David the King

Part 3 in a 6 part series. View series intro and index.

As we continue to consider Israel’s theology of kingship in the Psalms, I’ll encourage you to get out your Bible and follow along for this post. We are going to do some moderate-to-heavy lifting in this post!

Israel’s theology of kingship in the Psalms is demonstrated through its content and structure. Certain royal psalms are strategically placed at the “seams” of three out of the first four books (Ps. 2, beginning of Book I; Ps. 72, end of Book II/beginning of Book III; and Ps. 89, end of Book III/beginning of Book IV).[1] The absence of a royal psalm at the end of Book I/beginning of Book II probably means that Books I and II were commonly recognized as a single Davidic collection prior to the final editing. How do we know? One piece of evidence is found in the postscript at the end of Book II (Ps. 72:20). Thus Pss. 2-72 and 73-89 probably make up two, not three, blocks of material.[2]

Again, let’s remember we are thinking about kingship in Hebrew theology. We must remember two things here: 1) the Israelite king is the reflection of the kingship of Yahweh, and 2) the Israelite king rules because Yahweh established him as a ruler.[3] One scholar put it this way: “Israel’s kingdom was a symbol of Yahweh’s reign on earth; [Israel’s] king was Yahweh’s vice regent.”[4] Furthermore, the concept and hope of an ideal king who would rule Israel in the eschaton (the new age) finds its foundation in the Davidic covenant.[5] Throughout the book of Psalms, this Davidic ruler is portrayed as a type of “superhuman” king, yet one who is not exactly equated to Yahweh.[6] These expectations are both celebrated and longed for in the Psalms in what are called “royal psalms.”Now, let’s check out these “seam psalms” and the “royal psalms” that surround them.

Psalm 1 is often thought of as an introduction to the whole book of Psalms, with Ps. 2 beginning Book I.[7] As mentioned above, Books I and II may have been considered as one collection in the Hebrew mind, and an obvious characteristic of Books I-II is its distinct Davidic flavor.[8] As a seam psalm, Ps. 2 is vital to understanding the rest of the Psalter, for it is the first royal psalm and it introduces the principal subject of the whole book: the king in prayer.[9] Psalm 2 depicts the coronation of the Davidic king and presents a poetic recitation of the Davidic covenant (cf. 2 Sam. 7:14): “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession” (v. 8). “This commitment represents a form of fulfillment of [Yahweh’s] promise to Abraham…The nation is destined to rule the world on [Yahweh’s] behalf.”[10] Therefore, Ps. 2 introduces the king as the centerpiece of Yahweh’s rule over the nations who foolishly plot, rage, and set themselves against Yahweh’s anointed (vv. 1-3).

In Ps. 18, David reflects on Yahweh’s rescuing him from the hands of Saul. In short, the psalm meditates on Yahweh’s faithfulness “to his anointed, to David and his offspring forever” (v. 50). Not only is personal deliverance in mind, but also deliverance for David’s future offspring. Furthermore, the fact that David will rule the nations is also significant: “You made me the head of nations; people whom I had not known served me” (v. 43). The important element to note is this: Yahweh is committed to continuing David’s line; Yahweh has not forgotten his covenant to Abraham or David.

Psalm 20 is linked to chapters 18 and 21, and all three Psalms deal with one main theme: military activity of Israel’s king.[11] Psalm 20 is a cry for Yahweh to save “his anointed” (v. 6) in battle while the people “trust in the name of the LORD our God” (v. 7). Psalm 21 glories in Yahweh’s salvation which he has worked for the king. In Yahweh “the king rejoices,” in his salvation the king “greatly…exults” (v. 1). The psalm continues to revel in Yahweh’s protection of the Davidic king. As in Ps. 20, so Ps. 21 illustrates the importance of corporate solidarity, for the people’s prosperity lies hand-in-hand with the king’s.[12] In Ps. 20, the people plead, “O LORD, save the king!” (v. 9). In Ps. 21, the people cried, “Be exalted, O LORD, in your strength.” It’s vital for us to remember: as David goes, so goes Israel!

Psalm 45 is a royal wedding song.[13] It is intriguing because the psalm principally focuses on humans (the king and his bride) then interjects and addresses God (v. 6).  Some theologians understand this to be addressing the ruler as a divine figure.[14] While there certainly may be grounds for this, it seems best to understand this reference to the king’s status as a divinely authorized king who rules Israel on Yahweh’s behalf.[15] The messianic overtones of this chapter, particularly vv. 16-17, point to Israel’s continuing hopes of a Davidic descendant who would usher in the kingdom of Yahweh.[16]

