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Psalm 1: Headwater to the Psalter

San Andreas Fault. Photo by John Wiley.

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.

 

 

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Psalm 116:11 All Mankind Are Liars

 

 

This post is excerpted and expanded from a prior post: Psalm 116: Christ Loves the Father. It promises to be technical. The substance of the article below demonstrates how the phrase, “All men are liars,” likely was spoken by Christ during his ecstasy, or passion, while hanging on the cross or at some time during the week before.

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Psalm 116:11 is a difficult verse.

Translation Comparison:

NAU Psalm 116:11 I said in my alarm, “All men are liars.”

NET Psalm 116:11 I rashly declared, “All men are liars.”

ESV Psalm 116:11 I said in my alarm, “All mankind are liars.”

LXE Psalm 116:11 And I said in mine amazement, Every man is a liar.

NIV Psalm 116:11 in my alarm I said, “Everyone is a liar.”

I said in my alarm, All mankind are liars.

There are two phrases in Psalm 116:11. The first speaks of alarm and the second of humanity as liars. This discussion will begin with the second phrase. The presupposition is that Psalm 116 speaks of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

All mankind are liars. Scripture teaches that Christ’s love for his Father surpasses the unworthiness of the people for whom Christ died. (See Romans 3:23; Psalm 14:1-3; and John 2:24-25.) When Jesus was tried, convicted, and hung on a cross, none came forward to speak on his behalf (Pilate’s wife did mention to her husband the nightmare she had experienced concerning him). There was no one to comfort him (Handel’s Messiah quoting Psalm 69:20). Because the human race, as represented by all who were gathered and by those who chose to stay away and avoid trouble, allowed and encouraged the great Creator’s crucifixion, they all in essence, denied his deity. To not receive Christ, to not acknowledge God’s love in Christ, is to lie. (Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Rom 1:18 ESV) In this sense, in the crucifixion of Christ, the crucifixion of deity, all humankind was deceived and lied about the true relationship between themselves and their Creator/Savior.

I said in my alarm… The word “alarm” in Hebrew can mean to be in a state of alarm or to hurry or perform some action consequent to a state of alarm. The Qal definition in Psalm 116:11 is “to be in alarm.” (BDB Hebrew Lexicon) From the Greek Septuagint, the translated word is “ecstasy,” which refers to a strong emotional state that is not normal, in the sense of not usual. We say that, “So-and-so is beside herself with such-and-such an emotion.” It can be an emotion of great terror, bewilderment, astonishment, or any such. As the word is most often used in Scripture, the focus is on the state of the person which such a strong emotion produces. Such a state is other than the usual state of the person. It is a state that is figuratively laid beside one’s usual state. (BDAG, 3rd edition, 245)

The New Testament’s use of the word “ecstasy” occurs when someone witnesses a powerful miracle that overrides physical laws of nature (Mark 5:42, where Jesus resurrected a dead girl; Luke 5:26, where Jesus healed the paralyzed man; Mark 16:8, where the women were beside themselves in astonishment upon meeting the angel in Christ’s tomb, who told them that Jesus had arisen from the dead). Any strong emotional state caused by extreme terror or amazement can be called an “ecstasy.” A second meaning for “ecstasy” is a trance (cf. Acts 22:17, Peter’s vision of the blanket filled with unclean foods). This second meaning does not seem applicable in Psalm 116:14.

Continuing with the meaning of strong emotion, often brought on by great fear, the Greek word “ecstasy” appears in the superscription of Psalm 31, which is Psalm 30 in the Septuagint. The English translation of the Septuagint reads, “For the end, a Psalm of David, an utterance of extreme fear,” or, εἰς τὸ τέλος ψαλμὸς τῷ Δαυιδ ἐκστάσεως in Greek. Jesus speaks Psalm 31:5 from the cross, “Into your hand I commit my spirit,” (Luke 23:46) and the whole psalm speaks of death and resurrection.

Further, Psalm 31:22a (30:22a LXX) reads in Brenton’s English translation, “But I said in my extreme fear [ἐγὼ δὲ εἶπα ἐν τῇ ἐκστάσει μου], I am cast out from the sight of thine eyes:…” A footnote gives the word “ecstasy” for the phrase “extreme fear.” The ESV for Psalm 31:22a reads, “I had said in my alarm, ‘I am cut off from your sight.'” How very much in essence like Psalm 22:1a this is, which nearly all acknowledge is messianic, since Christ spoke these words from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Added to the context of the whole of Psalm 31, this particular verse adds to the evidence that the Greek word for “ecstasy” refers to the Passion of Christ.

