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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament
PSALMS.—In discussing the relation of Christ to the Psalms, two questions must be kept apart: (1) His use of the Psalter, (2) His presence in the Psalter. Even if we did not know, by direct quotation and indirect allusion, that the Psalter was a favourite book of Christ’s, we could have safely inferred as much from His general attitude to the OT. The Psalter, as, on the whole, the simplest and purest expression of the devotional life of Israel, must have commended itself peculiarly to Christ.
1. The influence of the Psalter upon the mind of Jesus was probably larger and more profound than His recorded allusions to it, numerous and subtle as they are, would lead us to suppose. There were indeed elements in it which He could not have appropriated—cries for vengeance upon foes (Psalms 41:11 (10), cf. Psalms 68:24 (23)), or of an almost cruel delight at their defeat (Psalms 18:43 (42)), or sorrowful laments at the prospect of a death in which fellowship with God was believed to be interrupted (Psalms 6:6 (5) Psalms 39:13 (14) Psalms 88:11-13 (10–12)). But there were other elements which were well fitted to express, as they may have helped to nourish. His piety. Especially must He have been attracted by those psalms which breathe the spirit of quiet confidence in God: ‘Thou art my God; my times are in thy hand’ (Psalms 31:15 f. (Psalms 31:14 f.)); ‘In thy presence is fulness of joy’ (Psalms 16:11); ‘As for me, I am continually with thee: thou hast holden my right hand. Thou wilt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory’ (Psalms 73:23 f.). The joy which comes from fellowship with God and from the contemplation of His acts in history (95–100), the humble and childlike spirit which lifts meek eyes to the God who looks down in pity from the heavens (123, 130)—these and other such tempers and aspirations cannot have been without their influence upon the spirit of Jesus. Most welcome of all would be those fine interpretations of the character of God scattered throughout the Psalter—as of one who is not only Lord of all space and time (90, 139), but who is also ‘good and ready to forgive and rich in love to all that call upon him’ (Psalms 86:5, Psalms 103:8), who opens His hand and satisfies the desire of every living thing (Psalms 145:16), who is father of the fatherless and judge of the widow (Psalms 68:6 (5)), who rises up at the oppression of the poor and the sighing of the needy (Psalms 12:6 (5)).
2. But in estimating the influence of the Psalter upon Jesus, we are not left to conjecture. On many occasions—notably at the beginning and the end of His public career—He uses it directly, and expresses, sometimes the truths of His gospel, sometimes the aspirations of His soul, sometimes His premonitions of the fate of Jerusalem, almost in its very words. The Sermon on the Mount has at least half a dozen references, direct or indirect, to the Psalter; not only words of a more general kind, such as ‘Depart from me, ye workers of iniquity’ (Matthew 7:23 || Luke 13:27, cf. Psalms 6:9 (8)), or the allusion to Jerusalem as the ‘city of the great king’ (Matthew 5:35, cf. Psalms 48:3 (2)), but even such an assurance as that the heavenly Father feeds the birds (Matthew 6:26, cf. Psalms 147:9); and some of the Beatitudes themselves are but echoes of the Psalter, e.g. ‘the meek shall inherit the earth’ (Matthew 5:5, cf. Psalms 37:11 (the land)), ‘the merciful shall obtain mercy’ (Matthew 5:7, cf. Psalms 18:26 (25)). Occasionally a psalm is explicitly cited by Him, e.g. Psalms 82:6 in John 10:34, and even prefaced by the words, ‘Have ye never read?’ (cf. Matthew 21:16; Matthew 21:42), which assume a familiar knowledge of the book, or at least of these particular psalms (8, 118), on the part of His audience. But even where there is no such citation, the language is often saturated with reminiscences of the Psalter. There can be little doubt, e.g., that ‘my soul is exceeding sorrowful’ (Matthew 26:38 || Mark 14:34) is an echo of Ps 42:6, 12, (Psalms 42:5; Psalms 42:11)), or that ‘he that eateth with me shall betray me’ (Mark 14:18) is an echo of Psalms 41:10, (9) (cf. John 13:18, where the treachery is expressly said to be in fulfilment of the utterance in the psalm), or that ‘they shall dash to the ground thy children within thee’ (Luke 19:44) is a reminiscence of Psalms 137:9. In the words of a psalm (Psalms 31:6, (Psalms 31:5)) Jesus commended His spirit into His Father’s hands (Luke 23:46).
