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Saint Augustine, it is said, had written out and pinned at eye level four psalms on the wall beside his bed. These he could read and reread as often as he liked, as he lay there dying. These four psalms became the core of the seven later known as the Penitential Psalms. Although the Penitential Psalms played a significant role in the medieval church, as witnessed by many paintings of the period, during the Reformation and beyond, they diminished in importance and liturgical practice. In the evangelical church today, few have even heard the phrase “penitential psalms,” let alone know which they are or why they are called that.
Association of penitence with seven particular psalms is rather a misnomer and a mistake. The seven particular psalms considered “penitential” as a group are Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143. As the centerpiece, Psalm 51 is indeed penitential. Psalm 51 supposedly records David’s heartfelt remorse for his sin of adultery with Bathsheba and his later murdering of her husband as a coverup when it became known that David had caused her to become pregnant. David expresses genuine and merited sorrow for his reprehensible sins. However, Psalm 6 and Psalm 102 carry no mention of sin at all. In fact, in each of these the speaker attributes his suffering to the persecution of his enemies. Enemies are a persistent theme throughout these seven psalms. Psalms 32 and 51 are the only ones which make no mention of enemies.
What is the reader to make of these inconsistencies of theme? Why group seven psalms which vary in such basic ways? One possibility is to consider that the traditional understanding of the word “penitent” is at fault. The use of the word penitence to represent a sorrow and suffering over one’s own sin follows a Latin language tradition. There is, however, a Greek semantic pathway using the base syllable “-pen-“, which corresponds to a meaning of extreme sorrow born of deep humility and humbleness of state. The core of this semantic pathway does not require a sense of guilt for sins committed. Rather, the humility can be a response to any number of physical or situational causes, such as poverty, lowliness of social estate, or physical distress. And sorrow born of suffering is in fact a theme which unites the seven penitential psalms. When one considers that the earliest church Bibles were written in Greek and that the Septuagint was the Old Testament of the early church for several centuries, this explanation of the grouping of the penitential psalms seems reasonable.
But the question remains: why does the psalmist maintain his innocence and righteousness, while at the same time grieving and mourning over his sins? Apart from Christ, there can be no reasonable explanation for unity among these psalms. Christ alone, as a human being, can maintain complete righteousness and innocence. This characteristic of the actions of his incarnated life, combined with his sinless divine nature, are what qualified him to be the lamb of God. The sacrificial lamb of Old Testament tradition needed to be one without spot or blemish of any kind. Only Christ qualifies. And yet, five of the seven penitential psalms carry confession of sin in greater or lesser extent.
The answer is simple. “God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God.” (2Corinthians 5:21 NET) The hermeneutic key that unlocks the Psalter is Jesus Christ. The New Testament teaches everywhere that Christ the man suffered, and that he suffered for our sins. Christ the man is the voice of the psalmist throughout the penitential psalms and so many others. As prophecy, these seven psalms foretell in first person the sufferings of the innocent, righteous Christ as he bore the sins of the world in his own person. Only with Christ does the psalmic paradox of the righteous sinner disappear. So, Christ is the dramatic speaker persona of the penitential psalms.
Before closing, one further word about why these seven psalms as a grouping have fallen into disuse and even disfavor. For all but the earliest history of the church, the majority opinion has not recognized that Christ is the voice of the psalmist. Further, the Latin textual tradition overran and trampled the Greek in all but the Orthodox churches. The Latin concept of penitence, as a kind of mournful wailing over sin that self-flagellates the heart of a penitent over and over again throughout the life of the penitent, no longer dominates our churches, especially evangelical ones. It appears as though the lesson was learned–yes, we all begin in universal sin. However, we repent once and then in Christ we move on. The Bible teaches forgiveness of sin and new life in Christ. Joy in salvation and holy living replace guilt for sins committed. Fresh sins are confessed and forgiveness is received. There is no need to wail over one’s past for the remainder of one’s life. The Christian life is lived out through the Spirit of Christ who indwells each and every believer. Joy replaces sorrow.
Nonetheless, the Christian heart will always benefit from considering the depth of sorrow in the heart of Christ as he endured the persecution of his enemies, which culminated in his physical sacrifice upon the cross. Doing so can only increase appreciation for the love of God for us expressed through Jesus our Savior and Lord. The seven Penitential Psalms will always be useful for this contemplation.
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.
- 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).
- The gospel message, or apostolic kerygma, proclaims Jesus of Nazareth to be Christ, God’s Messiah.
- 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.
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)
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.
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
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?
All? Not just one or two but All? Not just the reds or blues, but all? Not just my enemies but my friends also? Me? Are you talking about me? The talented, the beautiful, the artsy, the spiritual, the meek, the humble, the poor, the victims, all? How can all mean all?
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.
Psalm 116:11 is a difficult verse.
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.
Do you have a Bible study you attend regularly? Either at a church, a group, or online? If not, you are not alone.
There are many reasons why a person hungry to learn more about God’s word cannot attend a Bible study, one of the most likely being that they cannot find one or the ones available to them meet at the wrong time or the wrong place. This doesn’t mean that you cannot learn the Bible–you can! I’m going to give you a simple way to begin studying at home. It is called a Word Study or Topical Study.
Always pray and ask God to help you know him more and to help you obey and apply what he shows you. All teaching from God begins and ends and is through the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit, God himself, breathing his life into his word as he shows it to you inside your heart, the best knowledge of God’s word will only be dead knowledge.
Pray that God will lead you to the right Bible for you at this time in your life.
Pray that God will direct you to the right verses that he wants you to study.
Pray that God will help you to understand and apply what you read.
2. Second, buy yourself a reference Bible.
You may have one already. What is a reference Bible? A reference Bible is not necessarily a study Bible. A reference Bible is a Bible that simply has a list of other verses in a center column, or a side column, or at the foot of the page.
You can see from the example above that the text on the left has verse numbers that correspond to a list of verse numbers running down the middle of the page between the two columns of scripture.
Verse 33 at the top of the page, for example, has a small, italicized letter a before the word “teach.” “Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes.” That’s what the Lord is doing right now. He is teaching you how to study Scripture.
The center column has the number “33” corresponding to the verse you just read. There is a small letter “a” followed by “Ps 119.5, 12.” This means that if you turn to Psalm 119 verses 5 and then 12, you will find more verses that use the word “teach.”
Psalm 119:12 Blessed art Thou, O LORD; Teach me Thy statutes.
Verse 36, which is underlined, has the small letter “a” before the word “incline.”
Psalm 119:36 Incline my heart to Thy testimonies, And not to dishonest gain.
Turning to the center column, the number “36” is followed by a small “a” and the reference “1Ki 8:58.” Looking up that verse we see:
1 Kings 8:58 that he may incline our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments, his statutes, and his rules, which he commanded our fathers.
When we read the above verse, we see that it begins half way through a sentence. To get the full meaning, we need to go up a verse to the beginning of the sentence, and we read:
1 Kings 8:57 The LORD our God be with us, as he was with our fathers. May he not leave us or forsake us, 58 that he may incline our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments, his statutes, and his rules, which he commanded our fathers.
Perhaps a small desk dictionary might be useful here to understand the meaning of “incline” in this sentence. This is from Merriam-Webster.
1 :to cause to stoop or bow :bend
2 :to have influence on :persuade
- his love of books inclined him toward a literary career3 :to give a bend or slant to
Putting this together, we see that the psalmist in Psalm 119:36 is asking the Lord in prayer to “incline” or bend, that is, to persuade his heart to prefer obedience to the Lord’s way rather than preferring to spend his time trying to get rich. 1 Kings tells us that when God is with us, he does just that. The psalmist is praying to God, asking God to influence his heart to prefer the Lord’s way above the way of the materialistic world. This tells us that we are not alone, that God is the one who influences us to desire him and his word.
