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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 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.
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.
Psalms 56-60 in the Septuagint (LXX in Greek and LXE in Brenton’s English translation) form a packet that tells a story. Demonstrating the coherence of these psalms as a unit, then developing the story they tell, will require more than one post. This first post will focus on the superscriptions of these psalms as an indication of their coherence.
What Is a Superscription?
As regards the Psalter, a superscription is the writing (script) above (super) the first verse. It could be thought of as a title, or sub-title, an overview, or a description of the purpose or contents of the psalm. In the Hebrew Bible, they are often thought to carry musical directions. Not every psalm has a superscription, but most of them do. Those who follow my blog regularly will know that I frequently ignore the superscriptions. Scholars generally agree that the superscriptions were added by an editor or editors some time after the psalm itself was written, perhaps when the psalms were gathered and arranged in one or more collections (1). As additions, they are not part of the psalm proper. For purposes of shining light on the presence and voice of Christ in the Psalms, rather than on any specific, historic occasion in the Old Testament, I find that many of the superscriptions are a distraction, rather than an aid. For this reason, I most often do not mention them in my comments. This time, however, I find that the superscriptions of Psalms 56-60 help tie these psalms together.
The Superscriptions above Psalms 55-61
I am including the psalms just before and after our packet to show that those in our packet have elements in common unique to themselves. Here are the superscriptions for Psalms 55-61 from Brenton’s Septuagint English translation (LXE).
Psalm 55:1 For the end, among Hymns of instruction by David. (LXE)
Psalm 56:1 For the end, concerning the people that were removed from the sanctuary, by David for a memorial, when the Philistines caught him in Geth. (LXE)
Psalm 57:1 For the end. Destroy not: by David, for a memorial, when he fled from the presence of Saul to the cave. (LXE)
Psalm 58:1 For the end. Destroy not: by David, for a memorial. (LXE)
Psalm 59:1 For the end. Destroy not: by David for a memorial, when Saul sent, and watched his house to kill him. (LXE)
Psalm 60:1 For the end, for them that shall yet be changed; for an inscription by David for instruction, when he had burned Mesopotamia of Syria, and Syria Sobal, and Joab had returned and smitten in the valley of salt twelve thousand. (LXE)
Psalm 61:1 For the end, among the Hymns of David. (LXE)
Three Elements in Common
There are three repetitive elements in the superscriptions: 1) “For the end,” present in every psalm listed; 2) “by David” or “of David,” present in every psalm listed; and 3) “for a memorial,” or “for an inscription,” present only in Psalms 56-60.
For a Memorial: A Unique Phrase
The complete phrase “for a memorial” (εἰς στηλογραφίαν, pronounced “ice stylographian”) is present only in the superscriptions of Psalms 56-60, while Psalm 16:1 (LXX 15:1) bears in its superscription just the word translated “writing” (στηλογραφία), without an article or preposition. The Greek word στηλογραφία (stylographia) only occurs anywhere at all in the Bible in these six psalms: 16, 56, 57, 58, 59, and 60. It occurs nowhere else. Because the entire phrase, “For a memorial,” occurs only in these five psalms, the conclusion is that the phrase “εἰς στηλογραφίαν, ice stylographian” ties these five psalms, 56-60, together.
The word στηλογραφία (stylographia), “a memorial,” has three parts: 1) style, 2) logos, and 3) graphia. A style in Greek (στήλη) is a block of stone or a slab often used as a buttress to a wall, as a monument, or as a pillar. (See Genesis 35:20 and Joshua 4:5-7). It may contain writing, as on a gravestone or tablet recording military victory, a treaty, dedication, or decree (2). Logos in Greek means “word” (see Matthew 8:8), and graphy means “writing” or “a thing written.” Putting these parts together, a stylography is a writing of words on a stone monument or pillar.
Isaiah 19:19 In that day there shall be an altar to the Lord in the land of the Egyptians, and a pillar to the Lord by its border. 20 And it shall be for a sign to the Lord for ever in the land of Egypt…(LXE)
As a superscription in a psalm, “for a memorial” indicates that the psalm is to function as though it were written in stone as a sign to be remembered by a future generation. (3)
For the End: An Infrequent Three Word Phrase in Scripture
The three word phrase “For the end” in English (4), which is “εἰς τὸ τέλος” in Greek, pronounced “ice-toe-telos,” is relatively rare in Scripture, when compared to all uses of τέλος, either alone or in prepositional phrases. Just counting the word τέλος itself, it occurs 146 times without the Apocryphal books, and 176 times with the Apocrypha, while the phrase, “εἰς τὸ τέλος” occurs 59 times, including the Apocrypha. Of these 59 occurrences of the three word phrase, “εἰς τὸ τέλος,” all but three occurrences are found in the superscriptions of various psalms. That is, Scripture uses these exact three words only three times apart from psalmic superscriptions. What are these three occurrences?
- The end of a river of water
LXE (Septuagint) Joshua 3:16 then the waters that came down from above stopped; there stood one solid heap very far off, as far as the region of Kariathiarim, and the lower part came down to the sea of Araba, the salt sea, till it completely failed (ἕως εἰς τὸ τέλος ἐξέλιπεν); and the people stood opposite Jericho.
ESV Joshua 3:16 the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. (ESV)
NET Joshua 3:16 the water coming downstream toward them stopped flowing. It piled up far upstream at Adam (the city near Zarethan); there was no water at all flowing to the sea of the Arabah (the Salt Sea). The people crossed the river opposite Jericho. [NET translation note: “Heb ‘the [waters] descending toward the sea of the Arabah (the Salt Sea) were completely cut off.’”]
