Don Fortner – Discovering Christ in All the Scriptures
God’s Book of Praise
The Book of Psalms is the largest Book in the Word of God. It is a Book about the worship of God. The word “psalms” means “praises.’’ The Book of Psalms is “the Book of Praises.” It is God’s Book of Praise. That which is essential in the praise of God is dominate in these 150 psalms—Worship.” “Worship” means ‘‘prostration.’’ To worship and praise the Lord our God is to prostrate ourselves before him, taking our place in the dust before him as we acknowledge and adore his supremacy, perfection, and work.
This is where we must begin. After describing Christ as the perfect man in Psalms 1 and declaring him to be the exalted King in Psalms 2, we are called to worship him in Psa_2:11-12. “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.”
The Book of Psalms teaches us to worship our God, to be ever occupied with him. Just in proportion as our hearts and minds are occupied with Christ, we worship him (Col_3:1-3). Here we are taught to treasure his Word, delight in his providence, remember his works, speak of his greatness, trust his care, glory in his gospel, and celebrate his praise continually. We are here taught to find strength for life’s labors, comfort for life’s troubles, and solace in life’s sorrows by continually prostrating ourselves before the throne of grace, seeking mercy and grace from our great God in time of need.
In this Book we have 150 psalms, or songs of praise to our great God. As we read these psalms, our hearts often echo the words we are reading, because that which we read here expresses our own feelings, emotions, and experiences as God’s people in this world. These inspired psalms express our own doubts and fears, joys and sorrows, sufferings and aspirations, burdens and blessings, as we attempt to worship and serve our God.
Yet, this is a Book of praise to our God. If you read the psalms carefully, you cannot avoid noticing the fact that each of the psalms that begin with an expression of sorrow or despondency end with praise to God for his goodness. That is because our sorrows, like our joys, are designed by our God to show us his goodness and bring his goodness to us.
There is one exception. Psalms 88, perhaps the oldest of the psalms, is all sorrow. That psalm reveals the inmost sorrow of our Savior as he suffered the wrath of God for us. When he was made to be sin, when he was made to be the object of God’s unmitigated wrath as our Substitute, he found nothing to comfort him. Though he looked for comforters, there were none.
John Gill wrote, “The subject matter of this book is exceeding great and excellent; many of the psalms respect the person, offices, and grace of Christ; his sufferings and death, resurrection, ascension, and session at the right hand of God; and so are exceeding suitable to the Gospel dispensation. The whole book is a rich mine of grace and evangelical truths, and a large fund of spiritual experience; and is abundantly suited to every case, state, and condition, that the church of Christ, or particular believers, are in at any time.”
The New Testament contains two hundred and forty-three quotations from the Old and one hundred and sixteen of these are from the Book of Psalms. These 150 psalms were written over a period spanning 900 years. Most of them were written by David, “the sweet singer of Israel.” One was written by Moses (Psalms 90). One was written by Heman (Psalms 88). One was written by Ethan (Psalms 89). Two were written by Solomon (Psalms 72 and 157). The descendants of Korah wrote ten. And Asaph, the chief musician in David’s choir, wrote twelve. There are fifty of the psalms to which no author’s name is attached. But it is certain that David wrote some of these (Compare Psa_2:1 and Act_4:25).
The psalms have been divided into four categories Each section ends with ‘‘amen’’ or ‘‘hallelujah.’’
- Psalms 1-41 : Davidic Psalms
- Psalms 42-72 : Levitical Psalms
- Psalms 73-89 : Psalms of the Time of Hezekiah
- Psalms 90-106 : Psalms Before the Captivity
- Psalms 107-150 : Psalms After the Captivity
Be sure you understand this:—Though, as I will show you, the psalms speak of Christ, they also are true expressions of the personal emotions, feelings, and experiences of those who wrote them. When David wrote, “My God, my God, Why hast thou forsaken me?”, He was, without question, speaking prophetically of Christ. But he was also expressing his own soul’s lamentation before God. Because the psalms are honest expressions of believing hearts in all the varied experiences of life in this world, they speak the universal language of our souls. Whatever our state and condition may be spiritually, we will find it put into words in the Psalms.
Yet, it is a mistake to interpret the psalms only in a historic way, applying the words of the psalms only to mere men. The One of whom the psalms speak is the Lord Jesus Christ himself, our great God and Savior (Luk_24:25-27; Luk_24:44-47).
