Messianic Psalms

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Psalm 2 is the first psalm of a very important group of psalms known as “royal” psalms or “Messianic” psalms. Over the centuries, theologians have debated the significance of these Messianic psalms. On the one hand, there are those who believe these psalms relate only to the kings of Israel. In that sense, they are definitely “royal” in nature, and in fact several of them were apparently recited during enthronement ceremonies. But on the other hand, there is the witness of the New Testament. There, most of these psalms are used in direct reference to Christ. Harold Rowley’s comments on these royal psalms are worth noting because they reflect a balanced view which takes into account both the immediate, historical context of the Messianic psalms as well as a much broader context evidenced by how the inspired writers of the New Testament saw them –

They held before the king the ideal king, both as his inspiration and guide for the present, and as the hope of the future.

Psalm 2

Psalm 2 begins with a question that is still being asked to this day:

Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? (Psalm 2:1 NIV)

The English “nations” comes from the Hebrew goyim, and refers to Gentiles, while “peoples” has reference to the Jews. This is how God views that which Gentiles and Jews think is so important. The word is “vain,” and it means “empty.” Whatever it is that has drawn these two groups together and put them in such a tizzy is, essentially, nothing at all; a futile, worthless exercise. But what is it that could unite these two groups that are usually in conflict with each other? Verses 2 and 3 tell us –

The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, “Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.” (Psalm 2:2, 3 NIV)

For the first time in the psalms we see the word “anointed,” which means Messiah. Both political rulers (kings) and religious rulers (rulers) have banded together to rebel against the Lord and His Messiah, His Christ. Verse 3 gives us the details of their evil plot. Both groups want to live unrestricted by God’s will. The plans of these rebellious leaders stand in stark contrast to those of the godly man in the first psalm. Whereas the godly man lives in delight of and obedience to God’s Word, the ungodly here are determined to “overthrow” God and His rule.

Sinners and believers view God’s will – His rule over the lives of His people – totally different. Christians view the rule of God like this:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1 NIV)

But this psalm shows us how the unconverted view the rule of God: as chains and shackles. In fact, it is they, not believers, who are the ones in bondage! They, the political and religious rulers, are deluded. Charles Spurgeon wrote –

To a graceless neck the yoke of Christ is intolerable, but to the saved sinner it is easy and light . . . We may judge ourselves by this, do we love that yoke, or do we wish to cast it from us?

He’s right, of course. How we feel about God’s will for us is very telling.

The exact historical situation this psalm is looking at is unknown. Scholars think the psalmist was writing about a revolt of subject nations against Solomon during the early days of his reign. But the New Testament applies this psalm five times to Christ and His kingdom. Therefore, regardless of the psalmist’s original intent (which is important to understand, though), the ultimate meaning of this psalm points to the universal rebellion against God’s rule. This is sin in its most basic form.

The way this psalm describes the unregenerate is not unique to the people of the ancient world. The exact same thought patterns prevail to this very day. The world is at odds with the will of God. Political rulers at home and abroad are seeking to take humanity in a direction away from God’s will. Recent Supreme Court decisions bear this out. And, worst of all, the Church can’t trust its leaders, either, as even they seek to outwit God and unwittingly unravel the work and mission of Christ.

God’s response to the wicked plans of these rebels is classic:

The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, “I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.” (Psalm 2:4 – 6 NIV)

Why shouldn’t God laugh at these guys – or anybody, for that matter – who have the unmitigated arrogance to think that they can successfully rebel against Him? God can laugh because He’s ensconced on His throne in Heaven, not stuck on some rock spinning helplessly through space! He’s the One with all the power at His command. He’s not worriedly pacing around Heaven, fretting about these puny men scheming against Him from a speck of dust among the stars. Boice’s comments are priceless:

God does not tremble. He does not hide behind a vast celestial rampart, counting the enemy and calculating whether or not he has sufficient force to counter this new challenge to his kingdom. He does not even rise from where he is sitting. He simply ‘laughs’ at these great imbeciles.

These verses are of great theological import because most of the time in the Old Testament, God is referred to as “the God of Abraham,” in other words, God is most of the time referred to as the covenant God of the nation of Israel. Here, though, God is spoken of as the great sovereign ruler of the whole world, not just of Israel.

Furthermore, God can afford to laugh because whether man likes it or not, His will has already been accomplished and His Son, whom He has already installed on the throne, is carrying out His Father’s will perfectly.