Notice that all three translations place the focus upon the ending of the flow of the water, “and the lower part [of the waters] came down…till it completely failed LXE.” The point of the narrative is that at some time and place the water quit flowing, and that’s when and where the people crossed over. While we might say a phrase such as, “The water completely stopped flowing,” the visual focus is where the water stops and the dry ground begins, because that’s where Joshua and the people crossed over.
In Joshua 3:16 “εἰς τὸ τέλος” (ice-toe-telos) refers to the time and place where the river quit flowing.
- The end of a set time of years
LXE Daniel 11:13 For the king of the north shall return, and bring a multitude greater than the former, and at the end of the times of years an invading army shall come with a great force, and with much substance. (based upon Theodotian’s Septuagint Daniel)
ESV Daniel 11:13 For the king of the north shall again raise a multitude, greater than the first. And after some years he shall come on with a great army and abundant supplies.
NET Daniel 11:13 For the king of the north will again muster an army, one larger than before. At the end of some years he will advance with a huge army and enormous supplies.
Notice that the above verse is a prophecy, and its focus is upon its occurrence. When will the invading army come? The answer is that it will take place at the “end” of a set time of years. Implied, of course, is that the full period of time will have been “completed;” however, the point of the passage is that the king of the north will come at the end of this time.
In Daniel 11:3 “εἰς τὸ τέλος” (ice-toe-telos) means the end of a period of years.
- The end of the visible glory on Moses’s face
ESV 2 Corinthians 3:13 not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. [Based upon the narrative of Moses bringing down the two Tablets of the Covenant from the mountain, found in Exodus 34:29-35]
NIV 2 Corinthians 3:13 We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. [Personally, for simplicity and clarity, I prefer this translation.]
NET 2 Corinthians 3:13 and not like Moses who used to put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from staring at the result of the glory that was made ineffective. (5)
For those who might want to see the Greek: 2 Corinthians 3:13 καὶ οὐ καθάπερ Μωϋσῆς ἐτίθει κάλυμμα ἐπὶ τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ πρὸς τὸ μὴ ἀτενίσαι τοὺς υἱοὺς Ἰσραὴλ εἰς τὸ τέλος τοῦ καταργουμένου. (Bibleworks GT)
Paul’s thought throughout 2 Corinthians 3:6-18 is not necessarily easy to follow. Yet notice that the point of the phrase “εἰς τὸ τέλος” in verse 13 is that the glory on Moses’s face was fading away (τοῦ καταργουμένου), and Moses didn’t want the sons of Israel to gaze “upon the end” of that fading, that is, to see it finally disappear. In this case, I believe that the NIV gives the more literal translation and that this literal understanding is preferable to others which seek to pack too much nuance into too small a space. I believe Paul’s point was that the Old Covenant, as represented by the shining on Moses’s face, was passing away. Those who veiled their own hearts in Paul’s day were the ones refusing to recognize this change.
In 2 Corinthians 3:13 “εἰς τὸ τέλος” (ice-toe-telos) refers to the end of the process of fading away–i.e., the termination–of the visible shining on the face of Moses.
Application of “for the end” to the Titles of the Psalms
Based upon the consistency of meaning in the above three verses, which once again are the only places other than psalmic superscriptions in all of Scripture where εἰς τὸ τέλος (ice-toe-telos) in this exact three word phrase occurs, I propose that εἰς τὸ τέλος in the superscriptions of 56 Septuagint psalms means the ending of something that had formerly continued. In Joshua 3:16, a flowing river quit flowing, in Daniel 11:13 a certain period of time ended, and in 2 Corinthians 3:13, a visible glowing on Moses’s face gradually faded and ended. What is it that ends in the psalms that bear this superscription? That is a topic to be explored in a future post(s) as we continue unfolding this “packet” of related psalms, Psalm 55-60.
By David: A Common Element in Messianic Psalms
Apart from the psalm titles (the superscriptions), David is mentioned in very few places in the Psalter. The psalmic superscriptions ascribe David as author 73 times. While David may have written many psalms, and while some superscriptions describe events in his life, the Psalter is not about David–it writes about Christ (see Acts 2:25-36). Therefore, the historical information given about David in the titles of some of the five psalms being considered as a packet (Psalms 56-60) will not be treated here.
A superscription is not part of a psalm proper, although these titles or notes have been present above many psalms for a very long time. Nevertheless, the superscriptions of Psalms 56-60 have unique features that bind them together. Two unique or rare phrases have been discussed above. The presence of these two phrases and the attribution to David in each of Psalms 56-60 helps confirm the proposal that they belong together and may be considered as a packet.
1 See, for example, C. Hassell Bullock, who writes, “While some of the titles, perhaps most, may have been added long after the composition of the Psalms, they nevertheless must not be viewed as a haphazard exercise.” (Bullock, C. Hassell. Encountering the Book of Psalms. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001, 24.) Jennifer Dines, writing specifically about the Septuagint superscriptions in comparison with the Hebrew, states that, “There are a number of additional or expanded headings. Some of these are liturgical, but most are historicizing, especially about David. Some scholars think that the ‘historical’ expansions are subsequent to the original translation. On the whole, the translator [by which she means the one who translated from Hebrew to Greek] follows his source-text closely…Some scholars, however, demonstrate that the translation is less literalistic than often thought and that it contains many interpretational elements as well as stylistic devices that reveal a sophisticated rather than a mechanical approach to translation.” (Dines, Jennifer M. The Septuagint. London and New York: T&T Clark, 2004, 19.)
