The Book of Psalms has a special place among the books of the Bible. This book is the hymn book and prayer book given by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit—not only for Old Testament saints, but also for New Testament saints. Among the hymns sung by Christians, the Psalms have a special place. Paul wrote to the Colossians: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col. 3:16).
In Greek, the word psalm (ψαλμός) can be used for all kinds of hymns, and conversely the Book of Psalms itself uses the words hymn and spiritual song of some of its psalms. We find the word spiritual song (ᾠδή) used, among other places, in Psalm 4:1 and 64–66:1, and hymn (ὕμνος) in Psalm 6:1 and 71:20. It is not impossible that Paul had exclusively the Old Testament Psalms in mind when writing to the Colossians; even if he was also referring to other hymns, certainly the Old Testament Psalms had a place of honor.
The books of Psalms (with 55 citations) and Isaiah (with 47 citations) are the books of the Old Testament quoted most often in the New Testament. In both, we find many Messianic prophecies. The Lord Jesus Himself prayed the Psalms when He was on earth and often confirmed His messianic mission and identity by quoting from the Psalms. When after His resurrection He explained to His disciples that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead (Luke 24:46), He quoted from the Psalms: “And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me” (Luke 24:44).
Following an introductory survey of Psalms as a book, this article will be divided into two main sections. The first will focus on how Christ is foretold in the Psalms, and the second will focus on how Christ Himself referred to the Psalms in His earthly ministry. There is of course some degree of overlap between these two topics. But the difference is that in the first section we will be going back to the Old Testament dispensation, looking forward to the New Testament dispensation. The key question here is: when you preach from the Psalms, how should you go about it? In the second part, we turn to the four gospels and listen to gospel texts where either the Psalms are alluded to or directly quoted.
The Peculiar Character of the Psalms
The Bible is God’s revelation to men. The content of divine revelation encompasses not only the records of God’s acts on behalf of men and the interpretation of these records, but also the responses of men to God’s acts and words. Man’s response to God’s acts and Word is itself a form of revelation; it is how the Lord makes clear how we ought to respond. The Bible is not only the exclusive and final rule of faith and conduct but also of the experience of faith.
The church father Athanasius said that the Psalms are not so much God’s Word to us as God’s Word for us. We can say that the Book of Lamentations, too, has in this respect the same character as Psalms, but Lamentations restricts itself to the particular response of the Lord’s people to the fall of Jerusalem. It is an example of how to react after a great disaster, not only personally but also at a collective level. The scope of Psalms is broader. In the Psalms, we find templates for an appropriate response to sorrows and joys. The Psalms show us, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, how God’s children should react and express those reactions in all manner of circumstances.
Christ Foretold in the Psalms
The Royal Psalms
Within the book, we find different types of psalms. One type is that of a Royal Psalm. The Royal Psalms are not only for the then reigning king in Israel, but also to be sung to the future king: the King of kings. No clear distinction can be drawn between psalms for an earthly king and psalms for the future King of kings because the reigning king of the day ought to be a type of the coming king. For example, Psalm 72 can be read as a prayer for the current king in Israel, but we can use it as a prayer for the government of our country: “Give the king thy judgments, O God, and thy righteousness unto the king’s son. He shall judge thy people with righteousness, and thy poor with judgment” (vv. 1–2).
It is the duty of rulers to promote external righteousness and justice. This duty is a limited task. They cannot change hearts. The peace and justice promoted by rulers can never be more than an external peace and justice. But what is said about justice in Psalm 72 goes much further than such externalities. In the final analysis, the peace and justice foretold are all-encompassing. If a human ruler were to try to create a society characterized by internal peace and justice, the result would be just the reverse, namely, a very repressive government and society.
Thus the king in Psalm 72 is not only a type of future earthly governments, but above all a type of the coming Messiah, the King of kings. His rule will be a rule of perfect righteousness. He clothes those who cleave to Him with His imputed righteousness, and He renews them by His Holy Spirit so that their lives—although only in principle here on earth—are characterized by internal and spiritual righteousness.
