The Messiah in the Psalms Lesson 12


November 26, 2017

The Sanctuary | Hazelwood, Missouri

By Daniel L. Segraves

Psalm 132

Psalm 132 is the longest of the fifteen psalms included in the “Songs of Ascents.”  A variety of theories have been offered as to the significance of these psalms.  A common theory is that the ascents refer “to journeys made by pilgrims to the three annual festivals observed in Jerusalem (Deut. 16:16).  . . . The psalms on this theory are a collection for use by pilgrims either in their journey or in processionals during a festival.”[1]  Another suggestion is that these psalms were a liturgy for “a choir ranged up a flight of fifteen stairs, such as we know existed in the Jerusalem temple.”[2]  It is also pointed out that “in the book of Ezra exiles returning from captivity in Babylon are repeatedly said to ‘go up’ to Jerusalem, and Ezra’s own ‘journey’ (7:9) is literally his ‘going up,’ his aliyah, the noun in our psalm headings.”[3]

We will read these psalms from the perspective of the third suggestion, for if we “look at the term within the book of Psalms . . . the word appears to refer to Israel’s ‘coming up’ out of exile, thus setting the theme of these psalms within the context of Israel’s return from Babylonian captivity.”[4]

     Throughout the OT, the notion of the return from Babylonian captivity is seen as a picture of the times of the Messiah (cf. Isa 40).  The Psalms of Ascents are thus to be read within Psalms as an expression of the hope of God’s faithfulness to David and the fulfillment of his messianic promise.  . . . The central psalm is Ps 132, which specifically recounts the Davidic covenant of 2 Sa 7.[5]

            Peter understood Psalm 132 to be about the Messiah.  On the Day of Pentecost, in order to affirm that Jesus was the promised Messiah, Peter referred to Psalm 132:11.  Peter said, concerning David, “Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption” (Acts 2:30-31).

Peter coupled Psalm 132:11 together with Psalm 16:10, indicating that both psalms are about the Messiah.  Psalm 132:11 reads, “The Lord has sworn in truth to David; He will not turn from it: ‘I will set upon your throne the fruit of your body.’”  The fruit of David’s body is the Messiah, Jesus Christ.[6]

In Psalm 132, verses 1-10 form a prayer request that concludes with the words, “For Your Servant David’s sake, do not turn away the face of Your Anointed” (10).  The word translated “Anointed” is from Mashiyach, which transliterates into English as “Messiah.”  Verses 11-18 in Psalm 132 form the answer to the prayer request, with verse 11 promising that the Lord will not turn away the face of His Messiah.  He will, instead, as He swore to David, set the Messiah, a physical descendant of David, on David’s throne.

We do not know who wrote this psalm or when it was written.  What we do know is that it contains extensive quotations: “a vow of David (vv. 3-5), an oath of the Lord concerning the Davidic succession (vv. 11b-12), a word of the Lord about the election of Zion (vv. 14-16), and another joined to it about the future of David’s dynasty (vv. 17-18).”[7]

The interpretation of individual psalms is aided more by the context in which they are found in the Psalter and by textual linkages than by speculations about authorship, provenance, and the circumstances under which they were originally written.  After the return from Babylonian exile, when the composition of the Psalter took its final shape, the psalms were apparently arranged in an intentional and interpretive form.  It is this form that is most helpful in determining meaning, not the concerns of historical criticism.

Psalm 132 begins as a prayer, asking the Lord to remember David “and all his afflictions” (1).  The prayer centers on David’s vow not to allow anything to stand in the way of finding “a place for the Lord, a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob” (2-5).  Although we do not find the precise words of this vow elsewhere in Scripture, we know that these verses reflect David’s desire to find a place for the Ark of the Covenant that was more suitable than Baale Judah (II Samuel 6:2).[8]  Another name for Baale is Kirjath Jearim (Joshua 15:9), which means “city of forests.”  The Ark had been taken to Kirjath Jearim after it was returned by the Philistines (I Samuel 6:20-21; 7:1-2).  It remained there for twenty years.[9]  The Israelites lamented this situation, and their lament finds full expression in David’s vow: “Surely I will not go into the chamber of my house, or go up to the comfort of my bed; I will not give sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids, until I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling place for the Mighty one of Jacob (3-5).”