3. These references are not quite exhaustive, but they are characteristic; and they are very significant of Christ’s general attitude to the Psalter. He makes its words of faith His own in the moment of His sorrow, He repeats its promises to those who are prepared to be His disciples (Luke 10:19, cf. Psalms 91:13; Matthew 5:5, cf. Psalms 37:11); but, with the single exception—if it be an exception—of Psalms 110, to be afterwards discussed, He does not seem directly to countenance, by His own example, that Messianic interpretation of the Psalter upon which the Church has, from her earliest days, uniformly insisted. True, it is recorded that He said that ‘all things must needs be fulfilled which are written in the law of Moses, and the prophets, and the psalms, concerning me’ (Luke 24:44). But within the teaching of Christ Himself there is no certain illustration of specific passages which He applied Messianically to Himself. And this omission would be very singular, if He had generally countenanced Messianic interpretation in the narrower sense in which that word has been commonly understood. He believed in His Messiahship, but He did not rest it upon the basis of individual passages. He claimed to fulfil the Law and the Prophets; but, judging by His general practice, this appears to imply the large fulfilment of their spirit and tendency, rather than any minute and literal fulfilment of particular words. His method of dealing with the Psalms, when controversy is involved, is well illustrated by His citation of Psalms 82:6 in John 10:34. The Jews are incensed at what they regard as His blasphemy in calling Himself the Son of God. He appeals to the psalm, to show that men exalted to high office had been in the OT called ‘gods’; and argues that, if the title was appropriate for them, how much more for Him who had a unique commission and equipment from the Father.
4. It is instructive to turn from Christ’s use of the Psalter to that of the writers and speakers in the NT; and, in this connexion, it is important to remember that most of their citations from the Psalter are made from the LXX Septuagint . Occasionally this seriously affects the argument. The author of the Ep. to the Hebrews, e.g. (Hebrews 1:10-12), finds, in the great words of Psalms 102:26-28 (Psalms 102:25; Psalms 102:27)—‘Thou, Lord, in the beginning, didst lay the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of thy hands’—an allusion to Christ. In the LXX Septuagint it is ‘the Lord’ who is said to he everlasting, and to the author of the Epistle the Lord is Christ. But in the Hebrew psalm the address is to Jehovah, a title which no Hebrew could possibly have applied to the Messiah. Here is a case—and there are others—where the argument holds only on the basis of the Greek translation; it would be irrelevant and inapplicable on the basis of the original Hebrew (cf. Ephesians 4:8, Psalms 68:19, (Psalms 68:18).
Again, with regard to the psalms customarily called Messianic, it has to be remembered that the songs of the Psalter have, generally speaking, a historical background. They spring, not perhaps always, but undoubtedly often, out of a definite historical situation; that situation, or some aspect of it, is their theme. In many psalms this is obvious (cf. Psalms 44, 83, 137); and the question may fairly be raised whether this is not also the case in the Messianic psalms. Doubtless time might prove that the meaning of a psalm was larger than the original intention of its composer: this is true more or less of all great literature. But to understand truly its deeper meaning, we must start from its original intention, and from the situation in view of which it was composed. While to some of the psalms whose subject is a king a Messianic interpretation has been assigned (cf. 2), in others the actual contents and implications of the psalm render that interpretation impossible. The ‘anointed,’ e.g. (Heb. ‘his Messiah,’ LXX Septuagint ‘Christ’), in Psalms 20:7 (6) is almost necessarily some historical king, and the psalm appears to have been composed on the eve of a battle. If, then, in some of the psalms which deal with a ‘Messiah’ or ‘Christ,’ the reference is to a historic king of Israel or Judah, the presumption at least is raised that all the Messianic psalms may be similarly interpreted.