2 Information taken from Bibleworks Septuagint Supplement.
3 In Hebrew, the word that corresponds with stylographia is Miktam. The NET translation note (Psalm 59:1) states that the meaning of this word is uncertain, but “HALOT 582-83 s.v. defines it as ‘inscription.’” Miktam occurs only in Psalms 16 and 56-60.
4 I am aware that NETS (New English Translation Septuagint) translates “εἰς τὸ τέλος” as, “regarding completion.” After much study with the lexicons and concordance, I find that “for the end” most faithfully captures the complete meaning of the phrase. The Orthodox Study Bible, which also presents a modern translation, similarly writes, “for the end.”
5 The reader can decide for him or herself if the NET translation or note brings any clarity to this verse: “27 )tn Or “end.” The word τέλος (telos) can mean both “a point of time marking the end of a duration, end, termination, cessation” and “the goal toward which a movement is being directed, end, goal, outcome” (see BDAG 998-999 s.v.). The translation accepts the interpretation that Moses covered the glory of his face with the veil to prevent Israel from being judged by the glory of God (see S. J. Hafemann, Paul, Moses, and the History of Israel [WUNT 81], 347–62); in this case the latter meaning for τέλος is more appropriate.”
Contra this unnecessarily complex interpretation, consider that BDAG itself (2nd edition, p 811) places this verse under the primary meaning of τέλος, meaning: “1. end–a. in the sense of termination, cessation…the end of the fading (splendor) 2 Cor 3:13.” Another verse BDAG lists for the second meaning in the quoted section above is 1 Timothy 1:5, “…the preaching has love as its aim.” “But the aim of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.”
Note that in the two examples given by BDAG the differences are clear and simple. The verse from 2 Corinthians refers to a literal, concrete termination of a physical phenomena (the glowing on Moses’s face), while the verse from 1Timothy nicely illustrates BDAG’s second meaning of “end, goal, outcome.”
What is the Septuagint? The Septuagint (LXX) is the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament of the Bible, dated from the second to third centuries BCE. Why is the Septuagint important?
The LXX was the Bible of the authors of the New Testament. Its ubiquity can be seen not only in the quotations from the Old Testament in the New but also in the hermeneutic techniques and in many other forms of influence.
The LXX was transmitted in Christian circles once it was adopted as the official Bible of the Church.
…the LXX was also the Bible of early Christian writers and the Fathers of the Church, and even today continues to be the Bible of the Eastern Orthodox Church … The Greek version, either directly or through the Old Latin [which was translated from the Greek, not from Hebrew], provided the basis for Christian interpretation of the Old Testament, an interpretation which regulated the religious and social life of early Christianity (See footnote 1 for here and above).
Near the end of the first century and the completion of the writings that would comprise the New Testament, we enter into a period known as the Patristic age, characterized by the writings of the church fathers. …during this time the Septuagint was the Bible of the church: in its original Greek form, in its revisions, and in early translations into Latin used mostly in the North African church. The formation of Christianity–through preaching, teaching, apologetics, theological formation, and liturgical practices–depended almost entirely on the Septuagint as the Old Testament (2).
Many modern Bibles use the “Masoretic” Hebrew textual tradition for the Old Testament. In other words, the Hebrew text that is the basis of many modern translations was produced by the Masoretes. This textual tradition received its final, edited form in the centuries following the birth of Christ, although the oldest complete text is the Aleppo, dated at 930 CE. (3) On the other hand, many scholars agree that the Septuagint uses a Hebrew text that lies outside the Masoretic tradition. In other words, the Hebrew texts used as the basis for the Septuagint, which was translated in the centuries before Christ, possess a lineage distinct from the Hebrew texts which later became finalized as the Masoretic. Academic studies of the Septuagint textual tradition blossomed in the decades following the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
… the Hebrew Vorlage of the Greek Psalter may have differed in places from the extant Hebrew text (4).
The oldest layers of the Latin versions can attest text forms of great value for restoring the LXX and can even be used to recover some readings that have disappeared from Greek manuscripts and go back to a Hebrew text that is different from the Masoretic (5).
The above statements clearly contradict a popular notion that the current Masoretic Hebrew text is very nearly the original Hebrew Bible. As it turns out, there was more than one lineage of early Hebrew text. The world no longer has ancient copies of the Vorlage (prior version) of either the Septuagint translation or the Masoretic text. Textual critics must perform a great deal of detective work to piece together the facts of the origins of these Bibles (6).
Reconstructing the textual history of the LXX would be complicated enough if there had been but one Hebrew edition (preserved as the MT) from which the original Greek translation was made. The evidence of the Judean Desert material [i.e., Dead Sea Scrolls], however, confirms that the Hebrew text itself circulated in more than one form during the very time that the first Greek translation was being made. In other words, at least some of the elements of the LXX previously attributed to translation technique or recensional [editing] activity are now known to represent a Hebrew Vorlage different from the MT (7).
How does this affect you and I when we read the Bible?
