The Lord’s own words to His disciples assure us of "things written in the Psalms concerning" Him. (Luke xxiv. 44.) In the New Testament sixteen psalms are quoted as referring to Him ;* and there is nothing to show us that this is the whole number, although all the fundamental ones are doubtless in this list. Outside of it, the Rabbinic writers, though blind to Christ, rightly emphasize the twenty-first and seventy-second psalms also as Messianic;†and the twentieth psalm can hardly be separated from the twenty-first. The tendency with some Christian writers has been to see Christ almost everywhere in them, while naturally the drift of the so-called "higher criticism" is all the other way: the effort to imagine the circumstances under which they were written, as well as the intention of the writers, necessarily leading them away from the divine intention, which is all-important. And when it can be boldly questioned, as by Cheyne, whether David was the writer of any of them, the apostle’s comment, "he being a prophet . . . spake of . . . Christ (Acts ii. 30, 31) may be dismissed, as "contemporary Jewish exegesis," from all consideration.
*Ps. ii. viii. xvi. xviii. xxii. xl. xli. xlv. lxviii. lxix. xci. xcvii. cii. cix. cx. cxviii.
† The list given by Edersheim in his ninth Appendix to "The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah," contains five psalms accepted throughout as Messianic: Pa. ii. xxi. xlv. lxxii. and cx., and seven others partially so, xviii. xxii. xl. lxi. lxviii. lxxxix. xcii. Other psalms are contained in the list, but not as having personal reference to Messiah.
It is only the knowledge of the structure of the book of Psalms as a whole that can show us how fully in place the Messianic psalms are, and define clearly their limits. They will then be seen in clear relation to those surrounding them, and in fact as the life-centre of the whole. As long as the individual psalms are looked at as in no particular order or relation to one another, or the order a merely artificial one, so long, of course, it will be possible to find a Messianic psalm in any position whatever in the book. The divisions and their meaning once ascertained, each psalm will be found to have its place, from which it could not be removed without a gap resulting. The numerical structure is everywhere also a test and confirmation of the reality of this. My purpose now is very briefly to trace the connection of these Messianic psalms, both among themselves and with those in the midst of which they are,- certainly not scattered at random, nor without divine meaning in these connections.
The first book, as we have seen, is the largest in scope, and necessarily the introduction to all the rest. Its theme is in fact mainly Christ Himself, and that as the Source of blessing to His people. This people is Israel; and we must not forget this, which, so far from depriving us of our portion, only reminds us continually of the larger character of this, as "blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ." (Eph. 1. 3.) There cannot therefore be a spiritual blessing from which we are shut out; while their being ours in heavenly places lifts us into the sphere to which Christ Himself belongs, and where we possess a relationship to Him of which the Psalms know nothing.
But our intelligence as to Scripture depends upon our taking it as it is written, and our spiritual profit also largely upon our distinguishing things that differ, that both we may have what is our own unmixed, and that Christ also may be seen in all His glories, and in connection with all the interests which are His. And these we must learn, not from any preconceptions of our own about them, but patiently and humbly as led of Scripture. God’s thoughts are not as our thoughts, but deeper and higher every way.
In the first book there are three subdivisions, of which the first and third alike speak of Christ; while the second shows us rather the circumstances of the latter days, to which we find ourselves in the Psalms so constantly carried forward. The first subdivision (Ps. i-viii) speaks of Christ’s dominion, King in Zion (Ps. ii), and Son of Man, the creation put under Him (Ps. viii). The first is His open claim, though resisted by man. The second is a secret told into the ear of faith alone.
The King! that is the first and last thought in the Psalms, whatever else may grow up around and unite itself to this: a King with power, although long patience may be exercised before it is put forth. Power: for not only is God for Him, but He is Son of God. Thus it is in the right hands; out of which it will never slip and never can be forced; and being divine power, it is a revelation. How long the world has been waiting wearily for this, without knowing for what it waited; nay, rejecting Him when He came in fulfillment of this very prophecy, to claim His right as The King, because obedience is the very thing from which man has broken away, and to which he must return in order to blessing. Thus the very first psalm is the psalm of obedience, while in the second is the One to whom it must be rendered; who as the Son of God is the Revealer of God; faith in whom turns back the heart to Him, and finds the blessing. We see why, then, it should be the first thought of Christ in the Psalms that He is King :- the proclamation of the King.