I will proclaim the Lord’s decree: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father.” (Psalm 2:7 NIV)

Another great theological verse, it points not only to the reality of two Persons of the Trinity being mentioned in the Old Testament, but it also shows the relationship that exists between the First and Second Persons of the Trinity. The Father offers the Son, for the asking, the world as His inheritance. In essence, those rebellious nations mentioned in the previous verses become the property of the Son. And what the Son will do to these rebellious nations should be inscribed on the walls of Congress:

You will break them with a rod of iron; you will dash them to pieces like pottery. (Psalm 2:9 NIV)

The Hebrew in this verse is bit fuzzy. Or perhaps it’s a play on words. On first reading, it sounds like Christ will literally destroy the rebellious nations. But upon further reflection, perhaps the verse is saying this: Those who submit (those whose wills are broken) to the Messiah’s authority will become His subjects, but those who don’t will be destroyed.

The last three verses contain five commands to leaders of nations. These commands are as relevant today as they were when the psalmist wrote them: be wise, be instructed, serve the Lord, rejoice, and kiss the Son. The final verse of Psalm 2 describes the state of those who follow these five commands:

Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Psalm 2:12b NIV)

And so this first Messianic psalm ends with the same thought the first psalm began: believers will be blessed by God.

Psalm 110

This psalm is often referred to as “a jewel,” and it is probably the most popular of all the Messianic psalms. There are over 20 quotations and allusions to it throughout the New Testament. Jesus used it to prove His deity, Peter cited it in his famous Pentecostal sermon, and the concept at the heart of verse 2 occurs all over the New Testament. This is quite remarkable, since it is a mere seven verses long.

Equally as remarkable is how Psalm 110 begins:

The Lord says to my lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” (Psalm 110:1a NIV)

Since we know David wrote this psalm, verse 1 is staggering: Yahweh says something to David’s lord. The “something” is the easy bit, but just who is David’s Lord? The Hebrew word for “Lord” means “master” and refers to somebody with authority. Very simply put, David’s master is God. This is God talking to, not David, but God, or as we know from the New Testament, God is speaking to His Son. This makes sense to us to whom the reality of Trinity has been made known, but you can imagine how baffling it was for the Jews of the Jesus’ day when He explained it to them in Matthew 22 –

“What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”

“The son of David,” they replied.

He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says,

“ ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.” ’ If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” (Matthew 22:42 – 45 NIV)

David was speaking, or writing, by the Spirit. So what here we are reading is a piece of inspired writing, a revelation to David from God. Everything God said to David’s lord is, essentially, being said to God or about God (that is, the Son of God) Himself. This is important to grasp especially in light of this:

“You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” (Psalm 110:4b NIV)

This is an amazing statement to make. It means that our Lord is not only the King of Kings, but He is also our priest before God. And He will always be our priest. By adding the phrase “in the order of Melchizedek,” David is saying something the Jew would understand but we might not. Melchizedek was a priest long before there was a land of Israel or a nationally organized people of God. In other words, Melchizedek was a priest before there was a Jewish religion and he ministered before God on behalf of people who were not Jews. Jesus Christ is a priest like that in that He represents all people before God, not just the Jews! This is surely the climax of the psalm. God the Father makes it clear that the Messiah will be a priest, but not a Levitical priest. He will a Melchizedek Priest – a priest for all people, of all time, all over the world.

So in this psalm we see our Lord as a priest forever, and also a king. In verse 2 God the Father is seen delegating authority to His Son. Ultimately He will bring every one of His enemies into submission. Something Paul wrote comes to mind:

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9 – 11 NIV)

The anticlimax of this magnificent psalm begins at verse 5. The military tone that was present earlier comes back with a vengeance!

The Lord is at your right hand; he will crush kings on the day of his wrath. He will judge the nations, heaping up the dead and crushing the rulers of the whole earth. He will drink from a brook along the way, and so he will lift his head high. (Psalm 110:5 – 7 NIV)

Here, “the Lord” is at God’s right hand, a place of singular authority. As the Son of God battles His enemies, God His Father will be with Him, securing His victory.

Many passages of the Old Testament are difficult to translate; difficult to put into English because the words or phrases are so obscure or, in rare cases, are corrupted or missing altogether. In those cases, we are thankful for diligent, Spirit-filled and Spirit-led translators who do their best to put into understandable English those difficult passages. That’s not the case with verse 7. It’s completely intact and easy to translate. But what in the world does it mean?

He will drink from a brook along the way, and so he will lift his head high.

Moffatt translates verse 7 this way, and it’s immensely helpful:

He (the Hero) drinks from any stream he has to cross, then charges forward triumphing.

It’s a picture of the victorious Messiah refreshing Himself after the heat of the battle has waned. Dr Arno Gaebelein’s commentary on this verse is worth a second look –

The (verse) places before us once more the humiliation and exaltation of our Lord. The humiliation is that He drank of the brook along the way. We are reminded of the 300 warriors of Gideon, who went down on their knees and lapped water like dogs and who were later used and exalted through victory. But He went deeper than that. He drank of the deep waters of suffering and death. And therefore God has highly exalted Him. What a wonderful Psalm it is!

Indeed, Psalm 100 is wonderful.

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