The Trinity Hymnbook (Part 3)

In the first post in this three part series, we looked at how the Psalms, authored by our Triune God, contain many references and allusions to the Trinity. In the Psalms, often we are reading and singing of the Father, Son, and Spirit without perhaps the awareness we should have.

With the second installment, we saw how these songs were prepared especially for Jesus Christ by the Father to guide and comfort him in his atoning ministry as our Mediator.  Then, as we live in union with Christ, the Psalms lead us, as David Murray says in his work Jesus on Every Page, to sing of, in, and with Jesus.

In this final segment, we’ll consider seven of the ways the seven-fold Spirit of God is found in the Psalter.

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The Spirit’s authorship is apparent.

We know that all of Scripture is “inspired by God” (II Timothy 3:16) or, as is closer to the original meaning, “God-breathed.” The Bible contains the breathed-out words of God through his Spirit.  In all of Scripture men were moved by the Holy Spirit to give us the very thoughts of God (II Peter 1:20-21).

As one of the thirty-nine Old Testament books, clearly the Psalms would be included in this.  Yet special emphasis is seen on this truth. When Samuel anointed David to be the king in Israel in the midst of his brothers, “the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward” (I Samuel 16:13).  By the end of his forty year reign over the people of God, he became known as the “sweet psalmist of Israel” (II Samuel 23:1).  As works of poetry, the psalms given to us by David and the others who contributed contain the sweetness of the Spirit’s fruit.  Indeed, when we sing “how sweet in taste Your promises, than honey far more sweet” (Psalm 19:10), we are singing of the very goodness of the Holy Spirit himself.

The Spirit’s metaphors are abundant.  In a class on interpreting the Bible, I give my students the exercise of reading or singing a psalm then telling me how they see the Trinity poetically displayed.  They begin to realize that metaphors are frequently employed in the Psalms that testify to the Holy Spirit.  He is the river that makes glad the city of God (Psalm 46:4) He is the quiet waters the good Shepherd leads them to (Psalm 23:2), the oil which the Shepherd uses to anoint his people, and the source that causes their cups to overflow (Psalm 23:5; Psalm 92:10).  He is the one that brings forth life and fruit in the godly man (Psalm 1:2-3), even in old age (Psalm 92:12-14), like a stream to a tree and sap to a branch.  He brings brotherly love to and among his people from heaven above, just like the oil poured down on the high priest’s head and the dew that comes down from Mt. Hermon (Psalm 133).   He is the fountain of life, the light in which we see light (Psalm 36:9; 43:3).  Regularly and repeatedly the Spirit’s person and work is experienced and praised in the Psalter.

The Spirit’s creative power is acknowledged.  In Genesis 1:2 we read that “The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.”  This creative power of the Spirit is referenced throughout the Psalms.  As the animated world of creatures and men are described, Psalm 104:30 summarizes by saying that “You send forth your Spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.”  This work of the Spirit is described in Psalm 33:6 when the psalmist says, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host.” He regularly visits the earth with His Spirit to renew it (Psalm 65:9-13). Because he has woven each person in the womb, the psalmist knows there is no place on earth he can flee from God’s Spirit, and nothing can be hidden from his eyes as he searches and knows the depths of his heart (Psalm 139).  Every created entity is called upon to use the Spirit-given breath they have to praise the Lord for their existence, sustenance, and use (Psalm 148).

The Spirit’s redemptive work in the heart is ascribed.  In the book Renovation of the Heart, Dallas Willard says that “only a truly Spirit-based work on transforming who we are can take us further in becoming more like Christ.”  We see this displayed in the psalms.  Over 130 times the psalms speak of the heart, and it is in the inmost core of our being, in the seat of our will and emotions, that we see the Spirit’s transformative work of salvation in action.   The Spirit, who convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:5-11), tests minds and hearts (Psalm 7:9) and strikes them with a sense of their spiritual poverty and need (Psalm 109:22).  The converted are like enemies born again in the new Jerusalem who find their springs of living water there (Psalm 87).  They find the strength of salvation provided by Christ and the highway to Zion opened up to them (Psalm 84:5).  The joy that comes with this, clearly the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), is poured into their hearts (Psalm 4:7).  They willingly come to Jesus, their king and priest, in display of the Spirit’s redemptive power, bringing life and freshness to his kingdom like the morning dew (Psalm 110:3).  When we fall back into sin, we can follow the example of David who asked that the Holy Spirit would not be taken from him, the joy of his salvation would be restored, and his Spirit-wrought broken heart would be accepted by God (Psalm 51:11, 17).

