The Messiah in the Psalms Lesson 5

By Daniel L. Segraves

October 1, 2017

Beginning with this lesson, our study guide will consist of notes from the Apostolic Study Bible.[1]

Psalm 3

The superscription of Psalm 3 forms an opening bracket of a collection of five psalms on the topic of rebellion within David’s family and its threat to the fulfillment of the promise God made to David that Solomon would sit on his throne. (See II Samuel 7:12-16; I Chronicles 22:6-10; 28:5-10; I Kings 1:17-35.) The closing bracket is Psalm 7, which is composed of the words David sang to the Lord when he heard from Cush the news of Absalom’s death.

Psalm 3 shows David’s confidence that God would fulfill His promise to place the Messiah on David’s throne. (See Psalm 89:3-4, 34-37; Isaiah 9:6-7; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Luke 1:32-33.) This gave the Jewish readers, who read the Psalter in this order after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, confidence that the messianic promise would yet be fulfilled. In the context of Psalms 3-7, Psalm 4 develops the theme of the certainty of the Davidic covenant with its messianic hope, even in the midst of political turmoil.

3:2 The meaning of Selah is uncertain. (See also verses 4, 8.) The word appears seventy-one times in thirty-nine psalms, but never in a superscription. It appears three times in Habakkuk 3. Suggestions for the meaning of Selah include ‘interlude’ and ‘repeat.’ It may also be a call for an instrument to be played for rhythmic purposes or emphasis.

3:3 The “lifting of the head” is a Hebrew figure of speech expressing confidence in the Lord.

3:7 The striking of enemies on the jaw signifies humiliation, and the metaphor of broken teeth compares enemies to animals whose strength is broken.

 

Psalm 4

4 The superscription of Psalm 4 does not identify the circumstances surrounding the origin of the psalm. In relation to its placement in the Psalter, the original circumstances may not be significant, because it finds its place in the section concerning Absalom’s rebellion with the apparent intent of further developing the theme begun in Psalm 3. The prayers of Psalm 4 continue the theme of the prayers of Psalm 3: Because of rebellion in the kingdom, there is a threat to the messianic promise connected with David’s throne.

4:4 The word translated “sin” (chata) has to do with “missing the way” or “the mark.”

4:6 This is an allusion to the priestly benediction of Numbers 6:24-26.

4:8 Compare with Psalm 3:5.

 

Psalm 5

The superscription of Psalm 5 does not identify the circumstances of its writing, but its placement within the framework of Absalom’s rebellion indicates that it should be read as a further development of that theme. Psalm 5 may have originally addressed other enemies and circumstances, but in the structure of the Psalter it further develops the problem of Absalom’s challenge to David’s throne and thus to the Davidic covenant and its messianic promise. It further describes David’s confidence that God’s promise would prevail. To those who read these words after the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon, when David’s throne seemed permanently vacated, the message would be to continue to trust God to keep His promise to raise up the Messiah on David’s throne.

5:12 The final verse of the psalm is similar to the final verses of Psalms 1, 2, and 3. According to Psalm 1:6, the Lord knows the way of those who are righteous, which means they will endure while the ungodly perish. According to Psalm 2:12, those who put their trust in the Son are blessed. Psalm 3:8 indicates that the blessing of the Lord is upon His people. Although the final verse of Psalm 4 is not as specific, it implies the blessing of the Lord in David’s ability to lie down in peace and sleep.

 

Psalm 6

The previous psalms in the collection concerned with Absalom’s rebellion (Psalms 3,4, 5) reflect David’s joyous confidence that Absalom’s plot would fail and that he would be vindicated and restored to the throne. But those who are challenged by circumstances to question the certainty of God’s promise are not always so optimistic. Psalm 6 reveals the heart of a man who knew that God would come to his rescue, but who was nevertheless troubled over the apparent delay.

Like Psalms 4 and 5, Psalm 6 does not identify its circumstances in the superscription, but its placement here further develops the theme of the certainty of God’s covenantal promise to David in the face of its first challenge: Absalom’s rebellion. The psalm can comfort believers in any situation where they are opposed and it seems God’s promises are delayed. At these times, Psalm 6 can be prayed with the assurance that God’s purposes will prevail – in His time.