Language usage provides yet another thread of evidence to the probable interpretation of the word “ecstasy” in reference to the Passion of Christ in Psalms 31 and 116. The English word “passion” derives from classical Latin “passiōn-” (OED). Applicable meanings fall under the categories of 1) “The sufferings of Jesus in the last days of his life, from the Last Supper to his death; the Crucifixion itself” (OED), 2) obsolete, “A suffering or affliction of any kind” (OED), 3) “any strong, controlling, or overpowering emotion, as desire, hate, fear, etc.; an intense feeling or impulse” (OED), and 4) “A fit, outburst, or state marked by or of strong excitement, agitation, or other intense emotion” (OED). These definitions are all similar to the definitions and context of the Greek “ecstasy,” “ἐκστάσει,” as used in Psalms 31 and 116.

While the Latin Vulgate Bible doesn’t use the Latin passiōn-“ in correspondence with the Greek for “ecstasy,” in Psalm 116, it does use “excessu meo (Psa 115:2 VULM, Vulgate with Morphology),” defined as, “departure; death; digression; departure from standard.” The meaning “departure from standard” corresponds very well with the sense of “ecstasy” as an emotional state that is not normal, as in not usual, and in other words, an emotional state that is laid alongside of the usual, as in the phrase, “so-and-so is beside herself ” with some named emotion. (See above, BDAG, 3rd edition, 245.) The other Latin meaning for “passiōn-“, which is “departure; death,” as mentioned above in this paragraph, unquestionably corresponds with Christ’s Passion.

The combination of evidences presented here point to the strong possibility that when Christ spoke the words, “All men are liars,” in Psalm 116:11, he did so at his Passion, at some point during the week leading up to and including his crucifixion. It should not be difficult to perceive that Christ the man would have experienced great fear or alarm (Hebrew) both before and while he was being crucified. For example, Scripture testifies to his sweating which resembled blood in the Garden as he prayed concerning the trial and crucifixion that lay just ahead (Luke 22:44). With the definition and sense of the Greek word translated as “ecstasy” in mind, we could read Psalm 116:11 as, “I said in my Passion, all men are liars.”

In summary and conclusion, both of the phrases in Psalm 116:11– 1) I said in my alarm, and 2) all mankind are liars, quite conceivably make reference to the cross.

In the context of the whole psalm and especially verse 3, “The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish,” (ESV) a reasonable, expanded paraphrase of the intended meaning of verse 11, “I said in my alarm, “All mankind are liars,” (ESV) might be:

Experiencing great emotions of alarm and fear that accompany my intense physical suffering, as I approached the cross and now hang upon it, I realize that not one person in all humanity truly understands what is happening here and who it is they are crucifying. They are all deceived. There is none who are righteous, no not one. All mankind are liars.

Similar to the thought, as presented above, of all mankind being liars is Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 2:8, “None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” (ESV)

The interpretation given here that Psalm 116:11 gives a word Christ spoke during his Passion  supports the themes of Psalm 116 in its entirety. Psalm 116 is a prayer of praise and thanksgiving to God for rescue from death after great suffering. It includes the thought of martyrdom for the sake of salvation and the love of God. Verse 11 describes the Son’s agony as he sacrificed himself in love to the Father. He was alone, cut off from human support, wholly dependent on the faithfulness, goodness, and love of God to rescue him.

 

 

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Psalm 18: Papa Roars and Rescues

Drama from the Past

God the Son endangered, the ropes of death ensnared him, squeezed his breath away. A tsunami of destruction crashed upon his head. He couldn’t breathe. Hell’s net pulled him tighter, under. Death held its vise-like grip. There was no way for him to escape. In gasping anguish he cried out loud; he called to his Father for help.

“Papa! Help me! Save me! Death must not win forever!”

God in his holy temple heard his Son’s voice; the pleading cry of desperation reached the Father’s ear. Though his Son lay buried, three days in the grave, Almighty Papa roared and pierced the sky to save.

The earth reeled and rocked; foundations of mountains trembled. The royal Papa’s anger shook, an earth quaking gush of love. Smoke rose from his nostrils; devouring fire consumed, glowing coals of flame no dragon ever produced.