As “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Rev_19:10), the testimony of Christ is the spirit of the psalms. The Psalms speak of the incarnation of Christ, the deity of Christ, the eternal Sonship of Christ, the offices of Christ as Prophet, Priest and King, the betrayal of Christ, the agony of Christ, the trial of Christ, the rejection of Christ, the crucifixion of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, the ascension and exaltation of Christ, and the second coming of Christ to judge the world.
They tell us of holiness of heart and life, and of Christ, the one perfectly holy man in the history of the world. The Psalms tell us much of the blessedness of righteousness, and of Christ, the only righteous man who ever lived. The Psalms tell us often of the enemies of the righteous, and of Christ who was ever encompassed with enemies who hated him without a cause. The Psalms tell us of the punishment of the wicked, and of Christ the Judge of all. The Lord Jesus Christ is set forth in the Psalms as the Covenant God of his true Israel.
The Gospels tell us about the kingdom of God. The Psalms tell us about Christ the King. God the Father appointed his Son to be King in Zion; and he shall rule the nations with a rod of iron. David, with his throne in Zion, was typical of Christ who rules from heaven as David ruled on earth. “For the kingdom is the Lord’s; and he is the Governor among the nations.” “Yea, all kings shall fall down before him; all nations shall serve him. For he shall deliver the needy when he crieth, the poor also; and him that hath no helper.”
The Gospels are a record of the history of our Lord’s outer life in this world, his incarnation, his family, his works, his doctrine, his death, his resurrection, his ascension, and his exaltation. The Psalms are a record of our Savior’s inmost Being, the feelings, passions, and experiences of his very heart and soul, the feelings, passions, and experiences of the heart and soul of him who was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin, that he might be our merciful and faithful High Priest, interceding as One who is touched with the feeling of our infirmities.
Commonly, specific psalms are referred to as “messianic psalms.” But that is a mistake, because it implies that some of the psalms are not messianic, that some of them do not speak specifically of our Savior (“In the Psalms concerning me.” Luke 24). In these blessed, inspired songs of praise to our all-glorious Christ, we see him in all his offices, in all his works, and in all his accomplishments as Savior and Lord. He is the Redeemer, the Rock, the Refuge, the Shepherd, the Shield, the Fortress, the High Tower of his people. Christ is the Sun of Righteousness around which the whole Book of Psalms revolves. Behold, here is Christ!—Our Good Shepherd (Psalms 23; Psa_77:20; Psa_78:70-72; Psa_80:1; Psa_95:7; Psa_100:3; Psa_119:176)—The Rock of our Salvation (Psa_27:5; Psa_28:1; Psa_31:2-3; Psa_40:2; Psa_61:2-3; Psa_62:2-9; Psa_71:3; Psa_78:20; Psa_89:26; Psa_94:22; Psa_115:1)—The Light of the World (Psa_27:1; Psa_43:3; Psa_118:27)—Our Great Redeemer (Psa_19:14; Psa_69:18; Psa_72:14; Psa_77:15; Psa_78:35; Psa_103:4; Psa_106:10; Psa_107:2; Psa_119:154)—The One in Whom and by Whom we have forgiveness (Psalms 32; Psalms 51; Psalms 130).
There is not, in my opinion, a single psalm in this Book that can be applied only to the man who wrote it in the fullest extent of its meaning. Even those psalms referred to as “Penitential Psalms” are best understood, and most properly understood, when we read them as the words of our great Substitute and Sin-Bearer, the Lord Jesus Christ, when he was made to be sin for us. As Ezra, Daniel, and Nehemiah confessed the sins of Israel as their own sins, though they were not personally guilty of the crimes they confessed, our great Sin-Bearer took our sins to be his own and confessed them as such. He who bore our sins in his own body on the tree is alone the sacrifice God accepts, finds pleasure in, and upon which he builds his church and blesses his people (Psa_51:17-19).
Psalms 1 —Christ is set before us as the perfect, holy, blessed man, who delights always in God and his will, who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly. He alone is that Man of whom it can be said, absolutely, “whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.” The pleasure of the Lord prospers in his hand (Isa_53:12).
Psalms 2 —Christ, the Son of God, is depicted as the appointed Ruler, the King of kings. ‘‘I will declare the decree: The Lord hath said unto Me, Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten Thee’’ (Psa_2:7).