The tendency to find in the Psalter predictive references to Jesus must have set in very early. In Matthew 13:35, e.g., the parabolic method of teaching adopted by Jesus is said to be in fulfilment of the prophecy (attributed in one MS to Isaiah), ‘I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden from the foundation of the world.’ In point of fact these words simply form the introduction to one of the longer historical psalms (Psalms 78:2), and in them the Psalmist simply declares his intention to draw instruction from the ancient history of Israel. There is here no conceivable allusion to the parabolic teaching of Jesus. This interpretation would hardly even have been possible but for the LXX Septuagint , which happens to render the Hebrew בְּמָשָׁל by ἐν ταραβολαῖς—another good illustration of the control that the LXX Septuagint exercised over Messianic interpretation. This tendency to ‘messianize,’ wherever possible, naturally is operative also outside of the NT. There is no warrant in its pages, e.g., for referring the latter part of Psalms 24 to Christ; but the Fathers applied it to His ascension, and the Te Deum addresses Christ as the King of Glory. Sometimes psalms which are commonly regarded as Messianic contain sentiments which are un-Christian, and which therefore render the Messianic interpretation, in any sense worth defending, untenable. Some exegetes have even held that Psalms 18 is Messianic, in spite of such a verse as Psalms 18:43 (Psalms 18:42). Psalms 2, whose claims are much more generally allowed, contains sentiments (cf. Psalms 2:9) which could not legitimately be reconciled with the spirit of Him who was the Prince of peace.
5. We shall now examine the psalms which are most commonly regarded as Messianic—for convenience’ sake in the order in which they occur in the Psalter.
Psalms 2. A study of the NT allusions to this psalm is peculiarly instructive, as, though there is a general agreement that it is Messianic, there is considerable variety in its interpretation. One passage, indeed, does not seem even to regard the psalm as Messianic, at least in the narrower sense: in Revelation 2:27 the promise of Psalms 2:9 that the king would ‘break’ (LXX Septuagint and NT read ποιμανεῖ(ς), ‘shepherd,’ ‘rule,’ pointing תִּרְעֵם instead of תְּר֙עֵם) the nations with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken, is applied, in the message addressed to Thyatira, to the Christian who overcomes and keeps the works of Christ to the end.
This application of the passage shows that, even in very early times, the Messianic interpretation of such psalms was felt to be not the only possible one. It is just possible, however, that the words of the psalm were chosen simply because they were an apposite description of triumph. This becomes the more probable when we remember that elsewhere in this same book—Revelation 12:5; Revelation 19:15—the passage is applied Messianically.
The first two verses of the psalm—‘Why do the heathen rage?’ etc.—are applied in Acts 4:25 f. to the combination of Herod, Pilate, the Romans, and the Jews, against ‘thy holy servant Jesus,’ who is clearly therefore regarded as the king celebrated in the psalm. The verse which the NT most frequently lays under contribution is Acts 4:7 ‘Thou art my son; this day have I begotten thee.’ This verse, or the first part of it, underlies Nathanael’s confession (John 1:49), Peter’s confession (Matthew 16:16), the high priest’s question (Matthew 26:63), and the voice which is said to have been heard on the occasion of the Baptism (Matthew 3:17 = Mark 1:11 = Luke 3:22) and the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:5 = Mark 9:7 = Luke 9:35). According to the Codex Bezae in Matthew 3:17, the words heard on the occasion of the baptism were, ‘Thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee.’ This attests the belief in some quarters that the Divine sonship of Jesus, which the psalm is supposed to foreshadow, dated from the day of His baptism. But in Acts 13:33 St. Paul regards the Psalmist’s utterance as fulfilled not in the baptism, but in the resurrection of Jesus; and this view appears to underlie the Apostle’s statement in Romans 1:4 that it was by the resurrection that Jesus was declared to be the Son of God with power. The verse is further applied in Hebrews 1:5 (cf. Hebrews 5:5) as a proof of the superiority of Jesus to the angels. In the Hebrew OT, however, the term literally translated ‘sons of God’ is applied to supernatural beings whether they be regarded as gods or angels; cf. Job 1:6; Job 2:1, where the LXX Septuagint renders by οἱ ἄγγελοι τοῦ θεοῦ. As, however, there are passages in which even the LXX Septuagint speaks of these beings as ‘sons of God’ (Psalms 29:1; Psalms 89:6), we must assume, if the writer has not forgotten them, that he is laying particular stress on the latter half of the verse, ‘this day have I begotten thee.’ According to the Epistle, however, Jesus took part in the Creation, and was pre-existent before all eternity (Hebrews 1:2; Hebrews 1:10); consequently we must suppose that the ‘begetting to-day’ refers to His eternal generation. See art. Begetting.
