Continuing the quick descent from the bright and confident promises of Psalms 1 and 2 to the sufferings expressed in Psalms 3-5, Psalm 6 adds a further element: God’s wrath upon the righteous speaker. Psalm 2:4-5 and 9-12 reveals God’s wrath against the wicked; here we see that wrath causing the Righteous One to suffer.
Psalm 6:1 To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments; according to The Sheminith. A Psalm of David.
O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath.
2 Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing; heal me, O LORD, for my bones are troubled.
3 My soul also is greatly troubled. But you, O LORD– how long?
4 Turn, O LORD, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love.
5 For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise?
6 I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping.
7 My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows weak because of all my foes.
8 Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping.
9 The LORD has heard my plea; the LORD accepts my prayer.
10 All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled; they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment. 5 The arrogant cannot stand in your presence. You hate all who do wrong;
I. How do we know that the speaker of Psalm 6 is righteous?
A. We take a canonical, devotional view that presupposes all the psalms to be united with all Scripture and that unless otherwise directly noted, the first person singular speaker of all the psalms is none other than Messiah, the Son of God, God’s appointed King. By definition, God is righteous, and his Son is righteous, even during his incarnation as a human (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Discussion: First, can the above statement be proven from the Psalms themselves or other Scripture? In a legal sense, no. But neither can it be disproven. This is why commentaries are written. They all take a different point of view. The presuppositions stated in point A above can be reasonably and intellectually defended and demonstrated with quantities of biblical evidence, which is what the several posts in this blog are all about. But no person can provide an airtight proof one way or the other that the Psalter is largely spoken by Christ.
The world of biblical academia has not changed from Jesus’ day to our own. In the gospels, many conversations between Jesus and the “lawyers” of the law, the scribes and Pharisees, record Jesus’ attempts to pierce through combative academics to reach the hearts of people. I believe it safe to say that God does not care about a person’s intellectual understandings about his Word. God wants faith (Hebrews 11:6). Faith is like insight or like solving a mathematical word problem: there comes a point when a step must be made, no matter how small, over a gap that human logic and reason cannot bridge. God as Creator designed it to be so. Belief in God comes by his grace alone.
Second, taken on an individual basis, some psalms, such as Psalm 2, demonstrate the presence of Christ more readily than others. On the other hand, without faith, it appears impossible that a psalm such as Psalm 6 could be proven to speak words of Christ. However, as shown in prior articles on Psalms 1 and 2, it is literarily reasonable to suppose that all the psalms in the Psalter are about Christ or spoken by him. Therefore, it is not necessary to continually prove and demonstrate this point for each and every psalm. Over the five decades since Brevard Childs wrote his boldly conversation-opening book Biblical Theology in Crisis, academia has permitted a greater interconnectedness among the various portions of Scripture, including both the Old and New Testaments. (See, for example, works by Matthew W. Bates.)
B. Even though Psalm 6 is listed as the first of seven penitential psalms by the early church (The seven penitential psalms are 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143, C. Hassell Bullock, 207), no sins are mentioned (Craig C. Broyles, 63). Robert S. Hawker explains this feature.
“But the beauty of the Psalms is as it beholds Christ in his strong crying and tears, when taking upon him our nature, and becoming sin for the church, that the church might be made the righteousness of God in him. If we eye the Redeemer as the sinner’s surety, we shall then enter into a right apprehension of what he saith under the divine chastisement for sin.” (Hawker, 178, Psalm 6:2)
C. In spite of the wrath of God being displayed against the speaker (vss 1-3), God hears and responds to the psalmist’s cry for mercy and delivers from the grave and from a multitude of enemies (vss 8-10). Within the body of Psalms, God never comes to the aid of his enemies, but always favors the righteous. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
II. What does Psalm 6 add to the Psalter?
The psalms are prophetic. Their main purpose, or one of their main purposes, is to prophesy of the Christ. For the first time in the Psalter, Psalm 6 reveals the theme of God’s wrath against his Son, his Messiah, his King (if the reader connects this psalm with Psalm 2). Psalm 6 also reveals God’s deliverance after wrath.
