Musings on the Psalms (Part 2)

In my last post, I made the implication that Psalms 1 and 2 provide the appropriate hermeneutical and homiletical gateway to the Psalter in that Psalm 1 shows true wisdom as the result of meditating upon Torah in light of Psalm 2 which focuses the reader upon the messianic implications inherent to the Psalms. Ultimately, the point I am trying to make is that the psalms have a messianic, wisdom context. If we pay appropriate attention to the rest of the book and particularly to the breaks within the book that have been provided, this point is enhanced. Again, all of this is not necessarily original to me.
Books 1 (Pss 1-41) and 2 (Pss 42-72) are broken off as “The prayers of David the son of Jesse” (Ps 72:20). Now, it is important to note that not all the psalms in this section are attributed to David (e.g. Pss 42-50) and that later psalms in the Psalter are also attributed to David. However, this verse can be considered as more important than simply a remnant of an earlier collection that was swallowed up by the rest of the book. Rather, this verse focuses the reader upon the importance of Books 1 and 2 in presenting David as a model of the future Davidic king that was to come, which is clearly in line with Psalm 2. Now, there is much that I could present to you to show this, but suffice it to say that there are many passages within these first two books that have messianic implications. My point here is to show the connection between books 2 and 3.

Book 2 ends with Psalm 72, which is a prayer for the king. If Solomon is indeed taken as the author (and I am fully aware that the title could equally be understood as being “for Solomon” and not “by Solomon” yet I could still make the same argument based upon the picture of Solomon in the rest of the OT), then the fact that Solomon is praying for the future king is important. In particular, it shows that Solomon understood that he himself was not the son whom the Lord promised that David would have (2 Samuel 7). In other words, Solomon prays that some future king’s name would endure forever and that nations might call that future king blessed (72:17). Thus, we have Psalm 72 expressing a significant messianic hope in the sense that the Messiah would be a son of David. Even more significant for our topic here, when you turn your attention to Psalm 73, you find a typical wisdom-oriented psalm, as Asaph struggles to answer the question of the goodness of the Lord (see my discussion of this psalm here).

Turning out attention to the end of Book 3, Psalm 89 brings the first three books to what amounts to a low point. The psalm, which clearly expresses the confidence of God’s faithfulness to the covenant He made with David (see particularly vv. 26-29), ends with the psalmist wondering how the Lord could have reproached the footsteps of His anointed. For our discussion here, however, the important point is that Psalm 89 ends with a focus upon the promises made to David, which when read within the context of the Psalter again has messianic implications. Interestingly, Psalm 90 begins Book 4 with a psalm of Moses and another psalm of wisdom (see particularly v. 12).

At the end of Book 4, there lies in Psalm 106 a cry on behalf of the nation for forgiveness and deliverance. Thinking about the great rebellion of the nation in the past, the psalmist recognizes the Lord’s compassion because of His loyal love and His covenant (vv. 44-46). In light of this, the psalmist prays for the same salvation, in particular for the hope that the Lord would “gather us from among the nations, To give thanks to Your holy name And glory in Your praise” (v. 47). This clearly reflects the hope that those in exile had and a hope that the parts of the OT connects to the Messiah. Psalm 107, the first psalm in Book 5, also traces the Lord’s lovingkindness to His people. Interestingly, at the end, the psalm takes a turn as the psalmist asks, “Who is wise? Let him give heed to these things, And consider the lovingkindnesses of the LORD” (v. 43). As in the other two occasions, a psalm with messianic implications is followed by a psalm concerned with wisdom.

So, in conclusion, my primary point is to show that the rest of the book mirrors the intent of the introduction to the book. Just as the Psalter opens with wisdom and Messiah, so the rest of the book continues the theme at its transitions. The implication: The book of Psalms presents messianic hope, and the wise person will meditate upon these things until the Messiah comes. It is no surprise, then, that when the NT authors began writing about the person of Jesus as the Christ, they found much in the Psalms that presented a picture of the Christ.

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8 responses to this post.

  1. I think there are some hints of what you are saying in the psalm but I think to apply it too broadly would be a mistake. There are some Messianic passages in the psalms that the NT authors readily make use of but that does not mean that they were even seen that way when they were initially penned.

    I appreciate your thoughts. Well organized and insightful. It is often necessary to speak to broadly when taking a cursory glance at a topic that could span books rather than posts.

  2. Posted by CalebKolstad on August 14, 2007 at 2:37 am

    Thanks for these posts!

    CK

  3. Matt,

    Thanks for your comment. What I was attempting to show was the theological emphasis of the one who placed the psalms in their present position. This theological reflection is most evident, as I have tried to show, where obvious work has been done by this collector, namely, on the seams (see for example the doxologies at each of the breaks). I have simply tried to show by extending these observations that this is the theological perspective that we are interested in observing.

    Blessings,
    Randy

  4. That is something very worthwhile to examine. Keep up the good work. I am glad that more people are taking time to have a look at the Old Testament especially a site that has an impact on preaching.

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  6. It’s refreshing to read someone who sees the work of the compiler in the Psalter. I’m amazed at how dogmatic people are in defending the old “Psalms is a random collection, a hymn book” idea. The more you look, the more you discover order and structure in the collection. Gerald Wilson would push this idea strongly, but in recent years others have joined the discussion from this side too. Barry C.Davis wrote a PhD on the unity of 107-118. Then there are the smaller links as in 130-131. I think you are doing good work here. The intro is 1-2, the turning point is 73, the conclusion is 145-150…and I see a general trend in between, first downwards, then up again. Keep writing on these things.

  7. Randy,

    You write “the Psalter opens with wisdom and Messiah”

    I reply; I agree that in Psalm 1 we find a wisdom song and in Psalm 2 we find a royal psalm however we should not separate what the inclusio of 1:1 and 2:12 join together by the word “blessed”. Far better to see the theme of them both as the Messiah, or more specifically, in Ps. i we are introduced to Jesus in his person and in Ps. ii we are introduced to him in his office.

    Robert Cole explains it better than I:

    “Psalms 1 and 2 were not read as two disparate Torah and royal psalms respectively in the final redaction of the Psalter; rather, both depict the ideal Joshua-like warrior and king who through divinely given authority vanquishes his enemies. From this eschatological perspective the Psalter opens and sets the tone for all subsequent psalms.” – Cole, R. (2002) “An Integrated Reading of Psalms 1 and 2”, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, pp. 75-88

  8. Thanks for the quote, rjs1, and I understand Cole’s arguments.

    However, as I tried to show in the rest of the post, I believe that the final form of the Psalter actually supports the view that wisdom and Messiah are the two major themes of the whole. For me, what gives this meat, is that these two themes are occurring on the seams of the Psalter. At the same time, however, I recognize that at times it is difficult to split the ideas of wisdom and Messiah, themes that are integrally connected throughout the OT. But, I think the very inclusio you refer to begins to make the point that the the Psalter is not just attempting to explain the Messiah but also to call upon the reader to meditate upon its teachings and to seek refuge in that “Joshua-like warrior and king.”

    Thanks for the interaction. I hope this short response makes sense.

    Blessings…

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