Here, then, are three different interpretations of the verse within the NT: the Divine sonship of the Messiah is variously connected with His baptism, His resurrection, or His eternal generation. These interesting fluctuations of opinion are possible only because the historical interpretation of the psalm is ignored. The phrase ‘son of God’ did not necessarily imply Divinity in the technical sense, for we find it applied even to the people (Exodus 4:22), and we have already seen how Jesus argues (John 10:34) from the acknowledged application of the term to human beings. In truth, the psalm seems to be addressed to some actual king of Judah, and to express the assurance of his victory and dominion, possibly on the occasion of his coronation. The day on which he was begotten as a son of God is the day on which he was installed in his regal dignity as the representative of Jehovah, the King and Father of His people. It is, we must admit, by no means impossible, especially when we consider the soaring language of the psalm, that its subject is not any reigning king, but some king yet to be; this would be the case if the psalm belongs, as it may, to the post-exilic period, when the monarchy was no more. But in neither case can it be strictly regarded as referring to Jesus, partly because the establishment of the king upon the holy hill of Zion would have no relevance in His case; partly because the conception of His function as dashing His enemies in pieces is un-Christian. Besides, as we have seen, the NT itself is not agreed as to the precise incident which the psalm is supposed to prefigure. But its solemn and emphatic predication of the Divine sonship of the king, possibly also its outlook upon a world-wide dominion, made it natural, and almost inevitable, under the conditions of early Christian interpretation, that it should he regarded as, in some sense, a prediction of Jesus.
Psalms 8. It is interesting to compare the use made of this psalm by Jesus with that made elsewhere in the NT. Psalms 5:3 (2) ‘Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings,’ etc., is quoted by Him against the chief priests (Matthew 21:16), who murmur when they hear the children cry ‘Hosanna.’ The NT follows the LXX Septuagint , which reads ‘praise’ instead of the Hebrew ‘strength,’ ‘bulwark’; but the essential meaning of the psalm is finely brought out by the citation—the power, on the one hand, or the insight, on the other, of the children (cf. for a very similar thought, Matthew 11:25). In Hebrews 2:6-8, however (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:27 f.), ‘Thou madest him a little (or ‘for a little while’) lower than the angels,’—vv. Psalms 8:5-6 of the psalm are interpreted as referring to Jesus, because the supremacy which, in the psalm, is asserted of the ‘son of man’ is not, as a matter of fact, true of the human race, but it is true of Jesus. This is a noble application of the passage, full of poetic and spiritual insight; but it does not justify us in supposing that the psalm was, in its original intention, Messianic. The Psalmist is undoubtedly thinking of the human race, he marvels at the love of the great God towards His apparently insignificant creature in making him lord of all. ‘Thou hast put all things under his feet.’ To the Psalmist this supremacy is a fact: he is content with man as he finds him, and he is not thinking of One in whom this lordship would be more perfectly realized.
Psalms 16. In Acts 2:25-28 (cf. Acts 13:35-37) St. Peter quotes four verses of the psalm (Psalms 16:8-11) in confirmation of the resurrection of Christ. The crucial verse is Acts 2:27 ‘Thou wilt not leave my soul unto Hades, neither wilt thou give thy holy one to see corruption.’ It is not quite certain whether the psalm is individual or collective. If it be collective, this verse implies no more than an assured faith in the future of Israel; if, however, it be individual, the speaker is probably expressing his own faith in immortality, though a more meagre meaning has been put upon the words, as if he were simply expressing his confidence in his recovery from a severe illness, or perhaps in his immunity from the sudden death which overtakes the wicked. In any case ‘thy holy one’—an unfortunate translation—is undoubtedly the speaker himself. He is Jehovah’s hâsîd, that is, a bond of love subsists between him and his God; and, in virtue of this bond, he is sure that Sheol cannot be his ultimate fate,—he will overleap it, and be received into glory (Psalms 73:24). The last word of Psalms 16:10 שׁחַח, which means ‘pit,’ was, however, unfortunately rendered by LXX Septuagint διαφθορά, ‘corruption’; and part of St. Peter’s argument, as of St. Paul’s in Acts 13:35-37, depends upon the mistranslation. The argument is that, as the Psalmist himself ‘saw corruption’ (Acts 13:36), he was really speaking, not of himself, but, prophetically, of Jesus, who saw no corruption. The psalm is therefore regarded as a prophecy of the resurrection of Christ, though it is, in reality, only a devout believer’s confession of faith in his own immortality. But it is only fair to notice that, while the form of the argument in Acts is Jewish, and rests, in part, upon a mistranslation, in substance the argument is sound. What the psalm essentially asserts is, that where a bond of love subsists between God and a man, death has no power to destroy the man—a fortiori in the case of the Man. ‘It was not possible that He should be conquered by him’ (Acts 2:24)—such a one as Jesus by such an antagonist as death.
