King in Zion. In Zion, with the anointed King and with his people, God would have his final resting place.

A. Prayer for God to Remember David’s Hardships and Desire: Verses 1-10

A Song of Ascents. Remember, O LORD, in David’s favor, all the hardships he endured, (Psa 132:1 ESV)

Commentators agree that “hardships” in the ESV refer to David’s meekness and humility in placing God before his own interests in his desire to find Him a dwelling place.

Psalm 132:4 I will not give sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids, 5 until I find a place for the LORD, a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob.” (ESV) (1 Chronicles 22:7 and Acts 7:46)

B. God’s Anointed One Fulfills David’s Desire

Psalm 132: 10 For the sake of your servant David, do not turn away the face of your anointed one.
11 The LORD swore to David a sure oath from which he will not turn back: “One of the sons of your body I will set on your throne. (ESV)

13 For the LORD has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his dwelling place:
14 “This is my resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it. (ESV)

C. Petition and Promise

Verses 9-10 are a prayer that embodies what God has already promised (praying Scripture). Verses 9-10 state the prayer, and verses 11-18 state the promise/reply.

D. Plot Line

For Christians who believe that Christ is all in all, Psalm 132 sums up his life and mission very well.

  • As incarnated deity, Christ is typified by David. As David in the psalm placed concern for God’s dwelling place above the needs of his own life, so Christ always kept the Father’s will foremost in his thought, prayers, motives, speech, and actions.
  • David’s purpose in Psalm 132 is to find a permanent dwelling for God. Christ, whose name Emmanuel means “God with us” (Matthew 1:23), came to open the way back to God by means of the cross and to establish a permanent, eternal dwelling place for God among his people. Indeed, Christ’s mission and life throughout all ages fulfills the message of the entire Bible.
  • The place of God’s dwelling in both Psalm 132 and the unfolding of the New Testament is a people, Zion, God’s people, in whom Christ, the Anointed One, lives and reigns as eternal King.

E. A Fit Conclusion for the Five Psalm Series

Because Psalm 132 contains all the elements of humiliation, deity, promise, and eternal kingship, it captures and weaves into one all the various threads of the prior psalms.

III. Summary

Day 12 packs a great deal of vision and meaning into these five psalms.

Psalm 12 1) states the problem: sin, deception, and oppression, and 2) states the means of its solution: God’s word of truth and his salvation.

Psalm 42 paints an intimate portrait of an unnamed Christ in the days of his humiliation. It also presents faith as the effective weapon of choice.

Psalm 72 is a prayer for God’s royal son, the eternal King whose kingdom will last forever.

Psalm 102 for those who have eyes to see it and willingness to receive, reveals that the suffering one in this psalm, and by extension in all the psalms, is none other than the Lord himself, Creator (John 1:1-3; Hebrews 1:2, 10), and second person of the Trinity.

Psalm 132 brings it all together in a brief overview of 1) David’s life goal of finding a final dwelling place for God among his people, and 2) God’s promise to David that He would fulfill that goal in David’s descendant, God’s anointed, eternal King (vs 18), and that 3) Zion would be the eternal dwelling of God, his anointed King, and his people (Psalm 132:11-18).

Christ is that King. Believers in Christ from every age are God’s people.

 

 

 

This is the End of the current series. My prayer is that you will be greatly blessed in your own journey of discovering Christ in the Psalms.

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Psalm 21: A Structural Analysis

Photo by Christina Wilson

 

Bibliography

Outline of Series

Psalm 21

How cold is the title of this post? Why would anyone want to “structurally analyze” any part of God’s Word, especially the poetry of Psalms?

There are living voices in the psalms–various points of view and various speakers within single psalms. Not everyone hears these voices. Yet Christ after his resurrection cited Psalms to his disciples as one of the areas of Old Testament prophecy that  foretold his sufferings, death, and resurrection.

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, (Luke 24:44-45).

Verse 45 above says that Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” I take this to mean that he spent some time with them going over specific examples and giving them keys to unlock passages. Afterward, they would be able to find and see these things themselves, as the Gospels and letters bear witness.

Psalm 21 is a psalm of resurrection.

