The Messiah in the Psalms Lesson 7

Psalms
October 15, 2017
The Sanctuary | Hazelwood, Missouri

By Daniel L. Segraves

The similarities between Psalms 14 and 53 are such that Psalm 53 is often thought of as merely a doublet, revision, or corruption of Psalm 14. One proposed reason for the differences is that Psalm 53 appears in the Elohistic book of the Psalter, whereas Psalm 14 appears in the Yahwehistic portion of the Psalter. Another proposed reason is that Psalm 53 is a revision of Psalm 14 done in the northern kingdom and reflecting a more generic view of the identity of God. There are, however, more differences between the two psalms than the name by which God is identified.

The purpose of this thesis is to explore the possibility that Psalms 14 and 53 are intentionally placed in the Psalter in their precise locations. This placement reflects the overall messianic theme of the book. The context in which each psalm is found informs intentional and inspired differences between the two. Each serves an intended purpose in advancing the theme of the Book of Psalms.

In the context leading up to Psalm 14, the focus is on Israel’s covenant relationship with Yahweh. In the immediate context of Psalm 53, the focus is on God’s judgment of Gentiles. It is significant that Paul, in a series of quotes from the Old Testament to demonstrate the sinfulness of the Jewish people, quotes from the LXX version of Psalm 14:3, not from Psalm 53:3.

Psalm 53 is intentionally placed in the Psalter immediately after Psalm 52 to demonstrate the judgment of God upon the Gentile world. In order for it to serve its literary purpose, the psalm was amended by inspiration to identify God exclusively as ~yhil{a/ [Elohim] rather than hw”hy>, [Yahweh] God’s covenant name by which He revealed Himself to Moses in conjunction with the deliverance of the people of Israel from Egypt. Together with this development, other changes were made to effect a change of the psalm’s focus. These changes can be seen as follows:

There they are in great fear, for God is with the generation of the righteous. You shame the counsel of the poor, but the LORD is his refuge (Psalm 14:5-6).

There they are in great fear where no fear was, for God has scattered the bones of him who encamps against you; you have put them to shame, because God has despised them (Psalm 53:5).

In Psalm 14, Gentiles are in great fear because God is with Israel (e.g., the righteous). These Gentiles may seek to “frustrate the plans” (NIV) of the poor (e.g., Israel), but Yahweh is the refuge of the poor. Psalm 53 reveals a subtle but significant difference: A new fear has gripped the hearts of the Gentiles. It is not just because God is on the side of Israel, but because God is aggressive in destroying the Gentiles. He scatters the bones of those who seek to destroy Israel. Whereas in Psalm 14 the Gentiles shamed Israel, in Psalm 53 Israel shames the Gentiles. Indeed, God despises them.

In both psalms Israel and the Gentiles appear. But in Psalm 14 the focus is on God’s covenant with Israel; in Psalm 53 the focus is on God’s universal authority over the entire world of unbelievers.

Both psalms conclude with a nearly identical focus on Zion theology:

Oh, that the salvation of Israel would come out of Zion! When the LORD brings back the captivity of His people, let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad (Psalm 14:7).

Oh, that the salvation of Israel would come out of Zion! When God brings back the captivity of His people, let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad (Psalm 53:6).

The only difference between these verses is that Psalm 14 identifies God as Yahweh and Psalm 53 as Elohim. Thus, Psalm 14 focuses on the return of Israel from captivity from the perspective of the covenant God had with Israel. Psalm 53 focuses on the return from the perspective of God’s universal authority over all peoples of the world, including those who held Israel captive.

Regardless of the perspective, salvation comes out of Zion. This ties both psalms together with the messianic theme of the Psalter.

The significance of this is that it seeks to demonstrate divine intent in the placement of Psalms 14 and 53 and in Paul’s use of the LXX form of Psalm 14. It is the view of canonical-compositional hermeneutics that inspiration extends to the shape of the biblical books, not merely to the individual words within them.

Canonical-Compositional Hermeneutics

By the term “canonical-compositional hermeneutics” I mean the hermeneutic that views the final shape of the Tanak [the Hebrew Scriptures, commonly referred to as the Old Testament] as intentional and informative. As it pertains to the Psalter, this is the view that the order of the psalms and other evidence of post-exilic composition – sometimes referred to as redaction – are part of the process of inspiration and vital to meaning.

Messiah in the Psalms 1-72

The Messiah in the Psalms: Discovering Christ in Unexpected Places is available at pentecostalpublishing.com [best price] and amazon.com.