Day 9: Call His Name “God Saves!”

“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)

What’s in a name? In our culture, naming children is a lost art. Typically parents pick names they like. There may be some family or personal significance, but the meaning of a child’s name rarely matters. This was not the case in the ancient world. Names had to do with identity. You are what you’re called. Take Moses for example. His name means “to pull/draw out of water.” Remember Moses’ story? He was sent down the Nile River in a basket and he was pulled out by Pharaoh’s daughter. So she called her new son, “Pulled out of water.” A bit funny if you think about it, but it would remind Moses, every time he heard his name who he was and where he came from.

Fast forward many years to when Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit. The angel told Joseph that Mary will have a baby boy, “And you—Joseph, his adoptive father—shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Joseph is given the privilege of naming this most precious child a name that will proclaim to the world his identity. The name Jesus comes from the Greek translation of the Hebrew name Yeshua (Joshua in English). It literally means “Yahweh [the LORD] saves.”

We see a similar phrase, “Salvation belongs to Yahweh [the LORD]” only twice in the Old Testament (Ps. 3:8; Jonah 2:9). But the concept is on every page. It is clear that only God can deliver his people, and over and over again he does! In the climax of God’s redemptive work, he enters human history as a baby. It only makes sense that his earthly parents would call him, “God saves!”

Yeshua (Jesus) was probably a very common name in the first century. Israel, after all, was waiting for God to save them. There were perhaps many Israelites who named their sons Yeshua in anticipation and hope of God’s redemption. Yet this Yeshua would not simply be another ordinary boy whose name pointed to the God who saves. He would be the God who came to be the Savior of his people and the whole world.

Scripture and Reflection Questions
Read Isaiah 43:1-13

  1. Take a moment to reflect on the name “Yahweh saves!” How does this comfort you today?
  2. What false saviors do you sometimes turn to for deliverance?
  3. Jesus obviously fulfills this passage in Isaiah 43—he is the servant (v. 10) and is the perfect representation of God in the flesh (the savior, v. 11). What does it mean that the newborn Jesus is fully God? How does that either challenge or reinforce your belief about the nature and work of God?
  4. How do you need to cry out, “God save me!” today? Where do you need deliverance?

From We Look for Light: Readings and Reflections for Advent


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.


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.


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!