I’m afraid many confess to love the psalms as many confess to love Jesus; it’s a sentimental love based on imagination. Like a piece of childhood nostalgia revisited, upon inspection, many find the psalms aren’t as pure and good as their flannel graph memories. The psalms might be the most warmly affirmed yet least known portion of Scripture. We speak of them like we would a great ancestor, but are later shamed to learn that he held slaves. What are we to do with language like this?
“Arise, O Lord! Save me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked (Psalm 3:7).”
“O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed, blessed shall he be who repays you with what you have done to us! Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock (Psalm 137:8–9)!”
I think perhaps the truth that helps us to understand such difficult passages, and to rightly understand less difficult ones is this: often, though not exclusively, as Augustine said, Jesus is the great singer of the psalms. We can sing the psalms, but our covers never match Jesus’ original. “Arn’t these psalms for congregational worship?” Yes. “Can’t we sing them?” Yes. But, I believe you’ll find it is when the voice of the psalm is taken out of your mouth and put into the mouth of Christ that it is most sweet and meaningful. The second psalm teaches us this. That psalm not only speaks of Jesus, in it Jesus speaks, and thus we should approach many psalms of David. As psalms of God’s king over God’s people.
On problem we have is out distance from monarchy. Consider Britain’s anthem, “God Save the King.”
God save our gracious King!
Long live our noble King!
God save the King!
Send him victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us,
God save the King.
Thy choicest gifts in store,
On him be pleased to pour,
Long may he reign. / May he defend our laws,
And ever give us cause,
To sing with heart and voice,
God save the King.
We’d do better to sing the psalms like a Brit. Our individualism too often infects the psalms as we want to make them like our modern worship choruses, centered around ourselves and our emotions. But the psalms, like the truly great hymns of the faith, are centered around Christ. If we’d approach this psalm more like a patriotic anthem, rather than a personal lament, we’d hit closer to the mark.
One might think I’m trying to rob them of the psalms, but this doesn’t mean we sing the psalms less, but more. The King’s personal lament, that we are assured was heard by God, means that we sing His lament as a song of praise. Jesus’ sorrow means our joy.
David knew that his personal welfare and the blessedness of the people of God were linked together because of God’s covenant (Psalm 3:8). David’s zeal for his enemies’ destruction wasn’t personal vengeance, but holy worshipful zeal. Opposition to David was opposition to God (Psalm 2:2–3), and to the good of God’s people.
Now consider how this is fulfilled in the King. Jesus was surrounded by enemies, enemies who were close to him. Judas betrays with a kiss. His fellow countrymen who had welcomed him into the city shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” soon cry “Crucify him!” wishing him to be driven from the city. Like David, Jesus departs His city, the place of His rightful rule. He is driven outside to be shamed and mocked as forsaken by God. But unlike David, who was only being chastened in love, Jesus is forsaken in wrath. Like David, Jesus is suffering for sin, but unlike David, Jesus isn’t suffering for His sins, but the sins of His people. But God lifted up the head that bowed saying “It is finished.” and bestowed on Him the name above all names. In Christ our enemies’ teeth are shattered. The serpent has been de-fanged by the crushing weight of his crucified heel, and we boast with Paul “O death where is your sting?”
How do we sing this psalm, and many others? In Jesus’ name and for Jesus name. Maybe if our reading of the psalms was Christocentric then our worship would be, or, maybe if more contemporary worship music was Christocentric, we’d be better readers of the psalms.