God bowed the heavens descending, thick darkness under his feet. He rode a cherub and flew swiftly on wings of wind. Almighty Papa in darkness cloaked, a canopy surrounds him. Thick clouds dark with water cover his form from view. Bursting through this darkness, his brightness once concealed, with flashes of fire and brimstone, his golden light breaks through. He thunders in the heavens, blasting out his voice, hailstones and coals announcing–Papa on the move.

Scattering forth his arrows, flashing out his lightnings, God routed the enemy, death…(and here the Son breaks in…)

“The channels of the sea you exposed, the foundations of the world laid bare. You rebuked them, O Lord, my Father, when your nostrils blasted your breath.”

“Did you see all this, my people? Were you watching? Did you see? When he came from on high and took me and pulled me from the waves? He rescued me from my strong enemy, from those who hated and surrounded. They were too mighty for me, confronting, that one single day. But he, the LORD my Papa came through. To this broad place he brought me. He heard my cry and rescued, because he delights in me.”

*This poem draws heavily from the English Standard Version of Psalm 18:4-19

 

 

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Psalms 18 and 118: Up from the Grave He Arose!

Resurrection Glory

 

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.

Psalm 18

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)

Psalm 118

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, nor one more than another (Matthew 20:1-16).

If you have not already done so, won’t you give Christ your allegiance (1) today?

 

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1 For an interesting approach to the word “allegiance” as it relates to “faith,” see Matthew W. Bates, Salvation by Allegiance AloneBaker Academic: Grand Rapids, 2017.

 

 

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Psalm 89: Short Devotional

Psalm 89 tells an interesting story of God’s promises to Israel concerning Messiah. The exalted expectations are then contrasted with the harsh realities of the Messiah’s life during his incarnation. The psalmist/Messiah points out the contractions to the Lord, reminding him of his promises. He asks the Lord why his life compares so unfavorably with the promises. Nevertheless, he closes by blessing the Lord.

The reader needs to bear in mind that the psalm is prophecy, and this is Scripture’s way of announcing that the Messiah’s life would be one of suffering. The facts of his future incarnation do not seem to resemble the facts of God’s promises. No one understood this in the days when Jesus walked on earth, not even his own disciples. It was left to the Lord to explain the prophetic Scriptures concerning himself to his disciples after his resurrection. We, as readers today, have the great advantage of hindsight, although even today, many, if not most, believers do not perceive the messianic prophecies in this psalm. Psalm 89 is not listed as being messianic in most study Bibles.

In the first section concerning creation, verses 2 and 5-18, we see that God created all things, and his power is supreme. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before him. (v 14)

The second section describes God’s promises to Israel through Messiah from verses 3-4 and 19-37. God’s righteous, just, loving, and faithful nature, as established, manifested, and proven throughout all of creation, form the basis of his covenant with Israel, as represented by David his servant, and by the Greater David, Messiah. God’s people know and understand God’s nature and are blessed because they walk in it. In the long speech block from verse 19 thr0ugh 37, God describes in his own words the future messianic kingdom, Messiah’s loving response to him (verse 26), and the nature of his disciplinary yet covenantal interactions with Messiah’s progeny. Just as God proves himself to be righteous, just, loving, and faithful in all his created works, so the Israelites and Messiah can count on him to be the same in all his covenantal dealings with them.

Section three, verses 38-51, describes Messiah’s actual incarnated experience with statements such as:

38 But now you have cast off and rejected; you are full of wrath against your anointed.
39 You have renounced the covenant with your servant; you have defiled his crown in the dust.
… … … … … 
42 You have exalted the right hand of his foes; you have made all his enemies rejoice.
… … … … …
45 You have cut short the days of his youth; you have covered him with shame. Selah

Using our reader’s hindsight and what we know of the gospel message about the life of Jesus of Nazareth, we can recognize that the words of prophecy in Psalm 89 describe well Messiah’s actual life during his incarnation.

Section 4 records Messiah’s prayerful protest to God. As we read these words, there can be no doubt that Messiah was fully man. These words are spoken from a human vantage, and a suffering human at that. Well may Paul have had Psalm 89 in mind when he wrote of Christ to the Philippians:

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phi 2:5-8 ESV)

Finally, the last verse concludes the psalm with a word of blessing for the Lord. In this, the psalmist/Messiah reminds us that even when the path is difficult and strewn with trials of all kinds, God is faithful to perform what he promises, notwithstanding all appearances to the contrary, and in that we worship and adore him.