Now let’s tackle the last two royal psalms in Book II and Book III, Pss. 72 and 89, both of which are seam psalms. Psalm 72 is looking ahead in the future toward David’s descendants. The psalmist pleads for Yahweh to “give the king your justice…and righteousness” (v. 1) so he might judge accordingly (v. 2). The psalmist asks Yahweh that the Davidic son be a refreshing ruler, not a burdensome one (v. 6). Even more, he asks that his son’s reign would be from “sea to sea” (v. 8) so that “all the nations [may] serve him” (v. 11). Ultimately, the blessing of the nations is the end goal: “May his name endure forever…may people be blessed in him, all nations call him blessed!” (v. 17). A significant progression in the first two Books comes to a head at the end of Ps. 72. “The covenant which [Yahweh] made with David (Ps. 2) and which serves as the source of David’s assurance (Ps. 41) is now passed on to his descendants in this series of petitions in behalf of ‘the king’s son’ (Ps. 72).”[17]

Psalm 89 ends Book III and its royal segment (vv. 47-52) provide a dim outlook for the Davidic covenant. Indeed, it not only views the covenant as fractured, but one that has come to nothing![18] If we examine vv. 38-52, we’ll see an almost certain response to vv. 29-37, a passage clearly dependent on 2 Sam. 7:14f.[19] The psalmist laments the fact that Yahweh’s promise to David seems to have been in vain. “You have cast off and rejected; you are full of wrath against your anointed. You have renounced the covenant with your servant; you have defiled his crown in the dust…Lord, where is your steadfast love of old, which by your faithfulness you swore to David?” (vv. 38-39, 49). If we are honest, it seems as if Yahweh has abandoned the king and his people. Still, later psalms affirm Yahweh reigns despite the demise of the monarchy and others affirm his commitment to David.[20]

Books I-II focus on David’s kingship and the preservation of his line so that Yahweh’s promises might come to fruition. Book III ends with a lament, for Yahweh seems to have rejected his anointed and the hope of a Davidic kings seems all but forgotten. Yet these elements foreshadow Yahweh’s kingship which dominates Books IV-V! We’ll focus on Yahweh’s kingship in the next post.

[1] Gerald H. Wilson, “The Use of Royal Psalms at the ‘Seams’ of the Hebrew Psalter,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 35 (1986): 87. Walton, “Psalms,” 27, also underscores the importance of the “seam” psalms, particularly Ps. 72.
[2] Ibid. Ps. 72:20 says, “The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended.”
[3] Raymond B. Dillard and Tremper Longman III, An Introduction to the Old Testament(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 234.
[4] David M. Howard, Jr., “A Case for Kingship in the Old Testament Narratives and the Psalms,” Trinity Journal 9, no. 1 (Spring 1988): 34.
[5] Bruce K. Waltke, with Charles Yu, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 888.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid., 88; Gerald H. Wilson, “The Shape of the Book of Psalms,” Interpretation 46 (1992): 132. John Goldingay, Psalms: Volume 1: Psalms 1-41, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009), states that Pss. 1-2 were treated as one psalm in at least one Jewish tradition. He notes that the first two psalms have several points of connection. Whatever the case, the idea that Ps. 2 functions as a “seam” psalm is not nullified if Ps. 2 is not the actual beginning of Book I. Moreover, it would be a moot point if Pss. 1-2 were originally one psalm.
[8] Gerald H. Wilson, The NIV Application Commentary: Psalms—Volume I (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 89. Walton, “A Cantata,” 25, notes that some psalms seem out of place at times (e.g. Pss. 23-24). This will be dealt with in the next section.
[9] Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, 885.
[10] Goldingay, Psalms: Vol. 1, 95.
[11] Ibid., 303; Wilson, Psalms—Vol. 1, 381.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Walter C. Kaiser, The Messiah in the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995), 127; John Goldingay, Psalms: Volume 2: Psalms 42-89 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 54.
[14] Kaiser, The Messiah, 128.
[15] Wilson, Psalms—Vol. 1, 704; Goldingay, Psalms: Vol. 2, 58.
[16] Wilson, Psalms—Vol. 1, 700.
[17] Wilson, “The Use of Royal Psalms,” 89.
[18] Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, 886.
[19] Wilson, “The Use of Royal Psalms,” 91.
[20] Goldingay, Psalms: Vol. 2, 691.


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.


Psalm 45 and Jesus

This is a love psalm for a royal wedding. The king is praised for his appearance and speech (v. 2), his military power (v. 3), and his work of justice (vv. 4-5). The psalm turns to God in verses 6-9 where God is praised because his throne is the perfect throne. God’s throne is “forever and ever” and he rules with “uprightness” because he “loved righteousness and hated wickedness” (vv. 6-7a).

The pslamist then says something strange. He says that God has anointed the God mentioned in v. 6. It’s evident to the reader that this is dealing with more than a mere human king. Hebrews 1 tells us that this Psalm is ultimately about Jesus, the true Davidic king (Hebrews 1:8-9). Hebrews 1:8 says that God says to the Son (who is God) that it is his throne that lasts forever and ever. He is the one who rules his kingdom with perfection and justice. He is the one who takes a beautiful daughter to himself as his bride, the church, who is led to her king with “joy and gladness.”