Psalm 21 enjoys the agreement of traditional church interpretation both East and West that it is messianic and regards the resurrection and beyond.

Patrick Reardon writes, “Holy Church, both East and West, rather early decided that Psalm 20 (Hebrew 21) is best prayed during the earliest hours of Sunday morning, the Resurrection day of her Lord Jesus Christ” (Reardon, 39).

Andrew Bonar writes of it, “We are at once shewn the King Messiah, already triumphant at the Father’s right hand; and yet, as King, to triumph more ere all be done” (Bonar, 71).

Its positional context in the Psalter corresponds to its messianic nature.

Positioned just before Psalm 21, Psalm 20 is a psalm of prayerful intercession for the salvation of the King in his day of trouble. Undoubtedly the Jewish congregation prayed it through the centuries from David to Christ, and some, such as Anna and Zechariah, most likely knew that when they prayed this psalm, they were indeed praying for the Lord’s Anointed Messiah, not just for King David in retrospect.

Psalm 21 gives God’s answer to the petitions of Psalm 20, and Psalm 22, quoted in the New Testament and widely acknowledged as messianic, gives the details of the struggle prayed for in Psalm 20 and recaps the victory of Psalm 21.

Charles Spurgeon, who is relatively conservative in naming certain psalms as messianic, writes in his forward to Psalm 21, “Probably written by David, sung by David, relating to David, and intended by David to refer in its fullest reach of meaning to David’s Lord. It is evidently the fit companion of Psalm Twenty, and is in its proper position next to it. Psalm Twenty anticipates what this regards as realized. [Notice that Spurgeon here acknowledges reading across the psalms for connected themes]…The next Psalm [Psalm 22] will take us to the foot of the cross, this introduces us to the steps of the throne” (Spurgeon, Vol. 1, 312).

As a note, Psalm 21 is not quoted in the New Testament (Archer, Gleason L. and Gregory Chirichigno). This is apparently the reason why this psalm, widely regarded as being messianic throughout church history, does not appear in “official” lists of prophetic messianic psalms, such as those found in certain popular study Bibles. The author of this blog strongly feels that, as regards the reading of Psalms, current post modern academia has thrown buckets of icy water upon the Holy Spirit of God (1 Thessalonians 5:19), who moves so deeply throughout all of Scripture, breathing the life of Christ everywhere in its pages, and nowhere moreso than in the psalms. Sadly, this atmosphere of strict academia has seeped down into many, if not most, western evangelical churches, so that the power of Psalms as the voice of Christ has been largely lost to the weekly evangelical worshiper.

The Internal Structure of Psalm 21

Psalm 21

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

O Lord, in your strength the king rejoices,
    and in your salvation how greatly he exults!
You have given him his heart’s desire
    and have not withheld the request of his lips. Selah
For you meet him with rich blessings;
    you set a crown of fine gold upon his head.
He asked life of you; you gave it to him,
    length of days forever and ever.
His glory is great through your salvation;
    splendor and majesty you bestow on him.
For you make him most blessed forever;[a]
    you make him glad with the joy of your presence.
For the king trusts in the Lord,
    and through the steadfast love of the Most High he shall not be moved.

Your hand will find out all your enemies;
    your right hand will find out those who hate you.
You will make them as a blazing oven
    when you appear.
The Lord will swallow them up in his wrath,
    and fire will consume them.
10 You will destroy their descendants from the earth,
    and their offspring from among the children of man.
11 Though they plan evil against you,
    though they devise mischief, they will not succeed.
12 For you will put them to flight;
    you will aim at their faces with your bows.

13 Be exalted, O Lord, in your strength!
    We will sing and praise your power.

–ESV  (Psalm 21)

As much as possible, when reading the ancient poetry of psalms,  it is necessary to observe and identify within single psalms changes of viewpoint and even changes of speakers.

For example, at times a psalm may include one or more direct quotations and identify the speaker. One example is the well-known Psalm 110:1.

Psalm 110:1 A Psalm of David. The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” 

While Psalm 110:1 itself identifies both the speaker, LORD, and the addressee, my Lord, the reader is further helped to recognize who is speaking by Christ’s use of this psalm in verses such as Mark 12:35-37.