III. Why read Psalms this way?
Why does this writer invest so much of her time and energy to communicate that the Psalms contain the words of Christ and of God his Father to him? For one reason only: to encourage the reader to pick up the Psalter in a quiet moment of devotion, to lay all academics aside, to ask God to speak to her personally, and to hear in a life-changing way the heart of God expressing itself in love for her the reader through the sacrificial death of his Son on the cross on her behalf: to experience God’s love for you, the reader.
I personally find that reading a psalm out loud when no one is present and there will be no opportunity for interruption is a good way to hear the voice of God through these living words.
The important thing is to go to God. That right there is how Psalm 5 defines righteousness. God himself does all the rest.
1 For the director of music. For pipes. A psalm of David. Listen to my words, LORD, consider my lament.
2 Hear my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray.
3 In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.
4 For you are not a God who is pleased with wickedness; with you, evil people are not welcome.
5 The arrogant cannot stand in your presence. You hate all who do wrong;
6 you destroy those who tell lies. The bloodthirsty and deceitful you, LORD, detest.
7 But I, by your great love, can come into your house; in reverence I bow down toward your holy temple.
8 Lead me, LORD, in your righteousness because of my enemies– make your way straight before me.
9 Not a word from their mouth can be trusted; their heart is filled with malice. Their throat is an open grave; with their tongues they tell lies.
10 Declare them guilty, O God! Let their intrigues be their downfall. Banish them for their many sins, for they have rebelled against you.
11 But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you.
12 Surely, LORD, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield. (Psalm 5 NIV)
The Psalter has few characters: God, His Son, God’s friends, and God’s enemies. In describing the Psalter, no matter how politically objectionable such a description may appear, there are few to no tones of gray, just black and white. One of the basic black and white facts of the Psalter is the contrast between the righteous and the unrighteous. Psalm 5 contributes to the Psalter the first detailed portrait of unrighteousness and contrasts this portrait with details about the righteous.
I. The speaker is an unnamed single person throughout, although verse 12, the closing verse, could be spoken by the ever-present narrator/chorus common to many of the psalms, especially in the closing verses. Clearly, the speaker places himself among the righteous.
II. Contrasts between the righteous and the unrighteous.
A. The righteous speaker of the psalm–
1. approaches God to reverently speak to him in worship and humility (verses 1-3 and 7b).
2. God receives, welcomes, enjoys, blesses, and protects the righteous who come to him (verses 7a and 11-12).
3. The one and only positive characteristic of righteousness described in this psalm is the fact of the righteous ones approaching God to speak with him and shelter in his presence.
B. The characteristics of those who come are–
1. the fact that they come
2. they want to speak with God and shelter in his presence
3. they believe in God’s existence and voluntarily place him high above themselves
“… LORD …” (vss 1, 3, 6, 8, 12)
“… my King and my God …” (vs 2)
“… O God …” (vs 10)
4. they are happy and joyful when protected by God (vs 11)
5. and by inference, they are truthful, not arrogant, and not desirous of harming others (vss 4-10).
C. The unrighteous, as described by the speaker of the psalm–
1. do not please God (vs 4a) and are not welcomed by him (vs 4b)
2. they are arrogant and cannot stand before God, who hates all wrong, including arrogance (vs 5).
3. they tell lies, seek to harm others (bloodthirsty), and are deceitful (vs 6)
4. the Lord, who by inference is honest, loving, and truthful detests them (vs6)
5. they display enmity towards the speaker
6. all their words are untrustworthy, reeking of death, and deceitful (vs 9)
7. their hearts are filled with ill will (malice) toward others (vs 9)
8. they plan intrigues and they rebel against God (vs 9)
9. and their end is to be banished (vs 10).
III. What can we make of all this?
A. If the reader is already on God’s side and knows it, then Psalm 5 gives comfort and encouragement (vss 1-3, 7, 11-12).
B. It seems reasonable to conclude that Jesus Christ is the speaker of this psalm, because only a completely holy and humble one could in honest self-examination speak such stark realities, and, we know that Jesus had many enemies who verbally attacked him on every occasion. What we know of his life, words, and actions corresponds well with the portrait of the psalmist given here.
