Psalms 1–41

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Invitation to the Psalms




I would like to acknowledge and give thanks to Dr. Robert Stallman, Professor Emeritus at Northwest University (Kirkland, Washington), former student and now good friend. His thoughtful engagement with my interpretive analysis assisted me through the commentary’s course of development. At the end, his thorough reading and editing proved essential in preparing the manuscript for submission.


The Psalms’ message is to encourage God’s people to trust and to obey God’s word; to celebrate Christ’s rule; and to praise the LORD for his mighty acts and benevolent virtues.

Key Verses

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.

–– Psalm 1:1–2 ESV

I will tell of the decree: the LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.”

–– Psalm 2:7–8 ESV

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!

–– Psalm 103:1 ESV


I. Introduction: Psalms 1–2

II. Book 1: Psalms 3–41

III. Book 2: Psalms 42–72

IV. Book 3: Psalms 73–89

V. Book 4: Psalms 90–106

VI. Book 5: Psalms 107–150

I. Title

The oldest Hebrew manuscripts do not have a title for this beloved collection of hymns, petitions, and instruction. The rabbinic literature referred to this collection as Sepher Tehillim (“Book of Praises”). This title is appropriate, for many psalms are hymns (religious songs of praise to God). The term “Hallelujah” (“Praise the LORD”) occurs only in this book and frames the Hallel, the final five psalms (146–150). Even complaint-lament psalms , aside from Psalm 88, contain a note of praise to God. The narrative material of the Old Testament recounts the mighty acts of the LORD; the Book of Psalms presents Israel’s response to him.

The Hebrew word mizmor (“a song sung to musical accompaniment”) occurs in many superscriptions to the individual psalms. The Septuagint (Codex Vaticanus) translates this form in the plural by Psalmoi (“Psalms”) as the title of the book. The English title derives from an abbreviated form of Jerome’s title in the Latin Vulgate, Liber Psalmorum (“Book of Psalms”). Codex Alexandrinus translates it by Psalterion, an ancient stringed instrument similar to a harp or zither, giving birth to the English title “Psalter.” By putting Israel’s response to God in music, it combined truth with emotions.


II. The Devotional Approach

This introduction to a concise commentary on the Book of Psalms critically appraises methods of understanding the psalms according to the Bible’s own claims for itself. Accordingly, it will be argued, the fundamental accredited method or approach is devotional or spiritual.1

Psalms as the Word of God

In the Book of Psalms, the prayers and praise of God’s people to God become the word of God to his people. This is so because the Psalter is part of the Old Testament canon, the authoritative list of the books belonging to the Old Testament for the faith and practice of God’s people. Roger Beckwith documents and argues cogently that the Old Testament canon was closed by the time of Judas Maccabeus (165 BC) and that this was the canon of the New Testament church.2 Kurt Aland, one of the editors of the most widely used Greek New Testament, says, “[The canon] was not imposed from the top, be it by bishops or synods, and then accepted by the communities . . . The organized church did not create the canon; it recognized the canon that had been created.”3

The Hebrew Bible has a different structure from the English. It is divided into three parts: the Law, the Prophets, and the Sacred Writings (Hagiographa). Traditionally, the Book of Psalms is the first of the Hagiographa, and for that reason the Hagiographa is also called the Psalms, as in Luke 24:44. When the Lord Jesus and his apostles spoke of Scripture, they meant the Hebrew canon.

What fundamentally qualifies a book for inclusion in the canon is that the faithful people of God heard the voice of God in it (cf. Exod 24:7; 2Kgs 22–23; 2Chr 34). In other words, they recognized the book was inspired by God. David, who authored about half of the Psalter, said of himself, “The Spirit of the LORD speaks by me” (2Sam 23:2), and Jesus and the New Testament writers agree he was a prophet and his words divinely inspired (Matt 22:43–44, citing Ps 110:1; Acts 1:16, citing Pss 69:25 and 109:8; Acts 2:30, citing Ps 16:9–11; Acts 4:25, citing Ps 2:1). They call David’s words “Scripture” (Luke 24:44–45; Mark 12:10, citing Ps 118:22; John 13:18, citing Ps 41:9; John 19:24, citing Ps 22:18). The Apostle Paul says, “all Scripture is God breathed (i.e., inspired)” (2Tim 3:16), and the Apostle Peter says prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2Pet 1:20–21).

Reading the Word of God Devotionally

Now a learner must have a preunderstanding of the logic or nature of any object in order to create a tool to understand it. One uses a knife, not an axe, to understand an orange, and one does not go about studying an apple in the same way as an orange. Changing the metaphor, one cannot study and understand (or even see) an astral object with a microscope or a micro-organism through a telescope. Likewise, the student of the Bible must grind the proper lens to understand it. According to 2 Timothy 3:16 (“all Scripture is inspired of God”), there are three components of the Bible for which appropriate lenses must be ground for understanding it: the divine author (“God”), the human author (“inspired”), and the text (“Scripture”). Each of these aspects required a distinct lens, and all three must be applied at one and the same time.

As for the text, the student needs the lens of the scientific method, such as understanding words first in their historical context and then in their canonical context; the forms of psalms, their liturgical settings, a poet’s rhetoric; etc. We will put on this lens, which requires diligence, in the rest of this introduction.

As for the human author, we must put on the lens of sympathy, of fellowship with them in the faith. Patrick Fairbairn makes the point, “He (the interpreter) must endeavor to attain to a sympathy in thought and feeling with the sacred writers, whose meaning he seeks to unfold.”4 In human relationships, people misunderstand one another because they dislike and/or don’t trust one another. So also, if we posture ourselves as critics of the psalmist or as skeptics, we will err in our interpretation.

Finally, with reference to God, the Old Testament teaches the necessity of “the fear of the LORD.” It is “the beginning (i.e., the foundation) of knowledge/wisdom,” synonyms of “understanding” (Prov 1:2, 7; 9:10). The collocation “fear of the LORD” refers to obeying his word out of trust that he upholds his promise to reward obedience to his commands and his threat to punish disobedience. God says what he means, and he means what he says; it is a matter of life or death. The sage further teaches the psychology that informs the fear of the LORD:

My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you,
turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding—
indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding,
and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure,
“then you will understand the fear of the LORD”
and find the knowledge of God.
For the LORD gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. (Prov 2:1–6)

The initiative in understanding begins with God. As the sage teaches “to cry aloud for understanding,” the psalmist prays, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (119:18).

The New Testament teaches that we need the enablement of the Holy Spirit to understand God’s thoughts that are expressed in Scripture. That enablement entails having the Holy Spirit and living in the Holy Spirit. As for having the Spirit:

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is . . . the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. (1Cor 2:10–11)

The reception of the Spirit that convinces us of the Bible’s truth and illuminates its meaning is a gift from God. John Calvin expressed this truth well:

The Word will not find acceptance in men’s hearts before it is sealed with the inward testimony of the Spirit. The same Spirit, therefore, who has spoken through the mouths of the prophets must penetrate into our hearts to persuade us that they faithfully proclaimed what had been divinely commanded . . .
It seriously affects us only when it is sealed upon our hearts through the Spirit. Therefore, illumined by his power, we believe neither by our own nor by anyone else’s judgment that Scripture is from God; but above human judgment we affirm with utter certainty . . . that is has flowed to us from the very mouth of God by the ministry of men.”5

Beyond having the Spirit, we must live in the Spirit:

Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. (1Cor 3:1–3)

What it means “to live in the Spirit” entails knowing and loving God for his honor and not serving self for human praise; but further reflection on its meaning is beyond the scope of this introduction.

In short, to understand the Psalms we must approach the book as saintly scholars and scholarly saints.


III. The Historical Approach

To better interpret an old piece of literature, knowledge of its historical setting is essential. To understand Dante’s Divine Comedy, it helps to know the politics of Florence around 1300 AD and that people at that time thought the universe consisted of nine concentric spheres or “heavens” having earth as the center and surrounded by a tenth heaven called the Empyrean. To present a full-blown view of the historical conditioning of the psalmists is well beyond the scope of this introduction. We content ourselves with reflecting on the superscripts to the psalms.

Superscripts aim to provide information—genre, author, and historical background—to help the reader to interpret the psalm. For example: “A psalm (genre) of David (author). When he fled from his son Absalom (historical situation)” (Ps 3). The historical notice alludes to the narrative of 2 Samuel 15–16 and asks the audience to recall it to better interpret the psalm. I once heard a sermon on Psalm 3 that pitted David’s dependence upon God against human involvement, but the narrative shows that David’s faith in God involved his setting up an espionage network.

The Antiquity and Reliability of the Superscripts in General

Until the nineteenth century, people commonly assumed the historical credibility of the superscripts; but today, due to the impact of historical criticism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, most academics discredit them. Moreover, the superscripts appear as secondary, not as an original part of the text in English versions, because they are in italics and unnumbered. Nevertheless, there are good reasons to reckon them as part of the original text and to give them credence:

1. No Hebrew manuscript or ancient version omits them, and in the Hebrew Bible they are counted as the first verse or as part of it.

2. Similar mentions of the author and his or her historical setting introduce all lyrical poems outside of the Psalter (Exod 15:1; Judg 5:2; 2Sam 22:1; Isa 38:9; Hab 3:1).

3. Sumerian, Akkadian, and Egyptian poems, well before the time of Moses, have rubrics similar to those of the Psalter’s superscripts.

4. Several psalms contain material similar to the Canaanite Ugaritic texts (c. 1400 BC). Psalm 29 may be the conversion of a poem to praise Baal, the Canaanite storm god, to praise the theophany of the LORD in a storm sweeping across Lebanon.

5. Many technical terms in the superscripts and postscripts (see below) were obscure to the Greek (c. 150 BC) and Aramaic (before 70–200 AD) translators, pointing to an extended gap of time between the composition of the superscripts and these translators and so to the antiquity of the superscripts.

6. The imitative thanksgiving psalms at Qumran (100 BC–70 AD) differ from those of the Psalter and are doubtless later, also pointing to the antiquity of the biblical psalms.

The Historical Credibility “Of David”

The Meaning of ‎לְדָוִד (ledavid)

Before defending the authorship of the psalms whose superscripts include the preposition ל (le) with a proper name, we argue that in this collocation the preposition is better translated “by” because:

1. This use of the preposition is well-known. Hebrew grammarians label it lamed auctoris.

2. This is clearly its meaning in Psalm 18 (= 2Sam 22:1), Isaiah 38:9, and Habakkuk 3:1.

3. Fourteen superscripts having לְדָוִד (ledavid) add an historical incident from his life, entailing the psalm was “by David.”

4. J. F. A. Sawyer documents and argues, “In the Chronicler’s day . . . it can scarcely be doubted that the meaning [of the expression ‘of David’] was ‘by David.’”6

5. Jill Firth documented that Psalms 140–143, each of which has title ledavid, have phrases and vocabulary found distinctively in the ledavid psalms of Books I–III and that this distinctive idiolect is not found in psalms by other authors in these books.7

6. Rather than investing ל (le) with another meaning when attached to a proper name (e.g., David, Solomon, sons of Korah), it is more judicious to translate it consistently than inconsistently.

7. David placed the ark of the covenant in a provisional tent (2Sam 6:17), and only the ledavid psalms refer to this tent (15:1; 27:5ff; 61:4).

Arguments for the Credibility of Authorship “by David”

We now consider the credibility of the attribution of authorship to David.

l. His authorship is reflected elsewhere in the Old Testament (1Sam 16:14–23; 2Sam 22:1; 1Chr 23:4–5; 2Chr 29:25–30; Neh 12:36; Amos 6:5).

2. This tradition continues through the Intertestamental period: Sirach (47:8–10); the Qumran scrolls (11QPsa a), Josephus,8 and the rabbis.9

3. The Lord Jesus and the apostles confirm his authorship (see above for the numerous references to David in their citations of Psalms “by David”) 

4. The New Testament’s apologetic that Jesus is the Messiah depends on the credibility of “by David” in the superscripts

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,
“‘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 is he his son?” (Matt 22:41–45)

If Psalm 110 is not by David, then Christ’s apologetic falls flat.

Similarly, the cogency of Peter’s argument that the “I” of Psalm 16 refers to Jesus Christ and his resurrection depends on the meaning “by David” in its superscript:

For David says concerning him,
“I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
therefore my heart was glad,
and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One see corruption.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.”

Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. (Acts 2:25–32)

If Psalm 16 is not by David, then Peter’s argument fails.

5. If the fourteen superscriptions, which include David’s historical situation, are late, secondary additions, and not original, why did editors add historical notices that are not mentioned in the biblical narrative to Psalms 7, 30, and 60, and not add historical notices to other psalms whose scenarios match the biblical narrative?

6. In the Davidic psalms, all the cited mighty acts of God occurred before his reign and none 

7. There is no evidence of a divided monarchy in the Davidic psalms. Ephraim and Manasseh are given a place of honor alongside of Judah in Psalm 60:7, and Zebulun and Naphtali are 

8. Some psalms ascribed to ledavid refer to the temple as a “tent” (19:4; 52:5; 61:4; 91:10 [LXX]), presumably the one David pitched (2Sam 6:17). The historic psalm 78:68:60) refers to the tent at Shiloh.

Answer to Objections to the Credibility of Authorship “by David”

Reasons for skepticism of the credibility of the superscripts can be answered:

1. The Psalter of the Septuagint (c. 150 BC) attributes eighty-four psalms to David, eleven more than the seventy-three psalms of the Masoretic text, and the Dead Sea Scrolls attribute even more to David. But the attribution of more psalms to David in other textual traditions does not disprove the Masoretic tradition. Moreover, a good case can be made that the Greek tradition (especially of Pss 93–100) is credible:

a. The imagery of Psalm 93 depends on a Canaanite myth (c. 1400 BC).

b. Mowinckel thinks the speaker in Psalm 94 is most likely the king;10 Israel had no king after 586 BC.

c. The writer of Hebrews (4:7) draws on the LXX and attributes Psalm 95 to David. G. Henton Davies11 and others think Psalm 95 is pre-exilic, and he gives no reason to discredit the LXX.

d. The Chronicler (1Chr 16:7–37) attributes Psalm 96 to David.

e. Psalm 99:1 says, “The LORD sits enthroned between the cherubim.” Cherubim are attested in Canaan as parts of thrones at the time of David. In the Old Testament they are last encountered in Ezekiel, about 600 BC (Ezek 9:3; 10:1–2; 11:22).

2. References to the temple in the Davidic psalms are allegedly anachronistic since Solomon built the temple. But “temple” is the English translation of Hebrew “house of God.” Wherever God resides, including the tent David constructed for him, is his “temple,” not just the house built by Solomon.

3. The superscript of Psalm 30 (“For the dedication of the temple. By David.”) is anachronistic because Solomon built the temple after David’s death. But is it not plausible that David, in addition to giving Solomon the plans for the temple and the resources to build it (1Chr 28:11–29:20), also composed the psalm for its dedication, especially since he was Israel’s sweet singer and poet laureate?

4. Aramaisms in psalms “by David” point to a time later than David, but this evidence by itself is not conclusive, as Hurvitz argued.12 David fought with the Aramaean tribes and undoubtedly had diplomatic relationships with them.

An Extensive Royal Interpretation

The “I” of pre-exilic psalms mostly—not always (e.g., Ps 73)—refers to the king. This is certainly the case of the seventy-three psalms by King David.

Herman Gunkel, the father of form criticism of the Psalms, labeled ten psalms as “royal psalms”: “Pss 2; 18; 20; 21; 45; 72; 101: 110; 132; 1; 44:1–11 . . . because they are concerned entirely with kings [italics his].” Psalm 132 cites a prayer by David, and the other nine are by David. Gunkel also notes that other psalms contain “intercessions for the [italics his]” but arbitrarily thinks they were added to several poems of a pious individual: 28:8–9; 61:6–7; 63:11; 84:8–9.13

John Eaton, in his landmark study Kingship and the Psalms, makes the following arguments for an extensive royal interpretation of the psalms:
1. The “I” in psalms by David is the king.

2. Tradition unanimously ascribes the Psalter largely to King David. “The probability must be faced that the view most evident in the Chronicler will have had a genuine basis.

3. “Directly reinforcing the preceding argument is the picture of royal responsibility in religion which has emerged from modern studies of Ancient Near Eastern kingship.

4. “Many and various have been the suggestions as to who were the original subjects of the ‘psalms of the individual’ and what their circumstances (sic) . . . But the only ‘situation’ which is certainly attested is that of the king.

5. “Coupled with the preceding point is the general homogeneity of the psalms . . . There is a prevailing similarity which is in accord with an origin within restricted royal and national cultus.

6. “The special problem presented by the psalms where ‘I’ and ‘we’ alternate can be resolved by taking account of the representative character of the king” [cf. Pss 9–10; 44; 60; 66; 75; 102].

7. “Throughout the ‘psalms of the individual’ there occur motifs or expressions which are royal or at least specifically appropriate for the king . . . Gunkel (Einl., pp.147ff) identifies the following:

a. “All nations attend to the psalmist’s thanksgiving (Pss 18:50; 57:10; 138:1, 4; 119:46).

b. “His deliverance has vast repercussions (22:28f).

c. “He invokes a world-judgment to rectify his cause (77:7, 9; 56:8; 59:6; cf. 43:1).

d. “He depicts himself as victorious over the nations through God’s intervention (118:10–12; 9).

e. “He confronts armies (3:7; 27:3; 55:22; 56:2f; 59; 62:4; 109:3; 120:7; 140:3, 8).

f. “He is like a bull raising horns in triumph (92:11; 1Sam 2:1).

g. “He is God’s son (2:7; 27:10).

8. “In many cases the royal interpretation is especially to be preferred because it allows the psalm as it stands to be seen as a consistent and meaningful whole (cf. Ps 4).

9. “It is almost unthinkable that a collection of hymns stemming from the royal temple—one large court enclosed—both the LORD’s temple and the king’s palace—should not include the petitions and praises of the king.”14

10. Birkeland argued effectively that “the speaker is generally a king who prays with the needs, duties and privileges of a king . . . He begins with . . . communal laments and thanksgivings (Pss 44; 60; 74; 79; 80; 83; 124; 125) and finds the enemies here clearly to be other nations.”15 This is also the case of acknowledged royal psalms: 2, 20, 21, 144.

The psalms not only represent the prayers and praises of the king, but most of them also present the king in Messianic terms. We will return to this truth in our discussion of the Messianic approach.

Postscripts and Superscripts

Fifty-five superscripts16 begin not with “a psalm by David” but, as in Psalm 4, with “To the director of music.17 With stringed instruments.” This information pertains to the psalm’s performance, not its composition, and was originally the post-script to the preceding psalm. Compelling evidence shows that this error occurred during the almost one thousand years between the time of David (c. 1000 BC) and our earliest extant text (c. 100 BC). Here is an abridgment of the arguments made in my essay based on Thirtle’s original study.18

1. Superscripts and postscripts commonly occur in the lyric poetry of the ancient Near East, in the Septuagint, and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

2. Habakkuk 3, a psalm like those of the Psalter, has this pattern:

● Superscript: A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet. On shigionoth. (1)

● Prayer (2–19a)

“How long, LORD, must I call for help . . .”
Note selah at the ends of verses 3a, 9a, 13

● Postscript: To the director of music. On my stringed instruments. (19b)

In Habakkuk 3 a transposition of the postscript to a following superscript could not happen because there is no following psalm.

3. Isaiah 38:9–20 provides another parallel:

● Superscript (9)

“A writing of Hezekiah king of Judah, after he had been sick and had recovered from his sickness.”

● Hymn (10–19)

“I said, in the middle of my days I must depart; I am consigned to the gates of Sheol for the rest of my years . . .”

● Postscript or liturgical conclusion regarding performance (20b)

“and we will play my music on stringed instruments all the days of our lives, at the house of the LORD.”

4. This understanding resolves the contradictions in the superscript of Psalm 88:

“A song. A psalm of the Sons of Korah. For the director of music. According to mahalath leannoth. A maskil of Heman the Ezrahite.”

Illogically, this superscript identifies the genre of Psalm 88 as both “a song/a psalm” and “a maskil, and as having two different authors: “the Sons of Korah” and “Heman the Ezrahite.” These contradictions are resolved by reading “A song. A psalm . . . mahalath leannoth as the postscript to Psalm 87, and “A maskil . . . Ezrahite” as the superscript to Psalm 88.

5. A postscript never occurs in a psalm without a superscript.

6. The transposition of a preceding postscript to a succeeding superscript can be readily explained. The lyrics of the psalm are in poetry, but the postscripts and superscripts are in prose. This butting up of the prose, in contrast to the preceding and following poetry, made the confusion almost inevitable.

In sum, the first part of the superscript in the English versions with the words “For the director of music” plus an optional prepositional phrase (e.g., “With stringed instruments”) should be split off from the extant superscript and attached as the postscript to the preceding psalm. The information of the superscripts is about the authorship (e.g., “by David”), genre (e.g., “a maskil), and occasionally the historical situation (e.g., “when he fled from his son Absalom”) of the psalm that follows. The information of the postscript, on the other hand, is about the performance of the preceding psalm. For example, in the case of Psalm 45, the words “For the director of music. To the tune of ‘Lilies’” should be regarded as the postscript for Psalm 44, leaving the remaining words “Of the Sons of Korah. A maskil. A wedding song” as informing Psalm 45, which would then end with “for the director of music” (from Ps 46:1).


IV. The Liturgical Approach

Religion consists of an inward, devotional aspect and an outward, external aspect. Scholars refer to the latter as the “cultus.” Eichrodt defines it thus: “the term ‘cultus’ should be taken to mean the expression of religious experience in concrete external actions performed with the congregation or community . . . in set forms.”19 Since “cultus” is too easily confused with “cult” (“a pejorative term for a social group that is defined by its unusual . . . beliefs and rituals”20), the term “liturgy” is preferable to contrast in religion the material over against spiritual feelings; the regulated/set forms over against spontaneity; the congregational against the individual.

The Mosaic Liturgy

The psalms are rooted in the liturgy revealed by God to Moses at Sinai and often allude to it. This liturgy included:

Sacred Site

God said he would choose a particular, as yet unspecified, site in the land as the place where he would dwell and to which Israel would come to worship him (Deut 12).

Sacred Objects

The Tent of God’s Residence

Before Solomon built the temple of cut stones and cedar wood, God dwelt in an ornate, portable tent in the midst of the tribes called “the Tabernacle (see Exod 26). It consisted of a courtyard, a room called “the Holy Place,” and behind it (separated by a curtain) an inner room called “the Most Holy Place.” God made known his presence at this Tabernacle by a cloud that entered it (Exod 40:34–38).

Sacred Objects in the Tabernacle

In the courtyard were a bronze altar for burnt sacrifices and offerings and a basin for ritual washings by the priests (Exod 27:1–8). In the Holy Place were a table with twelve loaves of bread (25:23–30), a lampstand (25:31–40), and an altar for burning incense (30:1–10). Inside the Most Holy Place was the ark, a box housing the two stone tablets on which were written the Ten Commandments. Overshadowing the ark and of one piece with its lid were two gold cherubim with their wings spread upward. They guarded its sanctity, even as they protected the Garden of Eden from sinners. The invisible God sat between them, enthroned over the ark, “the footstool of his feet.” Upon the lid of the ark blood was sprinkled annually on the Day of Atonement by the High Priest to make atonement for the sins of the people (Exod 25:10–22; Lev 16:1–19).

The Tent of Meeting

Before the Tabernacle was built, God met with Moses and his family, the people of Israel, in a provisional, portable tent outside the camp. God made his presence known there by a cloud above the Tent of Meeting.

Sacred Seasons

Some of the chronologically regulated sacred days included the daily offerings on the altar in the morning and twilight (Exod 29:38–43; Num 28:1–8); on the Sabbath (Exod 20:8–10; Deut 5:12–15); on the first day of every month (Num 28:11–15; cf. Ps 81:3); on Rosh ha-shanah (“New Year’s Day”), the first day of the seventh month (mid-September), also called “Feast of Trumpets” (Lev 23:23–25; Num 29:1–6); and on Yom Kippur (“the Day of Atonement,” Lev 16; 23:26–32; Num 29:7–11). The tribes made pilgrimage to God’s house three times a year: “Passover,” the time of the barley harvest in March-April (Exod 12:1–14; Lev 23:5; Num 9:1–14; 28:16–25; Deut 16:1–8); fifty days later for “Weeks” or “Pentecost,” the time of the wheat harvest (Lev 23:15–21; Num 28:26–31; Deut 16:9–12); and “Tabernacles”([i.e., living in booths) or “Booths”/“Ingathering” (September-October), the time of the olive and the grape harvests (Lev 23:13–15; Num 29:12–39; Deut 16:13–15).

Sacred Personnel

Only Aaron and his sons could serve as priests (Num 3:10). The priest offered on the altar sacred offerings and sacrifices for expiating sin or for giving grateful praise to God. Moreover, only the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place. Nevertheless, its content and the high priest’s actions were clearly revealed, so that all God’s people could enter it through their imagination.

The Levites, the descendants of Levi, Jacob’s third son, were dedicated to auxiliary ministry for the priests (Num 3:5ff). Each of Levi’s three sons (Kohath, Gershom, and Merari) had specific responsibilities.

The Davidic Liturgy

King David inherited and modified the liturgy. He transformed Moses’s essentially silent liturgy into opera. He planned and provided for its elaborate staging at the temple Solomon built.

The Sacred Site

God now specified Mount Zion in Jerusalem as the place where his temple or sanctuary was to be built (2Sam 6: 24; 1Kgs 8).

Sacred Objects

The Tabernacle

After Israel entered the land, the Tabernacle was stationed successively at Shiloh (Josh 18:1), at Nob (1Sam 21), and at Gibeon (1Chr 16:39; cf. 2Kgs 3:4), and eventually at Solomon’s temple (1Kgs 8:4).

The Ark of the Covenant

When the Philistines ruined Shiloh, the ark had become separated from the Tabernacle through the folly of Israel’s army taking it as a talisman into the battle at Aphek (1Sam 4). After the ark’s exile among the Philistines and its plaguing them (1Sam 5–6), it was brought to Kiriath Jearim, about nine miles (15 km) west of Jerusalem (1Sam 7:1ff). After David captured Jerusalem, he brought the ark into a tent that he had pitched for it on Mount Zion (2Sam 6). At this time only the two tablets with the Ten Commandments were in the ark (1Kgs 8:9).

Solomon’s Temple

Inspired by the Spirit of the LORD, David planned and provided for Solomon’s temple (1Chr 28:11–29:20; esp. 28:12, 19), which was made of large blocks of high-grade, dressed stone. At its entrance were two bronze pillars twenty-seven feet high and eighteen feet in diameter crowned with ornate wreaths (1Kgs 7:15). Its two rooms were paneled from floor to ceiling with cedar wood, carved with gourds and open flowers. Solomon made the cherubim of olive wood, each with an extended wingspan of ten feet, so that they touched each other and the walls. Everything was laminated with pure gold, including the cherubim and altar of incense.

All the architectural lines focused on the ark of the covenant in the Most Holy Place. The doorway from the vestibule to the Holy Place was wider than the entrance into the Most Holy Place. The roof line of the Holy Place was higher than that of the Most Holy Place, and its steps led up to the vestibule. At the heart of Israel’s religion was the unseen LORD, enthroned above the ark housing the Ten Commandments and covered with a golden lid on which atoning blood was sprinkled, called “The Mercy Seat.”

Sacred Objects of the Tabernacle

All the sacred objects of the Tabernacle were brought into Solomon’s temple (1Kgs 8:4; 2Chr 5:4ff).

Prayers Toward the Temple

Solomon asked God to hear prayers made toward the temple (1Kgs 8:31–53). He arranged its seven petitions in a chiastic pattern:

A (= petition 1): to uphold justice for the individual (8:31–32)

B (= petitions 2–4): for national deliverance from defeat in war; carried into exile, famine, and plague; and for forgiveness of sins that caused the disaster upon repentance and learning to do what is right (8:33–40)

These disasters are taken from covenant curses (Deut 28:21, 24, 38, 58–63). But Solomon’s prayer, also part of the Primary History (Gen–2Kgs), looks for removal of the curses upon national repentance.

C (= petition 5): hear the foreigner so that all people will worship Israel’s God (8:41–43)

B’ (= petition 6): for victory in war over enemies (8:44–45)

A’ (= petition 7): when the nation is defeated and in exile, and they repent, forgive, and uphold the cause of justice for the nation (8:46–51)

Sacred Personnel

David’s House to Rule Forever

God made a covenant with David that his house, his descendants, would rule God’s mediatorial kingdom forever, but the success of their rule depended on their keeping the Mosaic covenant (2Sam 7; 1Chr 16).


David appointed the Levites, Asaph, and the chief musicians to sound the cymbals and others to play lutes and lyres and blow trumpets (1Chr 16:4–7).

Divisions of Levites and Priests

David organized the Levites into divisions to be in charge of the work of the temple, to be officials and judges, to be gatekeepers, and to praise the LORD with musical instruments (1Chr 23). Similarly, he separated the priests into divisions for their appointed order of ministering (1Chr 24:1–19).

Liturgy in the Psalms

Many psalms began as private prayers, especially those of David, but were later handed over “to the director of music” to be used by the congregation in the temple liturgy. With a grain of salt, the psalms are the libretto to Moses’s silent liturgy, apart from the confession the Israelites made when they brought their first fruit to the central sanctuary (Deut 26:1–10).

Sacred Site

The terms “Zion,” “house of the LORD,” “holy hill,” “sanctuary of God,” and “dwelling place in Zion” proliferate the Psalter (2:6; 3:4; 63:2; 74:3; 76:2; 79:1; 92:12, 13; 100:4; 114:2; 116:18, 19; 118:19, 20; etc.). Psalms 46, 48, 76, 84, 87, 122 celebrate the election of Mount Zion; Psalms 15 and 24 qualify those permitted to participate in the temple worship. Some psalms obviously were composed away from the “house of God” (Pss 42–43) or have in view its destruction in 587 BC, such as Psalms 74 and 79, but, says Artur Weiser, “[they] are so closely related to the sanctuary and its cultic traditions that not many hymns are left over in the Psalter to which it can be said that they are really ‘dissociated from the cult’ and exclusively composed for private edification.” 21Within Zion all is sacred; without is the profane (pro [“before/outside”] fanus [“temple”]).

Sacred Objects

Sacred objects mentioned are the tent David pitched for the ark (15:1; 27:5, 6; 61:4); Solomon’s temple (30); the cherubim (99:1); the altar (84:3; 118:27); cup (116:13); banners (20:5); musical instruments (47:5; 150:3–4).

Sacred Seasons

The Sacred Calendar

The psalms mention the Sabbath (92), the new moon (81:3), and ascending to Jerusalem for the three sacred festivals (“Songs of Ascent,” 120–134).


Lament-petition psalms (see “Forms of Psalms” below) pray for justice of the individual (7, 35, 82, etc.); for relief from famine (4), exile (42–43, 137) and defeat in war (44); and for victory in war (21) and justice for the nation (9:7, 8; etc.). Psalm 68:24–27 describes the tribes in a victory parade.

The Question of an Enthronement Festival

Instead of the traditional understanding of mālāk yhwh to mean “the LORD reigns” (e.g., 93:1; 97:1; 99:1), Gunkel opted for the other possible meaning, “the LORD has become king,” and that these psalms “imitate the motifs of the royal psalms and carry them over into the spiritual realm (emphasis his).22 He thought these psalms glorify YHWH, who in the New Year festival “becomes the new king of the world,”23 and that they refer to “his future kingdom.”24 His student, Sigmund Mowinckel—albeit opposed by Gunkel—greatly expanded the number of psalms pertaining to this enthronement festival beyond those reading “YHWH has become king” to over a third of the Psalter. In Mowinckel’s opinion, at this festival Yahweh was annually “made king” to re-enact and to re-actualize the creation of the world and of Israel.25 He based his theory on “the Babylonian-Akitu Festival, the Osirus-Horus complex in Egypt, late Jewish sources, and various material scattered throughout the Old Testament (over forty psalms; 2Sam 6; 1Kgs 8; 1Chr 16: Neh 8:1–12; Zech 14:16; and Hos 7:5)”.26 Although Mowinckel gained a following among academics, the intractable fact remains, as Kidner notes, that the non-figurative literature of the Old Testament “looks back to no event that invests YHWH, like the Babylonian Marduk, with sovereignty and makes no provision in the calendar of feasts (Leviticus 23) for an enthronement festival.”27 Mowinckel himself acknowledges, “The poets never describe the alleged festival” (emphasis his).28 Because there is no substantial evidence in the Old Testament Law or narrative, Robert Alter refers to the massive literature about it as “a scholarly exercise in historical fiction.”29

Sacred Personnel

Sacred personnel mentioned in the Psalter include angels (103:20ff), priests (132:9), and Levites (135:20). As for the king, psalms such as 2 and 110 were sung at his coronation or in celebration of his coronation; Psalm 45 was composed for his wedding; Psalms 20 and 21 were prayed before he went to war and when he returned victorious, respectively. Psalms 89 and 132 recall the Davidic covenant.

Sacred Actions

Sacred actions include:


Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
bring an offering, and come into his courts! (96:8)

Let them sacrifice thank offerings
and tell of his works with songs of joy. (107:22)

Prophetic Oracles

The Mighty One, God, the LORD, speaks
and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to where it sets . . .

Listen, my people, and I will speak;
I will testify against you.” (50:1, 7)


I wash my hands in innocence,
and go about your altar, LORD,
Proclaiming aloud your praise
and telling of all your wonderful deeds. (26:6, 7)


How lovely is your dwelling place,
LORD Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the LORD; my heart
and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion. (84:1–2, 7)

Function of the Liturgy


The liturgy provides a visible form that profoundly portrays the living stuff of religion. On the one hand, it symbolizes the movement of the saint’s inner devotion reaching upward to the heart of God. The ascending smoke of the altars represented their prayers ascending to God, and their raising their hands symbolized their giving gifts to God and receiving his grace. On the other hand, the temple represented the movement of God toward his people. Asaph was troubled by the prosperity of the wicked until he entered the sanctuary of God. Perhaps the ark housing the Ten Commandments and the cherubim standing guard assured him of God’s moral rule and of the destruction of the wicked in the end (73:16–18).


The liturgy is a divinely intended, visible portrayal of the spiritual reality to come in the new dispensation and of its consummate reality in the eschaton. Typology is God’s symbolic portrayal of the future. The Tabernacle-Temple symbolizing God’s presence with his people is also a type of Christ’s body, “God with us” (John 1:14; 2:19–22; Matt 21:23); the atoning animal sacrifices a type of Christ’s atoning death (Heb 9:11–10:18).


Through the tangible liturgy accompanied with words, God’s people participated spiritually with God and experienced his grace.


When a person sees and enters a great cathedral they feel a sense of awe, an emotional awareness of authority and endurance. The psalmist helps us to experience that reality:

Walk about Zion, go around her,
count her towers,
consider well her ramparts,
view her citadels,
that you may tell of them
to the next generation. (48:12–13)

Similarly, martial music warms our blood and stirs up our national fervor, and the Psalter awakens our emotions to lament or praise. Otto J. Baab comments, “In the use of this literature (i.e., the psalms) the individual became one with his group and shared the spirit which moved it, whether the mood of the moment was contrition, trust, or glad thanksgiving. He found himself, and he also found the God of his soul’s desire through his unreserved participation in the acts of communal worship, whereby the rich resources and inspiring traditions of his people’s history were made available to him.”30


V. Hebrew Poetry

The authors of Psalms, Job, Proverbs, and the prophetic books were poets. Understanding their more restricted form of speech improves our reading and understanding of them. Like English poetry, poems are terser and have a heightened style; but unlike most English poetry, Hebrew poetry “rhymes” ideas and/or grammar (philology, morphology, and syntax) in parallel lines, not sounds (see “parallelism” below). Also, unlike much English poetry, there is no strict meter. In sum, Hebrew poetry is restricted by terseness, elevation in style, and parallelism.


Semantic density and compactness are foundational to poetry. Prose may be likened to a motion picture: its clauses flow smoothly from one to another. Poetry is like a slideshow presentation: its clauses end with a loud click. Prose allows a sentence of extended length; poetry does not. Poetry is like a telegram or text message; prose, like a letter or an e-mail. Contrast this prose account of the encounter between Sisera and Jael with the same account in poetry:

“And he (Sisera) said to her (Jael), ‘Please give me a little water to drink because I am thirsty.’ And she opened a milk skin and gave him some to drink and she covered him.” (Judg 4:19)

“‘Water,’ he asked, milk she gave;

In a bowl for nobles she offered curds.” (Translation mine; Judg 5:25)

In the Hebrew text, the prose account consists of fourteen words; the poetic account, of eight words.


The primary operating principle of organization in Hebrew poetry is parallelism, the matching of two or three syntactically closed segments with an almost equal number of accented syllables, usually two or three with deviations to four but never more than six. Parallel lines aim to give complex information in a unified, stereophonic way.

Lowth’s Parallelism

Both a bishop in the Church of England and a professor of poetry at Oxford, Robert Lowth was the first to draw attention to parallel structures in the Hebrew poetry of the Bible. In 1753 he published De Sacra Poesi Hebraeorum (“On the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews”), which influenced all future scholarship in the poetry of the Bible. He defined parallelism thus:

The correspondence of one verse, or line, with another, I call parallelism. When a proposition is delivered, and a second is subjoined to it, or drawn under it, equivalent, or contrasted with it, in sense; or similar to it in the form of grammatical construction; these I call parallel lines, and the words or phrases, answering one to another in the corresponding lines, parallel terms.”31

In Lowth’s view of parallelism:

The swan upon Saint Mary’s Lake floats double,
Swan and shadow.

In his view, the “b” verset is a “shadow” of “a.”

The Hebrew verse consists of two or more parts, its parts variously called—no consensus has been reached—a “line,” “stich,” “hemi-stich,” “colon,” or, as in this commentary, a “verset” that encompass the parallel syntactic segments. A verse of two versets is universally called a “bicolon” (pl. bi-cola). Psalm 145:13 is a bicolon:

Your kingdom is an ‘everlasting’ kingdom,
and your dominionendures through all generations.’”

“Kingdom” and “dominion” are semantic equivalents, and so are “everlasting” and “endures through all generations.”

If one of the half verses consists of two versets, the whole verse is referred to as a “tricolon” (pl. tri-cola). A verse whose halves both have two versets is called a “quatrain.” Psalm 1:1 is a tricolon:

1a “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
1bα Nor stands in the way of sinners,
1bβ Nor sits in the seat of scoffers!”

Traditionally, three major kinds of parallelism are noted:

1. Synonymous: the second verset says the same thing as the first:

“He speaks to them in his anger
And terrifies them in his wrath.” (2:5)

2. Antithetic: the second verset contrasts with the first:

“For the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the wicked will perish.” (1:6)

3. Synthetic: the second verset adds to the first:

“Who delights in the law of the LORD
And who meditates on his law day and night.” (1:2)

A taxonomy of synthetic parallels is futile for, as Lowth notes, “This parallelism has much variety and many gradations; it is sometimes more accurate and manifest, sometimes more vague and obscure” (emphasis mine).32

As for parallels in Hebrew grammar, most variations cannot be translated into English.33

Post-Lowthian Development

Traditionally, the emphasis was on synonymity: “more accurate and manifest.” It was thought that the poet says the same thing once more, though he may partly or completely change the actual words to avoid monotony. James Kugel sharply, and rightly, critiques this view:

Overall, Lowth’s view has had a disastrous effect on subsequent criticism. Because of it, synonymity was often imposed where it did not exist, sharpness was lost, and the real nature of biblical parallelism was henceforth condemned to a perpetual “falling between two stools.”34

In Kugel’s view, which has gained a consensus, the parallel verset has an emphatic, “seconding” effect.35 The “b” verset is not a restatement but a related statement that emphasizes and/or expands the “a” verset. In this post-Lowthian view:

The swan upon Saint Mary’s Lake floats double,
Goose and gander.

This understanding of Hebrew parallelism yields better exegetical returns; it cuts the text with a sharp razor, not a dull butter-knife. But it demands more meditation. Reconsider Psalm 2:5:

“He speaks to them in his anger;
And terrifies them in his wrath.”

With the lens of restatement, the interpreter may reflect that the paralleling of “speaks” and “terrifies” shows God’s anger is expressed in speech, not a thunderstorm. With the lens of related statement, the interpreter may reflect that “speaks” refers to the divine action, and “terrifies” refers to the response God desires from the kings. Moreover, “terrifies” intensifies the power of “speak”;37 “wrath” escalates “anger.”

Reconsider Psalm 1:6:

“For the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the wicked will perish.”

“The way of the righteous” is a precise antithesis of “the way of the wicked,” but “the LORD knows” and “will perish” are not, implying that unless the LORD of life has intimacy with the conduct of a person, that conduct leads to death.

Consider the quatrain of Psalm 3:7:

7aα “Arise, LORD!
7aβ Deliver me, my God!
7bα Strike all my enemies on the jaw;
7bβ Break the teeth of the wicked.”

The “b” versets clarify that God will deliver his king by defeating his enemies in battle. In the “aα” verset “arise” signifies “to go into battle” and the “aβ” verset clarifies that the purpose is to “deliver” his king, inferring his cause is just (Psalm 3). “LORD” and “God” are two titles for God: “LORD” for his covenant relationship with his king and people, and “God” for his transcendent power. In the “b” versets, “my enemies” are identified as “wicked,” and “strike on the jaw” signifies their humiliating defeat and their inability to defend themselves. It is escalated to “break the teeth,” signifying they can no longer do harm. Warren Gage suggests, “The punishment is talionic. Perhaps the weapon was the word, lies or slander of the enemy.”37 The imagery of likening the enemy to a fighter, having his jaw struck and his teeth broken, is part and parcel of the heightened style of Hebrew poetry.

The Chant: Hebrew Accents

All Masoretic manuscripts preserve accentuation marks. According to Vantoura the accents originally signified a full musical scale with adornment (such as trilling the voice) that later devolved into a chant.38 Disjunctive accents mark the end of the verse, the half verse, and the half of a half verse. In other words, the Masoretic accents help to mark out the bicolon, tricolon, and/or quatrain.

Heightened Style

Israel’s religious hymns are lofty and ethical, imaginative and arresting, attractive and alluring. They combine punch with clarity. In sentiments the reader senses an uncommon elevation and majesty, in imagery an uncommon taste and diversity, and in language an uncommon beauty and energy. What makes them such are sounds and figures of speech. Poets intentionally use words in unconventional ways in their language to delight and to evoke thought and emotions in their audience. Broadly speaking, their deviations from ordinary speech involve either schemes (deviation from the ordinary pattern or arrangement of words) and/or “tropes” (a deviation from the ordinary and principal signification of word39).

Schemes: Deviation in Arrangement of Words

Hebrew phonology and syntax differ from that of English and so are difficult or impossible to represent in translation. This is unfortunate, for as Benjamin Harshav has shown, sound patterns communicate meaning.40 However, here are four syntactical deviations that can be—albeit often are not—represented in translation:

1. Chiasm: the reversal of terms in the parallels.

“I do bless Jehovah at all times;
Continually his praise is in my mouth.” (34:1, YLT)

2. Gapping: the omission of terms to be supplied from the parallel.

He brought out his people with rejoicing,
his chosen ones with shouts of joy.” (105:43)

3. Ellipsis: omission of words in a clause.

“With your strings you prepare [arrows] against their faces.” (21:12, literal)

4. Splitting apart of a stereotypical phrase: the separation of terms that are conventionally connected between the versets.

“Some trust in ‘horses’ and some trust in ‘chariots’” (20:7)
= horse-drawn chariots (see 76:6)

“he brought out ‘his people’ with rejoicing,
his ‘chosen’ ones with shouts of joy.” (105:43)
= his chosen people (see Deut 7:6)

Figures of Speech: Deviation in Meaning of Words

In the commentary we reserve the term “figure of speech” for tropes. Interpreting them is both an intuitive art and a science. Linguistically, they are recognized by the inapposite juxtaposition of words from different semantic fields; hermeneutically, they lack semantic pertinence; logically, the combination is illogical. So their logical connection must be inferred. David’s petition “Let me hear joy and gladness” (51:8) is an inapposite juxtaposition, semantically impertinent, logically impossible combining of the physical act of “hear” with the emotions of “joy and gladness.” The interpreter infers that the unstated object of “hear” is a “word of forgiveness” that produces the emotion of “joy.” Contexts help validate or invalidate the interpreter’s guess. Psalm 51:8 validates our guess: “Hide your face from my sin,” an anthropomorphism for forgiveness.

Interpreting figures of speech is also a science because they can be classified and defined. E. W. Bullinger argues, “No one is at liberty to exercise any arbitrary power in their use . . . If a word or words be a figure, then that figure can be named and described.”41 Here are some common figures of speech in the Book of Psalms:

1. Figures involving substitution:

a. Metonymy (“change of name”): the use of one word in place of another with which it is related. There are several kinds of metonymy:

1) Of cause: the cause is put for the effect.

“He (God) gave . . . their labor (= crops) to the locusts.” (78:46)

2) Of effect: the effect is put for the cause, as in 51:8.

“Thus they changed their glory (= the LORD) into an image of an ox.” (106:20)

3) Of subject: a thing or action is substituted for something related to it but not in a cause-effect relationship (e.g., container for contents, place for things in or on it, possessor for thing possessed, sign for the thing signified).

“They set their mouth (= arrogant words) against the heavens.” (73:9)

“Purge me with hyssop (= blood [cf. Lev 14:51; Num 19:18])
and I shall be clean.” (51:7)

4) Of adjunct: some circumstance pertaining to a subject is put for the subject itself.

“The LORD sent . . . his splendor (= the ark) into the hands of the enemy.” (78:61)

b. Synecdoche: a part is put for the whole or the whole is put for the part.

1) Of species (a part for the whole).

“I will not trust in my bow (= weapons of offense)
Nor shall my sword (= weapons of defense) save me.” (44:6)

2) Of genus (the whole for the part).

“And all flesh (= humans” [also a metonymy]) bless his holy name.” (145:21)

c. Merism: antithetical terms to represent the whole.

“You know my sitting down and my rising up (= all the time).” (139:2)

“If I ascend to heaven . . .
If I make my bed in Sheol . . . (= everywhere).” (139:8)

2. Figures involving comparison:

a. Simile: An explicit comparison between two things of unlike nature that yet have something in common.

“The ungodly are like the chaff which the wind drives away.” (1:4)

Evoked common thought: no endurance
Evoked feeling: aversion

“Shrimp are like little lobsters” is not a figure of speech because it does not aim to evoke imagination or emotions. “Shrimp are like heaven on a platter” is a simile.

b. Metaphor: an implied comparison between two things of unlike nature that yet have something in common.

1) A complete metaphor: both the thing and the thing compared are stated.

“For the LORD God is a sun and a shield.” (84:11)

Evoked common thought: protection
Evoked feeling: unafraid

2) An incomplete metaphor: the thing being compared is not mentioned; only the thing compared is stated or inferred.

“For dogs (= his wicked enemies) have surrounded me.” (22:16)

Evoked common thought: uncleanness, immorality
Evoked feeling: loathing

“They shoot from ambush at the innocent.” (64:4)

Evoked thought: conspiratorial words
Evoked feeling: fear and moral injury

c. Personification: inanimate objects or abstractions are represented as animates.

“All my bones shall say . . .” (35:10)

“Their tongue (a metonymy of subject for words) walks through the earth.” (73:9)

d. Anthropomorphism: the attribution of human characteristics to inanimate objects or animals or God.

