Notwithstanding its tone of sadness, it is a book of praise. With only one exception (Psa 88), all the Psalms which begin in despondency end in trust, as the eyes of the Psalmist are lifted above his circumstances to his God. Its Key-note is Worship, and it has been used in the worship of God, by Hebrews and Christians alike, down to our own day. It is the book of worship, not only in the Temple, for whose service many of the Psalms were composed, but the worship of the Creator under the starry heavens, or in the caves of the mountain fastnesses where David was hiding from his enemies.
Psalms is the book of nature. Nowhere do we breathe the pure air of God's creation more freely, or see the marvels of His handiwork more clearly, than in the Psalms. It is the book for all who are in distress, the prisoners, the sailors, the exiles, the persecuted, the sick and suffering, the poor and needy. It shows the relative duties of life, the duty of kings and rulers, of ministers, and citizens and brethren. It is the book for the sinner, telling him of God's forgiveness; the book for the saint, leading him into deeper communion. It is the book of God's Law, showing it to be the most perfect work of His creation, and [showing] the blessing which rests upon keeping it with the whole heart.
''When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained; what is man, that Thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that Thou visitest him?'' (Psa 8:3,4). The wonder of modern astronomy is here! When our place among infinities was discovered, it raised the infidel cry, Was it conceivable that God would concern Himself about the salvation of the inhabitants of such a mere speck in His creation? It was the very cry of the Psalmist, anticipating the inexpressible wonders which the science of his day had not yet revealed, but revealing the still greater wonder of God's redeeming love.
In Ecclesiastes 1:7, we read: ''All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.'' What an accurate description of the facts of the absorption and condensation of water from the sea into clouds and then into rain, by which the equilibrium of sea and land is maintained. We have a similar description in Psa 104:8,9, where we read of the waters going up by the mountains as well as down by the valleys. The facts are still further explained in Psa 135:7: ''He causeth the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth: He maketh lightnings for the rain: He bringeth the wind out of His treasuries.'' The watery vapor is rising from the ocean's breast in such volume as no pumps ever imagined by man could produce. In the upper sky, the cold air condenses the watery vapor and holds it in the clouds. If left there, the waters will fall again upon the sea, but the verse tells us how this is averted. God has made preparation. ''He bringeth the wind out of His treasuries.'' The clouds are borne in silent majesty to the mountains. How are these clouds to become rain? ''He prepareth lightnings for the rain.'' The shock precipitates the rain upon the waiting earth. Lord Kelvin has said, ''I believe there never is rain without lightning.'' And thus the Psalmist, inspired by God, described in simple but accurate language what science is today revealing.
Several of the Psalms are written in acrostic form, following the letters of the Hebrew alphabet (Psa 9 and 10; 25; 34; 37; 106; 107; 109; 145). This is specially the case with Psalm 119, [where every verse, in each] of the twenty-two parts, begins with [the] acrostic letter [corresponding to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet].
Fifteen of the Psalms (from Psa 120 to 134) are ''Songs of Degrees,'' or Pilgrim Psalms, probably sung by the caravan pilgrims as they went up to Jerusalem to keep the feasts.
In the Book of Psalms, we are given insight into our Lord's inner feelings, and His sufferings for us, as nowhere else. He often quoted from the Book of Psalms, and in each case applied the quotation to Himself. He may have intended us to understand from this that all the Psalms are Messianic, though our eyes may not always be open to see Him in them. However this may be, it is doubtless the fact that they are so full of Christ, which makes them so meet our need. The Jews are unanimous in applying a Messianic interpretation to those Psalms which are generally accepted as such by Christians. It is a remarkable fact that of all the citations in the New Testament from the Old, which have a Messianic reference, nearly one-half are made from the Psalms.
In Psalm 2, we have three of the special titles of our Lord. He is here called the Anointed, that is the Messiah (v.2), He is the King of Zion (v.6), and He is the Son of God (v.6,7). He is then shown to be the possessor and Lord of all the earth (v. 8,9), and loyal submission to Him is shown to be the only way of safety and reconciliation with God (v.12). Here, at the outset of the book, we see the Messiah, not in His suffering and humiliation, but in His ascended glory, and in His victory over all the earth. Verses 1 and 2 had a first fulfillment at the time of our Lord's crucifixion, when ''the heathen,'' ''the kings of the earth,'' that is Pontius Pilate and Herod, on the one hand, and ''the people,'' ''the rulers,'' that is the Jews and the rulers of the Sanhedrin, on the other, banded themselves together against Christ. But it waits a final fulfillment in the hostility of the last days, a hostility to be overthrown for ever, that the kingdoms of this world may become the kingdoms of the Lord and of His Christ.