C. If the reader is not on God’s side and knows it, most likely Psalm 5 would add fuel to an already angry fire.
D. If the reader has academic interest only, there might not be a personal response.
IV. My Personal Takeaway
Love for God is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-10). Fear of God is a gift from God (Proverbs 9:10). The very best action in life that anyone can ever take is to approach God in order to ask his forgiveness and blessing. A first step is to approach God and ask him, period. What are the questions? God, do you exist? God, do you see me? A second step is to approach God with personal statements that summarize current heart conditions (confession) and combine those with a request. To request from God is to express humility before him. For example, “God, do you exist? I don’t see you, I don’t hear you, you are not real to me, but I want you. Please show yourself to me in a way that I can see, hear, and understand.” Another example, “God, right now I hate you. But I’m not satisfied with this condition. Please help me not to hate you.” Or, “God, I don’t believe in you, but if you are real, I want to know that. Please take away the hatred in my heart that I have towards you, so that I may see you.” There are endless possibilities, but one final example, “God, I think that I am righteous. What do you say?”
As I read Psalm 5, I see two kinds of people: 1) there are those who want an all-powerful, good God, and 2) there are those who don’t want such a God. In life, we ourselves cannot classify people as starkly black or white, starkly righteous or unrighteous. Our world is gray. We see so-called bad people doing good things and so-called good people doing bad things. We see all people doing both good things and bad things. This is why we are not to judge others. We can only judge ourselves, and even that judgment may be skewed; our own vision is not to be trusted.
God’s vision is much clearer than ours, and Scripture teaches that God has an exact, x-ray-like vision that makes no mistakes (Hebrews 4:12). If you want God, then go to him; he will not turn you away. If you do not want God, but you want to want him, then go to God and ask him for that. If you hate God, go to him anyway, and just say to him, “Oh all right! Why should I?” If you don’t care about God, then go to him anyway and say, “God, I don’t care about you one way or the other. You are irrelevant to me. But if you want me, here I am. You know where to find me. I’m not helping you in that. But I’m here.” The important thing is to go to God. That right there is how Psalm 5 defines righteousness. God himself does all the rest. If you don’t know how to go to God, then go to God and ask him to show you how you should go to him…and on and on and on.
19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:19-21 ESV)
Do you have a prayer closet?
After you pray your most private prayers, do you then publish them on your favorite social media to share with all the world? Jesus’ Father did. It’s called the Psalter.
Do we ever think how awesome it is that the world has a written record of Jesus’ prayers? What an amazing thing! Whose prayers does the world want to hear more than any other? The prayers of Jesus, of course. And yet Jesus prayed privately, just as he taught his disciples.
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:5-6 ESV)
And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. (Mark 1:35 ESV)
Nevertheless, the private prayers of Jesus, and often God’s personal responses to these, are preserved as prophecies centuries before they occurred in human, real time. The Psalter, popularly known as the songbook of the church, is also the church’s book of Jesus’ prayers. We pray the psalms because Jesus prayed them before us.
Does God have multiple personalities? Some Psalms speak of God’s blessings upon his faithful, while others describe a God whose face is turned away. Psalms 1 and 2 speak of endless, magnificent blessings for the righteous man and for the King, God’s Son, while in Psalm 3 we see an ardent follower of the Lord, who by definition is righteous (Psalm 1:1-3), surrounded by countless foes in a seemingly hopeless situation (vs. 2). Where are God’s promises now? How can a “blessed” God-follower be having such a hard time?
Gladly for us the Bible is literature, as well as being inspired. All of us can take the rules of common speech we have learned since infancy and apply them towards understanding what God has written for our instruction. God wants the seeker to understand him (Proverbs 1:20-21).
One of the first facets of Psalm 3 lying in plain sight is the change of voice from that of the prior two: “I…I…I…me…my.” Psalm 3 is strongly first person, and the person speaking is neither God nor the glorified Son, as in Psalm 2, nor a neutral narrator, as in Psalm 1. Unlike Psalm 3, Psalms 1 and 2 present the overview to the Psalter, as demonstrated in the two prior posts, the long distance, high-in-the-sky, end-of-the-movie point of view. While Psalms 1 and 2 present the outcome of life as reported from God’s eternal point of view, the human speaker in Psalm 3 has his feet on the ground, running, as it were, heavily pursued by his multitude of enemies. Again, Psalms 1 and 2 are a summary view of the entire story, while Psalm 3 is a snapshot view of a certain moment of time in the psalmist’s life.
Who then is the psalmist?
- Historically, the superscription applies Psalm 3 to King David, when he was fleeing the persecution of his wicked son Absalom (2Sa 15:13-17, 29).