Mark 12:35 And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David?
36 David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.”‘
37 David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?” And the great throng heard him gladly. 

Even beyond this, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews, by means of the context and grammar of the paragraph containing the quotation, explains that Psalm 110:1 was God speaking directly to his Son Christ (Hebrews 1).

From the above example alone, readers learn that 1) God speaks directly within the poetry of psalms, 2) sometimes Scripture identifies to whom he is speaking, 3) at times the addressee is his Son, 4) that Father and Son both appear in certain Old Testament psalms, and  5) that a single psalm may contain more than one speaking voice or speaking point of view.

Who is speaking in Psalm 21?

First, the superscription identifies Psalm 21 as a psalm of David.

Next, we notice that verse one begins in both second (you) and third person (he, the king) and continues this way through the first twelve verses. Verse thirteen alone uses one first person plural (we).

The speaker of the psalm is not identified.

Possibilities

  1. Perhaps King David is speaking. In this scenario he would be referring to himself in third person (he, the king).
  2. However, when the reader arrives at verse 8, it stretches plain literary common sense to continue thinking that David is the speaker.
    1. It is clear that the speaker is addressing God throughout verses 8-12.
    2. If David is the speaker, then God as addressee is the actor in the prophecies spoken throughout these verses.
    3. While it is true that God does act and that his will directs all, Scripture teaches that God himself does not appear; he remains invisible–

John 4:12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

4. Yet verse 9 says, “when you appear.

5. Therefore, it seems unlikely that David is the speaker in the block of verses 8 through 12.

3. Likewise, it seems clear without explanation that God is not speaking in any portion of Psalm 21.

4. Who is left? None but a narrative voice, a chorus, a body of speakers, given that the final verse is plural first person.

5. It does appear possible that David the King might be speaking in the first block from 1 through 7, and a chorus speaking from verses 8 through 13.

6. As mentioned in the first point, if David is the speaker in verses 1 through 7, then he would be referring to himself in third person.

7. More likely, the narrative chorus, which steps forward to identify itself in verse 13, is singing the entire psalm.

What structural blocks are identifiable?

There are three.

1. The first block–verses 1 through 7 

A. Verse 1 is a couplet:

O LORD, in your strength the king rejoices,

and in your salvation how greatly he exults! (ESV)

1. The first line of the couplet identifies the second person addressee: the Lord.

2. The first line also identifies the third person referent: the king.

3. The first and second lines together identify the theme of the first block: the king’s joy in the victories of strength God gave.

B . Verse 2 announces answered prayer.

You have given him his heart’s desire and have not withheld the request of his lips. Selah 

The answered prayer of 21:1-6, and especially the phrasing in verse 2, responds to the prayer spoken in Psalm 20, and especially in 20:4–May he grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans! 

C. Verses  3-6 give details of the answered prayer.

D. Verse 7 calls back to verse 1.

For the king trusts in the LORD, and through the steadfast love of the Most High he shall not be moved.

1. In verse 7 is the first appearance of the word “king” since verse 1.

2. Both verses 1 and 7 describe the emotional responses of the king to God’s favorable actions on his behalf, while verses 2 through 6 describe the actions of God.

3. Therefore, verses 1 and 7 form an inclusio. This is a frame, or bracket, around a literary block or section. It’s like the two pieces of bread enclosing the ingredients of a sandwich.

E. It is clear that the chorus of speakers is addressing God in the first block about his actions on behalf of the king.

2. Verses 8 through 12

A. There is an noticeably abrupt switch of topic and addressee immediately in verse 8 and the change continues through verse 12.

What has changed? Not the speaker, as shown above, but the addressee, the topic, and the time frame.

B. Concerning the addressee, as developed in point 2 above in the section called “Possibilities,” the chorus turns from addressing God to addressing the King. This is fairly clear according to the guidelines of plain, everyday speech.

C. The topic has changed from the king’s responses of joy and trust to what God has already done in answering a prior prayer to naming and describing what the king, and the Lord in verse 9, will do to the king’s enemies at a future time of judgment.

D. The time frame has shifted from past–actions that God has already taken–to future–actions that the king will take. Notice that verse 7 does contain a small bit of transition in the phrase, “he shall not be moved.