A function of the Psalms is to express a fervent desire for the coming of Christ and His kingdom. The first coming of Christ is the principal fulfillment of these expectations; His second coming will be the final fulfillment. When He came to earth for the first time, Christ laid the foundation of salvation; He accomplished redemption. When the redemption that Christ has accomplished is fully applied by the Holy Spirit to all who were foreordained by the Father, Christ will come back in glory.
After the final judgment, Psalm 72:3 will be sung: “The mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness.” It is no coincidence that the book concludes with psalms that both begin and end with “Hallelujah” (Pss. 146– 150). Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever; this is realistic in a way that surpasses our first creation when we reach the fulfillment of re-creation. Then, redeemed humanity will sing unto all eternity the glory of God and of the Lamb. “Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:10).
Psalm 2 as an Introduction to the Whole Book
The first two Psalms form an introduction. Psalm 1 speaks of the righteous and the godless. This distinction is very fundamental. Psalm 2 is about the Messiah, the Christ, and His rule. Perhaps originally this Psalm was sung at the coronation of a new king. But it is only to the King of kings that the Father could have said, “Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee” (Ps. 2:7).
When Christ started His public ministry after His baptism in the River Jordan, the Father said to Him, alluding to Psalm 2: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). In a special sense, the kingdom of Christ was inaugurated when He ascended into heaven. Sitting at the right hand of the Father, He reigns from sea to sea, even to the ends of the earth (Ps. 72). Although the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His Anointed (Ps. 2:1–2), Christ yet draws sinners out of darkness into light. He will continue to do that until His return, for “Jesus Christ [is] the same yesterday, and to day, and forever” (Heb. 13:8).
Every Christian, especially a minister of the gospel, has the task of urging his fellow sinners to “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little” (Ps. 2:12). Biblical preaching urgently and passionately portrays Christ as the complete Savior, aiming to win sinners for Christ, build up His church, and glorify God.
Psalms 45 and 110: The Coming King is More than a Mere Man
The Psalm which most clearly reveals that the coming Messiah will be truly God is Psalm 45. This is not only a Royal Psalm but also a wedding psalm. The classic view is that the marriage of Solomon to the daughter of Pharaoh was the occasion of its composition. In verses 6–7, we read: “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre. Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness; therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.”
Jewish exegetes have sought to understand this psalm in such a way that the King is not addressed as God. They translate the expression “Thy throne, O God” as “Thy godly throne.” Grammatically, this is questionable. I prefer the wording of verse 7 in the classic Dutch translation, the 1637 Statenvertaling. An English gloss on the Dutch translation here is: “Therefore, your God has anointed you, O God, with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” This way, in both verses, “God” is understood as a vocative.
Sometimes, the boundary between what can be said of the king presently reigning and that which can only be said of the coming Messiah is fluid. However, that is not the case in Psalm 45. Here, we must immediately look beyond Solomon. Psalm 45 was originally intended to be read as an allegory: the king is the coming Messiah and the bride is His church. The living members of the church of Christ have obeyed the voice of their Savior: “Hearken, O daughter, and consider, and incline thine ear: forget also thine own people, and thy father’s house” (v. 10).
The relationship between Christ and His church can be compared to a marriage, but ultimately it is even closer than the relationship between husband and wife. The marriage between Christ and His church will not be dissolved by death. Even here on earth, the relationship between Christ and His church has more of the character of a betrothal. When the saved sinner dies or (taking a collective view of the church) when Christ comes back, the marriage is really confirmed. That is the point at which the marriage supper of the Lamb and His bride commences, to last forever. In a veiled sense, this is already indicated in verses 14–15: “She shall be brought unto the king in raiment of needlework: the virgins her companions that follow her shall be brought unto thee. With gladness and rejoicing shall they be brought: they shall enter into the king’s palace.”