- In a broadly poetic, generic sense, the speaker is every righteous man and every righteous woman.
- Specifically, especially as the believing reader becomes familiar with the ways of the Psalter and the Bible as a whole, the speaker is the righteous man of Psalm 1 and the King, God’s Son, of Psalm 2. (See footnote 1.) What? This is a surprise! “But I thought … blessed!” Yes, until we look more closely at Psalm 2.
1 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,
3 “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” (Psalm 2:1-3)
As a whole, Psalm 2 makes so light of the efficacy of the enemies of God–verse 9 describes them as mere, broken pottery–that their role as antagonists diminishes within the bounds of Psalm 2. Their end is destruction, but … their beginning is persecution of the Lord’s Anointed. Psalm 3 gives the reader a view of what that persecution looks like from the vantage of the Lord’s Anointed, Messiah on earth, incarnated, human.
From the point of view of Messiah in real time, God-as-man, the enemies look multitudinous: 1) the word “many” is repeated three times in verses 1 and 2, 2) the enemies are numbered as “many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around,” in verse 6, and 3) the psalmist labels them as “all my enemies” in verse 7. Clearly, the ground level view is very different than the heavenly.
What can we learn from Psalm 3?
1. God is love. It was God’s love that sent his Son into this battleground. Romans 8:32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32; see also John 3:16)
2. A life of faith is a life of warfare. John 16:33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
3. Faith consistently cries out to the Lord.
4 I cried aloud to the LORD, and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah
7a Arise, O LORD! Save me, O my God! …
4. Faith lives in the final victory as it struggles through the conflicts of the moments.
3 But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.
5 I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.
6 I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.
7b … For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked.
5. The final victory of faith is eternal blessing. Psalm 3:8 Salvation belongs to the LORD; your blessing be on your people! Selah
As believers during the various seasons of our lives, we will experience security in the Lord, blessedness, battle, hardship, the attacks of our enemies (which may be the spiritual enemies of lust, anger, addiction, and so forth), crying for help, praise, thanksgiving, and finally, victory in Christ. We can each of us ask where we are in this cyclic continuum. If you are found by Christ still believing in him when you die, then you are a victor. Faith is the victory by which we overcome the world. (1 John 5:4)
Sidebar Tidbit: Notice how the wicked (see footnote 2) are compared to chaff in Psalm 1:4, pieces of broken pottery in Psalm 2:9, and broken teeth in Psalm 3:7.
1 With reference to Acts 2:30, Matthew Bates writes, “Third, Peter affirms that David, ‘was a prophet’ (2:30), which suggests that the emphasis is on David’s future-oriented words not on David’s own past experiences as a righteous sufferer, making it even more unlikely that we are invited to see David as speaking for himself as a ‘type’ of the future Christ.” (Bates, Matthew. The Birth of the Trinity. Oxford University Press. Oxford: 2016, 154.) The same line of reasoning may be applied to this psalm as well. Jesus’ apostles, such as Peter, were so taken up with the person and resurrection of Christ that David qua David had little significance for them. (So if you don’t find yourself excited about King David, that’s okay–be excited about Christ!)
2 Within the context of these psalms, the wicked are those who willfully and consciously oppose God, oppose his Anointed Son the King, and oppose God’s good way.
Whereas Psalm 1 blesses the Lord’s generic, faithful follower (Footnote 1), Psalm 2 blesses an identified person–God’s Son the King. Because God guards the path of the righteous (1:6) and rejects those who reject him (1:1, 4-6), the reader must rightfully infer that the King, who receives God’s greatest blessing, is righteous and adheres very closely to God’s way. What does Psalm 2 tell us about this King?
- Verse 2: He is called God’s “Anointed One (Messiah),” and is named alongside God the LORD (Israel’s God, who is named Yahweh. See Genesis 2:4 and Exodus 3:15). Takeaway: Messiah is introduced in Psalm 2, at the very front of the Psalter.
- Verse 3a: The Messiah is fully on God’s team. (When the Pharisees accused Jesus of serving Beelzebul, the prince of demons, they were gravely mistaken. See Matthew 12:23-28.)
- Verses 1-3: The nations of the world take a united stand against God and his Anointed. The world perceives Messiah as its enemy (Messiah is translated “Christ” in the Septuagint (LXX), which is the Greek version of the Old Testament.) The Septuagint asks its readers to pause and think about this awhile. (See 1 John 2:15.)