Have you ever wondered why Old Testament quotations by New Testament authors, such as the Apostle Paul and the gospel writers Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, often seem to differ from the same Old Testament passages in our modern Bibles? Based on the above discoveries, the answer lies in the fact that these authors likely used the Septuagint text, which differs somewhat in wording and focus from our modern English versions, which are mostly based upon the Hebrew Masoretic texts (8). For example, consider the following quotations:
When the reader of John 1:23 turns to the Old Testament to find the source of the quotation John uses, she will encounter a slightly different verse. In most modern versions, except those following the Greek Orthodox tradition, the Isaiah verse that John quotes has the additional phrase, “in the desert.” Well, John just left that out, you say. After all, he also left out the phrase, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” Okay, but this is not the only verse that differs. There are many such differences between our versions of the Old Testament and the New Testament quotations of it. Consider the following:
You took up the tent of Moloch and the star of your god Rephan, the images that you made to worship; and I will send you into exile beyond Babylon.’ (Acts 7:43 ESV)
But when you look up this quotation from Amos 5:26 in most translations, you will find that the quotation doesn’t match the OT verse:
You shall take up Sikkuth your king, and Kiyyun your star-god– your images that you made for yourselves, (Amos 5:26 ESV, the phrase “and I will send you into exile beyond Babylon” is from verse 27).
Compare the above modern translation based upon the Masoretic text with the Septuagint of Amos 5:26:
Yea, ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god Raephan, the images of them which ye made for yourselves (Sir Lancelot Brenton translation of the Septuagint)
Clearly, the New Testament author was quoting the Septuagint (9).
Some of the differences in the Masoretic text tend to erase or minimize references to Messiah that come across strongly in the Septuagint. The following chart is from the “Orthodox Life” website: https://theorthodoxlife.wordpress.com/2012/03/12/masoretic-text-vs-original-hebrew/, accessed August 1, 2019.
In the chart above, the right hand column for Psalm 40:7 is very similar to the NIV, ESV, and KJV. The NET gives its own interpretive paraphrase, “You make that quite clear to me!” Note that the New Testament in Hebrews 10:4-10, far left column, appears to quote the Septuagint to its immediate right, rather than the Masoretic text underlying the quotation on the far right. If we were to follow the NET, then the messianic prophecy in Hebrews 10:5, “…a body you have prepared for me,” is transformed into, “You make that quite clear to me!”
As another example in the chart above, among the English versions NIV, ESV, KJV, and NET, for Isaiah 7:14, NET is the only translation that insists upon the phrase, “this young woman.” The other three translations do say, “virgin,” perhaps following the Septuagint’s lead.
Modern biblical versions sometimes consider the Septuagint to help decipher Hebrew that doesn’t always appear clear. An example of this is found in Psalm 22:16 (LXX 21:17), “They pierced my hands and my feet,” as in the Septuagint, versus, “like a lion, my hands and my feet,” as in many, but not all, extant Hebrew manuscripts. Although the NET Bible has a very long study note for the lion phrase, both its translation and its study note fall far short of the simple note found in the ESV for its translation, “They have pierced my hands and feet.” The ESV translators chose to follow extant texts that differ from the MT. They explain, “Some Hebrew manuscripts, Septuagint, Vulgate, Syriac; most Hebrew manuscripts like a lion they are at my hands and feet.” So, some Hebrew manuscripts do say, “They have pierced my hands and feet.” In explanation of the lack of specific NT citations in the far left column, the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion imply rather than state that the soldiers nailed Jesus’s hands and feet to a cross; they state he was “crucified,” which by definition means to be suspended by nails to a cross. In confirmation of this, Luke 24:40 reads, “And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.” John 19:37 reads, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.” Again, John 20:25 speaks of nail marks in Jesus’s hands. But once again, the main point is that the Complete Jewish Bible and the NET choose to pass by a prophecy of the crucifixion in Psalm 22:16 when they choose to follow certain Hebrew texts rather than the Bible of the early Christian church, the Septuagint. And please note again that some Hebrew texts do contain what later became the Christian reading of this text.
The Septuagint Today
- Carefully consulting the study notes of the ESV reveals that this recent translation often follows the reading of the Septuagint, Vulgate, and Dead Sea Scrolls in verses that differ significantly from the Masoretic text. Some of the notes indicate the comparative readings, as in Deuteronomy 32:43. Interestingly, the NET, which translates only the Masoretic Text for the Deuteronomy verse, gives no study notes at all, even though this is a verse with several instances of multiple readings.
- The Orthodox faith has always used the Septuagint as their Old Testament Bible. According to Wikipedia, the world wide population of Eastern (Greek) Orthodoxy is 200-260 million people.
How does this impact us? Think about this. What is your favorite biblical translation, the one you use in your personal devotions and worship on a daily basis? Would you call that book, “the Bible?” Isn’t it for all practical purposes your Bible? Truth is that whenever a people group receives a Bible in their own tongue and uses it regularly, it becomes for them the Bible. If I happen to live in Papua New Guinea and I am a native, and if I receive a Bible that has been translated into my native language, then that translation for me is the Holy Word of God. Chances are it is the only Bible I will ever read.
Perhaps the most important cultural impact of the LXX in early Christian literature is due to the many translations of it into the main languages of late antiquity.
Not only did Christianity adopt a translated Bible as the official Bible, but from its beginnings it was a religion that favoured translation of the Bible into vernacular languages. Unlike Jewish communities, the Christian communities did not feel themselves to be chained to the Hebrew text as such but only to its contents, nor were they tied to the Greek text of the LXX. The new translations, as distinct from [what (inserted to correct text)] happened with the Aramaic Targumim, became independent and took the place of the original in the life of the communities. This attitude conferred on the new versions of a Bible a status unlike that of the Jewish translations. They were not merely an aid to understanding the text but they replaced the original with authority. Hence, biblical translation is spoken of as a specifically Christian activity.
It is appropriate to note that, with the exception of the Aramaic translations, most of the ancient versions of the Bible were made from the LXX and not from the Hebrew. Not even the Peshitta or the Vulgate, most of which was translated from Hebrew, are immune to the influence of the LXX.