Psalm 110, too, shows us quite clearly that the Messiah will be more than a mere man. This psalm was composed by David, who called the Messiah his Lord (v. 1). It is not without reason that Psalm 110 is the most quoted psalm in the New Testament. Our Lord Himself cited it to make clear to the scribes and Pharisees that He, as the Messiah, was more than just the son of David. Being God, He was and is David’s Lord also.
Psalm 72: The King and His Subjects
In both Psalm 2 and Psalm 110, the person of the Messiah is portrayed and also His rule. In these psalms, the emphasis falls upon the fact that the Messiah will gain a complete victory over His enemies. In Psalm 2:9, we read that God promises the Messiah: “Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel”; in Psalm 110:5–6, we read: “The Lord at thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of his wrath. He shall judge among the heathen, he shall fill the places with dead bodies; he shall wound the heads over many countries.”
In Psalm 72, we encounter the same topic, but here the emphasis falls on the subjects being protected by their king. They are protected not only from external enemies, but also from oppressors within Israel itself. Over the centuries, time and again, the governing elite had misused its power. The duty of the king in Israel was to do justice especially to his poor and often oppressed subjects. “For he shall deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also, and him that hath no helper. He shall spare the poor and needy, and shall save the souls of the needy” (vv. 12–13).
In Christ, this psalm finds its final fulfillment. The subjects of Christ know well the fight against the world, the devil, and sinful self; they are often found among the poor of this world. In the Beatitudes, we find the New Testament portrait of the children of God, the children of the covenant. In the version of the Beatitudes given by Matthew, the emphasis is on the spiritual side of poverty; in the version of Luke, it is on the material side. In a spiritual sense, all the children of the kingdom are poor. In material respects, some are rich, but they are willing to forego all their wealth for Christ’s sake. Poverty in and of itself will not usher us into the kingdom of God, but wealth can be a great hindrance.
Ministers of Christ have not only a duty to proclaim Christ, but they must also clarify who His children are by explaining the nature of the true believer and by stating the hallmarks of a living faith. The Psalms are very important in this respect; the Beatitudes, equally so. “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled” (Matt. 5:2–6).
Who is Speaking in the Psalms?
Ultimately, the subject of all the Psalms (not only of the Royal Psalms) is the Messiah. The psalmists themselves are speaking and praying, but ultimately we hear the voice of the Messiah in all the psalms. A great part of Psalms was composed by David, and David was the most important type of the coming Messiah in the Old Testament. In fourteen cases, the occasion of a psalm’s composition is given explicitly, right as the psalm opens. These fourteen are all written by David, in most instances amid sorrowful circumstances.
Most were composed when David was being persecuted by Saul, and a few took place during the revolt of Absalom. And most of them are found in the first two books within the Book of Psalms (Psalm 1–41 and Psalm 42–72). It was especially the first part of David’s life that was filled with suffering. This was the time between his anointing by Samuel and his accession to the throne after the death of Saul. The second part of David’s life, apart from the revolt of Absalom, had glory as its theme. In this way, David foreshadows the ministry of Jesus Christ, the great Son of David, who first suffered and afterwards entered into glory. His complaints are the complaints of the Messiah, and his joys are the joys of the Messiah.
The Suffering Messiah and Ensuing Glory: Psalm 22
Psalm 22 is an obvious example of how the sufferings of the Messiah are foretold and how the complaints of the psalmist are the complaints of the Messiah. Christ Himself, while hanging on the cross, quoted this psalm during the three hours of darkness: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?” (v. 1). Christ uttered these words not in Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament, but in Aramaic, the everyday language of the Jewish people after the Exile. To stress the deep impression that these words made, Matthew and Mark recount them just as they were originally uttered and then give the Greek translation: “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34).