6:4 David’s appeal to the mercies (chesed, “loyal love”) of the Lord was an apparent reference to the Davidic covenant, characterized by mercy. (See II Samuel 7:15; 22:51; I Kings 3:6; 8:23; II Chronicles 6:42; Nehemiah 1:5; 9:32; Isaiah 55:3; Acts 13:34.)

6:6 David’s previous description of sleep described it as peaceful. (See Psalms 3:5; 4:8.) But people of faith are not always able to avoid the distress that accompanies those circumstances that arise when those around them rebel against God.

 

Psalm 7

The superscription identifies Psalm 7 as a meditation (Shiggaion) of David, “which he sang unto the Lord , concerning the words of Cush the Benjamite.” This indicates Psalm 7 is the conclusion of the unit beginning with Psalm 3, which is a “Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.” Psalm 3 opens a series of five psalms concerned with the rebellion of Absalom against his father David, the first significant attempt to thwart God’s messianic purpose announce in Psalm 2. Psalm 7 was David’s response when he heard of Absalom’s death from Cush. (See II Samuel 18:19-33.) Although David was distressed with Absalom’s rebellion, he loved him as his son, and his initial response to the news of his son’s death was grief. But as he moved past the initial grief, David’s prayer reflects his larger awareness of the fact that Absalom’s rebellion against him was actually rebellion against God and that Absalom’s death was a consequence of his own sin.

The intentional arrangement of the psalms is suggested in that this section concludes with David’s stated intention to “sing praise to the name of the Lord most high” (Psalm 7:17), and the next psalm begins with praise to the name of the Lord (Psalm 8:1). The purposeful placement of the next psalm is also evident in that it is a messianic psalm celebrating the genuineness of the Messiah’s humanity, His solidarity with humankind.

7:9 The word translated “reins” (chĕlāyōṯ) means “kidneys.” It was customary among the Hebrews to use the inner organs of the body as metaphors for the innermost person. This is seen also in the New Testament in references to the heart and “bowels” in the KJV. (See Philippians 1:8; 2:1; Colossians 3:12; Philemon 1:7, 12, 20; I John 3:17). In the modern English-speaking world, the heart is still used as a metaphor for the inner person. Because of the biblical use of these terms, it would be a mistake to try to make fine distinctions between the meanings of words used to represent the inner man.

7:17 The psalm concludes with David’s intention to “sing praise to the name of the Lord most high.” In Hebrew theology the name of the Lord represents the Lord Himself; name and person are essentially identical.

 

Psalm 8

Although the superscription of Psalm 8 offers no information about the circumstances of its writing, its relationship to its context suggests it is intentionally placed. Psalms 3-7, which track the ill-fated attempt of Absalom to usurp his father’s throne, conclude with Absalom’s defeat and David’s announcement that he will “sing praise to the name of the Lord most high” (Psalm 7:17). Psalm 8 begins with this praise, flowing naturally out of the conclusion of Psalm 7.

Psalm 8, with its focus on the Son of Man, should be read as a messianic psalm, for that is how it is interpreted in the New Testament. (See I Corinthians 15:27; Hebrews 2:6-9.) The Son of Man is the same One to whom the Lord said, “Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee” (Psalm 2:7). He is the King who is placed by the Lord upon His holy hill of Zion (Psalm 2:6), whose inheritance is the nations, whose possession is the ends of the earth (Psalm 2:8), and who must be kissed by the kings and judges of the earth lest He be angry (Psalm 2:12). He is the anointed One, the Messiah (Psalm 2:2).

8:2 Jesus connected this verse with the praise of the Messiah by children. (See Matthew 21:15-16.) As the children in the Temple cried out, “Hosanna to the son of David,” in the words of Psalm 118:25, the chief priests and scribes protested the children’s identification of Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus justified the children’s praise by pointing the chief priests and scribes to Psalm 8:2. This verse indicates that young children would recognize the Messiah and proclaim Him to be so even in the face of God’s enemies who would reject His anointed One. The faith of children would “still the enemy and the avenger.” The reading “perfected praise” in Matthew 21:16 in place of “ordained strength” follows the Septuagint.

8:4 The poetic form of this verse indicates that the emphasis is not on human beings as a whole, but on one specific human being, the Son of Man.

