The Book of Psalms and the Biblical Covenants (Pt.5)

Part Four

The Christology of the Psalms continued…

Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension in Psalms 16:10 (resurrection), and 68:18 (ascension).

Psalm 16:10: “For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.”

It is not fully apparent in Psalm 16 just who the “Holy One” is.  David is the author of the psalm, but would David call himself “the Holy One”?  It is this passage the apostle Peter quotes and applies directly to the Risen Christ in Acts 2:25-30.  Sheol was the place of departed souls and generally has negative connotations in the OT.  David appears to be speaking of it, not as a place of his temporary punishment, but of separation still from the presence of God.  If this is true then the hope of resurrection, and an ascension of some kind, is certainly in David’s mind as he writes, and it is this that Peter picks up and uses.

Psalm 68:18: “You have ascended on high, You have led captivity captive; You have received gifts among men, Even from the rebellious, That the LORD God might dwell there.”

This is another psalm which is applied to Christ by a New Testament writer.  This time it is Paul in Ephesians 4.  From the context of the original quotation we see that the Lord is spoken of, and the captivity that He has taken captive is in the positive sense of deliverance from oppressors.  The apostle Paul utilizes this verse to teach that Christ, while triumphing over the powers, has ascended and has in some way ‘captived’ the captives.  Without getting into the question of who the “captives” are, we can see that the text is employed to teach, among other things, the ascension of Christ.

Christ’s Second Advent is implied in places like Psalm 46:8-11.  The passage is akin to the Divine Warrior passages in the Bible (e.g. Exod. 15:1-11; Psa. 68; Isa. 63:1-3) where God comes unchallenged.  One sees a similar thing in Psalm 50:1-6, where “The Mighty One” (v.1) shines forth “out of Zion” (v.2).  He comes as a Judge (v.6), and the judgment seems climactic.  Verse 3, with its mention of a devouring fire (Cf. Mal. 3:2; 4:1); and verse 4, with its call to universal judgment, encourage us to see the returning Lord in the passage (Cf. Rev. 19:11-19).

So we can see that Messiah in His person and work is predicted in the Psalms.  These messianic psalms are a powerful witness to Israel’s expectation of a coming Ruler who would be God’s means of restoring His people to Himself, although their Christology has been ignored by many Jews.  In a long footnote George Peters explained that later Jewish interpreters modified the messianic interpretations of ancient rabbis to evade Christian who would try to point them to Jesus Christ by them.[1]

There is one more psalm to which we have to turn.

Psalm 110

It is hard to imagine a life setting for this psalm.  It is perhaps the clearest messianic passage in Psalms.  As it is the most quoted passage in the New Testament and only seven verses long I shall reproduce it below:

1 The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”

2 The LORD shall send the rod of Your strength out of Zion. Rule in the midst of Your enemies!

3 Your people shall be volunteers in the day of Your power; in the beauties of holiness, from the womb of the morning, You have the dew of Your youth.

4 The LORD has sworn and will not relent, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”

5 The Lord is at Your right hand; He shall execute kings in the day of His wrath.

6 He shall judge among the nations, He shall fill the places with dead bodies, He shall execute the heads of many countries.

7 He shall drink of the brook by the wayside; therefore He shall lift up the head. – Psalm 110:1-7

The first verse has Yahweh addressing David’s Lord (Adonai) in such a way as would not have been acceptable in Israelite culture.  David did not have anyone other than Yahweh whom he would know as his master.  This raises awareness of the divine character of David’s Lord.[2]  Would David have arrogated to himself the honor to sit at God’s right hand?

Two aspects of Christ’s Threefold Office are seen from Psalm 110: King and High Priest.  In Psalm 110:2 the Yahweh speaks to David’s Lord, saying, “Rule in the midst of your enemies.”  The rule is to come from Zion.  Ruling over enemies recalls Psalm 2 (cf. Dan. 7:13-14).  But the people of Zion (“Your people”) will be fully committed in their zeal for His reign and righteousness (Psa.110:3).

