The Psalms: Singing of the King

Series Index:

  1. The Psalms: Singing of the King
  2. Covenant: A Strategy for Singing the Psalms
  3. David the King
  4. Yahweh the King
  5. Messiah the King
  6. Summary and Conclusion

Part 1 in a 6 part series. View series intro and index.

Chances are, if you are a Christian, you love the book of Psalms. Probably more than Leviticus or Nahum. We closely identify with its praises, complaints, cries for help, and thanksgivings. Its raw emotion and relentless truth arrests our mind and affections. For good reason it is used in worship services and liturgies around the world. After all, Psalms was the primary book of prayer and praise for the ancient Israelites, as it should be us today. Most of the psalms have direct relevance to our contemporary lives, and it is clear that there is something deep and rich to this marvelous collection–perhaps deeper and richer than we realize. It is less clear, however, that a unifying theme actually exists in Psalms. Perhaps you have simply thought it is a book of 150 random songs about God. Thankfully, this is not the case. Recognizing a unifying theme will not just add information to our brains, but it will greatly help to use Psalms in our individual and corporate worship.

The most important person in ancient Israel was the king. In his prosperity, the people prospered. In his failure, the people failed. In a significant way, more so than any other Old Testament book, Psalms makes this abundantly clear. That is why Israel treasured Psalms! It is a book rife with hymns, laments, praises, and hopes about Israel’s Davidic king and their ultimate King, Yahweh. Over the next couple of weeks, we are going to examine Israel’s theology of kingship in the Psalms by showing how the book celebrates and petitions for Yahweh’s reign over Israel and the nations through the Davidic king (this is my thesis for you fellow nerds out there). Now, if you wanted to punt after hearing “theology of kingship,” hang in there. That simply means that Israel thought about their king in a God-centered (i.e. Yahweh-centered) way. In short, Israel’s “theology of kingship” is this: their national king wasn’t an end in himself; the king’s rule pointed to something greater–the rule of Yahweh himself.

So, here’s where we are going in these posts:

  • I will propose a strategy for how to interpret Psalms as a whole. Namely, I will suggest that we read Psalms through the lens of the Davidic covenant.
  • I will examine various psalms that are often categorized as “royal” and “enthronement” psalms. That means we’ll look at the ones that emphasize David as King and Yahweh as King, respectively.
  • I will examine other so-called royal psalms that point forward to a future Messiah-King, who will bring God’s rule to earth.
  • Then, to wrap it all up, I will synthesize what we find and provide a summary of Israel’s “theology of kingship” in the Psalms.

I hope you’ll stay tuned over the next couple of weeks as we journey through this beloved book!

How Can We Be Sure Moses Wrote the Pentateuch?

John Calvin:

I am aware of what is muttered in corners by certain miscreants, when they would display their acuteness in assailing divine truth. They ask, how do we know that Moses and the prophets wrote the books which now bear their names? Nay, they even dare to question whether there ever was a Moses. Were any one to question whether there ever was a Plato, or an Aristotle, or a Cicero, would not the rod or the whip be deemed the fit chastisement of such folly? The law of Moses has been wonderfully preserved, more by divine providence than by human care; and though, owing to the negligence of the priests, it lay for a short time buried,–from the time when it was found by good King Josiah (2 Kings 22:8; 2 Chron. 34:15),–it has continued in the hands of men, and been transmitted in unbroken succession from generation to generation. Nor, indeed, when Josiah brought it forth, was it as a book unknown or new, but one which had always been matter of notoriety, and was then in full remembrance. The original writing had been deposited in the temple, and a copy taken from it had been deposited in the royal archives (Deut. 17:18, 19); the only thing which had occurred was, that the priests had ceased to publish the law itself in due form, and the people also had neglected the wonted reading of it. I may add, that scarcely an age passed during which its authority was not confirmed and renewed. Were the books of Moses unknown to those who had the Psalms of David in their hands? To sum up the whole in one word, it is certain beyond dispute, that these writings passed down, if I may so express it, from hand to hand, being transmitted in an unbroken series from the fathers, who either with their own ears heard them spoken, or learned them from those who had, while the remembrance of them was fresh.

– Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.8.9

A is for Atonement

Even though the word does not appear in the New Testament, the idea of atonement still permeates the whole Bible.  Salvation is possible and effectual for all who believe in Jesus because he atoned for our sins by his sacrificial death on the cross.

The Hebrew word for atonement is kaphar and it means “to cover, purge, and reconcile.”  In the Old Testament, God atoned for the sins of his people through animal sacrifice. Leviticus 16 is a particularly important passage for us when we consider the history of this word.

Leviticus 16 is important because it describes the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur, known to us as “The Day of Atonement.” On that day, the high priest was to  make atonement for himself and his family, then for the people of Israel.  Verse 34 tells us, “This shall be a statute forever for you, that atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in the year because of their sins.”

In the New Testament, Jesus is our atonement because, simply, “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb. 10:4). Before Christ, sacrifices had to be made once a year. They were a foreshadowing of what was to come in Jesus, who “has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Heb. 9:26).