How might a reader apply this verse to her own life? Does she sense that her heart is growing cold towards the Lord? She should turn to the Lord and ask him to help her. Do someone else find that worldly interests of career and money are drawing their attention away from God? They should turn to him, just as the psalmist does, and ask God to help them, to influence their heart and the things their heart desires.
What I have showed today is very simple. The more you practice looking up the little verses in the reference column, the better you will become at it.
Also, you will soon see that the Bible is a unified whole. It connects and teaches the same message in each of its individual parts. Each part repeats in a different setting what the other parts are also saying.
Further, you will be studying topics, such as love, light, truth, life, faith and any of the other Christian words you can think of.
Your beginning point will be a single verse. For example,
John 3:16 “For God so (a) loved the world, that He (b) gave His (1)(c) only begotten Son, that whoever (d)believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.
Looking up the verses in the reference column for each one of the letters in parentheses gives us the following list:
(a) loved the world Rom 5:8; Eph 2:4; 2Th 2:16; 1Jo 4:10; Rev 1:5
(b) gave Rom 8:32; 1Jo 4:9
(c) only begotten Son Joh 1:18; Joh 3:18; 1Jo 4:9
(d) believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life Joh 3:36; Joh 6:40; Joh 11:25f. (The letter “f” here means “forward.” That is, read John 11:25 and keep reading, since there are more verses that continue on the same topic.)
(1) While letters refer to verses, numbers refer to notes by the editors or translators of the particular Bible you may have. Here the (1) says the following, “unique, only one of His kind.” That is what the translators or editors are saying about the word “only begotten.”
I guarantee that by the time you have looked up all the above verses, you will have a good idea of the topic of God’s love to all people in the world!
The seeds of mercy sown in Psalm 59 as a glimmer of hope break forth as morning light in Psalm 60. Psalm 60 records God’s answer to the intercessory prayer of Psalm 59:11, and then presents further prayer.
Psalm 59:11 Slay them not, lest they forget thy law; scatter them by thy power; and bring them down, O Lord, my defender. (LXE)
Psalm 60 opens with three verses which describe in past tense, as though already accomplished, the suffering of God’s people, “apostate Israel” (1), at the hands of God himself. Why did God punish Israel? God displayed his judgmental wrath upon his own nation, because they failed to recognize their Messiah when he came. Or, having recognized him, they rejected him. Forcing the hand of the Romans who occupied their land, they crucified him. Both the crucifixion of the King and the wrath of God against those who did so were foretold in Psalms 56-59, “as a memorial,” as though written on stone (2). Psalm 60, the last of the five psalm packet, is the final memorial stone. It describes the restoration of those who crucified Messiah. It opens, as already mentioned, with a recap of their punishment.
1 O God, thou hast rejected and destroyed us; thou hast been angry, yet hast pitied us.
2 Thou hast shaken the earth, and troubled it; heal its breaches, for it has been shaken.
3 Thou hast shewn thy people hard things: thou has made us drink the wine of astonishment. (LXE)
So many good things open up in Psalms once the reader realizes who is the speaker. Psalms 56-59 establish Messiah Christ as the speaker. By following the thread of his speech, the reader discovers the single plot thread that extends from beginning to end through these five psalms. With his Passion in mind, it breaks as pure blessing upon the tender heart to realize that the Rejected One is now interceding from the resurrection side of the cross for the very people who disowned him, for those who had been among the enemies who pursued him to death. In Psalm 60, the speaker presents himself as one of those who received the judgment of God, which is so poignant in Psalm 59:11. He prays “us,” “us,” “thy people,” and “us,”–four times total in the first three verses. Psalm 60 is where the just judgment of God meets his mercy (Psalm 85:10). The “Father forgive them,” is reconciled with God’s understandable wrath.
Psalm 56:7 For their crime will they escape? In wrath cast down the peoples, O God! (ESV)
Luke 23:34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. (ESV)
Paul in Romans 9-11 tackles the difficult subject of God’s having blessed the Gentiles with salvation in Christ, while so few of his fellow Jewish people believed. Had God rejected his people Israel? Appearances to the contrary, Paul answers no. His argument takes three forms.
1. First, God is sovereign. He gives grace to whom he wishes. No one merits his mercy, but it must be received by faith.
Romans 9:15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. (ESV)
Romans 9:30 What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (ESV)
2. Second, at the outset of the Christian message there was a remnant of Israel who did receive the Good News of salvation in Christ alone by faith. That is to say, Israel was not rejected in whole. Paul counts himself as part of this remnant.
Romans 11:1 I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” 4 But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. (ESV)
3. God’s plan all along was to make room for the Gentiles. In describing this, Isaiah uses the metaphor of stretching out the boundaries of a tent, and Paul uses the metaphor of branches being cut off from an olive tree, others being grafted in, and finally, the cut-off branches being grafted back in.
Isaiah 54:1 Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that dost not travail: for more are the children of the desolate than of her that has a husband: for the Lord has said, 2 “Enlarge the place of thy tent, and of thy curtains; fix the pins, spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy pins; 3 Spread forth thy tent yet to the right and the left: for thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and thou shalt make the desolate cities to be inhabited.” (LXE)
Romans 11:15 For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? (ESV)
17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, (ESV)
20…They were broken off because of their unbelief, (ESV)
23 And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree. 25 Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; 27 “and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” (ESV)
The text of Romans 11:26 reads, “And in this way all Israel will be saved.” Paul had been speaking of a remnant of Israel in the first portion of this chapter, as quoted above. Now here, “all Israel” refers to the whole of Israel, not just the remnant. And Gentiles are included in Israel’s olive tree. God’s victory over all nations–Israel and Gentile nations combined–this is the theme of Psalm 60. It is a happy theme.
First, Gentiles are included:
Romans 4:16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring– not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations” (ESV)
Next, how will this happen? The answer lies in the “spirit of stupor” that had been placed upon Israel as a consequence of their having rejected their Messiah, God’s anointed. The spirit of stupor will be removed. This phrase binds Isaiah 29, Psalm 60, and Romans 9-11 together as speaking of the same topic and the same people, God’s people, Israel.
Isaiah 29:10 For the LORD has poured out upon you a spirit of deep sleep, and has closed your eyes (the prophets), and covered your heads (the seers). (ESV)
Psalm 60:3 Thou hast shewn thy people hard things: thou has made us drink the wine of astonishment. (LXE)
Romans 11:8 as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.” (ESV)
Paul’s New Testament word for “stupor” in Greek is “κατανύξεως (Rom 11:8 BGT).” The word translated “astonishment” in Psalm 60 is “κατανύξεως (Psa 59:5 LXX),” and in Isaiah the Greek Septuagint for “deep sleep” is “κατανύξεως (Isa 29:10 LXT).” Thayer’s Lexicon reports that these three citations are the only place in all of Scripture where this lemma (stem) and even the form occur. Clearly, these verses are tied together.
Unwrapping Psalm 60
A Word about the Superscription
The superscription of Psalm 60 contains much Davidic history into which most commentators delve. The thesis of this blog on the Psalter is that the psalms are first and foremost a prophetic word about Christ. As such, delving into the historic details of David’s life would be a distraction, rather than an aid (3). David’s life was limited, in that David was human and mortal. As such, the details of his history are a distraction to the larger, metanarrative events of the life of Messiah, God’s Son, God and human in one, who both died and was resurrected (Acts 2:25-32).
In an exception to my usual custom, I’ve written extensively (2) about a select phrase in the superscription of each of the psalms in this packet, as found in the Greek Septuagint. The phrase is, “εἰς στηλογραφίαν” or “for a memorial,” as something written on a stone. The phrase, “εἰς στηλογραφίαν,” as found in these five psalms, is unique to all of Scripture. This phrase is one item that binds these psalms together as a packet. The accompanying phrase, , “εἰς τὸ τέλος,” or “for the end,” strengthens the association.