8:5-8 The question in verse 4 does not demean the Son of Man, for although He had been made “a little lower than the angels,” He had been “crowned . . . with glory and honour.” He was given dominion over the entire created realm. David asked a legitimate question, because he knew the Son of Man would be a human being descended from him. (See Psalm 132:11.) In view of the majesty of the created realm, how could a descendant of David be exalted to the place of dominion over it? How could a human being be clothed with glory and honor? As we discover elsewhere, the reason is that this Son of Man was also the Son of God. The crowning of the Son of Man with glory and honor occurred as a consequence of His death. Since He was a human being, made a little lower than the angels, He could “taste death for every man” (Hebrews 2:9).

[1] These notes were prepared for the Apostolic Study Bible (Hazelwood, MO: WAP Academic, 2014) by Daniel L. Segraves.

The Messiah in the Psalms Lesson 4

Psalms

September 24, 2017

The Sanctuary | Hazelwood, Missouri

By Daniel L. Segraves[1]

The placement of Psalm 1 makes it an obvious introduction to the entire Psalter. It pronounces a blessing on “the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful” (Psalm 1:1), imply­ing that walking in the counsel to be found in the Book of Psalms is the source of blessing.

Psalm 1 is known as a Torah, or law, psalm, because it describes the blessed man as one who delights “in the law of the Lord” and who meditates “in His law . . . day and night” (Psalm 1:2). The word torah means “instruction,” and it is used (as is its New Testament equivalent, nomos) with a variety of mean­ings. Here, it is apparently not a reference to the Law of Moses, but to the psalms themselves. In other words, Psalm 1:2 does not mean that the reader would be better off meditating on the law of Moses than in the psalms! The psalms offer wise instruction and godly counsel.

Psalm 1, a Torah psalm, is connected conceptually with Psalm 2, a royal, messianic psalm. This is a pattern in the Psalter. Psalm 19, another Torah psalm (see Psalm 19:7-8), is connected with Psalms 20-21, royal, messianic psalms (see Psalm 20:6). Psalm 119, a Torah psalm (see Psalm 119:1 [the word “law” appears in Psalm 119 twenty-five times]), is connected to the section of psalms known as Songs of Ascents (Psalms 120-134), with their royal, messianic focus (see Psalm 132:10-18). For the Torah psalms to be attached to royal, messianic psalms in this way follows an ancient method of interpretation by attachment. In other words, to attach the messianic psalm to the Torah psalm serves to provide interpretation for the Torah psalm. The concept of law must be interpreted in connection with the concept of the Messiah.

Psalm 1 begins by pronouncing a blessing upon the person who delights in the law (torah, “instruction,” a reference here to Scripture) of the Lord (Psalm 1:2); Psalm 2 ends by pronouncing a blessing on all who put their trust in the Son, the Messiah (Psalm 2:12b). The idea presented here is that meditation upon the Scripture leads to trust in the Messiah. The word translated “trust” (chasah) is used in the Old Testament with the same essen­tial meaning as the New Testament words “faith” and “believe.” The meaning of chasah is “to take refuge.” This helps us under­stand the New Testament pistis (“faith”) and pisteuo (“I believe”), which are used essentially as synonyms for the Old Testament “trust.” Both New Testament words have to do with trust.

Contrary to a view that arose during the twentieth century, biblical faith is not about some kind of mental perspective, manipulation, or gymnastics by which one cajoles God into ful­filling one’s desires. Faith is not, in the strictest sense, a way of thinking. It is trust in God in the sense of taking refuge in Him in time of trouble and believing Him to be who He claims to be and to do what He promises to do.

The “counsel of the ungodly . . . the path of sinners . . . the seat of the scornful” (Psalm 1:1) is a series of terms further described in Psalm 2:1 as plotting “a vain thing.” The “counsel of the ungodly” is seen in Psalm 2:2 as “the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against His Anointed [the Messiah].” It is ungodly counsel that leads kings and rulers to say, “Let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away Their cords from us” (Psalm 2:3).

Psalm 1 declares of the ungodly that they are “like the chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. . . . the way of the ungodly shall perish” (Psalm 1:4-6). According to Psalm 2, this happens because “He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the LORD shall hold them in deri­sion. Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, and distress them in His deep displeasure” (Psalm 2:4-5). The Messiah will “break them [the nations that follow ungodly counsel] with a rod of iron . . . [and] dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel” (Psalm 2:9). The Son will be angry with those who do not kiss Him—as an act of respect and homage—and they will “perish in the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little” (Psalm 2:12).