- Verse 3: Even in the act of rebelling against the Lord and his Anointed, the kings of the world implicitly and vocally acknowledge that God is their ruler. “They say, ‘Let’s tear off the shackles they’ve put on us! Let’s free ourselves from their ropes!'” (Psalm 2:3 NET) Takeaway: What God gives as blessing–the rule of his Anointed One, his Messiah–the world perceives as bondage. Whose perspective is distorted? God’s? or the world’s? Before replying, consider the biblical portrait of Messiah given in the Gospel accounts–the life, words, actions, and crucifixion of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom the gospel writers, and Pilot the Roman governor, identify as Israel’s king. (John 19:19-22.)
- Verse 5: God himself, in direct speech, endorses his King by proclaiming that he personally installed him on Zion, his holy hill.
- Verses 7-9: The King in direct speech repeats God’s decree.
- Verse 7: The King reports that God announced his relationship with his King. The King is God’s Son, and God is the King’s Father.
- Verse 8: God encourages the King to request of him all the nations of earth as his inheritance, and he will do it.
- Verse 9: The King’s rule over the nations will be absolute, powerful, and punitive.
- Verses 10-12: The King permits repentance. The narrator of this dramatic, possibly choral, psalm encourages the worldly kings of the earth to stop their current course of rebellion and wisely to consider. They still have opportunity to serve the LORD God and to kiss the Son (verse 12). Judgment is not now, but future. His wrath is not yet realized and can be averted. Takeaway: The Son will bless all (even former enemies) who take refuge in him. (See Romans 5:10.)
Conclusion and Summary
While Psalm 1 speaks blessing upon God’s loyal followers and judgment upon his enemies, Psalm 2 speaks judgment upon his enemies and blessing upon all, including former enemies, who hide themselves in him. The tone is absolute, as it states the facts of life. There is no room for discussion, nor protest, nor exceptions. God speaks boldly and clearly as though to say, This is the way it is, folks. You can take it or leave it, and I God encourage you to take my offer of peace and blessing through my King the Son. While Psalm 1 appears to be generic (Footnote 1), Psalm 2 is specific.
1 Even though God’s blessing is to a class of people who are righteous, Scripture teaches that among the human race, “None is righteous, no not one,” (Romans 3:10; Psalm 14:1-3; 53:1-3). Therefore, the only righteous one remaining is God himself, and as concerns humanity, God the Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus became human for the very reason that he would become the righteous human sacrifice to pay the penalty for all people. Such is God’s love and his determination to bring his fallen people back to himself. In Christ God created a way where there had been no way. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6.)
My dad used to send me out trick-or-treating for Halloween, and then whenever he saw me eating some of my stash, he’d tell me I was going to get worms in my stomach. Go figure…
Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the markets she raises her voice; 21 at the head of the noisy streets she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks: (Proverbs 1:20-21 ESV)
Every culture teaches its own wisdom either for good or for evil, either freely or for pay. Parents come first to mind within the culture of homes. The American culture generally abounds with offers of wisdom for pay: secrets of obtaining wealth, secrets of losing weight, secrets of building confidence, and so forth. Then there are cultures of evil, which often require initiation rites to test the novice’s loyalty, to exact a payment, or to acquire incriminating evidence to hold over the initiate’s head as a threat if the person decides later to leave. Think fraternities or Oliver Twist or gangs. Movies provide many examples of cultures of crime that exact payment of one sort or another from initiates. God’s culture is different than all these.
Within the Psalter and the Bible as a whole, God claims to be the creator, owner, and ruler of everything. The Psalter offers a culture of wisdom, God’s wisdom, for those desiring to join his team, as it were, or to place themselves under his protection. Psalm 1 teaches wisdom in much the same way as Proverbs 1:20-21, quoted above. There we learn that God’s wisdom exacts no initiation fee from the novice, it is offered to everyone, it is not secretive or hidden, it seeks to give to all, and it presents itself in places where it is likely to be found. In other words, in the body of psalms, God shares his wisdom freely with all. Psalm 1 states in the clearest language possible the simple wisdom of God, the beginning and end of all things human, and how to survive the final judgment.