The superscription of Psalm 60 has a further phrase of interest. It is, “τοῖς ἀλλοιωθησομένοις ἔτι.” This is translated as, “for them that shall yet be changed,” by Brenton, “for those that shall yet be changed,” by NETS (Pietersma), and “for things yet to be changed,” by the Orthodox Study Bible (See the Bibliography for all three). The Greek word “change” is most often used literally in Scripture, and it means simply, “to change.” See, for example, Luke 9:29. Many commentators confess not knowing what the Hebrew of the Masoretic might mean, but the phrase is often interpreted as a musical instruction. Clearly, however, the phrase as it stands in Greek follows the plot line of the five psalms remarkably well, when the speaker is seen to be Christ and when Psalm 60 is interpreted as the change of heart and fortune of the people of God, that Paul describes in Romans 11.
Unpacking the Body of Psalm 60
1. Verses 1-3: description of the disaster.
Psalm 60:1 O God, thou hast rejected and destroyed us; thou hast been angry, yet hast pitied us.
2 Thou hast shaken the earth, and troubled it; heal its breaches, for it has been shaken.
3 Thou hast shewn thy people hard things: thou has made us drink the wine of astonishment. (LXE)
Psalm 60 opens with the speaker’s recounting to God his rejection and destruction of “us.” The phrase at the end of verse 1 (LXE), “yet [thou] hast pitied us,” links back to the glimmer of hope found in the prior psalm’s verse 11, “slay them not…scatter them.” As Psalm 60 opens, the destruction has already been accomplished, and the speaker looks back upon the “hard things” and the “wine of astonishment” God had made them drink (vs 3).
2. Verses 4-5: the intercessory prayer.
4 Thou hast given a token to them that fear thee, that they might flee from the bow. Pause.
5 That thy beloved ones may be delivered; save with thy right hand, and hear me. (LXE)
Verse 4 is difficult, “Thou hast given a token to them that fear thee, that they might flee from the bow. Pause.” The Greek word for “token” is σημείωσις, related to the word “sign” found so frequently in John’s writing. One example is John 2:18.
John 2:18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?”
19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?”
21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body.
22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. (ESV)
In the above passage from John, the “sign” given was the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Seeing this sign, the disciples believed. Going back to Psalm 60:4, the token, or sign, was given to “them that fear thee.” In Scripture, including the Psalter, to “fear” the Lord is good. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” (Proverbs 1:7 LXE). Those who “fear” the Lord are God’s people and recipients of his blessing. So far then, we have God giving a sign to those who fear him–both of these are positive elements, and the last portion of verse 4 also speaks blessing, “…that they might flee from the bow. Pause.” Most frequently in the Old Testament, the word “bow” refers to the weapon, as in a bow and arrow. An example of this usage is Psalm 46:9, “Putting an end to wars…he will crush the bow, and break in pieces the weapon…” Taken at simple face value, the sense of the Septuagint in Psalm 60:4 seems to be that God is giving a sign of warning to his followers to flee some form of war or violence. That sign could be the resurrection of Christ, and the violence could be that foretold in Psalm 59, God’s wrath upon those who did not fear him, but persecuted his anointed. Jesus himself gave such a warning in Matthew 24:15-21.
Matthew 24:15 “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, 18 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 19 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. (ESV)
Moving forward to verse 5, the speaker pleads with God that he would save his “beloved ones,” so that they might be delivered. Whoever verse 4 may refer to, perhaps believers who heeded the sign and thereby fled from the bow of God’s wrath, it seems best to place verse 5 with verses 1-3. That is, the “beloved ones” are the “us” and “thy people” whom God has rejected and destroyed, yet pitied. The “Pause” after verse 4 reinforces the likelihood that a different group is here being spoken of. The “beloved ones” are they that need to be delivered and saved, because having missed the “sign,” they have already experienced God’s wrath. The speaker prays that God’s harsh treatment of them will now end. It is of course the risen Christ, the victor of Psalm 59, who prays (see Romans 8:34).
3. Verses 6-8: God replies.
6 God has spoken in his holiness; I will rejoice, and divide Sicima, and measure out the valley of tents.
7 Galaad is mine, and Manasse is mine; and Ephraim is the strength of my head;
8 Judas is my king; Moab is the caldron of my hope; over Idumea will I stretch out my shoe; the Philistines have been subjected to me. (LXE)
The striking thing about the series of place names in verses 6-8 is that the first five stretch from one end of Israel to the other, while the last three are Gentile lands. As Isaiah describes in chapters 11 and 12, all the land will belong to the Lord. All kingdoms will be conquered by him. In God’s kingdom, it is good to be conquered by the love of his Son, for there is salvation under no other name. All portions of Old Testament prophecy point to the same outcome: the unification of God’s original people Israel with Gentile nations under one banner of love, the cross of Jesus Christ. Bonar writes of verse 4, “Here is the voice of Israel owning Jehovah’s gift of Messiah to them,” (Bonar, See note 1). Paul writes in Romans 11:23-25 that when the full number of the Gentiles has come in, then, if Israel does not continue in their unbelief, they, too, will be grafted in again. God answers, “Yes!” to the speaker’s intercessory prayer in Psalm 60.
4. Verses 9-12: Christ and the church respond.
Who is it that will lead me into Gentile lands, as represented by Idumea (in a part-for-the-whole metaphor)? asks the speaker. He answers his own question, Isn’t God the one who will do this? Just so, Jesus in his ministry on earth ever and always submitted to and depended upon God his Father. Here it is the same.
Who speaks this section? In verses 9-11, the speaker appears to be the same first person voice as the speaker of verses 1-5. In verse 12, the last verse, it is easy to hear the voice of a chorus of people, as is the case with the last verse of many psalms (4). Verses 9-12 as a whole speak of the evangelization of the earth by Christ and his church, comprised of believers from all nations, Israel and Gentile combined. Together with their Lord, they go forth in dependence upon God to take the gospel to all remaining nations.
Andrew Bonar (see footnote 1) titles this psalm, “The Righteous One asks, and rejoices in, Israel’s restoration.” A plain, straightforward reading of Psalms 56-60 in the Septuagint English version (I use Brenton’s translation), readily yields this conclusion. I recommend reading these five psalms together, start to finish, in one sitting. Although one’s interpretation of details may vary, when viewed as a sequential packet, the overall plot thrust of these psalms is unmistakable. This packet speaks of Christ, God’s Son the King, in his ministry on earth up to and through his Passion. The packet extends beyond to his resurrection and the subsequent punishment of God’s people, who had rejected and persecuted him. And, most blessedly, it extends even further to the time when the victorious Son owns them in mediatorial intercession for them, so that they “shall yet be changed” and be restored. At that time, God will lead his Christ and his people as a single unit into all Gentile lands. The prophecy of this packet of psalms runs parallel with the gospel messages of Isaiah and Paul the Apostle.
1 Andrew A. Bonar, Christ and His Church in the Book of Psalms, Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1978, 182.
2 A substantial explanation of certain key phrases in the Greek superscriptions of Psalms 56-60 is available in the first article of theis series, titled, “Psalms 56-60: A Packet–Part 1, The Superscriptions.” It can be accessed at https://onesmallvoice.net/2019/09/12/psalms-56-60-a-packet-part-1-the-superscriptions/.
3 I have found that commentators who are most concerned about the historical events alluded to in the superscription are less likely to mention Christ in regard to the psalm.
4 See, for example, Psalm 18:50.
“While this psalm carries deep philosophical import, answering the question of evil in the presence of a good God, it very simply shares with us the benefits of placing one’s complete trust in the God of Love. Those who do evil will be punished and brought low; the righteous will be rewarded with the mercy of God.”
Psalm 59 contains two major applications: one general and one specific. The premise of the general application was stated in the last verse of the prior psalm.
Psalm 58:11 LXE And a man shall say, Verily then there is a reward for the righteous: verily there is a God that judges them in the earth.