“The sun knows when to go down.” (104:19)

“The lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God.” (104:21)

“At your rebuke, LORD, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils. (18:15)

Human body parts applied to God are also symbolic: “face” symbolizes presence; “eyes” symbolize awareness; “ears” symbolize attentiveness; “nostrils” symbolize anger; “heart” symbolizes moral purpose.

e. Zoomorphism: the attribution of animal characteristics to humans or God.

Roaring lions that tear their prey open their mouths wide against me.” (22:13)

“The LORD is . . . the horn (of a wild ox; also a metaphor) of my salvation.” (18:2)

3. Other figures of speech:

a. Aposiopesis: sudden breaking off what is being said.

“My soul is sore vexed; but You, O LORD, how long [—].” (6:3)

b. Apostrophe: a turning aside from the direct subject matter to address another who may be present in fact or in imagination.

Addressing the LORD about the wicked:

“Destructive forces are at work in the city . . .” (55:11)

Suddenly, addressing the wicked man:

“If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it . . .
But it is you, a man like myself . . .” (55:12ff)

c. Hendiadys: the expression of a single idea by two words connected with “and”; the second word modifies the first.

“You have heard my voice (also a metonymy) and my supplication.” (116:1)

= my supplicating petition

d. Idiom: a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words.

“Make his face shine on us.” (67:1)

Meaning: to show favor to us

e. Irony: the expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite.

“Death (also personification) will shepherd them (also a metaphor).” (49:14)

A shepherd provides for his sheep and protects them. Death does neither.

f. Hyperbole: exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally.

“The valleys of the sea were exposed
and the foundations of the earth laid bare at your rebuke.” (18:15)

“They mounted up to the heavens
and went down to the depths.” (107:26)

g. Rhetorical question: a question that express emotion, such as vexation and/or indignation, and does not seek an answer.

“Why do the nations rage?” (2:1)

“My God, why have you forsaken me?” (22:1)

h. Symbol: a material object for an abstract reality.

“Your throne was established long ago.” (93:2)

“Throne” is a symbol of kingship/dominion.

“The seas have lifted up, LORD.” (93:3)

“Seas” (i.e., the ocean) in the biblical world represent chaos and death (see Gen 1:2).

In reading the Book of Psalms, the interpreter meditates, not speed-reads, the text.


VI. Types of Psalms

Throughout the church’s history, commentators intuitively recognized the psalms fell into various types, such as penitential psalms, and that they met differing emotional needs. Herman Gunkel (1862–1932), however, categorized them into distinct types with scientific rigor. Skeptical of the historical credibility of the superscripts (see above), he sought to determine the historical settings of the psalms by classifying them into genres, assuming those having similar features would have a common setting, such as national festival or national calamity. There is a broad academic consensus about his classifications of the bulk of psalms into “hymns,” “communal lament/complaint songs,” “royal psalms,” “individual lament/complaint songs,” and “individual thanksgiving songs,” but little consensus about the settings of the individual lament/complaint psalms.

Gunkel grouped the psalms by their “common treasury of thoughts and mood,” their “preferred vocabulary,” and their different “motifs (italics his). By “mood” is meant a particular feeling or emotion or state of mind. By motifs is meant that a type or genre of literature has consistent literary elements. For example, business letters consistently include a “return address,” “date,” “addressee” (“Dear John”), and “signature” (“cordially yours”). Knowing a literature’s genre enables the interpreter to adopt the appropriate strategy to better read and understand it. One does not read a business letter in the same way as a novel. Knowing the motifs of a psalm helps the reader better to understand a psalm’s structure and so its message, but “royal psalms” as well as several other types are grouped by their common thought, mood, and vocabulary, not by their common motifs. Moreover, some psalms express a mixture of genres; Psalm 9, for example, begins as a praise psalm (vv. 1–12) and ends as a lament/complaint psalm (vv. 13–20).

This commentary, however, does not distinguish “communal lament/complaint” from “individual lament/complaint” because both kinds share the same motifs and because the individual is often the king in corporate solidarity with his community. “Lament/complaint psalms” always include the motif of petition, but they ought not be called “petition psalms” because some petition psalms include the motif of trust and lack the lament/complaint motif (125, 126, and 129).

Praise psalms occur in two forms, each with definite motifs. “Hymns” praise God for his general acts of creation and of Israel’s deliverances; “individual songs of grateful praise” praise God for specific acts of delivering the psalmist (see below).

In sum, the bulk of psalms have three forms having distinct motifs: lament/complaint psalms, songs of grateful praise, and hymns. The Chronicler validates this threefold classification:

“Then he (David) appointed some of the Levites as ministers before the ark of the LORD, “to invoke” (“to offer prayers” [NET]; literally, “to bring to remembrance”42), “to thank” (better, “to give grateful praise”), “and to praise” the LORD, the God of Israel.” (1Chr 16:4)

We first reflect on these three major genres (the hymn, lament/complaint psalms, and psalms of grateful praise) and then on those that lack common motifs, namely, royal psalms, psalms of Zion, songs of trust, songs of praise-petition, and didactic psalms. Finally, we consider the three prophetic psalms, which also share common motifs.

The Hymn

Hymns43 are also called “songs of praise” or “descriptive praise” in contrast to “declarative praise” (= “songs of grateful praise”). Their preferred vocabulary includes “praise,” “extol,” “play music,” sing,” and so on. The mood is joyful exuberance. Its three motifs are an “introductory summons to praise,” “reason for praise,” and a “conclusion.”

Introduction: Summons to Praise

In the imperative mood, the temple leader summons and cheers on the assembled community to praise the LORD; e.g., “shout for joy to the LORD” (33:1).

Body: Reason for Praise

The cause for praise is often introduced by “for” or “[the LORD] who.” The LORD is praised for his might and power, for his steadfast love and mercy, often in connection with both his creating and sustaining the world and also in his history of delivering Israel, as in 33:4: “for the word of the LORD is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness.” The cause for praise is the fuel; the summons, the spark that ignites it.


The conclusions of “hymns” vary. The motif of confidence ends Psalm 33; most, however, end with a renewed call to praise. In Book V many psalms end with Hallelujah! (e.g., 146–150).

Lament/Complaint Psalms

The vocabulary and mood of the lament/complaint-genre44 vary according to its five motifs: “address to the LORD,” “lament/complaint,” “confidence,” “petition,” and “praise.”

The Address

The “address” (“O God, O LORD,” “O Shepherd of Israel,” and so forth) is often surprisingly abrupt; the lack of flummery reflects the psalmist’s intimacy with God. This motif usually occurs as the first few words, but Psalm 58 begins with lament/complaint addressed to the wicked (vv. 1–5), followed by the address to God (v. 6). Also, the “address” motif commonly occurs with an introductory petition to be heard, as in Psalm 4:1: “Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!”

The Complaint-Lament

The “complaint-lament” motif commonly includes three elements; “I/we,” “they,” and “you.”

1. “I/we.” The subject of the verb is “we” (i.e., political Israel) in “communal lament/complaints,” or “I” in “individual lament/complaints.” The speakers confess their impotence to save themselves, often from imminent death.

2. “They.” Most psalms of this genre make reference to the too-powerful enemy, but not all do—the crisis in Psalm 4, for example, is a draught. The humble psalmists trust God, not themselves or humankind.

3. “You” (God). Apart from the penitential psalms (6, 38, 51, 106:4–47), the psalmists usually complain to God for putting them into their distress and/or that thus far he has not delivered the innocent psalmist. Though vexed and perplexed, the poet never doubts God’s sovereignty. In the penitential psalms, however, the psalmist acknowledges explicitly (cf. Ps 51) or implicitly that his sufferings are deserved (“stop rebuking me in your anger”; Pss 6; 38).


“But you” commonly turns the state of mind from lament/complaint to hope and trust in God for salvation. The poet bolsters his saving faith by reflecting on God’s sublime attributes, especially his power, justice, and steadfast love, as well as on his covenants with Israel or with his king, and on his past acts of salvation. These reflections serve as handmaidens to their hope and trust. This important motif creates the mood of faith or confidence, the prerequisite to saving prayer, “the petition” (Jas 1:6–8).

Petition: Request for Salvation

The petition motif is so dominant in Psalm 70 that its superscript classifies it as a “petition.” The key word of the “petition” is “save/deliver.” But over half of this genre also asks God to return evil for evil. These so-called “imprecatory” psalms perplex Christians. We will reflect upon them separately below.

Praise: The Vow to Praise the LORD

With the exception of Psalm 88, complaint-lament psalms have the motif of praise: at the beginning (e.g., Ps 9; 44) or, as usually, at the end. The psalms are doxological. The climatic praise motif may be a vow to praise the LORD when the crisis is past or a confident expectation of praising God for his salvation.

Psalm 88, “the black sheep of the Psalter,” is notorious for its lack of praise. But Heman, its author, never loses faith: “Despite unrelenting affliction and unanswered prayer, [he] does not lose hope in the God of Israel . . . Against all the contrary evidence to God’s goodness, the Lord is his God and remains his hope for salvation (v. 1). He persists in prayer: constantly (v. 1), daily (v. 9), and yet this one more time (v. 13). His hope and prayer are as insistent as his afflictions.”45

The lament/complaint psalms conform to Paul’s instruction to the Philippians: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil 4:6).

The Imprecatory Psalms

More than half of complaint-lament psalms ask God to punish the enemy with strict justice—eye-for-eye:

“He loved to curse; let curses come upon him!
He did not delight in blessing; may it be far from him!
He clothed himself with cursing as his coat;
may it soak into his body like water, like oil into his bones!” (109:17–18)

These imprecations perplex Christians, for they contradict Jesus’s teaching in his famous “Sermon on the Mount”:

You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also . . . You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matt 5:38–45)

C.S. Lewis, in a rare faux pas, called imprecatory psalms “devilish,”46 but Peter considered Psalm 109 authoritative for faith and practice (Acts 1:20). To ease this tension between the testaments, the following reflections on these prayers may be helpful:

1. Prayers ask God to avenge the wrong, not to take personal revenge.

Kidner comments, “There have been few men more capable of generosity under personal attack than David, as he proved by his attitudes toward Saul and Absalom, to say nothing of Shemei.”47

2. Prayers are by saints who suffered gross injustices.

As others have noted, most commentators read the Psalms from the comfortable perspective of security and economic affluence. Few have experienced the agony of unprovoked, naked aggression and deceit. It is questionable whether they would respond differently from the psalmist were they to confront the faces of people who manifestly intended to kill them.

3. Prayers are righteous and just. The psalmist-king asks no more of God than God asks of him.

“Defend the weak and the fatherless;
uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” (82:3–4)

Moreover, the Lord Jesus Christ upholds the justice of God, assuring his disciples that those who seek justice will find it:

“And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.” (Luke 18:7–8)

4. Prayers are faithful: it demands faith to believe that God will avenge wrongs.

Bernhard Anderson appropriately cites Helmut Ringgren’s citation of the Babylonian phrase “living in a ramanishu”—that is, “living by oneself, on one’s own sources, without dependence on God.” This refusal to “let God be God” is “the essence of sin,” and hence the fool and his folly will be exposed in the day when God judges the people.48

5. Prayers are ethical: they ask God to distinguish between right and wrong.

“Judge me, O LORD, according to my righteousness . . .” (7:8)

6. Prayers are theocratic.

The psalmist-king represents God’s rule on the earth. His successes advance the kingdom, where God’s will is done; his defeat crowns the wicked. Moreover, his imprecations are in conformity with his mandate.

“Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance,
the ends of the earth your possession.
You will break them with a rod of iron;
you will dash them to pieces like pottery.” (2:8–9)

The imprecations to punish the wicked lose their sting when it is remembered that the psalmist seeks to replace the tyranny of the wicked with the rule of “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18).

7. Prayers are theocentric: they aim to see God praised for manifesting his righteousness in the eyes of all.

“May those who delight in my vindication
shout for joy and gladness;
may they always say, ‘The LORD be exalted,
who delights in the well-being of his servant.’” (35:27–28)

8. Prayers are evangelistic: they aim for conversion of all people by their seeing that the LORD Most High is ruling all the earth.

“May they ever be ashamed.
Let them know that you, whose name is the LORD
—that you alone are the Most High over all the earth.” (83:17–18, NIV)

The conclusion can be drawn that the imprecatory prayers conform to sound doctrine (2Tim 3:16). Nevertheless, “eye for eye” prayers are inappropriate in the new dispensation. They were appropriate in the old dispensation when God elected national Israel to establish a righteous, political kingdom and dispense strict justice; but they are not appropriate in this new dispensation when God is establishing a spiritual, not political, kingdom and is postponing ultimate justice until the final Day of Judgment. The Church looks forward to that day (John 5:29; Matt 25:46; 2Thes 1:5–9). In this new age, God entrusts to the political state the responsibility to uphold justice; he hands them the sword to avenge wrong (Rom 13:1–4). Christians pray—and, if possible, vote—for political leaders who use the sword to that end.

Songs of Grateful Praise

The Hebrew word hôdâ occurs frequently in “songs of grateful praise.” Traditionally, they are classified as “individual songs of thanksgiving,”49 but in Psalm 65 the community fulfils vows,50 entailing an answer to prayer (cf. 65:2). Also traditionally, hôdâ was “to give thanks,” but Claus Westermann convincingly argued that hôdâ essentially means “to confess,” and in a context of praise it means “to confess or acknowledge publicly [italics mine] what a benefactor has done.” It does not mean a private expression of “thank you” to the benefactor.51 Moreover, the psalmist testifies to a specific act of deliverance in answer to his prayer. The superscript of Psalm 56, a “lament/complaint” psalm, says, “Of David. When the Philistines seized him in Gath.” Psalm 34, a song of grateful praise, according to its superscript is written in light of the same circumstance: “Of David. When he changed his behavior before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away.” David testifies, “This poor man cried [out loud], and the LORD heard him and saved him out of all his troubles” (34:6).

The Hebrew nominal form tôdâ, which is related to the verb hôdâ, indicates the public offering of grateful praise in words and can also refer to the sacrificial meal (see Lev 7:11–15) that accompanied the psalmist’s testimony.

The sacrifice was offered up to God. The meal’s participants included God—symbolically represented through a wave offering—the priest, the psalmist, and his (or her; e.g., Hannah, 1Sam 1:24–2:10) community (cf. 22:22–26). In Psalm 66 the psalmist offers his sacrifice during his words of praise:

“I will come to your temple with burnt offerings
and fulfill my vows to you—
vows my lips promised
and my mouth spoke when I was in trouble.
I will sacrifice fat animals to you
and an offering of rams;
I will offer bulls and goats.” (66:13–15)

Psalm 116 mentions a celebratory act of raising the cup accompanied by calling on the name of the LORD (116:13), and Psalm 30 refers to dancing (30:11). The mood of these poems is overflowing gratitude and joyful happiness.52

The four motifs of the individual songs of grateful praise53 are: proclamation, summary statement, report, and praise.

Proclamation: I Will Praise the LORD

The introduction communicates the intention and the content of the song: “I will give you grateful praise,” or its equivalents. The psalmist names the LORD as his benefactor. In Psalm 116:1, instead of the customary proclamation, the poet proclaims, “I love the LORD.”

Introductory Summary Statement of What God Has Done

Psalm 18:3 illustrates this motif: “I called to the LORD, who is worthy of praise, and I have been saved from my enemies.”

Reflection on Past Deliverance

The report of deliverance or the narrative, says Gunkel, “usually contains three parts [italics his]: the report of the poet’s distress, his summons to YHWH, and his deliverance. Jonah 2:3 presents a classic formulation: ‘I call in my distress to YHWH and he hears me.’” In Psalm 18, after testifying to the congregation, King David turns directly to the LORD to whom he is offering up his tôdâ: “Your right hand supported me” (18:35).


Psalms of this genre also typically end with praise.

“Therefore I will praise you, LORD, among the nations;
I will sing the praises of your name.” (18:49)

Royal Psalms

Gunkel considered certain psalms as “royal psalms” (2; 18; 20; 20; 21; 45; 72; 101; 110; 132; 144:1–11; cf. 89:47–52) because they so obviously pertain to the king.54 Better, however, is to restrict the classification of “royal psalms” only to those that use “he,” and so are about the king, and not “I,” and so are by the king. But form critics have failed to reckon with an extensive royal interpretation beyond these obvious psalms (see above). In that light, better to classify Psalm 18 as an individual song of grateful praise; Psalm 144 as a praise-petition psalm; and Psalm 101 as a didactic psalm (see below).

“Royal psalms” are about the king’s coronation (2, 110); or his wedding (45); or petitions for him as he goes to war (20) and a victory song upon his return (21). This genre also includes intercessions that the king be righteous and prosper (72) and that God remember his covenant with David and his resolve to bring the ark to Jerusalem (132). Subject matter, not patterned motifs, unify this genre.

Songs of Zion

Many psalms mention Zion, but by the classification of “songs of Zion”—the title is drawn from Psalm 137:3—is meant those that celebrate Zion (46, 48, 84, 87, 122).55 “Zion” refers to the hill in Jerusalem where the temple is located. The state of mind in 46, 48, and 87 is that of praise. Psalm 46 celebrates the LORD’s protective presence in Zion. and Psalm 48 its fortification. Psalm 87 envisions the spiritual rebirth of Israel’s enemies in Zion. Psalm 84 expresses the psalmist’s longing of being at the temple, and Psalm 122 expresses the pilgrim’s joy of being there. Subject matter, not patterned motifs, also unifies this genre.

Song of Trust

Most “songs of trust” (11; 16; 27:1–16; 62; 63; 91; 94:8–23; 115; 13156), like the individual lament/complaint psalms, are sung in the historical context of enemies who threaten the righteous psalmist’s life. Even the comforting Psalm 23 refers to the enemy (v. 5). But unlike the “lament/complaint psalms” genre, the psalmist does not complain; quite the opposite. He expresses a settled hope and trust in the LORD: “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” (27:1). Psalms 121 and 131 are also songs of trust, but the crises differ: the difficulty and danger of pilgrimage to Zion (121) and a crisis of faith (131). Psalm 115 expresses a settled confidence that God is sovereign but, nevertheless, exhorts the temple worshipers to trust the LORD to help and protect them.

Praise-Petition Psalms and a Song of Trust-Petition Psalm

Three psalms by those restored from exile combine the motif of petition with that of praise and lack the motif of lament/complaint. Psalm 126 expresses prayer for complete restoration, and 129 for justice. Psalm 125 expresses trust in God’s goodness and asks for more. In Psalm 144 David surrounds his petition for deliverance in battle with praise.

Didactic Psalms

All Scripture is profitable for teaching (2Tim 3:16), and Gordon J. Wenham in Psalms as Torah makes an important contribution to our understanding of the Psalms as a book of instruction in ethics and in piety. In all genres there is an implied instruction to be upright and righteous (5:12; 32:11; 33:1; 68:3; 140:13). Wenham, citing Writing on the Tablets of the Heart by David M. Carr, notes that in the biblical world “literary and religious texts were memorized by the educated elite and then transmitted to the masses at public festivals to transmit the values of its culture.”57 The Chronicler depicts the Levites as preaching and teaching the people, presumably by including their singing of these psalms in the temple liturgy.

By “didactic psalms” is meant those that were composed specifically to shape the national character through their instruction. This broad genre with the common notion to instruct in piety and ethics consists of four sub-types: “Torah Psalms,” “Entrance to the Temple Liturgies,” “Wisdom Psalms,” and Psalm 101, in which David resolves to administer the people justly.

Torah Psalms

The Hebrew word tôrâ (“Torah”) is traditionally translated by “the Law,” but it is better understood to refer to the Mosaic Law as “the authoritative stipulations to keep in the way of eternal life.” God gave them to Moses through the psychology of his seeing a form of God (Num 12:8). The Torah psalms (1, 19, 119) extol this Torah, their key word, with passion.

Psalm 1 promises eternal life to those who meditate upon it—a metonymy of cause for doing it—and threatens the wicked, who live apart from God’s Law, with eternal death. Similarly, in Psalm 19, after expressing praise for the beauty and benefits of God’s “rules,” the poet uses the Law to warn and encourage himself to obedience: “by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward” (19:11). Psalm 119 is a lament-petition psalm. Nevertheless, the term “torah” or one its seven synonyms occurs in every verse—apart from two—of its 176 verses and is its key word. The afflicted meditates on the Law, for in it he finds the promise of life.

“Let your steadfast love come to me, O LORD,
your salvation according to your promise (’imrâ [“word,” i.e., Torah]);
then shall I have an answer for him who taunts me,
for I trust in your word.” (119:41–42)

He is not obeying the law to obligate God to do him good; he obeys it because, by faith, he counts on God who obligated himself to do good to those who keep his commands.

In sum, these three Torah psalms aim to provoke the faithful to obey the Law from their hearts by faith; it is the way of eternal life.

Entrance to the Temple Liturgy

Two psalms by inspired David motivate God’s family to live righteously by restricting access to the living God to those who live righteously. Psalm 15 asks, “who may dwell in your sacred tent?” To which is answered ten commandments other than those revealed to Moses, but that are consistent with those given at Sinai. Psalm 24 is similar. To the question asked in verse 3, “Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?” (v. 3) is given the answer, “He who has clean hands and a pure heart” (vv. 4–6).

Wisdom Psalms

“The sons of Korah,” a guild of sacred musicians, identify Psalm 49 as a wisdom psalm.

“My mouth shall speak wisdom; . . .
I will incline my ear to a proverb.” (49:3–4)

Wisdom psalms are grouped by their sounding somewhat like the “wisdom” Books of Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes. The Hebrew word for “wisdom” means “masterful skill” and in the wisdom literature of the Bible signifies the masterful skill of keeping in the way of eternal life. The sage instructs to fear the LORD (Ps 34:11–22) and not to fret or fear because of the doctrine of retribution (37, 49); or pronounces God-fearers as blessed (112; 128:1–3); or declares the blessedness of brotherly unity (133); or instructs the priest to bless the pilgrims (134); or, probably as a priest, blesses the people himself (128:4–6). In Psalm 127, Solomon reflects that faith in the LORD enables one to achieve a balance between work and rest.

Asaph, however, like Job and the “teacher” of Ecclesiastes, expresses perplexity at what he saw: sinners win and the righteous lose. He resolved his perplexity by going to the temple, where he discerned the end of the wicked (73:17–18).

Historical Psalms

Psalms 105 and 106 recounted Israel’s history to praise the LORD and to lament their sin. Psalms 78 and 114, however, recount Israel’s history to teach. Asaph recounted the magnalia Dei (“wonderful/miraculous acts of God”) in Israel’s salvation history as an exemplary story, principally to teach Israel their God’s sublime attributes. Psalm 114 recounts the magnalia Dei to teach “the earth” the fear of the LORD.

A Royal Resolve to Appoint Righteous Ministers

Psalm 101, though normally classified as a “royal psalm,” is better classified as a didactic psalm. The king expresses his resolve to govern righteously, implicitly to instruct his Israel in piety and ethics.

“I will look with favor on the faithful in the land,
that they may dwell with me;
he who walks in the way that is blameless
shall minister to me.” (101:1, 2, 6)

Prophetic Psalms

Prophetic psalms (14; 50; 81:8–16; 95:7b–11) also aim to shape the national character as pious and ethical, but their authors speak as prophets, with scorching rebukes and threats, not in the sage’s mood of reflection. Moreover, prophetic literature has three motifs: 1) an introduction (identifying the LORD as the primary author, the inspired human voice (often implied), and the audience); 2) the accusation or rebuke or warning; and 3) a judicial sentence or threat. Consider Psalm 50:

1) Introduction

7 Hear, O my people, and I will speak; O Israel, I will testify against you . . .

2) Accusation/Rebuke

8 Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; . . .
17 For you hate discipline, . . .
18 If you see a thief, you are pleased with him,
and you keep company with adulterers.

3) Judicial sentence or threat

21 But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.
22 Mark this, then, you who forget God,
lest I tear you apart,
and there be none to deliver!


VII. Poetics

Form criticism classifies psalms according to their common vocabulary, mood, and motifs without regard to meaning. Poetics—also called rhetorical criticism—classifies the techniques poets use to build the blocks of their literature, unify their work, and so communicate their meaning, their evaluative point of view (or, better, their message, for they demand a response to their theological and ethical point of view). The rhetorician asks, “How does a text mean? How does the poet communicate his message?” It has been said that you don’t know what a text means until you know how it means.

The above introduction to Hebrew poetry argued that a verse of poetry consists of parallel clauses that resemble one another and that the second clause emphasizes or expands the first. Poetics categorize the kinds of repetitions poets use to connect the parts of their poems into a unity. By repetition verses are concatenated into couplets, couplets into strophes, strophes into stanzas, and stanzas into the psalm. These sorts of repetition also communicate the message. Attention to the following kinds of repetition gives insight into the meaning and structure of a text.

Leitwort (Repetition of a Key Word)

Martin Buber coined the term Leitwort for a word or its synonyms that is meaningfully repeated within a text.58 As observed above, in Psalm 119 the occurrence of the word “Law” or one of its synonyms in almost every verse unifies that psalm. This repetition segues a lament psalm into a torah-didactic psalm. Similarly, in Psalm 139 the verb “know” (1, 2, 4, 6) and its synonym “acquainted with” (5) with the LORD as its subject mark off that psalm’s first stanza and its key notion.


Inclusio refers to the repetition of philological features at the beginning and end of a literary unit. An inclusio functions to distinguish the unit by framing it, to provide context for the enclosed material, and to emphasize by repetition. “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” is an inclusio framing Psalm 8.


By “refrain” is meant the repetition of the same phrase or clause. Refrains strongly mark off the building blocks of a psalm. The closing refrain of Psalm 99, “Exalt the LORD our God, worship at his footstool/his holy mountain” (vv. 5, 9), demarcates the hymn’s stanzas (vv. 1–5, 6–9), and another closely refrain, “he is holy” (vv. 3, 5), divides the first stanza into two strophes (vv. 1–3, 4–5). The repetition of the refrain “I will fulfill my vows (see 50:14) to the LORD in the presence of all the people” (99:14, 18) divides the tôdâ (the meal of grateful praise; ) into its elements of drink (v. 13) and of sacrificed animals (v. 14).


By comparison is meant the association or juxtaposition of things that are similar to make a point. Psalm 23 associates three different settings to teach the LORD’s care. The LORD is likened to a shepherd who provides for (vv. 1–2a), restores (vv. 2b–3a), and protects (vv. 3b–4) the psalmist. He is then likened to a host to teach the same truth: he provides the psalmist a table laden with food, restores him with oil on his head, and all this in the presence of his enemies (v. 5). The final setting is the temple where the psalmist enjoys eternal life in the LORD’s presence.


By “contrasts” is meant the juxtaposition of things that are dissimilar or opposite. It has been said that a sign of the creative individual is his ability to perceive the differences in similar things and the similarities in different things. The two stanzas of Psalm 1 contrast the “blessed person” (vv. 1–3) with the “wicked” (vv. 4–6). Verses 1–2 juxtapose the “blessed person’s” rejection of the counsel of the wicked with their meditation on the Law; verses 3–4 contrast the blessed person’s being like a fertile tree with the wicked person’s being like chaff; verse 5a, b contrasts their outcomes at the time of judgment; and v. 6a, b explains this is due to the LORD’s knowing the righteous and implicitly in his not knowing the wicked.


By “logic” is meant the building blocks are arranged to lead to a rational and climatic conclusion. The first stanza of Psalm 2 expresses the rebellion of the heathen kings against the LORD and his king (vv. 1–3); the second stanza expresses the LORD’s resolve to set his king on Zion (vv. 4–6); the third stanza expresses God’s command to his king to break asunder the rebels (vv. 7–9); and the psalmist expresses the logical conclusion: “Now therefore, O kings, be wise (v. 10): submit to God’s king and take refuge in the LORD (vv. 11–12).

Alternating structure

By “alternating structure” is meant the repetition of two or more thoughts in a repeating pattern, as in Psalm 110:

A. Introduction to the Divine Citation (v. 1a)

B. The Divine Citation Itself (v. 1b)

C. The Prophetic Reflection (vv. 2–3)

A’. Introduction to the Divine Citation (v. 4a)

B’. The Divine Citation Itself (v. 4b)

C’. The Prophetic Reflection (vv. 5–7)

This pattern is like the successive waves of sea with the tide coming in so that the next wave advances upon the seashore beyond the preceding wave. In Psalm 110 the LORD “says” (v. 1a) escalates to the LORD “has sworn” (v. 4a); the citation “sit at my right hand” (v. 1b) escalates to “you are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (v. 4b); and the prophetic reflection “rule in the midst of your enemies” (v. 2) escalates to “he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth” (v. 5).

Chiastic Structure

By “chiastic structure” is meant the repetition of two or more thoughts in a reversed pattern around a pivot, as in Psalm 100:

A. Make a joyful noise to the LORD (v. 1).

B. Serve him with gladness (v. 2a)

C. Come (בּוֹא) before him (v. 2b)

X. Know that the LORD, he is God! (v. 3)

C’. Enter (בּוֹא) his courts with thanksgiving (v. 4a)

B’. Give thanks to him (v. 4b)

A’. Bless his Name (v. 4c)

The pivot (X), the turning point, is the key message of the text. The chiastic pattern is like throwing a rock into a pond—the ripples go outward from the point of contact in corresponding or concentric waves. Where the rock hits is the critical point.

Concentric Structure

By “concentric structure” is meant the repetition of two or more thoughts in a reversed pattern without a pivot, as in Psalm 25:

A. Introduction: Confession of Trust in the LORD (v. 1)

B. Let Me Not Be Put to Shame (vv. 2–3)

C. Show Me Your Ways and Forgive My Sin (vv. 4–11)

C’. The LORD Instructs God-Fearers in His Way (vv. 12–14)

Janus (v. 15)

B’. Let Me Not Be Put to Shame (vv. 16–21)

A’. Conclusion: Petition to Redeem Israel (v. 22)

The concentric pattern may be likened to the tide: tide in—tide out.


By “janus” is meant a text that both looks back to the preceding block of a poem and ahead to its next building block. The term is derived from Janus, the Roman god with faces on the front and back of its head. Psalm 115:8 illustrates this principal of poetics: “Those who make them will become like them; so do all who trust in them.” “Like them” looks back to the description of idols in verses 4–7. “Trust” looks ahead to the next section: “O Israel, trust in the LORD . . .; O House of Aaron, trust in the LORD . . .; “You fear the LORD, trust in the LORD” (vv. 9–11).

Generalization and Particularization

Individual songs of grateful praise (see above) have the motif of a summary statement of the deliverance followed by the report of deliverance. Similarly, Psalm 103:2 refers to “all his benefits.” His benefits are then enumerated: forgiveness (v. 3), deliverance (v. 4), and satisfaction (v. 5).


VIII. Editing the Psalter

Inferentially, the process of collecting the 150 psalms into a single book is like a large river being formed out several smaller rivers, and the smaller rivers formed from many brooks, issuing from innumerable springs. The Book of Psalms so developed in five stages: 1) individual psalms; 2) liturgical use; 3) anthologies; 4) five books; and 5) the Book of Psalms.59

Individual Psalms

According to the Masoretic text, the 150 psalms were composed by David (73),60 Asaph (12), the sons of Korah (9), Solomon (2), Heman (1), Ethan (1), Moses (1), and anonymous poets (51).61 Sometimes they addressed their religious poems set to music to the LORD without regard to others. For example, David prayed to be delivered from Saul (Ps 59) before he planned the temple (1Chr 15–16).

Liturgical Use

After David planned the temple liturgy, the individual psalms of lament-complaint and of praise were handed over to the director of music, and he may have used an accented text as his score to lead the Levitical musicians in the temple liturgy. Also, he may have adapted these psalms for congregational use by changing the enemy’s name to the abstract “enemy.” Further, second temple “maestros” may have adapted psalms from the first temple for use in the second temple (e.g., 18:50; 51:18–19).

Other kinds of psalms than individual prayers were originally composed for the temple liturgy: hymns, communal complaint-lament psalms, and some didactic psalms (1, 19, 49). Royal psalms were composed for rituals such as the king’s coronation, wedding, and intercessions for the king.


Hezekiah’s men collected and arranged proverbs by Solomon (Prov 25:1), and “Hezekiah and his officials commanded the Levites to sing praises to the LORD with the words of David and of Asaph the seer” (italics mine; 2Chr 29:30). The Chronicler’s account suggests that the psalms by David and Asaph were collected into two books. Book I (3–41) of the Psalter is entirely by David, apart from the anonymous Psalm 33. All of Asaph’s twelve psalms are in the “Elohistic Psalter” that he may have edited (50, 73–83).

The “Elohistic Psalter” (42–83) got its name from its overwhelming preference for God’s name Elohim (“God,” emphasizing his transcendence over people) instead of YHWH (“the LORD,” emphasizing his personal relationship to Israel) in the rest of the Psalter (contrast “the LORD” in Psalm 14:2, 4, 5 with “God” in the almost identical Psalm 53:2, 4, 6). Susan Gillingham noted the prophetic spirit of judgment pervades Asaph the seer’s psalms—“not only against Israel (50; 77; 78; 80; 81) but also against Jerusalem (74; 79), other nations (75; 76; 83), the impious (73), and other gods (82 [sic, ‘gods’; i.e., judges]).”62 The numeral forty-two plays a significant role in the Elohistic Psalter. It begins with Psalm 42 and consists of forty-two psalms. Forty-two (a multiple of seven [symbolic of divine perfection] and six [symbolic of human imperfection]) symbolizes divinely inflicted death, matching Asaph’s prophetic spirit of judgment against sinners. If this conjecture is sound, then Asaph edited the Elohistic Psalter.

Besides collections by the same authors, poetics played a large role in the formation of anthologies. Here is a sampling of concatenations that link the psalms together:

● Catchwords link one psalm to the next: e.g., “the name of the LORD” (7:17 and 8:1; 8:9 and 9:1ff).

● Themes also unify psalms: e.g., celebration of the security of Zion (46–48).

● Common liturgical setting: e.g., “songs of ascents” (120–134) for Israel’s three annual pilgrimage festivals: Passover (Exod 12:2; Lev 23:5; Deut 16:1–7); Feast of Harvest/Feast of Weeks (Exod 23:16; Deut 16:9–12; Acts 2); Feast off Booths/Feast of Ingathering (Exod 23;16; 34:2; Deut 16:13–15).

● Cause-Effect: e.g., a petition to God for the king as he goes to battle (20), followed by praise to God for the king’s victorious return (21).

● Comparisons and contrasts: e.g., praise of God for Israel’s salvation history (105), followed by a petition to God to continue Israel’s salvation history (106).

● The Chiastic pattern: e.g., Psalms 15–24:

A. Didactic entrance liturgy psalm: 15

B. Song of trust: 16

C. Lament-complaint petition psalm: 17

D. Royal psalm: 18

X. Didactic Torah psalm: 19

D’. Royal psalms: 20–21

C’. Lament-complaint petition psalm: 22

B’. Song of trust: 23

A’. Didactic entrance liturgy psalm: 24

The framing psalms, and especially the pivot, give priority to ethical behavior and provide this context for understanding the other kinds of psalms within the outer frame. The inner framing songs of trust provide the context for the complaint-petition psalms, and these frame the context for reading the royal psalms.

● The Alternating Pattern: Psalms 73–83

A. Didactic psalm from individual suffering: 73

B. Communal lament for destruction of temple: 74

C. Praise of God as judge of the earth: 75–76

D. Individual lament for the nation: 77

A’. Didactic psalm from communal suffering: 78

B’. Communal laments for destruction of temple: 79, 80

C’. Praise of God as judge of Israel: 81–82

D’. Individual lament for the nation: 83

The Five Books of Psalms

After its introduction (1–2), the Book of Psalms consists of five books:

Book 1: Psalms 3–41
Book 2: Psalms 42–72
Book 3: Psalms 73–89
Book 4: Psalms 90–106
Book 5: Psalms 107–150

The five books are marked off by doxologies63 at the end of Books I–IV (41:13; 72:18–19; 89:52; 106:48) and by five hallelujah psalms at the end of Book V (146–150).

Introduction (1–2)

Psalms 1–2 are connected by several verbal links: the framing inclusio “blessed is” (1:1; 2:12); hgh (“meditate” in 1:2; “plot” in 2:1); “way” and “perish” (1:6; 2:12). Since David composed Psalm 2, he probably composed the matching Psalm 1. Furthermore, the inclusio “blessed is” links Psalm 1 with Psalm 41, the psalm that ends Book I. Since Psalm 41 is “by David,” this inclusio also points to David as the author of Psalm 1. In any case, Psalms 1–2 stand apart from Book I (3–41) because, unlike the psalms of that book, they lack the superscript “of/by David.” For this reason, scholars commonly regard Psalms 1–2 as an introduction to the whole Book of Psalms. However, the inclusio of “blessed is” framing Psalms 1 and 41 suggests Psalms 1–2 originally served as an introduction to Book I, then later to the expanding collection of the Psalter’s others books, until it finally became the introduction to the whole Book of Psalms.

Book I (3–41)

The most obvious feature of Book I (3–41) is the mention of David in the superscript of every psalm, except anonymous Psalm 33. Some call it “The First Davidic Psalter” in contrast to “The Elohistic Psalter” (51–70; 51–71 [LXX]). Israel’s greatest king and founder of the temple and its liturgy is the paradigm of piety. Its anthologies begin with twelve psalms of two sets of mostly petition psalms (3–7, 9–13) that end by contrasting God’s fame through humble human rulers (8) with human depravity apart from God (14). We noted the well-established chiastic entrance liturgy pattern (15–24). The acrostic Psalms 25 and 34 frame a collection that pivots on God’s theophany in a thunder and lightning storm (29). Prayer of the “blameless” (26) matches the blessedness of the penitent (32); appeal against false accusers links Psalms 27 and 31; and the prayer of one “going down to the pit” (28) contrasts with “praise of one spared from “going down into the pit” (30).

Book II (42–72)

Book II, the first part of the Elohistic Psalter, is somewhat later in the United Monarchy. It consists of psalms by the sons of Korah (42–49), Asaph (50), the (Elohistic) David (51–71), and Solomon (72). At one time, it was probably unified with Book I, judging both by the postscript “this concludes the prayers of David son of Jesse” (72:20) and, if the books are joined, by the frame of royal psalms (2 and 72), which escalate from David’s warning to foreign kings to submit to Israel’s king to Solomon’s petitions that God endow both his king with justice and Israel with prosperity. Books I and II emphasize the glories of God’s king and his rule in the midst of the nations, and its psalms commonly move from lament and suffering to salvation and praise.

Book III (73–89)

Book III, apart from Psalm 86 “by David,” consists of psalms by Levites: Asaph (73–83), “sons of Korah” (84–87), Heman (88), and Ethan (89). To judge from Ethan’s national lament (89), it was compiled shortly after Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and dethroned the House of David (586 BC). This candid book, without sugar-coating suffering, is known as “the dark book” of the Psalter. It begins with Asaph’s didactic psalm that, like the Books of Job and Ecclesiastes, expresses his perplexity at the prosperity of the wicked (73). It ends both with Heman’s personal lament—“the black sheep of the Psalter” for being the only psalm without praise (88)—and with Ethan’s national lament (89). But its editors inspire Israel not to lose faith or hope. Asaph turns his perplexity into hope (73), praises God as judge (75, 76, 80, 81), and turns his bitter memory into sweetness (77). The sons of Korah celebrate Zion (84, 87). Ethan recounts the dethroning of David while still recounting the Davidic covenant. So the book transforms darkness into light, panic into trust, and despair into hope.

Book IV (90–106)

Book IV was compiled during the Babylonian exile, judging by its closing prayer, “gather us from the nations” (106:47). Apart from Psalm 90 by Moses and 101 by David, its other psalms are anonymous.64 With the destruction of the temple and the dethroning of the House of David, its editor turned the exilic community back to Moses for hope (Ps 90). Moses celebrated God as Israel’s provider and protector in all its generations (90:1–2) and petitioned God to save Israel from the Wilderness (90:13–17), a type of the Exile. Indeed, this book mentions Moses seven times, in contrast to only one earlier reference in 77:7. Moreover, this book celebrates “the LORD reigns” (93–100) and contains the two most famous hymns, which praise God as Redeemer (103) and Creator (104). Nevertheless, it looks forward to the Messiah (91) and includes David’s didactic psalm to govern righteously (101). So Book IV aims to fortify Israel in exile with praise, warning them not to harden their hearts (cf. 95), confidently hopes for the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant, and boldly calls upon the nations to worship Israel’s God (100).

Book V (107–150)

Book V was compiled by Levitical editors during the post-exilic period from c. 535 BC to c. 400 BC. It begins with a psalm praising God for regathering Israel from the nations (107), and Psalm 147, in the closing anthology, recalls “he (the LORD) gathers the exiles of Israel” (147:2) and celebrates, “he strengthens the bars of your (Jerusalem’s) gates” (147:13). Nehemiah (c. 440 BC) rebuilt Jerusalem’s gates (Neh 3).

Book V essentially consists of several larger anthologies: by David (108–110, 138–145), the “Egyptian Hallel” (psalms used in Israel’s great annual festivals), “songs of ascent” (120–134), and five exuberant hallelujah psalms (146–150). Its psalms by David restore hope in the House of David (see esp. Ps 110), and songs of ascent restore hope in Zion. This book also teaches Israel how to worship under foreign rulers.

The Book of Psalms

We can plausibly infer the primary purposes of the final editors by their selection of the two introductory psalms and of the five ending psalms. Accordingly, the form-making principles of the entire work that weld all its elements into a single unit are didactic (), royal (), and hymnic (), in other words, to keep torah (ps 1), to celebrate the king’s rule (Ps 2), and to praise the LORD for his mighty acts and benevolent virtues (Ps 146–150). This purpose entails the Book of Psalms’s message.


IX. Messianic Psalms

Finally, the Psalter should be read with reference to the Lord Jesus Messiah.

The title “Messiah” (Hebrew māšîa) derives from the verb māšaḥ (“to anoint”).65 Israel’s kings were called “the anointed” because the prophet Samuel anointed David (1Sam 16:13) to consecrate him as the LORD’s holy property to rule Israel, and because the LORD later promised King David that a son of his would rule Israel forever (2Sam 7:16). By the time of the New Testament, Messiah became a title for the son of David, the deliverer of the Jewish people, as prophesied in the Old Testament. Jesus Christ (from Christos, the Greek equivalent of māšîa) identified himself as the Messiah (Matt 16:13–20; cf. John 1:49–51; 5:39). After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to two of his disciples, “and beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).

The Messiah in the Law and the Prophets

According to the Law (Genesis–Deuteronomy), the first humans overheard God say to the Serpent (i.e., Satan, “the Adversary” of God and of humankind), “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Gen 3:15). From the dawn of human history people knew a future descendant of Adam, through suffering, would destroy Satan, the spiritual father of the wicked. Millennia later (c. 2000 BC), God promised Abraham, the father of the Jewish people, “your offspring shall possess the gate66 of his enemy” (Gen 22:17–18). Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, prophesied of his son Judah, “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his” (Gen 49:10–11). Centuries later (c. 1300 BC), the pagan seer Balaam prophesied of Israel, “Their king will be greater than Agag;67 their kingdom will be exalted.” At c. 1000 BC, through the prophet Nathan, God swore an oath to King David of the tribe of Judah: “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever” (2Sam 7:16; 2Chr 7:14; cf. Ps 89: 3–4).

The Spirit of Christ in the writing prophets (Isaiah–Malachi,68 not Lamentations) “predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow (1Pet 1:10–12). Isaiah (700 BC) prophesied Messiah would be conceived by a virgin (Isa 7:14), be rejected by Israel to bring salvation to the Gentiles (49:1–6), die vicariously for the sins of God’s people, and be raised again and exalted (52:13–53:12).

Messiah in the Psalms

Jesus also said to the two Emmaus disciples and the eleven, “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (italics mine; Luke 24:44). Here is a selective chart of those things:

Psalms Topic New Testament
Christ’s Passion
2:2 “against the Anointed” Acts 4:25–26
16:9 “not see decay” Acts 2:25–28
22:18 “divided my garments” John 19:24
34:20 “not a bone broken” John 19:36
35:19 “hated me without reason” John 15:25
40:6–8 “a body prepared for me” Heb 10:5–10
Christ’s Fervor
69:9 “zeal for his house” John 2:17
Christ’s Authoritative Teaching
78:2 “I will open my mouth” Matt 13:35
78:24 “bread from heaven” John 6:31–32
82:6 “you are gods” John 10:34
Christ’s Glory
8:4–5 humiliation and glory Heb 2:5–10; 1Cor 15:27
2:7 “My Son” Acts 4:25–26; Heb 1:5; 5:5
45:6–7 “throne forever” Heb 1:8–9
97:1 angels worship him Heb 1:6
110:1 David’s Lord Matt 22:44
118:22ff Rejected stone as capstone Matt 21:42


Most of the cited psalms are by King David (cf. 2Sam 23:1–2), but some are by Levites: the sons of Korah (45) and Asaph the seer (78). They are cited from every kind of psalm: hymns (8, 97), individual complaint-laments (6, 22), individual songs of grateful praise (40, 118), royal (2, 45), didactic (37, 78), and prophetic (82). Moreover, they come from every book: Book I (6), Book II (69), Book III (78), Book IV (97), Book V (110). So the whole Psalter contains prophesies of the Lord Jesus Christ. By “Messianic psalms” is meant a way of reading the Psalter as referring to the Lord Jesus Christ. Here we reflect on the several ways to help us understand how to read them as Messianic: as part of a developing canon, as types and prophecies, and from the perspectives of Christ’s dual nature.

The Canonical Process Approach

By “the canonical process approach” is meant that as psalms were added to the canon and as David’s throne diminished, the embryonic eschatology of earlier psalms became more apparent to the people of God.69

Books I–II: The United Monarchy (c. 1025–950 BC)

David composed his psalms to be sung by the heirs to his throne, yet he knew his final successor, the Messiah, would rule universally forever. In Psalm 16, he prophesied of this son, “you (God) will not let your one (Messiah) see decay” (16:10). Citing this psalm, Peter cogently argued, “David was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of Messiah” (Acts 2:25–31). Inferentially, his other psalms, though intended to be sung by all his successors, were ultimately meant for the Messiah; they contained in embryo that hope. The Levites who edited Books I and II expressed that hope by ending Book II with Solomon’s prayer for Messiah: “May he rule from sea to sea . . . May his name endure forever” (Ps 72:8, 17).

This eschatological pregnancy was not apparent in most of the psalms of Books I –II because David was to a large extent an ideal king. He expressed his willingness to die for the sake of God’s rule (Ps 3); his zeal for the temple brought him the scorn of his own family (69); and he promoted justice by his didactic psalms (15, 19, 24;  ???). The sons of Korah, probably his contemporaries, celebrated the security of Mount Zion from which the House of David ruled from the River of Egypt to the Euphrates (Pss 46–48). During the heyday of the United Monarchy, there was little reason to interpret the extant psalms eschatologically.

The aging Solomon, however, sent the kingdom on a steep trajectory downward toward destruction when “his wives turned his heart after other gods” (1Kgs 11:4; cf. Exod 34:16; Deut 7:2–4; Ps 45:9–17) and, like Pharaoh, he harshly oppressed his people with forced labor (1Kgs 10:15; 12:4). In the growing political and spiritual darkness, the eschatological hope of the psalms in Books I and II became more apparent.