Think of a mountain high in heaven and picture a spring of clear, cold, fresh, pure water bubbling up from God as its source. The water from the spring forms a stream which flows down the mountain giving water to everything it meets. This is the position of Psalm 1 at the head of the Psalter. It lays the foundation of the psalms and tells the final outcome. Everyone seeking God’s wisdom, the wisdom that leads to a prosperous and fruitful life, should begin here.
These are the principles of Psalm 1:
- God exists and is all-powerful.
- God is good and his path leads to blessing.
- God is just and does not reward those who go against him.
Psalm 1 breathes out Proverbs 1:7–
Proverbs 1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. (ESV)
Psalm 1 is an invitation to enter into the presence of God, to drink deeply from his waters of instruction, and to travel the flow of his river to its final destination of happiness forever. God gives to all who come to him.
There is a plain located on a fault line on the southwestern side of North America, where the Pacific Plate meets the North American Plate. These two plates slide past each other, the Pacific to the north, and the North American to the south. “For years the plates will be locked with no movement at all as they push against one another. Suddenly the built-up strain breaks the rock along the fault, and the plates slip a few feet all at once. The breaking rock sends out waves in all directions, and it is the waves that we feel as earthquakes.” (Lynch, see Bibliography)
A hill rises along the highway at the northwestern end of this plain which lies along the fault line. Visitors can walk up its short but steep incline to a view point and see the entire plain stretched out before them. It’s an exciting and breathtaking view, as various geological features can be noted. Such a view point is Psalm 1 at the head of the Psalter. Psalm 1 in six short verses sketches out the fault line between the blessedly happy righteous person, whom the Lord guards and protects for all eternity, and the wicked, whom the wind blows away like chaff and who ultimately perishes.
Psalm 1 describes real life in condensed form. As we live our lives, we see the righteous and the wicked side by side. Often they seem locked with no apparent movement as they push against one another. The righteous do not seem to be blessed, confer Psalms 22, 31, and 88 among many others, and the wicked apparently prosper, confer Psalms 37 and 73. Suddenly–for us, not for God–the built up strain causes breakage, as in an earthquake, slippage occurs, and the final outcomes for the righteous and the wicked are revealed. The righteous of earth continuously move toward God’s blessings, while the wicked move in the opposite direction. Psalm 1 describes the fault line between these two.
After the dark Tenebrae chords of Psalm 88 and after the discordant realities of Messiah’s abased life while on earth as recorded in Psalm 89, Psalms 18 and 118 both ring out like joyful peals of Easter bells. Christ is alive! He did not die. Just as we heard from Messiah the God-man in his human form expressing in lament his petitions to his Father, in these psalms we also hear the voice of a man singing his carols of victory, salvation, and release from the grave. Below are a few highlights from each of these psalms. I encourage the reader to read both of these psalms with the vision provided by the apostolic kerygma, the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We rejoice as believers, because he rejoices as one of us. His triumph was a triumph of humanity over sin and the grave.
After the dark pleadings of Psalm 88–
5 like one set loose among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom you remember no more, for they are cut off from your hand.
6 You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep.
7 Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah (Psa 88:5-7 ESV)—
God replies. He was silent and absent in Psalm 88, but in Psalm 18, his response is nothing short of tremendous. And, just as Jesus pleaded his lament with great emotional overtones, God his Father replies with great emotional drama as well. Hear what the psalmist says.
4 The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of destruction assailed me;
5 the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me.
6 In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.
7 Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry.
8 Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him.
9 He bowed the heavens and came down; thick darkness was under his feet.
10 He rode on a cherub and flew; he came swiftly on the wings of the wind.
11 He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him, thick clouds dark with water.
12 Out of the brightness before him hailstones and coals of fire broke through his clouds.
13 The LORD also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered his voice, hailstones and coals of fire.
14 And he sent out his arrows and scattered them; he flashed forth lightnings and routed them.
15 Then the channels of the sea were seen, and the foundations of the world were laid bare at your rebuke, O LORD, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils.
16 He sent from on high, he took me; he drew me out of many waters.
17 He rescued me from my strong enemy and from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me.
18 They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the LORD was my support.
19 He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me (cf 22:8). (Psa 18:4-19 ESV)
In Psalm 118, the psalmist/resurrected Messiah sings with pure joy and loud celebration his victorious release from the grave and salvation to life. God heard and answered his prayers, and he is no longer confined alone and friendless in the dank darkness of the pit of death, as recorded in Psalm 88.