That this is not all, when the heart turns back to its allegiance, the psalms, that follow (iii.-vii) are proof enough. The remnant of true followers, amid the mass of those that reject Him, learn in the very trials that ensue from their true-heartedness the need of mercy because of sin; from whence but a little, and a new figure rises before them, not now of the Son of God, though with links of unmistakable connection with Him. It is now of a Son of man in whom both God is glorified and the dominion of man is restored; while along with this, there are thoughts of humiliation and the mysterious joy of a trodden wine-press,- intimations of fruitful suffering, by and by to be more at large declared.
The meaning here Israel as yet has not recognized, and will not until the day that they look upon Him whom they have pierced. But, united with the first picture - the Son of God joined to the Son of man - we have emphasized the two parts of a wondrous whole, in which a glory of God is manifested above the heavens, as His name is declared by it in all the earth to us at least a clear outlining of what is to be filled up in the psalms that follow,- an inscription on the door of the temple of praise to Messiah’s Name.
To this the second subdivision has nothing that I am aware to add. But with the third we come at once to the heart of our subject. Here we have Christ before us, not simply in His glory, but also in the path of suffering leading up to it, and in which we learn His perfection and the fullness of His grace toward us also. We find Him identifying Himself with His people, making their cause His own, and the consequences of this in the unequalled sorrow of the Cross; but as that iii which the Son of man was glorified, and God was glorified in Him. His inmost heart is seen: we learn to know Him as we know no other, and are made His doubly, redeemed by His blood, and won by the perfection we have found in Him.
First of all in the sixteenth psalm, we see Him as a pilgrim on the way; as a servant also for the need of His people. His heart is with the saints; and the obedience, so new a thing for Him to render, is not to avail for Himself to spare Him one drop of the cup of sorrow He is to drink for others: it is an obedience by which they are to be made righteous. On the other hand, and none the less on this account, God is His all, "the measure of His portion, and of His cup;" and we find Him guided by His counsel, and maintained by Him in human weakness, perfect Leader in a path of faith in which we are to follow Him. We see Him in it, down to death itself through which the "path of life" passes on up to the presence of God, wnence the light also shines for us by the way which He has gone.
In the next psalm (xvii) we find Him, in spite- nay, because - of all that He is, the object of the hatred of the men of the world, and His pleading against this which, though made as in His own behalf, we find to be intercession for others, with whom He identifies Himself.
In the eighteenth, we have the answer of God to Him, which lifts Him into the place of power. Delivered from the strivings of the people, He is made the head of the nations. Here, of course, we are brought evidently to the latter days. Judgment has its course upon earth, the rod of power being in the hands of the rejected One, and long-suffering patience no longer holding back what is needed for the deliverance of His people and the blessing of the earth at large. For in result He praises among the natIons, as the anointed King of all the earth. This is the close of the first series; and these psalms are all subjective - the utterances of the Messiah Himself.
In the next three, on the contrary, we have the utterances of faith as to Him, and thus the nineteenth psalm is accounted for as coming where it does in this series: creation and the law being now seen by it as the introduction to Christ. Thus the glory of the sun is dwelt upon - the typical picture of the Lord from the beginning of Genesis; and then the law is seen in its effects, by its own perfection convicting the soul of sin, beyond even the knowledge of the one who as the servant of the Lord seeks to be admonished by it. This prepares, as is evident, the way for sacrifice; but it is not to the sacrifices of the law that we now turn. No: the next psalm does indeed speak of sacrifice; but it is Another that offers it, and that other the King Himself. In His salvation His people shall rejoice, for it is the Name of the God of Jacob that is declared in it: as we should say, the God of Grace. The whole psalm is a prophecy of Christ and of His work, though in relation (as all through) with Israel, and the following psalm speaks of Him in His glory.
These are but hints of what atonement is. In the third series, however, it is fully declared with its blessed effects; and the twenty-second psalm returns once more from the objective to the subjective: no voice but His own can declare to us worthily the inmost heart of it.
