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.


The Psalms: Singing of the King

Series Index:

  1. The Psalms: Singing of the King
  2. Covenant: A Strategy for Singing the Psalms
  3. David the King
  4. Yahweh the King
  5. Messiah the King
  6. Summary and Conclusion

Part 1 in a 6 part series. View series intro and index.

Chances are, if you are a Christian, you love the book of Psalms. Probably more than Leviticus or Nahum. We closely identify with its praises, complaints, cries for help, and thanksgivings. Its raw emotion and relentless truth arrests our mind and affections. For good reason it is used in worship services and liturgies around the world. After all, Psalms was the primary book of prayer and praise for the ancient Israelites, as it should be us today. Most of the psalms have direct relevance to our contemporary lives, and it is clear that there is something deep and rich to this marvelous collection–perhaps deeper and richer than we realize. It is less clear, however, that a unifying theme actually exists in Psalms. Perhaps you have simply thought it is a book of 150 random songs about God. Thankfully, this is not the case. Recognizing a unifying theme will not just add information to our brains, but it will greatly help to use Psalms in our individual and corporate worship.

The most important person in ancient Israel was the king. In his prosperity, the people prospered. In his failure, the people failed. In a significant way, more so than any other Old Testament book, Psalms makes this abundantly clear. That is why Israel treasured Psalms! It is a book rife with hymns, laments, praises, and hopes about Israel’s Davidic king and their ultimate King, Yahweh. Over the next couple of weeks, we are going to examine Israel’s theology of kingship in the Psalms by showing how the book celebrates and petitions for Yahweh’s reign over Israel and the nations through the Davidic king (this is my thesis for you fellow nerds out there). Now, if you wanted to punt after hearing “theology of kingship,” hang in there. That simply means that Israel thought about their king in a God-centered (i.e. Yahweh-centered) way. In short, Israel’s “theology of kingship” is this: their national king wasn’t an end in himself; the king’s rule pointed to something greater–the rule of Yahweh himself.

So, here’s where we are going in these posts:

  • I will propose a strategy for how to interpret Psalms as a whole. Namely, I will suggest that we read Psalms through the lens of the Davidic covenant.
  • I will examine various psalms that are often categorized as “royal” and “enthronement” psalms. That means we’ll look at the ones that emphasize David as King and Yahweh as King, respectively.
  • I will examine other so-called royal psalms that point forward to a future Messiah-King, who will bring God’s rule to earth.
  • Then, to wrap it all up, I will synthesize what we find and provide a summary of Israel’s “theology of kingship” in the Psalms.

I hope you’ll stay tuned over the next couple of weeks as we journey through this beloved book!

Life Theology

How were people in the Old Testament saved?

David Murray, professor of Old Testament and practical theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, answers this question when asked about preaching Christ from the Old Testament:

I’d also like to encourage preachers and teachers to be clear and consistent on the question: “How were Old Testament believers saved?” The most common options seem to be:

1. They were saved by obeying the law.

2. They were saved by offering sacrifices.

3. They were saved by a general faith in God.

4. They were saved by faith in the Messiah.

Unless we consistently answer #4, we end up portraying heaven as not only populated by lovers of Christ, but also by legalists, ritualists, and mere theists who never knew Christ until they got there. Turning back again in order to go forwards, may I recommend Calvin’s Institutes Book 2 (chapters 9-11) to help remove some of the blur that often surrounds this question.

Read the whole post to see thoughts from Murray, as well as Tim Keller and Don Carson, about some cautions when preaching Christ from the Old Testament.


“The Truth”

Artist Michael D’Antuono’s painting “The Truth” about Barack Obama.  Here’s an excerpt from the story:

“More than a presidential portrait,” writes D’Antuono on a website touting the painting, “‘The Truth’ is a politically, religiously and socially-charged statement on our nation’s current political climate and deep partisan divide that is sure to create a dialogue.”

Like others in the news who have depicted Obama in Christ-like imagery, D’Antuono insists he isn’t claiming the man is Messiah, but only inviting “individual interpretations.”

“‘The Truth,’ like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder,” claims the exhibit’s press release.

Read the whole thing.

D’Antuono has encouraged viewers to email him and respond to the question, “What is your truth.”  I plan to work on my response sometime this weekend and then post it here on the blog.