/ Christ in the Psalms / Barry York

The Trinity's Hymnbook (Part 2)


In preparing to teach a class at church this weekend, I realized what has been that nagging thought in the blog part of my conscience. Toward the end of last year, I did a post entitled "The Trinity's Hymnbook (Part 1)," which of course implies - and indeed promised - further installments which had not come before today. As I remember it, we were in the process of moving the blog over to another site at that time. So some delays moved my thinking to other areas. Sorry for the delay.  However, a careful reading of the post did not say when I would write the next one! Regardless, part two is below.  


The first article looked at more direct references to the Trinity in the Psalms. In this post, I want to take you "behind" the Psalter and look at what I believe is its greatest purpose as prophetical literature.  

Knowing the purpose for which a book was written can make all the difference in understanding it, particularly when we read a book of the Bible. For instance, knowing that the book of Proverbs shows a father writing instruction to his son, one who is on the verge of adulthood, helps you to comprehend its message. This intent helps you understand why the father portrays the pursuit of wisdom like marrying a godly woman and contrasts falling into folly like marrying a tramp. Since marriage is already on the mind of a young man, why not use it to teach the boy whom he really should be concerned about marrying?  The intention of the Biblical author must be kept in mind by the reader.

Have you ever considered the ultimate purpose of the Psalms?  Certainly God had many reasons for recording them. The Psalms are a manual of praise for God’s people. They are a book of prayer, giving full expression in prayer form of human emotion and experiences. Martin Luther called the Psalms “my little Bible” because they summarize the theology of the Scriptures.  Yet what if we considered that the primary intention of the author of the Psalms, the 150 songs found in the heart of the Bible, was in essence the same as the Proverbs?  That they contain the thoughts of a Father writing about and to His Son?

In the Psalms,  we see God the Father providing guidance and comfort to God His Son. The Father knew His Son would need this comfort when He left heaven and became man. We need to recognize the Psalms were written principally for the incarnate Son of God. Then, through union with Christ, the Psalms flow down to us with great blessing. If this be true, it will transform how you read, study, and sing them.

To see this, we must look at the life of David, who composed at least half of the psalms and who is primarily credited in Scripture for their compilation. Jesus, quoting the psalms at one point in His ministry, spoke what was common to the Jews of his day, “David himself said in the Book of Psalms…” (Luke 20:42).  David is the human composer and collector of the Psalter, and as we look more closely at him further revelation of Christ emerges.

Seeing certain truths in the Bible is like looking at one of those clever pictures where the artist has taken the objects you clearly see and used them to hide another picture. You must stare at the main picture for a time before the hidden picture emerges and your eye catches what was there before you all along. The psalmist says, “The secret of the Lord is for those who fear Him, and He will make them know his covenant.  My eyes are continually upon the Lord…” (Psalm 25:14-15). As we fear God by meditating on His Word and setting our eyes upon Him, further knowledge and secrets about Him begin to emerge. Our spiritual eyesight crystallizes.

One such covenantal secret we should see is David represented “the greater David,” Jesus Christ. The Son of David was typified by his forefather. In other words, the life experiences of David, so many of which are captured in the Psalms, had a greater purpose than simply giving us David’s history as a king of Israel. God so ordained the life of David that the Psalms were a precursor to Christ’s life, and as such were given by the Father to serve as heart songs for the Savior. The Psalms would define the Son’s life direction, give voice to the deepest longings of His heart, and ultimately sustain Him during the days of distress that awaited Him.

Realizing this may help us to read both the Psalms and the gospels with a new sense of appreciation for the divine relationship between the Father and the Son. We will be all the richer for seeing it. Let's look closely at this passage in 2 Samuel 23:1-7 (ESV) and see how it reveals this truth to us.

Now these are the last words of David.
David the son of Jesse declares,
The man who was raised on high declares,
The anointed of the God of Jacob,
And the sweet psalmist of Israel,
“The Spirit of the Lord spoke by me,
And His word was on my tongue.
“The God of Israel said,
The Rock of Israel spoke to me,
‘He who rules over men righteously,
Who rules in the fear of God,
Is as the light of the morning when the sun rises,
A morning without clouds,
When the tender grass springs out of the earth,
Through sunshine after rain.’
“Truly is not my house so with God?
For He has made an everlasting covenant with me,
Ordered in all things, and secured;
For all my salvation and all my desire,
Will He not indeed make it grow?
“But the worthless, every one of them will be thrust away like thorns,
Because they cannot be taken in hand;
But the man who touches them
Must be armed with iron and the shaft of a spear,
And they will be completely burned with fire in their place.”

God revealed His eternal plan for His Son by the Spirit.

