Yahweh the King

Part 4 in a 6 part series. View series intro and index.

If there was one thing the king of Israel was to be, it was a reflection of Yahweh’s kingship. The king was Yahweh’s “vice regent.” In Book IV (chs. 90-106) there is a decidedly noticeable shift toward the focus on Yahweh as king.[1] If Ps. 89 indeed depicts the supposed failure of the covenant and disabling of the monarchy (see previous post), it makes sense for Book IV to embrace the shift back to Yahweh. Psalms 93-99, often called “enthronement psalms,” are the showcase songs for Yahweh’s kingship. This small collection of praise Psalms gives hope to those in exile, for they sing a new song of Yahweh as king, deliverance, judgment on those who worship idols, judgment on the nations, and the continuation of Yahweh’s steadfast love.[2] What a message of hope!

The message of this collection is simple: “Yahweh is king! He has been Israel’s refuge in the past, long before monarchy existed; he will continue to be Israel’s refuge now that monarchy is gone; and blessed are they that trust in him. His kingdom comes.”[3] Yahweh is declared to be the one who reigns over the world (93:1), for it is his “throne [that] is established from of old” (93:2). He is “a great God and a great King above all gods” (95:3). Though Yahweh will not forsake his people and his kingdom (94:14-15), his kingship is not solely for Israel. His majesty is to be proclaimed among the nations: “Say among the nations, ‘The LORD reigns!” (96:10). Therefore, all the earth should rejoice (97:1).

Psalm 98 celebrates Yahweh’s sovereign activity,[4] as Yahweh is depicted as a divine Warrior-King who is savior, king, and judge.[5] Yahweh’s identity is significant for Israel, but not less so for the nations.[6] The theme of Yahweh’s universal kingship thus arises again. Yahweh has worked salvation for his people, remembering his steadfast love (vv. 1-2), and the nations have witnessed to this salvation (v. 3). Because of this, Yahweh reigns as king over the whole world (vv. 4-6). Yahweh therefore has the right to judge the earth, which he will do with righteousness and equity (vv. 7-9). Finally, Ps. 99 exalts Yahweh as the cosmic ruler, and calls all peoples to joyfully acknowledge this (vv. 1-3). Yahweh is the true, holy king and the only one worthy of exaltation (vv.4-9).

Other psalms, outside of Book IV, are also considered enthronement psalms. Psalms 24 and 47 are most prominent.[7] Yahweh owns the world and everything in it (24:1), thus he is king over all the earth (47:2). He is the king of glory, strong and mighty in battle who subdues Israel’s enemies (24:7-8; 47:3-4). Yahweh reigns not only over the ethnic Israelites, but it is promised that “the princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham” (47:9a). This is a fulfillment of Yahweh’s promise to Abraham, and as the psalm ends, it is evident that there is no one left who competes with the divine authority of Yahweh.[8]

N.T. Wright explains that the enthronement psalms, including others not so formally titled (e.g. Pss. 10; 22; 44; 74; 145) have a “constant triple theme.”[9] First, Yahweh’s kingship celebrated in Jerusalem in his home in the temple. Second, when Yahweh is enthroned as king, the nations are brought under his rule. Third, when Yahweh is king, the result is proper justice, equity, and the removal of all oppression. Wright then concludes, “One can see all too easily how these songs would give rise, among a people weary of corrupt and self-serving rulers, to the longing for Yahweh himself to come and take charge. He and he alone would give the people what they needed and wanted. He would take control and sort everything out.”[10]

As wonderful as Yahweh’s reign from heaven is to the psalmist, it is incomplete. Because Yahweh is committed to his creation, to his people Israel, and to David, his sovereign rule over the entire world must come through a Davidic descendant on the earth. This precious promise moves Israel’s theology of kingship in Psalms one step further toward a future son of David who would be a messiah-King. The messianic king will be our focus in the next post.

[1] Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, 886.
[2] Walton, “A Cantata,” 28-29.
[3] Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, 886.
[4] Richard D. Patterson, “Singing the New Song: An Examination of Psalms 33, 96, 98, and 149.” Bibliotheca Sacra 164, no. 656 (October 2007): 418.
[5] Trempor Longman III, “Psalm 98: A Divine Warrior Victory Song.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 27, no. 3 (Sept. 1984): 271.
[6] John Goldingay, Psalms: Volume 3: Psalms 90-150 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 123-124.
[7] Walton, “A Cantata,” 25-26, notes that these chapters may seem out of order in the Psalter, but they may actually reflect David’s military successes. It is clear that the glory goes to Yahweh, not David, thus reinforcing the fact that the Davidic king is not the ultimate authority in Israel. Yahweh is.
[8] Goldingay, Psalms: Vol. 2, 80; Wilson, Psalms—Vol. 1, 729.
[9] N.T. Wright, Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters (New York: HarperOne, 2011), 45.
[10] Ibid., 46.