In the fourth verse David writes something very striking, though the surprise is diminished by our familiarity with it.  The King of verses 1 and 2 is also a Priest; and not just any priest, but one in the order of Melchizedek.  Melchizedek is found in one chapter in the Book of Genesis, in the time of Abraham (Gen. 14).  As far as revelation goes up to this point, there was no clue of any priestly “order.”  And after the establishment of the order of Levi in Mosaic times, this was hardly to be expected.  For another thing, since the kingly line was from Judah, there was no royal claim on the priests office, and those who presumed to take it, like Uzziah, were severely reprimanded (2 Chron. 26).

But there was another obstacle.  Melchizedek, as well as being the king of Salem, which later became Jerusalem, was the priest of “the Most High God” (El Elyon) according to Genesis 14:18-20; he could not have come from Judah.  How then could one who was a son of David lay claim to the priesthood of Melchizedek?

From the perspective of a pious Jew in the tenth century B.C., this must have been confusing.  But since God had a priest before the founding of Israel and the choice of Levi, and the inheritance of the priesthood could not have been based upon Abrahamic genealogy, God was free to bestow it upon His Messiah.  This solves how the throne and the priesthood can be combined in the person of the Branch by Zechariah (Zech. 6:11-13), and perhaps also answer why there is no High Priest in Ezekiel’s temple (Ezek. 40-48).  The order of Melchizedek does not necessarily replace the order of Levi[3], except in the office of High Priest.

Verse 5 and 6 refer to the wrath of God that will be visited upon His enemies in the day of the King.  While the last verse, with its pastoral feel and gentle words of comfort, remind us that Yahweh is true to His covenants.  In fact, Allen Ross calls attention to the oath of God in verse 4 (“the Lord has sworn and will not relent”).  His comments echo my own when he observes that,

[T]he use of a divine oath was to communicate to people that God was obligating himself to fulfill his word…the oath was for their benefit.  For our greater confidence in his promises, he bound himself by solemn oath.[4]

This is precisely what I have said with regard to all the covenants of God in the Bible.  It is what the Bible will itself go on to strongly infer (Heb. 6:16-18).

The Messianic character of this passage is highlighted by Jesus Himself in Matthew 22:41-45 and is accepted by the Jews.  The Messiah is to rule as king.  This aspect of His work is the most prominent in the Psalter.[5]  But further, the Psalm also highlights Christ’s High Priestly Office when it identifies Him as “a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” in verse 4.  Again, the writer of Hebrews makes much of this reference (Heb. 7), telling us that Melchizedek was a king-priest also (Heb. 7:2).  I cannot find clear reference to Christ’s prophetic office in the Psalms.

A great summary of the messianic content of the Psalms is given by Alec Motyer:

Summarizing the material offered in Psalms, the expected king would meet world-opposition (2:1-3; 110:1ff.) but, as victor (45:3-5; 89:22-23) and by the activity of the Lord (2:6, 8; 21:1-13; 110:1-2) he would establish world-rule (2:6) and marked by a primary concern for morality (45:4, 6-7; 72:2-3; 101:1-8).  He would rule for ever (21:4; 45:6; 72:5), in peace (72:7), prosperity (72:16) and undeviating reverence for the Lord (72:5).  Pre-eminent among men (45:2, 7), he would be the friend of the poor and the enemy of the oppressor (72:2-4, 12-14).  Under his rule the righteous would flourish (72:7).  He would possess an everlasting name (72:17) and be the object of unending thanks (72:15).  He is the recipient of the Lord’s everlasting blessing (45:2), the heir of David’s covenant (89:28-37; 132:11-12) and of Melchizedek’s priesthood (110:4).  He belongs to the Lord (89:18), and is devoted to him (21:1, 7; 63:1-8, 11).  He is his son (2:7; 89:27), seated at his right hand (110:1) and is himself divine (45:16).[6]


[1] See George N. H. Peters, The Theocratic Kingdom, Vol. 3.416-418 n.3

[2] See here Michael Rydelnik, The Messianic Hope, 172

[3] Contra Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms, Vol. 3 (90 – 150), 354

[4] Ibid

[5] E. W. Hengstenberg, Christology Of the Old Testament, vol. 1.107

[6] Alec Motyer, Look To The Rock, 31-32

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