On the cross, Christ was mocked by the crowd and the Roman soldiers. He was forsaken by His disciples, but far worse, God the Father turned away His loving, fatherly face from His Son. As the representative of His bride, Jesus drank the cup filled with the anger of His Father; He bore the wrath of God against human sin. He paid the price as a Substitute. When we read the complaints in the Psalms, we see Jesus Christ standing behind the psalmist. Even in the psalms of confession of sin, we find Christ when we fully realize that it was for our sake that “he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21).
A preacher of the gospel must make clear the ugliness of sin. The Psalms are key to the discharge of this duty. They show us, by means of the psalmist’s complaints, the awful nature of what it is to be forsaken by God. Christ truly felt the pains of hell when on Calvary. Sinners drawn to Christ can have a very deep sense of their sin and misery, and saints can go through very deep valleys. But they “may be assured that Christ my Lord, by His inexpressible anguish, pains and terrors, which He suffered in His soul on the cross and before, has redeemed me from the anguish and torment of hell” (Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 44).
A true Christian realizes his sins and shortcomings; he sees that his faith and trust are not perfect. This is how he learns the value of the sufferings and cross of Christ and begins to have a better grasp of why Paul said, “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14).
The evangelists draw our attention to the fact that even a detail foretold in Psalm 22:18 was fulfilled in Christ. “They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be: that the scripture might be fulfilled, which saith, They parted my raiment among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots. These things therefore the soldiers did” (John 19:24; see also Matt. 27; Mark 15:45; Luke 23:34).
Not only the sufferings of Christ are foretold in Psalm 22, but so is His glory. Verse 22 is quoted in Hebrews 2:12: “I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee.” Here, we see Christ portrayed as sitting at the right hand of the Father, praying for His church and on the Day of Judgment, confessing the names of His brethren to the Father.
At the end of Psalm 22, we see the New Testament dispensation foretold and ultimately the final glory: “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee. For the kingdom is the LORD’s: and he is the governor among the nations. All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him: and none can keep alive his own soul. A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation. They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this” (vv. 27–31).
Under the New Testament dispensation, the gospel is to be proclaimed to all nations, and ultimately the New Jerusalem will contain “a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands” (Rev. 7:9).
The Suffering Messiah and Ensuing Glory: Psalms 42 and 43
For a second example of how the sufferings of Christ are foretold in the Psalms, we turn to Psalm 42:5: “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me?” Christ alluded to this when He prayed and struggled in the garden of Gethsemane. We can see this even more clearly if we compare the Greek New Testament with the Greek translation of the Old Testament. In Matthew 26:38, we read: “Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.”
In the original context, the psalmist, who is a Levite, is complaining because he cannot go to the sanctuary. He remembers with sadness when he would lead the procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise (Ps. 42:4). Reading the psalm from the perspective of Christ on earth, He felt the pain of leaving heaven and the multitude of angels surrounding Him there. Because of the fall of Adam, all areas of life on earth are stained with sin. More than the psalmist or any child of God could, Christ could say, “I am a stranger in the earth” (Ps. 119:19).
Having accomplished His work on earth, Christ went back to the Father and is now God and man, united in one person. We can see His ascension foretold in several of the Psalms (24, 47, 68, and even 43). In fact, Psalm 42 and Psalm 43 are closely related; it is possible they were originally a single psalm. In Psalm 43:3–4, we read, “O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles. Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy: yea, upon the harp will I praise thee, O God my God.”
The person and work of Christ is the center and foundation of the Christian faith. Christ is the Mediator given by the Father; He paid the debt of sin on Calvary. Only through Him can we approach God. Living faith in Christ as the Savior is worked in us by the Holy Spirit. In Romans 3:25, we read: “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.”
When we are united to Christ, we are also conformed to His image. But Christ is in heaven and we are on earth. We are surrounded by the world, the flesh, and the devil, and we are bound to complain that, although saved by grace, we have a body of sin and death. A Christian here on earth is a stranger and a pilgrim. Paul wrote: “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God. Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:1–4).