ESV Mankind will say, “Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges on earth.”
The specific application applies to the speaker himself, identified previously as the Son of God on earth during the days of his tribulation and Passion. The following verses further identify him as the Spotless Lamb:
2 Deliver me from the workers of iniquity, and save me from bloody men.
3 For, behold, they have hunted after my soul; violent men have set upon me: neither is it my iniquity, nor my sin, O Lord.
4 Without iniquity I ran and directed my course aright: awake to help me, and behold. (Psalm 59:2-4 LXE)
1Peter 1:19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (ESV)
2 Corinthians 5:21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (ESV)
If there is a God in heaven–so the argument goes–and if he is a good God, how can he permit such evil on earth? The answer given in Psalm 59 is that he does not. There will be a judgment: the righteous will be rewarded, and the wicked will be punished. The blood of the innocent by the hands of the wicked will be avenged.
Psalm 59 is divided neatly into sections.
1) In the first section, verses 1-5, the speaker (who is Messiah) lays out his condition and his petition. Bloody and violent men pursue the speaker with intent to kill. After his proclamation of innocence, the speaker petitions God in prayer to visit all the heathen and to pity no one who does iniquity. Then there is a “pause.”
An interesting petition
2) In the second section, verses 6-13, the speaker details God’s future actions against his enemies and contrasts these with his own trust in God and God’s mercy on him. Before a second “pause” which closes verse 13, the speaker makes an interesting petition in verses 11-13.
11 Slay them not, lest they forget thy <1> law; scatter them by thy power; and bring them down, O Lord, my defender.
12 For the sin of their mouth, and the word of their lips, let them be even taken in their pride.
13 And for their cursing and falsehood shall utter destruction be denounced: they shall fall by the wrath of utter destruction, and shall not be; so shall they know that the God of Jacob is Lord of the ends of the earth. Pause. (LXE)
He asks in verse 11 that God not “kill” his enemies but “scatter” them and bring them “down,” in the sense of higher to lower. This seems rather an apt request, considering that Jesus’s enemies were religious leaders who thought themselves to be above the people.
Luke 18:11 The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself like this: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: extortionists, unrighteous people, adulterers– or even like this tax collector. (NET)
Some textual variations
Throughout the entire psalm the speaker in the Greek Septuagint of Brenton’s translation always refers to himself in singular. There are no plurals, such as “we,” “us,” or “our,” not even in verse 11. The supplicant represents himself throughout the psalm; he is not praying on behalf of a “people.” Therefore, God is always referred to with the descriptor, “my,” rather than “our.” Although the Septuagint does reference God as the “God of Israel” (verse 5) and “God of Jacob” (verse 13), the speaker gives no indication that he is praying on behalf of a “people.” This is important in helping to determine the subject of verse 11. Verse 11 differs in Brenton’s Septuagint from translations based upon the Masoretic.
First, however, all versions agree that the request is for a scattering rather than an annihilation. The example below is one of the more graphic:
11 Use your power to make them homeless vagabonds and then bring them down, O Lord who shields us! (NET)
All versions further agree that the reason for the request is to prevent someone forgetting something. Who the someone is and what is not to be forgotten is hard to decipher. The Masoretic translations ask God to scatter rather than kill “lest my people forget,” (ESV) leaving the “what” unmentioned. The Greek Septuagint, which follows a different textual tradition, doesn’t specify who “they” is and places a text note at the object of the verb “forget.” According to Rahlfs, there are three Septuagint families of readings for the genitive object of “forget” (1). The Greek text that accompanies Brenton’s translation uses “thy law,” (τοῦ νόμου σου) “Slay them not, lest they forget thy law; scatter them by thy power.” A second reading is “people,” as in the Masoretic; however, people is objective rather than subjective, “lest they forget thy people,” not, “lest my people forget,” as in the ESV. The third reading is “your name,” “Slay them not lest they forget your name.” (2)
Finally, all versions agree that the powerful enemies, as an effect of their scattering, will be brought completely down, or low.
So, which one?
The biblical plot line, the plot line of the Psalter, the plot line of the Gospels, and the plot line of the New Testament letters require that the “enemies” are among God’s own people and among the Gentiles. (That pretty much includes everyone.) God’s own people were distinctively given the commandment to guard God’s Law, the Ten Commandments delivered through the hand of Moses the great prophet. Based upon the entire sense of the psalm, I conclude that the speaker’s request in verse 11 of the Septuagint is lest “they,” the enemies, “forget thy law.” The enemies are the prideful religious leaders, caretakers of God’s Law, and the speaker is God’s Son. The speaker wants these enemies brought low, but not destroyed, because he wants them to remember God’s Law. Clearly, the speaker’s enemies broke the first commandment in its entirety, “Deuteronomy 6:5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”
The predicament of modern unbelievers as they stumble upon Psalm 59 is this. While the mind agrees that righteousness needs to be vindicated and that the travesty of disrespect and murder against God’s own Son is unfathomable in its magnitude, our culture teaches prejudice against the biblical God. If the speaker were anyone other than God’s own Son, our own natural sense of justice would demand that the death of a completely innocent person by the hands of a ruthless enemy be avenged. And yet, because God is so authoritatively powerful, we deny the justice given to every common creature to his Son, who in his flesh was every bit as common as each one of us. And, on the other hand, for believers there is no cause for rejoicing in this psalm. How can any tender-hearted person rejoice in destruction?
The Good News, however, is that the enemies were not killed, but scattered. The outcome of A.D. 70 was that the temple and its sacrifices ceased, the power of the religious leaders was completely broken, and the people were indeed scattered. However, God’s Law continued to be guarded and protected.
Paul best explains this plot twist:
Romans 11:11 So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. (ESV)
More cannot be said now without entering into Psalm 60, the last psalm of this packet.
As concerns Psalm 59, it helps this author to bear in mind constantly that the Psalter is prophetic and that a large purpose of Psalm 59 is to prophesy in order to verify the credentials of Messiah. Prophecy is a testimony that leads to faith.
Consider Psalm 59 in the context of these biblical statements.
Psalm 17:8 Keep me as the apple of your eye. (See also all of Psalms 16 and 17, which match closely Psalm 59.)
Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!
5 “And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
6 “And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart;
7 and you shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.
8 “And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.
9 “And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (NAS)
(See also all of Psalm 119.)
Ezekiel 19:10 ‘Your mother was like a vine in your vineyard, Planted by the waters; It was fruitful and full of branches Because of abundant waters.
11 ‘And it had strong branches fit for scepters of rulers, And its height was raised above the clouds So that it was seen in its height with the mass of its branches.
12 ‘But it was plucked up in fury; It was cast down to the ground; And the east wind dried up its fruit. Its strong branch was torn off So that it withered; The fire consumed it.
13 ‘And now it is planted in the wilderness, In a dry and thirsty land.
14 ‘And fire has gone out from its branch; It has consumed its shoots and fruit, So that there is not in it a strong branch, A scepter to rule.'” This is a lamentation, and has become a lamentation. (NAS)
Matthew 21:33 “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard and put a wall around it and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and rented it out to vine-growers, and went on a journey.
34 “And when the harvest time approached, he sent his slaves to the vine-growers to receive his produce.
35 “And the vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third.
36 “Again he sent another group of slaves larger than the first; and they did the same thing to them.
37 “But afterward he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’
38 “But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and seize his inheritance.’
39 “And they took him, and threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
40 “Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?”
41 They said to Him, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers, who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons.”
42 Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures, ‘The stone which the builders rejected, This became the chief corner stone; This came about from the Lord, And it is marvelous in our eyes’? (NAS)
Matthew 23:37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!
38 See, your house is left to you desolate.
39 For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'” (ESV)
Luke 23:28 But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. (ESV)
Luke 19:41 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it,
42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.
43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side
44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
45 And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold,
46 saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.”