E. It is the changes in addressee (point B), topic (point C), and time frame (point D) which signal to the reader that indeed verses 7-12 form a poetic block within Psalm 21 that is distinct from the block occupying the first seven verses.

3. Verse 13 

A. Verse 13 stands alone as the only verse in which the voice of the psalm changes in one place from second and third persons singular (you, he) to first person plural (we).

Be exalted, O Lord, in your strength!
    We will sing and praise your power.

B. This change in grammar signals both a new block, if one verse alone can be so considered, and the end of the poem itself.

1. A new block

a. This final verse introduces the third player in the poem–the chorus itself. The other two players have been the Lord and the king, while the chorus-narrator has remained offstage, so to speak.

b. In the final verse, the chorus reveals itself, having stepped into the action of the poem, by describing their own responses of singing and praising the Lord, apparently for an undefined amount of time into the future, most likely corresponding to the eternal life specified in verse 4.

2. The end of the poem.

a. The final verse narrows the theme of the poem to a celebration of song and praise to the Lord for his strength.

b. The first line of the final couplet references the Lord.

c. The second line of the final couplet references the chorus-narrator.

d. The chorus-narrator ends the poem with a personal description of its own response.

Who is the chorus-narrator?

The introduction in the last verse of the chorus as actors in the poetic drama of God and King is a large, extremely important theological step for readers of the poem. Who are these people? Who is the speaker of the entire psalm?

1. We know it’s a group.

2. We know that these people love both the Lord and the King.

3. It seems entirely reasonable to conclude that the chorus is both the congregation of Israelites in King David’s day and the congregation of the church in Greater King David’s day, the day of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Final Thoughts from a Personal Point of View

1. I find the psalms to be highly interactive. There’s lots of lively drama happening in them.

One example is point 3 in the above section. God, who designed and wrote all Scripture by his Holy Spirit, intends the reader to be pulled into the action and to have personal responses. Theologically, there is tremendous hope and promise to the church for an eternal future with Christ and God, evidenced by its presence in Psalm 21. The Lord, King Jesus, and the believing reader, who is also part of the narrator-chorus in Psalm 21. God, his Son, us! If that doesn’t amaze and speak of the tremendous love of the Lord (“the steadfast love of the Most High”–vs 7), then what will?

2. Through reading and rereading this psalm, its intent becomes clearer. Although the Lord and the King are distinguishable throughout, they are clearly very closely intertwined, reflecting what we know about Christ and the Father.

9 You will make them as a blazing oven when you appear.

The LORD will swallow them up in his wrath, and fire will consume them. 

3. Jesus throughout his ministry directed everyone’s eyes to God the Father. Just so, while this psalm glorifies both the Lord and the King, its verses make clear that it is God the Lord who is the source of the King’s strength, and ultimately it is God the Lord whom the chorus praises in verse 13.

So is it cold or not cold?

This was lots of work for me as a writer!

As a reader, however, I want to say that since the Lord many years ago gave me the key of Christ to open the door of Psalms, it hasn’t been as difficult as this step-by-step analysis may indicate. When reading the psalms, the reality of the interactions between God and Son break through rather rapidly, like a great tidal wave of wonder and awe.

It is God the Holy Spirit who anoints each believing reader to perceive the gorgeous interplay between the various speakers and content blocks of Psalms. The perception comes rapidly, fed by the Spirit, and in response to reading and rereading a particular psalm. Yes, fine points need to be cleared up through analysis and by consulting other sources. For me, as regards this psalm, the fine point was whether or not the king was the speaker in the first block referring to himself in third person. As cited above, Andrew Bonar helped me with that one. Later analysis convinced me that the speaker is what I have termed the chorus-narrator throughout.

My personal testimony is that the discovery of two God-beings in Psalms is not cold, but very hot! While the king is not presented as the Lord in Psalm 21, he has been crowned with gold by God (verse 3), he has been given eternal life (verses 4 and 6), and he has been given glory, splendor, and majesty (verse 5). All this is true of Jesus Christ God’s Son, while not all is true of King David. For God the Holy Spirit to reveal this inside a believing reader’s heart is exciting life indeed.

 

 

 

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