–The entire quotation above is contiguous from Natalio Fernandez Marcos, The Septuagint in Context: Introduction to the Greek Version of the Bible, translated by Wilfred G. E. Watson (Brill: Leiden, the Netherlands, 2000), 346.
Worldwide, among believers of all times and places, there is not now nor has there ever been one, single, original Bible. And, like the Ark, Aron’s staff, and the cross of Christ, if there once were such a Bible, it is quite unavailable to everyone now. Believers have always used the Bible they like and the one that is at hand. And why should any believer be told by a group of remote scholars that “their” Bible is incorrect for purposes of “exegesis?” Modern scholarship has declared that Jesus’s followers and the authors of the New Testament used the Septuagint as their Bible. For these people, the Septuagint was God’s Holy Word.
But even deeper than all written texts and translations, God himself protects the substance of his Word by the gift of the Holy Spirit, who indwells each believer’s heart. The aggregate of the Spirit inspired beliefs of all Christians creates what is known as the “rule of faith.” It was by the “rule of faith” that the early church established the traditions of what was genuinely from the Lord and what was not. The “rule of faith,” not a body of influential and elite scholars, determined which gospels and which letters were genuinely from God. After many centuries, an important standard for canonicity was the “rule of faith,” that is, what the church as a body determined was orthodox, based upon what was spoken by the apostles and later repeated by word of mouth to all believers. What the “rule of faith” determined was Scripture, became New Testament Scripture (10). A group of church elders did no more than put their seal of approval upon those letters and gospels which the body of Christian believers through usage over time agreed to be the apostles’ teaching. This explains why there are two Bibles for two branches of Christian faith, namely, the Western and the Eastern.
Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery. (NET)
Are we free to choose? Scholars come, and scholars go, but the Word of our God stands forever. Personally, in my private devotions and worship, almost since my beginning in Christ, I have relied upon the Septuagint Bible and its English translation by Brenton for the book of Psalms and the book of Isaiah. I love this version because I find it speaks of Christ more directly than many of our other English choices. And isn’t Christ who the Bible is entirely about?
1 Natalio Fernandez Marcos, The Septuagint in Context: Introduction to the Greek Version of the Bible, translated by Wilfred G. E. Watson (Brill: Leiden, the Netherlands, 2000), 338-339.
2 Timothy Michael Law, When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible (Oxford University Press: New York, 2013), 118-119.
3 “The Aleppo Codex, the oldest Hebrew Bible that has survived to modern times, was created by scribes called Masoretes in Tiberias, Israel around 930 C.E. As such, the Aleppo Codex is considered to be the most authoritative copy of the Hebrew Bible. The Aleppo Codex is not complete, however, as almost 200 pages went missing between 1947 and 1957.” Overview summary by Bing, original article available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aleppo_Codex, accessed August 3, 2019.
4 Karen H. Jobes and Moises Silva, Invitation to the Septuagint (Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, 2000), 278.
5 Natalio Fernandez Marcos, The Septuagint in Context: Introduction to the Greek Version of the Bible, translated by Wilfred G. E. Watson (Brill: Leiden, the Netherlands, 2000), 357.
6 Jennifer M. Dines, The Septuagint (T&T Clark Ltd: New York, 2004), 24 and 41-62.
7 Karen H. Jobes and Moises Silva, Invitation to the Septuagint (Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, 2000), 281. See pages 273-287 for further information on the history of the text of the Septuagint.
8 An interesting, easy-to-read article on this topic appears at this link: https://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-study/topical-studies/does-the-new-testament-misquote-the-old-testament.html. Another appears here: http://orthochristian.com/81224.html.
9 See Fr. John Whiteford, “The Septuagint vs. the Masoretic Text“ in Orthodox Christianity, http://orthochristian.com/81224.html, accessed August 1, 2019.
10 Andreas J. Kostenberger, L. Scott Kellum, Charles L Quarles, The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown (B&H Academic: Nashville), 2009, 9. See also https://www.earlychurchtexts.com/public/tertullian_on_rule_of_faith.htm, accessed 08/02/2019.
In Psalm 25, the psalmist admits his guilt; in Psalm 26, he maintains innocence. How can both be true? Both Psalm 25 and Psalm 26 are ascribed to David. Psalm 25:7-11 and verse 18 confess and deal with the sin issue, while Psalm 26 in its entirety is a statement of the psalmist’s righteousness. Surely this anomaly needs an explanation?
Oddly, many commentators skip over the superscription attributing these psalms to David. It does not appear to be an item of interest, perhaps for the reason often stated that no specific incident in David’s life can be connected to either of them. Be that as it may, whenever a reader ascribes a psalm to a human person as its subject, certain difficulties may be encountered. For example, while Scripture attests fully to David’s sin with Bathsheba, it proves more difficult to justify David as the author of Psalm 26, since according to Scripture, he was not innocent, but a shameful adulterer and murderer (2 Samuel 11-12:15). Several commentators face this difficulty by modifying the meaning of “innocent” to refer to one’s attitude of loyalty to God when attempting to enter his temple, rather than to a meaning of moral purity and sinlessness. They claim that the speaker in Psalm 26 does not claim moral perfection, but a relative righteousness in comparison with his enemies, who hate God outright. But are these weasel words? 
Fortunately for the reader, consistently applying a few basic premises to the Psalter as a whole serves to clear up such difficulties. These premises are 1) that the Psalter is poetic prophecy of the Christ, and 2) that Christ is the speaker in the first-person singular psalms, especially those ascribed to David. Let’s apply these premises to Psalms 25 and 26.