Verse 6: ''But I,'' the King of heaven, ''have set My own King,'' My Son, and My Vice-regent, on the throne, ''on My holy hill of Zion.'' This was a kind of anticipative hint of the great truth taught in Psalm 110, that the anointed King should be the anointed Priest.
Verse 7: ''Thou are My Son; this day have I begotten Thee.'' Paul teaches us to see the fulfillment of these words in Christ's resurrection from the dead. It was by that that with power He was declared -- marked out as in a distinct and peculiar sense-- to be the Son of God (Rom 1:4; Acts 13:33).
Verse 8: ''Ask of Me, and I will give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession.'' What a stimulus to all missionary effort to remember that the heathen are God's gift to the Son, as part of His inheritance. Seeing the uttermost parts of the earth are His possession, with what alacrity should we fulfill His last command to carry the Gospel there. [Mat 28:18-20; Acts 1:8]
Verse 12: ''Kiss the Son, lest He be angry.'' Do homage to the Son, lest Jehovah be angry. Christ said: ''The Father hath committed all judgment unto the Son: that all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He that honoreth not the Son, honoreth not the Father which hath sent Him'' (John 5:22,23).
Psalm 45 tells of the marriage of the King. It is the key to the Song of Songs, and a foreshadowing of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. ''Christ calls Himself the Bridegroom, and thus defends the joy of His disciples who did not fast. This word 'bridegroom' is an epitome of the whole Scripture.'' [Christ and the Scriptures, Adolph Saphir. cp. Mark 2:18-20]. This Psalm has an historical application, probably connected with the marriage of Solomon, but it is the sight of a greater King and a more glorious bride which makes the heart of the Psalmist to ''bubble over'' as he describes His eternal Kingdom. However little he understood of the vision, he seems to have seen that Face of glory, for he exclaims, ''Thou art fairer than the children of men.'' He seems to have heard His voice, for he says, ''Grace is poured into Thy lips.''
The bride, ''the king's daughter, is all glorious within; her clothing is of wrought gold. She shall be brought unto the King in raiment of needlework.'' ''Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to Him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of the saints'' [Rev 19:7,8]. The ''King's palace'' is to be her home for ever. ''In My Father's house are many mansions'' [John 14:2,3].
Psalm 72 is one of the two Psalms ascribed to Solomon. It celebrates the coronation of the King. ''The monarch grows fairer and larger than the Sons of Men; he is transfigured in the light of the promise made to David.'' ''Like a man standing on high ground in a sunset, a glory not his own is on him. He casts a shadow much larger than himself!'' In One, alone, is this glorious ideal realized. Christ stands out the true Prince of Peace, who is to reign from sea to sea, and whose dominion is to have no end; in whom all nations of the earth shall be blessed. ''The handful of corn on the top of the mountains,'' that little group of unlearned and persecuted disciples sown in the unlikely soil of a corrupt Judaism, have already become like a forest of Lebanon, and the harvest shall one day fill the earth.
Our Lord puts this very solemnly, He says that by the Holy Ghost David called Him Lord. And yet some would have us believe that Christ was mistaken in this statement, and that the Psalm was not written by David, but [rather was written] hundreds of years later. About the time that Christ quoted Psalm 110, shortly before the last Passover, He said of His own words: ''I have not spoken of Myself; but the Father which sent Me, He gave Me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak'' [John 12:49]. The words of David and of David's Son were alike inspired words, the words of God. Mark adds as his comment on this incident: ''The common people heard Him gladly'' [Mark 12:37]. What a rebuke is this to those who tell us that ordinary folk cannot weigh the evidence for the truth of the Bible, but must surrender their judgment to experts! But Matthew throws further light upon the result of this conversation, and tells us that ''no man was able to answer Him a word; neither durst any man, from that day forth, ask Him any more questions'' [Mat 22:46].
Immediately before this, the most learned of the Jewish Rabbis had been putting their heads together to know how they might entangle Him. Their enmity seems to have reached a climax. First came the Pharisees, with the Herodians, and when He answered them ''they marvelled, and left Him and went their way'' [Mat 22:22]. Then came the Sadducees, and were ''put to silence'' by His answer-- an answer which hinged on a question of the tense of one word, ''I am''-- not ''I was'' -- ''the God of Abraham.'' When the Pharisees heard that He had put the Sadducees to silence, they were stimulated to renew their attack. Having answered their question, our Lord propounded to them this problem about David's Son, ''and no man was able to answer Him a word.'' If Christ had been mistaken about the authorship of this Psalm, how eagerly would He have been tripped up by these hostile scholars. And surely they, in their turn, were better able to pronounce judgment on a question of authorship than men of our day. They were astute scholars; their scholarship was directed to one study, the study of the Scriptures-- the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms; they were masters of the Hebrew language; they lived nearly two thousand years nearer the time when those books were written; they were in an incomparably better position to weigh the evidence than the most learned men of the Western world.