Book III: The Divided Monarchy (950–586 BC)

During the divided monarchy, both kingdoms went from bad to worse. Perhaps the pious associated the extant psalms with Hezekiah and Josiah. Hezekiah affected both a Solomonic renaissance in wisdom (Prov 25:1) and a Davidic reformation in worship (2Chr 29:30),70 but he was no David. The reform of Josiah died with his death, and God exiled his sons for their hardness of heart. Without a temple or a king, the editors who compiled Book III, probably at the beginning of the exile, must have interpreted the psalms eschatologically. Clearly, they never lost hope in God’s covenant with David. They ended Book III with Ethan’s despair at what seemed to be a failed Davidic covenant (Ps 89), but they also included this prayer by the sons of Korah: “Hear my prayer, LORD God Almighty. Look on our shield, O God; look with favor on your anointed one” (Ps 84:8ff). The pregnancy with Messiah of Books I and II was now very apparent. It was no longer in embryo.

Book IV: Exile (586–539 BC)

In Book IV, compiled at the end of the Exile (see 106:47), the editors included psalms about the LORD’s reign over the nations (Pss 93–100), including both a prophet’s charge to Israel to praise the LORD and not harden their hearts in unbelief (95) and a summons to the nations to worship Israel’s God (100). They included psalms of their king’s invincibility (91), of a king who routed the wicked (92), and one by David recounting his resolve to rule righteously. These Levitical editors kept alive Israel’s hope for Messiah and hoped the psalms would be fulfilled in him.

Book V: Restoration (539–450 BC)

Spurred by the preaching of Haggai and Zechariah (c. 520 BC), the restored community hoped that Zerubbabel would restore the House of David and the rebuilt temple would return to its former glory; plausibly, the congregation associated the extant Psalter with him, but that hope soon died in their experience. (It was later realized in the person of Jesus Christ and his resurrected body, the rebuilt temple; cf. John 2:20–21). The Persians still ruled, the temple was less than holy (Neh 13:4ff), and Israel suffered but never lost hope (Neh 9:32). The post-exilic editors included in Book V two whole collections by David (Pss 108–110, 138–145), evidently hoping the coming Messiah would sing them. They even included David’s amazing address to the Messiah as “my Lord,” making himself Messiah’s slave (110:1).

Final Editing of the Psalter

In the final editing of the Book of Psalms, the Levites in faith boldly put in its introduction David’s charge to the nations to submit to God’s king on Zion (Ps 2), though there was no king on Mount Zion. The Psalter’s final editors looked forward to the Messiah who had shoulders broad enough to wear all 150 psalms. The whole Psalter was now read with a Messianic expectation.


The Levites succeeded in keeping alive the Psalter’s Messianic expectation. The Targum (the Jewish Aramaic translation) of Psalm 45:3 reads, “Your beauty, O King Messiah, is greater than the sons of men,” and the Targum of Psalm 110:4 reads, “you are appointed leader in the age to come.”

However, the Messianic vision in the intertestamental period became distorted. The Jewish leaders wanted a political Messiah to overthrow Rome, not a suffering Messiah on whom the LORD laid their sin and guilt (Isa 53:6). Inferentially, they did not read the individual complaint-lament psalms with reference to Messiah. They refused to repent and rejected their Savior, the LORD Jesus Messiah. In dramatic irony, by crucifying him they fulfilled the psalms!

Christ’s Advent

As argued above, Jesus fulfilled all the various kinds of psalms: the righteousness of the didactic psalms; the universal dimension of the royal psalms (see above); the individual lament-complaint psalms in his passion; and songs of grateful praise in his resurrection. He even fulfills the penitential psalms, such as Psalm 51, by his identification of himself with sinners (Matt 3:11–17). He is the blessed one of Psalm 1, the anointed one of Psalm 2, the one lying down and rising again when rejected by his own people in Psalm 3; the accredited king of Psalm 4; the one with privileged access to God in Psalm 5; whose soul was deeply troubled in Psalm 6; the innocent lamb, who by faith routs lions in Psalm 7; the humble son of man who rules the earth in Psalm 8; and so forth.

The Typological and Prophetic Approach

The citations of the Psalter in the New Testament include both typical foretelling of the Messiah and prophetic foretelling of him. By typical is meant the Spirit of God inspired the psalmists to express themselves in response to their circumstances in ways that correspond to the career and teachings of Jesus Christ. Unlike the writing prophets, such as Isaiah, through whom the Spirit of Christ in them amazingly predicted events in the career and teachings of the Messiah (1Pet 1:11–12), the Spirit of Christ in the Psalter’s poets depicted Messiah’s sufferings and the glories that would follow through the poets’ expression of his corresponding historical experiences. Unlike the allegorical approach, which interpreted the poet’s words solely as prophetic predictions, the typical approach includes a grammatical-historical interpretation of their words. Allegory is based solely on a literary appeal without regard to its historical meaning; typology pays attention to its historical meaning as well.

The Church fathers mostly used the allegorical approach. According to Augustine, our method of interpretation should be “Him first, Him last, Him midst and without end.”71 For him the blessed man of Psalm 1 is to be understood of our Lord Jesus Christ.72 Augustine defended his Christological approach citing Psalm 102:18: “Let this be written for another generation.” For him, there is little profit to be had from examining the original context of the psalm, since it was written to foretell the New Testament.73 Adhering to the allegorical approach, Bonaventure (1217–1274) commented on Psalm 3:5 (“I laid me down and slept and rose again: for the Lord sustained me”): “Our blessed Lord is speaking.74 He laid him down in the sepulcher. He slept His sleep of three days; He rose up again on the third day from the dead.”75

The Near Eastern church fathers make a clear distinction between biblical typology as based on history, and allegory based on literary appeal. In Antioch the principle developed that every passage has only one literal, historical meaning. Unfortunately, most modern commentators have gone to this “Antiochene” school. They employ almost exclusively the grammatical historical approach, denying or neglecting the Spirit’s intention of foretelling the Messiah through typology and prophecy.

The typical approach does not limit the meaning to what the poet intended; the historical type is unaware the Spirit is affecting in them a correspondence to the greater Antitype. The divinely intended correspondence is seen only in retrospect. Balaam was unaware when his donkey saw the angel of the LORD, balked, and then miraculously talked that his donkey was a type of himself in his encounter with Balak, king of Moab. Like his donkey, Balaam’s eyes could see what Balak could not see, and, like his donkey, the LORD miraculously opened his mouth to foretell Israel’s victory over the nations.76 In other words, the Spirit-inspired correspondence of the type and greater Antitype is recognized only when the whole story is told.

The typical approach says the blessed man of Psalm 1 historically meant anyone who delighted in the Law but finds fulfillment in the Jesus Messiah. So likewise in Psalm 3, typologically David is understood as describing his own experience of lying down and rising again when he fled from Absalom, but the Spirit also intended his experience to depict the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The New Testament passages that cite the psalms often use the Greek word plēroō (“to fulfill”) for these typological fulfillments. The Greek word means “to complete” or “to bring to totality” the poets’ words.77 The psalmists’ words had a historical reference, but Jesus Messiah fills them up or completes them. Jesus and the apostles taught us to read the psalms noting these similarities. Jesus said that David’s lament over the inexcusable hatred of his enemies happened “that the word may be fulfilled . . . they hated me (Christ) without a cause” (Ps 35:19; John 15:25). The disciples also recognized these types. When Jesus cleansed the temple of the money-changers, “his disciples remembered that it was written, ‘zeal for your house consumes me’” (Ps 69:9; John 2:17). They also interpreted the raging of the nations and the peoples “against the Anointed” (Ps 2:1–2) as the raging of Rome and Jewish leaders against Jesus Christ (Acts 4:25–26). Similarly, Asaph taught his own generation through parables (Ps 78:2), but Christ brought that method of teaching to its fullness (Matt 13:35).

These citations teach us the hermeneutic to have one eye on the poet and the other on Jesus Christ even in texts not cited in the New Testament. David’s words “my soul is troubled” are fulfilled in Christ’s words “my soul is troubled” (Ps 6:3 in John 12:27). Similarly: “why have you forsaken me?” (Ps 63:3 in Matt 27:46); “into your hands I commit my spirit” (Ps 31:5 in Luke 23:46); “lifted up his heel against me” (Ps 41:8 in John 13:18); “my soul is downcast” (Ps 42:5 in Matt 26:38); “vinegar for my thirst” (Ps 69:21 in Matt 27:34, 48); and “they shake their heads” (Ps 109:25 in Matt 27:39).

In some citations the historical poet represents his own experience in present tense, but his depiction of the event finds fulfillment only in the future career of Jesus Christ. Psalm 16, cited in Acts 2:25–25, instantiates this kind of citation. David predicted, not depicted, the resurrection of Messiah. Likewise, the Spirit of Christ in David inspired him to say when he felt forsaken by God, “they cast lots for my garment” (Ps 22:18). His words transcend a depiction of his own passion and correspond uniquely to the event at Christ’s crucifixion. His words are fulfilled prophetically, not typologically (John 19:24). Keil and Delitzsch appropriately call this kind of citation “typico-prophetically Messianic.”78

Psalm 110 is a pure prophecy. The translation “the LORD says (Hebrew ne’ûm YHWH) to my Lord” may obscure that the LORD is speaking through David as his prophet. Literally, the text reads, “By David. A Psalm. An inspired utterance (or oracle) of the LORD to my Lord.”79 The oracle from the LORD that the prophet David delivers to Messiah begins, “Sit at my right hand.” Jesus said, “Speaking by the Spirit,” David addressed the ascended Christ (Matt 22:44).

The types and prophecies of the Old Testament are fulfilled in Jesus Messiah, but not consummated. Jesus resolved the riddle of prophecy fulfilled and yet not fulfilled in his parables about “the secrets (mysteries) of the kingdom” (Matt 13). In one parable, the wheat (the people of the kingdom) and the weeds (the people of the evil one) in the gospel age grow together until the harvest (i.e., the Parousia, Christ’s Second Advent). At his Parousia, first the weeds will be burned in the fire and the wheat will be brought “into my (Jesus’s) barn” (Matt 13:30). Messiah has come, and his kingdom extends to the ends of the earth (Matt 28:18). Satan, however, still “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1Pet 5:8). Jesus Messiah inaugurated his kingdom but has not yet consummated it; theologians speak of this as “realized eschatology.”

The Dual Nature of Jesus Christ

On the one hand, Jesus Messiah is the Son of God and worthy of praise. The Psalter’s hymns praise God as Creator of heaven and earth (104) and as Redeemer of Israel (105). In the trajectory of revelation God revealed himself as a Trinity. God the Father made heaven and earth by God the Son (John 1:1–3), and God the Son was the Rock from which Israel drank when God the Father redeemed Israel from Egypt (1Cor 9:4). So the Psalter’s hymns summon us also to praise God the Son, for he is worthy of praise as Creator and Redeemer.

On the other hand, as the citations above show, the man Christ Jesus prayed to the Father and worshiped him through the Book of Psalms. We can pray them with him, for he has known our every weakness. Dietrich Bonhoeffer notes, “He has known torment and pain, guilt and death more deeply than we.”80 He prayed the psalms after David, and we pray them after him, with him, and through (“in the name of”) Jesus. His Spirit is in us as we, his brothers and sisters, heed the Apostle Paul’s admonition: “Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts” (Col 3:16, NLT).


Psalm 1

Psalms 1–2 may have been composed by David and originally served as the introduction to Book I (Pss 3–41). Initial “blessed are” in 1:1 and 41:1 frames Book I. In any case, they now serve as an introduction to the whole Book of Psalms (see above). Psalm 1, however, has pride of place probably because it links Israel’s five-book hymnal with the five books of Moses (see above).

The content and structure of this didactic psalm at a glance:

I. The Way of the Blessed: 1–3

A. The Cause of Blessedness: 1–2

B. The Consequence of Blessedness: 3

II. The Way of the Wicked: 4–6

A. Contrasting Consequences of Wicked and Righteous: 4–5

B. Cause: The LORD’s Presence or Absence: 6

Psalm 1 both provokes our passions to be the blessed person, a faithful saint who is rewarded with eternal life, albeit not without first suffering (cf. Job 5:17; Matt 5:3–12), and also instructs us how to be such in verse 2, the key verse.

The metaphor “way” frames the psalm (1, 6). It signifies disposition and deeds, conduct and consequences.

The career of the Lord Jesus fulfills the blessed man (). His life of obedience to God and his bodily resurrection instantiates Psalm 1.


I. The Way of the Blessed: 1–3

The Cause of Blessedness: 1–2

The “man” or woman pronounced “blessed” (see above) by an inspired anonymous sage is first defined by where they do not walk, a way (see above) that grows increasingly darker (cf. Prov 4:14–19). The characterization of those on the prohibited way deteriorates from “the counsel (i.e., the thinking) of the wicked,” who are guilty before God for their antisocial behavior; to the “way (i.e., the behavior) of sinners,” who disobey God’s Law and violate others; to “the seat(the place of authority) of scoffers,” who in hubris demean God’s people. The escalation from thinking, to behaving, to enforcing is paired with their movement that decelerates from “walk”(i.e., to behave), to “stand” (i.e., to self-identify), to “sit” (i.e., to finally settle). In sum, the wicked become progressively hardened in sin, as Dr. Jekyll progressively turned into Mr. Hyde.

The blessed are then defined positively. Their disposition is primary: they “delight in” (cf. Jer 15:16), not servilely obey, “the law (Hebrew torah: the way of life commanded in the covenant mediated by Moses) of the LORD,” Israel’s covenant-keeping God. Jesus Christ enhanced the Torah by his own authoritative teachings (Matt 5–7; 17:5; 28:19ff; Heb 1:1–2). People do not naturally accept his teachings (1Cor 2:14), but God mercifully changes the affections of the elect (cf. Jer 31:31–33). So the blessed “on his law meditates” or ruminates “day and night,” a merism signifying continually. To the regenerate the Law is sweeter than honey (Ps 19:10); to the legalist, a deadly sword (Rom 7:10).

The Consequences of Blessedness: 3

The rewarded is pictured “like a tree planted by streams (or channels) of water,” which neither fails nor floods and signifies an unending relationship with the Source of Life. The poet may be alluding to the streams that flowed from the Garden of Eden (see 46:4). “Yields its fruit in its season” signifies to be rewarded at the time of judgment (see 1:5). Meanwhile, “its leaf . . . does not wither,” signifying eternal life. In sum, “in all that he does, he prospers” (cf. Josh 1:8).


II. The Way of the Wicked: 4–6

Contrasting Consequences of Wicked and Righteous: 4–5

The psalmist turns a blind eye to the prosperity of the wicked before the time of judgment (contrast Ps 73). They are “like chaff”(i.e., rootless, lifeless, and worthless) that the “wind drives” and blows “away” (1:4). At the time of “judgment” (see 7:7) only “the righteous”—covenant partners who do what is right to serve others according to God’s Word—will be left to inherit the earth (1:5).

Cause of Consequences: The LORD’s Presence or Absence: 6

This is so because “the LORD” (see 1:1), the Source of Life, “knows(i.e., personally experiences in relationship, not collecting information on a database to be accessed and manipulated; 9:11; 67:2; 79:6; 139:2; Jer 1:5; Rom 8:27) the way of the righteous.” Detached from the Source of Life, “the way of wicked perishes” (1:6).


Psalm 2

Psalm 2 is the second part of the introduction to the Book of Psalms (see Ps 1). The apostles and early church ascribed Psalm 2 to David (Acts 4:25), and the psalm’s internal evidence supports that ascription. The psalmist’s words “the LORD said to me, ‘You are my son’” (2:7) are the words the LORD said to King David concerning his offspring: “I will be to him a father, and he will be to me a son” (2Sam 7:14). Also, David himself said to God, “You are my Father” (Ps 89:26). The king in this psalm who identifies himself as God’s son is Jesus Messiah. David was “a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne” (Acts 2:30), prophesies of this son of God that he will rule the nations to the ends of the earth (Ps 2:8). David’s only offspring fitting that description is the Messiah.

By placing this prophecy about Messiah as the introduction to the Book of Psalms while Israel was ruled by Persia and had no king, the Levitical editors boldly confessed their faith in God’s Messianic promise.

King David (cf. Acts 4:25) may have composed this Messianic Psalm for the liturgical coronation of his sons and successors, not knowing which would be the Messiah. If so, no one had shoulders broad enough to wear this mantle until Jesus Christ, who has authority over all nations (Matt 28:18–20) and rules peoples to the ends of the earth, but not yet comprehensively. He inaugurated his universal rule in his first advent, and he will consummate it at his Parousia when “the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in blazing fire” (2Thes 1:7ff).

David writes as a dramaturgist. He divides his coronation poem into four scenes citing different voices. Each scene consists of three verses:

I. An Assembly of Rebellious Kings: 1–3

II. The LORD Resolves to Install His King on Zion: 4–6

III. The King Recites the Decree Granting Him Universal Dominion: 7–9

IV. The Poet Warns the Rebels to Submit to God’s King: 10–12


I. Kings Assemble to Rebel Against the Lord and His Anointed: 1–3

The first scene takes place in the court of foreign kings, plotting the overthrow of God’s rule through Messiah. The rhetorical question “why” vents the psalmist’s exasperation that foreign “nations and the peoples plot in vain” to overthrow the LORD’s king and kingdom. The futility of their conspiracy is the point of the psalm, as the next two scenes explain. The “kings of the earth set themselves . . . against . . . the Anointed” (māšîaḥ, ), a sobriquet for the chosen king. In the historical narrative, as part of the coronation ceremony, the high priest anointed David’s successor (1Kgs 1:39). The sacred oil poured on the king’s head set him apart as God’s property. The apostles instantiated the personae as Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles, and the peoples of Israel in their conspiracy against the holy Jesus (Acts 4:26ff). The Satanic rulers regard the Law that would save them as a galling bondage. The dramaturgist now cites the rebellious kings. They say, “Let us burst . . . their cords (a metaphor for God’s rule [see Ps 1] through his king) from us.” Apart from sovereign grace, the whole human race prefers to gratify their lusts and to exalt themselves rather than to submit by faith to the rule of loving God and one’s neighbors as oneself (cf. Ps 1:2; Gen 3:6).


II. The Lord Resolves to Install His King on Zion: 4–6

The scene now shifts to the heavenly court. “He who sits” enthroned “in the heavens” represents the LORD as sovereign over all. He “holds them,” or laughs at them, in derision for the triumph of his right order over the insurrectionists. Moreover, he is furious at their thumbing their noses at him and his holy king. The dramaturgist now cites the LORD’s resolve: “I here and now install (translation mine81) my king on Zion (i.e., northern hill of Jerusalem where David placed the ark; its meaning uncertain), my holy (i.e., set apart by God’s pure and powerful presence [cf. 1Sam 6:20]) hill or mountain.” Today, Jesus the Anointed One reigns from heavenly Mount Zion (cf. Heb 12:22–24).


III. The King Recites the Decree Granting Him Universal Dominion: 7–9

The dramaturgist now shifts the scene to Mount Zion. The speaker is the Messiah: “I will tell” or proclaim expresses the newly minted king’s resolve to accept his installation to wage war against the rebels. “The decree,” an adoption formula, is the LORD’s promise in the Davidic covenant: “I will be his father, and he will be my son” (2Sam 7:14). The rest of the scene is the Father’s word to Messiah. “You are my son” is explicated by “Today I have begotten you” and refers to his coronation day. Jesus Messiah was marked off as God’s Son-in-power by his resurrection from the dead (Rom 1:4), and he assumed David’s throne when he ascended into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God (Ps 110:1; Mark 12:36; Acts 2:33–36; Heb 10:12ff). The Creator and so Owner of the earth “makes the nations his son’s inheritance”(i.e., the transfer of land and property within a kinship structure82 without payment). But the son must “ask” and “plead the promise and claim its fulfillment.”83 The Sovereign instructs his son, “break them (the rebels [2:1–2]) with a rod or scepter of iron” (NIV), the badge of his invincible authority. The LXX, albeit by a mistranslation, also expressed the truth, “to rule or shepherd them” (cf. Rev 2:26ff). “Dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” The Egyptian execration texts lists foreign enemies of the pharaoh upon statuettes of bound foreigners, which were subsequently smashed.


IV. The Poet Warns the Rebels to Submit to God's King: 10–12

The dramaturgist, the prophet David, now steps on the stage and addresses the rebels: “Now therefore, O kings, be wise” signifies that the insurrectionists should grasp the dangerous implications of their situation and act to avoid hurt. “Be warned” translates the Hebrew “allow yourselves to be instructed.” They should also have insight to become rightly related to the LORD (2:11) and his king (2:12). “Serve the LORD with fear” means by faith own him as your no-nonsense God and perform the right and necessary acts of his Law (see Pss 19:7; 22:22). The oxymoron “rejoice with trembling” means “celebrate his rule with trembling.” “Kiss the son” symbolizes their submission to the anointed king (cf. 1Sam 10:1; 1Kgs 19:18; Hos 13:2). In the ancient Near East, vassal kings kissed the ground immediately before the feet of the Overlord’s representative. “Lest he be angry” refers to God’s fury (see 2:5). His anger is a correlative of his holiness (cf. Ezek 28:22). It flares against those who desecrate his holy (see 2:6) property, sanctified by anointing (see 2:2), and so “you perish” (see 1:6). David feared to touch King Saul because Samuel’s anointing made Saul God’s property. The way of rebellion against God’s rule leads to death (see 1:6). But “blessed (see 1:1) . . . in him.”


Psalm 3

Psalm 3 begins Book I of the Psalter , and Psalms 3–14 are probably its first section . Psalms 3–6 are linked by an alternating pattern of morning (3:3, 5) and evening (3:4, 6).

The content and structure of this complaint-lament psalm at a glance:


I. Address and Lament: 1–2

II. Confidence: 3–6

A. Election and Protection: 3–4

B. Demonstration and Validation of Trust: 5–6

III. Petition: 7

IV. Praise: 8

Postscript: Psalm 4: superscript



“A psalm of David”.84 By putting his petition to music, David turns the cacophony of “when he fled from his son Absalom” (see 2Sam 15–16) into harmony. Jesus, David’s greater Antitype , was rejected and mocked by his own people; he laid himself down in the tomb at sunset and rose again on Easter morning (Mark 15:29–32; John 1:11; 15:10–18; 19:42–20:1)


I. Address and Lament: 1–2

Complete dependence on God is not opposed to employing human means. David set up an espionage network within Absalom’s capital. He sent his trusted advisor, Hushai, both to frustrate the counsel of the traitor, Ahithophel, and as a mole to send him vital information through fleet-footed messengers (1Sam 15:25–37). Though David is in the lowest rift on the planet and the LORD is in his temple high on Zion (see Ps 121), distance makes no difference in prayer.

David addresses the “LORD”  directly. He underscores his inescapable distress by a threefold, staccato anaphora of “many.” The rebels employ propaganda to break the enemy’s will to fight by disparaging his faith in God (cf. 2Kgs 18:17–34), taunting “there is no salvation for him in God” (see 16:1). Selah


II. Confidence: 3–6

Election and Protection: 3–4

“But you, O LORD,” signals the change from the exposed king’s portrayal of the surging enemy to buoyant confidence in the One who anointed him king (see Ps 2:2). God with him is greater than the innumerable hordes attacking him (cf. 2Kgs 6:8–23). God is: 1) “my [round, light] shield” of protection; 2) “my glory” (29:1), either the Source of his victory or of David’s royal stature; and 3) “the lifter of my head” on high in victory over the surging foes. Failure to have “cried out loud to God” would have been tantamount to abdication of his throne and his becoming an accomplice with the evildoers (cf. Deut 22:24). “And he answered (i.e., to give a satisfying response to an expressed need) me from his holy hill” (see 2:6). Selah

Demonstration and Validation of Trust: 5–6

“I lay down and slept” displays incredible faith (cf. Judg 4:21). Pharaoh warns his son, “Even when you sleep, guard your heart.”85 The confession, “I woke again, for the LORD sustains me,” is validated by Christ’s awakening from the tomb.

With the crisis of the night safely behind, the king heroically exclaims, “I will not be afraid of many thousands”—an indeterminate, immense number (1Sam 18:7; Mic 6:7)—“of people” or troops “who have set themselves against me on every side.”


III. Petition: 7

“Arise” (see 7:6). “Save” or deliver denotes physical intervention because it is one’s due (Deut 28:29, 31).86 “Strike on the cheek” (NIV) shows that all power of resistance is gone, and “break the teeth” signifies the enemy has been rendered powerless and helpless.


IV. Praise: 8

The catch term “save”/“salvation” links verses 7 and 8. Praise takes the form of a victory proclamation: “Salvation belongs to LORD.” The proclamation warns the nation against trust in military arms or tactics (cf. Deut 17:16ff), not against the use of them (cf. Prov 20:31; 24:6; 2Chr 32:2–8). The benediction “[May] your blessing be on your people” refers to God’s filling them with the potency to reproduce life, to produce wealth, and to overcome enemies.


Postscript: Psalm 4: Superscript

“To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.”


Psalm 4

The content and structure of this complaint-lament psalm  at a glance:


I. Address and Introductory Petition to Be Heard: 1

II. Lament: Loss of Faith in the King: 2

III. King’s Confidence: 3–5

IV. Petition for Rain: 6–7

V. Praise for Safety: 8

Postscript: Psalm 5: superscript



A complaint-lament “psalm of David” (see Ps 3: superscript).87

An extended drought creates a crisis of faith among Israel’s elite in their king and his God. But King David’s knowledge that he is God’s chosen king, and his trust that God rewards righteousness and punishes sin spiritually, fortifies his faith as he petitions the LORD for rain, enabling him to lie down peacefully in the crisis. Verse 8 is the key verse. Christ also slept in a boat about to be swamped. In that case, however, he slept in the storm because he was God (Mark 4:37–39). Jesus, the Antitype, was doubted by his inner circle of disciples (Matt 28:17; John 20:24–29); but assured of his bona fides (John 5:31–40), he serenely laid himself in the tomb (John 10:17–18). After his resurrection he breathed on his disciples (20:21–22) to receive his life-giving Spirit. And after his ascension he sent from heaven the Holy Spirit upon them (Acts 2:1–4).


I. Address and Introductory Petition to Be Heard: 1

Four introductory petitions to “my righteous God” (see 5:8), who does what is right by his covenant partner and saves his chosen, commence the psalm. “Be gracious to me” entails four notions about God: (1) his covenant relationship with the beneficiary, his king; (2) his condescension to take note of his need (Ruth 2:10; 1Sam 20:3); (3) his feeling of goodwill (Gen 19:19; 32:5–33:10); and (4) his capacity to meet the need of the favored beneficiary.88 Grace “is entirely free and wholly undeserved.”89 “Answer me” (see 3:4) and “hear my prayer. Give me relief from my distress” (NIV), to wit, a national drought (see 4:6–7; cf. 1Kgs 8:35ff).


II. Lament: Loss of Faith in the King: 2

“How long” expresses ignorance of time-distance to terminus (cf. 74:9) and rhetorically vents impatience and increasing dismay at a situation that has continued too long (cf. Rev 6:10). “O men”—“highborn men,” or the elite in contrast to the commoner (see Ps 49:2; 62:9)—”will you” turn my “honor” or glory (29:1 as the LORD’s favored and anointed king) into shame (NIV) by their apostasy from the king and his God. “Will you love” (i.e., emotional feeling of strongly desiring something that flows out of one’s perceptions and so cleaving to it) “delusions”, a metonymy for fertility deities, “and seek after lies,” a metonymy for false rain gods, such as the Canaanite storm god, Baal. In David’s world the king and his god were responsible for producing rain and providing harvests.90


III. King’s Confidence: 3–5

David’s fourfold commands rebuke of the apostates is the garment of his confidence: 1) “Know that the LORD has set apart” (i.e., remarkably distinguished) the godly (ḥāsîd, “faithful”); the ḥāsîd is “one who is motivated by unfailing love and responds with devotion and faithfulness,”91 a devotee. “The LORD hears when I call,” for God has obligated himself to care for those take refuge in him (Ps 2:8, 12). 2) “Be angry (better, “tremble”92) and do not sin” (i.e., dread the consequences of apostasy). 3) “Ponder in your hearts,” the place of religious decisions (see 5:7) “on your beds and be silent” out of dread. In a group one is inclined to group-think and to act rashly and hypocritically, whereas when off stage, in the privacy of one’s own bed, one is more authentic. 4) “Offer the sacrifices of the righteous” (NIV; see 1:5) “and put your trust” (see 13:6) “in the LORD,” who “in these last days has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb 1:2).


IV. Petition for Rain: 6–7

“Many, LORD” , are asking, “Who will bring us prosperity?” (literally “good,” a metonymy for rain, as in Ps 85:12; Jer 5:24ff). David answers, “Let the light of your face shine on us” (NIV), an ancient and frequent metaphor that signifies beneficence. An Ugaritic text reads, “And the face of the Sun (Pharaoh) shone brightly upon me.”93 The Ruler lifts up his countenance—does not hide his face—and looks with favor on someone. “Fill my heart with joy when they’re grain” in the spring and “new wine” in the fall “abound” (NIV94).


V. Praise for Safety: 8

In Till We Have Faces, C. S. Lewis describes the critical situation within the ancient kingdom of Gnome when the rains fail and starvation threatens the kingdom. The king’s rule is in jeopardy, so it is the time for a supreme sacrifice; his favorite youngest daughter, Psyche, is called upon by the high priest to be offered as a sacrifice to appease the anger of the gods. In striking contrast David resolves, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for you alone, LORD, make me dwell in safety.”


Postscript: Psalm 5: Superscript

“To the choirmaster: for the flutes” (or “pipes”).


Psalm 5

The content and structure of this complaint-lament psalm at a glance:


I. Introductory Petition to Be Heard: 1–3

II. The Case to Be Heard: 4–7

III. Petitions: 8–12

A. For Protection of the Psalmist: 8

B. For Punishment of the Enemy: 9–10

C. For Protection of the Righteous: 11–12

Postscript: Psalm 6: superscript a



“A psalm of David” (see Ps 3: superscript) to protect him from his enemies’ deceitful speech and to destroy them.95 Paul appropriates David’s characterization of their deadly speech universally (5:9b; Rom 3:13). The closing verse summarizes the message.

After the introduction (5:1–3), David logically, yet fervently, lays out his case in two stanzas of equal length. Basing himself on the LORD’s disgust for wickedness, he frames his first stanza with the confidence that he (5:7), not his enemies (5:4), has access to God’s presence. Then, basing himself on God’s justice, he frames the second stanza with petitions (5:8, 10–11). Within these frames he paints his enemies as black as they really are (5:5–6, 9).


I. Introductory Petition to Be Heard: 1–3

Assuming a very personal relationship with the LORD, he abruptly plead, “Give ear to my words, my King and my God.” As king, the LORD wages war to protect his kingdom, administers justice, and builds cities and temples. As God, he triumphs over rebels. “Consider my” burning “lament” (NIV), and “give attention to my cry for help.” He should be heard, “for to you” alone “do I pray.” Shifting to the indicative mood, David is confident “you hear my voice.” “In the morning,” at daybreak, signifies his urgent need of protection, put into bold font by its repetition. “Lay my requests before you” (NIV) entails carefully arranging his words. “And watch” (i.e., wait expectantly), like a watchman, for an answer to his petitions.


II. The Psalmist, Not the Wicked, Has Access to God: 4–7

The LORD’s disgust for the enemies escalates from “not . . . delight in” (5:4), to “hate” (5:5), to “abhors” or “detests” (5:6). The enemies are portrayed in ever darker tones: “evil” people (5:4); to “boastful” or arrogant, the root of their evil; to “all evildoers” (5:5; see 28:3); to “those who speak lies;” to “the bloodthirsty and deceitful man” (5:6). And their being barred from the LORD’s presence escalates from “may not dwell” (i.e., “are not welcome”) and so cannot find asylum (5:4); to “shall not stand in your presence” (5:5); to “destroy” (5:6).

“But I” contrasts David’s privileged position. “Through your steadfast love (ḥesed, “an unfailing loyalty to a helpless covenant partner out of love for them”) I will enter your house.” He comes boldly but “in the fear (reverence) of”’ you, as symbolized by his genuflection: “I will bow down (prostrate oneself with nose on the ground) toward your holy (see 2:6) temple” (or “royal palace”96).


III. Petitions: 8–12

For Protection of Psalmist: 8

The phrase “lead me” originated in the shepherd’s life and is commonly used of leading one safely through snares to a desired and promised destiny. “In your righteousness” signifies doing what is right for a covenant partner and so delivering them. “Make your way straight before me” so I can run freely and not be tripped up by obstacles set by “my enemies.”

For Punishment of Enemy: 9–10

His accusation focuses on the enemies’ treacherous speech. He frames “there is no truth”—not even one word—“in their mouth” (italics mine) that can be trusted and “they flatter (i.e., tell lies) with their tongues” around “their innermost self (lit. “inward parts of upper torso”), which is destruction” (i.e., is filled totally with malice or violence), and so “their throat” (italics mine) is “an open” (i.e., insatiable), unclean “grave¸” a metaphor for the effect of their deadly speech. “Make them bear their guilt” signifies that they become obligated to discharge their guilt by giving something, namely, “let them fall by their own counsel” or intrigues. Their vitriolic propaganda to trap and topple God’s anointed king will return on them and topple them, as happened to Haman and his gallows (Esth 7:10). “Because of the abundance of their transgressions” (i.e., they’re obstinate rebellions). “Cast them out” entails that outside of the protection and provision of God’s presence lies cosmic, elementary death. “They have rebelled against you”–that is to say, openly and brazenly defied God by rejecting whom he anointed king.

Prayer for Protection of the Righteous: 11–12

“But (better “and so”) all who take refuge in you” (cf. Prov 14:32) will “be glad” (NIV) in elementary spontaneous, outward acts, such as stamping feet and clapping hands. The righteous “love your name,” a surrogate for LORD and all that he is and that makes him readily accessible to his people. “For you bless (i.e., fill with life, prosperity, victory) the righteous,” who serve others according to God’s Word. The Spirit of Christ in the persecuted and protected David made him a type of the crucified and risen Jesus, who in life prayed this prayer after David, and we pray after him with his Spirit in us .


Postscript: Psalm 6: Superscript A

“To the choirmaster: . . . according to The Sheminith.”


Psalm 6

The content and structure of this complaint-lament psalm at a glance:


I. Petitions and Lament: 1–5

A. Petition to Replace Discipline with Healing: 1–3

B. Petition for Salvation: 4–5

II. Lament and Confidence: 6–10

A. Lament: At Death’s Door: 6–7

B. Confidence: Enemies Will Be Put to Shame: 8–10



“A psalm of David” (see Ps 3: superscript).97

As the anointed king totters on the brink of the grave, his “soul is in deep anguish” “because . . . all [his] foes” are rejoicing over the prospect of his premature death, a death that would discredit him and his God. Nevertheless, knowing God’s benevolent attributes and his desire for public praise for his people’s good, the king’s psyche changes from deep anxiety to firm faith that God will triumph over all evil doers. This is the psalm’s message, and verse 10, the key verse.

Nothing has changed outwardly when the king leaves the temple a transformed man. His faith, however, will be rewarded, for he did not die prematurely.

Jesus, David’s greater Antitype, also escaped a premature death (Luke 4:8–30), suffered under God’s wrath for sin, was deeply troubled in his soul (John 12:27), was ridiculed by his enemies, stared death in the face, and rose triumphant. With the Spirit of Christ in us, we pray this prayer with him.

The psalm’s seventy-eight words98 in the Hebrew text are divided into two equal stanzas (6:1–5, 6–10), and their strophes consist of fifteen words each (6:4–5, 6–7) and twenty-four words (6:1–3, 8–10). This symmetry matches David’s spiritual composure at the end of the psalm.


I. Petitions and Lament: 1–5

Petitions to Replace Discipline with Healing: 1–3

“O LORD, rebuke (Hebrew root yākaḥ) me not” (“stop rebuking me,” as inferred by his lament [6:3]). Yākaḥ signifies harsh criticism to effect what is right. “Stop disciplining (Hebrew root yāsar, “establish what is right”) me” (translation mine) shows the affliction is remedial, not penal. God’s “wrath” infers the psalmist’s sin. “Be gracious to me (see 4:1) for I am languishing” is “the first and best argument for God’s mercy.”99 “Heal me” entails forgiveness (cf. 2Chr 36:16). “My bones (i.e., his skeletal framework and psyche) are troubled” in fright. “I (Hebrew nephesh, traditionally “soul,” refers to appetites and passions) am absolutely terrified” (NET). “How long” (see 4:2).

Petitions for Salvation: 4–5

“Turn” from anger to grace. “Deliver my life” implies he is in the grip of death. “Save me” signifies deliverance from the unjust schadenfreude of his adversaries (see Ps 3:7). “Your steadfast love” (see Ps 5:7). “Who praises you (Hebrew yādah Hiphil; traditionally, “to thank,” better “to confess/praise someone publicly with gratitude for a specific beneficence”) from Sheol” (“the grave”; LXX, Hades),which symbolizes a transcendent reality beyond the physical space below the earth.


II. Lament and Confidence: 6–10

Lament: At Death’s Door: 6–7

“I am weary” or worn out shifts the lament from psychic disturbance to physical exhaustion. “Every night I flood my bed with tears.” “Tears are nothing less than oozing out of the body’s vital substance,”100 leaving the anxious exhausted.

Confidence: Enemies Will Be Put to Shame: 8–10

Address to Foes: 8–9

He escapes the spiritual grip of his enemies with the command “Depart from me, all you workers of evil” (see 5:5): none can stand before the God who answers authentic prayer. The psalmist routs them by the gift of faith: “for the LORD has heard my plea; the LORD accepts my prayer.”

Address to Faithful: 10

He fills the faithful worshipers with courage by confidently asserting, “All my enemies shall be ashamed,” for their defeat is penal, not remedial, “and absolutely terrified” (NET), when the LORD finally turns the upside-down world right-side-up.


Psalm 7

The psalm’s content structure at a glance:


I. Plea to Be Vindicated: 1–8

A. Introductory Petition for Deliverance: 1–2

B. Purgatory Oath of Innocence: 3–5

C. Pleas for Holy War and Justice: 6–8

1. For Holy War: 6–7

2. For Justice: 8

II. Pivot: 9

III. Testimony and Praise: 10–17

A. A Mighty Warrior and a Righteous Judge: 10–13

B. Three Proverbs on Poetic Justice: 14–16

C. Song of Praise for the LORD’s Righteousness: 17

Postscript: Psalm 8: superscript



“A shiggaion,” a royal lament, “of King David” draws to conclusion a series of complaint-lament psalms (Pss 3–7).101 “Which he sang to the LORD (see 7:17) concerning the words of Cush, a Benjaminite” provides the historical background for its interpretation. Providence decreed that Israel have one king too many. The prophet Samuel anointed David of the tribe of Judah as king before the LORD had eliminated the also-anointed King Saul of the tribe of Benjamin, making both the LORD’s holy property. As Doeg the Edomite accused the priest Ahimelek of treason to King Saul (1Sam 21:7; Ps 52: superscript), so Cush accused David of treason (see 7:4). This libelous accusation provokes innocent David, who cannot harm Saul, the LORD’s property, to seek refuge in the LORD (cf. 1Sam 26:9–11).

Seeking refuge in God is not a retreat into passivity but an advance into spiritual warfare. David’s fervid plea to be vindicated by the LORD (7:1–8), who alone is able to judge a person’s motives (7:9b), turns into bold confidence in the LORD’s righteousness and, because of it, into praise (7:10–17). The psalm pivots on verse 9, moving from petitions (7:9a) to confidence that the LORD judges righteously (7:9b). Both stanzas (7:1–8, 10–17) end with naming the LORD as the Most High.

The Lord Jesus Christ exemplifies for his church this ideal warrior: an innocent lamb, who by trust in God’s righteousness routs lions. This is the psalm’s message.


I. Petitions and Confession of Trust: 1–8

Introductory Petition for Deliverance: 1–2

The psalmist forgoes flummery and begins directly: “O LORD , my God (see 16:1), in you do I take refuge (2:12); save me (3:7; 6:5) from all my pursuers . . . like a lion” in a chase, lest “he” (NJB), their leader (cf. Ps 18: superscript), “tear my soul apart.”

Purgatory Oath of Innocence: 3–5

By a self-malediction, David clears himself from the presumption of guilt. “If I have repaid my friend” or ally “with evil”—that is to say, “have given asylum to his foe” (translation mine102). Apparently, Cush accused David of giving sanctuary to the king’s enemies, an act of treason. David could have been open to this charge, if he had accepted into his rag-tag army of four hundred men enemies of King Saul (cf. 1Sam 22:2). “Without cause” is necessarily added to protect David from this accusation. Some, such as Abiathar, had good reason to seek asylum with David (cf. 1Sam 22:1, 6–23). “Lay my glory in the dust” symbolizes an ignoble death.

Pleas for Holy War and Justice: 6–8

For Holy War: 6–7

“Arise, LORD,” reprises Moses’s old war cry to get up from the throne and march into battle (Num 10:35), The additional “lift yourself up” reveals David’s unqualified zeal (cf. 2Kgs 13:14–19). The anthropomorphism, “awake, my God” (NIV),signifies to rouse God to activity that requires extra effort. In reality, God neither slumbers nor sleeps (Ps 131:3, 4). “Decree justice” (NIV) entails delivering the oppressed and punishing the oppressor. “Let the assembly of the peoples be gathered about you. Return over them on high” (translation mine103) also reprises Moses’s war cry upon the return of the Warrior to his throne (Num 10:36).

For Justice: 8

“Let,” or may, “the LORD judge” (NIV) and issue a just verdict through the war for justice (7:6–7). “The peoples” are mentioned, for the outcome of the battle pertains to all. “Vindicate me (NIV; traditional “judge,” see 26:1), O LORD . . . according to the integrity that is in me.” By rescuing David and eliminating the wicked, the LORD proves David’s innocence and his enemy’s guilt (see 17:3–9).


II. Pivot: 9

“Let a disaster bring the wicked to an end” (translation mine;104 cf. 1Sam 22:9–11). “May you establish the righteous—you who probes,” or tests, “minds (lit. “kidneys,” instruments of conscience) and hearts,” the inner forum where a person decides moral conduct through the interplay of disposition, thoughts, feelings, and desires. Only God can test a person’s true feelings and motives and so hand down a just verdict of guilt or innocence.


III. Testimony and Praise: 10–17

The first strophe of the confidence and praise stanza confesses that God is righteous (7:10–13); the second coins or cites three connected proverbs that teach a person’s malice recoils on them (7:14–16); the third strophe is a climatic song of praise to the LORD for his righteousness (7:17).

A Mighty Warrior and a Righteous Judge: 10–13

The likening of God to armor unifies the first strophe: a shield on defense, and a swordsman and archer on offense. “God takes it upon himself to be my shield” or buckler (translation mine105). “Who saves the upright” (lit. straight, either vertically or horizontally, signifying a fixed ethical order, the Law, by which action can be judged). Plus, “in heart” means they orient their lives to God’s order of law. David’s buckler “is a righteous judge” (see 7:6) and so “a God who feels” indignation, as instantiated when David was the target (6:1–8) “every day.” Without constant moral indignation, God’s longsuffering would lose meaning (Exod 34:6–7; 1Pet 3:9).

Three Proverbs That Teach Poetic Justice: 14–16

The first proverb, using the metaphor of gestation, describes the development of evil. “Behold, the wicked man conceives evil (’āven, “the misuse of power, using deception and violence”) and is pregnant with mischief” or violence to harm to others, “and gives birth to lies.” The next proverb compares “lies” to “he makes a pit, digging it out, and falls into a hole” or trap “that he has made.” The last proverb reinforces this notion of poetic justice: “On his own skull his violence descends.”

Song of Praise for the LORD’s Righteousness: 17

“I will give to the LORD” the public “thanks . . . I will sing praise to the name (see 5:11) of the LORD Most High” (cf. 8:1), the great King that dwells in the heights of the clouds over all gods and over all the earth.


Postscript: Psalm 8: Superscript

“To the choirmaster: According to the Gittith.”


Psalm 8

The content and structure of this hymn at a glance:


I. Theme Stated: LORD’s Name Majestic in All the earth: 1a

II. Theme Developed: Majesty in Creation and Salvation History: 1b–8

A. Creation: Majesty in Heavens: 1b

B. Redemption: Majesty in His Humble People Defeating the Foe: 2

A.’ Creation: Majesty in Sun and Moon: 3

B.’ Redemption: Majesty in Mortals Ruling Everything: 4–8

1. Crowned Mortals to Rule Everything: 4–6

2. Ruled Creatures: 7–8

III. Theme Restated: LORD’s Name Majestic in All the earth: 9

Postscript: Psalm 9: superscript 



“A praise psalm of King David”.106


I. Theme Stated: Lord's Name Majestic In all the Earth: 1a

David states his hymn’s theme in its frame (1a, 9), an inclusio : “O LORD , our (i.e., King David and nation of Israel) Lord (i.e., the Master who owns Israel and whom Israel’s serves), how majestic (’addîr, command respect through excellence) is your name (see 7:17; 9:1–2) in all the earth.” The majesty of his name is seen in both the LORD’s unmediated splendor in the heavens and also in his mediated majesty through mortals. His royal splendor in the heavens highlights the wonder of his ruling through mortals.

The inclusio  “O LORD, how majestic in all the earth!” surprisingly frames a psalm that principally celebrates humankind’s dominion over the creation. This unexpected juxtaposition points to the psalm’s message to us: God manifests his greatness by ruling through his mortal vice-regents who in childlike humility depend upon him, not on their own eloquence and strength, to put all things under their feet and so under his rule (cf. Gen 1:26–28).

That psalm finds its fulfillment in “the son of man,” Jesus Christ. God is now putting everything in subjection under his feet (Heb 2:8) and will soon crush Satan under your (the Church’s) feet (Rom 16:20). “He (Christ) must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1Cor 15:25–26).

His name, however, is not majestic where his enemies revile it (Pss 79:6; 139:20). The theme is a prolepsis of the consummate fulfillment of the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:10). Nevertheless, the majesty of his name is now realized in the Lord Jesus Christ and his Church (Matt 28:18–20).


II. Theme Developed: Majesty in Creation and Salvation History: 1b–8

Two stanzas develop the theme in an alternating pattern of creation and redemption.

Creation: Majesty in Heavens: 1b

“You have set your glory (or “splendor,” “majesty,” connoting royalty) above (better, “upon”107) the heavens” (i.e., the dome of the sky).

Redemption: Majesty in His Humble People Defeating the Foe: 2

“Out of the mouth” is a metonymy for “through the praise of” (NIV). Obviously, the mouths of infants cannot “have established strength,” a metonymy for a stronghold (NIV; cf. 149:6–7). Helpless “babies and” nursing “infants” is an apt and hyperbolic metaphor for the humility of God’s people. “Because of your foes (plural),” who desire to topple God’s kingdom. “To still” or silence “the enemy and the avenger” who trusts self, not God, to establish justice.

Creation: Majesty in Sun and Moon: 3

David calls your heavens what we call “sky” because the LORD created and so owns them. “What is man (lit. “son of man”)?” In later Jewish literature the Hebrew idiom “son of man” became a title for the Messiah (cf. Heb 2:8). In its historical context it refers to mankind; in its canonical context it also refers to Jesus Christ. “You care for him” (so also 8:6; cf. 17:3) includes stooping to answer their prayers.

Redemption: Majesty in Mortals to Rule Everything: 4–8

Crowned Mortals to Rule Everything: 4–6

In the light of Jesus’s resurrection and exaltation, the writer of Hebrews adapts the Hebrew term :a little lower” to mean “for a little while.” “Than heavenly beings (“angels” [LXX], a dynamic equivalent).”

