Covenant: A Strategy for Singing the Psalms

Part 2 in a 6 part series. View series intro and index.

In order to properly understand the Psalms and sing them with saints of old, we must employ the right strategy. In other words, we need to have a proper biblical and theological hermeneutic (i.e. interpretive grid). As I mentioned in the last post, I propose that the Davidic covenant (see 2 Sam. 7:12-16) is the lens through which the entire book of Psalms should be read. For the most part, the Psalms are a collection of royal prayers and petitions.[1] Because covenants in the OT are based on the vassal treaty model, it makes sense for “kingship” to be a major theme in the Psalter.[2]  Indeed, “David and the Davidic kings were…the vehicles through which [Yahweh] would bless Israel and the nations.”[3]

The primary reason to use the Davidic covenant as the framework for the whole book is due to the fact that the Davidic covenant is a partial fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant.[4] Yahweh’s original commitment to creation was first articulated in covenant form to Abraham (see Gen. 12:1-3; 15:1-5). Through Abraham’s line, Yahweh would bless all the families of the earth. Later, as a nation, Israel’s duty was to be an overflowing reservoir of blessing to all people. This would come to fruition through Israel’s kingly line, for the king is ultimately the one upon whom this responsibility falls. The focus of Yahweh’s covenants with Abraham and David is not with the men themselves, but a yet-to-be-born son (cf. Gen. 15:4; 2 Sam. 7:12).[5] In his covenant with David, Yahweh confirms his promises of “seed” and “land” to Abraham, but he goes beyond a mere confirmation. Yahweh partially fulfills his promises to Abraham when he promises to give David a great name and give Israel a secure land.[6] Moreover, the Davidic covenant supplements the Abrahamic covenant in that the promise of David’s dynasty mediates the kings whom Yahweh promised through Abraham’s seed.[7] What we are seeing, then, is that Yahweh will fulfill his promise to Abraham through David’s royal line!

Additionally, it is helpful to note that the Davidic covenant as unifying thread is aided by the structure of Psalms. The five books within the Psalms were organized “in such a way as to focus on the king.”[8] We’ll talk more about this in the upcoming posts. This gives us a solid framework for how to understand Israel’s theology of kingship in the Psalms. Namely, it begins with the Davidic king.

[1] Bruce K. Waltke, with Charles Yu, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 692.
[2] Raymond B. Dillard and Tremper Longman III, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 230. The vassal treaty was a political relationship between a powerful king of a superior state and a less powerful king of an inferior state who subordinated himself to the more powerful king.
[3] David M. Howard, Jr., “A Case for Kingship in the Old Testament Narratives and the Psalms,” Trinity Journal 9, no. 1 (Spring 1988): 35.
[4] Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, 700.
[5] Ibid., 692, notes, “It is important to remember that the covenants are unconditional, yet the blessings of the covenant are conditioned on obedience to the Mosaic covenant. Their descendants will inherit the enjoyment of these rewards only to the extent that they are loyal to I AM and obey the stipulations and commandments of the Mosaic covenant.”
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid., 693.
[8] Ibid., 884.


Jesus: True and Better


Justification by Faith

Part 7 in an 8 part series. View series intro and index.

John Stott has said that faith merely receives what grace offers. We are saved by grace, yes, but we must believe (i.e. have faith) in order to be saved.  Grace is God’s doing.  Faith is man’s responsibility.  Romans 3:28 is the staple verse in which Paul boldly proclaims this truth: “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”

Paul writes that Abraham is the father of all those who “walk in the footsteps of [his] faith” (Rom. 4:12). He later says, “For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith” (4:13); Abraham was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (4:21); “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:1).

In Galatians 2 and 3, he tells us more of the same. “Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (2:17). “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith…Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham…So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith (3:6, 7, 9). “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law…so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (3:13, 14), “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (3:26).

Another way to describe faith is to say that someone “believes.” When you believe, you essentially put your trust in someone or something. When you believe, you are convinced of something (see Rom. 4:21 above; cf. Heb. 11:1). Galatians 3:22 says, “But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise of faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”  It seemed best to God to ordain all people under the curse of sin so that we could not achieve righteousness before him by the law. Paul echoes this in Romans 4: “Righteousness will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (vv. 24-25). Later on in Romans 10, Paul says that we are justified when we believe with our hearts that God raised Jesus from the dead (vv. 9-10).

Some may ask, “What about the Old Testament? They had the law. Certainly they were not justified by faith!” On the contrary, they were. Habakkuk 2:4 says, “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.” This verse is quoted in Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, and Hebrews 10:37.

The greatest argument for justification by faith for Old Testament saints is, of course, Abraham. That is who Paul focuses on in Romans 4. He says that Abraham could not have been justified by works because righteousness was counted to him before he was circumcised (v. 10). He says, “He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still circumcised” (v. 11a). Paul tells us why this happened: “The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised” (vv. 11b-12). Abraham was saved, not by his works or obedience to be circumcised, but by his faith. “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” (Rom. 4:3).

To be continued.


All the Families of the Earth

Series Index

  1. All the Families of the Earth
  2. Israel Crosses the Jordan
  3. Solomon Dedicates the Temple
  4. Let the Coastlands Rejoice!
  5. Jesus Dies on the Cross
  6. Peter and Cornelius
  7. The Diverse Multitude

Part 1 of a 7 part series. View series intro and index.

Since eternity past, it has been God’s design to make a people for himself.  This people would not be bound by race, nationality, gender, age, socio-economic status, or any other physical limitation.  This people group would be a spiritual family that is united together under God as their Father.  This is taught all throughout Scripture, and over the next few weeks, we’ll take glances at God’s big story and how it unfolds from Genesis to Revelation.

To find the first chapter in this story, we have to go all the way back to Genesis 12 and the call of Abram.  God tells Abram to leave his country and go to a land that God will provide.  In verses 2-3, God says to Abram,

And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

Notice that God doesn’t just say that Jews will be blessed, or Arabs (who derive from Abram), or Abram’s own personal family.  God tells Abram that “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” through him.  That means every kind of person in every kind of race in every nation for all time.

There is a problem in Genesis 12, however.  There are still racial and ethnic and national issues that are keeping all the families from being blessed.  Abram soon becomes “Abraham” (Gen. 17), and the Jewish line is started with the covenant of circumcision.  The issue is that not everyone is Jewish.  Not everyone follows or knows about Jehovah God.  Not everyone is part of this special promise.  This is a huge problem.

If the story ended here, all the families of the earth would be doomed, not blessed.  It would not be a happy ending.  But the story doesn’t end here.  God does provide a solution.  The solution is that something greater than Abraham and this first covenant is coming.