Not only is Jesus our atonement, but he was substituted for us as he took the penalty for sin. These ideas together give us the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement (penal meaning “penalty”).  It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Christian faith is wholly dependent on this doctrine.

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree…For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous (1 Peter 2:24; 3:18).

He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed (Isa. 53:5-6).

If you do not receive the payment Jesus made for sin by his atoning sacrifice, then you will continually seek something else to make the payment. You will seek to cover your sin and shortcomings with relationships, status, wealth, body-image, reputation, knowledge, wisdom, adventure, entertainment, discipline, work-ethic, sexual encounters, or a thousand other things.  And, as Tim Keller has said, those things can never ultimately save you, and if you fail them, they will never forgive you.

*               *               *

Over the next couple of months, we’ll be walking through the ABC’s of Christianity.  I’ll write short posts about 26 words that every Christian needs to know.

What does it mean to be a true Jew? (Part 1)

For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? (Romans 2:25-26)

In this section, Paul gets to the epicenter of Jewish law-keeping.  He begins with “For,” showing that what he is going to say is connected to what he has just said in the preceding verses.  Paul just finished writing that the Jews’ lack of honoring God in obeying the law they claim leads to justification causes the Gentiles to blaspheme the name of God.  Now he says, “For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision.”  In Galatians 5:3, Paul writes, “I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.”  A Jew who boasts in the fact that he is circumcised and hence a part of God’s covenant people because of that circumcision, must keep the entire law, without sin, in order to be justified before God.  Paul tells the reader, “Circumcision is the thing for you, if you can be a perfect law-keeper.  But once you make one mistake, circumcision might as well be uncircumcision.”

In light of 3:1-2, where Paul says that being circumcised has some benefit, Paul must be saying here that circumcision alone is not enough to shield anyone from God’s wrath.  In other words, circumcision is not enough to give someone a right relationship with God.

If a Jew reads this passage, they will be utterly disgusted because the word “uncircumcised” means “having the foreskin” or in a broader sense, simply “Gentile.”  Paul practically calls Jews who do not keep the entire law “Gentiles” and that obviously would greatly offend any first century Jew who did not follow Christ.

Paul’s logic goes like this in verse 26: “So, if a man who is uncircumcised [that is, a Gentile] keeps the precepts of the law [is obedient to God’s commandments], will not his uncircumcision [his status as a non-covenant Gentile] be regarded as circumcision [a covenant-member of God’s people]?”  Doug Moo, in his commentary on Romans, argues (as he did in 2:6-11) that Paul is setting forth the requirements of salvation apart from the gospel, that is, perfect obedience and total disobedience.  Moo (p. 171) writes, “We…conclude that Paul is again here citing God’s standard of judgment apart from the gospel as a means of erasing the distinction at this point between Jew and Gentile. Paul is not pointing the way to salvation but is showing Jews that their position, despite their covenant privileges, is essentially no different from that of Gentiles: disobedience brings condemnation; obedience brings salvation.”

Moo’s argument is compelling and he may be right.  But it is hard for me to get over the fact that Paul does not seem to be speaking in hypothetical terms or in alternate universe scenarios (that is, a universe apart from the gospel).  Paul is laying the groundwork, as it appears to me, for what it means to be a true Jew and what it means to be a true Gentile.  As we shall see in verses 28-29, a true Jew (namely, a born-again person) is one who has had his heart transformed by the Spirit; a true Gentile is one who is left untransformed.

Jesus: The Greater David

Jesus isn’t just the greater Moses. He is also the greater David. In Psalm 78, the psalmist is reflecting on Israel’s rebellion against God after they were saved from slavery in Egypt. God was so gracious to his people despite their unfaithfulness. “Yet,” the psalmist wrote, “they sinned still more against him” (vv. 17, 40, 56).

Later in the Psalm, the writer tells us that he chose a shepherd from the tribe of Judah to lead his people back to God. This shepherd is David. The psalmist tells us:

He chose David his servant and took him from the sheepfolds; from following the nursing ewes he brought him to shepherd Jacob his people, Israel his inheritance. With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand (vv. 70-72).

You might be thinking, “David had an upright heart?! What about that whole Bathsheba and Uriah thing? That wasn’t so upright!” And you would be right. Of course David had his moral failures. He was human. And that’s the point: as great as David was as shepherd-king of Israel, he still fell short of the perfection that God’s people needed.

That’s where Jesus comes in. In John 10, he said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (v. 11).  In saying this, Jesus claims to be the long awaited heir of David who would lead God’s people perfectly. He would be the ultimate shepherd-king who would never have a moral failure or a bad thought toward his flock.

When we read the Old Testament, we cannot look for examples in men like David and Moses. We need to see them as imperfect men who could never fully be what God’s people needed.  They should not inspire us to be better people. They should leave us longing to be saved by the greater Man who did and said all that God wanted with complete perfection.