United to Christ, we must be willing to suffer for Him. Then we will know that He is with us in our greatest trials. The Psalms are a rich treasure trove to show us Christ and to dwell upon the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts and lives of believers. The Spirit convicts us of our sins and misery, and opens our eyes to Christ, and out of the fullness of Christ we receive grace for grace. “They go from strength to strength, every one of them appeareth in Zion before God” (Ps. 84:7) to be with their Lord and Savior forever.
Christ’s Use of the Psalms
His Use of the Psalms in Prayer
Not only is Christ foretold and portrayed in the Psalms; the Gospels show that Christ prayed and sang the Psalms when He was on earth. We know that the life of Christ was a life of prayer. Consider Matthew 14:23, “And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone”; or Luke 9:28, “And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray.” We can presume that Christ used the Book of Psalms extensively when praying, being the prayer book given by His Father. Two of the seven sayings on the cross were the express words of the Psalms: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46) and “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).
When we compare this last saying with Psalm 31:5, we see that the name “Father” is added. The use of the name Father was characteristic of the teaching and prayers of Jesus. He always addressed God as Father in His prayers, with only one exception, namely, the fourth saying on the cross. Christ is the only begotten Son of God, and believers are God’s adopted children. The fatherhood of God is revealed more fully in the New Testament. In the Old Testament, there are only a few instances where God is addressed as Father, and when it occurs in the Psalms, it is uttered by the king as type of the coming Messiah (see Ps. 89:26). But that should not lead us to assume that the Psalms are less useful for the prayer lives of the New Testament believers. Christ Himself prayed these same Psalms and we may as well.
His Use of the Psalms in the Sermon on the Mount
We see the importance of the Psalms in Christ’s teaching as well. Consider the Beatitudes; just as in the Psalms, the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount delineates two ways: a narrow way leading to heaven and a broad way leading to hell. Those walking the narrow way are called the righteous in the Psalms; they are the brokenhearted who have humbled themselves before the Lord.
The same portrait is drawn by Jesus in the Beatitudes of His true disciples: “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). He echoes the words of Psalm 34:18: “The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.” Matthew 5:5—“Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth”—echoes Psalm 37:11: “But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.” Moreover, Matthew 5:8—“Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God”—must be seen in the context of Psalm 73:1: “Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart.” In Matthew 6:33—“But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you”—we see an allusion to Psalm 37:3–4: “Trust in the LORD, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed. Delight thyself also in the LORD: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.”
His Use of the Psalms in Parables
We also see the influence of the Book of Psalms in the teaching given by Jesus in His parables. Two of the more famous parables are clear examples of this: the parable of the prodigal son and the parable of the Pharisee and the publican. In the parable of the prodigal son, we read that when the son came to himself, he thought: “I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee” (Luke 15:18). Notice the language of confession of sin from the Psalms. The most famous example of this type of psalm is Psalm 51, where the psalmist confesses: “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest” (Ps. 51:4).
Behind the figure of the father in this parable, we see Psalm 103:13: “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him.” Similarly, the publican or tax collector uses the words of Psalm 51:1 in his prayer: “And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13).
His Use of Psalm 110 when Speaking about His Own Identity
Psalm 110 is the most quoted psalm in the New Testament. As was stated earlier, this psalm reveals the divine identity of the coming Messiah. Confronted with the critique of scribes and Pharisees, Jesus asked, “What think ye of Christ? whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David” (Matt. 22:42). Jesus makes clear in His reply that their answer was only partially true, which was the source of their real problem.
The Pharisees and scribes would not receive Jesus as the promised Messiah because they were expecting the Messiah to be a mere man. Jesus made clear both in His words and actions (i.e., forgiving sins) that He was both God and man. Responding to the Pharisees, He quotes Psalm 110:1: “He saith unto them, How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool? If David then call him Lord, how is he his son?” (Matt. 22:43–45).