Psalms 8 —Here we see the Son of God becoming the Son of man in order that we might be made the sons of God. “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour” (Psa_8:4-5). The Holy Spirit tells us plainly that these words refer to the incarnation of Christ, his coming into the world to redeem and save his people (Heb_2:6-18.
Psalms 16 —Christ’s deliverance from death is prophesied here. Psa_16:10-11 find their fulfillment in the death and resurrection of our Lord. Peter quoted these words on the day of Pentecost, showing that David was a prophet and that the One of whom he spoke is Christ (Act_2:25-28).
Psalms 22-24 —These songs are examples of divine inspiration in the arrangement of the Psalms. They are filled with Messianic teaching about the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus. I will return to these Psalms shortly.
Psalms 45—Christ is the King who is fairer than the children of men, into whose lips grace has been poured, whom God has blessed forever, the most mighty One who has girded on his sword, riding with glory and majesty, prospering because of his truth, meekness and righteousness. It is of him alone that we sing…
“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. All thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, out of the ivory palaces, whereby they have made thee glad. Kings’ daughters were among thy honourable women: upon thy right hand did stand the queen in gold of Ophir. Hearken, O daughter, and consider, and incline thine ear; forget also thine own people, and thy father’s house; So shall the king greatly desire thy beauty: for he is thy Lord; and worship thou him. And the daughter of Tyre shall be there with a gift; even the rich among the people shall entreat thy favour. The king’s daughter is all glorious within: her clothing is of wrought gold. 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” (Psa_45:6-15).
Psalms 68—Christ is the Lord God our Savior who has risen to scatter his enemies (Psa_68:1; Psa_68:17-20; Eph_4:8-11).
Psalms 40—Hebrews 10 tells us that this psalm speaks of Christ’s coming to redeem and save his people.
Psalms 69—The humiliation of Christ is shown in Psa_69:4; Psa_69:8-9; Psa_69:12; Psa_69:21. The words used here find their fulfillment only in our Redeemer.—(Psa_69:4) “They that hate me without a cause (Joh_15:25) are more than the hairs of mine head: they that would destroy me, being mine enemies wrongfully, are mighty: then I restored that which I took not away.”—(Joh_15:5) O God, thou knowest my foolishness; and my sins are not hid from thee” (2Co_5:21).—(2Co_5:8) “I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien unto my mother’s children” (Mat_13:55-56).—(Mat_13:9) “For the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up; and the reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me” (Joh_2:17; Rom_15:3).—(Psa_69:21) “They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink” (Mat_27:33-34).
Psalms 110—Christ is our omnipotent Savior King and everlasting Priest, who makes his people wiling in the day of his power (Psa_110:1-4).
Psalms 118 —This psalm is part of the special passage that was used as a prayer on passover night. It more than likely was sung by the Lord and His disciples at the Lord’s Supper, as recorded in Mat_26:30). Behold Christ is here! “The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner” (Mat_26:22; Mat_21:42; Mar_12:10; Luk_20:17).
The Shepherd Psalms
Psalms 22-24 speak specifically of the Lord Jesus Christ as our Shepherd. Psalms 22 brings us to “the place called Calvary.” In its light we stand at the foot of the cross. Here and in Isaiah 53 the crucifixion is portrayed more clearly than in any other part of the Old Testament. Isaiah 53 speaks primarily of the sin-atoning aspect of Christ’s death. Psalms 22 speaks of his sufferings. It begins with the cry uttered by our Lord in the hour of darkness, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” It closes with the words “He hath done it,” or “It is finished,” as it stands in the original Hebrew, identical with almost the last cry of our Savior. It is a Psalm of shame, sorrow, and sighing. In the original language there is not a single completed sentence in the opening verses, but a series of short ejaculations, like the gasps of a dying man whose breath and strength are failing, and who can only utter a word or two at a time.
Read Psalms 22, 69 together, and you will see a tremendous, instructive, prophetic picture of our Redeemer’s sufferings. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John specially and repeatedly call our attention to it. “I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people.” “All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip” (Psa_22:6-7). “The rulers derided Him.” “The soldiers also mocked Him” (Luk_23:35-36). “They shake the head, saying, He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him” (Psa_22:8). “They that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads. Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said…He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him” (Mat_27:39; Mat_27:41; Mat_27:43). “Strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round. They gaped upon me with their mouths” (Psa_22:12-13). “Sitting down, they watched him there. The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth” (Mat_27:36; Mat_27:44).