2 Samuel 23:1 tells us these are “the last words of David.” David, the king of Israel, was at the end of his life, and he desired to leave behind his last will and testament. The one making a will often identifies himself by his residency and relationship to others. The same is true here. David uses several terms in verse one to identify himself:

  • He calls himself the “son of Jesse.” He does this to establish the ancestral line from which he came.
  • David says he is the “man who was raised on high.” This in reference to the office of king of Israel that he held.  David is making clear that he did not achieve the exalted position of king by his own doing but was raised up to it by God Himself.
  • His declaration that he is “the anointed of the God of Jacob” verifies his sense of having his office by divine favor. In 1 Samuel 16:13, we know that Samuel the prophet “took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of His brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily on David from that day forward.”  The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of Israel, anointed him physically and spiritually into the kingship on that day.
  • Finally, he says that he is “the sweet psalmist of Israel.” In light of the pending death of David and the titles listed before this one, we are not to see in this last designation simply a sentimental statement, i.e., David wrote a lot of nice songs.  Rather, as the anointed, Spirit-filled king of His people, God bestowed upon David the additional role of prophet and appointed him to write and collect songs for His people.

These things become even more evident in what David states in verse 2. He claims that the words he recorded in the psalms were not his own composition, but the “Spirit of the Lord spoke by me, and His word was on my tongue.” Jesus said of David that he spoke “in the Spirit” (Matthew 22:43). The writings of David, the Psalms, are not of human origin. God the Father, speaking by His Spirit, recorded them.

So often those in the church state that the Scriptures are inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16), but perhaps we do not appreciate all that is meant by this. Listen to the apostle Peter not only remind the church of this important truth, but help us see the great design of God as the true author of Scripture. “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:20-21). Men like David were moved - inspired by God - to speak His words. The Spirit spoke through David to what end?

“As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look” (2 Peter 1:10-12). Applying these words to David, the “Spirit of Christ” was speaking of things that even David himself could not fully comprehend.  David wanted to understand the full extent of what he was experiencing and saying, yet he was told the words he was recording in his prophecy, the secret of the covenant, were not for him, but for you. You now have the secret revealed to you.  This secret is not of a nature that people cannot hear about it, like the secrets whispered quietly in another’s ear. This secret is one that is revealed. Yet what is it?

God’s plan or secret, recorded in the psalms, is that “David” would rule the nations after suffering

David has a sense of this plan, called a covenant, here at the end of his life.  Again, verses 3-5 say:

He who rules over men righteously,
Who rules in the fear of God,
Is as the light of the morning when the sun rises,
A morning without clouds,
When the tender grass springs out of the earth,
Through sunshine after rain.’
“Truly is not my house so with God?
For He has made an everlasting covenant with me,
Ordered in all things, and secured;
For all my salvation and all my desire,
Will He not indeed make it grow?

David speaks of a righteous ruler who will be as beautiful and beneficent as the sun rising on a cloudless morning, bringing warmth and life to the whole earth. However, clearly this eternal ruler will not be this David. David was close to dying when he wrote these words. He was so old and shriveled up that his servants felt he needed a "human water bottle" named Abishag to keep him warm (1 Kings 1:1-3). He was no sun at this time, and we know that David died. During the time of apostolic preaching at Pentecost recorded in Acts 2, Peter said David’s grave with his body was there in Jerusalem.  So David is not speaking of himself here.

As he wrote these words in 2 Samuel 23, David had in mind the eternal covenant God had made with him.  This covenant is recorded in 2 Samuel 7 when Nathan the prophet told David:

The LORD also declares to you that the LORD will make a house for you. When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.  “I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me …Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever (II Samuel 7:11-14,16).

David himself called what God would establish “my salvation” (2 Samuel 23:5). If he had been this righteous ruler, he would not have needed salvation himself. He knew by the Spirit that a descendant was coming that would be seated forever on his throne. It would not be this David. It will be another David, one whom will be a son to God.

In the Psalms, this promise became memorialized.  In Psalm 89:3 we read God declaring that “I have made a covenant with My chosen; I have sworn to David My servant, I will establish your seed forever, and build up your throne to all generations.” In Psalm 132:10-12 we hear, “For the sake of David Your servant, do not turn away the face of Your anointed. The LORD has sworn to David a truth from which He will not turn back: ‘Of the fruit of your body I will set upon your throne. If your sons will keep My covenant and My testimony which I will teach them, their sons also shall sit upon your throne forever.’”

All the other sons of David had failed to keep covenant with God, and had died or been driven from the throne. We see clearly in the New Testament that Jesus Christ is this other David, the true Son of David.  In Matthew 1:1 we read about the “genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David.” Messiah means the “anointed one” and is often translated “Christ” in the New Testament. When Jesus was anointed at His baptism by John the Baptist, the Spirit of God came upon Jesus, just like David had received at his anointing. This event was a sign that Jesus was inaugurated into His kingdom. As His genealogy is listed further in Matthew 1, generally just the plain names of his ancestors are given. Yet in verse 6 we are told that one of Jesus’ ancestors is “Jesse, the father of David the king.” We are to realize that Jesus was the one appointed to sit on His father David’s throne. Jesus is then called the Son of David throughout the gospels by the people. By the time He rides into Jerusalem on the donkey at the end of His ministry, the crowds are crying out, “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9).