This confrontation with the Pharisees happened on the Tuesday of Holy Week. When Jesus had cleansed the temple the previous day, little children had hailed Him with hosannas as the promised Son of David (Matt. 21:13). Hearing the criticism of the priests and scribes, Jesus responded with a quotation of Psalm 8:2. “Have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?” (Matt. 21:16). Jesus was the Son of Man and promised Heir of the whole universe foretold in Psalm 8.
His Use of the Psalms to Predict His Suffering, Death, and Future Glory
Jesus referred to Psalm 118 when He told the parable of the wicked tenants (Matt. 21:33–46). The wicked tenants finally murdered the only son of the owner of the vineyard. Jesus told the scribes that they were the wicked tenants, quoting Psalm 118:22: “The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner.” The psalm originally refers to the oppressed people of Israel who had gone into exile but who were finally restored by God. Jesus is the representative of the people of God who suffers and dies in their place; those who are united to Christ are called to suffer for Him, but since He, their Head, has been glorified, they will follow Him into glory. When Christ comes back to earth, all who wait for His coming will, as Jesus said, welcome Him with the words of Psalm 118:26: “Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the LORD! we have blessed you out of the house of the LORD” (cf. Matt. 23:39).
When He was with His disciples in the upper room in Jerusalem during the Last Supper, Jesus quoted Psalm 69:4: “But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause” (John 15:25). If the psalmist could say that he was hated without a cause, and if God’s children can justly say that, how much more is it true of the Son of God! A believer can say this with respect to his conduct towards men, but the Son of God could say it absolutely.
Interestingly, we find more allusions to Psalm 69 in the Gospels, although not on the lips of Jesus Himself. In John 2:17, we read with regard to the cleansing of the temple: “And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up” (cf. Ps. 69:9). When Jesus was nailed to the cross and sour wine was offered to Him, Psalm 69:21 was fulfilled: “They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink” (cf. Matt. 27:34, 48; Mark 15:23, 36; Luke 23:36; John 19:28).
The writer of Hebrews tells us that Christ in a certain sense quoted Psalm 40 when He came into the world. “Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: in burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God” (Heb. 10:5–7; cf. Ps. 40:6–7).
In Christ, the whole Mosaic dispensation with all its sacrifices attained its final fulfillment. Jesus was able to say: “But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple” (Matt. 12:6). As the psalmists declare how they long for the sanctuary, so a believer longs to worship God with other saints but also for the felt presence of Christ in his soul and life. This desire will be perfectly fulfilled when he glorifies Christ together with all the saints in the New Jerusalem. That will be a city without a temple, because the Lamb is its temple.
His Use of the “Hymn”
At the end of the Last Supper, Christ sang a hymn (Matt. 26:30 and Mark 14:26). The text is better translated, “when they had sung the hymn.” This is the translation given in the Dutch Bible and it is to be preferred because a certain set of Psalms, namely Psalms 113–118, sometimes followed by Psalm 136, is meant. This group of Psalms was known as “the Hymn.” It was sung on special occasions, including at Passover; it is still today known as the Hallel. Psalms 113–114 are sung before the Passover meal starts, and the rest are sung after the meal.
When we consider Psalms 116 and 118 in the context of the night Christ was betrayed, a remarkable light is thrown on the psalms. Jesus sang from Psalm 116: “The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow” (v. 3). A sinner convinced of his sins and misery learns to sing this psalm, but Christ sang it as the Savior, Surety, and Mediator. He experienced hell during the three hours of darkness on the cross of Calvary. But He also sang that of His exaltation and ascension to heaven: “For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling. I will walk before the LORD in the land of the living” (vv. 8–9), and “I will pay my vows unto the LORD now in the presence of all his people. In the courts of the LORD’s house, in the midst of thee, O Jerusalem. Praise ye the LORD” (vv. 18–19).