The person who rejects the ungodly counsel that encourages people to cast off loyalty to the Lord and His Messiah and who instead delights and meditates in the Scripture will, in contrast to the fate of those who rebel, “be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither” (Psalm 1:3). The wise man is like a healthy, fruitful, enduring tree. The man who follows ungodly counsel is like chaff. The wind will drive him away; he will perish. (See Psalm 1:6; 2:12.)

The response of the Lord to those who follow ungodly coun­sel is to laugh and to hold them in derision (Psalm 2:4). In wrath, He will speak to them and distress them. The distressing proclama­tion the Lord makes to those who seek to rebel is this: “Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion” (Psalm 2:6). In their desire to cast off the authority of the Lord and His Messiah, the people are plotting “a vain thing” (Psalm 2:1). It is vain because God has set His king, the Messiah, on Zion. The plotting of the ungodly will do nothing to change that. He will not neglect the covenant He made with David. (See II Samuel 7:8-17; Psalm 89:34-37.)

The Messiah says, “I will declare the decree: The LORD has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel’ ” (Psalm 2:7-9).

The idea of the Messiah as the “begotten Son” is an important theme in the New Testament. In some cases, the New Testament quotes Psalm 2:7 directly (Acts 13:33; Hebrews 1:5; 5:5), but there are allusions to Psalm 2:7 as well (John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; I John 4:9). If the words of Psalm 2 were ever used in conjunction with the ascension of one of David’s descendants to the throne, that merely human king would have, in that context, been considered “the anointed” and the “begotten son.” But the purpose for the place­ment of this psalm in the Psalter was not to preserve ascension for­mulas, but to point to the ultimate anointed One, the Son of God.

The only wise response for the rulers of the earth was to “be instructed . . . serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trem­bling” and to “kiss the Son” (Psalm 2:10-12). They should aban­don their vain attempt to rebel and should rather put their trust in the Messiah. If they would abandon their ungodly counsel and meditate in Scripture, this was what they would do.

Psalms 1-2 introduce the contrast between the “righteous” (tsaddiq) and the “ungodly” (rasha) that continues throughout the Psalter.

The early church saw Psalm 2 as being fulfilled in the actions of Herod, Pontius Pilate, and the unbelieving Gentiles and Jews. (See Acts 4:24-28.)

[1] The content of this lesson is from Daniel L. Segraves, The Messiah in the Psalms: Discovering Christ in Unexpected Places (Hazelwood, MO: WAP Academic, 2007), 25-28.

The Messiah in the Psalms Lesson 3

Psalms

September 17, 2017

The Sanctuary | Hazelwood, Missouri
Ninety-nine of the psalms identify the author or authors in the superscriptions, which are included in the Hebrew text as the first verse rather than being separated from the psalms as frequently done in translation. The oldest is Psalm 90, identified with Moses and dating possibly from about 1500 bc. Seventy-three psalms are identified with David and would have been written in the tenth century bc. (See Psalms 3-9, 11-32, 34-41, 51-65, 68-70, 86, 101, 103, 108-110, 122, 124, 131, 133, 138-145.) Psalms 72 and 127 are identified with Solomon. Asaph, a Levite and chief musician of David, is identified with twelve psalms. (See Psalms 50, 73-83.) Eleven psalms are attributed to the sons of Korah. Korah was a great-grandson of Levi. (See Psalms 42, 44-49, 84-85, 87-88.) Psalm 89 is identified with Ethan the Ezrahite. We are not certain of his identity, but this was the name of a wise man who lived in Solomon’s time as well as a Levitical musician contemporary with David.

Why the Book Is Called “Psalms”: The Book of Psalms takes its English title from the Septuagint title Psalmoi, a word that means “hymns” sung to musical accompaniment. Although the Hebrew mizmor, meaning “a song sung with musical accompaniment,” appears fifty-seven times in the superscriptions, the title of the book in the Hebrew text is Tehillim, meaning “praises.”

In addition to the title Tehillim, a portion of the book is identified as “the prayers (tefillot) of David.” (See Psalm 72:20.) This is an ancient title for a book comprised of Psalms 3-72.

Original Audience: A common view is that the Psalter was intended for use in corporate worship during the second temple period. A close reading of the text suggests, however, that it was also useful for individuals, not only for the community, and that a specific intended audience is those in exile or tribulation. For these readers, it is a source of hope and comfort.