The link with the day of atonement is shown in the third verse. The sufferer is undergoing what no righteous man ever did beside. A martyr for God, He is forsaken of God. And why? He answers His own question: it is because He who is the Holy One would dwell amid the praises of His people; and this was what (typically and governmentally only) the blood of the sin-offering accomplished on the day of atonement. Here we see, then, the reality of what that sin-offering meant, and all other sufferings are as nothing compared with this. But the latter part of the psalm shows the glorious results in blessings welling out in wider and wider circles to the end of the earth. The Name of God is newly declared to those in new relation- ship to Him who has accomplished the wondrous work, and His righteousness is declared in it to generations following.
The sin-offering psalm gives character in a certain way to all the remaining psalms of this first book. The twenty-third psalm shows us now the great Shepherd of the sheep brought again from the dead, and the pleasant pastures in which He leads His flock. The twenty-fourth, Jehovah’s house established on the earth, and the people who enter it. Jehovah Himself enters it as King of glory to take His place among His ransomed ones.
This ends the nine psalms which are characteristically Messianic, and the fifteen psalms following are "remnant" psalms, or such as show us the exercises and experiences of the faithful in Israel, background being circumstances of the latter days. But the apprehension of divine grace enters into them in a different manner from anything before. Sin is confessed, and God for His name’s sake forgives as promptly as the confession is made. The twenty-fifth and thirty-second psalms are specially characteristic and have much of the New Testament style, if they do not reach its standard. After these the first book closes with two psalms (xl. and xli), both of which speak once more of atonement, though in a different manner from before.
The fortieth psalm is the burnt-offering aspect of the cross, the Lord seen as come to do the will of God, His law (which man has continually broken) in His heart, and its provision of sacrifice realized as written of Him. The awful burden of sin is experienced; but not the forsaking of God endured.
It is striking that this comes at the end, as if it were almost an appendix to the book, and does not seem to be the basis of other experience psalms, as does the sin-offering psalm (xxii.). In fact, is not the value of the burnt-offering that which rather belongs to Christianity, though not altogether lacking in Israel’s blessing? At any rate, there must be a reason for the supplementary place here occupied by the burnt-offering psalm.
The forty-first, as the closing psalm of the book, depicts the cross as the stumbling-block to unbelief, while faith, penetrating the disguise assumed by love in this "poor man’s" humiliation, finds blessing from Jehovah: a natural and solemn admonition at the close of the book. Thus we see throughout how the Messianic psalms govern it, and that it has a fullness and completeness of its own in this respect, no main feature being altogether omitted, though some may be more fully developed elsewhere.
The second book is more limited in scope and more external in character. Though redemption be a leading feature of it, it is more a redemption by power than by purchase, and seen rather in its effects for man therefore, than from the divine side of what sin is before God. The sixty-ninth is its psalm of atonement, and presents the trespass-offering side of it. But here again Christianity had to bring out the full character of this, and the "fifth part more" of the trespass-offering cannot be as yet developed. The Kingship of Christ is, of course, the prominent feature in the psalm which speaks of Him.
The structure resembles that of the first book, the Messianic psalms being found in the first and third subdivisions, the second being devoted to psalms of experience, which are not however, excluded from the other parts.
The first subdivision opens with the cry of the remnant in their distress, in answer to which in the forty-fifth psalm we have the glorious picture of Christ as King. Still more plainly than in the second psalm, God and man meet in Him; and for the first time, and the only one in the Psalms, He is seen as Israel’s Bridegroom. His rule is righteous and eternal: all enemies are put down, and the nations worship. This is the only view of Christ in the first part.
The second gives the circumstances of the last days, the rule of Antichrist and not Christ, and then the exercises of the people, looking on toward deliverance. The third closes the book with a series of psalms which put before us Christ as the Restorer of the nation: first, as the King of Israel, taking up their cause as their Representative before God to bring them to blessing; and then in His work on the cross as involved in this.
In the first series, the sixty-first psalm shows us the King’s vows as heard by God, and the possession of those that fear God’s name given to Him in consequence. He sojourns in the Tent which God had pitched among men, and dwells there as King in the presence of God forever, the eternal link between God and man.