The Spirit’s anointing of our Savior is affirmed.  At Jesus’ entrance into his public ministry through John’s baptism, heaven opened up, the Father declared his pleasure in his Son, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove. This anointing by the Spirit in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is highlighted in the psalms.  This scene and the words of the Father were “prerecorded” in Psalm 2, with its reference to Jesus being the Anointed One (2:2), the very Son of God (2:7), whom the whole earth is called to obey (2:8).  In Jesus Christ we are to see all the promises to David fulfilled, for the Father exclaims, “I have found David my servant; with my holy oil I have anointed him, with whom my hand will be established; my arm also will strengthen him” (Psalm 89:19-21).  In raising Christ from the dead, as Hebrews 1:9 quotes from Psalm 45:7, “Therefore, God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of joy above Your fellows.”  Preserved from decay in his burial by the Spirit (Psalm 16:10-11), Christ by the Spirit sang of God’s love and strength on the day of his resurrection (Psalm 59:16).  As one has said, the resurrection is the Father’s “Amen!” to the Son’s “It is finished!” His resurrection shows God’s people that “the Lord is their strength, and He is a saving defense to His anointed” (Psalm 28:8).  We can then approach God confidently, because the Spirit-anointed Son of God has become our shield of righteousness (Psalm 84:9).

The Spirit’s guidance and comfort to God’s people is acclaimed.  As followers of Christ, he has promised to give his Spirit to us to guide us into the truth of God (John 16:13-15) and to comfort us with his presence (John 14:16-18).  Thus, we can ask for and know we will be granted this type of assistance with the Psalms.  We can seek guidance with this prayer: “Teach me to do Your will, for you are my God; let your good Spirit lead me on level ground” (Psalm 143:10).  Similarly, we can ask God to “send out Your light and Your truth, let them lead me; let them bring me to Your holy hill and to Your dwelling places” (Psalm 43:3), and pray for spiritual insight knowing that “the unfolding of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” (119:130). 

When we need assurance and the comfort of God’s presence in this world of suffering, we can know it will come from the Comforter who dwells within us through Christ. He can take our valley of tears and make them bring forth springs of life (Psalm 84:6), causing our deserts to become like well-watered gardens (Psalm 107:35).  When we pant for flowing streams like a pursued, parched deer being hunted, he will provide hope and salvation to our souls (Psalm 42). We can be assured that “when the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:17-18). Ultimately, we experience the following through Christ’s Spirit working in us:

Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.

But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.

-Psalm 73:25-28

Finally, the Spirit’s great witness among the nations is anticipated.  The resurrected Lord, before He ascended, breathed His Spirit onto his disciples (John 20:22), commissioned them to preach to the nations after they received his presence through the Spirit (Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24:45-49), and promised them the fulfillment of these things when he said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  All of this was done as the Scriptures predicted (Luke 24:44-46).

The Psalms are a primary source of those predictions, repeatedly testifying to the Spirit’s gospel work among the nations.  They promise the nations will be inherited by Christ (Psalm 2:8; 86:9).  Thus, Jesus Christ has been placed as head over the nations (Psalm 18:43); the nations are rebuked for their wickedness against him (Psalm 2:1; 9:5); they have their false counsel nullified by the Lord to lead them to him (Psalm 33:10); the peoples of the earth are being increasingly subdued under his and his people’s feet (Psalm 47:3); Christ laughs at their attempts to thwart his plan (Psalm 2:1-3; 59:8); he sovereignly calls the nations of the earth to give him homage and worship (Psalm 117); and he will eventually bring all the nations into his worship (Psalm 22:27; 102:15).  This great work among the nations is pictured as a worldwide harvest, beautifully captured in Psalm 67. As this harvest can only be produced by the Spirit, let us then end with its words, a fitting testimony both to the Spirit’s ongoing work and his clear presence in the Psalter, the Trinity’s Hymnbook.

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us,
that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth.
Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!
The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, shall bless us.
God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him!

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