Christ also sang from Psalm 118 that night: “I called upon the LORD in distress: the LORD answered me, and set me in a large place” (v. 5). He confessed, “Thou hast thrust sore at me that I might fall: but the LORD helped me” (v. 13), and also: “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the LORD. The LORD hath chastened me sore: but he hath not given me over unto death. Open to me the gates of righteousness: I will go into them, and I will praise the LORD: this gate of the LORD, into which the righteous shall enter. I will praise thee: for thou hast heard me, and art become my salvation” (vv. 17–21). The text goes on to speak of the stone rejected by the builders that was made into the cornerstone. A special light is shone on the complaints and confessions in the Psalms when we see them first and foremost as complaints and confessions of Christ.
Psalm 42 (Gethsemane) and Psalm 22 (Golgotha)
I mentioned the fact that Christ alluded to Psalm 42 when He was in the Garden of Gethsemane. He expressed His anguish in the words of the Psalms, knowing that they spoke of His own sufferings and the glory that would follow. More profoundly than any man who ever lived, He knew anguish and affliction. On earth, He was deserted by the Father. And then we come to Calvary and especially the fourth of seven sayings on the cross.
Christ quotes Psalm 22:1: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” It is not impossible that Christ repeated and prayed this Psalm in its entirety. In Matthew 27:47, we read that some said mockingly: “This man calleth for Elias.” Psalm 22:11 states: “I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother’s belly.” In Aramaic, the reading here is Eli atta. This means, “You are my God.” But bystanders could also have heard it as Elia ta, which in Aramaic would mean, “Elijah, come!”
Psalm 22:18 was fulfilled in Christ in every detail. Again, I quote John 19:24: “They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be: that the scripture might be fulfilled, which saith, They parted my raiment among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots. These things therefore the soldiers did” (cf. Matt. 27; Mark 15:45; Luke 23:34).
Psalm 31: Golgotha
The final word of Christ on the cross was also from the Psalms. Quoting Psalm 31:5 and adding the name of the Father, Christ prayed, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46). We know that, in the first century already, this phrase was used as a bedtime prayer that parents taught their children. Christ died with complete confidence in His Father. Having finished His work on the cross, giving up the ghost was like a child going to sleep.
Praying and Singing the Psalms with Christ
The Book of Psalms is of special importance in the life of Christians because we find Christ portrayed throughout. In the person of the psalmist, we hear Christ praying to His Father, praising His Father, and telling His Father all His needs and sorrows. We are called to do likewise. We need to pray and sing the Psalms, united to Christ in faith. He prayed and sang the Psalms as our Savior, Surety, and Mediator. We can praise Him with the words of Psalm 45:1: “My heart is inditing a good matter: I speak of the things which I have made touching the king: my tongue is the pen of a ready writer,” and Psalm 72:17: “His name shall endure forever: his name shall be continued as long as the sun: and men shall be blessed in him: all nations shall call him blessed.”
Believers not only trust in Christ but are conformed to His image. The Lord often uses sufferings and sorrows to draw us near unto Him. Writing to the Philippians, Paul says, “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake” (1:29). And later in the letter he writes, “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death” (3:10). In his sufferings and anguish, the Christian can feel and experience in a very special way the presence of Christ, who suffered and died in his place. He has the privilege of singing the psalms that speak about Christ as the Head of the church and that were uttered by Christ Himself.
The believers are members of Christ, members of His body. He as the Head first suffered and is now in glory. His saints on earth are suffering for Him and enjoy communion with Him. In their anguish and sufferings, they feel His presence. Thus there is gladness even in the midst of sufferings and sorrows. Paul told the Corinthians that believers are “sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things” (2 Cor. 6:10).
In what is known as Paul’s hymn of victory at the end of Romans 8, he issues the challenge to the enemy, quoting Psalm 44: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:35–39).
In the Psalms, we have a portrait both of Christ and of His saints. Let us use the Psalms as a model for our lives of prayer. Let us sing the Psalms. “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:18–20).