The sixty-second psalm has in it no clear evidence of Messianic character, except its place in this series between two psalms of the King. As the experience of the Leader and Finisher of faith it is, however, perfectly suited; being the utter rejection of all other dependences than God Himself. And after this the sixty-third psalm breathes after God as seen in the sanctuary, whose loving-kindness is better than life. Thus the soul follows hard after Him, while its enemies drop off and are destroyed. The next psalm is but a lament over the folly and wickedness of man; but the sixty-fifth with its single and plural voices points to the settlement of the deeper question of how the iniquities of those for whom their Head has undertaken are purged away, and through the Chosen One of God now dwelling in the Sanctuary, they too are satisfied with the goodness of God’s house established in their midst. The blessing following runs through two more psalms; then in the sixty-eighth there bursts out a strain of glory and triumph, in which God is celebrated under all His Names, which have all been illustrated and endeared to them through Him who has gone up on high, leading captivity captive, and receiving gifts for men: yea, (they acknowledge in humble gratitude) even for the rebellious, that Jah Elohim, might dwell among them. Now the dove’s wings are over them, the beauty of Christ is seen upon them; and under the leadership of their glorious and divine King, Israel’s tribes throng up to the sanctuary. Thus the first series of psalms ends.
The second bases the blessing on the sacrifice of Christ - on atonement, which here, in connection with Israel’s restoration has its restitutive aspect, as in the trespass-offering. As the result of this, in the seventy- first psalm Israel is seen reviving, taking hold of Jehovah’s strength alone, and making mention only of Jehovah’s righteousness. While in the seventy-second psalm the whole earth comes under the rule of the Saviour-King, who is seen in character as a true Melchizedek. Thus the salvation-book of the Psalms is completed. That it is Jewish and in sphere earthly is plain, and may be a disappointment to us; but we may be sure that inspiration has made no mistake: the limits of the law are too narrow to contain the fullness of the Christian gospel, and the divine side of the work of Christ has been more fully expressed already in the opening book. The essential outlines are, of course, preserved.
The theme of the third book, as we know, is holiness. Much briefer than either of the preceding, the Messianic psalms are in the same proportion, while they are also much fainter sketches of the commanding figure for which we are looking.
Very much as in the first subdivision of the second book, the first appearance of Christ here is in answer to the cry of distress on the part of the people. The earth and all its inhabitants are dissolved, but at the appointed time for which He has been waiting, He sets up the pillars of the earth once more. It has been dissolved by its corruption: He establishes it by just judgment carried out. He is the divine Interpreter, and with God alone it is to abase or to exalt. For this, however, that any may be exalted, grace must come in, and not merely judgment. Grace is His delight, judgment His strange work: and so we find here. "I will psalm," He says "unto the God of Jacob: the God of Jacob is the God of grace. All this is in character with the third book.
In the eightieth psalm, which is again the third psalm of a second section of the same division, there is just an appeal to God to act in their behalf through Messiah,"the Man of Thy right hand, the Son of man whom Thou madeat strong for Thyself." Here they have found the secret of blessing, and the next psalm shows the light of divine favor beginning to shine upon them.
The cry of the eighty-fourth psalm is quite similar to this: "Behold, O God our shield, and look upon the face of Thine Anointed;" and in the next psalm we find all the attributes of God united in the salvation of His people. While in the next two psalms, but more mysteriously, we have Christ in the form of a Servant, owned, in the last, by God and by His people: all their fresh springs found in Him.
But one other psalm in this book speaks of Christ,- the eighty-ninth,- in which He is seen as the One contemplated in the covenant with David. Here we have typical prophecy, and again the King, though to be made of God His first-born, supreme as to the kings of the earth.
The fourth book has two psalms of special importance, and is remarkable for the development of its blessed theme. It begins with a psalm of Moses, a lament over the generation dying in the wilderness, which is but a typical example of man’s doom as man. The reason of it is, he has lost the knowledge of God, who has always been a habitation for men, but men have turned their backs upon Him. Of this departure from Him death is the universal witness. With God is the fountain of life; turning from Him, man has accepted death as His portion, but which as an admonition God would have him lay to heart.