First, consider these statements from the New Testament.
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.
(2 Corinthians 5:21 NET)
He committed no sin nor was deceit found in his mouth. (1 Peter 2:22 NET)
For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, (Romans 8:3 ESV)
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us– for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”– (Galatians 3:13 ESV)
…25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (Romans 4:25 ESV)
9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9-10 ESV)
As we read these New Testament quotations in the light each one sheds upon the other, it becomes clear that Christ himself was without sin of any kind. He was morally perfect. Yet, he was the sacrificial lamb who not only took upon himself the sins of people, but even more than that, became sin for us.
Next, consider the question, how would you reveal this information to a people who were only being taught for the very first time a multi-person God? One of the purposes of the Psalter was to reveal that the one God has a Son (see Psalm 2:7).
Finally, to comprehend from poetry that God’s Son suffered and died as a sacrifice for sin would be no easy matter for Old Testament worshipers. God is holy, eternal, and sovereign–how then can he confess sin and die as a sacrifice? People in that era basically thought in concrete terms rather than spiritual. God designed the sacrificial system in order to teach about sin and atonement in a concrete way. The Psalter is a poetic application and spiritual extension of that concrete symbolism–not necessarily easy in that era for people to grasp.
Consider, even for many of us, who possess the facts of Jesus’ life as presented in the Gospels, it may be difficult to envision how one person could be innocent and guilty at the same time (see 2 Corinthian 5:21 above). When the Psalter was being written, I believe it fair to say that the vision of God’s people was far more limited than our vision today.
The solution? Two prophetic poems rather than one. Nevertheless, difficulties of comprehension still remained.
The Psalter reveals that the Christ was coming, that he was God’s holy King, that he would have enemies who falsely accuse and kill him, and that he would be raised from the dead to occupy God’s throne. Did God’s people understand all this? Scripture tells us that very few understood.
10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully,
11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. (1Peter 1:10-11 ESV)
7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.
8 None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1Corinthians 2:7-8 ESV, Read also to the end of the chapter.)
25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!
26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”
27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27 ESV)
44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”
45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,
46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead,
47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. (Luke 24:44-47 ESV)
Application and Exhortation to Faith: We today do not need to be “foolish” and “slow of heart” to believe. We have Christ’s own word that the Psalms were written about him. It behooves us to search out what they say and to stand upon the assurance of biblical faith that we who live in New Testament times most certainly do not need to limit our understanding of the Psalter to what a listener of that era may or may not have understood about the coming Christ. The Psalter is an amazing book, and we cheat ourselves if we do not see Christ predominantly in it.
For more on Christ in his mediatorial role, see Penitential Psalms: Psalm 51–A Personal God of Love and Psalm 25: Change of Person and Multiple Speakers.
1 See, for example, each of the following in its discussion of Psalm 26: 1) Bonar, Andrew A. Christ and His Church in the Book of Psalms: 150 Inspirational Studies. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1978. 2) Reardon, Patrick Henry. Christ in the Psalms, 2nd edition. Chesterton: Ancient Faith Publishing, 2011. 3) Belcher, Richard P. Jr. The Messiah and the Psalms: Preaching Christ from All the Psalms. Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, Ltd., 2006.
A Bit of a Meandering Approach…
I remember the third stanza of Psalm 24 (verses 7-10) from my Sunday School childhood. Our teacher had selected this psalm for her class to memorize and present in a little program to the church. What did it mean? Who knows? We were never taught. My young mind created an image of large and heavy, wood and iron gates, fairytale style, cranking themselves up all by themselves, so that a King on a horse could enter over a stone road paved in large, boulder-like slabs to whatever it was that lay beyond. Did I know that the King was the Lord Almighty Jesus Christ at his ascension? No, not at all. The words held no concrete meaning for me at that point in my life. Actually, that the words came from “the Bible” meant nothing to me either. Nevertheless, I always remembered those few lines of this little poem. Our teacher had us perform the psalm chorus style. Although I enjoyed following her stage directions to deliver these final verses in a loud, strong voice, no internal emotion accompanied my recitation. No wonder, since the words held no meaning for my tiny life.
I reread this poem in January, and in the margin I wrote, “Awesome.” Then I forgot about it. This morning, when I read it again, my first reaction was one of confusion. What does Stanza 1 have to do with Stanza 2? And how do we get from there to Stanza 3? Nevertheless, I knew that something amazing was happening in the third stanza, and I wrote the one word response, “Wow.”
Finding the psalm to be beyond me, I went straight to my most spiritual commentator, John Barclay. In light of what I’ve written here, you my reader may understand why I burst out laughing, as in “LOL!”, when I read what Barclay had written. He wrote bunches, far more than normal.
Although it seems perfectly true, as all the commentators say, that this Psalm (and perhaps all the rest) was used to be sung in parts, by the different bands of sacred music which David (no doubt by the direction of the Holy Ghost) had appointed for the service of the Sanctuary; yet, if we attend any further than that, to the dull, dry, bare, and beggarly disquisitions of the carnally-minded … [academics] …, concerning the procession of the ark, its being received into the temple, and set upon its own place, with such like childish ideas, and nugatory [worthless, trivial] observations, retailed and enumerated every day, and almost in every place of worship, in the most stale and tedious manner imaginable; now do we find our whole spirit, fervor, and devotion, in the most amazing manner, all at once, as if it were by enchantment, damped, destroyed, and shrunk to nothing, after the manner, if we may so say, of the plump kine [cows], and full ears of corn, which were devoured and swallowed up by the lean, thin, blasted and shriveled!–But if, ceasing from the… [academicians], we take the spirit of the Psalm from the Spirit who inspired it, and read it in its own light, the light of its parallels, and especially the light of the New Testament, we will find, instead of the darkness of the Mosaic veil, the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus, filling our whole hearts… (Barclay, 147).