Ruled Creatures: 7–8

The roll call of the ruled animals in the ancient’s tripartite universe of land, sky, and sea includes both those that provide life: “all sheep and oxen/birds and fish;” and those that destroy life: “the beasts of the field” (i.e., wild animals. “whatever passes along the paths of the sea, lit. “the one that passes paths of seas”), probably a metonymy for Leviathan (cf. 104:26).


III. Theme Restated: 9

See 1a.


Postscript: Psalm 9: Superscript

“To the choirmaster. According to the tune of Muth-labben (“The Death of the Son”).


Psalm 9

Psalms 9–10 are composed from one psalm (see Ps 10). Psalms 9–13 exhibit an alternating pattern:

A. Praise-confidence: 9:1–12

B. Lament-petition for salvation: 9:13–20

C. Complaint-petition for God’s failure to respond: 10:1–19

A.’ Praise-confidence: 11:1–7

B.’ Lament-petition for salvation: 12:1–7

C.’ Complaint-petition for God’s failure to respond: 13:1–6

It is the cycle for our purification from self-serving and for our perfection in perseverance, character, and hope (Rom 5:3ff).

The content and structure of this song of grateful praise (9:1–12) and of complaint-lament (9:13–20) at a glance:


I. Grateful Praise to the LORD: 1–12

A. Resolve to Praise: 1–2

B. Report of Salvation: 3–6

C. Just Sovereign a Trustworthy Refuge: 7–10

D. Call to Praise: 11–12

II. Petitions: 13–20

A. Address and Introductory Petition: 13–14

B. Confession of Trust in God’s Justice: 15–18

C. Petition to Judge the Nations: 19–20



Psalm 9 combines the genres of grateful praise and petition ( so also Pss 27, 40). The two genres are unified, among other features,108 by the transition “he does not forget” or ignore “the cries of the afflicted” in their distress (9:12b).

David petitions God for deliverance from an enemy (9:19–20), hoping that his deliverance will add to God’s praise for his righteousness (see 5:8) and for his justice (see 1:5). This is the psalm’s message. Its key verse is: “he rules the world in righteousness and judges the peoples with equity” (9:8). God’s righteousness and justice are the twin hooks of the anchor of trust and hope. That anchor of the righteous (see 1:5), who are often equated with the afflicted, has preserved them throughout their tempestuous history.

This unification of genres infers that no deliverance in this life is final. After the Exodus from Egypt, Israel faced the trials of the Wilderness. Kingdom people testify to experiences of deliverance, but they always face a new threat, and finally their worst enemy: death. Nevertheless, their earlier deliverances are on a trajectory toward their decisive deliverance, when mortality will put on immortality. The crucified, buried, and resurrected Christ is the pioneer and guarantor of this truth.

King David, in this liturgical psalm sung at the temple, shifts back and forth from addressing the LORD to addressing the congregation.


I. Grateful Praise to the Lord: 1–12

The grateful praise section is framed by the king, addressing the LORD, first expressing his own resolve to praise the LORD (9:1–2) and then his commanding the congregation to praise the LORD among the nations. Probably, their ambassadors were also present at the temple (9:11–12). Although in Book I, the book that celebrates the glory of God’s kingdom, it also became part of Israel’s hymnbook while pagan nations ruled Israel .

Resolve to Praise: 1–2

“I will,” not shall, “give” public “thanks” (yādâ, see 6:5) along with a sacrifice “to you, LORD , with my whole (lit. “all,” i.e., unreservedly) heart” (7:10). “I will tell of all your wonderful deeds” (niple’ôt, or “miracles” so exceed expected understandings of reality that they astonish a person and communicate divine activity) recounted in verses 3–6, making them part of the salvation history. That history entails the death of the wicked (cf. 9:15–17).

Report of Salvation: 3–6

Continuing to address the LORD, his grateful report escalates from routing the hostile nations (9:3–4) to the permanent destruction of whole nations and their cities (9:5–6).

“You have” rebuked with moral indignation “the nations; you have made the wicked perish; you have blotted out their name forever and ever” provokes a connection with the book of life (69:28): “the book” (in Exod 32:32; Isa 4:3; Jer 17:1; Dan 12:1; Mal 3:16.) Three figures proleptically signify the eternal destruction of the nations: 1) a metaphor: “the enemy came to an end in everlasting ruins;” 2) a horticultural metaphor: “you have uprooted their cities;” and 3) a metonymy: “even the memory of them has perished.”

Just Sovereign a Trustworthy Refuge: 7–10

Grateful praise now morphs into descriptive praise of the LORD, who rules the world in righteousness and justice (9:7–8). And so, “the LORD is a stronghold (i.e., an unscalable height) for the oppressed” (9:9). “Those who know” personally “your name” (9:10; see 9:1) “put their trust (i.e., feel secure in danger by submitting to God’s rule) in you.”

Call to Praise: 11–12

“Sing (plural) the praises of the LORD” (cf. 9:1) is addressed canonically to the congregation in all generations. “Enthroned in Zion” (see 9:4). “Tell among the peoples” of the nations “his deeds.” Without recounting salvation history, people will not know that “he who avenges  blood (i.e., demands justice)109 is mindful of them (better, “remembers them” [NIV])”, meaning to recall, to actualize as a present reality his prior commitment,110 in this case to be Israel’s God (Exod 6:7; Lev 26:12).


II. Petitions: 13–20

The two halves of the petition motif consist of two couplets each, divided by the liturgical term, whose meaning is uncertain: higgāyôn selah (9:16). Its framing couplets petition the LORD to save the king (9:13ff) and to punish wicked nations (9:19ff). The two core couplets, addressed to the congregation, express confidence in God’s justice among the nations (9:15ff, 17ff).

Address and Introductory Petition: 13–14

The catchword “gates” links the couplet. “Be merciful to me (better, “be gracious,” see 4:2 [1]; 6:2 [3]), LORD,” grounds the king’s hope of salvation on the Sovereign’s benevolence, not on human virtue. “See”—the merciful God will surely be moved by the terse lament: “My affliction from those who hate me.” His situation is dire, but he expresses it in terms of confidence: “O you who lift [sic! lifts] me up from the” gates “of death,” picturing death as a gated city that once entered cannot be exited. He desires to escape that “I may recount all your praises” (see 9:2), a metonymy for salvation history (see 9:1). Having escaped the gates of death, “in the gates,” the centers of civic life, “of the Daughter of Zion (better, “Daughter Zion,” the Hebrew idiom for personifying a city) I will rejoice (see 35:9) in your salvation” (NIV; see 3:7, 8).

Confession of Trust in God’s Justice: 15–18

The king praises God’s justice figuratively (9:15, 16) and prosaically (9:17, 18). The motif of lex talionis, in connection with “feet” and “hand,” link verses 15 and 16. The notion that punishment matches the crime is applied to wicked nations and underscored by three trapping metaphors: “have sunk in the pit they have dug; their feet are caught in the net they have hidden” (NIV); and “are ensnared by the work of their hands.” And so “the LORD has made himself known” by “his acts of justice” (NIV), the psalm’s key word and theme.

Verses 17 and 18 are linked by the catchword “forget” and contrast in their outer frame “the wicked shall return to Sheol” (see 6:5) and “the hope of the poor (anāwîm, the humble spiritually, “[who] seek refuge only in the LORD on Zion”111 and the afflicted physically “[who are] in a circumstance of diminished capacity, power, and worth”112) shall not perish forever.” The inner core explains: “all the” Sheol-bound nations “forget” (i.e., not a temporary lapse of memory but an act of deliberate dismembering of oneself from someone or something as seen by actions in connection with forgetting [cf. Deut 8:11, 19; Isa 51:13; 106:13]) the “God” of life. But “the needy,” who trust him (9:9–10), “will never be forgotten” (NAB; dismembered from God).

Petition to Judge the Nations: 19–20

The catchword “man” (’enôš, “man characterized by frailty”) links the final couplet. “Arise” (see 3:7), Do not let man prevail . . . Strike them with terror” (NIV), a metonymy for facing death. And so “let the nations know they are but men,” mortals who cannot withstand God’s judgment.


Psalm 10

For the patterns of Psalms 9–13, see Psalm 9.

Psalms 9 and 10 are one psalm in the LXX, Vulgate, and a few medieval Hebrew manuscripts. Of the fifty-five psalms with the postscript “for the choirmaster” , Psalm 10 is the only psalm without a superscript, implying that the superscript to Psalm 9 (“A Psalm of David”) pertains to both psalms.

Probably, David reworked his originally acrostic psalm into two psalms. Psalm 9 (see Ps 9, n. 28) preserves the imperfect acrostic of aleph–kaph, and Psalm 10 preserves a perfect acrostic of qoph–taw (10:12, 14, 15, 17). But apart from initial lamed in 10:1, following kaph in 9:19, 10:1–12 is not an acrostic. Inferentially, David inserted this long, scathing description of the wicked in 10:2–11 with the intention of making two psalms.113

The content and structure of this lament-complaint psalm  at a glance:

I. Complaint: Description of the Wicked: 1–11

A. Address and Introductory Complaint: 1

B. Complaint: Description of the Wicked: 2–11

1. Practical Atheism of the Wicked: 2–6

2. Behavior of the Wicked: 7–11

II. Petitions to Punish the Wicked: 12–15

III. Praise: The LORD Is King: 16–18

Postscript: Psalm 11: superscript

Catchwords crochet its three motifs together: “why” (10:1, 13), ‘ānî (“poor”/“afflicted”; 10:2, 12, 17), “says in his heart” (10:6, 11, 13), “renounces the LORD/God” (10:3, 13), and the rare word ḥëlkāh (“helpless”; 10:8, 10, 14).

The motifs of this lament-complaint psalm are similar to those of the lament-complaint section of 9:13–18, but their perspectives, petitions, tones, and messages differ. In Psalm 9 the king petitions the LORD to save him (10:13) and punish nations (10:19–20); in Psalm 10 he asks the LORD to punish the wicked and nations (10:19–20), never mentioning himself. The harmony of confidence in perfect justice (9:15–18) changes to the cacophony of complaint about injustice (10:1–11). “The LORD is a stronghold in times of trouble” (9:9) becomes “you hide yourself in times of trouble” (10:1).

Evidently, David’s prayer in 9:13–18 has gone unanswered. His bright praise of the LORD’s justice (9:1–12) and his confident petition for justice (9:13–20) darkens to his complaint that the LORD has not redressed injustice (10:1–11). Nevertheless, he still confidently prays for justice (10:13–15) and ends with praise that his King does justice (10:16–18). The psalmist is “perplexed but not in despair,” and because he believes the LORD is King, he speaks truthfully about his perplexity (cf. 2Cor 4:8–9, 13). This is the message of Psalm 10. 10:17–18, a couplet, are the key verses.


I. Complaint; Description of the Wicked: 1–11

Address and Introductory Complaint: 1

The question “Why, LORD” , “do you stand afar away and hide yourself” (i.e., pay no heed to favor the needy; cf. 30:7; 44:24; 69:17) “in times of trouble” is rhetorical, venting David’s frustration, for the psalmist makes no attempt to answer it. The question connotes his perplexity about God’s rule, not denial of it, unlike the wicked (10:6, 11).

Complaint: Description of the Wicked: 2–11

The “times of trouble” are now defined by the long description of the wicked (10:2–11). Its two parts of five verses each (10:2–6, 7–11) end with the quotations by the wicked, who “says in his heart: ‘I shall not be moved’” or toppled (10:6), clarified by “God will never see it” (10:11). Rashi summarizes the world-view of the wicked: “There is no judgment; there is no judge.”

Practical Atheism of the Wicked: 2–6

A person’s behavior is the outcome of their spiritual disposition and of their worldview. “Arrogance” (i.e., a refusal to submit to authority), the sin of Adam and before him of the Devil (1Tim 2:6; cf. Ezek 28:12–19), is the spiritual root that blossoms into disadvantaging others to advantage self. In unbridled greed, the wicked “hotly pursue the poor” (see 9:17) “who are caught in the scheme he devises” (NIV). Instead of praising God, “he boasts of” or praises :the desires” or craving “of his soul” (i.e., “appetites”; see 6:3), which is informed by greed. “Desires” is a metonymy for the material possessions he plundered from the helpless. He turns the world into a nightmare: “he blesses the greedy” (NIV; lit. “those who rip off others”) “and renounces” or reviles (i.e., “treats with contempt”) “the LORD,” from whom all blessings flow (Jas 1:17).

Behavior of the Wicked: 7–11

The Anglican morning liturgy begins, “Most merciful God, we confess we have sinned against you and others in thought, word and deed.” Verses 3–6 pertain to the thoughts of the wicked; verse 7, to their words; and verses 8–10, to their deeds. As for words (10:7), “his mouth is full of lies and threats” (NIV).114 It is veiled speech, and under, not upon, “his tongue are trouble and evil” (‘āwen, the misuse of power by deception; see 7:14). As for deeds (10:8–10), the wicked is likened to a murderer who “sits in ambush” to murder the “innocent” and “helpless” (10:8; cf. Prov 1:10–14), reinforced by likening him to a “lion in his thicket. He seizes the poor when he draws them into his net.” His skillful deceit is combined with his overpowering strength: “The helpless . . . fall by his might.”


II. Petitions to Punish the Wicked: 12–15

Two sets of pleas for the LORD to involve himself (10:12) and punish the wicked (10:15) surround the motivation (10:13–14). “Arise” (cf. 9:20), “O LORD; O God, lift up your hand” to strike the wicked (2Sam 20:21). “Forget not” (cf. Ps 9:17, 18) “the afflicted” and helpless. The motivation reprises the complaint of 10:1–11 and then matches the complaint with confident hope in God’s benevolences: “But you” God “do see” implies his mercy (see 9:13), and “the helpless commits himself” to you, “you are the helper of the fatherless” (NIV)—a symbol of the vulnerable—implies the LORD’s ḥesed (“unfailing love for a helpless partner”). The final plea, “Break the arm of the wicked,” signifies to render them powerless (cf. 3:8).


III. Praise: the Lord is King: 16–18

The acknowledgement and praise “The LORD is King” assumes the biblical world’s conception of the ideal king as the Protector of defenseless, innocent, and afflicted subjects. As such, “You, LORD, hear . . . you will strengthen their heart” (i.e., encourage them) “because you listen to their prayer” (NET), “to do justice . . . to the oppressed.” His just rule is “for ever and ever” in time; and in space, includes “nations,” whom the LORD causes to “perish from his” holy “land” (10:16). The catchword “man” (Hebrew ’enōsh) links Psalms 8, 9, and 10. Mortals are meant to rule in the strength of the LORD (8:6; 9:2, 4), not to tyrannize (9:18). In the end, mere earthly mortals (’enōsh) will never again strike terror (NKJV), for they are no match for God.


Postscript: Psalm 11: Superscript

“To the choirmaster.”


Psalm 11

Psalms 9–13 are arranged as an alternating cycle (see Ps 9).

The content and structure of this psalm of trust  at a glance:


I. Confidence in Spite of Perils: 1–3

II. The Just Protector: 4–7

Postscript: Psalm12: superscript



“To the choirmaster.” Postscript to Psalm 10.”

Confronted without by the enemy and within by unbelieving counsellors, King David overcomes both perils by meditating upon the Sovereign’s justice and taking refuge in him as Protector (11:4–7). This is the psalm’s message, and its key verse is 11:7.

Jesus revealed, “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father” (John 5:22–23).


I. Confidence in Spite of Perils: 1–3

The king confesses his trust in the LORD in the form of a rebuke to his unbelieving counselors (cf. 4:2). “In the LORD” . After raising his flag of faith, he refuses to strike his colors: “How can you say to my soul, ‘Flee (nûd, to become unsettled, cf. Gen 4:12) like’ a timorous ‘bird to your (plural) mountain’ (better, “your mountains” [LXX]). David left (hālak, “walk”) Saul (1Sam 20:42), and he fled (bāraḥ, “slip away”) from Absalom (2Sam 15:14), but in those situations he seeks asylum apart from God. The spiritually discerning distinguish between prudent flight in faith and foolish flight in fear (cf. Acts 14:16 versus 21:14–16).

The counsellors, to strike fear in the king, liken his enemies to archers, who “shoot” their deadly swift arrows “from the shadows” (NIV). The counsellors are apostate, for they know the battle is spiritual, between “the wicked” and the “upright” (plural; see 7:10) “in heart” and the “righteous” (3b, singular; especially David, a type of Christ; see 1:5). They fear mankind, not the LORD. By “when the foundations”—probably a metaphor for lawful authority—”are being destroyed what can the righteous (see 1:5) do?” (NIV) The king answers: “take refuge in the LORD.” He mentions the LORD in every verse, apart from when quoting the wicked, who never mention him (11:2, 3).


II. The Just Protector: 4–7

“The LORD is in his holy” (see 2:6) heavenly “temple” (“palace”; see 5:8). “The LORD’s throne is in heaven.” This “Refuge” is “infinitely higher and more secure than the mountains.”115 But the transcendent LORD is immanent. “He eyes see” (ḥāzāh, “a sharp inspection”116) and “test the children of man” (or Adam) to make right judgment. “The LORD tests the righteous” (see 1:5) is a metonymy of cause for their reward. “His soul, an anthropomorphism for God’s tastes, “hates” (i.e., feels an extreme aversion and/or extreme hostility toward) “the wicked and the one who loves violence.”

The king now strikes fear in the wicked: “He will rain down blazing coals and burning sulfur on the wicked, punishing them with scorching winds” (NLT), an echo of Sodom’s fate (Gen 19:24). Since “the LORD is righteous, he loves (see 4:2) righteous deeds (oriented into God’s decreed communal order, one that serve others)—unlike the wicked, “who love violence.” And so the LORD validates “the upright” (see 7:10); they “will see (ḥāzāh) his face” as guests in his heavenly temple (16:11; 17:15; Rev 22:4).


Postscript: Psalm 12: Superscript

“To the choirmaster: according to The Sheminith” (a musical term of uncertain meaning).


Psalm 12

Psalms 9–13 are arranged as an alternating cycle (see Ps 9).

The content and structure of this complaint-lament psalm  at a glance:


I. Petitions That the LORD Cut Off Boastful Lips: 1–4

A. Petition to the LORD: Save from Universal Perfidy: 1–2

B. May the LORD Cut Off Proud Tongues: 3–4

II. Confession of Confidence in the LORD’s Word to Save the Afflicted: 5–8

A. The LORD’s Promise to Save and David’s Confidence: 5–6

B. Confidence in the LORD While Tyrants Rule: 7–8

Postscript: Psalm 13: superscript



“To the choirmaster:” Postscript to Psalm 11. .

“A psalm of David” .

The psalm pits the trustworthy words of the LORD to protect the afflicted poor against the hypocritical speech to prevail over them through deceitful speech (12:5–8). “[Corrupt] children of mane” frames the whole of two equal halves (12:1–4, 5–8), each with two couplets, a calming symmetry within the tempest. The psalm’s message: trust the LORD’s promise to protect the afflicted in spite of the boast and consensus of a nation of hypocrites. Verse 5 is the key verse.


I. Petitions that the Lord Cut Off Boastful Lips: 1–4

Both couplets (12:1–2, 3–4) begin with looking to the LORD (12:1, 3) in connection with the linking term “flattering (lit. slippery) lips,” causing the listener to fall (12:2, 3).

To Save Psalmist from Universal Perfidy: 1–2

“Save (see 3:7), O LORD .” “For the godly” (ḥāsîd, “the faithful”; see 4:3) “is gone” assumes universal perfidy. “Those who are conscientious (translation mine117) have vanished from . . . man” (cf. 11:4). “Everyone utters lies to his neighbor” instantiates their disloyalty. “They harbor deception in their hearts” (lit. “they speak with a double heart,” one that says pleasing things and the other that plots destruction.)

To Cut Off Proud Tongues: 3–4

In a dramatic apostrophe, David prays, “May the LORD cut off all flattering lips. The tongue that makes great boasts” is defined in 12:4: “with (or by) our tongues we will prevail” (lit. “we will strengthen our tongue”). Their speech condemns them. “Our own lips will defend us” (NIV; or “lips are under our control of”; lit. “lips are with us”). “Who is Master over us entails they think of themselves as accountable not even to the LORD.


II. Confession of Confidence in the Lord's Word to Save the Afflicted: 5–8

The catchwords “LORD,” “protect,” and “needy” link the couplets and summarize their content.

The LORD’s Promise to Save and David’s Confidence: 5–6

The LORD speaks (12:5): “Because the poor” (“one in a circumstance of diminished capacity, power, and worth”;118 often a victim of social oppression [cf. 1Sam 1:11] and who depends upon their merciful God) “are plundered, because the needy groan” entails the liars achieve their boast. “I will now arise” (see 3:7). “I will place him in the safety” (nominal form of “save” in 12:1) “for which he longs.”

David speaks (12:6). The repetition “the words of the LORD” emphatically contrasts the LORD’s word with those of the wicked. His words are “pure (i.e., without alloy, signifying flawless) words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground” intensifies the refining figure as does “seven times, the number of divine perfection (cf. Prov 30:5).

Confidence in the LORD While Tyrants Rule: 7–8

An emphatic “you” shifts the perspective to the “LORDwill guard us” (i.e., David and the poor and needy). “Forever” in a future beyond when the proud prevail. “From this generation” (i.e., the wicked; cf. 12:1–2).

David and the oppressed typify Christ and his Church, which still cries, “Come Lord Jesus” (Rev 22:20).


Postscript: Psalm 13: Superscript

“To the choirmaster.” Postscript to Psalm 12.


Psalm 13

Psalms 9–13 are arranged in an alternating cycle (see Ps 9).

The content and structure of this complaint-lament psalm  at a glance:


I. Address and Complaint: 1–2

II. Petitions Lest the Enemy Rejoice: 3–4

III. Confidence and Praise: 5–6

Postscript: Psalm14: superscript



“To the choirmaster.” Postscript to Psalm 12. 

“A psalm of David” .

This complaint-lament psalm, structured as couplets, is a textbook example of the motifs and content of that genre . Even the language and imagery are commonplace, although the name of the LORD is used once in each of the three movements, creating intimacy. Read only as a form critic, the psalm is a lifeless skeleton. But it comes to life when one joins Christ, who also prayed this psalm, and through it “wrestles” (agonizomai, Col 4:12) with God for the sake of his kingdom. Read in that spirit, the psalm transforms the sorrowing heart to the joyful heart by calling it to trust in his unfailing love. Verse 5 is the key verse and the psalm’s message.


I. Address and Complaint that God Delays: 1–2

The fourfold anaphora “how long” (see 4:2) expresses ignorance of vents impatience and increasing dismay (cf. Rev 6:10). “Will you forget (9:17) me (i.e., “not come to my aid”) forever” (cf. 9:18). “Hide your face” (i.e., unwilling to look at his pathetic state and show mercy;119 27:8ff). “I wrestle with my thoughts” (NIV) to resolve my perplexity (2Cor 4:8ff).


II. Petitions Lest the Enemy Rejoice: 3–4

The staccato pleas of “look (NIV) and answer me (see 3:4) O LORD my God; light up my eyes” (cf. 1Sam 14:26) goad God to arise. “My God “(see 3:7). He prays so that “my enemy” (singular), empowered by hell, will not “say, ‘I have prevailed over him,’” God’s chosen king and type of Christ, the embodiments of the kingdom of God. “Lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken” or toppled.


III. Confidence and Praise: 5–6

But as for me, “I trust (see 9:10) in your steadfast love” (see 5:7). David wields a sharp sword but does not trust in it (see Ps 3). “My heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.”


Postscript: Psalm 14: Superscript

“To the choirmaster.” 


Psalm 14

The content and structure of this prophetic psalm at a glance:


I. Accusation: Universal Godlessness and Moral Corruption: 1–3

II. Judgement: Evildoers Punished and Righteous Protected: 4–6

III. Restoration of Israel: 7



“To the choirmaster.” Postscript to Psalm 13.

“Of David” , who speaks as a prophet.

This prophetic psalm was adopted and adapted in the Elohistic Psalter (cf. Ps 53), probably edited by the prophet Asaph . The catchword “all” (14:3, 4) connects its two stanzas of equal length. Verse 7 may be a post-exilic addition .

This prophetic psalm, whose motifs are accusation (14:1–3) and judgment (14:4–6), accuses humankind of being godless and immoral, and the LORD sentences them to death but preserves the righteous. Verse 5 is the key verse and its message. The prophecy assures the righteous that God is their refuge during universal godlessness and moral corruption (14:1–3), and while evildoers within Israel afflict them. Paul cites the psalm in his catena of verses condemning humanity (Rom 3:10–18).

The Psalter’s editors paired Psalms 8 and 14 to contrast God’s awesome mandate of “the son of Adam” to rule all things under God (8:6) with the awful rule of “the sons of Adam” without God (14:2).


I. Accusation: Universal Godlessness and Moral Corruption: 1–3

“The fool (nābāl, a sacrilegious outcast) says in his heart” (5:7). The goal of life is not what you possess but what you believe. There is no God to preserve his people and hold villains accountable (cf. 10:11). Practical atheism and moral corruption go hand in hand (cf. Isa 32:6). Dostoyevsky famously said, and Sartre agreed, “If there is no God, then everything is permitted.”120 “There is none who does good” (i.e., beneficial and so desirable) frames the accusation (14:1, 3). “Keenly alive to . . . evil,”121 David perceives universal godlessness (14:1a) and moral corruption (14:1b), and the LORD confirms both assessments (14:2–3).

“They are corrupt” and so cause devastation (Gen 6:11ff; 13:10). None “understands” (i.e., grasps the implications of their situation and makes beneficial decisions). None “seek” a relationship with God.“They have all have turned aside” or away from him.


II. Judgement: Punishment of Evildoers and Protection of the Righteous: 4–6

God accuses the “evildoers” (see 5:5). “Have they no knowledge” implies they do not but are without excuse (see Rom 1:18–2:11). As for moral corruption, “they eat up” likens them to cannibals. Their cannibalism “is as natural as eating bread.”122 “My people” or family, a term of strong feelings of kinship. As for godlessness, “they never call on the LORD” (NIV).

David, speaking for God, condemns them. “There they are with dread” happens in an imaginative, proleptic scene of the evildoers’ punishment. Their dread is certain, “for God is” present “with the generation (a class of people; cf. 12:7) of the righteous” (1:5), and so their “refuge” (14:6). You, evildoers, “would put to shame the plans of the poor” (see 9:17).


III. Restoration of Israel: 7

“Oh, that salvation (see 3:7) for Israel would come out of Zion” (2:4; 110:2), where the LORD lives. “When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people” to their rightful rule. He does so through Jesus Messiah . “Let Israel be glad” refers to liturgical celebration.


Psalm 15

Psalms 15–24 are linked by a chiastic pattern . Like the prophetic Psalm 14, this didactic, entrance-liturgy psalm  also seeks to inculcate the values of the Torah.

The content and structure of the psalm at a glance:


I. Question: Who May Dwell in the LORD’s Tent?: 1

II. Answer of the LORD: 2–5



“A psalm of David” 

This entrance-liturgy psalm presents a Royal Decalogue of virtues of those who dwell forever on God’s mountain of eternal blessings (cf. Ps 132).123 Since “none does good” (14:2), God atoned for Israel’s sin on the Day of Atonement (Lev 23:26–32; see Ps 65:3). These virtues that characterize Jesus are imputed to those committed to Christ, and he bestows on them the Holy Spirit to give them re-birth and enablement to obey.


I. Question: Who May Dwell in the Lord's tent?: 1

The LORD  is the Author of this Decalogue that answers the question “Who may dwell” (Hebrew gûr, “dwell as newcomer without original rights”) in “your tent (2Sam 6:17) . . . on your holy mountain (2:6)?”


II. Answer of the Lord: 2–5

The answer, a Decalogue, is given in an alternating pattern of virtues and vices:

A. Three Prescribed Virtues Pertaining to People: 2

1. “He who walks (see 1:1) blamelessly” (i.e., “being totally committed”124)

2. “Who does what is right” (see 1:5)

3. Who “speaks truth (i.e., reliable words) in” or “from” “his heart”(see 7:10)

B. Three Proscribed Vices Pertaining to People: 3

4. “Who does not slander with his tongue.”

5. “Who does no evil (i.e., something that damages) to his neighbor” (whether close or casual).

6. Who does not “take up a reproach(lit. lifts up [the name of X] to reproach; i.e., something that causes society to heap insults upon) against a friend” (lit. “one who is close”).

A.’ Two Prescribed Virtues Pertaining to the LORD: 4

7. “In whose heart a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the LORD” (see 2:11).

8. “Who keeps an oath (i.e., binds oneself to a future obligation by a curse [e.g., “may the LORD punish me if I renege”]; cf. Eccl 5:1–7) even when it hurts” (NIV; i.e., damages the one who vows).

B.’ Two Proscribed Vices Pertaining to Money: 5a

9. “Who does not put out his money at interestto the poor. “To the poor” is added, but the word has reference to them.

10. Who “does not take a bribe against (i.e., to convict) the innocent person.” Unlike cultures of the biblical world, where bribery was an accepted practice, the Bible forbids bribery, for it is unjust (Exod 23:8; Deut 16:19; 1Sam 12:3; Prov 6:35; Mic 3:5).

C. Summary Conclusion: 5b

“Who does these things shall never be moved” off or toppled from his position of leadership and/or from the holy mountain of God’s life-giving presence.


Psalm 16

The content and structure of this psalm of trust  at a glance:


I. Trust in the LORD in Life: 1–8

A. Trust Proven by Loyalties: 1–4

1. Loyalty to the LORD: 1–2

2. Loyalty to Saints: 3–4

B. Reasons for Trust: 5–8

1. The LORD as Inheritance: 5–6

2. The LORD as Protection: 7–8

II. Trust in the LORD in Death: 9–11

A. Joyful Commitment of Body to the Grave: 9–10

B. Eternal Pleasure with God: 11



“A miktam (meaning uncertain) of David.”125

Verse 1 is the psalm’s key verse and message. God keeps safe forever, both in life and death, those who takes refuge in him.

Psalm 16 is a “typico-prophetically Messianic” psalm . As a type of Christ, David confesses his trust in the LORD to preserve him. As a prophet, the Spirit of Christ speaks through David when he commits his body to the grave confident it will not decay. David’s body decayed but not Christ’s body. This was true uniquely of Jesus Christ, not of David (see Acts 2:25–32; 13:35).


I. Trust in the LORD in Life: 1–8

Trust Proven by Loyalties: 1–4

Loyalty to the LORD: 1–2

The couplet is linked by being addressed to the LORD, a notion stated emphatically by adding, “I say” (16:2).

“Preserve me” (“exercise great care of me”) implies a dangerous situation. He uses three titles for God: God, LORD, and Lord of All. “God” signifies the quintessential essence of divine transcendence: his power and the eternal nature of Israel’s covenant-keeping “LORD.” “For” implies God has obligated himself to care for those “who take refuge” in him. “You are the Lord of all” (“the Lord par excellence”).126 “I have no good (a metonymy for anything that would attract him and benefit his life) apart from you.”

Loyalty to Saints: 3–4

The couplet is linked by the subject: “As for the saints” (lit. “holy ones”) who, like him, are both separated from the defiled human race (Ps 14) and can dwell on the LORD’s holy mountain (see 2:5). “In the land” distinguishes them from heavenly beings. Emphatically, “they are the excellent ones” (’addîrey, “majestic in excellence,” cf. 8:1). “In whom is all my delight” (see 1:2); finding happiness apart from God and his people would remove him from the “Holy.” “Their pains (NIV) . . . will multiply” implies that “those who run after other gods” (NIV; i.e., what gives them security and significance) are on the way of death. “Drink offerings” or libations “of blood” were poured out in liturgical ritual, not drunk.

Reason for Trust: 5–8

The LORD as Inheritance: 5–6

The couplet is linked by four metaphors of land-inheritance that signify the LORD elected him to have a relationship with the living God. 1) “You are my chosen portion” (i.e., a choice portion of a tract of territory) signifies that as land secures life in perpetuity for its owner, so does the LORD for the psalmist—the intruding metaphor “and my cup,” an image of the Sovereign handing the psalmist a cup of wine (cf. 139:16), adds the notion of election to his inheritance. 2) “You are my lot” alludes to when Joshua cast lots to divide the land (Josh 18:6) and entails divine election. 3) “The” boundary “lines have fallen for me in pleasant places” clarifies what is meant by “lot.” 4) “Indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance” (see Ps 2:8).

The LORD as Protection: 7–8

The couplet links the psalmist’s commitment to the LORD (16:7–8a) with God’s protection (16:8b). “I bless” signifies his benefaction of praise to “the LORD” in gratitude for the divine blessing of life and prosperity, “who counsels” (i.e., lays out a plan for success for) him. “Even at night (NIV; cf. 4:4) my heart (lit. “kidneys,” instruments of conscience) instructs (i.e., communicates behavior-shaping knowledge) me.” “I keep the LORD in mind always” (CSB, lit. “I have set the LORD before me always” [to be instructed by him; or for protection]). “Because he is at my right hand,” a stock-in-trade figure for power and might (cf. God’s right hand, 110:5), “I will not be shaken” or toppled from the secure place of life.


II. Trust in the LORD in Death: 9–11

In 16:9–10 he joyfully commits his corpse to the grave, knowing it will not decay, and in 16:11 he rejoices in eternal pleasures. The Spirit of Christ in the voice of David expresses this assurance. 

Joyful Commitment of Body to the Grave: 9–10

“Therefore” logically links his security in death to God’s right hand. “My heart (7:10) is glad” (NJB; sāmaḥ; see 5:11). “My tongue (NIV; lit. “my glory”) rejoices.” Logical “for” or “because” links his emotions of joy and security with God’s protection of his body in the grave. “My flesh” between skin and bone (cf. Mic 3:2) “rests secure” in death (Ps 16:10). “You will not abandon (i.e., hand over and leave) me (NIV; traditionally, “soul”; see 6:3) to Sheol (see 6:5) or let (lit. “give”) your holy one (ḥāsîd, see 4:3) see (i.e., experience) decay.”127

Eternal Pleasure with God: 11

Implicitly beyond the grave, “you make (better, “will make”) known to me the path of life.” As for its quality: “joy in your presence.” As for its quantity: “eternal pleasures at your right hand” (NIV; see 17:8).


Psalm 17

The psalm’s content and structure at a glance:


I. Plea to Be Heard Based on God’s Justice: 1–5

II. Plea for Protection Based on God’s Love and Power: 6–12

III. Plea to Punish Wicked and Confidence of Being Vindicated: 13–15

Postscript: Psalm 18: superscript



“A prayer (a plea to God to adjudicate a matter) of David” .

As in Psalm 16, David draws his psalm to conclusion with the confident hope of seeing God, using śāba‘ (“fill”/“satisfied”) and pānekhâ (“your face”) (“presence”/“face”).

Surrounded by a rapacious enemy and with no means of escape (cf. 1Sam 23:24–28), the anointed David escalates his prayer in three stanzas, each initiated by urgent pleas to the LORD: for a hearing (17:1–5), for a hearing and protection (17:6–12), and for action (17:13–15). The first stanza focuses on the psalmist’s innocence and appeals to God’s justice; the second features his enemy’s guilt and appeals to God’s unfailing love; and the third, a plea to act and an appeal to God’s power.

The psalm’s key verse and message is “I will be vindicated and see your face” (17:15a). The Hebrew ṣedeq (“just cause”/“vindicated”) frames the psalm. He draws his prayer for vindication to a climatic conclusion: beyond his rescue he will see God’s face!

The resurrected LORD Jesus fulfills this hope.

Many are offended by what they call the psalmist’s ugly “self-righteousness (e.g., 17:3; cf. 7:3, 8). But what juror in their right mind faults the accused of being “self-righteous” for zealously defending their innocence and their not breaking the law?


I. Plea to be Heard Based on God's Justice: 1–5

The prayer opens without flummery in verse 1 with three imperatives to be heard: “hear a just cause, pay attention (NIV), give ear,” and in verse 2 with two imperatives for justice: “let my vindication (i.e., a declaration of innocence) come from you” (lit. “from your presence”) on your heavenly throne, and “let your” spiritual “eyes see (i.e., gaze sharply) what is right” (NIV). The LORD should pay attention to my shrill, piercing yell (translation mine), for the “prayer from my lips is free of deceit!”

Proof of Innocence: 3–5

The anointed claims that he has not sinned in thought (“heart” and “planned”), word (“my mouth”), or deed (“what people do”). His conscience is clean. “You have tried (i.e., carefully tested the quality of) my heart (see 7:10), you have examined me (lit. “visited” me to hold me accountable) at night,” when my conscience speaks most clearly (cf. 4:4; 16:7), “you find nothing. I have purposed that my mouth will not transgress” your commandments. More specifically, “As for what people do (translation mine), through the word (i.e., commands) of your lips (which were in his heart and upon his lips), I have avoided (lit. “watch” [to avoid]) the ways of the violent. My steps (each act of behavior) have held to your paths,” a metaphor for your commandments as laid out in the Law.


II. Plea for Protection Based on God's Love and Power: 6–12

“I call upon you for you will answer me, O God” (see 3:4) segues into petitions to be heard (“incline your ear to me; hear my words”), a reprise of verse 1, and to be protected (17:6–9) from a rapacious enemy (17:10–12). More specifically, “wondrously” (i.e., in an extraordinary way) “show me your steadfast love” (ḥesed, see 5:7) in this extreme danger, which has clout, for it comes from “one who saves (NIV; 3:7) . . . by your powerful right hand” (16:8). That is to say, “keep me as the apple (i.e., the pupil) of your eye,” the most cherished and delicate member of the anatomy. “Hide me in the shadow of your wings” of a hen (cf. Matt 23:37) or eagle (cf. Deut 32:10–11), a zoomorphic metaphor of protection. “From the wicked (see 1:1) who are out to destroy me, from my mortal enemies (i.e., “nothing but his death will satisfy them”128) who surround me” so that I cannot escape (NIV). They “close up their hearts to pity” is based on a textual emendation of “they are129 enclosed in their fat. “Their mouths speak with” contemptuous “arrogance.” “They track me down” (NIV130). “Now” (NIV) adds a dramatic touch. “With eyes alert (lit. “they set their eyes” for the opportunity) to throw me to the ground” (NIV). “He,” focusing on the leader (c.f. “from . . . all his enemies and from . . . Saul” [Ps 18: superscript]), “is like a (African) lion,” a ruthless, almost unstoppable killer, taking flock at will, eager to tear apart his prey; like a fierce (lit. “young”) lion lurking in ambush, a figure for deceit.


III. Plea to Punish the Wicked and Confidence of Being Vindicated: 13–15

“Rise up (see 9:20), confront him (qāreb, “came near” [cf. 1Sam 17:41]), bring him down (translation mine), rescue me (i.e., “escape to safety”) . . . by your sword” in the hands of his enemies (cf. 149:6ff). “By your” powerful “hand save me . . . from these murderers (NET131) whose portion” or reward “is in this life” (i.e., the present generation in contrast to their children and infants, 17:10), an ironic reference to the inflicted death they “earned.” “May what you have stored up (i.e., “the inflicted death”) for the wicked fill their bellies” (NIV). Moreover, “may their children (i.e., the next generation) gorge themselves on it. And may there be leftovers” of inflicted death “for their little ones” (NIV; i.e., the third generation; cf. Exod 20:5). “As for me, I will be vindicated” as evidenced by “and will see your face (see 11:7) when I awake” from being lost in prayer (cf. awaking from a reverie,139:17; from a prophetic vision, Jer 31:27), not from death, for he anticipates rescue from death. “I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness” (NIV), as Moses did (Num 12:8; cf. Ps 49:14–15). Our hope will find its consummate fulfillment when “we will be like him and so shall see him as he is” (1Jn 3:2).


Postscript: Psalm 18: Superscript

“To the choirmaster.”


Psalm 18

The content and structure of this song of grateful praise structured as a chiasm, at a glance:


I. Praise of God’s Saving Strength: 1–2

II. Report of Deliverance from Death: 3–19

A. The Distress: 3–5

B. A Theophany of the Deliverer: 6–19

1. Anger in Heaven: 6–8

2. The Deliverer Rides the Clouds: 9–11

3. The Deliverer Fights from the Clouds: 12–15

4. The Rescue: 16–19

III. The Moral Principle: 20–29

A. With Reference to David: 20–24

B. A Universal Principle: 25–26

C. The Reward: 27–29

IV. Report of Deliverance to Rule the Nations: 30–45

A. Praise of God’s Perfection: 30–31

B. Report of Deliverance: 32–45

1. The LORD’s Provision to Subdue Nations: 32–38

2. David Becomes the Head of the Nations: 39–45

V. Praise of the LORD as Strong Deliverer: 46–49

Addendum: The House of David Endures Forever: 50

Postscript: Psalm 19: superscript



“To the choirmaster.” Postscript of Psalm 17. 

“A Psalm of David”. “The servant,” or slave (‘ebed132), “of the LORD” (cf. 2Sam 7:8). A slave lives in 1) responsible obedience to the master; 2) faithful dependence on his care; 3) personal intimacy of trust with him; and 4) humility before him. It is an honorific for significant leaders including Moses (Deut 34:5) and Joshua (Josh 24:29).133

“He addressed the words of this song to the LORD”  and wanted to be overheard by temple worshipers. “On the day when the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies (cf. 2Sam 1–8), and from the hand of Saul” (cf. 1Sam 16–31) summarizes David’s career. David is never presented as an aggressor, but, if noted, as “delivered” and avenged (cf. 18:47).

The psalm is framed (A, A’) by the powerful image of God’s strength as a rock (18:1, 46), ironically a place of refuge in order to fight. The pivot (X), “The Moral Principle,” that God rewards virtue and punishes vice, balances the poem’s almost two equal halves and makes the crucial point that God’s saving strength is given to the righteous. The frame and the pivot constitute the poem’s message: God is the saving strength of those who keep covenant. Its parts are unified by many segues. The addendum is the key verse.

The change from “Deliverance from Death” to “Deliverance to Rule” (B, B’) can be inferred from such shifts as “my God” (18:2) to “our God” (18:31); “I cried for help” (18:7) to “[the enemy] cried for help” (18:41), and the changing emphasis: “rescued me” (18:17) to “destroyed them” (18:40).

Psalm 18 is the temple version of David’s victory song in 2 Samuel 22. The song celebrates when the kingdom of God came to earth universally from David’s point of view, promising it can and will come again universally from God’s point of view. Verse 47, a reprise of 43, is the psalm’s key verse.

The poem is not a museum artifact but keeps hope alive in a hard-pressed church that their strong God saves. The psalm is quoted in Habakkuk 3:19 (Ps 18:33), Proverbs 30:5 (Ps 18:30), and Romans 15:9 (Ps 18:49).

David is a type of Christ . As God delivered David, his anointed, from near death (cf. 18:17) to rule the nations (cf. 18:43), so he delivered the Anointed One from real death to rule the nations (see Matt 28:18–20). At his Parousia (second coming) Jesus will consummately rule the world, but on a renewed earth. In Christ’s first advent he exercised in political weakness the spiritual strength that raises the dead. Instead of humbling nations (see 18:39), “Christ humbled himself . . . to . . . death on a cross” (Phil 2:8). Through humility his Church universally establishes his eternal spiritual kingdom. God armed his servants in the Old Testament with physical strength; today he arms them with spiritual virtues (Eph 6:10–18) and gifts (Rom 12:6–8; 1Cor 12; Eph 4:7–13).


I. Praise of God's Saving Strength: 1–2

“He said: ‘I love you, O LORD, my strength’.” “My strength” (Hebrew ḥzq) means that the LORD himself is David’s strength, his shield in verse 30, and that he arms his anointed with strength (18:32). David’s “strength” enabled him to secure his position as king in a comprehensive way.

Six powerful metaphors evoke feelings of strength and security: rock (sela‘), fortress, rock (ṣûr, “cliff,” “crag”), shield, horn of my salvation (yš‘, see 3:7), and stronghold (i.e., a secure height). The animal’s horn signifies dignity, honor, and deadly strength. Like the security of a high rock or cave, he finds the LORD as “my deliverer (plṭ) . . . in whom I take refuge” against a much stronger foe. He seeks refuge to fight with strength, not to escape war in weakness.


II. Report of Deliverance from Death: 3–19

The Distress: 3–5

“Who is worthy to be praised” looks back to verses 1–2 and ahead to the victory report that typically opens with a summary statement: “I called . . . and I was saved” (NIV; yš‘, see 3:7), a catchword with verse 2. For “the cords of death encompassed (or entangled) me” has the variant reading in 2 Samuel 22:5: “the waves of death swirled about me” (cf. Jonah 2:1–6). “The torrents” refer to a deadly flash-flood in a narrow ravine such as happens in the narrow Petra siq. “The cords of death” (lit. “of Sheol,” see 6:5) pictures him as a prisoner in Hades. The fowlers’ “snares of death confronted mesignifies there is no escape from facing murder.

A Theophany of the Deliverer: 6–19

The LORD as deliverer is portrayed in a theophany (a divine manifestation) that begins in the heavenly temple, where God’s anger flares when the call of his anointed reaches him (18:6–8). Thereupon the LORD leaves his residence to ride the storm clouds (18:9–11); from on high he strikes the earth with thunderbolts (18:12–15) and then reaches down to rescue his anointed from the deadly flood of enemies (18:16–19).

Anger in Heaven: 6–8

“In my distress” looks back to verses 3–5 and so segues into the theophany, and so do the repetitions: “I called to the LORD” (18:3a, 6a) and “cry for help” (18:3b, 6b). “From his” heavenly “temple” (better, “palace,” see 11:4). The poet personifies the “cry” as a courier, coming before the LORD to speak in “his ears.” To convey the LORD’s fierce response, “he was angry,” the poet uses the imagery of an earthquake: “the earth reeled and rocked” to the very “foundations of the mountains.” Such is the seismic power of prayer. The poet likens the LORD’s angry visage to that of a dragon: “smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him.”

The Deliverer Rides the Clouds: 9–11

“He bowed the heavens and came down”; ominous “dark clouds were under his feet” (NIV). “He rode on a cherub” whose wings were the LORD’s throne in the darkness of the Most Holy Place. Cherubim were probably winged lion-sphinxes with human heads. Sitting on his throne, “he flew . . . on the wings of the wind.” Paradoxically the thunder clouds both conceal (18:11) and reveal him (18:12). As to the former, “he made darkness his covering . . . the dark rain clouds of the sky” (NIV).

The Deliverer Fights from the Clouds: 12–15

The paradox of clouds concealing (18:11) and revealing (18:12) segues from riding the clouds into fighting from them. “Out of the brightness before him” (i.e., lightning within the clouds”) the “clouds advance” (NIV; “burn” in 2Sam 22:13) “with hailstones and great bolts of lightning” (lit. “with coals of fire”), likening the lightning to flaming arrows. Hailstones can be as large as six inches and weigh more than a pound. Lightning, hotter than the sun, strikes suddenly, swiftly, and precisely, creating panic. The Warrior roars from his chariots: “the LORD also thundered in the heavens,” towering over the usurpers of his righteous servant whom he anointed to rule. “He sent out his arrows . . . he flashed forth lightning . . . and routed them” in confused flight. “The blast from his nostrils” was so great “the valleys of the sea were exposed” (NIV), probably an allusion to the Exodus (Exod 15:8).

The Rescue: 16–19

The catchword “water” segues into the rescue (18:15a, 16b). “He reached down” from his cloud-chariots “on high . . . and drew me out of deep” or flood “waters” (NIV), a metaphor for chaos (see 32:6). “He rescued (nṣl) me from my strong enemy (plural) . . . for they were too strong for me. They confronted me . . . but the LORD was my support . . . and brought me out into a broad place” of freedom from the distress that hemmed him in. “Because he delighted in me,” a man after God’s own heart (1Sam 13:14), segues into the moral principle.