47 And he was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him, (ESV)
Luke 21: 5 And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said,
6 “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” (ESV)
And finally, the Scripture all but quoted in Psalm 59:8:
Psalm 2:4 He that dwells in the heavens shall laugh them to scorn, and the Lord shall mock them. (LXE)
Compare the previous verse with Psalm 59:8.
But thou, Lord, wilt laugh them to scorn; thou wilt utterly set at nought all the heathen. (LXE)
The prophecies of Psalm 59 were indeed fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the destruction of Jerusalem with its temple and its religious hierarchy in 70 A.D.
3) The third and final section of Psalm 59 consists of the last two verses, 16-17.
16 But I will sing to thy strength, and in the morning will I exult in thy mercy; for thou hast been my supporter, and my refuge in the day of mine affliction.
17 Thou art my helper; to thee, my God, will I sing; thou art my supporter, O my God, and my mercy. (LXE)
The sorely pressed-upon speaker of this prayer displays a beautiful faith. The phrase, “But I will sing to they strength, and in the morning will I exult in they mercy,” looks forward to resurrection morning, bright and early, as the stone that entombs the undefeated Son of God is rolled away. The incarnated Jesus was a human, just as you and I, and he shares our frame and makeup in every aspect. He sweat as it were blood in his awful contemplation of being crucified and enduring the wrath of God as a sacrifice, a piece of meat, on behalf of sinners. God includes Psalm 59 in the Bible to show us that God has “prevented” us (to use the old King James way of saying it). That means, God has gone before us (Psalm 21:3) to prepare a way and to lead us in it. The Son of God is “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
While this psalm carries deep philosophical import, answering the question of evil in the presence of a good God, it very simply shares with us the benefits of placing one’s complete trust in the God of Love. Those who do evil will be punished and brought low; the righteous will be rewarded with the mercy of God.
1 Rahlfs-Hanhart. Septuaginta: Editio altera. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2006.
2 NETS uses the “people” textual tradition, “or they may forget my people.” The Orthodox Study Bible also uses “my people.” Brenton stands alone in the textual tradition he chose to follow.
Ding-dong, the witch is dead! Which old witch? The wicked witch
Ding-dong, the wicked witch is dead. — lyrics from The Wizard of Oz. (1).
Question: Did the Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz celebrate death and vengeance, or were they celebrating the ending of cruel slavery suffered by all when wickedness ruled the land?
Judgment is an uncomfortable theme for many Christians and Christian critics who have been raised on John 3:16 and its sequel, “God is love,” in 1 John 4:8. How can judgment possibly be consistent with the teaching of 100% acceptance in Jesus Christ for every willing individual? Nevertheless, the theme of judgment, and yes, punishment, occurs cover to cover throughout the Bible. After describing the characteristics of the wicked, Psalm 58 focuses on the theme of judgment for the enemies of God and his Son, the King.
This author bears no animosity nor any judgmental attitude toward any people group anywhere in the globe. Jesus Christ broke down all walls of division separating any given portion of humankind from any other portion (Ephesians 2:14-3:21). We are all one in Christ, and love rules the day. The importance of this packet of psalms lies in their prophetic word of Christ. These psalms function as an aid to help along the nascent faith of unbelievers and all Christians everywhere. For those who still may doubt that Psalm 58 treats of Christ, perhaps the quotes in the Notes section may help (2).
Who are these wicked?
Verse 1 of Psalm 58 states a basic premise that the mouth is indicative of what lies in the heart.
Psalm 58:1 If ye do indeed speak righteousness, then do ye judge rightly, ye sons of men.
Christ in in the New Testament states it this way,
Matthew 12:34 Offspring of vipers! How are you able to say anything good, since you are evil? For the mouth speaks from what fills the heart. (NET)
And James in the memorable passage concerning the tongue, introduces the topic of how one’s speech relates to the whole person:
James 3:2 For we all stumble in many ways. If someone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect individual, able to control the entire body as well. (NET)
Psalm 58 LXE (Septuagint in English by Brenton) goes on to describe the “sons of men” (3) or “sinners” in verses 2-4:
2 For ye work iniquities in your hearts in the earth: your hands plot unrighteousness.
3 Sinners have gone astray from the womb: they go astray from the belly: they speak lies.
4 Their venom is like that of a serpent; as that of a deaf asp, and that stops her ears;
5 which will not hear the voice of charmers, nor heed the charm prepared skillfully by the wise.
Again, Jesus puts it this way:
Matthew 15:8 “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;
Mark 7:21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery,
John 8:44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
Matthew 13:38 The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one,
Matthew 23:33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?
Luke 7:31 “To what then should I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, yet you did not dance; we wailed in mourning, yet you did not weep.’
Matthew 13:13 For this reason I speak to them in parables: Although they see they do not see, and although they hear they do not hear nor do they understand.
The kind of people described in both Testaments above are the ones who opposed Jesus every step of his ministry. They are those whom the gospels call the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the priests, the chief priests and elders, the Sanhedrin, the lawyers, and the scribes. These are people who hated the truth of God and Christ, who hated the actions of love and good works, especially towards the down and out and poor of person and spirit. They were absolutely sure that they were right and all who disagreed with them were wrong and to be hated. They were proud in their hearts and disdainful of all who were different than they. They believed that they merited special, favorable treatment from God because they believed themselves to be superior to others. They were the religious authorities of Jesus’s day who sought to annihilate him.
What will be the fate of the wicked who hate God and his Christ?
Psalm 2 first prophesies the outcome for this set of people.
Psalm 2:1 Wherefore did the heathen rage, and the nations imagine vain things?
2 The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers gathered themselves together, against the Lord, and against his Christ;
3 saying, Let us break through their bonds, and cast away their yoke from us.
4 He that dwells in the heavens shall laugh them to scorn, and the Lord shall mock them.
5 Then shall he speak to them in his anger, and trouble them in his fury.
6 But I have been made king by him on Sion his holy mountain,
7 declaring the ordinance of the Lord: the Lord said to me, Thou art my Son, to-day have I begotten thee.
8 Ask of me, and I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the ends of the earth for thy possession.
9 Thou shalt rule them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces as a potter’s vessel.
10 Now therefore understand, ye kings: be instructed, all ye that judge the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice in him with trembling.
12 Accept correction, lest at any time the Lord be angry, and ye should perish from the righteous way: whensoever his wrath shall be suddenly kindled, blessed are all they that trust in him. (LXE)
Psalm 58 is very similar to Psalm 2 in its approach. The basic premise of both psalms is that God has a Son with whom he is well-pleased. The Son, while sojourning on earth, will encounter opposition from enemies, who will be defeated. God warns them in advance of the consequences of their rebellion, and he encourages them to repent and receive his favor. (4)
Psalm 58:6 God has crushed their teeth in their mouth: God has broken the cheek-teeth of the lions.
7 They shall utterly pass away like water running through: he shall bend his bow till they shall fail.
8 They shall be destroyed as melted wax: the fire has fallen and they have not seen the sun.
9 Before your thorns feel the white thorn, he shall swallow you up as living, as in his wrath.
Jesus himself, the one who loved his Father so much that he willingly conformed to the Father’s will to provide a life raft for the sinking human race by dying a most painful death upon the cross, said this about the future of his enemies:
Matthew 11:21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.
Matthew 23:13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.
Matthew 23:34 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, 35 so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar.
Matthew 23:37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 38 See, your house is left to you desolate.
Matthew 8: 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Matthew 13: 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers,
42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Matthew 24:1 Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. 2 But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
Luke 19:41 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
And as in Psalm 2, Psalm 58 pronounces blessing upon the righteous:
10 The righteous shall rejoice when he sees the vengeance of the ungodly: he shall wash his hands in the blood of the sinner.
11 And a man shall say, Verily then there is a reward for the righteous: verily there is a God that judges them in the earth.
Likewise, Jesus pronounces blessing upon the righteous.