Psalms 22. Nothing is more natural than that the early Christians should have interpreted this psalm Messianically, or that that interpretation should have persisted throughout the whole history of the Christian Church. It is not only that echoes of it are heard in the Passion story of the Gospels,—in the parting of His garments and the casting of the lot for His raiment (Matthew 27:35 = Mark 15:24 = Luke 23:34, Psalms 22:19 (18)), the shaking of the heads of the passers-by (Matthew 27:39 = Mark 15:29 = Luke 23:35, Psalms 22:8 (7)), the mocking cry, ‘He trusted in God, let him deliver him’ (Matthew 27:43, Psalms 22:9 (8)),—but Jesus Himself upon the cross used at least the opening words of the psalm (Matthew 27:46 = Mark 15:34), and the parting of His garments is expressly said in John 19:24 to have taken place that the scripture might be fulfilled. It must be admitted that there is often a very startling similarity between the details of the psalm and the narrative of the Gospels. Still, many of those details are not strictly applicable to the crucifixion. Alike in the sufferings, in the triumphant issue from them, and in the contemplated conversion of the world which is to be produced by that triumph (John 19:28 (27)), this psalm very powerfully recalls the Suffering Servant of Deutero-Isaiah; and the theme of both is doubtless the same, that is, the people, or at least the pious kernel of Israel. More important, however, than the similarity of detail just alluded to, striking as that is, is the large and profound insight of the psalm. It is all aglow with the consciousness that suffering means, in the end, not defeat, but victory, and that the Suffering Servant, so far from being crushed, will one day win the whole world to Himself. These truths, of course, find their highest and truest exemplification in Jesus.
Psalms 34:21 (20). According to John 19:36 the legs of Jesus were not broken, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled, ‘A bone of him shall not be broken.’ In the psalm the verse is intended to express the general care which Jehovah exercises over the righteous, and therefore it could hardly be regarded as an apt citation in connexion with the crucifixion of Jesus; but more probably it is intended to be, primarily, a reminiscence of Exodus 12:46, Numbers 9:12, which prescribe that the bones of the Paschal lamb shall not be broken. In that case the quotation would convey to a Jewish ear the subtle reminder that Jesus was the true Paschal lamb.
Psalms 40. In Hebrews 10:5-7 part of this psalm (Hebrews 10:7-9 (6–8)) is quoted, and interpreted as a prayer of Christ on coming into the world; and here, again, a large part of the argument turns upon the faulty text of the LXX Septuagint . The author is arguing that the continual sacrifices of the OT dispensation have been for ever abolished by the one sacrifice of Christ. In the body which God prepared for Him, He perfectly fulfilled the Divine will by the sacrifice of Himself. But the words ‘a body didst thou prepare for me,’ which the author adopts from the LXX Septuagint , do not represent the Heb. of Psalms 40:7 (6), which reads, ‘ears hast thou digged for me.’ Fortunately the origin of the mistake is not far to seek. The word for ‘ears’ is ΩΤΙΑ, and for ‘body’ ΣΩΜΑ. The Σ at the end of ΗθΕΑΗΣΑΣ was apparently duplicated, and then the following ΩΤΙΑ was easily transformed into ΩΜΑ; so that out of an originally correct translation, ‘ears,’ a new word arose, which unhappily lent itself to a dogmatic interpretation almost the opposite of that intended by the Psalmist. His point is that God demands not sacrifice but obedience—the ready ear to hear; the point in the Epistle is, not the ever-recurring sacrifice, but the one sacrifice of Christ’s body. As, however, the ethical worth, in one of its aspects, of Christ’s sacrifice was the perfect obedience which it illustrated, we may say that here, as in the case of Psalms 16, the conclusion is essentially sound, though the argument is fallacious, at least in so far as it rests upon a mistranslation. Historically considered, the psalm appears to be a prayer expressing the mingled feelings of the people after their return from exile. It is one of the three great psalms (cf. 50, 51) which emphatically assert the superiority of obedience and contrition over sacrifice.