III. The Moral Principle: 20–29

The poet first explains to his audience that the LORD delighted in him according to the moral principle that he rewards virtue and punishes vice (18:20–24). Then, addressing the LORD, he praises him for this moral perfection (18:25–27). His reward is specified in verses 28–29.

With Reference to David: 20–24

“The LORD dealt with me according to my righteousness” (see 1:5; 5:8) frames the unit (18:20, 24). He explains in the following couplet, where each verse begins with “for”. Paul and Timothy similarly say, “Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves . . . with integrity and godly sincerity” (2Cor 1:12). In the next couplet, where each verse in the Hebrew text has the same unique, initial grammatical form,134 he matches his and the LORD’s integrity (18:23–24). Assuming David composed this song after he sinned against the LORD and Bathsheba (2Sam 10–11), his claims to moral purity can be explained in two ways: he is using, like the following aphorisms, unqualified statements, and/or God answered his prayer: “create in me a pure heart, O God” (Ps 51:10; cf. 1Kgs 14:8; 15:5).

A Universal Principle: 25–26

This couplet, linked by a fourfold clause initial “with,” is an aphorism that states moral truths without qualifying them. “With the faithful” servant (Hebrew ḥāsîd, see 4:3), who keeps the stipulations of the covenant, “you show yourself faithful” (NIV) to reward according to the covenant promises; “with the blameless” likewise refers to the human and divine covenant obligations (cf. Prov 10:22). The same is true of “to the pure you show yourself pure, but to the devious you show yourself shrewd” (NIV), as when God used the unwitting and wicked hands of rulers to crucify the Christ in order to provide atonement for the world. Had they known, “they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1Cor 2:1–8; cf. Rom 1:28). These aphorisms look to the end of a matter and do not qualify the truth by the sufferings before them.135 Like Proverbs, the Psalter must be read holistically; its many laments and protests qualify these aphorisms; and so does verse 27.

The Reward: 27–29

This triplet, which pertains to the LORD’s reward, is linked in the Hebrew text by “for.” Another aphorism (18:27) segues from the moral principle into a focus on the reward. An initial emphatic “you” links verses 27, 28 and equates David (18:28) with the humble (18:28). “Save” (yš‘) returns to the theme of the psalm (see 18:2). “[To] the humble” or poor and oppressed qualifies the preceding aphorisms, “But the haughty eyes” reveal the inner cast of mind. The figure “light my lamp” signifies “to continue in life and prosperity” (1Kgs 11:36; Jer 25:10; Job 18:6). A snuffed-out light marked a premature and calamitous death (2Sam 21:17; Prov 13:9). “My God turns my darkness into light” (NIV; see 36:9) is a figurative equivalent of verse 27a, picturing his oppressed state as darkness and his salvation as light. Verse 29 functions as a transition into celebrating God’s giving his king the strength to subdue nations. “By you (i.e., with your help) I can run” or charge “against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall” (i.e., a terrace wall).


IV. Report of Deliverance to Rule Nations: 30–45

The report of “Deliverance to Rule,” like the report of “Deliverance from Death,” opens with praise (18:30–31). The former’s two parts of praise and report are marked by an initial and emphatic hā‘ēl, translated “as for God” (18:30) and “it is God” (18:32).

Praise of God’s Perfection: 30–31

The opening praise of the second report (cf. 18:3–19) echoes the opening praise by repeating “Rock” (18:2, 31) and “take refuge (18:2, 30). It also serves as a transition from the moral principle to the second report of deliverance. In verse 30 the moral perfection of God’s Word—such as his covenant promises to David (2Sam 7:8–16)—is praised, employing catchwords from “the moral principle.” “As for God, his way (NIV; see 18:21) is perfect” (tāmîm, translated “blameless” in 18:25, 32), here signifies that his promises do not fail. “The LORD’s word is flawless” (NIV; lit. “purified”). The refiner’s imagery, which implies the preciousness of the LORD’s Word, asserts his Word is totally trustworthy. “He is a shield to all” and “you have given me the shield of your salvation” (18:35) reenforces the notion that God himself is “my strength” (18:1). Logical “for” implies that only God is perfect. Rhetorical “who is God but the LORD” anticipates the answer: an emphatic “No one.” Biblical authors speak of other gods because these figments of human imagination are existential realities to depraved people (cf. Exod 20:3), but in their teaching there is only One God (Deut 4:39), revealed in the New Testament as a unified Trinity.

Report of Deliverance: 32–45

This report consists of two sections of seven verses each, marked off by the refrain “equipped me with strength” (ḥayil, “competent strength; 18:32–38, 39–45). The first half features the Sovereign arming David with strength; the second features God subduing the nations under the feet of his anointed.

The LORD’s Provision to Subdue Nations: 32–38

After the summary statement (18:32), three couplets, framed by the motif of “feet” (18:33, 38), are unified by changing initial pronouns: “he” (18:33), “you” (18:35), and “I” (18:37). God gives his saints strength to defeat his and their enemies.

He begins the unit with a summary stating (18:32) David’s war is holy war—that is to say, the divine Warrior wages war through his servant to establish his righteous kingdom: “The God who equipped me with strength and made my way blameless” [tāmîm], an echo of “his (God’s) way is perfect” (tāmîm, 18:30), matching David’s perfection in battle with God’s perfection. (Tāmîm now links the opening praise to the second report of deliverance.) This second report first portrays the LORD provisioning and arming David to fight (18:33–36) and then pictures David pursuing and annihilating his enemy (18:37–38).

David now specifies the LORD’s provision for battle (18:33–36). The motif of “feet,” “ankles” frames the two couplets.

The first couplet pertains to his sure feet and strong hands (18:33–34). Initial “who” (translated “he”) and the catchword “feet” unite the couplet and functions to segue from “who [equips]” to this couplet. The simile “makes my feet like the feet of a deer” signifies security, as explained by “set me secure on the heights. He trains my hands (from elbow to fingertip) for war so that my arms (from shoulder to elbow) can bend a bow of bronze,” showing David’s divine strength; bows were normally made of flexible wood. Ulysses left behind in Ithaca a bow that only he could bend (Perowne). Archaeologists have never uncovered a bronze bow.

The second couplet praises that the LORD saves, sustains, and exalts (18:35–36). In “the report to rule” center couplet, the poet addresses God directly to give all praise to him. “You make your saving help (lit. “your salvation”) my shield (NIV; see 18:2; 7:10), and your right hand (see 7:7) supported me.” More than that, and most amazingly, God humbled himself to exalt David (cf. Ps 8:4): “Your condescension (translation mine) made me great” (cf. 2Sam 8:13). The LORD calls and gifts his people according to his pleasure (cf. 2Sam 7:9, 21, 28ff; 1Cor 12). The Medal of Honor belongs to him.

His salvation is complete and endures. “You gave me a wide place for my steps (lit. “stride”) under me” to give me firm footing and so to run freely without fear of tripping. The notion of an enduring salvation is highlighted symbolically by “so that my ankles do not give way” (NIV).

The climatic couplet expresses “enemies subdued” (18:37–38). “I pursued,” or put to flight, “my enemies . . . till they were consumed” or exterminated, underscored by “I thrust them through, so that they were not able to rise.” As verse 29 anticipated the report of “Deliverance to Rule,” this final couplet anticipates the second portion of the “report to rule” (18:39–45).

David Becomes Head of the Nations: 39–45

The summary statement (18:39) is unpacked in two triplets: destruction of the enemy (18:40–42) and David becoming head of the nations (18:43–45).

Summary Statement: 39

First the summary statement (18:39). “You equipped me with strength for the battle” repeats verse 32 and marks off the second half of the “Deliverance to Rule.” Its parallel, “you made those who rise against me (qûm; better, “who attacked me”) sink down” (Hebrew kr‘, cause to bow down [in death]), summarizes 18:40–46.

Enemies Eliminated: 40–42

The first triplet pertains to “enemies eliminated” (18:40–42). A focus on David’s destruction of the enemy unifies the triplets. “You made my enemies (see 18:37) turn their backs to me” in flight (lit. “you gave me their necks” [i.e., “to place my foot on their necks as a sign of my victory,” cf. Josh 10:24]), “and those who hated me I destroyed. “The enemy’s opportunity for salvation had come to an end: “They cried for help (cf. 18:7) . . . to the LORD, but he did not answer”(see 3:4; cf. Prov 1:28ff). Prayer that has seismic power for saints is powerless for sinners at their time of judgment. “I beat them fine as dust before the wind” (cf. 1:4) signifies their extermination (cf. 18:40b). “I cast them out like the mire of the streets” connotes contempt, and ignominious treatment. Truth has a sharp edge, and this battle report does not dull it.

The King Rules: 43–45

The second triplet: “the king rules” (18:43–45). Verse 43a functions as a transition from David’s destruction of the enemy (18:40–42) to his rule over them (18:43–45). “You have delivered me” (see above superscript) into security “from strife with the people.” 18:43b looks ahead to 18:44ff. His claim, “you made me the head of nations; people I did not know now serve (NIV) me” as their master, looks ahead to 18:44ff. “Foreigners they come (NIV) trembling” in a show of obedience “from their strongholds” (i.e., places well protected by natural features). In sum, they are defeated both militarily and spiritually.


V. Praise of the Lord as Strong Deliverer: 46–49

These reports of the deliverance from death to dominion give proof “the LORD lives”! And still does.

This climatic benediction addressed to the LORD, “blessed be” (i.e., the state of possessing the human benefaction of gratitude for the divine blessing of life and prosperity), echoes the opening praise by repeating “my Rock (ṣûr) . . . the God of my salvation” (18:2b). Through this victory song the LORD is socially “exalted.”

Verses 47–48 reprise the two reports of deliverance (18:3–19, 30–45) but in a chiastic structure, bringing closure to the song: “Deliverance to Rule the Nations” (18:47) and “Salvation from Death” (18:48). “The God” echoes the introduction to the report of ruling nations (18:32). “Who gave me vengeance” signifies when God exercised his legitimate right to secure his rule and keep his community whole by delivering his wronged subject and punishing those who do not respect his rule.136 The parallel confirms this interpretation: “who subdues” (better, “subdues” [see 2Sam 18:47]) “peoples under me, who delivered (plṭ, see 18:2) me from my enemies” (see 18:3). “You delivered me from a man of violence,” a reference to Saul (see superscript).

In David’s concluding praise to the LORD (18:49), he dedicates his song to the LORD. Often a hymn ends with reference to music (e.g., 7:17; 9:11ff; 21:13), for this looks back to his entire song. “I will” give grateful “praise (see superscript) to you, O LORD, among the nations,” who may have been represented by their ambassadors at the temple, “and sing to your name”(see 7:17).


Addendum: The House of the David Endures Forever: 50

“Great salvation” looks back to 18:1–49. “He shows steadfast love . . . to his descendants forever” echoes the Davidic Covenant (2Sam 7:15ff) and anticipates the advent of the Lord Jesus Christ.


Postscript: Psalm 19: Superscript

“To the choirmaster.”


Psalm 19

The content and structure of David’s “meditation” (19:14, see 1:1), a Torah psalm , at a glance:137


I. Praise of God’s Glory Mediated by the Heavens: 1–6

A. Heavens Declare Universally God’s Glory and Knowledge:1–4a

B. Sun’s Universal Testimony: 4b–6

II. Praise of Beauty and Benefits of LORD’s Law: 7–11

III. Prayer for Salvation from Sin within and Apostates Without: 12–13

IV. Dedicatory Prayer: 14

Postscript: Psalm 20: superscript



“For the choirmaster.” Postscript of Psalm 18.

“A psalm of David” .

The change of the divine name from “God” (19:1–6) to “the LORD” (19:7–14) agrees with the change of meditation involving God’s transcendence to a meditation relating to his covenant relationship with Israel. By another reckoning, its structure is a memorable six verses about the Creation, five verses about the Law, and four verses of prayers.

The sky, a metonymy for astral objects such as sun and moon, testifies universally to God’s knowledge—“nothing is hidden from the glowing heat of the sun” (19:6). The display of God’s glory in creation and of his universal knowledge lays the foundation for submitting to his Law. Moreover, both the sun and the Law are essential to life.

The Law warns the attentive servant (see Ps 18: superscript) of the deadly danger of breaking it and of the great reward in keeping its judgments (19:11, the psalm’s key verse). So the servant humbly prays to be free both of the guilt of hidden errors and also of apostasy prompted by insolent people whom he otherwise cannot resist.

The Lord Jesus Christ deepened the meaning of the Law (Matt 5–7). Moreover, he was free of even hidden faults, and, empowered by the Spirit upon him and the Word within him, he routed Satan.


I. Praise of God's Glory Mediated by the Heavens: 1–6

The poet narrows his focus from the sky (19:1–4) to the sun (19:5–6).

Heavens Declare Universally God’s Glory and Knowledge: 1–4a

The personified “heavens (see Ps 8:1, 3) declare—pour out” (19:2) in irrepressible speech “the glory (see 29:1) of God” (see 16:1). More specifically, the dome-like “sky above proclaims his handiwork” universally in time (19:2) and in space (19:4). Paul borrows this verse to speak of the diffusion of the message of Jesus Christ throughout his world (Rom 10:18). Oxymoronically, the sun, moon, and stars speak without uttering a word because their testimony is heard “in reason’s ear” (19:3; Rom 1:19ff).

Sun’s Universal Testimony: 4b–6

The radiance of the morning “sun” (19:4b) is likened to the vigor and joy of “a bridegroom leaving his chamber,” the nuptial tent where the marriage was consummated; and to a “strong man” or “champion” who “runs his course with joy,” for it can outrun any sprinter and outdistance any marathoner. As it runs “its circuit” nothing is prevented or protected from feeling its glowing heat.


II. Praise of Beauty and Benefits of the Lord's Law: 7–11

The poet now praises “the law of the LORD” (see 1:2), using five equivalent terms for it (see Ps 119, note xxx): “the testimony or stipulations”), “precepts” (perhaps “what is appointed”), “fear of the LORD” (obedience to his laws out of trust that he upholds his promise to reward obedience and his threat to punish disobedience), and “rules” or “rulings.” The repetition “of the LORD” hammers home that he is its Author. Versets 7a and 8a praise the Law’s moral beauty: “perfect” (tāmîm, cannot be added to or taken away from), “sure” or “trustworthy,” “reliable”), “right” (better, “upright” [see 7:10]), “pure” (lit. “scoured clean”). Versets 7b and 8b celebrate its social benefits: “reviving the soul” (i.e., revitalizing a person’s passions; see 6:3), “making wise” (“having masterful skill to retain life”) “the simple” (i.e., the inexperienced), “rejoicing to the heart” (see 7:10), and “enlightening” (better, “giving light to”) “the eyes,” a visible manifestation of inward well-being. Verse 9 praises the Law’s moral beauty: “clean” or pure (i.e., free of moral impurity) and so, like being free of a disease, “enduring forever”; “true” (or “firm” [i.e., cannot be revoked]) and “righteous” (i.e., does what is right by others according to God’s laws [see 5:8]).

Verse 10 celebrates the Law’s benefits figuratively. Amazingly, from the perspective of normative Christian theology, it is “more to be desired (lit. “to be coveted”) than . . . much fine (i.e., “pure”) gold and sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.”

Verse 11 is a janus. Looking ahead to hidden sin and apostasy (19:12–13), “moreover (as a further matter” to 19:9–10) by them (i.e., “the rulings” [19:9]) your servant (see Ps 18: superscript) is warned” of the threats for disobeying the Law. And looking back to “much (rab) gold,” also “in keeping (to preserve by faithful obedience”) them is great (rab) reward.


III. Prayers for Salvation from Sin Within and Apostates Without: 12–13

The servant’s requests to be acquitted of hidden errors (19:12) and to be held back from arrogant apostates (19:13) infer his humility: he cannot avoid hidden sin within and needs God’s help to resist apostates without.

The rhetorical question expecting a negative answer, “but who can discern his” own “errors” (šenî’ôt, a unique term), abases the human being in contrast to God who discerns them. “Declare me innocent from hidden faults” that cannot be discerned (cf. 1Tim 1:13). Also, “keep (ḥāšaḥ, “to hold back”) your servant . . . from the arrogant” (NAB; “the insolent” [NRS]). The arrogant are apostates, for they inferentially committed the great transgression/rebellion. David is asking to overcome satanic forces without. “Let them (the arrogant) not have dominion” or rule “over me.” Without God’s help he is no match for Satan, who spiritually energizes insolent people, as the failure of Adam and Eve to resist the Serpent shows (cf. Eph 6:12). “Then I shall be blameless and innocent (i.e., free from justly deserved punishment) of the great transgression” (see 5:10; i.e., apostasy; cf. Heb 6:6; 1Jn 5:16).


IV. Dedicatory Prayer: 14

“Let the words of my mouth” should be understood as the “protocol of the royal court, asking for the favor of acceptance.”138 The servant asks that his verbal meditation be accepted because the LORD is “my Rock” (see 18:2) and “my Redeemer” (i.e., family protector; e.g., he buys back a family member from slavery or avenges their blood). Both metaphors signify deliverance, but in power and in love, respectively. The postscript (see Ps 20: superscript) infers its acceptance.


Postscript: Psalm 20: Superscript

“To the choirmaster.”


Psalm 20

The content and structure of this royal song of trust  at a glance:


I. The Army’s Benedictions on the King to Answer His Prayer: 1–5

A. Benediction for Protection in Battle: 1–3

B. Benediction for Total Victory in Answer to King’s Prayer: 4–5

II. King’s Assurance to the Army: The LORD Will Answer: 6

III. The Army’s Confession of Trust in the LORD and Petition to Answer: 7–9

A. Confession of Trust: 7–8

B. Petition for King’s Victory and a Self-Benediction: 9

Postscript: Psalm 21: superscript



“For the choirmaster”: postscript of Psalm 19 .

“A psalm of David” 

The army’s benedictions on their king for victory in answer to his prayer on the battle field (20:1–5) and their confidence in the LORD’s deliverance and petition the LORD will answer their prayer for king’s victory (20:7–9) surround an extended center line of the king’s confession to the people of his certainty that that LORD will answer his prayer and deliver him (20:6), the psalm’s message and key verse. The key word “answer” frames the psalm and stands at the center of verse 6.

David and his army are a type of Christ and the spiritually militant Church who overcome a hostile world by faith and prayer.


I. Army's Benedictions on the King to Answer His Prayer: 1–5

The key word “answer” and its equivalent “fulfill petitions” frame the stanza. They first ask for the LORD’s benedictory protection in answer to his prayer (20:1–3) and then for his full victory in answer to his petitions (20:4–5).

Benediction for Protection in Battle: 1–3

The psalm opens res media with the benedictory formula “May the LORD answer you” (see 3:4). As the psalm progresses, we learn that the pray-ers, who identify themselves as “we,” are the divisions of the army (see “our banners” [20:5], their not trusting in their military might [20:7]). And standing triumphant over the foe (20:8). The “you” is the LORD’s “anointed” (20:6), and so his sacred property. The scene is the king, having offered up votive sacrifices, about to go forth to wage war “in the day of trouble.” Their benedictory prayer is for total victory: “May the LORD fulfill all your petitions!”

“May the name (see 5:11) of the God of Jacob” (cf. Gen 35:3), a military title of the LORD (46:7; 75:9ff; 76:6). “May he send you help (e.g., Judg 4:7; Ps 18; 1Chr 20:1–31) from the sanctuary” (i.e., his holy place set apart by the LORD’s purity and power) in “Mount Zion” (see Ps 2:6; 3:1–2; cf. 1Kgs 8:29, 44).

“May he remember (see 9:11) all your offerings” refers to a tribute of a sufficient quantity and quality of animals offered on the altar to honor the LORD and seek his favor. “Regard with favor” or accept (lit. “to clear away the fatty ashes”) whole “burnt” offerings, symbolic of dependence and devotion. “Selah”

Benediction for Total Victory in Answer to King’s Prayer: 4–5

“May he . . . fulfill all your plans! May we set up our banners” (i.e., the standards of the army’s divisions [Num 1:52; 2:2]). The “requests” (miš’alôt, “desires” [cf. 37:4]) are those of “one who is after God’s own heart” (1Sam 13:14) and so desires the defeat of evil (cf. Matt 6:10).


II. King's Assurance to Army: The Lord Will Answer Him: 6

“Now (in light of the benediction reinforcing the king’s prayers, 20:1–5) I (i.e., the king; see superscript and p. xxx) know” with all my being: “the LORD saves (3:7) his anointed (see 2:2) from his heavenly sanctuary” (NIV), which is replicated on Zion, “with the saving might (i.e., the heroic strength to carry out the king’s plans) of his right hand” (see 16:8).


III. The Army's Confession of Trust in the Lord and Petition to Answer: 7–9

Confession of Trust: 7–8

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses” or “in horse-drawn chariots,” the ancient equivalent of tanks. “But we trust” (lit. “make mention in hymns of praise”). The antithesis is not between military might and the LORD, but between trusting the means rather than the Blesser (cf. Deut 17:16a). “They (i.e., the inferred enemy whom they are fighting) collapse,” or are brought to their knees, “and fall” in death. As a result of the LORD’s response to the army’s faith, “we rise and stand firm” (lit. “keep ourselves upright”).

Army’s Petition for King’s Victory and a Self-Benediction: 9

The army ends their song of trust with a prayer for the king’s victory and a benediction on themselves. “O LORD, save the king! May he answer us when (lit. “in the day” [of battle, see 20:1]) we call” for protection and victory.


Postscript: Psalm 21: Superscript

“To the choirmaster.”


Psalm 21

The content and structure of this royal victory song  at a glance:


I. The King’s Joy in the LORD’s Strength: 1

II. The LORD’s Blessings on His King: 2–6

III. The King Trusts in the LORD: 7

IV. The King’s Victories over his Enemies: 8–12

A. On the Offensive: 8–10

B. On the Defensive: 11–12

V. Israel’s Joy in the LORD’s Strength: 13

Postscript: Psalm 22: superscript



“For the choirmaster.” Postscript of Psalm 20 .

“A psalm of David” .

This royal victory song, originally performed by Levites (see 21:13; 1Chr 25) after the triumphant king returns from battle, complements the army’s prayer for the king before battle (see 20:4). Like its complement, it too is structured as a balanced chiasm around a single line (21:7). As in Psalm 20, first the king’s “salvation” is featured (20:5; 21:5) and then his victory over the enemy (20:7–8; 21:8–12). Moreover, both end in an imperative: “O LORD, save the king (21:10) and “Be exalted, O LORD” (20:9; 21:13).

The choir celebrates “you,” the LORD, in 21:1–6; and “you,” the king, in 21:9–12. “In your strength” (see 18:1) frames the psalm and is determinative for the king’s deliverance and victory (cf. Phil 4:13). The center line (21:7, the key verse, as in 20:7) breaks the fourth wall, and the singers explain to the audience the message: the king’s faith unleashes the divine strength, and the LORD’s steadfast love secures his dominion.

The psalm is very pregnant with the Messiah: it envisions the eschaton when the wicked are no more (21:10). King David, robed in praise fit for the Messiah, finds fulfillment in Christ.


I. The King's Joy in the Lord's Strength: 1

The enveloping terms of the psalm’s first half—śmḥ, “rejoices,” “make glad” (21:1, 6; see 5:11) and yš‘,salvation” (21:2, 5; see 3:7; cf. 20:6, 9)—summarize its mood and content.


II. The Lord's Blessing on His King: 2–6

In answer to the king’s prayer (21:2), and within the frame of “rich” and “blessings” (21:3a, 6a), four blessings—set apart by “selah” (21:2)—are enumerated.

“You have given him his heart’s desire” (see 20:5, 6). The king’s righteous aspiration to destroy tyrants (see 21:11) is rooted in his regenerated nature (see 20:4, 6) and finds expression in “the requests of his lips” (cf. 2:6–7).

Logical “for”—explaining the praise in verses 1 and 2—”you came to greet him” (NIV) pictures the LORD meeting his victorious king with four “rich blessings,” as when Melchizedek met victorious Abraham with bread and wine (cf. Gen 14:17–20): 

1. “You set a crown of fine gold upon head” recalls the king of Ammon’s sixty-six-pound crown of gold placed on David’s head (2Sam 12:30). 

2. “You gave it (life) to him” is qualified by “length of days, forever and ever,” probably beyond clinical death, as David hoped for in Psalms 16:11 and 17:15 (cf. Isa 53:10). “Forever,” however, could be a hyperbole (cf. “May the king live forever!” [1Kgs 1:31; Neh 2:3; Dan 24]) or a reference to his posterity (cf. 21:10).

3. “His glory (see 29:1) is great through your salvation” is unpackaged by “splendor” (regal and stately magnificence or pomp), to which “majesty” adds eminence.

4. The greatest blessing and the wellspring of the other blessings is “the joy of your presence” (cf. Exod 33:15–17).


III. The King's Trust in the Lord: 7

Logical for now signals the cause of these blessings: “the king trusts (see 13:6; cf. 20:7) in the LORD.” “Through (better, “on account of”) the steadfast love (ḥesed, see 5:7; cf. 2Sam 7:15) of the Most High”—an old name for God, signifying his universal rule (cf. Gen 14:19ff; 18:40)—the king “will not be moved” (mōṭ Niphal, “shaken” [13:5; 16:8]; “slip” [17:5]; i.e., not toppled from his throne).


IV. The King Destroys His Enemies Forever: 8–12

The singers now address the king (see 21:12), celebrating his victories both on the offensive (21:9–10) and on the defensive (21:11–12).

On the Offensive: 8–10

His victory has three stages: 

1. “Your right hand (see 7:10) finds139 (i.e., “lays hold of” [21:8a] and “seizes” [21:8b]; cf. NIV) your enemies” (21:9)

2. “When . . . burn them up.” To underscore that the LORD is working through his king (cf. 18:32; Phil 2:13), the singers explain, “The LORD . . . his fire consumes them” due to “his wrath” (see 21:11; cf. 2:5; 2Thes 1:7b–9).

3. “You (i.e., the king) destroy” or erase “their descendants (lit. “fruit”) from the earth, and  their posterity (lit. “seed”) from mankind.”

The psalm is very pregnant with the eschatological Messiah . The circumstances of holy war differ in the Old Testament and New Testament but not its theology (see Ps 18: superscript).

On the Defensive: 11–12

“They (i.e., the tyrants) cannot succeed” in executing their plot to kill the king; “for” (omitted in ESV) explains why. “You (the king) will make them turn their backs” in a rout (cf. 18:40) “when you aim at them with drawn bow” (cf. 18:34).


V. Israel's Joy in the Lord's Strength: 13

“Be exalted (cf. 18:46) in your strength” expresses the singer’s desire that God accept their praise. “We will (a resolve) sing (i.e., words put to music) and praise (better, “make music with instruments,” see 18:49) your might” (see 57:5, 11).


Postscript: Psalm 22: Superscript

“To the choirmaster: according to The Doe of the Dawn.”


Psalm 22

This complaint-petition psalm matches Psalm 17 in the arrangement of Psalms 15–24 .

The content and structure of this typically prophetic psalm of Messiah at a glance:


I. Complaint and Confidence: 1–10 (10 verses)

A. First Cycle: 1–5 (5 verses)

1. Abandoned by God: 1–2

2. Fathers Trusted and Delivered: 3–5

B. Second Cycle: 6–10 (5 verses)

1. Abandoned by People: 6–8

2. Chosen to Trust from Birth: 9–10

C. Janus: 11

II. Lament and Petition: 12–21 (10 verses)

A. Enemies and Personal Suffering: 12–18 (7 verses)

1. First Cycle: 12–15

2. Second Cycle: 16–18

B. Petition: Come Quickly and Deliver: 19–21 (3 verses)

III. Praise: 22–31 (10 verses)

A. Of Israel: 22–26 (5 verses)

1. Words: 22–24

2. Sacrifice: 25–26

B. Of Nations: 27–31 (5 verses)

1. Universal National Praise: 27–28

2. Universal Social and Temporal Praise: 29–31



“A psalm of David” .

The psalm’s remarkable symmetry betrays the pray-er’s inner peace.

The psalm moves from trial to triumph through fervent prayer, while allowing memory to serve as a handmaid to faith. The trial consists of feelings of abandonment by God and by people (22:1–10) and of persecution to death by powerful and cruel people (22:11–21). The triumph consists of deliverance from death to universal dominion in space and time (22:22–31).

The psalm is typically-prophetic (see also Ps 16)—that is to say, the Spirit of Christ is speaking through David . David’s passion and deliverance are a type of Christ’s death and resurrection, but he employs five terms that find their unique fulfillment in Christ’s passion narrative: 

1. casting lots for his garments (22:18; cf. Mark 15:24; John 19:23–24)

2. parching thirst (22:15; cf. John 19:28–29)

3. agony of disjointed bones (22:14)

4. digging holes into the hands and feet (22:16; cf. John 20:27)

5. mocking by enemies (22:8; cf. Matt 27:39–43; Luke 23:35)

When put together, a picture emerges of a Roman crucifixion, a form of execution unknown to David. While hanging on the cross, Jesus employed the psalm’s opening cry of abandonment (22:1; Matt 27:46), and the writer of Hebrews identifies the antecedent of “I will declare your name to my brothers, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you” (22:22) as Jesus (Heb 2:12). The section on praise contains soul-stirring prophecies.

This remarkable psalm of Christ’s death and resurrection enjoins the whole Church and all nations to worship the living, triune God.


I. Complaint and Confidence: 1–10

The framing inclusio around two synchronic cycles of the complaint and confidence motifs, “my God (22:1a, 10b), combines God’s transcendence with personal intimacy. The psalmist’s moods sway from complaint of abandonment by God (22:1–2) and by people (22:6–8) to confidence by recalling both the deliverances of his ancestors (22:3–5) and his divine election to a life of faith (22:9–10). The confidence motif is introduced by “yet you” (22:3, 9).

First Cycle: 1–5

Abandoned by God: 1–2

Complaints to God imply that the life of faith is not mindless obedience but an engagement with a living God. The rhetorical cry “why have you forsaken me (22:1) voices the saint’s perplexity. As they crush the Serpent, their own heel is crushed (Gen 3:15; Rom 16:20), and through that suffering they grow in virtue (Rom 5:3–5). Even Christ learned obedience in the perplexity of being unjustly persecuted and feeling abandoned by God. The question is not real, for the psalm makes no attempt to answer it; rather, the question aims to move God to pity and to “saving me” (cf. 3:7). The pathos of the saint’s situation is intensified by God’s shouting silence in response: “you do not answer” (see 3:4); and, further exacerbated by the awful delay, “I cry out by day” and “by night but I find no rest” from crying out for a just deliverance. Though the question is not resolved rationally, it is resolved emotionally by hearing the psalm holistically. His anguished cry led to his universal dominion.

Fathers Trusted and Delivered: 3–5

“Yet you” typically transforms complaint to confidence (cf. Ps 3:3). The epithet, “the Holy One,” speaks of God’s moral purity and dreadful transcendent power that separates him from mankind. “Of Israel” recalls that Jacob’s name was changed to “One Who Prevails with God and People” by wrestling in the darkness of the night with the LORD’s unseen surrogate until God blessed him (cf. Gen 32:24–29; Hos 12:4). “Our ancestors” extends from Abraham about 120 generations ago to today (cf. Rom 4:12; 1Cor 10:1; Gal 3:29). God’s track record, “you delivered them,” emboldens faith. The ancestors risked their lives “and were not put to shame” (Ps 22:5), a tapinosis (i.e., an understatement to give more honor). But some died martyrs (Heb 11:35b–40).

Second Cycle: 6–10

Abandoned by People: 6–8

“But I” signals the switch back to complaint. The metaphor and hyperbole, “I am a worm and not a man,” is poetry, the language of emotions. This is how he feels being “despised by” his own “people” (see 3:7), corroborated by the sarcastic blasphemy of “all (i.e., his people) who see me mock me . . . they say: Let him (the LORD) deliver” or rescue “him,” a metonymy for their putting him to death. Their own words, “for he (the LORD) delights (see 18:19) in him,” damns them as murderers.

Chosen to Trust from Birth: 9–10

“Yet you” signals the shift from his denigration by everyone to God’s high calling on his life: “You brought me out of the womb” (NIV) and, as a covenant child, his faith was in the milk of “my mother’s breasts.”

Janus: 11

“Do not be far from me” looks back to his complaint in verse 2 and shows that the chosen persevere in prayer in spite of God’s silence. “For trouble is near” looks ahead to his passions in death. “There is no [mortal] to help;” only God can save him. By repeating the petition in verse 19, the poet indicates that the petitions in verses 19–21 occur before his death in the following two synchronic cycles of lament, both of which end in his death.


II. Lament and Petition: 12–21

The lament and petition motifs are bound together by chiastically repeating the animal imagery of the lament: bulls (22:12), lions (22:13), dogs (22:16) // dog (22:20), lion (22:21a), wild oxen (22:21b). 

Enemies and Personal Suffering: 12–18

The lament motif also occurs in two synchronically overlapping cycles, both of which are introduced by “encompass me” (22:12, 16). The first ends with God laying him in the dust of death (22:15), and the second ends with his malefactors distributing his garments as plunder after his death (22:18). Both cycles of the lament begin with nightmarish, zoomorphic images of the murderers surrounding their helpless victim (22:11, 16). In incantation texts of David’s world, they are images of demons, and in other texts, of rulers. These ghoulish images are accompanied with the victim’s feelings of being powerless as his body sinks into death. The zoomorphic images and the reality of the victim overlap one another. In the first cycle his bones become disjointed; in the second they are on display.

First Cycle: 12–15

Enemy: Bulls and Lions: 12–13

“Many” and “strong bulls of Bashan” (the fertile land bounded in the north by Mount Hermon and in the south by Jabbok River, and by the Sea of Galilee on the west, and the Hauran range on the east) “encompass me,” allowing him no escape. The malefactors are now likened to a lion. “They open wide their mouths” to tear him apart “like a lion” (see 17:12). In sum, these images represent his malefactors as bestial: powerful, ferocious, and without compassion.

Personal: Bones, Heart, Tongue: 14–15

I am poured out like water” depicts a sudden, massive spillage, not a slow leak, and is interpreted by “all my bones are out of joint.” “My heart,” as physical as bones and tongue, like wax “is melted away.” The sudden breaking apart of his bones, his fainting heart, his extreme desiccation—”My mouth140 is as dry as a potsherd, my tongue sticks to my palate” (CJB)—is apt for Roman crucifixion, whereby the victim dies by asphyxiation, not for stoning, the Israelite form of execution (cf. Num 15:36; Acts 7:58ff). The ultimate Agent is God (cf. Ps 21:9b). Through wicked hands “you lay me in the dust of death” (see 7:5), provoking the question, How did he live to tell the tale?

Second Cycle: 16–18

Enemy: Dogs: 16

Logical “for” further explains his death. Contemptible, unclean, scavenging “dogs surround me” returns to the time of verse 12. “A gang of evil men (NET; i.e., morally disgusting) pierce (so LXX141) my hands and my feet.”

Personal: Bones and Garments: 17–18

“All my bones are on display, people stare.” The villains’ hatred is so great that instead of pitying him, in schadenfreude “they gloat over me.” As victors they plunder him, “they divide my clothes among them and cast lost for my garment;” presumably, that’s all he owned.

Petition: Come Quickly and Deliver: 19–21

“But you” signals the change of perspective from a focus on the enemy and self in dying and death back to a focus on the LORD, “my strength” (a unique Hebrew term meaning “help” or “strength”). “Be not far from me” signals a return to the time of torment, before his death (22:11). His petition is twofold: “come quickly to my aid” and “deliver my soul” (i.e., “me”). The military symbol “from the sword” provides the context for interpreting “from dogs, lions,” and “horns of the wild oxen,” a reversal of the zoomorphic imagery of the lament. The summarizing final petition, “answer me,” forms an inclusio around verses 1–21, separating it from the final section of praise.


III. Praise: 22–31

As suddenly as the resurrected Christ appeared among his disciples, the psalmist, who was laid in the dust of death and whose garments became plunder, is “in the” midst of the worshiping “assembly,” praising the LORD, and not encircled by rapacious animals. Logic implies his resurrection from the dead. His praise expands in ever-wider horizons in space and time, from his personal praise to his brothers and sisters (22:22), to his call for them to join him in praise (22:23), to his vision of all the nations worshiping the LORD through endless generations (22:27–31). His prayer of faith, albeit with no answer in this clinical life, bridged the gap between death and life, and God bridged the gulf by his saving act that Christians call “the gospel” (1Cor 15:1–7).

Of Israel: 22–26

His praise within the congregation typically includes both words (22:22–24) and an accompanying sacramental meal (22:25–26).

Words of Praise: 22–24

“I will (volitional) tell (spr, “recite”) your name (see 7:17) to my brothers and sisters” (NLT), also called “the congregation, who fear the LORD” (i.e., obey his word out of faith that he keeps his promises and threats; see 2:11), and “all you offspring (lit. “seed”) of Jacob/Israel” (see 22:3) and so heirs of the LORD’s promises to him (Gen 28:13–15). “Praise” (“to express admiration publicly”) expands to imperatives to the congregation: “You (plural) . . . praise . . . glorify . . . and stand in awe.” In the trajectory of Scripture, Paul (1Cor 15:3–8) cites the eyewitnesses to Christ’s death and resurrection in answer to his prayer; and as part of Scripture, the Church continues to hear these imperatives. They bear witness that “the LORD has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one” (singular; see “poor” [9:18]) but “has heard, when he cried to him,” as he did in verses 1–2.

Sacrifice: 25–26

The accompanying sacrificial meal shared by the congregation who fear the LORD (see 22:23) is necessarily expressed in terms that reflect David’s sociological conditioning, namely, to wit, the fervent prayer aimed to move God to action was made with “my vows” (i.e., “sacrifices promised to God for answering prayer”; cf. Lev 7:11–34). “The afflicted (plural) eat” and “be satisfied” by the sacrament that fully nourishes their souls, bodies, and spirits. The command finds fulfillment as the Church participates in the eucharist. And so, “may your hearts live forever” participating in Christ’s eternal life.

Of Nations: 27–31

The volitional mood now becomes the indicative mood of an amazing prophecy that is still being fulfilled. The prophecy consists of two cycles: promise (22:27, 29–30) and cause (22:28, 31–32). The hidden truth that Jew and Gentile will be one people has not yet been revealed.

Universal National Praise: 27–28

As for promise, “all the descendants of Jacob” (22:23) is expanded to “all the ends of the” earth, a metonymy for “all the families of the nations will remember” (i.e., recall the death and resurrection) and “will turn” from old gods to “the LORD” and “bow down” (or “worship,” 5:8). As for the reason: in recognition that “he rules the nations.”

Universal Social and Temporal Praise: 29–31

As for promise, “all the prosperous (lit. “fat”) of the earth” and “all who go down in the dust” (see 22:15) is a merismus for every social stratum. “Eat” the sacrificial meal was part of “worship” in the ancient world. The promise extends to the future generations: “posterity (lit. “seed,” see 22:22) will serve him” (i.e., the acknowledgement that the LORD is God will inform their entire existence). As for reason, “it will be told (spr, see 22:22) of the Lord to the generations. They shall come and proclaim to a people yet unborn, what he has done,” namely, “his righteousness” (i.e., he did what was right by the one obedient to death and gave him success).


Psalm 23

The content and structure of this psalm of trust at a glance:


I. Scene I: Pastures: The LORD as Shepherd: 1–4

A. Summary: Lacks Nothing: 1

B. Provisions and Restoration: 2–3a

C. Guidance and Protection: 3b–4

II. Scene II: A Banqueting Table: The LORD as Host: 5

III. Scene III: The Temple: The Psalmist’s Response: 6



“A psalm of David”.142

The image of the LORD as shepherd, an image of the ideal king (Ezek 34:1–10), finds its fulfillment in Christ: the good, great, and chief Shepherd (John 10:11; Heb 13:20; 1Pet 5:4). The final scene (23:6, the key verse) is the psalm’s message: a call to return and dwell eternally secure in God’s house, today fulfilled in the church, which dwells secure in the bosom of the resurrected and exalted Christ.


I. Scene I: Pastures: The Lord as Shepherd: 1–4

Summary: Lack Nothing: 1

“The LORD is my shepherd” establishes the psalmist’s intimate and dependent relationship with God. “I shall not want” is confessed from the perspective of everlasting life, as can be inferred from the psalmist’s complaints in Psalm 22:1–2, 6–8.

Provisions and Restoration: 2–3a

“He allows me to lie down (translation mine) in green pastures” (23:2a) signifies ample provisions to sustain an abundant life without painful toil. “He leads (nāhal, “escorts with care”) me beside still waters”—places of resting for sheep—signifies “he restore” or refreshes “my soul” or vitality (see 6:3).

Guidance and Protection: 3b–4

“He leads me (nāḥah, “guides safely through danger”)along the right (ṣdq) paths” to do right by his covenant partner (see Ps 5:8) “for his name’s sake.” One lost sheep would tarnish his reputation as a trustworthy shepherd (John 10:1–18; 22–30).

Doing what is right entails protection. Addressing the LORD directly, a janus to 23:5, “even though I walk through the darkest valley” (NIV143) signifies a terrorizing situation.


II. Scene II: A Banqueting Table: The Lord as Host: 5

The second scene escalates these benefits. The provisioning pasture is escalated to “you prepare a table before me” and “my cup overflows;” his protection in a dark valley to “in the presence of my enemies;” and his restoration by quiet waters to “you anoint my head with oil.”


III. Scene III: The Temple: The Psalmist's Response: 6

These temporal images are climatically escalated to the eternal reality. The imaged provisions, restoration, and protection are due to the LORD’s “goodness” (ṭôb) and unfailing “love” (NIV; Hebrew ḥesed [see 5:7]). Ṭôb sums up all his benevolences. After the LORD said to Moses, “I will cause all my goodness to pass before you” (Exod 33:19–20), he proclaimed that he is “merciful . . . and abounding in . . . faithfulness” (34:5–6). “And so, I will return to dwell (my translation144) in the house of the LORD forever” (lit. “length of days”).


Psalm 24

The content and structure of this didactic, entrance-liturgy psalm  at a glance:


I. Scene I: Creation: The LORD as Owner of the World: 1–2

II. Scene II: Mount Zion: Jacob as Accepted Worshiper: 3–6

III. Scene III. Temple Gates: The LORD as Glorious King: 7–10



“Of David. A psalm” .

The three stanzas contain Israel’s fundamental creed about God, about Israel, and about salvation history. The creed is expressed in the dramatic imagery of abruptly changing scenes. Scene II is the message—verse 4 is the key verse—for it states the qualifications of the worshipers who receive the LORD’s blessings of provision (scene I) and protection (scene III). These are also the LORD’s benefits to the psalmist in Psalm 23.

The creed points to the Lord Jesus Christ, who as God is the Creator Owner of the world; as sinless man, the accepted worshiper; and as son of David, the glorious King.


I. Scene I: Creation: The Lord as Owner of the World: 1–2

The opening scene focuses broadly on the creation of the world (cf. Gen 1:9–12, 20–31) with the spotlight on its Owner. “The earth” or the land belongs to “the LORD” (see 115:16); “and the fullness thereof” (i.e., everything in it), especially “all who dwell” or live “therein” (cf. 1Cor 10:26). This is so “for he” alone “founded it” (i.e., “the world” [Hebrew tebel, “the earth-disk within the oceans”; cf. 93:1])  “. . . upon the rivers” (i.e., “ocean currents,” an allusion to ancient Near Eastern creation myths; see 93:1). In Israel’s phenomenal tripartite cosmology, the earth was under the heavens and above the primordial water


II. Scene II: Mount Zion: Jacob as the Accepted Worshiper: 3–6

The next scene focuses more narrowly on Mount Zion with the spotlight on the one “who shall ascend the hill” or mountain “of the LORD” and then “stand in his holy place” (see 2:6). That person must have “clean (i.e., “innocent”) hands,” a figure for sinless deeds, and also, with reference to inner disposition, “a pure (i.e., free of moral impurities) heart” (see 7:10). His regenerate nature produces his good works and words. “Who does not set his desires (translation mine [see 6:3 for “soul”]) in an idol” (lit. “in what is false,” a metonymy for an idol) and “does not swear deceitfully” (cf. 15:2ff).

Reciprocally, “he will receive blessing (i.e., fullness of life, prosperity, and success) from the LORD and righteousness (edeqâ, orientation into God’s decreed communal order) from the God his salvation” (see 3:7; cf. 1Kgs 8:31ff).

Verse 6 adds a theological to the ethical dimension: “Such (the “who” in 24:3–5) is the generation (i.e., a contemporary, collective, and distinctive group of people) of those who seek him, who seek your face, God of Jacob,” a technical term for seeing God in the sanctuary for a favorable relationship and answer.


III. Scene III: Temple Gate: The Lord as Glorious King: 7–10

The final scene more narrowly focuses on the temple gate with the spotlight on the glorious King. The God whom Jacob hopes to meet in the sanctuary is himself entering with them as a Victor. “Lift up your heads, O gates” is not a portcullis gate, for it was unknown in the biblical world. Rather, the poet personifies Zion’s gate towers and alludes to a Baal myth.145 In this myth, the council of gods is assembled in the mountain of the high god, El. On the approach of emissaries of Baal’s arch foe, Prince Sea, the gods, sitting on their princely thrones, drop their heads onto their knees in fear and despair. Baal, the young king, shouts, “Lift up, O gods, your heads.” In the psalm, the gates are personified as these gods. “O ancient (Hebrew ‘ôlām) doors” (literally and better, “you openings to eternity”), ‘ôlām refers to the most remote past and/or future. Conceptually, the poet leads us through the gate and its opening into the eternal. “The King of glory (i.e., his visible splendor [cf. Ps 63:2ff]; see 29:1) may come in” entails his entering Zion in some visible way, probably an allusion to the historical bringing of the ark into Zion (cf. 2Sam 6; Ps 132). He uses the present tense for this historical event, even as Christmas carols commemorate the birth of Christ as a present event (e.g., “Come all ye faithful . . . to Bethlehem, come and behold him”). “The King of glory” refers to his military might: “strong and mighty” or heroic; “the LORD mighty (i.e., invincible) in battle.” The question is again asked and answered for emphasis, but “strong . . . in battle” is replaced by “the LORD of hosts” (i.e., “who commands heavenly armies” [NLT]).


Psalm 25

The content and structure of this penitential psalm at a glance:


I. Introduction: Sets Desire on the LORD: 1

II. Let Me Not Be Put to Shame: 2–3

III. Teach Me Your Ways and Forgive My Sin: 4–11

A. First Cycle: Petitions to God: 4–7

1. Teach Me Your Ways: 4–5

2. Remember Love and Not My Sin: 6–7

B. Second Cycle: Affirmations about God: 8–11

1. Teaches Sinners His Ways: 8–9

2. The LORD’s Love and Forgiveness of My Sin: 10–11

IV. LORD Instructs God-Fearers in His Way: 12–15

V. Let Me Not Be Put to Shame: 16–21

A. Introductory Petitions: 16–18

B. Petitions for Protection: 19–21

VI. Conclusion: Redeem Israel: 22



Of David .

Typical motifs of a complaint-lament psalm  occur within a concentric structure  and are adorned with an abecedary—also known as acrostic—margin (i.e., each verse begins with the successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet146), similar to Psalm 34: both are missing the initial waw line and add a pe line after the taw line, the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet.147 This addition creates in the first, middle, and last lines of the vertical margin the acrostic ’ālaph (“to teach”). The poet further unifies his poem with an alternating structure in “C” and with catchwords.