Key Apostolic Insights: The New Testament quotes from, alludes to, or paraphrases the Old Testament in nearly 800 verses. The book most frequently appealed to is Psalms, which is referred to 206 times. The Psalms show that Christ, the promised Messiah, is the Son of God and the Son of Man. As the Son of God, the Messiah is God Himself in human existence. As the Son of Man, He is a physical descendant of David. The psalms foretell the Messiah’s birth, important events in His life, His betrayal, His sufferings, His death, His resurrection, His ascension, His second coming, and the Millennium. The Psalter also anticipates the proclamation of the gospel, the Messiah’s bride, and the gifts given to the New Testament church upon His ascension.

The Structure of the Psalter: Since the Psalter is a collection of psalms by a variety of authors, the structure of the book as we now have it is not original with any of the authors whose psalms appear in the book. Its structure is, rather, the result of composition done after all the individual psalms were completed. There were earlier collections, some smaller and some larger, but the result was a book intentionally shaped to serve a theological purpose. (See, e.g., Psalm 72:20.) The traditional outline of the book follows its division into five books by the Masoretic Text. A common explanation of this division is that these five books correspond in some way to the five books of the Torah (i.e., the Pentateuch). The idea here is to read Psalms 1-41 in conjunction with Genesis; Psalms 42-72 with Exodus; Psalms 73-89 with Leviticus; Psalms 90-106 with Numbers; and Psalms 107-150 with Deuteronomy. It is difficult, however, to identify thematic links between the five books of the Pentateuch and the Psalter, and more recent scholarship questions whether these are the most significant structural features of the Psalter and whether the New Testament writers viewed the five-book division of the Psalms as significant for their purposes. More recent views of the structure of the Psalter include the following:

            Canonical.  Brevard Childs has suggested that we can dispense with discussion about any previous shape of the Psalter and focus on its present shape and structure.  We do not need to be concerned with how the present shape came to be; all we need to be concerned with is that this is the shape found in the canon.

            Compositional.  The compositional approach sees the current shape of the Psalter as reflecting an inspired work bringing together previously existing materials in a form intended to advance a specific theological purpose.  One compositional approach sees the Psalter as a collection of prayers for the Jewish people in exile, functioning as a replacement for temple worship.

            A compositional/canonical approach seems most satisfying, because it recognizes the obvious facts concerning the variety of authors and evidence of previous collections now reshaped into the current canonical form.  The following points seem evidently true:

  1. The Psalter is a composition with a specific purpose and literary strategy.
  2. The Psalter is composed for individuals, not only for the community.
  3. The Psalter is composed for those in exile or tribulation as a source book for hope and divine comfort.
  4. The framework of the Psalter is messianic: It focuses on Zion theology and the Kingdom of God, by which we mean the physical restoration of Davidic hope, the ultimate fulfillment of the promise God made to David that the Messiah would descend physically from him to rule on David’s throne in Zion.  The selection and arrangement of the psalms are intended to explore the relationship between the Law of Moses and Israel’s hope for the future, or, as we might say from the Christian perspective, the relationship between law and grace.  The final form of the Psalter is also intended to explore the meaning of the Davidic Covenant in view of the apostasy and exile of the House of David.

Next Lesson: In our next lesson, we plan to examine why Psalms 1 and 2 form the introduction to the book of Psalms and cast the themes that are found throughout the book.

The Messiah in the Psalms 2

Psalms

September 10, 2017

The Sanctuary | Hazelwood, Missouri

In our previous lesson, we discovered how Jesus opened the Scriptures to His disciples by explaining to them things concerning Himself that were written in Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms (Luke 24). We also saw how Peter, on the Day of Pentecost, preached about Jesus from the book of Psalms (Acts 2). In this lesson, we will begin by looking at Paul’s use of the Hebrew Scriptures, including the Psalms, to preach about Jesus (Acts 13:26-41).

Theme: The essential theme of Psalms is the coming One, the Messiah. According to Jesus (Luke 24:44-45), Peter (Acts 2:25-36), Paul (Acts 13:32-37), and the use of the psalms by the New Testament church (Acts 4:25-28), the Psalter is first and foremost a book about the Messiah. It focuses on Zion theology and the kingdom of God (i.e., the physical restoration of Davidic hope, the fulfillment of the promise God made to David that the Messiah would descend physically from him to rule on David’s throne in Zion).[1]

To say that the theme of the Psalter is messianic does not mean only that there are messianic psalms scattered throughout the book. From beginning to end, the book testifies in a variety of ways of the Messiah. When read this way, Psalms takes on a dynamic dimension beyond that of devotional literature. It is not just a section of the Holy Bible to which we turn only when searching for encouragement or wisdom; it is a book we turn to in order to know Jesus better. This does not eliminate its devotional value; it enhances it by showing us that the one with whom we identify in suffering and victory is not just David or other human authors; it is our Lord Jesus Christ.