Psalm 89 does not solve the mystery of a suffering Messiah–it simply announces the mystery. Nevertheless, by the time Jesus walked the earth, his entire people had lost sight of the full scope of this psalm’s message. They grasped well enough the exalted promises of God to Israel through a glorified Messiah, but they apparently had never connected or had forgotten the last portions of the psalm, which paint a portrait of a suffering Messiah. How like ourselves–don’t we so often want the glory without the pain?

 

 

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Psalm 89: History to the Foot of the Cross

Abstract

When as readers we consistently keep Christ in view and use the key of the gospel message which he himself provided to his disciples after his resurrection (Luke 24:25-27, 44-47), much of the Psalter prophetically accommodates the apostolic kerygma (gospel message). In Psalm 88, Christ the Messiah, in his form as a human being (Philippians 2:8), prophetically laments his condition as he approaches the grave and then descends into it. Psalm 89 gives us another view of Christ’s persecuted life during his incarnation, with the difference that it stops short of his Passion week. Before we hear the psalmist’s lament, however, the reader is given a brief review in broad, comprehensive strokes of the biblical history of creation and the Davidic Covenant. (Link to text of Psalm 89: Link)

Psalm 89 Is Like Readers’ Theater 

Dialogue is notably present in Psalm 89. Speech as a tool creates dramatic immediacy and truthfulness within the psalm. The quotations themselves unite Scripture into an organic whole, as one portion cites other portions. Speech causes the readers or listeners to recall the real history of Israel as God’s holy people.

One of the first tasks for the reader, then, is to recognize that speech occurs. The fancy word for this reading technique is prosopological exegesis (Matthew W. Bates, The Hermeneutics of the Apostolic Proclamation, 183f). Our task in Psalm 89 is made easier by the use within the text of quotation marks and identifying speech markers, such as, “I said, …” (v 2) and, “You have said, …” (v 3). Additionally, the text supplies a liberal use of second person speech labels, as commonly used in direct address: “you” (e.g., vv 8, 9, and 10) and “your” (e.g., vv 4, 14, 15). Finally, the use of first person singular in verses 1 and 50, intertwined with direct address (you) to God, provides a strong clue to the reader that dialogue is present. The reader can easily envision Psalm 89 being performed or read upon a dramatic stage, perhaps as a reader’s theater.

Where is the Speech and Who Are the Speakers?

The psalmist (the narrative speaker of the psalm, not the author) makes reference to himself as “I” in verse 1 and again in verse 50. As is usual in the Psalter, the first person psalmist does not identify himself. One of the first person speakers is God, as the entire context declares. Therefore, our task is to identify the voice represented by the other speaker, the first person psalmist. No universal agreement exists. If there were, there would be no need for me to write. Context, however, including the previously mentioned apostolic kerygma,  provides sufficient clues for the reader to confidently assume that the speaker is the Anointed One.

  1. God as the reported speaker in verses 3-4 states the Davidic Covenant as it applies to Messiah. Verses 19-37 expand the terms of that covenant (see 2 Samuel 7:1-17). Details of this expansion, as in the original, indicate that the covenant extends beyond David himself and refer to God’s chosen Messiah, or Anointed (see vv 25-37, especially verses 27, 29, and 36).
  2. The gospel message, or apostolic kerygma, proclaims Jesus of Nazareth to be Christ, God’s Messiah.
  3. Verses 50 and 51 (“Remember, O Lord, how your servants are mocked, and how I bear in my heart the insults of all the many nations, 5with which your enemies mock, O Lord, with which they mock the footsteps of your anointed,“) in context of the larger unit unite the first person speaker and the referenced Messiah. The calamities described in verses 38-51 have befallen the Anointed One with whom God made the covenant, and by the use of first person singular in verse 50, the psalmist claims those calamities as his own.

The Four Sections of the Psalm

Psalm 89 tells the interesting story of God’s promises to Israel concerning Messiah. The exalted expectations are then contrasted with the harsh realities of the Messiah’s life during his incarnation. The psalmist/Messiah points out the contractions to the Lord, reminding him of his promises. He asks the Lord why his life compares so unfavorably with the promises. Nevertheless, he closes by blessing the Lord. (I am indebted to Patrick Reardon for his observation of the sections in Psalm 89. While he identifies three sections, I find it more convenient to locate and describe four. See Reardon, 175.)