Matthew 13:43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.
The destruction of the temple and Jerusalem in 70 CE fulfilled in whole or in part the prophecies of judgment pronounced in Psalms 2 and 58 against God and his King. (5) Looking ahead, Psalm 59 records again the speaker’s trials by the hand of his enemies, his expressions of faith in prayer, his expectations of vindication, and his prophecies of future judgment upon his enemies. In spite of the Wizard of Oz lyrics at the beginning of this article, neither Psalm 58 nor Psalm 59 are what one might call “happy.” God’s standards are higher than Hollywood’s, even when it comes to the little Munchkins celebrating the wicked witch’s demise. Happiness does come, but it must await Psalm 60.
1 Full lyrics and copyright information available at https://www.google.com/search?ei=vv20XaCHNMSUsgWrtLfgBA&q=wizard+of+oz+lyrics+ding+dong+the+witch+is+dead&oq=wizard+of+oz+lyrics+ding&gs_l=psy-ab.1.0.0j0i22i30l3.805142.810221..813139…0.0..0.70.1396.24……0….1..gws-wiz…….0i131j0i67.cBktK4kg-Eg. Accessed October 26, 2019.
2 John Barclay’s preface to Psalm 58: “The rulers of the people met, Like wolves around a lamb combin’d Against the Lord of glory set, Contrive the death they had design’d: But ah! the blood they mean to shed, (Which flows for our eternal weal,) Shall be for ever on their head, And more inflame the flames of hell. (Barclay, 57)
Samuel Lord Bishop Horsley writes concerning Psalm 58. “This Psalm has no obvious connection with any particular occurrence in the life of David; but it is connected remarkably with the history of Christ.” (Horsley, 139)
Andrew Bonar writes, “O that the sons of men would hear in this their day! O that every ear were opened to these words of The Righteous One reasoning with the ungodly in prospect of the day of vengeance.” (Bonar, 179)
3 Translations based upon the Hebrew Masoretic text generally ascribe the subsequent description to rulers.
4 See Bonar in Note 2. The quotation applies here, also.
Revelation 7:9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Excerpt from below: “Following a long pause equivalent to the three days Christ spent in the tomb, the psalmist-worshiper-musician breaks into his joyful peals of praise, which continue to the end of the psalm.”
Psalm 57 is so similar to Psalm 56 that it could be considered an expansion of it. Psalm 56 focuses upon the enemies of Christ and closes with statements expressing his great faith and hope in God’s resurrection of him. Psalm 57 picks up these themes and develops the significance of the resurrection portion, while looking back upon the duress experienced under the persecution of the enemies, which led to the cross.
Craig C. Broyles captures the “flashback” nature of the first portion of the psalm when he writes, “Thus, verses 2-4, 6 may function largely as a confession of trust or a testimony, not as a lament.” (Broyles, 244) What Broyles lacks in his interpretation, however, is the basic thesis that Christ is the speaker of this and many other psalms like it. Hearing the voice of Christ in the psalmist’s prophetic words is the key that unlocks the relationship of the psalm’s various parts. (See Luke 24:25-27, 44)
A great help to the modern reader is to envision a readers’ theater setting for this and many other psalms. In such a theater, there would be a “stage” where actors in identifying costumes or wearing identifying facial masks would speak the lines of the psalms. The words our Bibles present record the readers’ words, but not stage directions, and very few narrative elements that would connect or interpret the speeches. The psalms often are abbreviated scripts. One interpretive help is knowing that Christ the Messiah, Son of God (See Psalm 2), is most often the first person speaker. A second help is knowing the basic outline of Christ’s incarnation: his mission, good works, the enemies who opposed him, his passion and death, resurrection, and ascension into glory and dominion. Keeping both these points forefront in the mind will help the reader connect the various portions of any given psalm.
The Structure of Psalm (56)57
First, Psalm 57 could well be a continuation of Psalm 56, even though the entire Psalter is not arranged in this sequential fashion. Often the reader must jump around among the psalms to uncover sequential material. But here verse 13 of Psalm 56 provides a strong connection to Psalm 57.
Psalm 56:13 For thou hast delivered my soul from death, and my feet from sliding, that I should be well-pleasing before God in the land of the living. (LXE)
[LXE means Septuagint in English. The version I love and use is Brenton’s. See footnote one for more information about the Septuagint.]
The phrases, “thou hast delivered my soul from death,” and “before God in the land of the living,” indicate resurrection from death. The ESV translation is very similar:
For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life. (ESV)
Psalm 57 develops the resurrection theme, beginning with a flashback to the prayer Christ prayed, possibly in the Garden of Gethsemane:
Psalm 57:1 Have mercy, upon me, O God, have mercy upon me: for my soul has trusted in thee: and in the shadow of thy wings will I hope, until the iniquity have passed away. (LXE)
The function of the flashback is to state the nature of the problem the psalmist faced before his deliverance and to recall the prayer he prayed while under duress.
Verse 2 also states as a recollection before deliverance the resolve of the speaker, “I will cry to God most high.” The next phrase in verse 2, “the God who has benefited me,” is better translated as a present, “the God who benefits me.” (2)
Verse 3 launches into a past tense narrative of God’s saving actions, which continues through verse 4. After reading the verses below, compare these to the highly dramatized narrative of the resurrection found in Psalm 18:14-19.
3 He sent from heaven and saved me; he gave to reproach them that trampled on me: God has sent forth his mercy and his truth;
4 and he has delivered my soul from the midst of lions’ whelps: I lay down to sleep, though troubled. As for the sons of men, their teeth are arms and missile weapons, and their tongue a sharp sword. (LXE)
[Translation note: In Brenton’s translation, the word “though” is italicized. This indicates that this connecting word is not in the original Greek. If translated as written, one would say, “I lay down to sleep, troubled.” I believe Brenton erred here in supplying the word “though.” The original wording is best for a simple reason. To say, “I lay down to sleep, though troubled,” forces a meaning upon the original of a literal sleep, as in overnight or a nap. On the other hand, while “I lay down to sleep, troubled,” does not preclude the meaning of a night’s sleep in the midst of angst, it allows for the metaphorical sleep of death, as in Matthew 27:52, Isaiah 14:8, 43:17, and 1 Kings 11:43. I believe that the sleep of death is the primary meaning of this passage, in agreement with Psalm 22:1, “O God, my God, attend to me: why hast thou forsaken me?” and with Luke 22:44, “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground,” while Jesus prayed in the Garden.]
In verse 5, we see what Christians often sing and marvel over–the glory of the cross:
5 Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens; and thy glory above all the earth. (LXE)
This exclamatory verse interrupts the narrative of the actions of the enemies in verses 4-6. The ESV and NET place an exclamation point at the end of the line. Verse 6 continues the narrative, but differs from verse 4 in that it gives the final outcome of defeat for God’s enemies.
6 They have prepared snares for my feet, and have bowed down my soul: they have dug a pit before my face, and fallen into it themselves. Pause. (LXE)
Following a long pause equivalent to the three days Christ spent in the tomb, the psalmist-worshiper-musician breaks into his joyful peals of praise, which continue to the end of the psalm.
7 My heart, O God, is ready, my heart is ready: I will sing, yea will sing psalms.
8 Awake, my glory; awake, psaltery and harp: I will awake early.
9 O Lord, I will give thanks to thee among the nations: I will sing to thee among the Gentiles.
10 For thy mercy has been magnified even to the heavens, and thy truth to the clouds.
11 Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens; and thy glory above all the earth. (LXE)
What Broyles found strange (see paragraph 2 above) was the perceived dissonance between the opening strain of individual lament followed by the shouting praise to God on an international and cosmic level (Broyles, 243). He concludes that the speaker “is a representative liturgist speaking on behalf of the people of God, who regularly experience opposition from non-believers” (ibid). Yes! He still falls short, however, by not recognizing that Christ is here being prophesied as the representative of not only his own people according to his flesh but the entire human race internationally. The non-believers in Christ’s case were the religious leaders whom he called out on many occasions.