Authors: Ninety-nine of the psalms identify the author or authors in the superscriptions, which are included in the Hebrew text as the first verse rather than being separated from the psalms as frequently done in translation. The oldest is Psalm 90, identified with Moses and dating possibly from about 1500 bc. Seventy-three psalms are identified with David and would have been written in the tenth century bc. (See Psalms 3-9, 11-32, 34-41, 51-65, 68-70, 86, 101, 103, 108-110, 122, 124, 131, 133, 138-145.) Psalms 72 and 127 are identified with Solomon. Asaph, a Levite and chief musician of David, is identified with twelve psalms. (See Psalms 50, 73-83.) Eleven psalms are attributed to the sons of Korah. Korah was a great-grandson of Levi. (See Psalms 42, 44-49, 84-85, 87-88.) Psalm 89 is identified with Ethan the Ezrahite. We are not certain of his identity, but this was the name of a wise man who lived in Solomon’s time as well as a Levitical musician contemporary with David.

Although some question the authenticity and validity of the superscriptions – they are set apart from the psalms as a kind of heading and not numbered with the verses – the fact that they are included in the Hebrew text as the first verse of the psalm, resulting in a renumbering of the rest of the verses, indicates that we should accept them as authoritative. There are also other reasons for accepting them:

  1. Biblical poets typically identified themselves with their work. (See II Samuel 22:1; 23:1; Isaiah 38:9; cf. Psalm 18.)
  2. Not all the psalms have superscriptions. This suggests the authenticity of the superscriptions, for if they had been added after the psalms were originally written, it seems that superscriptions would have been added to all the psalms.
  3. The Septuagint indicates that those who translated from Hebrew to Greek in the third century bc knew little about the meaning of the musical terms in the superscriptions. If this were so, the terms in the superscriptions must have substantially predated the Septuagint.
  4. Jesus’ use of what is now included as superscription indicated that He viewed the words as authoritative and authentic. (See Matthew 22:43-45.)

Why the Book Is Called “Psalms”: The Book of Psalms takes its English title from the Septuagint title Psalmoi, a word that means “hymns” sung to musical accompaniment. Although the Hebrew mizmor, meaning “a song sung with musical accompaniment,” appears fifty-seven times in the superscriptions, the title of the book in the Hebrew text is Tehillim, meaning “praises.”

In addition to the title Tehillim, a portion of the book is identified as “the prayers (tefillot) of David.” (See Psalm 72:20.) This is an ancient title for a book comprised of Psalms 3-72.

Original Audience: A common view is that the Psalter was intended for use in corporate worship during the second temple period. A close reading of the text suggests, however, that it was also useful for individuals, not only for the community, and that a specific intended audience is those in exile or tribulation. For these readers, it is a source of hope and comfort.

Key Apostolic Insights: The New Testament quotes from, alludes to, or paraphrases the Old Testament in nearly 800 verses. The book most frequently appealed to is Psalms, which is referred to 206 times. The Psalms show that Christ, the promised Messiah, is the Son of God and the Son of Man. As the Son of God, the Messiah is God Himself in human existence. As the Son of Man, He is a physical descendant of David. The psalms foretell the Messiah’s birth, important events in His life, His betrayal, His sufferings, His death, His resurrection, His ascension, His second coming, and the Millennium. The Psalter also anticipates the proclamation of the gospel, the Messiah’s bride, and the gifts given to the New Testament church upon His ascension.

The Structure of Hebrew Poetry: We refer to Psalms as one of the poetic books because it consists of poetry. Parallelism and figurative images are basic features of ancient poetry. Parallelism is not merely the idea of repetition of a thought in different words, so that a subsequent line (or lines) is completely synonymous with the opening line of the poem; rather, successive lines serve to further develop the thought in some way. The “rhyming” of Hebrew poetry is not similarity of sound but of ideas or concepts. This is sometimes called “thought rhymes,” but that term leads to the notion that successive lines simply recast the same idea in different words rather than advancing the idea. With biblical poetry, however, the entire meaning is not found in the first line; subsequent lines are required to fill out the intended sense of the poem. An example of this is seen immediately upon the opening of the Psalter.