Psalms 41:10 (9). In the Gospel of John, as in the Epistle to the Hebrews, there is a strong tendency towards the Messianic interpretation of passages in which, to say the least, that interpretation is not necessary. According to John 13:18 the treachery of Judas is said to have taken place in accordance with the scripture, which must be fulfilled, ‘He that eateth my bread lifted up his heel againstme.’ In other words, Psalms 41:10 (9) is supposed to have Christ for its theme. That this is impossible, however, is clearly shown by the very verse of the psalm which follows the quotation, ‘Thou, Jehovah, have mercy upon me, and raise me up, that I may requite them.’ It is much more probable that Jesus simply used the words which St. Mark records of Him,—words, no doubt, suggested by the psalm, ‘One of you shall betray me, even he that eateth with me.’ He may have cited the words of the psalm as apposite rather than prophetic.
Psalms 45. For long Psalms 45 has enjoyed among Christian expositors the reputation of celebrating the love of Christ for His Church. But a glance at the psalm is enough to show that it, like others, has its roots in history; the pointed and definite reference to ‘the daughter of Tyre’ renders any other interpretation extremely improbable. It is apparently a song in celebration of the marriage of some king of Israel or Judah with a foreign princess. Psalms 45:7 f. (6 f.)—‘Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever,’ etc.—are cited in Hebrews 1:8 f. and interpreted as referring to the Son. Considering that shortly before, Hebrews 5:2, and immediately after, Hebrews 5:10, the author of the Epistle touches upon the pre-existence of Christ, the direct naming of the royal subject of the psalm as ‘God’ would be peculiarly welcome. With what admirable cogency could the psalm thus be interpreted of Christ, and how little could it be fairly referred to any one else! For the passages which some have adduced to prove that אֱלֹהִים could stand for ‘judges’ (cf. Exodus 22:7 f.)—though they do not really prove as much—would in any case be insufficient to show that an ordinary human king could be addressed in the word Elohim; the king of the psalm must therefore be Divine. It has been conjectured, however, with great acuteness and probability, that instead of אלהים ‘God,’ the original reading was יהיה ‘shall be’ (יִהְיָה). This may have been carelessly read as יהוה, and then altered by the Elohistic redactors of Psalms 42-83 to אלהים. In that case the important dogmatic text, ‘Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever,’ becomes the innocent assertion that ‘thy throne shall be for ever and ever,’ and with the change in the text, the Messianic interpretation vanishes, especially as the next verse speaks of his companions. Of a human king this is intelligible, but who would the companions of the Messiah be?
Psalms 69. It might seem surprising that a psalm marked by so vindictive a spirit as Psalms 69 should ever have been interpreted Messianically, but several of its verses are even in the NT brought into relation with Christ. In his usual manner St. John (John 19:28-30) sees in the offering of vinegar to Jesus on the cross a fulfilment of scripture, that is, of Psalms 69:22 (21) (cf. Mark 15:36, Luke 23:36), while St. Matthew (Matthew 27:34; Matthew 27:48), who parallels the language of the psalm still more closely by speaking of the gall, does not explicitly connect the incident with the psalm, though doubtless it was in his mind. The zeal with which Jesus drove the money-changers out of the Temple, is said in John 2:17 to have reminded the disciples of John 5:10 (9) of the psalm; and Romans 15:3, where the second half of this verse is quoted, shows that St. Paul interpreted the psalm Messianically (but cf. Romans 11:9 f. with Psalms 69:23 f. (22 f.)). In Acts 1:20, Psalms 69:26 (25) and Psalms 109:8 are regarded as inspired predictions of the fate of Judas (Acts 1:16). Two difficulties, however, stand in the way of interpreting this psalm Messianically: (1) It plainly reflects a contemporary historical situation; it is the product of a time when Judah is in misery and her cities are in ruins (Psalms 69:36 (35)); and (2) its fierce vindictive tone (cf. Acts 5:24) is altogether unlike the spirit of Him who said, ‘Father, forgive them.’ The similarity of incidents in the life of Jesus to certain features of the psalm may have led to its Messianic application; but it has nothing like the claims to such a distinction which Psalms 22 has.