Christ's unanswerable argument convinced the doctors of the Law. It convinced the multitude also-- ''they were astonished at His doctrine.'' But there was this difference between the convinced people and the convinced scholars: ''the common people heard Him gladly'' (Mark 12:37); ''the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take Him by craft, and put Him to death'' (Mark 14:1). God has condescended to make His revelation to man so simple that the wise and the mighty stumble at it, ''but the wayfaring man, though a fool, shall not err therein'' [Isa 35:8].
Psalm 110 represents Messiah, by Jehovah's appointment, both as Zion's King and Zion's Priest. The kings of Judah were not priests. Uzziah was struck with leprosy for attempting so much as to burn incense [2Chr 26:18,19]. Of the tribe of Judah ''Moses spake nothing concerning the priesthood'' (Heb 7:14). The priests of Levi's line were not kings. But this is a royal Priest, after the order of Melchizedek, ruling in Zion, the seat of Melchizedek's kingdom and priesthood [Gen 14:18]. Of this King-Priest, it is declared in the second verse of this Psalm, ''Jehovah will send Thy strong staff out of Zion.'' The word here used is not the sceptre, the usual mark of kingly power. It is the matteh, or ancestral staff. The mark of the hereditary and lineally descended ruler. It is borne by the head of each village, the sheik of each Bedaween [ie., Bedouin] tribe. And because in patriachal times, each head of a house appears in the character of a priest to his own family, the matteh marks the priest as well as the prince. It is here therefore most fitly said to be given to Him who is described as bearing both offices, and as being the promised Prince of David's direct line. We read that this staff shall be ''sent out of Zion.'' This mention of the sanctuary carries us back to Aaron and the way in which his authority as high priest was manifested [Num 17:1-10]. His staff, laid up ''before Jehovah,'' was brought out from the Ark of the Tabernacle blossoming and bearing almonds, instinct with resurrection-life; indeed a strong staff of indisputable authority sent out of the sanctuary.
In like manner, the Divine mission of our great High Priest was incontrovertibly established. He was with power declared to be the Son of God, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead. When the Jews demanded of our Lord a sign to prove His authority, He said unto them, ''Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up''; and He spake this of the temple of His body [John 2:19-21]. Twice upon other occasions, when the Pharisees and Sadducees came and asked for a sign or miracle to establish His Messianic claims, He replied, ''An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it but the sign of the prophet Jonah,'' that is, as our Lord explains, His own resurrection from the dead on the third day [Mat 12:39,40; 16:4]. This is still the one sign, the one ''token against the rebels,'' in Israel. The laying up of Aaron's rod in the Holy of Holies, which we are told is a type of heaven, prefigures Christ's ascension and His seat on the throne of God. The bringing out of the rod once more ''from before Jehovah'' to work further miracles, fitly foreshadows our Lord's second coming, amidst fresh miraculous signs, with power and great glory.
''We see not yet all things put under Him;
but we see Jesus, crowned with glory and honor'' [Heb 2:8,9].
''And the Father hath given Him authority to execute judgment also,
because He is the Son of Man'' (John 5:27).
|Psalm 22||Psalm 23||Psalm 24|
|The Good Shepherd||The Great Shepherd||The Chief Shepherd|
|- in death, John 10:11||- in resurrection, Heb 13:20||- in glory, 1Pet 5:4|
|My Saviour.||My Shepherd.||My King.|
|The Cross.||The Crook.||The Crown.|
|Past - Grace.||Present - Guidance.||Future - Glory.|
This is the Gospel for us sinners. It is this that humbles us and brings us to know the power of the Cross of Christ to break the power of sin and set us free to serve Him. Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53-- these two passages which unveil the power of the Cross, alike foreshadow also in their closing verses the resurrection triumph [Psa 22:22-31; Isa 53:10(b)-12]. The song of victory bursts upon our ear, victory through the blood of the Lamb. The Cross is the gateway to resurrection life for us, now, in this life. The crucified Lord must have crucified followers. Only as in our own lives we know the power of the Cross to separate us from the world, shall we know its power to move the hearts of others. ''The Word of the Cross'' is the power of God today, when proclaimed, not in wisdom of words, but in the demonstration of the Spirit. [cp. Rom 6:1-10; 8:9-12; 1Cor 2:1-5]