Then comes a possible link that looks not only backward to the historic event of the return of the Ark to Jerusalem, but also ahead to the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem: “Behold, we heard of it in Ephrathah; we found it in the fields of the woods” (6).  The word “woods” is translated from ya‘ar, a form of which is transliterated “Jearim.”  As it relates to the Davidic event, this refers to the fact that the Ark had been kept in the wooded district around Kirjath Jearim.  But as it looks ahead to the birth of the Messiah, it may refer to the fact that He was born in Bethlehem.

In seeking to interpret this psalm, it is essential to remember that as it is now placed in the Psalter, it looks ahead to the coming of the promised Messiah (11).  David is dead, and the throne of David is empty.  The Ark has not been seen since 587 b.c., when the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem and destroyed the temple.[10]  So, for its post-exilic readers, the words “let us go into His tabernacle; let us worship at His footstool.  Arise, O Lord, to Your resting place, You and the ark of Your strength” (7-8) cannot refer only to an event in the distant past, when David finally returned the Ark to Jerusalem or when Solomon’s temple was completed.  There would be little hope to be gained from a recitation of a past, long gone and impossible to revive.  Instead, these words now look ahead to a new tabernacle and Ark, and priests who will “be clothed with righteousness” and saints who will “shout for joy” (9).

A significant link in making this connection is found in Micah 5:2, a post-exilic prophecy: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.”  The New Testament sees this as a prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.  (See Matthew 2:6; John 7:42.)  Ephrathah is consistently connected with Bethlehem in the Hebrew Scriptures.  (See Ruth 4:11; I Chronicles 2:50; 4:4.)  The Messiah would come from Ephrathah and, as Psalm 132 looks ahead to the fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant, it connects that fulfillment with Ephrathah, that is, with Bethlehem.  The statement, “We found it in the fields of the woods” (6b) brings to mind Luke’s record that the shepherds, the poor among Israel[11] and the first to discover and worship the Messiah, “were in the same country [around Bethlehem] living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night” (Luke 2:8).  It was here in the fields that an angel of the Lord told them the good news of a Savior, Christ the Lord, born in the city of David, Bethlehem (Luke 2:9-12).

Under the Old Covenant, the Ark was God’s dwelling place.  Under the New Covenant, God “tabernacles” or dwells among us in the Incarnation.[12]  As sacred as it was, the Ark of the Covenant was merely a shadow or type of the presence of God that would take up residence among human beings in the Person of Jesus Christ.[13]  In a very real sense, when the shepherds found Jesus in Bethlehem-Ephrathah in a manger, they went into His tabernacle and worshipped at His footstool (Psalm 132:7).  Because of the fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant, God’s priests are clothed with righteousness and His saints shout for joy (Psalm 132:9, 16).[14]

Although David’s more immediate sons were not obedient to God and thus lost the privilege of sitting on David’s throne (12), God would nevertheless keep His promise that the Messiah would descend from David and sit on David’s throne (11).  This was included in Peter’s message on Pentecost, as he explained that Jesus is now exalted to the right hand of God (Acts 2:33; Psalm 110:1).  From this position of exaltation, Christ pours out the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33).  The same Person who was crucified has been made both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36).

It was this message, composed in part from a quote from Psalm 132:11, that cut those who heard Peter to the heart, causing them to say, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).  Peter replied, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

All of this happened in Jerusalem, on Mount Zion, in harmony with the final verses of Psalm 132:

For the Lord has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His dwelling place: “This is My resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it.  I will abundantly bless her provision; I will satisfy her poor with bread.  I will also clothe her priests with salvation, and her saints shall shout for joy.  There I will make the horn of David grow; I will prepare a lamp for My Anointed.  His enemies I will clothe with shame, but upon Himself His crown shall flourish” (13-18).

These words have a New Covenant ring.  In the first century, Jewish Christians read these words:

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel (Hebrews 12:22-24).