I hope you were able to wade through that–he did, after all, write those words in the early 1800’s, before texting, Twitter, and bit-speech were ever invented. I laughed when I read his impassioned description of dry, dead academia because of the confidence and unabashed moxy he displays in his vigorous attack of the “letter” that kills (2 Corinthians 3:6). I laughed because he sums up my thought exactly and bludgeons where I barely dare to hint.
So, what did Barclay (and others in my bibliography) find in Psalm 24? In short–a summation of the entire Bible and gospel.
Stanza 1, which is verses 1 and 2, represents Christ before time in his sovereignty and great creative act, as God and with God.
1 The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, 2 for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers. (ESV)
His parallel verses are John 1:1 and Colossians 1:17. I would add a phrase from Hebrews 1:3, “he upholds the universe by the word of his power.”
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 He was in the beginning with God.
3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:1-3 ESV)
16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities– all things were created through him and for him.
17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Col 1:16-17 ESV)
Stanza 2 extends from verse 3 through 6 and displays Christ in his sinless human nature making atonement as mediator between those sinners who nonetheless desire God, and God in his holiness. It is by the obedience of belief in this one man Christ that God declares every willing human righteous, who is “found in him… not having a righteousness of [their] own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” (Philippians 3:9 ESV) This verse from Philippians is almost a restatement of Psalm 24:3-6 and presents the gospel message in a nutshell. In Psalm 24, verses 3-5 refer to Christ, and verse 6 to his followers.
3 Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? 4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. 5 He will receive blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation. 6 Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah (ESV)
Stanza 3, verses 7 through 10, closes this short psalm with a dramatized declaration of Christ’s victory in battle over sin and death and his ascension to kingly reign alongside his Father in heaven–Christ is both Savior and Lord, both human and God, the point of connection between earth and heaven. Verse 8 makes reference to the battles Christ fought in his incarnation as human, and verse 10 displays him as the LORD of hosts, the King of glory, coequal with God.
7 Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. 8 Who is this King of glory? The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle! 9 Lift up your heads, O gates! And lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. 10 Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory! Selah (ESV)
A Bit of Editorial Meditation
There is no doubt that it is difficult for us as readers today to comprehend the life and vitality of these 10 verses. We are inundated by media that proclaim a worldview in staunch contrast and opposition to the faith-view presented in Psalm 24. Further, we are limited by a contemporary language that has descended to near illiteracy. Finally, we experience noise all around us constantly, noise which distracts us and robs us of contemplative moments when we can simply ask God by his Spirit to open the understanding of our spirit made in his image.
Yet these are not insurmountable obstacles. I believe a deeper issue lies at the heart of our inability to appreciate God’s biblical treasure map to us, our love letter-in-a-bottle, that is, Holy Scripture. The issue is pinpointed when we answer the question, Who do I worship? Negotiating daily life in today’s age has taught me to place myself at the center of everything. How am I doing? How do I rate? Are my needs being met? Am I performing adequately? Even our church worship services tend toward the me, me, me. Have I met God today? Have I been fulfilled by this service? Rather than, Have I presented God with a sacrifice of worship that pleases him?
Yes, the church is included in Psalm 24:6, but it’s not a psalm about the church, it’s a psalm about Jesus Christ. In order to fully appreciate Psalm 24 I need to accept that it’s a psalm not about me–it’s not about my successes and failures, my needs, my wants, my poverty, my riches–it’s a psalm about the person and fantastic success of Jesus Christ in his eternality and temporal mission. In all honesty, I find that most of my waking thoughts are about myself. Most of the living I do is an attempt to make my self happy, to fulfill my needs as I perceive them, and yes, even when I go to church. To let all that go and to find contentment in extolling an outsider–not myself–that is today’s challenge. To let someone else’s success be my own–that is rest. I do it for my favorite football team–why can’t I do it for Jesus Christ?
Am I making sense?
1 [A Song of Degrees.] Out of the depths have I cried to thee, O Lord. 2 O Lord, hearken to my voice; let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication. 3 If thou, O Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? 4 For with thee is forgiveness: 5 for thy name’s sake have I waited for thee, O Lord, my soul has waited for thy word. 6 My soul has hoped in the Lord; from the morning watch till night. 7 Let Israel hope in the Lord: for with the Lord is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption. 8 And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities. (Psalm 129(130) LXE, Brenton)
Prophecy, if prophecy, must tell a story. A large function of the Psalter is to prophesy. The seven penitential psalms (6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143) prophesy of Christ: his innocence, the sacrificial nature of his atoning death, his human suffering, his resurrection, and the victory of his people. These portions of the life of Christ are not necessarily presented in chronological order within the penitential psalms. While other psalms speak of Christ’s suffering (Psalms 6, 32, 38, 102, and 143), Psalm 130 speaks from the grave (the depths) without making direct statements of suffering. Rather, the unique element of Psalm 130 is an extreme period of waiting, “For thy name’s sake have I waited for thee, O Lord, my soul has waited for thy word. My soul has hoped in the Lord; from the morning watch till night,” (Psalm 130:5-6 LXE). It is not difficult for faith to hear within these verses the voice of Christ as he waits within the grave for his resurrection.