The reader needs to bear in mind that the psalm is prophecy, and this is Scripture’s way of announcing that the Messiah’s life would be one of suffering. The facts of his future incarnation do not seem to resemble the facts of God’s promises. No one understood this in the days when Jesus walked on earth, not even his own disciples. It was left to the Lord to explain the prophetic Scriptures concerning himself to his disciples after his resurrection. We, as readers today, have the great advantage of hindsight, although even today, many, if not most, believers do not perceive the messianic prophecies in this psalm. Psalm 89 is not listed as being messianic in most study Bibles.

Section 1 

Creation: Verses 2, 5-18. God created all things, and his power is supreme, even over Rahab (Job 9:3).  Righteousness and justice are the foundation of God’s throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before him. (v 14)

Section 2

God’s Promise to Israel and Messiah: Verses 3-4, 19-37. God’s righteous, just, loving, and faithful nature, as established, manifested, and proven throughout all of creation, form the basis of his covenant with Israel, as represented by David his servant, and by the Greater David, Messiah. Verses 15-18 provide the transition from the first section to the second. God’s people know and understand God’s nature as expressed in creation, and they are blessed because they walk in accordance with his nature.

In the long speech block from verse 19 thr0ugh 37, God describes in his own words the future messianic kingdom, Messiah’s loving response to him (verse 26), and the nature of his disciplinary yet covenantal interactions with Messiah’s progeny. Just as God proves himself to be righteous, just, loving, and faithful in all his created works, so the Israelites and Messiah can count on him to be the same in all his covenantal dealings with them.

Section 3

Enter Messiah. Enter Discord. Is Something Wrong? This Reality Doesn’t Match Up with the Promise. Description of the Discord: Verses 38-51

Verses 38-51 describes Messiah’s actual incarnated experience with the following statements:

38 But now you have cast off and rejected; you are full of wrath against your anointed.
39 You have renounced the covenant with your servant; you have defiled his crown in the dust.
40 You have breached all his walls; you have laid his strongholds in ruins.
41 All who pass by plunder him; he has become the scorn of his neighbors.
42 You have exalted the right hand of his foes; you have made all his enemies rejoice.
43 You have also turned back the edge of his sword, and you have not made him stand in battle.
44 You have made his splendor to cease and cast his throne to the ground.
45 You have cut short the days of his youth; you have covered him with shame. Selah

Section 4

Messiah’s Prayer of Appeal (vv 46-51)

As we read Messiah’s prayerful protest to God, there can be no doubt that Messiah was fully man. These words are spoken from a human vantage, and a suffering human at that. Well may Paul have had this psalm in mind when he wrote of Christ to the Philippians:

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phi 2:5-8 ESV)

Summary and Conclusion

Psalm 89 concludes, as many psalms do, with a final word of blessing for the Lord. Here the psalmist/Messiah reminds us that even when the path is difficult and strewn with trials of all kinds, God is faithful to perform what he promises, notwithstanding all appearances to the contrary, and in that his people worship and adore him.

Psalm 89 does not solve the mystery of a suffering Messiah–it simply announces the mystery. Nevertheless, as mentioned above, by the time Jesus walked the earth, his entire people had lost sight of the full scope of this psalm’s message. They grasped well enough the exalted promises of God to Israel through a glorified Messiah, but they apparently had never connected or had forgotten the last portions of the psalm, which paint a portrait of a suffering Messiah. How like ourselves–don’t we so often want the glory without the pain?

 

 

 

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Psalm 88: A Tenebrae Psalm

 

 

A Tenebrae service in its current evangelical format is a dark service commonly observed on the evening of Good Friday and one 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.

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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 greater 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Psalm 116: Christ Loves the Father

 

 

Psalm 116 is a song of worship, praise, and thanksgiving for the author of love, God the Father. In it, Christ recounts a brief history of the cross, and his relation to the Father throughout its enactment in history. Christ loves the Father and believes. Therefore, he sings this song.

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Psalms are love songs between Father and Son. As the Father loves the Son (Psalm 2:7-8; Psalm 18), so the Son loves the Father. “I love the Lord!” (Psalm 116:1). “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord,” (verse 13). The cup of salvation is the Eucharist (cup of communion) for the early church and in today’s Orthodox tradition (Reardon, 232 and The Orthodox Study Bible, 760). It represents the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

Psalm 116 states reasons for the Son’s love for his Father: God heard his prayer and delivered him from death.