But he cannot find the way back: first, man is helpless to recover himself. The second psalm of the book (the ninety-first) introduces us, therefore, to the Second Man.
Here is One who has never wandered. He has "made Jehovah, even the Most High, His habitation," and He can claim, therefore, all the consequences of this. Dwelling in His secret place- secret, alas, now to man at large - He abides therefore under the shadow of the Almighty. Plague and pestilence pass by Him harmless; the young lion and serpent He can trample under foot. The angels have Him in charge, lest He should dash His foot against a stone. Here is a Man, in short, with whom (as in the next psalm) earth can enjoy once more a Sabbath-rest; and the world be established on immovable foundations. (Ps. xciii. 2.)
But this shows no title as yet for the failed children of the first man and though there are assurances given as to the righteous, that leaves, as we know, Job’s question unanswered. Meanwhile Jehovah’s kingdom is seen as coming, then as come, and the second subdivision ends amid the praises of the whole earth (Ps. c.); and still this vital question remains unanswered.
With the third subdivision again a Messianic psalm appears, the old refrain, sounding through the whole book, of a King of righteousness. The King after Jehovah’s heart is come; and we readily connect Him with the Second Man of the ninety-first psalm: He is King of Israel now; and when we go on to the 102d, Israel’s time has come for blessing, and Zion’s to be built up once more: the throne is ready for the King, but in this psalm where is the King?
The voice here is of One not in power but in weakness- in extreme distress. Nay, Jehovah’s hand is upon Him and in wrath: He is dying, His days shortened, and He contras ts these shortened years with God’s eternity in His cry to Him. Is this the King of Israel? Nay, is this the glorious Man who has the secret of life and of enduring blessing?
The answer is an amazing one, and it is God Himself who gives it. He is not only King of Israel: He is not only the Second Man, over whom death has no title: He is God Himse1f; He is Creator of heaven and earth; He is the deathless One, the fountain of Life Himself. "The Second Man is the Lord from heaven ;" and in the sacrifice which is here accomplished, divine-human arms hold us fast to God.
Although the fifth book is the longest of the whole five, there are but six psalms that are Messianic; and this is to be accounted for, no doubt, by its deuteronomic, governmental character.
The 109th and 110th go together as the divine ways with the Perfect Man. They are complete contrasts: the first being One who for His love finds only hatred; until love itself can only pronounce the doom of its rejectors. The 110th is that which speaks directly of His Melchizedek Priesthood. He is exalted to God’s right hand, and waiting for His enemies to be made His footstool, and for an obedient people to be made willing in the day of His power. Here the principle in divine government is contained in the last verse, though not apart from the psalm before it. The path of humiliation and suffering has ever been the way ordained of God to lead to glory, a principle which our Lord distinctly enunciated for His disciples, as He accepted it for Himself, drank only of the brook in the way- took but the refreshment provided of God in the common way of faith .and patience in which He led His followers. His trials have enabled Him to be the true Priest, the sympathetic Intercessor that His people crave, as well as the truly human King, the succorer of the needy.
The 118th psalm shows us the Stone which the builders rejected becoming the Head of the Corner: and here His humiliation is nevertheless the stumbling-stone to men: the Stone was low enough for them to stumble over, and yet thus for the foundation-stone upon which faith builds, and the temple to God’s praise alone can stand.
Among the "songs of degrees," three short psalms alone remain. The first (Ps. 132d) turns upon the history of David and the house of God, and David is here plainly a type of a higher King. The promise as to his house is connected with that as regards Zion and the dwelling-place of God in it.
In the next psalm we have not David but Aaron, and the unity of brotherhood in Israel at last established among her jarring tribes: a spiritual unity now produced by the Spirit out-poured upon the head of her true High-priest, of whom it is here implied that Aaron was but a figure. In these two psalms, therefore, the Melchizedek Priest-King is again before us; and the following brief psalm gives us the blessing of God by man and of man by God which is the glorious work of the true Melchizedek.
Brief as this outline of the Messianic psalms is, it is surely enough to show the divine order in which they are arranged, and the fullness of the presentation of Christ which is found in them. His peculiar relation to us, of course, will nof be found. Throughout the Old Testament times it was a "mystery hid in God." (Eph. iii. 4-9.)