As inspired poetry, the psalms express man's praise as well as his questions and laments before God as he lives out his frail human life always facing death but with a hope of existence beyond the grave. They are the writings of those, who through inspiration, could see beyond this world into the reality of the unseen spiritual dimension. The psalms address how human beings are affected not only by adversity and sin but also by the enormity of God's creation, the power of His word and the reality of His presence in their every day lives.
The final category of psalms that we will examine are the Royal psalms which were mainly written to describe man's relationship with earthly rulers of that period. A number of these psalms also pointed the reader beyond the present situation to a future time when their spiritual aspirations for God's rule would be fulfilled (i.e. Prophetic psalms).
Royal (messianic) psalms deal with the king as God's anointed or chosen one. Many are prayers for the wisdom of the king, his long life or success in battle. Some are prophetic in nature in that they also point to the ideal future king, the Messiah or the King of kings.
In the Old Testament the people understood the term "Messiah" in two different ways:
- He was the anointed one (the English word "Christ" is from a Greek word meaning anointed and is equivalent to the word Messiah). This was a term used for a prophet, priest or king who was separated from among the people and given an office or task to fulfill.
- In a more specific sense it referred to the ultimate ideal king, savior and Lord who was to come and save His people forever.
The poets were often speaking about actual kings when they referred to Messiahs or anointed ones. The New Testament writers, in turn, took these words and applied them to Jesus as the "Christ," the "Anointed One" or the "Messiah."
In this psalm the writer demonstrates how the king, as God's chosen one, can have confidence despite the plotting and scheming of ungodly enemies.
1Why are the nations in an uproar
And the peoples devising a vain thing?
2The kings of the earth take their stand
And the rulers take counsel together
Against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying,
3"Let us tear their fetters apart
And cast away their cords from us!"
The nations are the Gentiles and their rulers. The author demonstrates that to conspire against the king is to conspire against the One who has made him king, God Himself. In the same way, to attack the messenger (preacher) is to attack the one who sends the messenger and the message, Christ Himself.
4He who sits in the heavens laughs,
The Lord scoffs at them.
5Then He will speak to them in His anger
And terrify them in His fury, saying,
6"But as for Me, I have installed My King
Upon Zion, My holy mountain."
7"I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord:
He said to Me, 'You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.
8'Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance,
And the very ends of the earth as Your possession.
9'You shall break them with a rod of iron,
You shall shatter them like earthenware.'"
Conspiring against God's ordained has two responses:
- God scorns the plans of men who are against Him as foolish and futile.
- He will ultimately judge such things by punishing the guilty and upholding the one that He has chosen in the following ways:
- God will confirm his position as son (anointed earthly kings were seen as sons of God). However, there is also a messianic reference to Jesus here as the Son of God and ruler of all.
- God will provide blessings for the king and give him victory over his enemies.
10Now therefore, O kings, show discernment;
Take warning, O judges of the earth.
11Worship the Lord with reverence
And rejoice with trembling.
12Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way,
For His wrath may soon be kindled.
How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!
The rebels are warned to repent and submit to God's anointed king. In the historical context, this is a warning by David to others not to trifle with Israel and her king who, although small, is protected by the true God. In the messianic sense this is also true, that rebellion against God and His King, Jesus, will fail and be punished, however, submission to Him will bring reward and protection.
Psalm 45 – A Song for a Royal Wedding
Some psalms were written to commemorate battles and great national events. The marriage of the king was one such occasion and Psalm 45 was written especially for this joyful time. It also provides a similar image of the marriage between God and His nation which, in a messianic sense, is between Christ and His church. This psalm, therefore, can be interpreted using three different contexts: historic (the earthly king and his bride), metaphoric (God and the nation of Israel), and messianic (Christ and His church).
1My heart overflows with a good theme;
I address my verses to the King;
My tongue is the pen of a ready writer.
2You are fairer than the sons of men;
Grace is poured upon Your lips;
Therefore God has blessed You forever.
3Gird Your sword on Your thigh, O Mighty One,
In Your splendor and Your majesty!
4And in Your majesty ride on victoriously,
For the cause of truth and meekness and righteousness;
Let Your right hand teach You awesome things.
5Your arrows are sharp;
The peoples fall under You;
Your arrows are in the heart of the King's enemies.
6Your throne, O God, is forever and ever;
A scepter of uprightness is the scepter of Your kingdom.
7You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You
With the oil of joy above Your fellows.
8All Your garments are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia;
Out of ivory palaces stringed instruments have made You glad.
9Kings' daughters are among Your noble ladies;
At Your right hand stands the queen in gold from Ophir.