  1. He heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. (v 1)
  2. He bent his ear toward me and responded to my prayer. (v 2)
  3. I was about to die, and in fact I did die! (v 3)
  4. I cried out to the Lord and he saved me marvelously. (vv 4-8)
  5. Now I am alive and I walk freely with the Lord in the land of the living. (v 9)

Psalm 116 describes the Son’s love for his Father.

Short Version of this Section (Scroll Down for the Longer Version)

  1. He believes, even in the middle of all his horrible experiences. (v 10; Hebrews 11:6)
  2. “The cup of salvation” (v 13) is the cup that brings eternal life. Its cost of purchase was the death of the Son.
  3. Both of the phrases in Psalm 116:11, 1) I said in my alarm, and 2) all mankind are liars, conceivably make reference to the cross. (Read the longer version below to find out how.) This interpretation lines up perfectly with the context and received church tradition of Psalm 116 in its entirety. Verse 11 describes the Son’s agony as he sacrificed himself to the Father in love.
  4. “I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.” (vv 14, 18) What vows? Quite out in the open and publicly, Christ paid his eternal vows to his Father, sacrificing his body and life on the cross. His obedience demonstrates his love for his Father.
  5. Verse 16 speaks of resurrection. The bonds of servitude are distinguished here from the bonds of death. Christ in verses 17-19 offers the sacrifice of thanksgiving, praise, and continued intercession in prayer (Romans 8:34), thereby displaying his love for his Father God.

Longer Version of this Section

1. He believes, even in the middle of all his horrible experiences. (v 10; Hebrews 11:6)

2. “The cup of salvation” (v 13) is the cup that brings eternal life. Its cost of purchase was the death of the Son. In the early days of the church, many Christians were eager and happy to give up their lives in martyrdom as an expression of their love for Christ (Acts 7:54-60). Christians are martyred today for believing in the Lord. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (Joh 15:13 ESV)

3. Psalm 116:11 is a difficult verse. “I said in my alarm, All mankind are liars. Jesus Christ’s love for his Father surpasses the unworthiness of the people for whom Christ died. (Romans 3:23; Psalm 14:1-3; John 2:24-25) When Jesus was tried, convicted, and hung on a cross, none came forward to speak on his behalf (Pilate’s wife did mention to her husband the nightmare she had experienced concerning him). There was no one to comfort him (Handel’s Messiah quoting Psalm 69:20). Because the human race, as represented by all who were gathered and by those who chose to stay away and avoid trouble, allowed and encouraged the great Creator’s crucifixion, they all in essence, denied his deity. To not receive Christ, to not acknowledge God’s love in Christ, is to lie. (Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Rom 1:18 ESV) In this sense, in the crucifixion of Christ, the crucifixion of deity, all humankind was deceived and lied about the true relationship between themselves and their Creator/Savior.

The word “alarm” in Hebrew can mean “haste, hurry, to hurry in alarm.” In the Greek Septuagint, the word is “ecstasy,” which refers to a strong emotional state that is not normal, in the sense of not usual. We say that “So-and-so is beside herself.” It can be produced by great terror, bewilderment, astonishment, (as in response to a powerful miracle that overrides physical laws of nature (Mark 5:42, where Jesus resurrected a dead girl; Luke 5:26, where Jesus healed the paralyzed man; Mark 16:8, where the women were beside themselves in astonishment upon meeting the angel in Christ’s tomb, who told them that he had arisen from the dead). A second meaning for “ecstasy” is a trance (Acts 22:17, Peter’s vision of the blanket filled with unclean foods). This second meaning does not seem applicable here.

Continuing with the first meaning of strong emotion, often brought on by great fear, the Greek word “ecstasy” appears in the superscription of Psalm 31, which is Psalm 30 in the Septuagint. The English translation of the Septuagint reads, “For the end, a Psalm of David, an utterance of extreme fear,” or, εἰς τὸ τέλος ψαλμὸς τῷ Δαυιδ ἐκστάσεως in Greek. Jesus speaks Psalm 31:5 from the cross, “Into your hand I commit my spirit,” (Luke 23:46) and the whole psalm speaks of death and resurrection. It should not be difficult to perceive Christ the man experiencing great trepidation both before and while he was being crucified. Witness his sweating of blood in the Garden as he prayed concerning the trial and crucifixion that lay just ahead.