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly,

nor standeth in the way of sinners,

nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

The first line of Psalm 1:1 describes the characteristics of a blessed person. This person avoids the influence of the “ungodly” (reshaʻiym [wicked]), a topic that continues throughout the Psalter. The ungodly are further identified in the second line as “sinners” (ḥaṭṭa’iym), indicating that these ungodly ones “miss the way.” Their “way” is the way of the ungodly rather than the godly. Finally, the ungodly are described in the third line as “scornful” (lēṣiym). So it is not merely that the blessed person is one who avoids the influence of those who are wicked; it is that the wicked are not found in the way of the righteous (Psalm 1:6). Further, the wicked not only have their own way; they scorn those who do not walk in their way.

A further development can be seen in the first verse of the Psalter. To walk with the wicked leads to standing with sinners, which leads to sitting with the scornful. These words are not synonyms.

Parallelism gives full expression to an idea. Not only may this be done as in Psalm 1:1, where full expression is given to an idea by developing the theme of the first line in the following lines. This may be done by expressing in the second line a meaning similar to the meaning of the first line, further developing the idea in the first line by means of vivid imagery. Psalm 92:12 is an example:

The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree:

he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.

On the other hand, there may be a reverse parallelism so that the second line expresses a different thought than the first line, while nevertheless further developing the point of the first line. Notice, for example, Psalm 30:5:

For his anger endureth but a moment;

in his favour is life:

weeping may endure for a night,

but joy cometh in the morning.

Another use of parallelism involves the completion of the thought of the first line, as in Psalm 96:7:

Give unto the Lord, O ye kindreds of the people,

give unto the Lord glory and strength.

Parallelism may also make use of a series of figures of speech with further significance of the initial idea emerging from successive lines. Psalm 1:3 is an example:

And he shall be like a tree

planted by the rivers of water,

that bringeth forth his fruit in his season;

his leaf also shall not wither;

and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

The poetic parallelism of Scripture provides not only a way for meaning to unfold to the reader like an opening flower; it also contributes to the biblical idea of meditation. The word translated “meditate,” as in Psalm 1:2, means to read over and ponder what is written. The idea is to read and reread the verse of Scripture. With parallelism, the reader reads the first line, holds that thought, reads the second line, then returns to the first line, pondering what is written.

It is characteristic of poetry to use figurative language featuring comparison. The comparison can be explicit, as in a simile: “He eats like a horse.” Or the comparison can be implicit, as in a metaphor: “He champed at the bit.” The simile states that someone is like a horse in some way. The metaphor assumes comparison of someone with a horse by describing the person with the characteristics of a horse.

Here are examples of similes:

“He gathereth the waters of the sea together as an heap” (Psalm 33:7).

“And they of the city shall flourish like grass of the earth” (Psalm 72:16).

“But my horn shalt thou exalt like the horn of an unicorn” (Psalm 92:10).

Metaphors are more common than similes. Here are some examples of metaphors, where the comparison is implied:

“He layeth up the depth in storehouses” (Psalm 33:7).

Here, the waters of the ocean are compared with grain kept in storehouses. The metaphor pictures God as a farmer who gathers His grain and stores it.

“Those that be planted in the house of the Lord

shall flourish in the courts of our God.

They shall still bring forth fruit in old age;

they shall be fat and flourishing” (Psalm 92:13-14).

Righteous people are compared to trees planted in the courtyard of the Temple. They bear fruit and are green and full of sap.