1 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!
… … … …
5 Out of my distress I called on the LORD; the LORD answered me and set me free.
6 The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?
7 The LORD is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.
… … … …
10 All nations surrounded me; in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
11 They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side; in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
12 They surrounded me like bees; they went out like a fire among thorns; in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
13 I was pushed hard, so that I was falling, but the LORD helped me.
14 The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.
15 Glad songs of salvation are in the tents of the righteous: “The right hand of the LORD does valiantly,
16 the right hand of the LORD exalts, the right hand of the LORD does valiantly!”
17 I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD.
18 The LORD has disciplined me severely, but he has not given me over to death.
19 Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD.
20 This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it.
21 I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.
22 The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.
23 This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
25 Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success!
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We bless you from the house of the LORD.
27 The LORD is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us. Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar!
28 You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you.
29 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! (Psa 118:1-29 ESV)
Christians celebrate Easter, which they often call Resurrection Sunday, because in Christ, his victory over sin and death is their victory over sin and death. Because Christ is resurrected, by faith in him, they are resurrected. Because he lives forever, they live forever.
The Bible’s promises are so majestic and broad in scope that words fail. There are no qualifications for anyone to receive all the benefits of God’s covenant of life made with Jesus Christ and through him to all believers. The one and only requirement is a lifelong TRUST in the life, death, and resurrection of the ascended Jesus Christ of Nazareth, as both Savior and Lord. The duration of the lifelong commitment might be no more than one minute, for those who choose to believe on their deathbeds, or an entire span of multiple decades in a hard labor camp. Eternal life is so great that no one merits it and not one more than another (Matthew 20:1-16).
If you have not already done so, won’t you give Christ your allegiance (1) today?
1 For an interesting approach to the word “allegiance” as it relates to “faith,” see Matthew W. Bates, Salvation by Allegiance Alone. Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, 2017.
A Tenebrae service in its current evangelical format is a dark service commonly observed on the Thursday evening before Good Friday. It is a church service in which the events of Christ’s Passion are acknowledged and honored. Scripture is read, music is sung, and lights or candles gradually dim or are extinguished, until the service room is very dark. Worshipers often exit in silence. Psalm 88 is highly suitable for a Tenebrae service. This psalm dramatically prophesies Christ’s final suffering and death in his own first person voice. The psalm foretells in this man’s own words what it felt like for him to die. Notice that the psalm has two characters–1) the speaker, and 2) the silent character, God. What a treasure this is for us to find in God’s Word.
Psalm 88 (ESV)
O LORD, God of my salvation; I cry out day and night before you.
2 Let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry!
3 For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol.
4 I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength,
5 like one set loose among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom you remember no more, for they are cut off from your hand.
6 You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep.
In verses 1-3, we sense the events of Holy Week–our Lord’s deep, deep, constant prayers, his foreknowledge of his betrayal, his suffering in the Garden, his arrest and trial, his close friend’s three denials, and finally, his crucifixion. By verse 4, Jesus the man is dead, or nearly so. Verse 6 works very well as a description of a tomb.
7 Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah
8 You have caused my companions to shun me; you have made me a horror to them. I am shut in so that I cannot escape;
Verses 7 and 8 might be a repetition of the period Christ spent on the cross, resulting in his being placed in a small, dark cave, a tomb, from which he could not escape.
9 my eye grows dim through sorrow. Every day I call upon you, O LORD; I spread out my hands to you.
10 Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the departed rise up to praise you? Selah
11 Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
12 Are your wonders known in the darkness, or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?
13 But I, O LORD, cry to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14 O LORD, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me?
15 Afflicted and close to death from my youth up, I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.
16 Your wrath has swept over me; your dreadful assaults destroy me.
17 They surround me like a flood all day long; they close in on me together.
18 You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness.
The last ten verses (9-18) are best read as a whole. They seem to repeat in different words the first eight verses with a deeper development of the prayers of pleading the psalmist prayed. We hear notes of what Christ may have spoken to his Father when he cried out to him those three times in the Garden, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.” (Luke 22:42; Matthew 26:36-44)
Jesus loved his friends; it grieved him that they shunned him as a horror (verses 8 and 18).
The words dark or darkness are mentioned three times in this prayer-poem: once in verse 6, once in verse 12, and once in verse 18.