Therefore, both of the phrases in Psalm 116:11– 1) I said in my alarm, and 2) all mankind are liars, conceivably make reference to the cross. This interpretation lines up perfectly with the context and received church tradition of Psalm 116 in its entirety. Verse 11 describes the Son’s agony as he sacrificed himself to the Father in love.

4. “I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.” (vv 14, 18) What vows? The prior verse (v 13) speaks of “the cup of salvation.” This cup (Luke 22:42) included the cross. The triune God determined the plans for the salvation of humanity in eternity past (Ephesians 1:11; 1 Peter 1:20; Titus 1:2). God made certain promises to his Son, and Christ the Son made promises to his Father. (See an excellent article expanding this topic by R. C. Sproul: Link, accessed 3/30/2018.) Another word for promises is “vows.” Christ in his life and death was constantly surrounded by crowds of people. Quite out in the open and publicly, Christ paid his vows to his Father through his obedience unto death, thereby demonstrating his love. The greatest vow was the sacrifice of his body and life on the cross. His obedience demonstrates his love for his Father.

5. Verse 16 speaks of resurrection. The bonds of servitude are distinguished here from the bonds of death. Christ in verses 17-19 offers the sacrifice of thanksgiving, praise, and continued intercession in prayer (Romans 8:34), thereby displaying his love for his Father God.

Summary and Conclusion

Psalm 116 is a song of worship, praise, and thanksgiving for the author of love, God the Father. In it, Christ recounts a brief history of the cross, and his relation to the Father throughout its enactment in history. Christ loves the Father and believes. Therefore, he sings this song.

It is amazing to me how many facets of approach every bit of the Psalter carries for its many readers. My approach today may not be my approach tomorrow. What I discover and emphasize today may not be the discovery and emphasis of another writer. God speaks one language with as many strings as there are hearts of those who seek him. This is wonderful in my eyes. I just want to encourage you to take time and prayer to allow the Lord to open his Word to your heart. You may not see what I see, but what you see directly from the Lord will be just wonderful for you.

 

 

 

 

 

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Psalm 116:1-9–Simple and Beautiful; Beautifully Simple

Photo by Christina Wilson

Devotional

Psalm 116:1-9 (114 LXX) is simple and beautiful, a beautifully simple psalm.

I love the Lord because He has heard the voice of my supplication.

Because He inclined His ear to me, therefore I will call on Him as long as I live.

The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;

I suffered distress and anguish; then I called upon the name of the Lord: “O Lord, deliver my soul!”

Gracious and righteous is the Lord, and our God is merciful.

The Lord preserves the simple; when I was brought low, He saved me.

Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.

For He has delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling;

therefore, I desire to please the Lord in the land of the living. (The Ancient Faith Psalter, 256)

“I love the Lord!” exclaims the psalmist. Psalm 116 is the only psalm that opens with this exclamation. How many Christians spontaneously cry out this way when the Lord blesses in a big way? Whenever something outstanding pleases them, people often say things like, “I love this food!” “I love my car!” “I love my house!” “Oh, I love this dress!” This psalmist loves the Lord, and for good reason, which he explains in verse 8:

“He has delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.”

Where were you when the Lord Jesus found you? This line exactly sums up my salvation experience. Immediately, also, in the very opening lines of the psalm, I hear the voice of Jesus Christ looking back on his experience with the cross and death. And so, Christ and I are intertwined in the words of this psalm. Verse three–the snares of death were in fact encompassing me when I first cried out to the Lord for his help, I felt the pangs of hell, and I was indeed suffering distress and anguish–all this metaphorically. Christ, on the other hand, experienced and suffered all these things concretely, intensely, in his body and soul as he hung nailed upon the cross and witnessed himself descending into Sheol, or hell*. “…then I called upon the name of the Lord: “O Lord, deliver my soul!” (vs 4). *(See Apostle’s Creed, available at https://www.ccel.org/creeds/apostles.creed.html)

4 Gracious and righteous is the Lord, and our God is merciful.

Unlike idols humans make for themselves, our God is a God who hears (Psalm 115:3-8). He is both gracious and righteous.