David laments his afflictions due to enemies (25:2, 19–21), who apparently seize his sin (cf. Ps 51) as an opportunity to discredit him (25:15–18). He climatically petitions the LORD to “take away my sin” (25:18) and to “guard my life” (25:20). He trusts the LORD to do so (25:1, 2, 5, 15) because he instructs sinners in his ways of unfailing love (cf. Exod 33:12–15; Ps 51:13) toward those who keep the demands of the covenant (see 25:8, the key verse). This is the psalm’s message.


I. Introduction: 1

The terse introduction “I set my desire on you, LORD” (lit. “I lift up my soul” [see 24:4]) textures the poem with piety.


II. Let Me Not Be Put to Shame By My Enemies: 2–3

Both a petition, “let me not be put to shame, and also a confession of trust, in you I trust” (see 13:5) and its equivalent, “I take refuge in you,” frame the poem (25:1–2, 20). “Let not my enemies exult” triumphantly “over me.” The indicative mood of “none who waits” or “hopes” (i.e., looks with eager expectation for what is desired) “shall be put to shame” colors the petitions with confidence (cf. Rom 5:5). David’s enemies are “wantonly” (i.e., without a cause, for he has done them no wrong) “treacherous” (i.e., unfaithful to their established relationship with him).


III. Teach Me Your Ways and Forgive My Sin: 4–11

The catchword “wait” (i.e., “hope,” 25:3, 5) unites 25:1–3 (B) and 25:4–11 (C). C and C’ (25:12–15) are framed by the inclusio hôdîa‘ (“make me to know” [25:4a]; “makes . . . known” [25:15b]). C consists of two alternating cycles of four verses each, united by the catchword “good” (25:7, 8).

A. First Cycle: Petitions to God: 4–7

1. Teach (lammed) Me Your Ways (derek): 4–5

2. Remember Love (ḥesed) and Not My Sin: 6–7a

3. Motivating Clause (lema‘an, “for”): 7b

B. Second Cycle: Confessions about God: 8–11

1. Teaches (lammed) Sinners His Ways (derek): 8–9

2. LORD’s Love (ḥesed) and Pardons My Sin: 10–11a

3. Motivating Clause (lema‘an, “for the sake of”): 11b

First Cycle: Petitions to God: 4–7

The catchword “teach” plus a pun on Hebrew drk (derek [ways] and hadrîk [guide]) unites the two couplets of this first cycle (25:4–5, 6–7).

Teach Me Your Ways: 4–5

“Show me your ways” (see 1:1) echoes Moses’s prayer after Israel’s sin in the golden calf episode (Exod 33:13), in response to which the LORD expressed his forgiveness in connection with his love (Exod 34:6). “Lead me (lit. cause me to walk) in your truth” (i.e., “your reliability” or “your fidelity”). “For you (emphatic: “you alone”) are the God of my salvation” (see 3:7). “For you I wait” (i.e., have a tense attitude of expectation for some goal).

Remember Love and Not My Sin: 6–7

The couplet is unified by a threefold repetition of “remember” (25:6, 7a, b) and by the catchword “love” (25:6b, 7b; see 5:7). Forgiveness is based on “your mercy (i.e., the yearnings and affections of a superior to a helpless inferior, like a mother for her infant), and steadfast love” (ḥesed, see 5:7). “Remember” (see 9:12), because these attributes “have been from of old” (see Exod 34:6ff). “Remember not,” a synonym for “forgive” (25:11), “the sins (i.e., “disobedience to the law”) of my youth (cf. Ps 19:4) and my transgressions” (i.e., deliberate rebellious acts against the law). “According to your steadfast love remember me” may allude to God’s covenant with David (cf. 2Sam 7:15).

Second Cycle: Affirmations about God: 8–11

The shift to the indicative mood colors the petitions with confidence.

Teaches Sinners His Ways: 8–9

Another pun on drk (derek [ways] and yadrek [guide]), as in 25:4–5, plus “instructs,” a synonym for “teaches,” unifies the couplet. By this repetition David includes himself with sinners. If God did not forgive sinners, they would despair and be confirmed in sin, but the LORD is “good (see 14:1; cf. Exod 33:19) and upright” (see 7:10). “He leads (lit. “causes to tread”) the humble (anāwîm, see 9:18) in” the way of “justice” (translation mine; see 1:5).

The LORD’s Love and Forgiveness of My Sin: 10–11

“All the paths” (i.e., the “by-ways” off the derek, “the main road”) signifies that without exception the LORD’s acts are informed by his “steadfast love” (ḥesed, 5:7) and “faithfulness” (see 12:2; 26:3). God’s benevolences are extended to covenant-keepers, “those who keep the demands,” or “stipulations” (see 19:8), “of his covenant” (NIV; cf. Deut 26:1–19). “So you will pardon my iniquity (‘āwôn) though it is great” (translation mine; cf. 32:1ff). ‘Āwôn is the most comprehensive term for violating the Law, encompassing both crimes and resulting guilt. “For your name’s sake, O LORD” (see 23:3). If God did not forgive and protect covenant-keepers, he would lose his good reputation (23:3).


IV. The LORD Instructs God-Fearers in His Way: 12–15

This triplet is unified by the framing catchwords “fear the LORD/him” (25:12a, 14a) and the synonyms “instruct” and “make known” (25:12b, 14b). C’ (25:12–14) is connected to the preceding “B” (25:4–11), and “C” (25:8–11) by the catchwords “way” (25:4, 8, 12), “covenant” (25:10, 14); and “good[ness]” (25:7, 8, 13 [“well-being”]). But now the topic is “the man who fears the LORD” (see Ps 19:9). The LORD teaches him “in the way they should choose” (25:12b). Amazingly, “he” (traditionally, “his soul”), the forgiven sinner, “shall abide in well-being (i.e., in prosperity) and his offspring shall inherit the land,” symbolic of eternal life (see 24:1; cf. 37:11). Moreover, “the LORD confides in (he shares his most intimate confidential talk with) those who fear him” (see 19:9), guaranteeing them protection and success.

Verse 15 is a janus. Looking back, it retains the indicative mood of C’ (12–15) and colors the petitions in B’ (25:16–21) with faith. Looking ahead, “my eyes are ever toward the LORD” matches “I wait for you” (25:21), and the metaphor “for he will pluck my feet out of the net” signifies release from his afflictions (25:16–18). The catchword yôṣîa‘ (“pluck” [25:15]) hôṣîa‘ (“bring out” [25:17]) tightly link verses 15 and 16–18.


V. Let Me Not Be Put to Shame: 16–21

The poet breaks the abecedary (see note 66) by repeating the initial letter resh of re’ëh, “consider” (lit. “see”) in order to link the introductory and the climatic petitions (25:16–18, 19–21).

Introductory Petitions: 16–18

This triplet is unified by “afflicted” (25:16) and “affliction” (25:18) and by the progression from “turn to” (25:16; i.e., “pay attention”) to “consider” (25:16, 18). “Be gracious to me (see 6:2), for I am lonely” and deserted. I am “afflicted” (‘onî [see 9:18]) may be a catchword with “humble” (25:9) and so imply his need for justice. “Bring me out of” pertains to his disturbed psyche: “troubles of my heart.” “My distress” refers to being burdened with grief, hence “forgive (lit. “take away” or “lift up,” an allusion to Lev 16:22148) all my sins,” the ultimate cause of his affliction.

Petitions for Protection: 19–21

This triplet is unified by the topic of “my foes,” by the petition “guard”/“preserve,” and by synonyms for trust: “take refuge” and “wait for” (25:20ff). The petition is set within the motifs of lament (25:19) and trust (25:21). His enemies are “many” and filled with “violent hatred” (lit. “they hate me with a hatred that leads to violence,” 25:19b). The parallelism “guard my life (NIV) and rescue me” and “let me not let put to shame” implies that if God does not protect him, he will be shamed for his failed hope in the LORD. The restored sinner’s “integrity and uprightness” give him reason to “wait” in hope for God, who does right.


VI. Conclusion: Redeem Israel: 22

The afflicted king, feeling the troubles of his nation, prays. “Redeem” here does not include the notion of a compensatory payment and so is equivalent to “deliver.” “Out of all his (i.e., Israel’s) troubles” (see 25:17) anticipates the consummation of God’s rule in Jesus Christ.


Psalm 26

The content and structure of the psalm at a glance:


I. Introduction: Plea for Justice on Basis of Integrity: 1

II. Body: Judicial Case and Plea for Deliverance: 2–11

A. Judicial Case: Proof of Integrity: 2–8

1. Cross-Examine Me: 2–3

2. Proof of Integrity by Associations: 4–8

B. Plea for Deliverance from Death with Sinners: 9–11

III. Conclusion: Claim of Integrity and Praise in the Great Assembly: 12


“Of David” .

Facing death, the suppliant argues his case, employing the typical motifs of a complaint-lament psalm (p. xxx): address to “the LORD” (26:1), confidence (26:1b–8), petitions (26:1, 9), praise (26:12), but lacks the motif of lament or complaint.

The phrase “walk in integrity” and the verb ‘āmad (“wavering” and “stand”) frame the psalm (26:1, 11–12) and point to its message: God will not sentence to death those who walk in integrity along with the wicked (26:9, the key verse; cf. Gen 18:25). That walk depends on faith in the LORD (26:1) and in his grace (26:11).

I. Introduction: Plea for Justice on Basis of Integrity: 1

“Vindicate (šāpaṭ) me.” Šāpaṭ means “an authority renders a just decision that punishes the wrong-doer and rewards the innocent.” The suppliant knows he is innocent “because I have led a blameless life” (lit. “I have walked in [the way] of integrity [see 16:2; cf. 1Kgs 9:4]). “I have trusted (see 9:10) in the LORD and have not faltered” (NIV; “without wavering,” ESV) in the walk of faith.

II. Body: Judicial Case and Plea for Deliverance: 2–11

The believer’s case for a verdict of deliverance from death rests on sharply contrasting their loyalties and their ways with those of the wicked.

The Judicial Case: Proof of Integrity: 2–8

Cross-Examine Me: 2–3

The bold request for a trial (26:2) is based on his faith in God’s love and reliability (26:3). The catchword “walk” (26:3) links the couplet to the introduction (26:1). “Prove” (see 17:3 [“test”]), “try” (“assay to determine worth”), “test (“expose impurities”) my heart and my mind” (lit. “kidneys” [see 7:9; cf. 2Cor 1:12]). He opens himself to the LORD’s penetrating gaze, “for I have always been mindful of (lit. “always before me”) your steadfast love” (see 5:7). “And I walk” about “in reliance on your faithfulness” (NIV; see 12:2; cf. Exod 34:6). He depends on the LORD, and the LORD is totally dependable.

Proof of Integrity by Associations: 4–8

Disassociates from the Wicked: 4–5

“I do not sit with” (i.e., “associate with” [cf. 1:2]) frames the couplet. “Men who are false” (NIV; see 25:4)—that is to say, “I do not consort with (lit. “do not enter” [into the company of]) hypocrites” (better “the deceptive/crafty”; see 26:10). “I hate the assembly (i.e., the congregation assembled for divine worship) of evil men” (see 22:16; cf. Matt 26:57–68), who harm and oppose those who wait on God.

Associates with the LORD’s House: 6–8

Allusions to God’s house and priestly activity unite this triplet. “I wash my hands” is a ritual act of purity (Exod 20:18–21; 40:30–32; Lev 8:6). “In innocence” is a metonymy for the pure running water, replacing the substance by the judicial reality that the ritual symbolized (cf. Deut 21:6ff) and making the suppliant fit for worship. Ethics and true worship are inseparable. “And go around your altar” alludes to a festival ritual (see 11:5; cf. 1Chr 16:1–3; Pss 42:4; 68:24–27; 118:27), while “telling all your wonderful deeds” (9:2) that are on a trajectory to the gospel. “I love (see 11:5) . . . the place where your glorious presence dwells” (NLT), perhaps a reference to the “Shekinah glory” (cf. Exod 40:34–38; 1Kgs 8:11; John 1:14).

Plea for Deliverance from Death with Sinners: 9–11

Petitions for salvation frame this triplet. “Do not sweep my soul (better, “me” [see 6:3]) away” along “with sinners” (see 1:1) suggests a scenario similar to Lot in Sodom (Gen 18:17–19:13; cf. Matt 13:30). The deceivers, now called “sinners,” are further specified as “bloodthirsty,” further qualified by “in whose hands are wicked schemes” (NIV), and furthermore “whose right hand (see 16:8) are full of bribes” that are given, not taken. “I have walked” (26:1) becomes “I will walk in integrity.” The petitioned verdict: “redeem me” (see 25:22). “Be gracious to me” (lit. “do me a favor”) shows that although David’s conscience is clear, he knows that none is without sin, and so ultimately salvation depends on God’s mercy.

III. Conclusion: Claim of Integrity and Praise in the Great Assembly: 12

“I walk in integrity” segues into “my feet stand on level ground,” where the going is smooth and free from the danger of stumbling (cf. 25:10). “In the great congregation” occurs elsewhere only in Psalm 68:26 in the context of a temple procession (see 68:24–27). “I will praise (lit. “bless,” see 16:7) the LORD.” “Bless” is the human response of gratitude to the divine blessing of life and prosperity.

Psalm 27

The content and structure of this mixed psalm of trust and of lament  at a glance:


I. A Soliloquy: Grounds for Fearless Confidence: 1–6

A. Confession of Faith: 1–3

1. The LORD Is Savior: 1

2. Attackers Fall: 2–3

B. Prayer: To Live in God’s Presence: 4–5

C. Praise: For Triumph over Enemies: 6

II. Petitions for Acceptance and Salvation: 7–12

A. Petitions for Acceptance: 7–9

B. Confident of the LORD’s Acceptance: 10

C. Petition for Salvation from Accusers: 11–12

III. Self-Exhortation to Hope: 13–14


“Of David” .

Informing the whole is an enemy (27:2ff, 6, 11ff) intent on killing God’s anointed king by calumny (27:12; cf. 1Kgs 21:1–16; Matt 27:59–66). By placing the confidence motif (27:1–6) before the introductory petition to be heard (27:7), the poet tunes his lament psalm to the key of confidence. He teaches God’s kingdom how to overcome fear and go from strength to strength through faith in the LORD. Verse 1 is the key verse. His strong voice of confidence in peril (27:1) is framed with his self-encouragement to hope in the LORD (27:14). His faith is nourished in God’s house on Zion. Bonhoeffer comments, “What mount Zion and the temple were for the Israelites the church of God throughout the world is for us—the church where God always dwells with his people in word and sacrament.”149

I. A Soliloquy: Grounds for Fearless Confidence: 1–6

The confession of faith lays the foundation for the petition, namely, a confession of confidence in the LORD.

Confession of Faith: 1–3

The LORD Is Savior: 1

“The LORD  is my light” (see 36:9) is interpreted by “and my salvation” (yš‘, Pss 3:7 [see “deliver”]; 25:5; cf. Isa 9:2; John 1:4ff; 8:12; 12:46). As light dispels darkness (cf. Ps 139:11ff; Mic 7:8; Col 1:12)—the symbol of defeat and death (Nah 1:8)—so the LORD puts to flight his kingdom’s enemies. “The stronghold of my life” connotes salvation as protection from enemies and equates it with life. The question “of whom shall I be afraid?” calls for the strong confession “I fear no one!” (cf. Mark 5:36; Rom 8:31–39).

Attackers Fall: 2–3

The enemy’s attacks escalate from “when evil men (22:16) advance (NIV) to eat up my flesh” as ferocious animals (27:2a), to “though an army encamp against me” (27:3a; see “surround me,” 27:6), to “though war arise (or “break out”) against me” in hand-to-hand fighting (27:3b). Nevertheless, “my adversaries and my enemies . . . will stumble and fall” (27:2b; cf. 20:8), and “I will remain confident” (27:3b; bṭḥ “trust,” see 13:6).

Prayer: To Live in God’s Presence: 4–5

The scene suddenly shifts through prayer to the sacred tent where he nourishes and strengthens his faith. The hyperbole “one thing”—he adds other petitions in verses 7 through 12—”I have asked (or “ask”) from the LORD,” spoken to self, reveals what he most desires. “I seek after (bqš, “to search for something that is missing”): that I may dwell (lit. “sit,” see 26:4) in the house of the LORD (cf. 26:8) all the days of my life” (see 23:6). “To gaze (ḥzh, see 11:15) on the beauty of the LORD” (i.e., his agreeableness to the psalm’s five senses, conscience, and spirit). “To inquire (bqr, “to look carefully into his person,” “to examine”) in his temple” (lit. “palace” [see 11:4]). Logical “for” (untranslated in ESV) further explains his desire for the temple. “He will hide me” as a treasure to be kept safe “in his hut” (translation mine), as when “a stranger finds protection from menacing danger in the hut . . . of a friendly host.”150 “He will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent” denotes a place of intimacy that is accessible only to the chosen. The metaphor “he will lift me high upon a rock” or cliff (see 18:2) segues him from the sanctuary back to the place of conflict.

Praise: For Triumph over Enemies: 6

“And now” refers to his return to the battlefield and logically the refortification of his faith. “My head will be lifted up above the enemies who surround me”—that is to say, God singles him out for honor and lifts him clear of perils (see 3:3). After returning from the battlefield, “at his sacred tent (cf. 2Sam 6:17), I will (volitionally) sacrifice” a fellowship meal, binding together the joyful covenant community.

II. Petitions to God for Acceptance and Salvation: 7–12

Petitions for Acceptance: 7–9

Though using boiler-plate terminology (cf. 4:2; 28:2), the introductory petition is fervent and public: “Hear . . . and answer me! Seek my face” (see 24:6) is plural, so ESV rightly adds “you have said” because “seek” is plural and “my face” refers to God’s face (cf. 105:4). So encouraged, David responds, “my heart (see 5:7) says to you, ‘Your face, LORD, do I seek’” (see 27:4). A fourfold “do not” expresses his urgency: “hide not your face from me” (see 13:1; a sign of a severed relationship); “turn not your servant (see Ps 18: superscript) away in anger” (see 6:2). “Cast me not off” (nṭš, “not be bothered with anymore”), and “forsake me” not (see 22:1). He reminds God of his past faithfulness, “you have been my help,” and of God’s identity: “my salvation” (27:1).

Confident of the LORD’s Acceptance: 10

“Though” hypothetically (NIV; cf. CJB, CSB, NAB, NET, NLT) “my father and my mother forsake me, the LORD will take in this orphan” (my translation; cf. 2Sam 11:27; Josh 2:18; 20:4).

Petition for Salvation from Accusers: 11–12

“Teach me your way” (NAB), as in 25:4 and 8, refers to God’s benevolence and moral teaching. “Lead me (see 5:8) on a level (i.e., ethical and metaphorical; see 26:12) path” (see 25:10) where I won’t get tripped up and fall. He asks this “in view of my enemies”151 or oppressors. More specifically, “Do not turn me over to the desires (Hebrew nephesh [see 6:3]) of my foes” (NIV) to take away his life (see 27:13). He explains: “for false (to the very core of their character) witnesses rise up against me to give testimony that will lead to lawless violence” (translation mine152).

III. Self-Exhortation to Hope: 13–14

The petitions morph into self-exhortation to wait patiently for what he knows is sure (i.e., God’s goodness), though yet unseen (Pss 42–43; Heb 11:1). “I believe (or “remain confident”) that I shall look upon the goodness (see 14:1) . . . in the land of the living!” But that “goodness” is yet unseen, so he exhorts himself: “wait (singular) for the LORD” (i.e., look to him with eager expectation for him to meet your need). “Be strong and courageous” (CSB; cf. Deut 31:7; Josh 1:6, 9) until what is unseen becomes a reality. Emphatically, “wait for the LORD” (cf. Lam 3:24–26).

Psalm 28

The content and structure of this complaint-lament psalm  at a glance:


I. Introductory Petition for a Hearing: 1–2

II. Petition for Justice: 3–4

III. Prophecy: Wicked Will be Destroyed: 5

IV. Song of Grateful Praise: 6–7

V. Intercession for the Nation: 8–9


Of David ( Ps 25: superscript).

Two couplets of two verses each surround a center line. The first two (28:1–2, 3–4) ask for justice by preserving the trusting psalmist from the just punishment by death of the wicked (see 26:9). The center line (28:5), the message and key verse, prophesies that God will destroy the God-defying wicked forever. The song of grateful praise celebrates that the trusting king’s prayer has been heard. Implicitly, the whole of verses 1–7 lays a firm foundation of faith for the king’s climatic intercession for the salvation of the chosen nation, a type of Christ’s interceding for the protection of his Church (John 17:15ff).

I. Introductory Petition for a Hearing: 1–2

The suppliant identifies his relationship to the LORD. He depends solely on the LORD for protection: “to you” alone, “LORD , I call, my Rock” or cliff (i.e., refuge; see 27:5). Moreover, without divine intervention his doom is sealed: “if you be silent, I will become like” (i.e., the same as) the damned, “who go down to the pit,” the entrance way to the realm of the dead (cf. 30:4). “Hear my voice”—a metonymy for a plea—”for mercy” (lit. “supplications for a favor”) both in urgent words—”when I cry out for help”—and in a symbolic gesture, perhaps of wafting prayer upward (cf. 141:2; 1Tim 2:8)—”when I lift up my hands” in supplication (141:2; Luke 1:10; 1Tim 2:8; Rev 5:10; contrast in praise 63:4 [H 5]; 134:2; 119:48) “toward your most Holy Place,” the innermost sanctuary housing the ark of the covenant, the throne of God, ([“liturgical”]).

II. Petition for Justice: 3–4

“Do not drag me away with the wicked (see 1:1), who do evil (pō‘ aley-’āwen, see 5:5); who speak peace” (i.e., cordially) as friends “while evil (see 15:3) is in their hearts” (see 7:10). “Repay them . . . for their” intentionally “evil work” ( Matt 16:27; 2Thes 1:9ff; 2Tim 4:14; Rev 20:12ff, 22:12). “Give to them (i.e., repay these “dedicated laborers”153) for their deeds (p‘l) . . . for what their hands have done” (ma‘aśēh yad).

III. Prophecy: Wicked Will Be Destroyed: 5

Their evil deeds and work are rooted in their disregard “for the deeds (p‘l) of the LORD and what his hands have done” (ma‘aśēh yad) “in creation, in providence, and in judgment.”154 “They may disregard the works of his hands, but God will not disregard the work of their hands.”155 “He will tear” the wicked “down and never build them up again” (cf. Jer 1:10).

IV. Song of Grateful Praise: 6–7

“Blessed be the LORD (18:46). For he has heard my cry for mercy” repeats verse 2a but changes the petition “hear!” into a statement of fact, “he has heard.” Again, he identifies himself as one who trusts in the LORD to be his protector: “the LORD is . . . my shield (see 3:3). In him my heart (see 7:10) trusts (see 13:6), and I am helped. And with my song I give” public “thanks.”

V. Intercession for the Nations: 8–9

Similar to 28:1, before the petitions for the nation, its identity with the LORD is established. He is “strength of his people” and “a saving (see 3:7) refuge for his anointed” king (see 2:2). His fourfold petition follows: 

1.) “Save your people” in need.

2.) “Bless (see 5:12) your inheritance” (i.e., your inalienable possession; cf. Deut 4:20).

3.) “Be their shepherd” (see 23:1).

4). “Carry them forever” (cf. Isa 40:11; 63:9).

The Trinity has been carrying the elect in his bosom for 3,000 years and will continue to do so until the Parousia.

Psalm 29

The content and structure of this hymn  at a glance:


I. Call to Praise: Ascription of Strength: 1–2

II. Cause for Praise: Revelation of Strength in Storm over Lebanon: 3–9

III. Closure: Endowment of Strength: 10–11


“A psalm  of David.

The key word “strength” frames the psalm (29:1a, 11b).

After summoning the heavenly court (cf. Job 1:6; Ps 89:5–7; Isa 6:8; Jer 23:13) to praise the LORD’s glory and strength:

I. Our prophet-poet envisions God’s strength made tangible in a storm theophany, moving from west to east.

II. It begins over the Mediterranean Sea (29:3), sweeps with devastating power across the majestic mountains of Lebanon (29:5–6), and ends shaking the Desert of Kadesh on the upper Orontes River (29:8). Lebanon is left in ruins. Implicitly, this hymn of praise to the LORD’s strength polemicizes against Baal, the Canaanite storm god who seduced Israel. 

III. The closure states the hymn’s message: Israel’s God sits enthroned as the absolute and everlasting King, giving his people strength to establish universally his moral kingdom and blessing them with unblemished well-being. This is a God worthy of trust and worship.

Jesus Christ manifested God’s strength (see “Dual,” p. xxx). But he stilled the storm and calmed the sea (Mark 4:35–41), and he cast a demon out of a daughter of a Syro-Phoenician (i.e., Lebanon) woman (Mark 7:24–30).

I. Call to Praise: Ascription of Strength: 1–2

Uniquely, the psalmist summons “heavenly beings” (lit. “sons of God”)—later called “angels” (see Ps 8:4)—”to ascribe” (lit. “give”) to the LORD “glory.” There are two aspects of God’s glory: his objective value and worth (29:6) and humankind’s acknowledgment of it (29:11; cf. 21:13); in sum, it signifies the subjective social esteem for his objective value and worth, albeit the weight given to “social esteem” and “objective worth” may contextually vary. The hendiadys “glory and strength” (i.e., “prevailing power) signifies he uses his strength in a way that brings him glory. The summons is issued three times—a number of completeness before something new. Creatures cannot “give” their Creator strength, but they can acknowledge it in praise (see 29:9b; cf. Deut 32:3). “His name,” YHWH, is the abiding witness of his nature and power and makes him accessible for a personal relationship. (Today, he wants to be known by the name of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.) The divine beings “worship (or “bow down before him,” see 5:8) in the splendor (i.e., magnificence, eminence) of [his] holiness” (see 22:3; cf. 2Chr 20:21)—that is to say, the otherness of God’s moral purity and awesome power suffuses the scene of prostrate worshipers with numinous dread (cf. Luke 5:24; 8:24ff).

II. Revelation of Strength in Storm over Lebanon: 3–9

The key word “glory” frames the theophany (29:3, 9) and links it with the summons, along with the catchwords “powerful” (29:4), a synonym of “strength” (29:1), and ḥādār (“splendor” [29:2]/“majestic” [29:4]). “The voice of the LORD” reverberates seven times (twice in 29:4) in these seven verses, “seven” symbolizing divine fullness or perfection and so authenticating the voice as the LORD’s.

29:3–4 “The voice of the LORD” is interpreted by “the LORD thunders.” Secularists are content to explain thunderclaps scientifically, but the ear of faith still hears beyond that explanation God’s presence, power, and judgment, evoking awe and dread. “Glory,” his inalienable possession, becomes palpable in the storm. “The many” or mighty “waters” symbolize chaos. God’s voice is sovereignly “over” them.

29:5–6 The couplet is linked by “Lebanon,” whose famed “cedars”, a standard of pride, are judged by God (cf. 2Kgs 19:23; Isa 2:13; 33:9). “The voice of the LORD breaks” them in pieces. Lebanon is also famous for its grand mountains. To the poet’s imagination, however, “the voice of the LORD” crashes so powerfully that these oldest and most stable parts of the earth “skip” or leap energetically “like a calf” or young bull. Even “Sirion” (i.e., Mount Hermon) scampers “like a young wild ox,” the untrainable and deadly aurochs, now extinct. These images register the “convulsion and travail”156 that accompany the theophany of God in the storm. Along with the resounding thunder, “the LORD flashes forth (lit. “rakes”157) lightning.”

29:8–9 The catchword ḥyl (“shakes”/“twists”) links the couplet. “The voice of the LORD strips the” dense “forests” as “bare” as a wildfire. The LORD’s conquest over the symbols of human pride and confidence is so great that in his heavenly temple (lit. “large house”; see 11:4; 18:6) “all” without exception “cry, ‘Glory!’” thereby heeding the summons.

III. Endowment of Strength: 10–11

This couplet is linked by “LORD,” their first word. The scene is still the heavenly palace, but the spotlight is “on the LORD” who “sits enthroned over the flood” (i.e., the celestial sea; see Ps 93:1; cf. Rev 4:6) as “king,” the Sovereign in war and in the administration of justice forever—he will never be deposed. He “gives” his “strength to his people” by infusing them with his Spirit, and “he blesses” them with “peace” (Hebrew šālôm, “well-being”) in an uncertain world of conflict. The frightful storm ends in a peaceful lull.158

Psalm 30

The content and structure of this psalm of grateful praise at a glance:


I. A Testimony of Grateful Praise: 1–3

A. Resolve to Exalt the LORD for Deliverance: 1

B. Report of Deliverance: 2–3

II. A Hymn of Grateful Praise: 4–5

III. Expanded Report of Deliverance: 6–12

A. Lament: Report of Distress: 6–7

B. Petition: Report of Cry for Help: 8–10

C. Praise: Report of Deliverance: 11–12

Postscript: Psalm 31: Superscript


“A psalm . A song. For the dedication of the temple (cf. 1Kgs 8:63). Of David” . David “made extensive preparations” for the building of the temple before his death (1Chr 22:5; 28:12), including using this song at its inaugural consecration. The Jews still use it for the festival celebrating the re-dedication of the Second Temple after it had been desecrated by Antiochus Epiphanes (1Mac 4:52–59).

By expanding the personal testimony of grateful praise (I and III), the poet drenches the soul with the good news of salvation. The repetition frames a hymn of grateful praise that celebrates the psalm’s message in the key verse: “His [the LORD’s] anger is but for a moment, and his favor lasts a lifetime” (cf. Ps 126:5–6; Isa 54:8; John 6:20–22; Rom 8:18; 2Cor 4:17). The end of human history is salvation, not suffering.

“O LORD my God” frames “the report of salvation” (30:2, 12).

David’s Antitype , to build his temple, the Church, endured momentarily death on the cross due to God’s wrath for her sins, but God raised him from the dead, and his joy and his Church endure forever (Heb 12:2; Matt 16:18).

I. Testimony of Grateful Praise: 1–3

Resolve to Exalt the LORD for Deliverance: 1

Verse 1 introduces both the testimony (30:1–3) and the whole psalm, unifying the psalm as a song of grateful praise. “I will exalt you (NIV; i.e., raise your esteem in the eyes of the temple worshipers) because you have drawn me” from the grave (see 30:3), a hyperbole for King David but factual for Jesus Christ. The king celebrates the significance of preserving his life: “you have not let my enemies rejoice (i.e., gloat) over me.” Had God not raised him from the dead, sin and death, not forgiveness and life, would have had the last laugh.

Report of Deliverance: 2–3

In songs of grateful praise, the report of salvation typically consists of three motifs: the distress, the cry for help, and the deliverance. “I cried to you for help” implies distress. The focus, however, is on deliverance: you have healed me from an unstated misfortune. David’s confession of sin in the expansion shows that forgiveness for sin was the prerequisite condition for restoration. “You, LORD, have brought up my soul (better, “me” [see 6:3]) from Sheol (Sheol; see 6:5); you spared me from going down to the pit” (ESV).

II. Hymn of Grateful Praise: 4–5

An inserted hymn, with the motifs of call to praise and cause for it, expands the grateful praise to “the saints” (asîdîm, see 4:3). “Sing,” with the accompaniment of musical instruments, grateful “praise to his holy name.” They praise him “for (i.e., “because”) his anger is but for a moment, and his favor (i.e., the pleasure that God takes in someone and makes clear through blessings) is for a lifetime.” More memorably by the figure personification , “weeping may stay for the night (NET), but” cries of “joy come with the morning,” the symbol of relief in a never-ending new day (see 30:12).

III. Expanded Report of Deliverance: 6–12

“I said” introduces an original petition psalm with the motifs of lament, petition, and praise that here is transformed into an expanded song of grateful praise with the motifs of distress, cry for help, and deliverance.

Lament: Report of Distress: 6–7

“I” arrogantly “said when I felt secure (NIV), I will never be moved” or toppled from my secure position (see 21:7; cf. Prov 30:8ff), the self-talk of the wicked (see 10:6). A repentant David acknowledges God is his only security: “LORD, by when you favored me (NIV; see 30:5), you” alone “made my mountain stand strong,” a reference to his capture of Mount Zion. The Jebusites thought Zion so impregnable that their lame and blind could defend it (cf. 2Sam 5:1–5). But when “you hid your face (i.e., you severed your relationship with me due to sin; e.g., Deut 31:17–18; Jer 33:5; Mic 3:4), I was dismayed.”

Petition: Report of Cry for Help: 8–10

By God’s grace, David responded to his dismay, “To you . . . Lord of All (see 16:2) I plead (better, “pled”) for mercy: ‘What profit’—a metaphor for praise—’is there in my death (lit. “my blood” [i.e., a violent death])? Will the dust’—a metonymy for the dead—’give grateful praise to you in the land of the living? Will it tell of your faithfulness’ to keep your covenant promises? ‘Hear, Lord, and bestow a favor I cannot claim’” (translation mine).

Praise: Report of Deliverance: 11–12

The merciful God heard. “You turned my mourning (i.e., my funeral ceremony) into dancing” in a ring. “You loosed (i.e., “removed”) my sackcloth” of mourning “and clothed me” with a waistcloth that symbolized “gladness” (see 5:11; cf. Isa 61:3). “So now [NET] my glory” (see 16:9), a metonymy for the “tongue” (so NET), “will sing your praise” accompanied with musical instruments. “I will” give grateful “praise” to “you forever.”

Postscript: Psalm 31: Superscript

“To the choirmaster.” 

Psalm 31

The content and structure of this complaint-lament psalm  at a glance:


I. Trust and Petitions for Deliverance: 1–5

II. Trust Validated by Past Deliverance: 6–8

III. Plea for Mercy and Lament: 9–13

IV. Trust and Petitions for Deliverance: 14–18

V. Praise and Exhortation: 19–24

A. Goodness to God-Fearers: 19–20

B. Steadfast Love to Flawed King: 21–22

C. Exhortation to Persevere: 23–24


“To the choirmaster.” See postscript to Psalm 30 .

“A psalm . Of David” .

The king laments that a conspiracy of enemies against him—and so against God’s kingdom—is so strong that his closest friends desert him (stanza III), even as the disciples fled from the LORD Jesus when he was arrested (Matt 26:56). He petitions the LORD to deliver him (stanzas I and IV, framed by “let me not be put shame” [31:1, 17]). David moves the LORD by noting: 

1. He trusts only the LORD (31:1, 5, 6b, 14).

2. If God does not deliver him, he will be put to shame for putting his trust in him (31:1a, 17).

3. It is right and just (31:1b, 17, 18).

4. God’s reputation as a good shepherd is at stake (31:3b).

5. Moreover, his misery must move God to pity him (stanza III).

What amazes and enthralls us about the psalms is that their prayers actually move the Sovereign to act on behalf of his covenant-partner.

The motif of trust, however, is so dominant that some label the psalm as “a psalm of refuge.” Trust in God is to feel secure in danger by surrendering oneself to his rule (9:10). The psalm opens with the motif “in you, LORD, I have taken refuge” (31:1a) and closes with it, exhorting those who hope in the LORD, “be strong and courageous” (31:24). Stanza I is framed with avowals of trust (31:1, 5) and is punctuated with that motif. Stanzas II and IV open with the avowal “I trust in you/LORD” (31:6b, 14). Stanza V gives more reasons to trust and closes with an exhortation to those who hope in the LORD to persevere. The Lord Jesus fulfilled 31:5a: in his death he volitionally handed his breath of life over into God’s powerful, controlling hand (Luke 23:46; cf. Acts 7:59; Prov 14:32b). In sum, the message of the psalm is that the LORD prevails over the enemies of his kingdom by the persevering trust and prayers of his covenant partner. Verse 5 is the key verse: he commits his spirit—his breath of life—into God’s hand, the ultimate expression of trust.

I. Trust and Petitions for Deliverance: 1–5

Stanza I contains nine supplications: 

1. “Let me never be put to shame” for putting my trust in you (31:1a; see 25:2ff, 20).

2. “Deliver me” (i.e., make me escape to safety, 31:1b).

3. “Incline your ear to me” (31:2a).

4. “Rescue (i.e., snatch me away and set me free) speedily” (31:2b).

5. “Be a rock of refuge for me” (31:2c).

6. “Lead” as a shepherd through a wilderness (31:3b).

7. “Guide” or escort me carefully (31:3b).

8. “Keep me free from the trap they have set for me” (NIV; 31:4).

9. “Deliver me” (NIV; lit. “redeem me [see 25:22], 31:5b).

The summons to “turn your ear” in a secondary position is exceptional, thereby emphasizing verse 1.

The stanza is punctuated with metaphors of God’s protection in association with the first pronoun that identifies the king’s relationship with God as one of trust: “my rock, my fortress (31:3a), my refuge” (31:4b), and “faithful God” (31:5b). The stanza is drawn to conclusion with trust: “into your hands”—symbolic of authority, power, and control—”I commit (i.e., “I deposit” like money in a bank for safe-keeping) my spirit” or breath, symbolic of life (cf. Job 34:14ff; Ps 104:29ff; Eccl 3:26). Jesus fulfills the type in his last seven words on the cross (Luke 23:46), making them uniquely appropriate for dying saints, when the spirit is separated from the body (cf. Prov 14:32).

II. Trust Validated By Past Deliverance: 6–8

By opening Stanza II with a portrayal of trust (31:6–7a), David makes present a narrative of a past deliverance. “I hate those who pay regard to,” or devote themselves to, “worthless idols” (lit. “worthless puffs of air”). “I will (volitional) . . . be glad and rejoice in your love (ḥesed, see 5:7). Because you have seen my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul (31:7b). You have not handed me over into the hands of the enemy.” God’s past faithfulness validates his trust (cf. 22:4ff, 9ff).

III. Plea for Mercy and Lament: 9–13

“Be gracious (6:2) to me, O LORD, for I am in distress” introduces the stanza to move God to deliver him out of pity. David puts his personal afflictions in the foreground (31:9–10) and the enemy and rejection in the background (31:11–13), implying how demoralizing rejection is. As for his affliction, “my eye is wasted from grief; my soul (see 6:4) and my body (lit. “belly”) also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my affliction159; my bones waste away. Because of all my enemies, I am the utter contempt of my” next-door “neighbor. I am a dread (i.e., something scary) to my” closest “friend” or confident (NIV; see 88:8, 18). Instead of standing by him and/or comforting him, “those who see me in the street flee from me. I have become” to them “like a broken vessel. For I hear the whispering of many . . . as they scheme . . . to take my life.” His closest friend’s distrust in the LORD is a foil to the king’s trust in the LORD in the same distress.

IV. Trust and Petitions for Deliverance: 14–18

In Stanza IV David, opening with an emphatic “but I trust in you,” “wrests the initiative away from the enemy and deliberately turns in a new direction.”160 “I say, ‘You are my God,’ again identifies his relationship to the LORD as one of trust. Putting his life into the hands of God (31:5), reckoning “my” appointed “times (e.g., to be born and to die, to weep and to laugh) are in your hand” (italics mine, 31:15a), and praying for deliverance from the hands of the enemy (31:5, 8, 14b), “the operative power in his . . . life is ultimately God and not the enemy.”161 The second set of petitions is seven-fold, often with motivation: 

1. “Deliver me” (the same Hebrew verb as “rescue me” in 31:2).

2. “Let your face shine,” a metaphor and idiom for a ruler’s beneficent favor,162 “on your servant” (see Ps 18: superscript).

3. “Save me (see 31:3b) in your steadfast love” (ḥesed, see 31:7).

4. “Let me not be put to shame, LORD, for I call upon you” (see 31:1a). Petitions to deliver the afflicted, now shift to petitions to punish the oppressor .

5. “Let the wicked be put to shame.”

6. “Let them lie silently in the grave” (NIV; Hebrew Sheol [see 6:5]).

7. “Let their lying lips be mute (lit. “be tied together”), which speak insolently (i.e., refuse to submit to authority) . . . against the righteous” (see 1:5).

V. Praise and Exhortation: 19–24

In the first two couplets of stanza V, David encourages us to trust through praise; in the final couplet he commands it.

Goodness to God-Fearers: 19–20

This couplet is framed by a pun on Hebrew ṣpn (“store up”/“store”). “How abundant is your goodness (see 14:1; 25:7), which you have stored up” and hidden (see 27:5) “for those who fear you” (cf. 19:9). The hidden store becomes “which you bestow (NIV) in the sight of all, on those who take refuge in you,” thereby showing the LORD’s approval in sharp contrast to the adversaries’ slander.

Steadfast Love to Flawed Saint: 21–22

“Blessed be the LORD (see 18:46) for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love (ḥesed, see 31:7) to me when I was in a besieged city,” as happened at Keilah (cf. 1Sam 23:7–12). “I had said in my alarm” (i.e., “in my haste out fear”), not in faith, ‘I am cut off from your sight.’ Yet you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy” (or “for a favor,” cf. Ps 31:10; 31:8). In spite of his momentary lapse in unbelief, his faith was not overthrown: “For if his faith had been extinguished, he could not have brought his mind earnestly to engage in prayer.”163 And so God hears the cry for mercy of a lapsed saint.

Exhortation to Persevere: 23–24

“Love (see 4:2) the LORD, all his saints” (asîdîm, see 4:3 [“godly”]). Love for the LORD is an emotional feeling, yet it can be commanded as a volitional act (Deut 6:5). “The LORD protects the loyal, but the proud (see 31:18) he pays back in full. Be strong and courageous (CSB) all who wait for the LORD” (i.e., “look to the LORD with eager expectation for them to meet their need”). There will always be the need for trust in trouble.

Psalm 32

The content and structure of this grateful song of praise  at a glance:


I. The Witness of the Forgiven King: 1–5

A. Wisdom Saying of Forgiveness (addressed to congregation): 1–2

B. Testimony of Being Forgiven (addressed to God): 3–5

II. The Prayer and Instruction of the King: 6–10

B.’ Prayer for Godly to Escape Judgment (addressed to God): 6–7

A.’ Wisdom Sayings to Repent (addressed to congregation): 8–10

III. Call to Praise: 11


“A Maskil (perhaps an “instruction” psalm) of David” ( Rom 4:6–8).164

Apart from an outlying call to praise (32:11), this song of grateful praise consists of two concentrically structured stanzas of equal length (32:1–5, 6–10).

Psalm 51 expresses David’s petition to God for forgiveness; Psalm 32 expresses his praise to God for forgiveness. So Psalm 32 may be a fulfillment of David’s vow to praise in Psalm 51:13. If so, a grateful praise sacrifice would not have been offered with his psalm (cf. 51:16–17). God forgives those who sincerely repent (32:2) and are receptive to God’s rule (32:8). Sinning saints have two choices: stubborn silence of unacknowledged sin, leading to judgement; or confession of sin, leading to salvation. “You forgave my sin” (32:5c, the key verse) stands at the exact center of the paired stanzas. The repentant can count on salvation; this is the psalm’s message (cf. Prov 28:13; 1Jn 1:8–9). The LORD protects the penitent from judgment (32:7).

The Apostle Paul cites verses 1–2 to validate the doctrine of justification by faith (Rom 4:5–7). Forgiveness is possible because “he [Jesus Christ] is the propitiation for our sins” (1Jn 2:2).

I. The Witness of the Forgiven King: 1–5

A pun on “cover” frames the stanza (32:1, 5) and encapsulates its message: “I did not cover my iniquity” (32:5), so my “transgression is covered” (32:1).

Wisdom Saying of Forgiveness (addressed to congregation): 1–2

The forgiven, not just the sinless, are “blessed” (see 1:1). Three terms specify dimensions of the semantic domain of “sin”: “transgression” (see 5:10), “sin” (“disobeying God by wronging another”), and “iniquity” or guilt (see 25:11). They are matched by three terms for forgiveness: “forgiven” (lit. “lifted up” [25:18]), “covered” and so removed from the sight of the Holy One, and “does not count against them,” an intellectual act of evaluation (cf. Gen 15:6; Rom 4:6–8). “In one’s spirit is no deceit” (i.e., a sincere confession) is the fundamental condition for God’s grace to pervade and cleanse the guilty conscience.

Testimony of Being Forgiven (addressed to God): 3–5

Silence and Agony: 3–4

When David “kept silent,” refusing to humble himself and acknowledge his sin, his skeletal “bones wasted away”—making him unusable—through extreme distress in quality (“groaning”) and quantity (“all day long”). He explains, “for day and night” God’s “hand” (from elbow to finger tips)—a symbol of authority, power, and control—”was heavy on” him in pangs of conscience.

Confession and Forgiveness: 5

Then he “acknowledged” his “sin to” the LORD, and God, apart from compensatory good deeds, took away “the guilt of” his “sin,” implying that wronging another incurs guilt before God. “Selah”


II. The Prayer and Instruction of the King: 6–10

“Therefore” links the autobiography as witness to others. God’s forgiveness of the king’s sin exemplifies his forgiveness for all sinning saints (cf. 1Jn 1:8).

Prayer for the Godly to Escape Judgment (addressed to God): 6–7

His public petition “let everyone who is godly (hāsîd, see 4:3) offer prayer to you,” on the vertical axis, asks God presumably to grant the godly grace to repent; on the horizontal axis it caroms his prayer as hortatory appeal to the congregation to pray for forgiveness. “At a time when you may be found” implies God’s grace is always available, but his patience has limits (cf. Isa 55:6; Hos 5:6; Prov 1:27–29). “The rush of great waters” refers to the unruly, destructive chaos that remains within the creation (see Ps 93:1). “Shall not reach him”—that is to say, God will not unleash this chaos against the repentant (cf. Joel 2:32). The God from whom the guilty could not hide becomes for the repentant “a hiding place”—that is to say, “you preserve” or protect “me from trouble; you surround me” by the other worshipers “with shouts of deliverance. Selah”

Wisdom Sayings to Repent (addressed to congregation): 8–10

Three synonyms for instruction (32:8) introduce and underscore the importance of his parable (32:9) and explanatory proverb (32:10): “instruct (see 2:10); teach . . . should go” (i.e., their covenant obligations); and “counsel (see 16:8). With my eye (i.e., the king’s, for there is no other antecedent) upon you” (i.e., the congregation) here connotes “to watch over and protect,” clarified in NIV by “loving eye.”

“Be not like (plural) a” stubborn war “horse or a mule,” which are “without understanding” of coming judgement, and so “must be controlled by bit and bridle” (i.e., by pain), and “will not stay to you” (i.e., they refuse to obey).

A proverb grounds the parable in antithetical truths: “Many are the sorrows of the wicked” (see 1:1) versus “but” the LORD’s “steadfast love (see 5:7) surrounds the one who trusts in the LORD” (see 31:6, 14).

III. Call to Praise: 11

So the “righteous” (see 1:5, 6), who are “upright in heart” (see 7:10), are summoned to “be glad (5:11) and rejoice” in God’s mercy to them.

Psalm 33

The content and structure of this hymn at a glance:

I. Introduction: Call to Praise: 1–3

II. Body: Cause for Praise: 4–19

A. Summary of The LORD’s Sublimities: 4–5

1. He Is Reliable: 4

2. He Is Ethical: 5

B. Demonstration of His Reliability: 6–12

1. Reliability of His Word: 6–9

2. Reliability of His Plan: 10–11

3. Beatification of Israel: 12

C. Demonstration of His Ethical Government: 13–19

1. His Omniscience of Human Hearts: 13–15

2. His Salvation of the Faithful: 16–19

III. Conclusion: Congregational Confession of Trust and Prayer: 20–22

A. Confession of Trust: 20–21

B. Prayer the LORD Continues His Steadfast Love: 22

This is the only psalm in the majority of Masoretic manuscripts of Book I (Pss 3–41) without the superscript “by David.” The LXX and a few medieval Hebrew manuscripts, however, attribute Psalm 33 to David. The Qumran evidence adds “a psalm, a song.”