25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me,
26 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep.
27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.
28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:25-28 ESV)
The same chapter of John from which the above quotation is taken also announces the international and racially inclusive nature of God’s glorious victory in Christ:
John 10:16 I have other sheep that do not come from this sheepfold. I must bring them too, and they will listen to my voice, so that there will be one flock and one shepherd. (NET)
Psalm 57 is a joyful psalm of praise and thanksgiving for God’s victory in overcoming the psalmist’s enemies. The voice in the psalm is the prophetic voice of Christ. We know this by comparing this psalm with other psalms, such as Psalm 22, which are widely accepted as messianic prophecies. We also recognize Christ prophetically in the speaker’s voice of Psalm 57 through application of hindsight, comparing this psalm with events of Jesus’s life, as recorded in the gospels. The use of hindsight is not to be disparaged–Jesus himself gifted his disciples and the church with the light of understanding that hindsight brings (See Luke 24:25-27). While Psalm 57 gives the joyful outcome for those who gladly receive Christ’s mediation for them, looking ahead, Psalm 58 describes the outcome of judgment upon the enemies of God and his Son, those enemies who dug a pit and fell into it themselves, Psalm 57:6.
1 See the chapter in this blog on the Septuagint, “Psalm 28: Why the Septuagint?” and the Bibliography for many books specifically about this marvelous treasure. Authors to note are Jennifer Dines, Natalio Marcos, Karen Jobes and Moises Silva, and Timothy Michael Law.
2 See NETS on this phrase, “to God who acts as my benefactor.”
RECAP: Based upon the evidence of the superscriptions, or titles, placed before the body of the psalms by an unknown editor from antiquity, the reader is justified in considering Psalms 56-60 as a packet, especially in the Greek version known as the Septuagint. Alone of all the psalms, these five psalms contain both the phrase, “for the end, εἰς τὸ τέλος” and “for a memorial, εἰς στηλογραφίαν.” (See Psalms 56-60: A Packet–Part 1, The Superscriptions.) The meanings of these two unique phrases were explored in the article at the just named link. Further, an extended study of “for the end” can be found at Psalms 56-60: “For the End”–Its New Testament Meaning. Additionally, the reader might want to recall that the premise of this blog is that many, if not most or even all, of the psalms are prophetic of the life, death, resurrection, and kingship of the Lord Jesus Christ (1).
Although there is a single speaker throughout the psalm, Psalm 56 (see also Septuagint) has three characters: the speaker, his enemies, and God. Verses 1 and 11 identify the enemy as “man, ἄνθρωπος,” verses 2 and 9 as “enemies” and “many warring against me,” verse 4 as “flesh,” and verse 7 as “people, λαός.” Additionally, verses 3, 5, and 6 refer to the enemy in the singular or plural pronoun forms, he, they, and their. Every verse except verses 2, 5, and six make reference to God. The presence of God and the enemies are inextricably interwoven throughout this prayer by the faith of the protagonist, the speaker.
Craig C. Broyles describes the enemies with these words, “…lurkers who hound and press their attack. (NIV ‘slanderers who hotly pursue…lurk’) They conspire, hide and watch the speaker’s steps…social prowlers hiding in secret.” (2)
How does Psalm 56 match the life of Christ? Compare the three verses below, which are the only three verses in Psalm 56 that make no mention of God, with the New Testament verses that follow them.
2 Mine enemies have trodden me down all the day from the dawning of the day; for there are many warring against me.
5 All the day long they have abominated my words; all their devices are against me for evil.
6 They will dwell near and hide themselves; they will watch my steps, accordingly as I have waited patiently in my soul.
–Septuagint, Brenton’s English Translation (LXE)
Matthew 12:14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted against him, as to how they could assassinate him. (NET)
Matthew 22:15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. (ESV)
Matthew 26:59 Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death,
Mark 14:1 Now the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. (NIV)
Luke 5:17 One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there. They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick. (NIV)
John 12:9 Now a large crowd of Judeans learned that Jesus was there, and so they came not only because of him but also to see Lazarus whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests planned to kill Lazarus too, (NET)
Clearly, Psalm 56 is descriptive of the enemies who hounded Jesus throughout every step of his public ministry. Psalm 56 also describes well the faith of Messiah, Jesus. Compare these verses from Psalm 56 with the gospel accounts of Jesus’s faith and trust in God.
3 They shall be afraid, but I will trust in thee.
4 In God I will praise my words; all the day have I hoped in God; I will not fear what flesh shall do to me. (LXE)
9 Mine enemies shall be turned back, in the day wherein I shall call upon thee; behold, I know that thou art my God.
10 In God, will I praise his word; in the Lord will I praise his saying.
11 I have hoped in God; I will not be afraid of what man shall do to me. (LXE)
John 11:41 So they took away the stone. Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you that you have listened to me. 42 I knew that you always listen to me, but I said this for the sake of the crowd standing around here, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, he shouted in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” (NET)
John 17:1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. (ESV)
Matthew 26:53 Or do you think that I cannot call on my Father, and that he would send me more than twelve legions of angels right now? 54 How then would the scriptures that say it must happen this way be fulfilled?” (NET)
John 19:30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (ESV) (3)
The last verse of Psalm 56, verse 13, prophesies the resurrection:
13 For thou hast delivered my soul from death, and my feet from sliding, that I should be well-pleasing before God in the land of the living. (LXE) (4)
And what of the enemies? They will be punished by God.
7 Thou wilt on no account save them; thou wilt bring down the people in wrath. (LXE)
Psalm 56 is not a happy psalm. It describes a faithful worshipper hounded by many enemies who seek to harm him. It prophesies God’s punishment upon those enemies (verse 7). But nevertheless, on the bright side, it shares the great faith of the speaker, who believes in God, trusts him, and thanks him for salvation from death, even before all this comes to pass.
Note: Footnote 4 contains a brief word study from verse 13.
2 Broyles, Craig C. Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Psalms. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999, 241.
3 In John 19:30, the original (Greek) word for the phrase, “It is finished,” or, “It is completed!” (NET), is τετέλεσται, from the verb form of the noun found in the superscriptions of Psalms 56-60 (and so many other psalms, as well). When Jesus said, “It is finished,” the reader might ask, What is finished? According to the word studies of the prior two posts, Jesus’s many statements in the gospels concerning the fulfillment of the Scripture concerning him (see for example Luke 4:21 and Matthew 26:54 above), the New Testament letters, and Acts, what has been “finished” or “completed” is the sum total of all the Old Testament prophecies concerning the life and death of Messiah, the King. That which had been continuing–i.e., the prophesies concerning Messiah up to the point of his death–had reached their conclusion, their fulfillment, and were now at a close. Everything that needed to be done had been done, and this is the ending, the close, the completion, of that portion of prophecy that had been in place for many hundreds of years. Psalm 56 was written to prophesy of Messiah’s public ministry, and the events of Jesus’s life fulfilled those prophecies.
4 A Note on translations: “…that I should be well-pleasing before the Lord” in the Greek is equivalent to “that I may walk before God” in the Hebrew. The latter translation is the closest in meaning to the Hebrew idiom, while the former accurately translates the Greek. Each of these phrases implies faithful obedience that pleases God. This is much more than the phrase to “serve God” (NET) allows for, since many people throughout both biblical and secular history have in their own minds “served God,” while performing tremendous acts of evil. Saul, who later became Paul the apostle, “served God” with his whole heart in the days when he went from town to town persecuting and murdering Christians. (Galatians 1:11-14) Did not the chief priests and Pharisees of Jesus’s day think that they were serving God when they forced Pilate to crucify him? (See John 11:49-50.) Examples from post-biblical history are prolific; the reader can think of many.