God’s righteousness is found in his judgment and condemnation of sin. We all know what condemnation feels like. We all see and experience it in our own court system. God’s judgment first expressed itself when he threw (cast) Adam and Eve out of their garden home.  How many parents have ever thrown their own children out of their homes when they feel their behavior merits such stern discipline? God is holy, and he demands holiness in those who are near him, even his own created beings.

God’s graciousness appears when God takes the form of human beings and takes upon himself the judgment and condemnation of the sin he detests. Our creator took the punishment of his creation’s sin in his own flesh and blood. God did not abandon, he made a way where there was no way. In Christ, God opened the door of return to his home and to his own side.

Jesus, however, sings this psalm not in his role as Creator God but as human being, as one of us, a brother in distress.

The Lord preserves the simple; when I was brought low, He saved me.

All Christians can sing this line as their personal testimony, “… when I was brought low, He saved me.

Psalm 116:1-9 (114 LXX) is truly a resurrection song, an Easter Sunday rejoicing.

 

 

 

 

 

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Psalm 132: Concrete-Literal and Spiritual-Literal

 

Addendum

Before leaving Psalm 132, I want to comment on one of the most amazing differences between Old Testament faith and New Testament faith–the experiencing of the Holy Spirit.

Saints of the Old Testament received the saving grace of God through faith, just as New Testament believers do. It is and always has been God’s grace through faith.

Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, (ESV)

There is a great difference in salvation experience between the Testaments, however. When Paul came to Ephesus in Acts 19:1-7, why did he ask the believers there, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? (Act 19:2)?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” (vs 2) They had been baptized with John the Baptist’s baptism of repentance. Paul then baptized them in the name of “the Lord Jesus.” “And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.” (vs 6) Right in these verses is the difference between salvation in the Old Testament and the New Testament: the location of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit played a significant role in the Old Testament.

  1. All Israel knew the presence of the Lord in the wilderness, since he manifested as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21-22).
  2. The Ark was revered because it contained the presence of the Lord.
  3. When Moses entered the Tent of Meeting in the wilderness to speak with God before the Ark, he would place a veil over his face when he left, to hide the fading glow he received in his encounter with the Lord there (Exodus 33:7-11; 34:33-35).
  4. God’s Holy Spirit inhabited the First Temple of Solomon as a cloud, “10 And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the LORD, 11 so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD.” (1 Kings 8:10-11)
  5. In Ezekiel 10, the prophet describes his vision of the Glory of the Lord leaving this same temple.

The common denominator in all the prior biblical scenes is that the presence of the Lord, his Holy Spirit, was external. He manifested in a visible, concrete-literal way. By literal I mean real. These events really happened; they are true. Concrete means apparent to the physical senses. Spiritual means of the Spirit of God, who is himself invisible. The Holy Spirit accompanied the congregation of Israel in the Old Testament, and his presence was concrete-literal. This is why, I believe, prophecy played such an important role in the Old Testament. David needed a prophet like Nathan to walk up to him and tell him what the Lord was saying, because David did not have the Holy Spirit within him to speak to him directly in his heart.

It is impossible to overstate the change from the Old Testament to the New in the shift from external to internal of God’s Holy Spirit. This is a change from a concrete-literal manifestation of the Holy Spirit among the people to a spiritual-literal. John the Apostle previews this change in Jesus’ discourse with Nicodemus in John 3 and with the woman at the well in John 4. To understand the prominent position Scripture gives this change we can recall Jesus’ last directions to his disciples before he ascended.

Luke 24:49 And look, I am sending you what my Father promised. But stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high,” and “… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Act 1:8)

Acts chronicles the multiple occasions when believers received the Holy Spirit, and Paul in his letters again and again proclaims the Spirit’s presence in a new way within the church corporately and within believers singly.

For example, see:

Romans 8:9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. (ESV)

Romans 8:14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,

Galatians 4:6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

Ephesians 2:19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. 

New Testament believers currently experience the fulfillment of God’s statement in Psalm 132:13-14.

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.

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews sums up the effect of the difference between the concrete-literal experiencing of God’s Holy Presence in the Old Testament and what New Testament believers experience now:

Hebrews 12:20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.”  21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”
22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering,  23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

As New Testament believers in Jesus Christ join with Old Testament believers in the hope of Messiah by singing the prayer of Psalm 132, may we feel fortunate (blessed) and joyful to know that we are part of the psalm’s fulfillment in grace. Praise God for having restored and even increased the close, intimate fellowship of humans with their Creator.

 

 

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