In an extended allegory comparing Hagar to Mount Sinai and Mount Sinai to the earthly Jerusalem, Paul wrote, “but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all” (Galatians 4:26).  Bruce points out that the

events of the Exodus and the wilderness wanderings . . . are treated in the apostolic age as parables of Christian experience.  But Christians have come to no sacred mountain which can be touched physically but to the heavenly dwelling-place of God, the true and eternal Mount Zion.  . . . by virtue of accepting the gospel, the readers of [Hebrews] had come to that spiritual realm some of whose realities are detailed in the following clauses.[15]

This does not negate the promise of “the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (Revelation 21:2).

. . . the new Jerusalem has not yet come down to mankind, but in the spiritual realm they already have access to it.  They have become fellow-citizens with Abraham of that well-founded city for which he looked; it is the city or commonwealth which comprises the whole family of faith, God’s true dwelling-place.  Even now this city has not been manifested in its fullness; it is still in one sense “the city which is to come” (13:14), but the privileges of its citizenship are already enjoyed by faith.[16]

On the other hand, the Jerusalem that is only earthly, which Paul compared to Hagar and Mount Sinai, is compared by John with Sodom and Egypt (Revelation 11:8).  It seems quite apparent that promises like those found in Psalm 132:13 should not be limited to the earthly Jerusalem.  Although God does indeed love that city and continued to extend mercy to it by pouring out His Holy Spirit there to inaugurate the new era, His Spirit is not confined to that geographic location.  When He says, “This is My resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it” (Psalm 132: 14), this cannot mean that God dwells in the earthly Mount Zion alone.  He dwells in the Mount Zion that is also identified as the heavenly Jerusalem, the church (Hebrews 12:22-23).

Just before His departure, Jesus commanded His disciples not to depart from Jerusalem, for it was the place where the Holy Spirit would be poured out.[17]  In this pouring out, people were abundantly blessed and satisfied.  They were clothed with salvation and shouted for joy.  There the horn [strength or government] of David began to grow[18] and a lamp was prepared for the Messiah.[19]  The Messiah’s enemies will be “clothed with shame, but upon Himself His crown shall flourish” (18).  But Jesus also informed His disciples that what began in the earthly Jerusalem would extend over the entire earth: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Psalm 132 is a key text among the “Songs of Ascents,” assuring the returning exiles that God’s promise was not confined to the past.  Their historic focus on a sacred Ark was transformed into a future hope.  The throne of David would be filled once again, and the good news would first be heard in the fields around Bethlehem.

[1] James Luther Mays, Psalms, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1994), 385-386.

[2] Michael Wilcock, The Message of the Psalms 73-150, The Bible Speaks Today, ed. J. A. Motyer (Downers Grove, IL: 2001), 219.

[3] Wilcock, The Message of the Psalms, 219.

[4] John H. Sailhamer, NIV Compact Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan,1994), 343.

[5] Sailhamer, NIV Compact Bible Commentary, 343.

[6] See Matt 1:1; Luke 1:32; 3:31; Acts 13:22-23; Rom 1:3; Rev 5:5; 22:16.

[7] Mays, Psalms, 409.

[8] See II Samuel 6-7.

[9] The Ark was neglected during the time Saul was king (I Chronicles 13:3).

[10] Wilcock, The Message of the Psalms 73-15, 242.

[11] See Psalm 132:15.

[12] John 1:14. The word translated “dwelt” is eskēnōsen, which includes the meaning “to abide or dwell in a tabernacle or tent.”

[13] See Hebrews 9:1-10; 10:1-25; 12:24.

[14] See I Peter 2:5-9.

[15] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990), 355.

[16] Ibid., 357.

[17] See Luke 24:49-52; Acts 1:4-8.

[18] See Isaiah 9:6-7.  The word translated “grow” [tsamach] is also found in the messianic references to the “Branch.”  See Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15; Ezekiel 29:21; Zechariah 3:8; 6:12.

[19] “My Anointed” is a reference to the Messiah.  The “lamp” connects with II Samuel 21:17, where David is described as the “lamp of Israel” and with I Kings 11:36; 15:4, where David’s descendants Rehoboam and Abijam ruled in Jerusalem even after the division of the kingdom in order to give David a “lamp in Jerusalem.”  With the coming of the Messiah, this lamp will never go out.