Further, the phrase, “in the land of the living,” (LXE) and “in the light of life,” (ESV) mean “not dead,” as opposed to “as I enjoy life.” (NET) The context of the complete verse requires the meaning, “not dead.”
Psalm 56:13 For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life. (LXE)Psalm 56:13 For thou hast delivered my soul from death, and my feet from sliding, that I should be well-pleasing before God in the land of the living. (ESV)
In the prior post (The Superscriptions), we learned that the phrase, “for the end,” or “εἰς τὸ τέλος” in Greek, pronounced ice-toe-telos, means that something that was formerly continuing comes to an end. Apart from the Psalter, this exact phrase is infrequent in Scripture. Only three examples outside Psalms can be found. In Joshua 3:16, a river of water quits flowing, allowing the Israelites to cross the Jordan. In Daniel 11:3 a period of years comes to an end. And in 2 Corinthians 3:13 the visible shining on the face of Moses faded away and ceased. Although the meaning of this three word phrase in the superscriptions to the psalms cannot be known with certainty, due to the lack of context in the titles, it is possible that the phrase carries the same sense in the psalmic superscriptions as it does in the three passages mentioned just above. If the meaning is the same, then the reader needs to ask, What is coming to an end that was formerly continued?
The Ending of Prophecy
Peter in the New Testament identifies David, to whom Psalms 56-60 are attributed, as being a prophet. (See Acts 2:29-30.) Many, if not most, of the psalms prophesy of Messiah.
A genuine prophecy has two parts: 1) the prophetic statement, and 2) its fulfillment. If a prophecy never arrives at its goal (telos), then it has no completion (telos). Goal (or aim), completion, and fulfillment are all meanings within the semantic range of definition of the word “τέλος, telos.”
Deuteronomy 18:22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him. (ESV)
So, “εἰς τὸ τέλος” (ice-toe-telos) can indicate that the period of prophecy is coming to an end by means of its fulfillment. In this sense, the focus would be on the ending of the prophecy, upon that which fulfills it, upon its termination.
Luke 22:37 For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled (verb form τελέω) in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” (ESV) (Literally, “the things concerning me have an end.” KJV, τὸ περὶ ἐμοῦ τέλος ἔχει.)
The Person or Thing that Fulfills a Prophecy
Under the first definition “end” of “τέλος” Joseph Thayer in his lexicon writes, “equivalent to he who puts an end to: τέλος νόμου Χριστός, [the end of the law is Christ]. “Romans 10:4 For Christ is the end of the law, with the result that there is righteousness for everyone who believes (NET). The Orthodox Church appears to have adopted this sense of the word in the Septuagint, which is the Bible of the Old Testament this church uses. The Orthodox Study Bible writes for example, under Psalm 56 (57), “Ps 56 prophesies the death and Resurrection of Christ (the End, v. 1).”
Christ the End
In addition to Luke 22:37 and Romans 10:4 (see above for both), there are two verses in Revelation in which Christ is “the end.”
Revelation 21:6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. (ESV)
Revelation 22:13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (ESV)
So we see that Christ is the goal of prophecy, the fulfillment of prophecy, and the termination of prophecy. All Scripture is wrapped up and completed in Christ.
What in Scripture Finds Its Ending in Christ?
In this section we will combine Luke 22:37 and 2 Corinthians 3:13.
Luke 22:37 For I say unto you, that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me, And he was reckoned among the transgressors: for the things concerning me have an end. (KJV)
2 Corinthians 3:13 And not as Moses, which put a vail over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished: (KJV)
Comparing these two verses, the verse in Luke seems straightforward and easier to understand. NET Bible expands the more literal KJV, “For I tell you that this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was counted with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me is being fulfilled.” In this prequel to his crucifixion, Christ tells his disciples that the Old Testament prophecies about his sacrificial death are shortly going to happen. That is, they are about to be fulfilled, part two of a genuine prophecy (see above, under “The Ending of Prophecy”).
Jesus in Luke quoted Isaiah:
Isaiah 53:12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors. (ESV)
When Christ stated, “the things concerning me have an end,” his primary meaning is that Isaiah’s prophesy is about to be fulfilled. NET Bible captures this nicely, “what is written about me is being fulfilled.” A secondary meaning within the context of the theology of the New Testament is that the ending itself, which was Christ’s passion followed by his resurrection, had a purpose, a goal, and a result beyond the mere fact of fulfillment. This ending Paul explores in 2 Corinthians 3. The phrase used so frequently in Psalms, “εἰς τὸ τέλος” (ice-toe-telos) appears in verse 13, where it is translated as “at the outcome” in the ESV, and “at the result” in the NET, and “the end” in the NIV.
3 And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
7 Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? 9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. 10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.
12 Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, 13 not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome [εἰς τὸ τέλος (ice-toe-telos)] of what was being brought to an end. 14 But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:3, 6-18 ESV)
Note: This author prefers Thayer’s primary lexical definition (1a) of τέλος, (telos) in verse 13, as opposed to that used in the translation above. Thayer writes the meaning of τέλος as, “1. end, i. e. (a.) termination, the limit at which a thing ceases to be.” This author believes Paul’s intended meaning to be, “… 13 not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the final disappearance [termination] of what was being brought to an end.” In other words, because the visible glory of the Lord’s presence, which came with the giving of the Law, was fading away with time, Moses, not being as bold as Paul, placed a veil over his face, so that the Israelites might not witness the final disappearance of that glory. But Paul has hope, because the glory which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit, increases with time. This results in boldness of preaching for Paul.
The following chart summarizes the main point of Paul’s passage: the glorious New Covenant of Spirit righteousness through Christ has replaced the less glorious Old Covenant of condemnation through the Law, which even in Moses’s day could have been perceived as fading away and ending, that is, coming “to an end (εἰς τὸ τέλος, ice-toe-telos)”, if Moses had been bold enough not to cover his face with a veil to hide this fact (verses 12-13).
The Significance of “εἰς τὸ τέλος, for the end“ in the Psalter
First, seen in the light of the New Testament, a light which opens one’s eyes as though a veil had been lifted, psalms that bear in their titles the phrase, “εἰς τὸ τέλος, for the end,“ describe how the end of the era current at the time of their writing would come about. That is, these psalms describe how events would unfold in the life of Messiah that would bring an end to all that went before, including the era of those readers. A large part of what went before was the Law of Moses.
Romans 8:2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. (ESV)
Paul said it, not this author. This is not a harsh overstatement. Consider, the Lord of life, the King, the Anointed Messiah, and Son of Jehovah Almighty in Psalm 2, the Lord who sits at the right hand of God in Psalm 110, the eternal Creator of Psalm102–consider that this One died a shameful death by cruel crucifixion. Nothing in existence could possibly be harsher than that death on a cross. Such a poignant death must have had poignant reasons and results. Among these was the end of the old death-bringing order of Law given by Moses and the replacing of it with the new life-giving order of righteousness in the Spirit through Christ (2 Corinthians 3:4-18).
Colossians 2:14 [He canceled]…the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (ESV)
“For the end” also signifies Christ himself. Christ is the end of the Old Covenant and the foundation of the New. He is the end toward which the history of Israel moved. The packet of psalms, 56-60, foretell what he did in order to merit the identity and name, The End.
Revelation 21:6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.” (ESV)
Revelation 22:13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (ESV)
What if “for the end” means “for the chief musician,” as many Bibles translate?
Christ is the Chief Musician. As speaker of most of the first person psalms and as head of his worshiping body, Christ leads the congregation in praise and thanksgiving to his most wonderful Lord, the God who saved him. He leads his people in worshiping faith.
“For the end” is a beautiful way of alerting the reader that the psalms which follow this superscription are special psalms to which the reader should pay special attention. As we continue to travel through this packet of five psalms, 56-60, which all bear this three word title and the words, “for a memorial,” I pray that the Lord would bless us so as to remove the veil that lies by nature over our hearts before we turn to Christ.