Psalms 72. The NT lends hardly any support to the Messianic interpretation of this psalm, though this interpretation has found much favour with Christian expositors. The description of the gifts of gold that were brought to the infant Jesus (Matthew 2:11) perhaps recalls, in part, the language of the psalm, cf. psalm, cf. psalm, cf. Psalms 72:10 f., Psalms 72:15; but in spite of the extravagant language of psalm, cf. Psalms 72:8-11 (which are possibly, as some hold, a later insertion, added after the psalm began to be interpreted Messianically), it was, in all probability, originally only a prayer for some historic king. psalm, cf. Psalms 72:15, in which prayer is to be continually offered for the royal subject of the psalm, shows that the Messianic interpretation is hardly admissible.
Psalms 110. No psalm is so frequently laid under contribution in the NT as Psalms 110, V. 1, e.g., is referred to, directly or allusively, in Matthew 22:44; Matthew 26:64, Mark 12:36; Mark 14:62; Mark 16:19, Luke 20:42 f., Luke 22:69, Acts 2:34 f., Acts 5:31, Acts 7:55 f., Romans 8:34, 1 Corinthians 15:25, Ephesians 1:20, Colossians 3:1, 1 Peter 3:22, Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 1:13; Hebrews 8:1; Hebrews 10:12 f., Hebrews 12:2; and v. 4 in Hebrews 5:6; Hebrews 6:20; Hebrews 7:11; Hebrews 7:17; Hebrews 7:21 etc. The first verse is interpreted of Jesus, who, as the Messiah, is bidden by the Lord (Jehovah in the Hebrew) to sit at His right hand till He has vanquished all His enemies; while, according to the Ep. to the Heb., He is also the priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek. Other priesthoods were transitory, His is eternal and inalienable (Hebrews 7:16; Hebrews 7:24). The use of the psalm made by Christ, together with the very deliberate, if not solemn words in which He introduces the citation, certainly raise a strong presumption that He regarded the psalm as Messianic. But in this connexion two things have to be remembered: (1) that this allusion springs from an atmosphere of controversy, and (2) that the essential meaning of Christ is independent of the Messianic view of the psalm. (1) As against the Pharisees, the citation had a peculiar relevance and propriety. Christ desires them to feel that they have not carefully considered the consequences of their views regarding the Messiah. (2) The real intention of Christ is to suggest the indefeasible superiority of the spiritual to the material. Starting from the conception of sonship, the Pharisees ended in thoughts of a material and political kingdom like David’s, whereas, had they considered the sense in which the Messiah was David’s Lord, they would have found themselves in a spiritual sphere.
It is certainly very difficult to resist the impression that the psalm is Maccabaean. Without laying too much stress upon the singular fact that the initial letters of each verse from Psalms 110:1 b to Psalms 110:4, שמען, spell the word Simon, the historical implications of the psalm point very powerfully to the Maccabaean period. It implies that the king celebrated also bore the title of priest, and not till that period could this have been appropriately said of any ruler. The language of the opening verse, which, in the Hebrew, runs ‘Oracle of Jehovah to my lord,’ most naturally suggests that the psalm is composed by a poet in honour of his king, whom he calls ‘my lord,’ and for whom he foretells victory. But the vigorous language of Psalms 110:6 hardly seems compatible with the idea that its theme is Christ.