The secret of who this ruler is and the source of this covenant promise is the message of the gospel! After Christ suffered outside Jerusalem for those who were to be brought into His kingdom, great glories such as His resurrection and ascension followed. At Pentecost, when Peter pointed to David’s grave as being occupied, he also proclaimed that Jesus’ tomb was empty. So how can this message so openly proclaimed in any way be called a secret?

When a life guard watches over a beach, everyone enjoying the water knows he is there but few appreciate him. But if a swimmer has nearly drowned, had the life guard dive into the water and bring him to shore, then been resuscitated by him, the one rescued will think of that life guard as an exceptional fellow indeed. He will have a special or secret fondness of heart for him. Angels have seen Christ suffer, die, and then be resurrected and enter heaven, but they cannot delight in this like you can for they are not the recipients of His grace. As we read of these promises in the Old Testament, we need to grow in our appreciation for all that the Father did in planning long ago to send His Son as King to rescue us, and then in the Son’s willingness to accept that assignment.

Yet there is an even deeper sense of this we must grasp.

God gave the Psalms to guide and comfort His Son.

During my years in the pastorate, I have personally witnessed many parents sending their children off to college or into marriage by giving them special, parting words. These words, spoken at graduation ceremonies or weddings, were filled with tender love, future hope, and promised support. In the same way, when the Father knew He would be sending his Son into this world, He was not going to send Him without instruction and guidance. Primarily in the Psalms we see God’s expression of love and care for His Son.

For example, Psalm 2 is as clearly a Messianic psalm as there can be. For it speaks of the Anointed One (2:2) whom God promised to establish as His King in heaven (2:6). To see Christ in this psalm is not difficult. Yet the intention of the Father in having David write these words is that this psalm would eventually be in Christ. The Father knew enemies would be hostile to His Son when He came to earth, and He would need words that would enable Him to fulfill His suffering and ministry. In Psalm 2, God gave Him a glorious prayer that would sustain Him when He might be tempted to question if His suffering was worth the price. The Father says, “Ask of Me, and I will give the nations as an inheritance” (Ps. 2:8). God the Father, as His Son was journeying toward Calvary, reminded His Son of this very prayer and of His love for Him on the Mount of Transfiguration when He cried out from heaven, "This is my beloved Son" (Matt. 17:5).

Furthermore, at the end of the second psalm, we find a warning that those who do not give homage to God’s Son and appointed King will be dashed with iron and burned. This is the same warning with which David ended his last words. “But the worthless, every one of them will be thrust away like thorns, because they cannot be taken in hand.  But the man who touches them must be armed with iron and the shaft of a spear, and they will be completely burned with fire in their place” (2 Sam. 23:6-7). At the end of his life David needed the assurance that kingdom victory would one day be realized. So in this psalm, put in the heart of the Savior by the Father, with striking clarity impresses us with both the commitment of the Father to His Son as well as the eventual outcome of all things. Thus the Son was able, because of the joy set before Him by His Father, to endure the cross (Hebrews 12:2). The Psalter “was a hymnal prepared for a coming heir to David’s throne" (see Michael LeFebvre in Sing a New Song, 104).

We have clear evidence in the gospels that the other Psalms were also in Christ in abundance. The Psalms marked each definitive point of His life. As we hear His Spirit saying in Psalm 40:7-8, “Behold, I come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me.  I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart” (see Heb. 10:7).  Because the Law was deep in His heart, every step of Christ’s life was guided by the will of the Father.  We see Christ quoting the Psalms when confronting His enemies (Matt. 24:41); praying the Psalms when struggling with God’s call (Ps. 41:6-8); using the Psalms to teach His followers (Matt. 13:35); referencing them when explaining His actions (Mark 13:26); singing the Psalms with His disciples when the full weight of what He had come to do was pressing upon Him (Matt. 26:30); teaching from the Psalms to give meaning to His resurrection and ascension (Matt. 22:41-46); and even being greeted by the Psalms when He entered heaven upon His ascension (Heb. 1:8-9).  A knowledge of the Psalms will allow you to enter into the deepest thoughts of Christ found nowhere else in Scripture.

When someone composes a song, the lyrics that come from the mind of the composer are meant to become a part of your own soul. The songs contained in the book of Psalms were in Christ’s heart.  First, in eternity as the Spirit composed them from the thoughts of the Father for the Son as they planned the steps of redemption; then, as Jesus became man and travailed on earth during His ministry; and now, as He is seated as the Lord of glory in heaven. If so, then how as His subjects they should be in our hearts as well!

For as God promised to His Son in Psalm 89:35-36, “Once I have sworn by My holiness; I will not lie to David; His descendants shall endure forever, and His throne as the sun before me.” Trusting in the true Davidic King by thinking His thoughts, following His ways, and being constantly reminded of His love is how you experience the life promised here. Seeing, with the Spirit's assistance, this divine, Triune relationship between the Father and Son, and being beckoned to enter it and experience it more fully, is one of the most glorious and enjoyable features of knowing the Psalms.

Barry York

Barry York

Sinner by Nature - Saved by Grace. Husband of Miriam - Grateful for Privilege. Father of Six - Blessed by God. President of RPTS - Serve with Thankfulness. Author - Hitting the Marks.

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