4 Psalms You Didn’t Realize Point to Christ

Read the Psalms in a Christian Way

For some years now I have been on a voyage of discovery in the book of Psalms. In particular, I have wanted to know how we, as new covenant believers today, ought to read and sing the psalms. I have known, of course, that the New Testament quotes some psalms about Christ. Perhaps most famously, Jesus quotes from Psalm 22 when he cries on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

And there are many other psalms either quoted by Jesus or quoted about Jesus. But what I have gradually discovered is that many, many other psalms speak for Christ or about Christ. And I have also been fascinated to find that this has been well-known by lots and lots of Christian writers in the first three-quarters or more of Christian history. It’s been quite a revelation to me. Again and again I have seen a psalm come into focus when I relate it to Christ, similar to a fuzzy scene through a camera viewfinder coming into sharp focus when the lens is properly adjusted.

My method for approaching this and also a survey of how the psalms have been read in Christian history is to approach the question from two directions, in a sort of pincer movement. First, moving forward from the psalms, I have traced several ways in which the psalms cry out for a future completion only possible in Christ. And then, second, I have tried to study carefully how Christ quotes from and echoes the psalms, and then how the apostolic writers do so, as the Holy Spirit led them into all truth.

The Psalms

Christopher Ash

In this comprehensive, 4-volume commentary, Christopher Ash provides a thorough treatment of all 150 Psalms, examining each chapter’s significance to David and the other psalmists, to Jesus during his earthly ministry, and to the church of Christ in every age.

I want to mention just four psalms as teasers to provoke you to think. I have called the article “Four Psalms You Didn’t Realize Point to Christ.” And, of course, you may answer, Ah, but I did. You didn’t think I did, but I did realize this! If you did, then well and good. Forgive me for misrepresenting you. But just in case you didn’t, here are four psalms. They are no more than teasers to whet your appetite to learn to read the psalms in a wholly Christian way. I hope they will prove a blessing to you.

Psalm 1

Let’s start with the very first psalm. Psalm 1 declares God’s blessing on a man who doesn’t act in some wrong ways (Ps. 1:1), but who delights in God’s instruction and thinks about it day and night (Ps. 1:2). He is a remarkable man, likened to a tree whose roots go deep into fresh water so that his life yields good fruit and prospers in every way. It’s a beautiful psalm and a short one. There are two ways to respond. First, we may say to ourselves, If God’s blessing rests on this kind of person, then I want to be like that. I will look at what this man does not do, and I will resolve not to do these things. I will ponder what he does do, and I will decide to be like that. Then, I hope I will be blessed. That’s not a bad way to respond. But it will always lead to disappointment. However hard I try, I will never live up to this portrait. And so Christian writers (including Augustine around 400 AD and Luther soon after in 1500 AD) have said, There is only one man who fits this description. Only Jesus Christ is this blessed man in his perfection. He never did what the Psalm 1 man doesn’t do. He always did what the Psalm 1 man does. He is the blessed man and My only hope is to have his blessing overflow to me as I am in Christ. In the words of the old hymn, “Immortal honors rest on Jesus’s head . . . in him I live,” and this is why his blessing rests upon me.

Psalm 6

Psalm 6 opens with great sorrow as David feels the pain of being a sinner under the judgment of God (Ps. 6:1–7). He has a troubled soul (Ps. 6:3), and he weeps with grief (Ps. 6:6–7). But then beginning in verse 8, he speaks to his wicked enemies with great conviction: “Depart from me, all you workers of evil.” And he says how sure he is that God has heard his prayers and seen his tears. While we can identify with David in being sinners, we struggle to tell evildoers to depart from us and to know that God has heard our prayers. How can we have this authority and confidence? The psalm, as with so many others, seems to resonate with us in some parts but really doesn’t in others. It is like an out-of-focus picture. But then we realize, first, that the words “my soul . . . is . . . troubled” (Ps. 6:3) are echoed about Jesus in John 12:27, where Jesus says his soul is troubled as he knows himself accounted a sinner about to pay the penalty for sins on the cross. And then we realize that the words “depart from me, all you workers of evil” are words that Jesus will speak in judgment (Matt. 7:23; Luke 13:37). Jesus is the King who is counted as a sinner, who becomes sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21). And Jesus is the same King who, after paying the penalty for the sins of his people, will command all unrepentant workers of evil to depart from him. And so this fuzzy picture comes into sharp focus as we hear this psalm on the lips of Jesus.

Again and again I have seen a psalm come into focus when I relate it to Christ, similar to a fuzzy scene through a camera viewfinder coming into sharp focus when the lens is properly adjusted.

Psalm 109

Psalm 109 is one of the strongest of the psalms in which prayers are spoken for the wicked to be punished (the so-called “imprecatory” psalms). It contains some very strong language, some of which makes us shudder. But as we study the psalm we find that David, the speaker, is unjustly accused and praying that God will “stand at his right hand” (in the place of a defense witness) to vindicate him against these false accusations. Martin Luther even classified it as a “psalm of comfort” because of the assurance it offers to this falsely-accused and betrayed man. Three echoes in the New Testament connect this with Jesus. First, this man is hated “without cause” (without a valid reason, Ps. 109:3), as is Jesus (John 15:25). Second, the psalm prays that his betrayer will be dismissed and “another take his office” (Ps. 109:8). The apostles quote this verse about Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:20). Third, this man is mocked (Ps. 109:25) in words echoed at the cross of Christ (Matt. 27:39; Mark 15:29). It is Jesus who prays this psalm in the end, and that provokes us to ask what this can mean. The answer goes to the heart of understanding the prayers in many psalms. for God to punish the wicked. Only Jesus can pray this because he is the one who will take this penalty upon himself for all who will trust in him.

Psalm 145

“I will extol you, my God and King.” This is how David the king begins Psalm 145. He pledges to praise God the King. The king extols the King. Many psalms praise God. In Psalm 145 David promises to do this “forever and ever” and “every day.” But how can we do this? We can say, Well, David promises this, and it’s clearly a right thing to do, so I will do my best to do the same. But, as with the ambition to be like the Psalm 1 man, it always leads to disappointment. The New Testament suggests a wonderful answer: “Through him"—that is, through Christ. The author of the letter to the Hebrews says, “Let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God” (Heb. 13:15). Jesus himself speaks the words of Psalm 22:22 (“I will tell of your name to my brothers, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you”), according to Hebrews 2:12. Commenting on Hebrews 2:12, John Calvin writes that, “Christ is the great choirmaster who tunes our hearts to sing God’s praises.” Christ is the one who leads his church in praising God. So when we read a psalm of praise such as Psalm 145, we are not being asked to carry the burden of praising God on our own; rather, we are invited to join the choir of Jesus as he leads us in praise. The initiative is with Jesus, the song is by Jesus, the tune is set by Jesus. All we do is join in. And that makes praise a joyful and glad calling.

Conclusion

I hope that these little teaser examples will whet your appetite to learn how to see Christ in the true meaning of all the psalms. May God bless you as you do that.

Christopher Ash is the author of The Psalms: A Christ-Centered Commentary.



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