The use made of the psalm by St. Peter in Acts 2:34 f. is thoroughly analogous to his use of Psalms 16. Immediately after arguing that Psalms 16, with its seeming prophecy of the resurrection, could not refer to David because he ‘both died and was buried,’ the Apostle goes on to argue that Psalms 110 must also be referred to some other than David, because ‘he did not ascend into the heavens.’ But in truth the sitting at the right hand of God is simply a pictorial way of suggesting an idea similar to that of Psalms 2:7, where a historical king is called the son of God. The grandeur of the phrase ‘sitting at the right hand of God,’ the contemplated completeness of the king’s victory, the union in his person of the offices or priest and king, and the mysterionsness that gathered round the person and the priesthood of Melchizedek, all combined to make the Messianic interpretation easy and all but inevitable.
Psalms 118. With this psalm as with Psalms 8, Jesus assumed a certain familiarity on the part of His audience (Matthew 21:42 ‘Did ye never read?’). His use of it strongly suggests, though perhaps it hardly compels, the belief that He regarded it as Messianic. With the words, ‘Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord’ (Psalms 118:26), He was acclaimed by the multitudes as He entered Jerusalem (Matthew 21:9; Matthew 21:15 = Mark 11:9 f. = Luke 19:38 = John 12:13), and in the same words He ends His lament over Jerusalem (Matthew 23:39). The saying that ‘the stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner’ (Psalms 118:22), is also understood to find its fulfilment in Him (Matthew 21:42 = Mark 12:10 f. = Luke 20:17; cf. Acts 4:11, 1 Peter 2:4; 1 Peter 2:7). In the psalm, the reference appears to be to Israel, despised yet victorious; but as the career of Jesus is the most perfect illustration of the principle pictorially expressed in the saying, the citation is thoroughly in keeping with the spirit of the psalm, though it cannot be regarded as a prediction. Similarly, ‘Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord,’ is more strikingly appropriate to Jesus than even to the original subject of the psalm.
6. In conclusion, it may be said that the exegetical methods and the Messianic outlook of the early Church rendered it very natural that they should find in the Psalter, as in other parts of the OT, predictions of incidents in the life of Christ, or that psalms descriptive, on the one hand, of malignant persecution and agonized suffering, or embodying, on the other hand, a large outlook upon a universal dominion, should be claimed for Him. Usually there is an appropriateness, sometimes very striking, in the application to Him of passages in the Psalter which, for various reasons, can seldom, if ever, be with any plausibility regarded as predictions of Him. Often, as we have seen, a psalm can be regarded as Messianic only by ignoring its historical background (Psalms 69), or by selecting and emphasizing certain verses while ignoring others that suggest an inadequate or unworthy view of the Messiah (Psalms 2). There are undoubtedly in the Psalter many true foreshadowings of Christ; but, speaking broadly, it is in its general spirit rather than in its isolated expressions that we may find Him. Of course, it has been commonly urged that a psalm may be typically Messianic though it is not prophetic; but it may be questioned whether it is worth while to interpret literature in this fashion. Christ’s own use of the Psalter is strikingly different from the occasional use of it, e.g., in the Book of the Acts. He did not commend His Messiahship after the fashion in which His Apostles sometimes do. Profound as is the insight with which they often cite and apply the Psalter, very much more than the Master do the disciples emphasize the letter, sometimes even the letter of an inadequate translation. From His use of it we learn to find in the Psalter a support of the devotional life rather than a mainstay of Messianic argument.
Literature.—Binnie, The Psalms, their History, Teaching, and Use, pp. 155–217; Alexander, Witness of the Psalms to Christ and Christianity (BL [Note: L Bampton Lecture.] , 1876); Jennings and Lowe, The Psalms, with Introductions and Critical Notes, vol. i. ch. iv.; Kirkpatrick, The Psalms (Cambridge Bible), Introduction, ch. viii.; Cheyne, The Christian Use of the Psalms; A. B. Davidson, Biblical and Literary Essays, pp. 139–193; Briggs, ‘The Psalms,’ 2 vols. (ICC [Note: CC International Critical Commentary.] ) 1906–7, esp. Introd. p. ci ff. Allusions to the Psalter in NT are collected in Alexander’s Witness of the Psalms, pp. 257–264; but they can be most profitably studied in Toy, Quotations in the NT; Hühn, Die messianischen Weissagungen, 2 Theil, ‘Die Alttestamentlichen Citate und Reminiscenzen im NT; Dittmar, Vetus Testamentum in Novo.
John E. M‘Fadyen.
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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Psalms (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/p/psalms-2.html. 1906-1918.