The Structure of the Psalter: Since the Psalter is a collection of psalms by a variety of authors, the structure of the book as we now have it is not original with any of the authors whose psalms appear in the book. Its structure is, rather, the result of composition done after all the individual psalms were completed. There were earlier collections, some smaller and some larger, but the result was a book intentionally shaped to serve a theological purpose. (See, e.g., Psalm 72:20.) The traditional outline of the book follows its division into five books by the Masoretic Text. A common explanation of this division is that these five books correspond in some way to the five books of the Torah (i.e., the Pentateuch). The idea here is to read Psalms 1-41 in conjunction with Genesis; Psalms 42-72 with Exodus; Psalms 73-89 with Leviticus; Psalms 90-106 with Numbers; and Psalms 107-150 with Deuteronomy. It is difficult, however, to identify thematic links between the five books of the Pentateuch and the Psalter, and more recent scholarship questions whether these are the most significant structural features of the Psalter and whether the New Testament writers viewed the five-book division of the Psalms as significant for their purposes. More recent views of the structure of the Psalter include the following:

Thematic.  The thematic approach to the structure of the psalms was suggested by Franz Delitzsch and further developed by Christoph Barth.  The idea is that the psalms are linked together not only by key words, but also by broad themes.

            Structural.  As suggested by P. Auffret, this approach sees a chiastic structure within the Psalter, specifically within Psalms 15-24.  A chiasm is a kind of reverse, inverted outline.  Auffret based the chiasm on several key words.

Redactional.  This is the idea that the current shape of the Psalter is a revision of an earlier shape, with the current shape intended to serve certain theological purposes, but not necessarily one purpose.

Canonical.  Brevard Childs has suggested that we can dispense with discussion about any previous shape of the Psalter and focus on its present shape and structure.  We do not need to be concerned with how the present shape came to be; all we need to be concerned with is that this is the shape found in the canon.

Compositional.  The compositional approach sees the current shape of the Psalter as reflecting an inspired work bringing together previously existing materials in a form intended to advance a specific theological purpose.  One compositional approach sees the Psalter as a collection of prayers for the Jewish people in exile, functioning as a replacement for temple worship.

A compositional/canonical approach seems most satisfying, because it recognizes the obvious facts concerning the variety of authors and evidence of previous collections now reshaped into the current canonical form.  The following points seem evidently true:

  1. The Psalter is a composition with a specific purpose and literary strategy.
  2. The Psalter is composed for individuals, not only for the community.
  3. The Psalter is composed for those in exile or tribulation as a source book for hope and divine comfort.
  4. The framework of the Psalter is messianic: It focuses on Zion theology and the Kingdom of God, by which we mean the physical restoration of Davidic hope, the ultimate fulfillment of the promise God made to David that the Messiah would descend physically from him to rule on David’s throne in Zion.  The selection and arrangement of the psalms are intended to explore the relationship between the Law of Moses and Israel’s hope for the future, or, as we might say from the Christian perspective, the relationship between law and grace.  The final form of the Psalter is also intended to explore the meaning of the Davidic Covenant in view of the apostasy and exile of the House of David.

[1] This lesson is drawn from the Apostolic Study Bible, ed. Robin Johnston (Hazelwood, MO: Word Aflame Press, 2014), 853-854. It is written by Daniel L. Segraves.

Looking Forward Now Available on 3 apps: iBook, Kindle, Nook, and other news

My newest book, Looking Forward: A Clear View of Biblical Prophecy, is now available as an iBook and on the Kindle and Nook apps.

I’ve checked, and all of the following books I have written are available on these apps:

  • If God Loves Me, Why Am I Hurting?
  • Reading Between the Lines: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament
  • God in Flesh
  • Hebrews: Better Things
  • Living by Faith: A Verse-by-Verse Study of Romans
  • Proverbs: Ancient Wisdom for Today’s World
  • First Peter: Standing Fast in the Grace of God
  • James: Faith at Work
  • The Messiah’s Name: JESUS, Not Yahshua
  • You Can Understand the Bible

Here is a list of other books I have written that are not yet available as ebooks. They can be purchased at www.pentecostalpublishing.com:

  • The Messiah in the Psalms: Discovering Christ in Unexpected Places
  • Second Peter and Jude
  • Themes from a Letter to Rome
  • Hair Length in the Bible
  • That Which is Perfect [This is a PDF of my M.A. in Exegetical Theology thesis]

The following book is available as a PDF only at www.pentecostalpublishing.com:

  • Insight for Christian Living

My book Andrew D. Urshan: A Theological Biography has been out only a few weeks. It is a revision of my PhD dissertation and is available at www.pentecostalpublishing.com and Amazon.com. It will not be available as an ebook. It exceeds 300 pages and is a careful examination of Urshan’s life and theology. Urshan is considered one of the four most influential shapers of Oneness Pentecostalism, and as someone who was born and raised in Persia (now Iran), the only one of the four who contributed Eastern insights.