Further, Psalm 130 contains no direct statements of personal sin or guilt, as do Psalms 38 and 51. Rather, Psalm 130 is a penitential psalm of atonement, due to its discussion of sin and forgiveness without personal confession of any sort. The word forgiveness in verse 4, which is ἱλασμός (il-as-mohss) in Greek, is a relatively rare word in Scripture, although it plays an enormous role in Christian evangelism and doctrine. Arndt and Gingrich (1) define it with two meanings: 1) propitiation or expiation, and 2) a sin-offering. While the major English translations (they are translating from Hebrew, not Greek) have “forgiveness” in verse 4, they use words such as “Day of Atonement” in Leviticus 25:9, “ram of atonement” in Numbers 5:8, “sin-offering” in Ezekiel 44:27, “propitiation” or “atoning sacrifice” in 1 John 2:2, and the same for 1 John 4:10. All of these occurrences in the Greek Septuagint are represented by the word ἱλασμός (il-as-mohss), which is translated as forgiveness in Psalm 130:4 (LXE Brenton) or atonement (NETS, Pietersma). (See footnotes 2 and 3.) Important to our discussion of the seven penitential psalms, this is the only occurrence of this word anywhere in the entire Psalter.
Who will receive the atoning forgiveness of verse 4? Verses 7 and 8 each name Israel. Israel, in the New Testament sense of the word (Romans 11:26), includes all believers, both saints of the Old Testament and saints of the New. What at first glance might seem to be a psalm of personal lament, therefore, is an intercessory prayer for the beneficiaries of Christ’s death. When God answers the Lord’s prayer for resurrection from the grave (verses 1-2 and 5-6 above), then his “unfailing love” (verse 7) and “full redemption” (verse 7) will be magnificently realized, for “He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins” (verse 8).
Comments: For those readers who consult commentaries, you might find that the point of view I present above, namely, that Christ is the subject of this prayer/poem–he is the one who is praying to God his Father from the grave–is underrepresented (4). The thesis of my approach is simple: the Psalter in its first person singular prayers speaks the voice of Christ.
I want to repeat what I wrote in the first post of this series on penitential psalms, “My purpose here is to hold up a road sign to you that says, “Have you tried this pathway through Psalms?” The pathway we will consider is Christ and his cross. Even in the so-called grouping of seven Penitential Psalms, we find Christ ever present and revealed. These psalms are not primarily about experiencing emotions of penitence designed to lead us to repentance. Rather, they are primarily about the life of Jesus Christ during his incarnation. My premise is that Psalms reveal Christ. He is their primary focus. As we see Christ revealed, we also learn about God’s love for us, and that is what makes them important” (The Penitential Psalms: A Fresh Look–New Series).
Premising Christ as speaker in all the penitential psalms at first appears to provide obstacles, the most difficult being what to do with a psalm of pure confession, such as Psalm 51. However, when we consider the seven psalms as a unified whole with the understanding that Christ is speaker throughout (except of course in those places which imply or directly state that God is addressing Christ, Psalm 102), we see that a clear picture of the several elements of the complete gospel emerges:
- Christ’s passion of human suffering (Psalms 6, 32, 38, 102, and 143)
- Christ’s innocence (Psalms 6, 102, and 130)
- the wrath of God upon Christ, the wrath that achieved propitiation (Psalms 6, 32, 38, 102, and 143)
- the persecution of Christ by his enemies (Psalms 6, 38, 102, and 143)
- Christ’s identity as both God and man (Psalm 102)
- Christ’s resurrection (Psalm 102:13)
- Christ’s prayer for his resurrection (Psalm 130)
- end results for Israel (or Zion) and the Church won by Christ in his victory through the cross (51, 102, and 130)
When the reader perceives Christ in their center, the penitential psalms (and the Psalter as a whole) gain a cohesion and sense of meaning that a consideration of each psalm separately does not provide. Also, this viewpoint provides deeper and more certain theological meanings than the isolated concepts of confession and repentance might individually supply. These psalms offer a great hope for the one who reads, a hope placed on the solid ground of the actions of the Son of God, rather than upon the alternative actions of an unnamed sinner with whom the reader must strain to identify. Once again, my purpose here is to hold up a road sign that says, “Have you tried this pathway through Psalms?” My prayer is that as you spend time with the Lord, asking him to reveal his presence to you within the words of Christ as expressed in these seven psalms, that God through his Holy Spirit will answer your heart to the fullest extent.
1 Arndt, William F. and F. Wilbur Gingrich, Editors. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2nd Edition. Revised and Augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker from Walter Bauer’s Fifth Edition, 1958. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1979.
2 Brenton, Sir Lancelot C. L. The Septuagint Version: Greek and English. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1970.
3 Pietersma, Albert, ed. A New English Translation of the Septuagint: The Psalms. Translated by Albert Pietersma. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. Available online at http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/nets/edition/24-ps-nets.pdf. Accessed April 27, 2018.
4 John Barclay hears only the voice of Christ in Psalm 130. See Barclay, John. The Psalms of David, and the Paraphrases and Hymns: With a Dissertation on the Book of Psalms, and Explanatory Introductions to Each. Edinburgh: James Gall, 1826. Reprinted Digitally by Forgotten Books, registered trademark of FB &c Ltd., London, 2017. Available at http://www.ForgottenBooks.com, 2017. A better quality copy is available at https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=nyp.33433068259260;view=1up;seq=205;size=75. Accessed April 11, 2019.