The hymn sustains Israel’s hope in the LORD’s steadfast love (33:5, 18, 22) by celebrating: 

1. The reliability of his word

2. That none can thwart his ethical plan

3. That in his righteousness and justice he delivers from death those who hope in his steadfast love.

The hymn is skillfully wrought. Its twenty-two verses, matching the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet, subtly communicates his sovereignty over “all” (33:6, 8, 13, 14, 15). Its three-verse introduction (33:1–3) and conclusion (33:20–22) balance one another in length. Each verse of the summary (33:4–5, the key verses) contains seven words in the Hebrew text and match the two seven-verse strophes that demonstrate his reliability and ethical plan (33:6–12, 13–19). The initial verses of these strophes escalate from the LORD’s creation of the heavens (33:6) to his looking down from the heavens (33:13).

In the New Testament the LORD reveals himself as a Trinity and wants to be known and honored through the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ ([“dual”]).

I. Introduction: Call to Praise: 1–3

The introduction and summary answer fundamental questions about “praise” (tehillâ, “a verbal expression of deep approval of admiration,” 33:1); and yādâ: “to give thanks” (better, “grateful praise,” 33:2 ), to wit, who should praise, why they should praise,165 and how and what they should praise. As to “who,” the “righteous” (plural, see 1:5), and as to “why,” because praise “befits” or is proper for “the upright in heart” (see 7:10; 32:11). As to “how,” with “melody” or music (zamme)with the lyre” (having raised arms from the end of a sound box, supporting a yoke from which three to ten strings descended into or over the sound box), and “the harp of ten strings” (perhaps, “a ten stringed lute”). Both choir and orchestra were to perform “skillfully.” This is the first mention of music within a psalm. And also with a “shout of joy” (i.e., “let out an entire series of cries of jubilation,” 33:1), the first word in the Hebrew text, and “loud shouts” (33:3b), the last word of the introduction. Think of the cannon blasts in Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. As to “what,” “a new song,” a song for the Divine Warrior’s victory, celebrating his noble qualities and astonishing salvation of Israel.

II. Body: Cause for Praise: 4–19

For” introduces a fuller reason for praise and its substance.

Summary of the LORD’s Sublimities: 4–5

God’s greatness is seen both in his creation of the cosmos (33:4) and in his moral governance of history (33:5). These themes are inseparable, for God’s control of history presupposes his mastery over creation. “The word of the LORD” will be elaborated upon in 33:6–9, and his “righteousness and justice” in 33:10–19.

He Is Reliable: 4

“The word of the LORD,” from the “the breath of his mouth” (33:6), “is upright” (see 7:10) and so stands “firm” (33:9). “And all his work,” a product of his word (see Gen 1), “is done in faithfulness” (see 12:2 note), and so he sustains what he makes. The “word” (Greek logos) as the agent of creation lies behind John’s identification of Jesus Christ as the Logos by which all was created (John 1:3).

He Is Ethical: 5

“He (the LORD) loves (see 4:2) righteousness (see 5:9) and justice” (see 7:7) pertains to salvation history. “The earth,” a metonymy for its people, “is full of the steadfast love (see 5:7) of the LORD,” namely, to help his needy covenant partners by delivering them in battle (33:16–17) and from death (33:19a), feeding them in famine (33:19b), and forgiving them when they sin and repent (cf. Ps 32).

Demonstration of His Reliability: 6–12

The created order “stood firm” by his sovereign word (33:9), and his plans for his people “stand firm” in salvation history (33:11). Hence, “blessed” are the people of such a God (33:12).

Reliability of His Word: 6–9

His Sovereign Word Brought the Whole Cosmos into Existence: 6–7

“By the word of the LORD (see 33:4) the heavens were made” (Gen 1:6–8), and so Israel’s personal God transcends even them. “And by the breath of his mouth,” a metonymy for “utterance,” “all their starry host” (Gen 1:14–16; Ps 8:4). “He gathers the waters of the sea,” noteworthy for their unruly mass, “as a heap” (cf. Gen 1:9). “He puts the” primeval “deep,” symbolic of death and chaos, “into storehouses,” “like households storing up oil and grain.”166 Bounded by land, he calls the whole “good” (Gen 1:8–10).

Appropriate Human Response: 8–9

“Let all the earth (see 33:5) fear him” (see 19:9). “Let all . . . revere (i.e., “be afraid of” [see 22:24]) him.” “For he spoke” meaningful words, “and it (i.e., what those words communicated) came to be; he commanded,” saying “Let there be,” and “it stood firm” (cf. 119:89).

Reliability of His Plan: 10–11

“The LORD” rules universally in space, for negatively he “brings the counsel of the” foreign “nations to nothing.” And he rules eternally in time, for positively his “counsel . . . stands forever.”

Beatification of Israel: 12

So “blessed (see 1:1; 32:1, 2) is the nation” (i.e., Israel in the old dispensation [Exod 19:6]) and the Church in the new dispensation (1Pet 2:9) “whose God (see Ps 16:1) is the LORD” (see 2:1), the ethical Sovereign who does not fail. “The people he chose for his inheritance” (see 2:8; cf. Exod 19:5; Deut 9:29; Acts 13:17; Eph 1:11; 1Pet 2:9).

Demonstration of His Ethical Government: 13–19

The LORD is no Olympian, remote from human affairs. To fulfill his chosen people’s destiny according to righteousness and justice, the Sovereign over space and time must be omniscient over every human being’s moral volition; so armed, he delivers his faithful people from oppressors.

His Omniscience of Human Hearts: 13–15

“From the heavens (see 33:6) the LORD looks down or gazes (see 14:2) and sees all mankind. From where he sits enthroned he watches (i.e., “examines closely and critically”) . . . all” and so knows, without exception, the moral disposition of every human being. He “considers” and understands “everything they do.” And so, his actions are just.

His Salvation of the Faithful: 16–19

“Deliver” (33:16b, 19a) frames this unit’s two couplets. As the frustrated counsel of the nations is contrasted with the realized counsel of the LORD (33:10–11), now the futility of human strength is contrasted with his faithful strength.

The Futility of Human Strength to Deliver: 16–17

Verses 16 and 17 are linked by the term for “great” (33:16a–b, 17b; i.e., beyond human standards) with reference to military might. His universal rule of righteousness is based on his military might. “No king is saved” or delivered (see 3:7) “by” the “great” size “of his army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.” “The” war “horse”—the symbol of military strength—”is a vain hope for deliverance” (cf. Prov 21:30ff).

The LORD Delivers the Faithful from Death: 18–19

“But the eyes of the LORD,” whose seeing brings salvation (e.g., 34:12; 1Kgs 8:52; Ezra 5:5; Neh 1:6; 1Pet 3:12), “are on those who fear him (see 33:8), on those who hope (lit. wait painfully in expectation for deliverance) in his steadfast love (see 5:7), to deliver them from death” so that it will not have the last word, “and keep them alive in the famine,” a synecdoche for any distress.

III. Conclusion: Congregational Confession of Trust and Prayer: 20-22

Confession of Trust: 20–21

The faithful congregation responds to the truth of verses 16–19 by confessing to one another their faith in their God. Their confession “our soul (better, “we” [see 6:3]) waits for the LORD” entails that he delays his salvation (cf. Isa 8:17; Hab 2:3). Their confession “he is our help,” or assistance (see Ps 20:2), “and our shield” (see 3:3) distinguishes them from their apostate ancestors who escaped Egypt (cf. 106:12–13). They respond enthusiastically to the introductory call to praise (33:1–3): “our hearts (see 33:15) are glad” (see 5:11) in him, “for we trust (see 4:6; 32:10) in his holy (see 22:3) name” (see 5:11).

Prayer the LORD Continues His Steadfast Love: 22

“Let your steadfast love (see 33:5, 18) be with (lit. “upon”) us, LORD, even as we hope (see 33:18) in you.”

Psalm 34

The content and structure of this didactic psalm  based on a song of grateful praise  at a glance:


I. A Song of Grateful Praise: 1–10

A. Resolve to Praise: 1–3

B. Report of Deliverance: 4–6

C. Homily to Fear the LORD: 7–10

II. A “Father’s” Lecture on the Fear of the LORD: 11–22

A. Instruction in the Fear of the LORD: 11–14

B. Deliverance of the Righteous: 15–20

C. Condemnation of the Wicked: 21–22


“Of David . When he changed his behavior before Abimelek”—probably a dynastic title of Achish—”who drove him away, and he left” (see 1Sam 21:10–15). Even though David “was very much afraid” of Achish, the LORD heard his timorous servant’s petition and delivered him. Later, David feared Saul and foolishly fled to Achish, but the LORD again delivered his covenant-keeping partner (1Sam 27:1–28:2; 30:1–6). David’s conflicted fear and faith can be seen in a pun on Hebrew hthhll: hithhōllël (“to act like a mad man,” 1Sam 21:13) and hithhallel (“to praise,” Ps 34:2).

David’s teaching to fear the LORD springs from his deliverance celebrated in his song of grateful praise , having the typical motifs of that genre: a resolve to praise (34:1–3) and a report of deliverance (34:4–6). However, he ends the song atypically with a homily to fear the LORD. The LORD guards and delivers those who fear him (34:7), shows them his goodness (34:8), and supplies what they need (34:9–10). His homily segues into a full-blown father’s lecture on the fear of the LORD (34:11–22). The king teaches his nation wisdom as the fictitious father in Proverbs taught his son (cf. Prov 1:8; 2:1; 3:1, 13 [cf. 3:21]; 4:1, 10, 20; 5:1; 6:1, 20).

David teaches by being an example. “I sought the LORD” (34:4a) is expanded in his homily to “those who seek the LORD” (34:10b); “this poor (i.e., one who recognizes their lack of resources to save oneself) man cried out and the LORD heard him” (34:6a) is enlarged to “the righteous cry out, and LORD hears them” (34:17a), and “the LORD delivered me from all my fears” (34:4b) is developed into “he delivers the righteous from all their troubles” (34:17b). The key verse and message is “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good . . . Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints” (34:8–9).

The song (34:1–10) and lecture (34:11–22), of almost equal length, are unified within an adorning “abecedary” pattern; that is, the psalm’s twenty-two verses conform to the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. However, as happens in Psalm 25, an additional pe verse is added after taw, the final letter of the Hebrew alphabet, to compensate for the loss of the expected waw line. The variation produces in the initial letters of the first, middle, and last verses, on the vertical axis of the right margin, the acrostic ’lp (= ’ālaph, “to teach”). In addition, however, in Psalm 34 the same acrostic is produced in the first, middle, and last letters,167 on the horizontal axis of its first verse. Furthermore, the lastword of the middle verse, the lamed line (34:11), is lammed (“to teach”). This threefold rhetorical technique or scheme underscores that Psalm 34 is a didactic-wisdom psalm.

David’s deliverance and lecture typify Christ and his Church. The apostle John sees the fulfillment of the promise that “not a bone of a righteous person is broken” (34:20) in Christ’s crucifixion, and he combines it with the Passover lamb (Exod 12:46; Num 9:12; John 19:36). In this way John identifies Jesus as the true Passover Lamb and the Righteous Sufferer whom God vindicated. The apostle Peter sees “the father’s” description of a “child” who fears the LORD “as a fitting description of how the Christian should live” (1Pet 3:10–12).168

I. A Song of Grateful Praise: 1–10

Resolve to Praise: 1–3

David’s expands his resolve to praise (34:1–2a) as a summons to all the afflicted (34:2b–3). “I will (volitional) bless the LORD” expresses David’s desire to give the LORD a benefaction by acknowledging him as Benefactor. “His praise shall continually be in my mouth,” even when David is afraid (see above). “My soul makes its boast in the LORD.” Boasting about anyone or anything other than the LORD is not good, for it confronts the LORD with arrogance and self-sufficiency. But boasting about the LORD debunks self-sufficiency and implies faith in the LORD, and so is proper (cf. Isa 41:6; 45:2; Jer 4:2).

Report of Deliverance: 4–6

“I sought the LORD” diligently to answer my prayer, “and he answered me” (see 3:4). “Those who look to him” for salvation “are radiant” with joy; “Their faces shall never be ashamed”—that is to say, they never blush in embarrassment for being publicly disgraced for trusting the LORD to save them (cf. 22:6–8).

Homily to Fear the LORD: 7–10

Synonymous catchwords for “deliver” (34:6, 7) link the strophes. The two couplets of this strophe have “fear the LORD” in their first verses (34:7b, 9a) and “good” in their second verses (34:8a, 10b); the catchword “lack” links 34:9–10. “The angel of the LORD” is his plenipotentiary on earth.169 He “encamps around (i.e., stands guard from every direction) those who fear the LORD” (see 19:9). “Taste,” a warm invitation to evaluate from experience and so begin to know God, “and see the LORD is good” (14:1). Peter changes “taste” to “tasted” and equates the LORD with Jesus (1Pet 2:3). And so, Christians fear the LORD because they have experienced salvation in Christ and not to obtain salvation. The church has used this text as appropriate for the Eucharistic meal. “Blessed (see 1:1) is the man (i.e., man in his strength) who takes refuge in him! Oh, fear the LORD (see 34:7), you his saints” (i.e., “holy people” [see 16:3]). “Those who fear him have no lack!” (cf. Deut 2:7). In contrast, “the young lions,” a symbol of impious self-sufficiency,170 “suffer want and hunger.”


II. A "Father's" Lecture: 11–22

Instruction in the Fear of the LORD: 11–14

The catchwords “fear . . . the LORD” (34:7, 9, 11), plus “see” and “good” (34:8a, 12b), link this strophe to the preceding strophe. “Come”—an adverb of urgency (cf. Jonah 2:7)—”children (cf. 1Sam 26:17, 21, 25), listen to me” (translation mine) is strikingly similar to Proverbs 1:8; 2:1; 3:1; passim. “I will teach you the fear of the LORD” (see 19:9), the quintessential teaching of Proverbs (Prov 1:7). Like the fictional father in Proverbs, David motivates his children to listen with the promise of an abundant life (Prov 1:9; 3:1–2). “What man is there who desires life . . . that he may see good?” is answered in the ethical imperatives that pertain to speech (Ps 34:14) and deeds (34:15), the same answers as in 15:1–3; 24:3–4.

Deliverance of the Righteous: 15–20

The LORD’s favor toward the righteous versus his displeasure against the wicked commends “the fear of the LORD.”

The LORD Delivers the Righteous 15–17

Verses 15–17 are so unified that some scholars reverse verses 15 and 16, the ‘ayin and pe lines, to improve the sense, pointing to the reversal of these letters in other abecedary poems.171 The anthropomorphisms “the eyes of the LORD” (see 33:18; cf. 32:8), “his ears,” and “face” link verses 15 and 16. The direction of the “face” expresses intent, purpose, and resolve. “Against those who do evil” is explained by the parallel: “to cut off the memory of them” (i.e., the mention; cf. Lev 20:5ff). By contrast, “when the righteous (see 1:5) cry out” in distress, “the LORD hears them”—that is to say, “he delivers them out of all their troubles.”

The Presence of the LORD in the Troubles of the Righteous: 18–20

A pun on “broken” frames the triplet (34:18, 20). “The LORD is near” i.e., ready to come quickly to the rescue, cf. Deut 4:7; Ps 10:1) “to the brokenhearted,” who are overwhelmed by troubles and feel a loss of hope and well-being (Rom 8:35). Syntax links verses 19 and 20: “the righteous” (34:19a) is the antecedent of “him” (34:19b) and “his” (34:20a). “The righteous person (see 1:5) has many troubles (translation mine), but the LORD delivers him out of them all.” “He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken” is not universally true but certainly true of the Lord Jesus Christ and so a prophecy of his crucifixion (see “typical prophetic,” p. xxx).

Condemnation of the Wicked: 21–22

The LORD holds the wicked accountable for the troubles they afflicted on his “servants,” who recognize his claim on their lives, are devoted to him, and depend on him for their subsistence. “Affliction will slay the wicked” because “those who hate the righteous will be condemned” (i.e., be found guilty and condemned to death by the LORD). “The LORD redeems (see 25:23) . . . those who take refuge in him” is a fitting conclusion to a psalm that began with grateful praise.

Psalm 35

The content and structure of this complaint-lament psalm at a glance:

I. Cycle I: 1–10

A. Petition to Be David’s Champion: 1–3

B. Petitions against Enemy: 4–8

C. Praise for Salvation: 9–10

II. Cycle II: 11–18

A. Lament: Enemy Repays David’s Good with Evil: 11–16

B. The LORD is Absent and Petition for Deliverance: 17

C. Praise in the Great Congregation: 18

III. Cycle III: 19–28

A. Petition Regarding Enemy: Not to Triumph: 19–21

B. Petition Regarding LORD: Awake and Vindicate David: 22–25

C. Petition Regarding Righteous: To Rejoice: 26–27

D. Praise of the LORD’s Righteousness: 28

Postscript: Psalm 36: superscript



“Of David” .

David’s description of his sufferings match those in his conflict with Saul, namely, “contend” (35:1; cf. 1Sam 24:15); malicious slander by those toward whom he had felt only the most tender friendship (35:13ff; cf. 1Sam 18:1–4; 26:17); pursued to death without reason (35:7, 19; cf. 1Sam 20:1; 23:15; 24:11); enmity fomented by malicious slanderers (35:11ff; 1Sam 24:9; 26:19); unable to defend himself (35:1–3; 1Sam 24:10; 26:9ff); his appeals to God as judge (35:1, 24; 1Sam 24:12, 15); the enemy represented in plural (e.g., 35:4) and in the singular (35:10) matches Saul leading Israel in his civil war against David.

David’s psalm exhibits the typical motifs of the complaint-lament genre in three cycles, marked off by the concluding motif of praise. The LORD is addressed in all three cycles (35:1, 17, 22). The first stanza primarily petitions God to defeat the enemy; the second stanza chiefly vents the psalmist’s lament of the enemy’s unreasonable malice against him; and the third stanza mostly concerns itself that in the end the righteous praise the LORD and the enemy be put to shame. The psalm resonates with confidence, although that motif is not developed.

The true king over God’s kingdom formulates his appeal for justice as a legal brief. The psalm’s opening word, “contend” (Hebrew rîb), denotes a complaint made by an aggrieved party against the party held responsible for the grievance. He repeats his appeal in a closing petition (35:23b). David contends against his enemy with the words of this psalm, but the psalm itself asks God to prove David right through the test of battle.

The psalm teaches that God establishes his righteous kingdom in the midst of evil through the reasoned prayers of his battle-scared servants (cf. Matt 6:10–13). Also, although his chosen king suffers cruelly and unjustly, in the end, to the praise of God, the LORD will prove him right by delivering them from death and dealing out justice (35:27 is the key verse). This is so because the LORD is righteous (35:28). This is the story of the Bible, the meaning of history (cf. Gen 3:15), and the gospel of Jesus Christ.

David and his righteous followers are a type of Christ and his Church. Christ suffered without reason (cf. 35:7; 69:4; John 15:25), but his resurrection proved him right and put his malefactors to shame. The Church, as exemplified in Paul, fills up what is still lacking in the unjust sufferings of Christ (Col 1:24) and hopes to be vindicated by their resurrection from the dead and their life in the world to come.

In the Old dispensation, however, God was establishing a political kingdom with physical weapons; in the New he is building a spiritual kingdom with spiritual armor . Nevertheless, the means always involves prayer, and the goal is always the triumph of the righteous and the shaming of their foes, to the praise of God.


I. Cycle I: 1–10

Petition to Be David’s Champion: 1–3

The anointed (see 2:2) petitions the “LORD”  to “contend” (see above) as a lawyer for his client “with those who fight with me.” The enemy faults David (35:11, 20ff), and David wants God to vindicate him. Who is right will be proven by battle. And so David prays, “fight those who fight against me”—be my champion. The military anthropomorphism, “take up” the light, round “buckler and” the long “shield” that protects the whole body (translation mine), signifies to defend him. “Rise” reprises Moses’s old war cry that God arise from his throne of judgment and act “for my help” (cf. Num 10:35). Page number

Evidently, David cannot fight on his own behalf (cf. 1Sam 24:5; 26:9). “Against my pursuers” is later qualified by “without reason” (35:7, 19), showing their diabolical hatred of the righteous. The true king also needs spiritual encouragement: “Say to my soul (better, “me” [see 6:3]), I am your salvation” (see 3:7), which the profane deny (3:2). It is unclear how God will speak to him.

Petition against the Enemy: 4–8

Rout the Pursuing Killers: 4–6

The stakes in this trial by combat are high. His enemies “seek” (i.e., zealously strive) to take the “life” of God’s regent. David’s concern is for righteousness. And so he prays that those who foolishly risked their lives to oppose God’s kingdom “may be put to shame” publicly; the penalty is penal, not remedial. “Let them be turned back” so decisively they “will be like chaff before the wind” (see 1:4) and so unable to regroup. It will take “the” dread “angel of the LORD (see 34:7; cf. 2Kgs 19:35) driving them away.” Moreover, “let their way be dark,” so that they cannot see, and “slippery” (ḥălaqlaqqôt), so that they cannot keep their footing.

Exact Justice: 7–8

David is innocent, and he asks for eye-for-eye justice. Since “without cause they . . . dug a pit for me . . . let him (their leader) fall into it—to his destruction” (see 7:14–16; p. xxx [“imprecations”]).

Praise for Salvation: 9–10

“Then,” after the enemy has been ruined, “my soul (see 6:3) will rejoice” in the liturgy that celebrates the “LORD” (see 35:18), “exulting” (śûś as a champion runs a race-track [see 19:6]) in “his salvation” (3:7). “All my bones” (i.e., my whole being; “bones” is a common reference to the psyche) say: ‘O LORD, who is like you?’”—the LORD is incomparable in power and in exacting justice—“delivering (lit. “snatching away and setting free”) the poor (singular, see 9:18; cf. 34:6) from him who is too strong (i.e., able to secure his position in a comprehensive way) for him.” David is “poor and needy”—a hendiadys for the godly and defenseless, who depend on the LORD to deliver them from oppressors—and so depends on the LORD to save him “from him who robs him,” a metaphor signifying that David’s life is being taken away from him forcibly and illegally.


II. Cycle II: 11–18

Lament: Enemy Repays David’s Good with Evil: 11–16

His enemies are many. “Malicious witnesses (see 27:12; Matt 26:59) rise up” or come forward, and “they ask me of things that I do not know,” “calling me to account for crimes, of which I have not even knowledge.”172 “They repay me evil for good,” the height of injustice (cf. 38:30). As a result of David’s loss of their friendship, “my soul is” bereft, like one who loses a child. He proves their treachery by contrasting his active and sacrificial remorse for their illness with their nasty response to his calamity. “When they were sick—I wore” the mourner’s “sackcloth; I . . . [fasted].” His grief was genuine: “When my” intercessory “prayer returned to me unanswered (NIV; lit. “returned upon my bosom”), I went about . . . mourning” as for a friend or a family member. “But at my stumbling” I fell flat on my face, and “they gathered” in glee “together against me.” “Wretches” or assailants “whom I did not know verbally tore me apart without ceasing” (translation mine). In their rage, “they gnash their teeth at me.”

The LORD Is Absent and Petition for Deliverance: 17

David’s straight-forward question, “how long, Lord, will you look on?” does not imply an accusation, unlike that of 13:1, 2, but vents his frustration. “Rescue . . . my precious life . . . from the lions” (see 34:10).

Praise in Great Congregation: 18

David’s pledge envisions his rule over a large and powerful nation: “I will thank you (better, “give grateful praise”) in the great congregation” and “mighty throng (cf. Exod 1:9; Num 22:7 Deut 9:14; Joel 2:2) I will praise (i.e., express admiration publicly to) you.”

III. Cycle III: 19–28

Petition Regarding Enemy: Not to Triumph: 19–21

David begins his third stanza by reprising his prayer in the first stanza: “Let not those rejoice over me (i.e., joyfully clap their hand and stomp their feet) who in their aggressive deceit intended to harm me” (translation mine; see 35:4). And he again, as in the second stanza (see 35:12–16), contrasts his innocence with their guilt: they hate him “without cause.” The plotters “maliciously wink their eyes” to deceive him of their true intent. “They do not speak to make peace” (NET), though they pretend otherwise, “but devise evil plans to deceive and harm a victim” (translation mine). “They open their mouths wide,” exclaiming, ‘Aha! Aha!’” an expression of their malicious joy. “Our eyes have seen t” (the alleged crimes). Their testimony, though false, nevertheless kills.

Petition Regarding LORD: Awake and Vindicate David: 22–25

His enemies are false eyewitnesses, but the LORD truly sees their false testimony: “LORD, you have seen this; do not be silent,” the opposite of their opening their mouths wide, and a metonymy for inactivity. “O LORD, be not far from me” (see 34:18; cf. 22:11). Theologically, David knows Israel’s God neither slumbers nor sleeps, but this is not his experience, and so he prays, “Awake and rise to my vindication” or defense (Hebrew rîb, see 7:6). He now comes to the heart of the matter: Contend (see 35:1) for me, my God (see 16:1) and Lord/Master, in this trial by battle. “Vindicate (šāpaṭ, see 26:1) me according to your righteousness (see 5:8).” “Let them . . . not say,” after they have killed him, “Aha . . . we have swallowed him up” so that there is no trace of him.173

Petition Regarding Righteous: To Rejoice: 26–27

Reprising his prayer in verses 4 and 19, “May those who are glad over harm done to me be put to shame and embarrassed all at once” (translation mine). On the other hand, in the temple worship, for which the psalm was composed, “may those who delight in my righteousness (i.e., “deliverance” [ṣedeq, see 5:8], “righteous order established”) shout for joy and be glad” (see 35:19). After God rescues his king, the afflicted righteous “will . . . say, The LORD be exalted.” “Evermore” shows this saving act has the last word and has its significance for a broad number of people and will not be forgotten. They “delight in the welfare” or well-being “of his servant” (i.e., David; see Ps 18: superscript) because they love him and justice. Moreover, his vindication seals theirs.

Praise of the LORD’s Righteousness: 28

“Then my tongue shall tell of your righteousness”—the key word of the psalm—”your praises all the day long.” As the rest of Scripture testifies, the Lord answered his prayer, and the Spirit has used his pledge to comfort God’s people for three millennia. This is even more evident in the psalm’s fulfillment in the Antitype .

Postscript: Psalm 36: Superscript

“To the choirmaster.”

Psalm 36

The content and structure of this psalm of mixed forms at a glance:


I. Portrayal of the Wicked: 1–4

A. Their Psychology: 1–2

B. Commitment to Deceitful Words and Damaging Deeds: 3–4

II. Praise of God’s Benevolences to Temple Worshipers: 5–9

A. The LORD’s Benevolences: 5–6

B. People Take Refuge in the Temple: 7–9

III. Protect Saints from Evildoers: 10–12

A. Petition: 10–11

B. Vision of Evildoers’ Destruction: 12



“For the choirmaster:” postscript to Psalm 35 .

“Of David the servant of the LORD” (see Ps 18: superscript).

As for form  the psalm consists of: I) a wisdom saying that comes as a prophecy; II) a hymn; and III) a petition. As for the message, the psalm fortifies suffering saints to prevail in prayer by revealing the depth of their foe’s depravity and the even greater depth of the LORD’s love and righteousness for the faithful (36:5, 7, 8, 10). Verse 10 is the key verse (cf. 1Jn 4:4).

Suffering Christians should both know their enemy and expect persecution (John 15:18–20a) and know personally the Lord Jesus Christ as “the bread of heaven” (Ps 36:8a; John 6:35); “the living water” (Ps 36:9a; John 4:10); and “the light of the world” (Ps 36:9b; John 1:4; 8:12).

I. Portrayal of the Wicked: 1–4

Their Psychology: 1–2

Introduction: 1a

“I have a message from God” (nĕ‘ūm “a Spirit inspired utterance”) deep “in my heart” (NIV). Only the LORD can authoritatively uncover “the transgression”174 of the psychology of the “wicked” (see 1:1; cf. 1Sam 16:7; Prov 14:10; Jer 17:9).

Wrong Views of God and of Self: 1b–2

“There is no fear (better, “dread”) of God before his eyes” (i.e., in their worldview; see 14:1–3 and its citation in Rom 3:8). This is so, “for he sees himself with too flattering an eye (i.e., he is too conceited) to detect and detest his guilt” (‘āwôn, see 25:11; NJB).

Commitment to Deceitful Words and Damaging Deeds: 3–4

The wicked is defined by this thoughts (36:4), words (36:3a), and actions (36:3b). “The words of his mouth are trouble (’āven, see 7:14) and deceit.” “He lacks the wisdom to do good” (translation mine). His rebellion is a commitment, not a lapse (cf. 51:1). “He plots trouble while on his bed” (see 4:4; Mic 2:1). “He sets himself in a way that is not good; he does not reject evil.”

II. Praise of God's Benevolence to Temple-Worshipers: 5–9

The LORD’s Benevolences: 5–6

The metaphors of “your steadfast love (see 5:7) . . . reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness (see 33:4; 26:3) to the clouds” signify the LORD’s reliable love is more than sufficient for any distress (see 26:10). The LORD expresses his reliable love by establishing righteousness and exacting justice. The similes “your righteousness (see 5:8) is like the highest mountains (NIV), your judgments (see 17:1) like the great deep” signify their universal scope in space and time, and together are a merismus that underscores their universality. Consequently, “you, LORD, preserve (lit. “deliver” or “save” [see 3:7]) both people and animals” (NIV) from evildoers.

People Take Refuge in the Temple: 7–9

The rhetorical question “how precious is your steadfast love” expresses enthusiasm, signifies unfailing love is rarely found apart from God, and is an oxymoron: it is rare, yet universal (see 36:5). Common “children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings” (see 17:8). In the temple they feast on the “sacraments”: “they feast on the abundance (lit. “on the fatness”) of your house.” “Fatness” is a metonymy for animal sacrifices and drink offerings and their rich spiritual nourishment. The LORD cannot be disassociated from his temple (cf. 1Kgs 8:10–11). “You give them drink from your” gushing “river of delights” (‘eden, “bliss”), a poetic symbol for the life that flows from the temple (see 46:4; 92:13; cf. Gen 2:10; Ezek 28:13ff; 47:1–12; Rev 22:1).175 The LORD is the source of their life: “for with you,” and none other, “is the fountain of life.” “In your light,” a metaphor of his essential nature to deliver the just (see 27:1; cf. 118:27; Mic 7:8; John 3:4), “we,” who embrace that illumination, “do see (i.e., experience) light,” an equivalent to the good life, in contrast to darkness (Job 3:20; Isa 9:2).

III. Protect Saints From Evildoers: 10–12

Petition: 10–11

“Oh, continue your steadfast love (36:5, 7) to those who know you intimately; your righteousness (36:6) to the upright in heart” (see 7:10). “Let not the foot of the proud come” and trample “on me, nor the” controlling and powerful “hand of the wicked drive me away” from the land that sustains my physical life and from the temple that sustains my spiritual life (cf. 1Sam 26:19).

Vision of Evildoers’ Destruction: 12

A verse of certainty often follows the petition. “See (lit. “there” [see 14:5]) the evildoers (see 5:5) lie fallen—thrown down” by God, “unable to rise!” The dread the proud could not see, they will see in the final judgment.

Psalm 37

The content and structure of this didactic-wisdom psalm  at a glance.


I. Introduction: Admonitions Not to Fret but to Trust the LORD: 1–7

II. Body: Retribution of the Wicked and Care of the Righteous: 8–34

A. Evildoers Destroyed but Meek Inherit the Land: 8–11

B. Retribution of the Wicked: 12–15

C. Better a Little and Righteous than Abundance and Wicked: 16–20

D. The Reward of Righteous to Inherit the Land: 21–29

E. The Righteous Protected and Inherit the Land: 30–34

III. Conclusion: Testimonies and Salvation of the LORD: 35–40

A. Testimonies of David and Addressees: 35–38

B. The LORD Saves: 39–40


“Of David” .

King David, speaking with the wisdom of old age (37:25, 35), lectures a generic “you” with twenty-two sayings that sound like the lectures and aphorisms of the Book of Proverbs (e.g., cf. 37:1 with Prov 24:19; 37:16 with Prov 15:16). He teaches that the wicked plot to kill the righteous (37:12, 14, 32) and that for a little while they succeed (37:7b, 16b). He admonishes, however, not to fret (37:1, 7, 8), but to trust the LORD (37:3, 4, 5, 7, 34), to do good (37:3, 27), practicing righteousness and justice (37:30–31). He motivates by the dominant promise that those who wait expectantly for the LORD for their blessed future “will inherit and dwell in the land” (37:3, 9, 11, 22a, 27, 29, 34a), symbolic of eternal life; whereas the wicked will be “cut off” (cf. Gen 9:11; 37:9, 22b, 28b, 34b, 38; cf. Ps 37:2, 9, 13, 15, 22b), symbolic of eternal death (cf. Prov 2:21–22). Moreover, the success of the wicked is brief (37:1, 10), but the LORD sustains and blesses the righteous (37:17, 18, 19, 21, 23, 26), and he will never forsake them (37:28a) nor condemn them (37:32). The LORD knows the wicked will be destroyed (37:13), “but God’s positive action is here reserved for his care for and protection of the righteous.”176 The admonitions of the introduction and the aphorisms of the body are summarized in verses 34a and 34b, respectively. Verse 34 is the key verse and, in the imperative mood, the message of the psalm (cf. Prov 23:17–18). McCann cogently notes:

God’s rule is affirmed in circumstances that seem to deny it. In short, Psalm 37 is eschatological. For now, the wicked do “prosper in their way” (v. 7; cf. 1:3). Thus the future tense of the two refrains is significant—“shall inherit” and “shall be cut off.” But to live eschatologically means not only to live for the future but also to live by the future. Living by faith and hope has a profound impact on the present, in terms of emotion and behavior (italics his).177

As in Psalms 25 and 34, the framework is an “abecedary,” but in Psalm 37 the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet mostly introduce every other verse, and the verses are mostly a bicolon . But there are notable exceptions. Verse 7 is a stand-alone tricolon; verse 14, a tricolon linked with 15 in the Hebrew text an initial; verse 20, a quatrain linked with 21 by initial ḥereb (“sword”); verses 28b–29 (see note xxx) and 34, stand-alone quatrains. These anomalies occur roughly at seven-verse intervals and demarcate the end of the Introduction and of the Body and its parts (see outline). Verse 34, the key verse, draws to conclusion both the Introduction and the Body. The admonitions of verses 1–7 introduce the lecture; aphorisms contrasting the retribution of the wicked and the reward of the righteous in verses 8–34, also a summary verse, constitute its main body; and testimonies that the righteous, not the wicked, have a future in verses 35–38 and a saying that salvation is of the LORD in verses 39–40 end the psalm. “The whole is framed by statements contrasting the brief career of the wicked (1–2) and the LORD’s sustaining help of the righteous (39–40).”178

The Lord Jesus Christ cites 37:11 in his third beatitude of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:5). “The founder and perfecter of our faith” exemplifies par excellence what it is to live eschatologically (cf. Heb 12:2). Today, because of Christ’s death and resurrection, we can even more confidently trust that “the meek will inherit the land.”

I. Introduction: Fret Not But Trust in the Lord: 1–7

“Do not fret” frames (37:1a, 7bα) the couplets that admonish to trust the LORD (37:3–4, 5–6).

Aleph: Do Not Fret: 1–2

Admonition: “Fret not yourself (lit. get burned up) because of evildoers.” “Be not envious (i.e., “have a passionate desire for something”; cf. Prov 24:19ff) of wrongdoers” (see Ps 37:38b; i.e., who do what is juristically definable as illegal).

Motivation: “For they will soon fade” or wither “like the grass,” which comes up regularly and abundantly after the winter rains (cf. 37:20). In Psalm 90:3–6, 10, “soon” refers to the span of a person’s life, seventy or eighty years in comparison to God. The couplet sets the eschatological context for resolving the problem of evil.

Beth: Trust the LORD and Do Good: 3–4

The couplets 37:3–4 and 5–6 are linked by the catchword “trust.”

Admonitions (3a, 4a): “Trust (see 9:10) in the LORD and do good” (see 14:1). “Delight yourself in the LORD” implies that spiritual taste involves volition as well as nature.

Motivations (3b, 4b): “Dwell in the land” refers to rich land (cf. Gen 27:28) and symbolizes abundant life (see above “superscript”). “And feed on his faithfulness” (3b; NKJ; lit. “pasture on reliability”). “And he will give you the desires of your heart” (37:4b), refers, as the parallelism to 37:3b suggests, to the abundant life (see 37:3a); it is not a carte blanche for every wish.

Gimel: Commit Your Way to the LORD: 5–6

Admonitions (5a–bα): “Commit . . . to the LORD (lit. “roll upon the LORD” with a sense of finality; cf. 22:8; 1Pet 5:7) your way” (i.e., “your righteous conduct [cf. 37:3a, 4a] and God’s promised shalom). “Trust in (lit. “upon”) him” interprets the figure.

Motivations (5bβ–6): “He will make your righteous reward shine like the sun (translation mine; lit. “bring forth your righteousness as the light”179), your vindication as the noonday” for all to see.

Daleth: Be Still and Do Not Fret: 7

The introduction is drawn to a conclusion with a quatrain that chiastically reprises the admonitions and motivations of verses 1–6 (cf. 37:7a with 3–6, and 37:7b with 1–2). “Be still before the LORD (i.e., let him act [37:5b–6]; cf. 62:5) and wait patiently for him” to deliver, as waiting for sunrise. “Fret not yourself (see 37:1a) over the one who prospers in his way (i.e., succeeds in reaching his goal), over the man who carries out evil devices” or schemes to mislead and damage you.

II. Body: Retribution of the Wicked and the Reward and Care of the Righteous: 8–34

Evildoers Destroyed but Meek Inherit the Land: 8–11

He: Evildoers Destroyed but Those Who Hope in the LORD Inherit the Land: 8–9

The introductory couplet of the main body reprises the introduction. Admonition (8): “Refrain (i.e., “release yourself”) from anger” (i.e., “getting heated up”)—not from moral indignation (cf. Eph 4:26)—”and forsake wrath” (inflamed passions from being wronged). “Fret not yourself; it tends only to” doing “evil,” not to doing good (37:3).

Motivation (9): “For the evildoers shall be destroyed, but those who wait for (see 25:5) the LORD” for salvation, “they (ASV, emphatic) shall inherit (see 2:7) the” life-sustaining, promised “land.”

Waw: Brief Prosperity of the Wicked but Meek Inherit the Land: 10–11

The introductory conjunctive “and” (waw, JPS, not in ESV) links this couplet to the preceding couplet, thereby adding to verse 9 additional motivation to heed the admonition in verse 8. “In just a little while,” after their brief success (cf. 37:2; 58:9; Job 20:5), “the wicked will be no more;” not only what they gained is gone, but they themselves are gone as well. “Though you look carefully as his place (of their unjust gain), he will not be there.” “But the meek (anāwîm, “the humble spiritually and the afflicted physically” [see 9:18]) will inherit the land (cf. Matt 5:5) and enjoy untroubled peace and great prosperity” (translation mine).

Retribution of the Wicked: 12–15

Zayin: The LORD Will End the Hostility of the Wicked: 12–13

“The wicked plot” evil (cf. 31:14) “against the righteous (see 1:5.) and” in his irrational rage, like Cain against Abel, “gnashes his teeth at him” (see 35:16). “But the Lord over all (translation mine180) laughs” in derision (see 2:4) “at the wicked (lit. “him”), for he sees that his” appointed “day” of death “is coming.”

Ḥeth: Crimes and Punishment of the Wicked: 14–15

The hostility of the wicked is escalated to murder. “The wicked draw the sword,” the symbol of death, “and bend their bows (i.e., powerfully attack the righteous in every way possible) to bring down the poor and needy (see 35:10), to slay (lit. “to slaughter”) those whose way (see 1:1) is upright” (see 7:10). “But their sword shall enter their own heart, and their bows shall be broken” on the LORD’s appointed day for their death.

Better Little and Righteous than Abundance and Wicked: 16–20

The “better than” saying of 37:16–17 is expanded in 37:18–20.

Ṭeth: Better than Saying: 16–17

“Better is the little the righteous has than the abundance of many wicked” (plural). “Better than sayings” entail that the wicked, not the righteous, presently prosper, but they give priority to the hope of the righteous. “For the arms,” a metonymy for power, “of the wicked shall be broken, but the LORD upholds” or sustains “the righteous” (plural).

Yodh: The LORD Cares for the Righteous 18–19

This couplet expands 37:17b. “The LORD knows (a metonymy for “takes care of”) the days of the blameless (see 15:2), and their inheritance (see 2:8) will endure forever.” Even “when hard times come (NET), they are not put to shame” for putting their hope in the LORD.

Kaph: Wicked Perish: 20

Verse 20, a quatrain, expands verse 17a and is the adversative of the preceding couplet. “But the wicked will perish” (see 1:6). “Though the LORD’s enemies,” who plot against the righteous, “are like” exquisite “flowers of the field, they will be consumed;” they “will go up in smoke” (NIV), not leaving even a trace of them behind.

The Generosity and Reward of the Righteous: 21–29

A pun on the root lāwāh (“borrow” [37:21] and “lend” [37:26]) and the catchword “generous” (ḥônen, 37:21, 26) frame verses 21–26.

Lamedh: Righteous Give and Inherit the Land, Not So the Wicked: 21–22

The aphorism “the wicked borrows (lōweh) but does not pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives” teaches that the righteous, when they prosper (cf. 1Tim 6:17), serve others, but the wicked, even when impoverished and helped by others, disadvantage others to serve themselves (cf. Deut 15:6; 28:12, 44). And so “surely (NET), those blessed by the LORD (cf. Jas 1:17) shall inherit the land, but those cursed by him shall be cut off.”

Mem: The Stability of the Righteous: 23–24

“The steps (i.e., every decision and activity) of a man (i.e., a man in his strength) are established” to succeed “by the LORD, when he (the man) delights in his (the LORD’s) way.” “Though he may be thrown sprawling (NJB), he will not be cast headlong (i.e., finally and fatally; cf. Prov 24:16; 2Cor 4:8–9), for the LORD upholds him (see 37:17b) with his hand” (NIV; see 37:17a).

Nun: David’s Testimony: 25–26

For more testimonies, see verses 35–40. Verses 25 and 26 are linked by the subject, “the righteous,” and the catchword “children” (zera‘, “seed”).

“I have been young, and now am old, yet I have never (NIV) seen the righteous abandoned” by God, “or his children forced to search for food” (NET). “All day long he is generous and lends” without interest to the needy (translation mine; cf. Exod 22:25; Lev 25:36–37; Deut 23:19–20; Ps 112:4), such as grain in a famine; “and his children are a blessing” (NLT). David’s testimony encourages all to hope, including starving martyrs (cf. Heb 11:35–38).

Samek: Do Good and Inherit the Land: 27–28a

Admonition (27a): “Turn away from evil and do good” repeats 34:15. “Turn away” means “to stand aloof from,” not “to desist from,” harming others (cf. Prov 13:14).

Motivation 1 (27b): “so you shall dwell” in the land “forever,” the lecture’s dominant message (see above). “For the LORD loves justice; he will not forsake his saints” (asîdîm see 4:3).

‘Ayin: The Righteous Inherit the Land Forever:28b–29

The ‘ayin couplet underscores the motivation to heed the admonition of 37:27–28a. “Wrongdoers will be completely (lit. “forever”) destroyed” (NIV181). “The children of the wicked will be cut off. The righteous shall inherit the land and dwell upon it forever.”

The Righteous Protected and Inherit the Land: 30–34

Peh: Wisdom of the Righteous: 30–31

This couplet is linked by the code of the anatomy: mouth, tongue (37:30); heart and, implicitly, feet (37:31).

“The mouth,” a metonymy for speech, “of the righteous (see 1:5) ponders and proclaims wisdom” (i.e., the masterful skill of enduring on the way of life), a metonymy for their words; cf. Prov 1:2a, b). “And their tongues speak what is just” (NIV; see 37:28) and so protect the innocent and punish the guilty. Their words and knowledge are not their own, but “the law (torah) of his God” (see 1:1), which “is in his heart” that governs his mouth (Prov 4:23ff). “His steps do not slip” or stagger on the way of wisdom or torah, namely, speaking and doing righteousness and justice (see Prov 1:3; cf. Ps 73:1).

Ṣade: Preservation of the Righteous from the Hostile Wicked: 32–33

“The wicked watches (i.e., “lies in wait,” watching vigilantly from a high lookout post182) for the righteous (see 37:32), and seeks to put him to death” (37:12, 14). But “the LORD will not abandon him to his power” (lit. “hand,” see 37:17).

Qoph: Summary of Introduction and Body: 34a, b

Admonitions (34a): “Wait for (or “hope in”) the LORD, (see 37:9) and keep (i.e., hold on to and devote yourself to) his way” (i.e., the conduct required by God [see “law,” 37:31]) combine the religious commands (37:3, 5, 7) with the ethical (37:3, 27).

Motivation (34b): “He will exalt you,” a metaphor for a respected social status and authority, “to inherit the land” (see 37:11). “When the wicked are destroyed (37:9a, 10, 13, 15, 17a, 22, 28b), you will see it” (NIV) segues into the next section.

III. Conclusion: Testimonies and Salvation of the Lord: 35–40

Testimonies of David and Addressees: 35–38

David validates his message by his own testimony (37:35–36; cf. 37:25) and challenges his audience to validate it for themselves (37:37–38). The catchword “see/observe” links these two couplets.

Reš: David’s Testimony: 35–36

“I have seen” (cf. 37:25) picks up from the last word of 37:34 and confirms what “the instructed will see” by what he has seen. “A wicked, ruthless man,” such as Saul, “spreading himself183 like a luxuriant tree in its native soil” (translation mine). “But,” though well-rooted in his native soil, “he passed away, and behold, he was no more.”

Shin: Challenge to Validate a Future and No Future: 37–38

The addressees see the great contrast: a future versus no future. “Mark (lit. “keep [in view]”) the blameless (see 15:2) and behold the upright (see 7:10), for the one who promotes peace,” by being blameless and upright, “has a future” (NET; cf. Prov 23:18; 24:19ff). “But transgressors (i.e., rebels against God) shall be altogether destroyed; the future of the wicked shall be cut off.” The descendants of the likes of Saul are gone forever, but the Offspring of David lives forever.

Taw: The LORD Saves the Righteous: 39–40

Verses 39 and 40 are linked by the initial “and” of verse 40 and the catchword yš‘ (“salvation”/“saves”). “The salvation (i.e., bringing help to those in trouble rather than rescuing them from it184) of the righteous is from the LORD” is expanded upon in the rest of saying. The metaphor “he is their” mountain “stronghold in the time of trouble” is explained by “the LORD . . . delivers them from the wicked.” He saves them “because they” (the righteous), heeding the admonitions to “trust in the LORD” (37:3, 5) and to “wait for LORD,” “take refuge in him.”


Psalm 38

The content and structure of the psalm at a glance:


I. Plea to Stop Severe Discipline:1–4

II. Description of Afflictions: 5–8

III. Enemies’ Scheme to Harm Him: 9–12

IV. Waiting for the LORD to Defend Him: 13–16

V. Deserved Discipline; Undeserved Accusations: 17–20

VI. Petitions to the Savior: 21–22

Postscript: Psalm 39: superscript



“A psalm  of David . A petition” (NIV; lit. “to remind”185).