The author describes the king: wise and blessed by God (vs. 2); defender of the righteous (vs. 3-5); blessed, honored and joyful (vs. 8-9); a son of God and as God Himself (Hebrews 1:8-9). When originally written, this psalm only referred to a man (the king himself), but in the messianic sense can only be properly ascribed to Jesus.
10Listen, O daughter, give attention and incline your ear:
Forget your people and your father's house;
11Then the King will desire your beauty.
Because He is your Lord, bow down to Him.
12The daughter of Tyre will come with a gift;
The rich among the people will seek your favor.
13The King's daughter is all glorious within;
Her clothing is interwoven with gold.
14She will be led to the King in embroidered work;
The virgins, her companions who follow her,
Will be brought to You.
15They will be led forth with gladness and rejoicing;
They will enter into the King's palace.
The author now describes the queen. She is a foreign princess and the poet entreats her to forget her past as well as her former home and give herself totally to her husband the king (vs. 10-12). He describes her maidens, the beauty of her wedding garments and the joy she experiences at being the king's new bride (vs. 13-15). These are also images or types for the church and Christ as well as for God and His people.
16In place of your fathers will be your sons;
You shall make them princes in all the earth.
17I will cause Your name to be remembered in all generations;
Therefore the peoples will give You thanks forever and ever.
The poet looks into the future and sees the line of the king being propagated with future kings through this union. This blessing is appropriate for the present context of the marriage of the king, but is also a prophetic look at the union between Christ the King and His bride which is the church (II Corinthians 11:2-3; Revelation 19:21). The analogy can only fit this future union:
- Jesus is also wise and blessed (Luke 2:52).
- He is the defender of righteousness, and exalted through resurrection to the right hand of God (Acts 2:33).
- His union with the church produces a future royal heritage that will also reign with Him in heaven (II Timothy 2:12).
This psalm, about an earthly king's wedding, fits the historical context at the time of its composition but also speaks to the higher, nobler and more sublime imagery of God and His chosen nation; and then the fulfillment of both these images by the union of Christ and His church at the end of the world (Ephesians 5:25-27; Revelation 21:9).
Psalm 110 – The Priest/King
This is the most quoted psalm in the New Testament. It is important to note that while many statements could refer to David, many can only refer to Christ, the ideal King and Messiah. When written, it was seen as an ideal to which the king could rise. The psalm is divided into two sections both beginning with a divine utterance.
1The Lord says to my Lord:
"Sit at My right hand
Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet."
2The Lord will stretch forth Your strong scepter from Zion, saying,
"Rule in the midst of Your enemies."
3Your people will volunteer freely in the day of Your power;
In holy array, from the womb of the dawn,
Your youth are to You as the dew.
The writer states that king's rule is such by divine authority. His throne will be in Zion and he will rule his enemies. When the king rules, people (especially young and strong men) will fill his army. The author makes a comparison saying, in the same way that the dawn brings with it the dew that covers all, when the king reigns his soldiers will cover the land.
In Matthew 22:44, Jesus gives the prophetic and messianic meaning to this passage by explaining that David was not only referring to himself here, but also to the future divine Messiah who was to come, and whose rulership and army were to be similar.
4The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind,
"You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek."
5The Lord is at Your right hand;
He will shatter kings in the day of His wrath.
6He will judge among the nations,
He will fill them with corpses,
He will shatter the chief men over a broad country.
7He will drink from the brook by the wayside;
Therefore He will lift up His head.
This same king is also anointed as a priest (vs. 4). However, He would not be a priestly type like Aaron (from the tribe of Levi), who was temporal, limited by human weakness, and offered repeated sacrifices only for the Jewish nation. This priest would be like Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18-20) who, as a type, represented a universal and eternal priesthood (Melchizadek was not of any particular lineage and his brief appearance without beginning or end signified an eternal nature).
This section can only have an application in the future because at the time of writing, kings could not serve as priests, and only a divine being could claim universal rulership and eternal life. Being anointed priest and king by God is the guarantee of a ruler's sovereignty over the nations. The phrase "..He will lift up His head" is imagery expressing the idea of victory over enemies.
Historically, the king in concert with an enlightened priesthood, saw the nation of Israel as the universal light of the world (Isaiah 49:6) and this psalm would call him to a more noble and godly ideal. Prophetically, however, Psalm 110 refers to the perfect balance of Jesus' dual roles as king and priest offering Himself on behalf of the people over which He ruled.
The Psalms have been given by God to help us express godly ideas using godly phrasing. They assist us in verbalizing the "groaning" (Romans 8:26) of our spirit when our own human words and ideas seem so inadequate to lay before the One we desperately want to praise and adore.