Jesus’ name is the one that will be “remembered in all generations,” and he is the only king whom “nations will praise…forever and ever” (v. 17). For he is the true and better King of Israel, the only one whose speech, power, and justice is peerless.

Life Theology

Psalm 101 and Jesus

“A PSALM OF DAVID” means this is a royal psalm, a psalm about the place of the Davidic monarchy in God’s plan for his people. David writes about his commitment to faithful living before the Lord (vv. 1-4). David is to be the righteous one par excellence for the people of God. As king, David can proclaim that he “will not endure” those who have a “haughty look and an arrogant heart.” As king, David can say he will “look with favor on the faith in the land.” As king, David can say that “no one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house” and “no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes.” As king, David can say that he “will destroy the wicked in the land” and cut them off from God’s city. As king, David is not only supposed to lead the way toward righteousness, but he is to punish all those who do not follow in his righteousness.

The problem with this is that we all know David was not perfect. The problem is that David slept with Bathsheba and killed her husband to get away with it. The problem is that David sinned in ways other than the issue with Bathsheba. In other words, David was not the righteous king par excellence. In fact, if he was not king and the leader of God’s covenant people, he would have been thrown out with the wicked. God’s anointing was on him, warts and all, but he pointed to something greater.

Psalm 101 must be pointing toward someone who can be the righteous king par excellence for God’s people. The only who accomplished perfect righteousness before the Father was the Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus perfectly sang of steadfast love and justice on the cross. He is the only one who has pondered the way that is blameless and walked with integrity. He is the only one who has not set his eyes on something worthless. He is the only one whose heart has never been perverse and has not known evil. He was never haughty or arrogant, and deceit was never found in his mouth. Therefore Jesus, the righteous king par excellence, is the only one who can continue before the eyes of his Father. All else have been cast out the land. Jesus is the only one who remains, the remnant of God’s people who did not fall away.

This perfect, blameless King knew no sin, yet he became sin for God’s people so that in him they might become the righteousness of God (see 1 Cor. 5:21). We are welcomed into God’s city because of him. We are welcomed in by the righteousness of another, not our own righteousness. We can leave Psalm 101 saying, “I will do this today! I will have integrity and be blameless!” But chances are we will lie a half hour later. Chances are we will be able to be blamed for something else very soon. But if our righteousness is in Christ the King par excellence–if our record is actually his record in the Father’s eyes–then not only can we be we not be blamed, we are freed from the oppressive nature of trying to fulfill God’s law. Rather, because we are saved by grace, because of our Representative and Substitute, we are motived and empowered by the Spirit to uphold the law and seek to live in a way that would honor God. Yet when we fail, we go back to Christ, who died on the cross for our sins, giving up his heavenly crown to wear a crown of thorns. We revel in this and also in his perfect life as the record we need in order to be welcomed into God’s city. In fact, Christ was cast outside the city gates and crucified there, so that we might be welcomed in, not on our merit, but because of his.


Psalm 142 and Jesus

David cried out to the LORD because no one else would listen. But he did not cry to God as a “second option.”  Rather, he cried to God because the LORD is the only one who can give mercy (v. 1). The LORD is the only one who can be a true refuge and David’s portion (v. 5).  David’s “prison” is not a government sanctioned jail, but rather an emotional and physical position of helplessness while he was in the cave fleeing from Saul. The goal for David’s plea is that he would “give thanks to your name” (v. 7). David did not want rescue just for his own sake, but for God’s praise.

We can cry out to God for rescue as well, depending on him and hoping in him, as the one refuge and only one who cares for our souls (v. 4). We do this not only when we are hiding in a cave from enemies, but also in the good times as well. We trust God because he is the only one who is trustworthy. He is our refuge because he is the only unchangeable thing in this universe.

The problem with us is that we do not always go to God for rescue. He is not always the one we pour out our complains and troubles to. We often run to the very thing that is causing us pain.  We often run from things and seek solace in money, sex, sports, work, fame, or something else that gives us pleasure. We are not worthy to be vindicated. Thankfully, Jesus Christ has gone to the Father perfectly on our behalf. And ultimately, the Father has only perfectly vindicated Christ through his resurrection from the dead. David died, and stayed dead, but Christ rose from the dead. He pleaded with the Father for rescue, and the Father gave it on the third day. Because of this, we are able to go to God because Christ is our mediator who communicates with God for us (1 Tim. 2:5) and our perfect high priest who goes to God on our behalf (Heb. 4:14-16). Only when we look to Christ’s vindication will we ourselves find vindication, because it does not belong to us, but to him.