This complaint-lament psalm is drenched in that motif (38:9ff, 15ff; 21ff; see Ps 88). The LORD severely wounded King David for an unspecified sin (38:1–8, 17ff), and his enemies are using his affliction in “fake news” presumably to “impeach” him (38:12, 16, 19ff). No one comes to David’s defense (38:11; cf. 2Tim 4:16), and he himself cannot testify. Only God can save him. Rather than appealing directly to God’s benevolent attributes, he infers them in unrelenting complaint to provoke God’s pity (38:5–8) and in open confession of sin (38:4, 18) to provoke mercy (Prov 28:13). He is at the point of death (38:10, 17); if he dies prematurely, God’s covenant of unfailing love would be negated (cf. 2Sam 7:8–16). He turns the enemies’ injustice to appeal to God’s justice (38:19ff). These inferred attributes inform the psalm’s message: wait eagerly, not stoically, for the LORD our Savior (38:15, the key verse; 38:22).

Though physically pulverized and psychologically depersonalized, the psalmist nevertheless composes a literary masterpiece of five stanzas of four verses, each of these with two couplets and a two-verse conclusion. Its twenty-two verses match the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet (see Pss 25, 34, 37). The relentless depiction of his agony draws his audience into his unrelenting pain.

David’s sufferings for his sin is a type of the Christ’s passions to atone for humanity’s sins (2Cor 5:15): afflicted to death (38:10; Matt 27:46); abandoned by friends (38:11; Matt 26:31, 56); accused falsely by enemies (38:12; Matt 26:59ff); and unable to testify in self-defense (38:14; Matt 27:13ff).

I. Plea to Stope Severe Discipline: 1–4

The Plea: 1–2

The address “O LORD” shows that, though badly wounded by God, David clings to his God, as Jacob did after God wrenched his hip (cf. Gen 32:24–28). “Stop rebuking me in your anger “(see 6:1) entails that the LORD, out of love, is correcting his king (Prov 3:12); “stop disciplining me” (translation mine) entails that the punishment is remedial, not penal (Jer 10:24). He likens the LORD to a mighty warrior; an archer from a distance: “your arrows sunk into me;” in close-up battle: “your hand has come down on me” as with a war club.

Discipline for Sin Is Unbearable: 3–4

The LORD’s blows afflict his whole being, from his flesh without to his bones within. “There is no health in my bones.” This is so “because of your indignation . . . because of my sin” (32:5). and guilt. The Holy One’s punishment is as vast in quantity as ocean waves or a waterfall—symbols of chaos and death—that “have gone over my head,” and “as” great “as a heavy burden they are too heavy for me.”

II. Description of Afflictions: 5–8

Wounds Fester; Posture Bent: 5–6

The Warrior’s constant blows left the battered king with putrefying, rotting wounds: “my wounds stink and fester” (i.e., putrefy and rot); his corrupted body is “because of my foolishness” (i.e., moral corruption). “I am utterly” is “bowed down” in defeat (cf. 35:14; 107:39), “brought very low” to the ground (NIV). “I go about mourning” (lit. “one who grows dark,” cf. 2Sam 19:24). The extreme quantity of affliction is matched by its extreme duration: “all day long.” He is bent over “because my” lower “back is filled” to the limit of endurance “with searing pain” (NIV).

Not a Healthy Spot Left: 7–8

He is so beaten up that “I have become numb,” without sense or feeling, “and” psychologically “utterly crushed” (i.e., dehumanized and depersonalized). He vocally expresses his psychological distress: “I groan” aloud “because of the tumult of my heart” (see 7:10; 37:10).

III. Enemies' Scheme to Harm Him: 9–12

This transitional stanza segues from his physical and psychological afflictions into a greater concern: the triumph of the enemies against God’s kingdom.

Death Is Immanent: 9–10

Still clinging to God, he addresses him “Lord of All” (see 16:2). Accordingly, he is confident that “all my longings lie open before you” (NIV; cf. 38:1, 16, 22). To put it negatively, “my sighing” or groaning (38:1–8) “is not hidden” from you. His relief is urgent: he is at the point of death. “My heart throbs” (sĕḥarḥar, a rare form mimicking the heart’s palpitation); “even the light,” the sign of life, “of my eyes—it also has gone from me.”

Friends Avoid Him; Foes Scheme to Harm Him: 11–12

The sufferer now shifts to his social isolation. “My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague” and so offer him no help. “My near ones (translation mine) stand far away” is an unforgettable oxymoron. “And so (omitted in ESV) those who seek my life” and “my hurt” take advantage of his severe afflictions. “They lay their snares” signifies “they talk to ruin me” (translation mine)—that is to say, “they scheme and lie” (NIV), presumably to discredit him as the legitimate king of Israel (64:5ff; 91:3; 140:5; 141:9; 142:4); and they do so constantly: “all day long.”

IV. Wait For the Lord to Defend Him: 13–16

Cannot Defend Himself in Court: 13–14

“I do not hear” (38:13a), repeated in the parallel verse: “who does not hear” (38:14a). Similarly, “[I am] like a mute man who does not open his mouth” (38:13b) is repeated in the parallel but with a climatic exception: “and in whose mouth there are no rebukes” (tôkâḥôt), a legal term “to determine what is right by argument.”186 So in this legal context, “like one who does not hear” signifies an unreliable witness, as is apparent in the antithetic parallels of Proverbs 21:28: “Those who give false witness will perish, but a person who hears will testify successfully.” Mutatis mutandis, “a person who does not hear” is the opposite of “a true witness.” Thus his being deaf and mute signifies that he cannot testify to defend himself. He knows God’s afflictions testify against him (39:9); they are God’s rebukes (tôkâḥôt, 39:11). Moreover, self-testimony without other witnesses is not credible (Deut 17:6; cf. John 5:31; Matt 27:12–14).

Wait for LORD to Defend Him: 15–16

Without a friend to testify for him and unable to defend himself, David turns his defense over to “the LORD (see 38:9) my God” (see 16:1). “I wait for” or hope in “you” (see 25:25; 31:24; 37:9, 34). “You (emphatic) will” give the good and effective “answer” to the enemies’ lies (cf. 15:23; 16:1) by healing him (cf. 4:2). The LORD will do this because otherwise the boasters “will boast against me and gloat.” If his foot slips and he falls headlong into calamity (cf. 37:24), “they will exalt themselves over me,” the Defender of the Faith.

V. Deserved Discipline; Undeserved Accusations: 17–20

The king summarizes his argument.

Discipline Deserved: 17–18

First, he reprises his pain: “I am about to fall” (NIV; lit. “I am established to stumble”), an oxymoron for his immanent death (38:10) and lack of defense (38:13–14); “and my pain is ever before me” (38:3–4, 6–9). Second, he reprises his guilt (38:4): “I confess my iniquity” (38:4; see 25:11); “I am in dread of the deserved consequences of my sin” (paraphrase mine).

Undeserved Accusations: 19–20

Third, a reprise of his pitiless enemies (38:12ff): “but my foes are vigorous” and “many are those who hate me wrongfully” (cf. 25:2; 35:19). He sinned against God, not these insurrectionists. The proof of his innocence and their guilt is that they “repay my good with evil;” they “lodge accusations against me, though I seek only to do what is good” for them (cf. 35:11–14). The just God rewards a person according to their deeds: good with good (1Sam 24:19; Ruth 2:1) and evil with evil (2Sam 3:39; 31:23). So God’s justice demands that God condemn the liars by proving them false, and correlatively that he reward his king by healing him.

VI. Petition with Praise for the Savior: 21–22

His strength has left him; his friends stand aloof from him; and so his only, and yet his best, hope is his covenant-keeping God. First, negative petitions: “do not forsake me . . . be not far from me,” which echo in the words of Jesus in extremis (cf. 38:22:2, 11, 18). Then a terse positive petition: “Make haste to help me.” The sinner does not doubt God’s ability to save him, but he does not presume upon God’s mercy. He gives “salvation” the final word: “O Lord, my Savior” (lit. “my salvation”). “True repentance has faith within itself.”187

Postscript: Psalm 39: Superscript

“To the choirmaster: to Jeduthun” (cf. 1Chr 25:1). 

If God had not healed him, his penitential petition that inspires hope in those clothed in black would not have been sung for three millennia.

Psalm 39

The content and structure of this complaint-lament psalm  at a glance:


I. A Melancholy Introduction and a Prayer: 1–6

A. Reluctance to Speak: 1–3

B. Prayer to Know Life Is Ephemeral: 4–6

II. Pivot: Hope in the Lord: 7

III. Petitions: 8–13

A. Salvation from Transgressions for Sake of Fools: 8–9

B. Salvation from Suffering, for Life Is Brief: 10–11

C. To Be Heard for Enjoyment of Life: 12–13

Postscript: Psalm 40: superscript


“For the choirmaster. For Jeduthun” (postscript to Psalm 38).

“A psalm of David” .

The situation is unchanged from Psalm 38: the LORD is disciplining David, who fears his detractors will use his confession against him; nevertheless, he waits on the LORD in hope. But the motivations for his deliverance change radically, from his urgent need and inferred benevolent attributes of God to appeals to reason: life is extremely brief and should be enjoyed.

The psalm is a necessary corrective to 38. Both psalms teach the saint to wait for the Lord to save and are concerned with God’s honor. But whereas Psalm 38 has in view an eschatological hope, Psalm 39 has in view the hope of enjoying this life. The psalm affirms the present life—it should be enjoyed as the Lord Jesus enjoyed it (cf. Matt 11:19)—while cutting mankind down to size. The Teacher in Ecclesiastes taught, “Enjoy life” (Eccl 2:24); the psalmist prays, “Make life enjoyable.” He appeals to God’s mercy to hear that prayer.

I. A Melancholy Introduction and a Prayer: 1–6

Reluctance to Speak: 1–3

The catchword “tongue” frames the triplet: first, not to use it (39:1); then, to use it (39:3).

“I said” to myself, ‘I will guard my ways, that I may not sin with my tongue . . . so long as the wicked are in my presence.’” He explained his reticence in Psalm 38: he feared the wicked would use his prayer that God stop disciplining him for his transgression to discredit him and the God who anointed him king of Israel (38:8–9, 12, 16, 19; in Job 2:10 “to sin with the tongue” is an allusion to blasphemy). But his not praying aloud (“with my tongue”) for salvation was emotionally damaging him; “I was as mute . . . my” spiritual and psychological distress grew worse . . . As I mused, the fire burned, then I spoke with my tongue.” “The smoldering fire of passion within could no longer be restrained from bursting into a flame of words.”188

Prayer to Know Life Is Ephemeral: 4–6

The truth that life is hebel (“vapor/breath/vanity,” 39:5ff; cf. Jas 4:14) is basic to understanding the psalm’s message, as it is in Ecclesiastes, where hebel is the Teacher’s key word, occurring thirty-seven times.

Life Is a Vapor: 4–5

“O LORD, make me know my end;” that is to say, “let me truly know how fleeting I am.” “See,” this is the reason I ask: “you have made” or allotted “my days” as “a few handbreadths,” the shortest unit of measure in Hebrew. “Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath” (hebel; see 90:1–10)!

Wealth Is a Vapor: 6

“Surely a man goes about as a shadow! . . . man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather” (cf. Prov 23:5; Eccl 2:18)!

II. Pivot: Hope in the Lord: 7

“But now” expresses a change of mindset, from melancholy to hope. “Lord of All (16:2; 38:9), for what do I wait” or hope. He waits for the LORD to save (38:15), specifically with respect to the following three petitions. He takes them to the Lord of All because “my hope” for a better tomorrow “is in you.”

III. Petitions: 8–13

Salvation from Transgressions for the Sake of Fools: 8–9

“Deliver me from all my transgressions” (see 5:10): the cause of his affliction (see 38:3, 4, 18). “Do not make me the scorn” (ḥerpâ means “taunts that heap shame on one for the disrupting the social coherence”) “of the fool” (nābāl, a sacrilegious outcast). To prevent this theological outrage “I am mute” (see 39:2); “for it is you who have done it” (i.e., caused his afflictions). He knows his bruises (cf. 38:5–8) are a mark of God’s wrath and could be used by the enemies of God’s kingdom.

Salvation from Suffering, for Life Is Brief: 10–11

He now asks for relief for his own benefit (see 38:1–2): “Remove your stroke” or plague (cf. 38:11) “from me;” “I am” completely “spent by the hostility (a metonymy for “a blow”) of your hand” (see 38:2). “When you discipline a man with rebukes for sin (see 38:1), you consume”—same verb translated “completely spent” (39:9)—”like a moth what is dear to him”—perhaps implicitly likening the loss of wealth to the loss of a prized garment. The truth is this: “all mankind is as a mere breath.” So how much worse to lose prematurely what one prizes in this already-too-brief lifetime.

To Be Heard for Enjoyment of Life: 12–13

Normally in lament psalms the petition to be heard introduces the psalm; here it ends it, giving it the last word. Hear “my prayer, LORD.” He appeals to God’s mercy: “For I dwell with you as a landless immigrant; a foreign resident” (translation mine189), neither of whom have an inherent right to a place in the land (cf. Lev 25:23; 1Chr 29:15). These metaphors signify that David’s existence depends totally on the Host’s grace and charity, not on his rights and/or merit (cf. 1Pet 2:10ff). “Like all my fathers” may imply God’s unfailing love. “Look away from me” (i.e., withdraw the discipline; cf. Job 7:17–21), so “that I may smile (i.e., enjoy life, including having wealth), before I depart and am no more.”

Postscript: Psalm 40: Superscript



Psalm 40

The content of this mixed psalm of grateful praise and of complaint-lament  at a glance:


I. Song of Grateful Praise: 1–8

A. Address to the Congregation: 1–4

1. Report of Deliverance: 1–2

2. Report to Encourage Trust: 3–4

B. Address to the LORD: 5–8

1. Word of Praise: 5

2. Sacrifice of Praise: 6–8

II.  No Restraint of Praise: 9–10

III. Song of Lament: 11–17

A. Address to God and Confidence in God’s Benevolences: 11

B. Lament for Iniquities: 12

C. Petitions: 13–16

1. Hasten to Help: 13

2. Bring Shame to Foes and Praise from Saints: 14–16

D. Reprise of Lament Motifs: 17

Postscript: Psalm 41: superscript


“For the choirmaster.” Postscript to Psalm 39 .

“Of David. A psalm” .

David’s situation is similar to that of Psalms 38 and 39: appeals for urgent help in their concluding lines (38:22; 39:12; 40:17); sin causes his troubles (38:18; 39:8; 40:12); detractors use his affliction to discredit him (38:1–3; 39:8; 40:15); but he retains hope (38:15; 39:7; 40:11). What is changed is the motivation to save him: his salvation will bring shame to foe and praise to God (40:14–16).

Surprisingly, in Psalms 38 and 39 there is no praise. But Psalm 40 is full of praise. He begins with a whole song of grateful praise (40:1–8); testifies he did not restrain his praise (40:9–10); and motivates God with anticipation of praise (40:14–16).

The psalm is typical-prophetically Messianic . David’s miraculous deliverance typifies Christ; the Spirit of Christ in David offers Christ’s body to replace the sacrificial system (Heb 10:6–9); Christ sang God’s praise in the congregation (Heb 2:12).

I. Song of Grateful Praise: 1–8

Address to the Congregation: 1–4

David sang his praise song in the “great congregation” (40:9–10; cf. 1Chr 29:10) to “our God” (40:3). God’s “thoughts are for us” (40:5); and the psalm was collected into our hymn book .

Report of Deliverance: 1–2

“I waited patiently for (see 25:2; 39:7) the LORD” implies endurance (see 40:13, 17), but the emphasis is on expectancy (see 38:15; 39:7; 130:5). Figuratively, the LORD “drew me from” a slimy, inescapable “pit” or cistern (cf. Gen 37:24; Jer 38:6). “He set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure” or firm to complete his career.

Report to Encourage Trust: 3–4

“He put a new song in my mouth” (see 33:3). The poet chooses for its paronomasia “will see” (yir’û) and “will fear” (yî’rā’û; i.e., submit to the LORD’s benevolent authority). “Blessed (see 1:1; cf. Jer 17:7) is the man who makes the LORD his trust (see 4:5), who does not turn” for security “to the defiant, those who apostatize to false gods” (translation mine; cf. 4:2).

Address to the LORD: 5–8

A tôdâ (“grateful praise,” traditionally “to thank”) included both words and a sacrifice (cf. 1Sam 1:24–2:10; Pss 56:12; 107:22; 116:17).

Word of Praise: 5

“You have multiplied . . . wondrous deeds (niple’ôt, see 9:2) you”—and none other—”have done for us (i.e., for Israel; cf. Exod 3:20; 34:10; 1Pet 2:9); and your thoughts (i.e., plans and purposes) toward us” (cf. Eph 1:4–6).

Sacrifice of Praise: 6–8

The Spirit of Christ now speaks in and through David (see above). Four terms that represent Israel’s entire sacrificial system surround “my ears you have opened” (NIV; lit. “you have dug ears for me,” likely an allusion to the cavity of the ear): fellowship “sacrifice” and a tribute “offering,” plus “burnt offerings and sin offerings.” The LORD delights in the psalmist’s “ears” because they delight to do God’s will (40:8; cf. 1Sam 15:22). They are a synecdoche for his whole body, as recognized in the LXX and cited in Hebrews 10:5. So God made his body to replace the entire sacrificial system, as the writer of Hebrews cogently argues. Possibly, David could have offered his contrite spirit in place of the tôdâ (the sacrifice of grateful praise, as he probably does in Ps 51:16–17), but David’s commitment of his body to do God’s will could not replace the whole sacrificial system. Even Moses could not atone for the sins of the people (Exod 32:31–33).

“Then I said”—the Spirit of Christ in David is the speaker when he came into the world (cf. 1Pet 1:10–11)—“Behold, I have come” (to give his life as a ransom for many [Mark 10:45]). “In the scroll of the book”—likely a document with the names and deeds of the righteous and their reward of eternal life (cf. Exod 32:32; Pss 69:28; 139:16; Rev 20:15)190 —”it is written of me.” The colon in ESV indicates that what is written is verse 8: “I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart”—a chiastically structured parallelism, matching “I delight” with “my heart” and “your will” with “your law.”

II. No Restraint of Praise: 9–10

Verses 9–10 segue the song of praise into the song of lament. The catchword (kālâ “hide”/“conceal”) and the collocation “love and faithfulness” (see 26:3) link them in their closing and introductory couplets (40:9–10, 11–12). These catch terms make the point that David did not restrain from praising God’s benevolent attributes, making him confident that God will not restrain them from him but preserve him to pursue his career.

“I have . . . not restrained . . . not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness (see 26:3) from the great congregation.”

III. Song of Lament: 13–17

The inclusio “as for you” (40:13) and “as for me” (40:17) frames the song of lament.

Address to God and Confidence in God’s Benevolences: 11

Typically, the lament psalms typically begin with direct address: “as for you.” Atypically, the motif of confidence is fronted for emphasis: “you will not restrain your mercy from me. Your steadfast love . . . will ever preserve me.”

Lament for Iniquities: 12

“For” introduces the lament that explains his need to be preserved. “Evils (ra‘, “afflictions” in 34:19 and “hurt” in 40:14) have encompassed me.” “My iniquities” (see 25:11) that cause God to discipline him (38:1; 39:11) “have overtaken me” (i.e., have caught up to him). “They (i.e., the afflictions due to his many sins) are more than the hairs of head.” “My heart fails” (i.e., he loses courage).

Petitions: 13–16

The semantic inclusio  “hasten to my help” and “do not delay” frames the motif of petition and demarcates the stanza; it is Psalm 70 in Book II.

Hasten to Help: 13

“Please be willing, LORD, to rescue me! O LORD, hurry and help me” (NET).

Bring Shame to Foes and Praise from Saints: 14–16

He now moves God to deliver him by arguing that David’s life and honor, the spiritual well-being of those who trust God, and God’s praise is at stake. The anointed king must be delivered for God’s kingdom to survive. “Let those be put to shame . . . who seek to snatch away (better, “to sweep away”) my life,” as Ahithophel had. They will be disgraced because they risked their reputation on the belief that God would not rescue his anointed, and they failed. So certain are the foes of David’s ruin that they already mock him: “Aha! Aha!” (see 35:21), an expression of malicious joy at his misfortune (38:1ff; 39:11). David silences them by prayer: “May they be dumbfounded on account of their shame” (translation mine).

By contrast, by delivering his chosen king, “may all who seek you” for salvation, such as Hushai does, “rejoice” and “say continually, ‘Great is the LORD!’”

Reprise of Lament Motifs: 17

In conclusion David reprises his lament, petition, confidence, and urgent need. As for lament, “I am poor and needy” (i.e., see 35:10; 109:16). As for petition, “May the Lord (see 16:2; 38:9) think of me” (i.e., devise a plan to save me). As for confidence, “You are my help and deliverer . . . my God.” As for urgency, “do not delay.”

Postscript: Psalm 41: Superscript

“To the choirmaster” (Ps 41: superscript).

Psalm 41

The content and structure of this lament psalm at a glance:


I. Beatitude: Blessed Is One Who Considers the Poor: 1–3

II. Petition for Healing and Lament over Enemies: 4–9

A. Petition for Mercy and Healing: 4

B. Lament over Enemies: 5–9

III. Petition to Repay Enemies and Confidence of God’s Favor: 10–12

A. Petition for Mercy and Healing to Repay Enemies: 10

B. Confidence of God’s Favor toward Psalmist: 11–12

III. Doxology: 13

Postscript: Psalm 42: superscript



“For the Choirmaster.” Postscript to Psalm 40.

“A psalm of David” .

As in the preceding three psalms, David is sick due to his sin (41:4; cf. 38:3–8, 18; 39:8, 10; 40:12); his enemies plot to destroy him (41:7; cf. 38:12, 20; 39:8; 40:15); and he prays for healing (41:4; cf. 38:9, 15; 39:13; 40:13,17). But this psalm differs in two ways.

First, David prompts God to heal him so that “I may repay them!” (41:10, the key verse). His motive cannot be to exact personal revenge, for it is written, “It is Mine to avenge, I will repay” (Rom 12:19; Deut 32:35; cf. Prov 20:22; 25:21ff). Rather, he wants to repay his enemies for their wrongs against the kingdom of God.191 As king, he has responsibility to execute them for rebelling against God’s anointed (cf. 1Sam 26:14; Eccl 10:20), and for implicitly leading the nation into apostasy (Deut 13:6–13). Defying God’s kingdom comes with payback; that is the psalm’s message.

Second, David’s death is no longer imminent; that he still lives reassures the disciplined king that God is pleased with him (cf. 38:17; 41:12).

Reading the psalm within the canon, “Jesus saw in the experiences of David the pattern, writ small, of His own calling”192 . He too experienced the betrayal of a close friend, namely, Judas Iscariot (41:9; John 13:18193), was validated as pleasing to God by his resurrection (41:11; John 5:20ff), stands forever in God’s presence to serve him (41:12; Heb 7:14–8:6), and at his Parousia will pay back those who trouble God’s people (2Thes 1:6–10).

I. Beatitude: Blessed is the One Who Considers the Poor: 1–3

David uniquely opens his lament with beatitude. The “blessed” (i.e., rewarded person [see 1:1]) is qualified as “one who considers (i.e., sees the crisis, devises a strategy, and resolves the crisis of) the [defenseless] poor in the day of trouble.” His reward is: “the LORD delivers him,” as expanded in verses 2–3. First, “the LORD protects him” (see 16:1) in such a way that “he is called blessed in the land.” Second, the LORD saves him from “his enemies.” Third, in direct address to the LORD, “You . . . restore to full health.”

David depends upon God’s grace for his salvation (41:4, 10), but inferentially hopes the LORD will consider him worthy to be pronounced a blessed person.

II. Petition for Healing and Lament Over Enemies: 4–9

“As for me” (cf. 40:17) shifts the focus and motif from God and the beatitude to David and his petition and lament. The reprise of the petition “O LORD, be gracious to me” divides the petition psalm into two parts: 41:4–9, 10–12.194

Petition for Mercy and Healing: 4

“I say (translation mine195), heal me (see 6:3), for I have sinned against you” seems logically muddled. David assumes that to be healed he must be forgiven, and to be forgiven he must confess his sin and repent (Prov 28:13; 1Jn 1:9). And so the penitent casts himself wholly upon the Healer against whom he has sinned (cf. 51:4).

Lament: Enemies Are Hypocrites and Traitors: 5–9

“My enemies say, ‘When will he die and his line become extinct?’’ (NEB, paraphrase). That is their true intent, but in truth they are hypocrites. “When someone comes to visit, he pretends to be friendly; he thinks of ways to defame me, and when he leaves he slanders me” (NET, paraphrase). The enemy’s access to the king suggests he is the king’s “friend,” such as Ahithophel. The two-faced hypocrites are traitors: behind his back they “plan to harm me” (so CSB; similarly, LXX, Vulgate, Targum). But if the conspirators “whisper,” they “will not get up.” Why do they plot to harm him? Perhaps, they plot—after his death—to plunder his personal treasure (1Chr 29:3) and to execute his sons, a common practice among royalty (see Ps 41:5; cf. 1Sam 24:20ff; 2Kgs 10:1–11). “Even my close friend, someone I trusted, one who shared my bread (i.e., having the honor to sit at the king’s table), has lifted his heel”—a pun with “deception” and “betray”—”against me” (ESV; see above “superscript”).

III. Petition to Repay Enemies and Confidence of Favor: 10–12

Petition for Mercy and Healing to Repay Enemies: 10

“But you” shifts the focus from David and his lament to the LORD. As noted above, his motive “that I may repay them” is not personal revenge but justice.

Confidence of God’s Favor toward Psalmist: 11–12

“By this I know that you delight in me: my enemy does not shout in triumph over me” (CSB). “Because of my integrity (tmm; traditionally, “blameless”) you uphold me and set me in your presence forever” (NIV) as a servant of the heavenly King (cf. 1Sam 16:22; Ps 101:7).

IV. Doxology: 13

The doxology closes Book I. The temple leader’s proclamation “Blessed be (see 18:46) the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting” is a benefaction of gratitude to God, and the congregation reinforces the benefaction by proclaiming, “Amen.”

Postscript: Psalm 42: Superscript

Endnotes & Permissions

1. See Waltke and Yu, AOTT, 31–39; Bruce K. Waltke, “On How to Study the Psalms Devotionally,” in The Dance between God and Humanity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013), 181–99 and Fred G. Zaspel, How to Read and Understand the Psalms (Wheaton: Crossway, 2023), 22–32.

2. Roger Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church and Its Background in Early Judaism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), xxx NEED P. #.

3. Kurt Aland, The Problem of the New Testament Canon (London: Mowbray, 1962), 24.

4. Patrick Fairbairn, Hermeneutical Manual; or, Introduction to the Exegetical Study of Scriptures of the New Testament (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1858), 63.

5. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeil, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1977), 1.7.4–5.

6. J. F. A. Sawyer, “An Analysis of the Context and Meaning of the Psalm-Headings,” Transactions of the Glasgow University Oriental Society 22 (1970), 6.

7. Jill Firth, “Why are there Lament Psalms at the End of the Psalter,” https://www.logos.com/grow/hall-lament-psalms-end-of-psalter/?fbclid=IwAR0Lwa4Lr0Okyfd_8v6-2PngIOchk-DffaybA3mLDb6VaFOTqokZaKV_rFE.

8.  Antiquities, viii. 305ff.

9. Charles A. Briggs, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Psalms (New York, C. Scribner’s Sons 1906–1907), liv.

10. Sigmund Mowinckel, The Psalms in Israel’s Worship, trans. D. R. Ap-Thomas, vol. 1 (Nashville: Abingdon, 1967), 227.

11. G. Henton Davies, “Psalm 95,” ZAW 85 (1973), 195.

12. A. Hurvitz, “The Chronological Significance of ‘Aramaisms’ in Biblical Hebrew” in Israel Exploration Journal 18 (1968), 234.

13. Hermann Gunkel completed by Joachim Begrich, Introduction to the Psalms: The Genres of the Religious Lyric of Israel, translated by James D. Nogalski (Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1998), 99.

14. John H. Eaton, Kingship and the Psalms (635 East Ogden Avenue, Naperville, ILL: Alec R. Allenson Inc., 1976), 22–24

15. Eaton, Kingship, 14–15

16. “Superscripts” and “postscripts” refer to the prose editorial comments written above and below a psalm’s lyrics. They pertain to the psalm’s composition and performance, respectively.

17. The meaning of lmnṣḥ is based on the use of nṣḥ (1Chr 15:21; 23:4; 2Chr 2:2, 8; 24:1–13; Ezra 3:8, 9).

18.Bruce K. Waltke, “Superscripts, Postscripts or Both,” Journal of Biblical Literature 110/4 (1991), 583–96. Reproduced in How to Read and Understand the Psalms, 499–518.

19. Walter Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, vol. 1., 15. NEED INFO

20. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cult. NEED INFO

21. Artur Weiser, The Psalms (OTL; Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962), 81

22. Gunkel and Begrich, Introduction, 66.

23. Ibid., 69.

24. Ibid., 68.

25. Mowinckel, Psalms in Israel’s Worship, 106–92.

26. Leo Perdue, “Yahweh Is King over All the Earth,” ResQ 17 (1974), 87.

27. Kidner, Psalms 73150, 170. NEED INFO

28. Mowinckel, Psalms in Israel’s Worship, 111.

29. Robert Alter, The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary (New York, Norton, 2007), 328.

30. Otto Baab, The Theology of the Old Testament (New York: Abingdon, 1949), 59

31. Calvin E. Stowe, ed., Lecturers on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrew Scripture by Robert Lowth, translated from the original Latin by G. Gregory (Boston: Crocker & Brewster and New J. Leavitt, 1829), 156, n. 9

32. Stowe, Lectures on the Sacred Poetry, 157.

33. Adele Berlin, The Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985) presents a taxonomy of grammatical parallelism, but it depends on the Hebrew text.

34. James Kugel, The Idea of Biblical Hebrew Poetry (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1981), 15

35. Robert Alter (The Art of Biblical Poetry [New York: Basic Books, 1985]) independently arrived at the same conclusion as Kugel but attempted to combine it with a modified taxonomy; he has not been followed.

36. With the prejudice of synonymity, some English versions (CJB, NIV, NLT) translate the Hebrew “speak” by “rebuke.”

37. Warren Gage, personal correspondence.

38. Suzanne Haik Vantoura, The Music of the Bible Revealed, trans. Dennis Weber, ed. John Wheeler (Berkeley, California: Bibal Press, 1991); original, La musique de la Bible revélée (1976); second revised (1978).

39. P. J. Corbett, Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student (New York: Oxford Press, 1972), 461.

40. Benjamin Harshav, Three Thousand Years of Hebrew Versification: Essays in Comparative Prosody (New Haven & London: Yale, University Press, 2014), 15–39.

41. E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible Explained and Illustrated (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, originally published in 1898; reprinted in 1968), p. v

42. NIV and others translate Hebrew lehazkîr by “extol” or its equivalent, not by “invoke,” but inconsistently it translates the same Hebrew word (לְהַזְכִּיר) by “a petition” in Psalm 70: superscript. Hannah petitions God to “remember” her (1Sam 1:11).

43. Psalms 8; 19; 29; 33; 47; 65; 67; 68; 93; 96; 97; 98; 99; 100; 103; 104; 105; 111; 113; l 17; 124; 135; 136; 145; 146; 147; 148; 149; 150. Portions of other psalms have hymn-like elements.

44. Psalms 3; 4; 5; 6; 7; 9:13–20; 10; 12; 13; 17; 22; 25; 27:7–14; 28; 31; 35; 38; 39; 42–43; 44; 51; 54; 55; 56; 57; 58; 59; 61; 63; 64; 69; 70; 71; 74; 79; 80; 83; 86; 88; 92; 94:1–7; 106:4–47; 109; 139; 140; 141; 142; 143.

45. Waltke and Zaspel, How to Read and Understand the Psalms, . NEED PAGE #

46. C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, 23

47. Kidner, Psalm 172, 26

48. Bernhard Anderson, Out of the Depths, 59

49. Gunkel, Introduction, 99

50. Gunkel (Introduction, 22) classifies Psalm 65 as a hymn.

51. Claus Westermann, Praise and Lament in the Psalms, trans. K. Crim and R. Soulen (Atlanta: J. Knox Press, 1981), 27–28.

52. Gunkel, Introduction, 201.

53. Psalms 9:1–12; 18; 30; 32; 34; 40:1–11; 41; 66:13–20; 92; 116; 118; 138.

54. Gunkel, Introduction, 99.

55. See also “liturgical psalms, sub “sacred site” (p. xxx).

56. The petition Psalm 139 so enlarges the motif of “confidence: affirmation of trust” that some classify it as a “song of trust.”

57. Wenham, Psalms as Torah, 56.

58. Martin Buber, “Leitwort Style in Pentateuch Narrative,” in Scripture and Translation, edited by Martin Buber and F. Rosenzweig; translated by L. Rosenwald and E. Fox (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994), 114.

59. For an earlier and fuller discussion see Waltke and Zaspel, How to Read, . NEED PAGE #

60. In the Septuagint (83).

61. The Septuagint, the Peshitta (the Syriac Vulgate) and the Psalmorum Iuxta Septuaginta, not the Psalmorum Iuxta Hebraicum, associate 146; 147:1–11; 147:12–20; 148 with Haggai and Zechariah. These figures may be misleading, for probably some anonymous psalms were also by David. For example, with apostolic approval, the early church ascribed Psalm 2 to David, and its internal evidence validates that ascription. Also, the ascription of Psalm 65 to David almost certainly applies to its twin, Ps 66 (see Ps 66: superscript).

62. Susan Gillingham, “The Levitical Singers and the Compilation of the Psalter,” in Frank-Lothar Hossfeld/Johannes Bremer/ Till Magnus Steiner (Hg.), Trägerkreise in den Psalmen (Bonn University Press), 49 [35–60].

63. The doxologies consist of the temple leader’s benefaction of praise to the LORD, “Blessed be the LORD God of Israel,” and the people’s response, “Amen” (“True”; see 106:48).

64. In the LXX, Psalms 91, 93–99, 103, 104 are by David.

65. For an earlier but fuller discussion see Waltke and Zaspel, How to Read, p. xxx. NEED PAGE #

66. A synecdoche for a kingdom.

67. Agog was the king of Amalek (1Sam 15:8).

68. Lamentations does not follow Jeremiah in the Hebrew text.

69. For an earlier and fuller presentation of this approach see Appendix 2, “A Canonical Process Approach to the Psalms,” in How to Read, pp. xxx. NEED PAGE #

70. Diodore of Tarsus (died c. 390), founder of the Antiochene school, thought that in Psalm 16 David was speaking prophetically of Hezekiah (Waltke and Houston, PACW, 308).

71. J. M. Neale and R. F. Littledale, A Commentary on the Psalms: From Primitive and Mediaeval Writers (London: John Masters, 1884), 77.

72. Saint Augustine, Expositions on the Book of Psalms, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Philip Schaff, ed. 8 vols. (New York: Christian Literature Co., 1888), 8:1.

73. Waltke and Houston, The Psalms as Christian Worship, 149, citing Augustine, Expositions of the Psalms, ed. Boniface Ramsey, trans. Maria Boulding, O.S.B., The Works of Saint Augustine (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2005), vol. 5, p. 61.

74. Like Origen (c. 185–254), he is using prosopoeia (i.e., Christ is imagined as speaking. The “I” is no longer David). Augustine of Hippo (AD 354–343) interprets the Psalm 3 as the prayer of Christ and his body (totus Christi, the whole Christ); cf. Waltke and Houston, The Psalms as Christian Worship, 183. The typical approach consistently retains David as speaker. It is beyond the scope of this commentary to address modern uses of “prosopological exegesis.”

75. Neale and Littledale, 107.

76. AOTT, 136–42.

77. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Friedrich, trans. and ed. Geoffrey Bromiley, vol. VI (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968), 290, s.v. πληροω.

78. Keil and Delitzsch, Psalms, 41–42.

79. For the meaning of ne’ûm YHWH see Waltke, Proverbs 1531, 148, n. 6.

80. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible (Minneapolis: Broadleaf Books, 2022), 21.

81. IBHS, P. 30.5.1d.

82. C. J. H. Wright, NIDOTTE, 3:77.

83. Kirkpatrick, Psalms, 10.

84. Abridged from PACP, 182–209.

85. ANET, 418.

86. J. Sawyer, “What Was a Mōšia’?” VT 15 (1965), 479.

87. For a more comprehensive exegesis, see PACW, 233–43.

88. L. Reed, JBL 73 (1954), 58ff.

89. Snaith, TWBOT, 101.

90. J. H. Eaton, Kingship and the Psalms (Naperville, Illinois: Alec R. Allenson) 195.

91. Tate, Psalms 50–100, 34.

92. See PACW, 234–35.

93. Dahood, p. xxx.

94. See PACW, 239–40.

95. For a more comprehensive commentary, see Waltke and Houston, Psalms as Christian Lament, 24–42.

96. God’s presence transforms a tent into a royal palace (1Sam 1:9; 2Sam 6:17).

97. For a more comprehensive commentary see PACL, 52–70

98. Seventy-eight is 3 (the number of completeness) x 26, the numerical value of YHWH (Y = 10; H = 5; W = 6; H = 5).

99. Theophylact. IV. 2, 36

100. Overhalt, CBQ, 33 (1971), 18.

101. Abridged from Waltke and Houston, Psalms as Christian Lament, 79–97.

102. Hebrew “rescued.”

103. Ancient versions read “while you sit enthroned.”

104. Waltke and Houston, Psalms as Christian Lament, 81, n. 44.

105. Ibid., 81, n. 47.

106. For full commentary see Waltke and Houston, Psalms as Christian Worship, 254–75.

107. In the four passages where hôd occurs with ntn (Num 27:23; 1Chr 29:5; Ps 21:6; Dan 11:21), ‘al means “upon,” and this sense fits better with its parallel in the second stanza (8:3).

108. In the MT, the first three couplets are linked by the acrostic of the first three letters of the Hebrew alphabet: aleph, beth, gimel (9:1ff, 3ff, 5ff); the next two couplets begin with the fifth letter waw (“and/but” in 9:7ff, not translated in 9:9). The next letters are resumed mostly in couplets: zayin, ḥeth, ṭeht, yodh, kaph (9:14ff, 16ff, 18, 19ff).

109. See Waltke with Yu, An Introduction to Old Testament Theology, 303ff.

110. B. S. Childs, Memory and Tradition, 34–36.

111. Ollenburger, JSOT, 41 (1987), 148.

112. R. Martin-Achard, TLOT, 2.933, s.v ‘nh II.

113. The Elohistic Psalter is characterized by the number forty-two and begins at Psalm 42 (MT; see p. xxx), suggesting Psalms 9 and 10 were originally reckoned as two psalms.

114. Literally, “as for oaths with curses against oneself” (Hebrew ’ālāh, Num 5:21). LXX renders 10:7a by “his mouth is full of curses and bitterness,” applied by the Apostle Paul to all people without the righteousness by faith in Christ (Rom 3:14).

115. Briggs, Psalms, 91

116. TDOT, 4:289

117. “’emûnah is . . . a way of acting that grows out of inner stability, ‘conscientiousness’” (A. Jepsen, TDOT, 1.317, s.v. ’āman).

118. R. Martin-Achard, TLOT, 2.933, s.v ‘nh II.

119. The Egyptian author of “The Poem of the Righteous Sufferer” complains, “I called to my god, he did not show his face” (The Context of Scripture. Vol. I. Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World, ed. William W. Hallo, et. al. [Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2003], 488, Tablet II line 4.)

120. Cf. https://infidels.org/library/modern/andrei_volkov/dostoevsky.html.

121. Perowne, The Book of Psalms, 182.

122. Ross, Psalms, vol. 1, p. xxx NEED PAGE #

123. Abridged from Waltke and Houston, Psalms as Christian Worship, 295–306. See also 1997) MISSING INFO HERE. See also Waltke, “Psalm 15: An Exposition in Honor of Alan Groves,” in Peter Enns, Douglas Green, and Michael Kelly, eds., Eyes to See, Ears to Hear: Essays in Honor of J. Alan Groves (P&R, 2010).

124. The root idea of tmm is “wholeness”; it signifies total or holistic loyalty to the LORD, including dependence upon him, allowing no corruption or compromise to eat into it.

125. For a full commentary, see Waltke and Houston, Psalms as Christian Worship, 321–39.

126. The Hebrew word is adōnāy, not adōniy or adōnay (see IBHS, 7.4.e, f, 123–24).

127. That šāḥat here means “decay,” not “pit,” see Waltke, NIDOTTE, vol. 4, 1113.

128. Kirkpatrick, Psalms, 81.

129. Emending with LXX and Targum.

130. Emending ’aššūrûnû to ’iššūrûnîi (cf. HALOT, 99, s.v. ’āšūr).

131. Emending text from mimmetiym to mimmitiym as in Jeremiah 26:5 (“put to death”).

132. ‘Ebed is rendered “servant” when referring to function and “slave” when referring to ownership.

133. For an excellent essay on the concept of the servant of the LORD, see Jill Firth, “The Suffering Servant in Book V of the Psalter,” in Reading the Psalms Theologically, David Howard and Andrew Schmutzer eds., Studies in Scripture and Biblical Theology (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Academic, 2023), 111–26.

134. Narrative waw with jussive form.

135. See Waltke, Proverbs 1–15, 107–9.

136. Waltke, Micah (2007), 340.

137. For comprehensive commentary see PACW, 351–75.

138. Clifford, Psalms 1–72, 135.

139. ESV, with most English versions, translated an ambiguous verb form in 21:8–12 by future tense (e.g., “will find” [21:8]). Since this is a victory song, it is better to translate the form in present tense, as ESV does in verses 1–6 (e.g., “rejoices” [21:1]).

140. CJB, NAB, NET, NIV, NJB emend kḥy (kōḥî, “my strength”) to ḥky (ḥikkî,“palate”).

141. “Like a lion” in MT is semantically impertinent (see PACW, 393ff, n. 66).

142. For full commentary see PACW, 434–45.

143. Changing the vowels of the Masoretic text from ṣralmāwet (“shadow of death”) to ṣralmût (“darkness”) because in usage the noun is associated with darkness in contrast to light.

144. PACW, 435, notes 72, 73.

145. Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic (1973), chapter 5.

146. Acrostic poems are Psalms 9–10 (originally); 25; 34; 38; 111; 112; 119; 145.

147. Unlike Psalm 34, a repeated resh replaces qoph (25:17–19 [H16–18]).

148. C. Hassell Bullock, “Excavating the ‘Fossil Record’ of a Metaphor: The Use of the Verb nasa’ as ‘to forgive’ in the Psalter,” in Reading the Psalms Theologically, David Howard Jr. and Andrew Schmutzer eds. (Bellingham: Lexham Academic, 2003), 127–40.

149. Bonhoeffer, Psalms, 47.

150. Weiser, The Psalms, 249.

151. Goldingay, Psalms: Volume 1: Psalms 1–44, 398.

152. Literally, “witness of violence” (HALOT, 424, s.v. yāphea).

153. Goldingay, Psalms: Volume 1: Psalms 1–44, 406.

154. Kirkpatrick, The Book of Psalms, 146.

155. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalsm: Volume 1 (1–41), 645.

156. CMHE, 152.

157. HALOT, 342, s.v. II. ḥṣb.

158. C. Hassel Bullock, Psalms: Volume 1: 1–72 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2015), 214.

159. Reading with Symmachus be’oniy—LXX read “my poverty” bo‘oniy—against Masoretic text “my iniquities” (ba‘aniy ), because: 1) otherwise contextually his distress is due to outside forces, not to his own guilt (31:10, 13, 15–18a); 2) he infers his innocence in 31:18b; and 3) God extended mercy to him in his momentary loss of faith (31:22).

160. Kidner, Psalms 172, 131.

161. McCann, Psalms, 801.

162. Waltke, Proverbs 1531, 21.

163. Calvin, Psalms, 518.

164. For a more comprehensive commentary, see PACL,104–19.

165. For a fuller discussion of “why praise,” see PACP, 6–12.

166. TNIV Study Bible, 861.

167. The yodh of piy is a vowel.

168. L. O. Eriksson, “Come, Children, Listen to Me!” Psalm 34 in the Hebrew Bible and in Early Christian Writings (Stockholm: Almqvist and Wiksell International, 1991), 115.

169. AOTT, 362ff.

170. J. J. M. Roberts, “The Young Lions of Psalm 34:11,” Biblica 54 (1973), 265–67.

171. Paul W. Gaebelein, Jr., “Psalm 34 and Other Biblical Acrostics,” Maarav 5, 6 (Spring, 1990) 127–43, esp. 135ff.

172. Kirkpatrick, Psalms, 179.

173. Ross, Psalms, vol. 1, 775.

174. Literally, “an inspired utterance of (= about) transgression” (see 5:10).

175. For a pictorial representation of this river in an Assyrian relief, see PACP, 117.

176. TNIV Study Bible, 867, note on 37:13.

177. McCann, Psalms, 828.

178. TNIV Study Bible, 866, note on Psalm 37.

179. Righteousness is a metonymy for “vindication” in the parallel, and ESV translates “light” in Job 31:26 by “sun.”

180. Hebrew adōnāy (IBHS, P. 7.4.3e,f, pp. 123ff).

181. Emending lĕ‘ōwlām nišmārû (= “they are protected forever,” ESV) to ‘awwālîm lĕ‘ōwlām nišmādû (BHS) because it supplies the expected ‘ayin couplet missing in MT; the LXX gives evidence of textual corruption; and the error of MT can be readily explained as due to haplography and the common confusion of the very similarly formed daleth and resh.

182. Al Wolters, “Ṣôpiyyâ (Prov 31:27) as Hymnic Participle and Play on Sophia,” JBL 104 (1985), 578, n. 7.

183. Probably, the unexpected word ‘ārîṣ (“spread out”) was chosen for its consonance with the resh in every word in 37:34aβ–35. Possibly, it was also chosen for sarcasm: it normally means “uncover oneself.”

184. J. F. Sawyer, TDOT, 6, 442.

185. For a more comprehensive commentary and defense of my translations here, see PACL, 131–48.

186. G. Liedke, TLOT, 2.542ff, s.v. ykḥ hi.

187. Keil and Delitzsch, Psalms, 292.

188. Kirkpatrick, The Book of Psalms, 204.

189. Bruce K. Waltke, “Who Is the Ger (‘Sojourner’),” Scriptures, Scholarship, and the People of God: Essays in Honor of Sven K. Soderlund (Vancouver, B.C.: Regent College, 2021), 38–60.

190. Most interpreters think “the book” is the Law.

191. So also Keil and Delitzsch, Psalms, 308.

192. Kidner, Psalms, 162.

193. Jesus omits “who I trusted” (cf. John 2:25).

194. Gunkel, 152, n. 316; 179, n. 711, 720.

195. See IBHS, 30.5.1d, 488.

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Psalm 1


Book One

The Way of the Righteous and the Wicked

1:1   Blessed is the man1
    who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
  nor stands in the way of sinners,
    nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
  but his delight is in the law2 of the LORD,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.

  He is like a tree
    planted by streams of water
  that yields its fruit in its season,
    and its leaf does not wither.
  In all that he does, he prospers.
  The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

  Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
  for the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked will perish.


[1] 1:1 The singular Hebrew word for man (ish) is used here to portray a representative example of a godly person; see Preface

[2] 1:2 Or instruction