“They pierced my hands and my feet.” “All my bones are out of joint” (Psa_22:16; Psa_22:14). The Roman method of death by crucifixion, unknown to Jewish law, is prophesied here. The very action of the soldiers is given in the words, “They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture” (Psa_22:18). “My tongue cleaveth to my jaws” (Psa_22:15). “In my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink” (Psa_69:21). “Jesus…that the Scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst. And they filled a sponge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth” (Joh_19:28-29).
A Broken Heart
“I am poured out like water: My heart is like wax; it is melted” (Psa_22:14). “Reproach hath broken my heart” (Psa_69:20). Here we are told the immediate cause of our Savior’s death. He died of a broken heart. Six times in Psalms 69 the word “reproach” appears—reproach and shame and dishonor borne for others. The bearing of our sins, the hiding of his Father’s face on account of it, was what broke his heart.
“Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent” (Mat_27:50-51). When the soldiers came to break the legs of those that hung upon the cross, they found that the Lord Jesus was dead already, and broke not his legs. “But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true; and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe.”
“Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself.” By the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God he was delivered to death. By wicked hands he was crucified and slain. By his own will he laid down his life.
Surely, as I mentioned before, we have in Psalms 51 not merely the cry of the penitent sinner, but a prophecy of Christ, the Sacrifice of God. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise” (Psa_51:17). The great sacrifice of God is a broken heart. This was the sacrifice our Savior offered for us. He clothed himself in a human body that he might have it to offer (Heb_10:5; Heb_10:9-10). He became possessed of a human heart that it might be broken. The way into the holiest is opened up for us through the broken heart of God’s own darling Son, our all-glorious Savior. This is the sinner’s Savior, the sinner’s hope, the sinner’s gospel.
The New Testament refers to the work of the Lord Jesus Christ as that of a shepherd in three distinct ways. They correspond to Psalms 22, 23, , 24, which present three aspects of our Lord’s ministry on earth.
The Good Shepherd
In Psalms 22 we see our Savior as the good Shepherd, who gave his life for his sheep. He said, ‘‘I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd giveth His life for the sheep’’ (Joh_10:11). ‘In the Gospels we read of what he said and did, and what was done to him; in Psalms 22 we are allowed to discover, as well as sinful creatures can discover, what he felt.
The latter part of the psalm (Psa_22:22-31) is marked by a jubilance that portrays the glory of the salvation obtained by the efficacious merit of his blood. Though the resurrection is not specifically mentioned, we see Christ delivered and his people delivered as well. “A seed shall serve him; it shall be counted to the Lord for a generation. They shall come and declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this”(Psa_22:30-31). Psalms 22 is the crucifixion psalm. The Good Shepherd has given His life for the sheep.
The Great Shepherd
What tender emotions and thoughts of praise fill our hearts as we read Psalms 23! This is not a song about a dying or a dead shepherd, but of a risen, living, reigning Shepherd. It is in the present tense; it speaks of today. Christ arose from the dead to be our Great Shepherd. ‘‘Now the God of peace that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant’’ (Heb_13:20). Because my good Shepherd laid down his life for me, I shall never die. Because Christ my great Shepherd sits upon the throne of the universe, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever!”
The Chief Shepherd
Psalms 24 speaks of Christ as the chief Shepherd, who shall bring us with him into his glory, the glory he earned and purchased as our Substitute, the glory he gave us (Joh_17:5; Joh_17:22), the glory he holds for us as our Forerunner in heaven (Heb_6:20). The apostle Peter wrote, ‘‘And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away’’ (1Pe_5:4).
Listen! Someone is coming! Who is it? Christ, the King of Glory! He is coming to bring his chosen, ransomed people into his kingdom and glory. “Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation” (Psa_24:3-5). That is Christ. But these words do not speak of Christ alone. He did not enter and does not stand in the holy place by himself. He entered in for us. He stands there with us. And we shall stand there with him in all the perfection of his glory as our Mediator and Substitute. Psa_24:6 tells us plainly that these words refer just as fully to us, the people he came here to save, as they do to him. “This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face, O Jacob. Selah.” Pause a while and think about that!
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