The Davidic Odyssey of the Psalter

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I have struggled with my millennial view since I was first saved. Although, when I was saved it was in the context of a dispensational premillennial church, I often found myself agreeing with covenantal thought. Three years ago in Theology IV, I stated in my Application Project, “I am a premillennialist primarily because of the book of Revelation. John penned his gospel so that his readers would believe and have eternal life. John wore his first epistle so that his readers would have assurance in their eternal life. John called his readers to endurance in the book of revelation.” I still think that John’s books should be understood in a thematic development but I am not a premillennialist primarily because of the book of Revelation any longer.

Over the past few years, studying the Psalter as a book has greatly helped my understanding of premillennialism and has led me to not merely hold to premillennialism to a greater degree but has led me to see premillennialism as a worldview.

The Psalter as a Book 

Childs argues that the Psalter needs to be studied in the form in which it was canonized and passed down to the covenant community, not as a hymnbook but as a book with a biblical theology that addresses every situation in life. He notes that, “The psalms are transmitted as the sacred psalms of David, but they testify to all the common troubles and joys of ordinary human life in which all persons participate . . . Through the mouth of David, the man, they become a personal word from God in each individual situation.”

As a book, the Psalter tells the story of the Davidic odyssey between the promises to King David and realization of those promises in the future Faithful Davidite. Reading the Psalter as a book endows the reader with a premillennial worldview. Book I describes the premillennial expectations of the first Davidite. Book II portrays premillennial hope all believers have as the nations are called before the God of Israel. Book III wrestles with the unrealized illustration of Book II while expressing the premillennial frustration over the perceived failure of the covenants. Book IV answers the struggles of Book III while it simultaneously constructs the premillennial confidence of the covenant community. Book V depicts the premillennial kingdom as it envisions the return of the Davidic king and the reign of the final Davidite.

Book I: The Premillennial Expectations

Despite being given the promise of an everlasting dynasty, David acknowledged that The LORD’s kingdom promise would not be fully realized until the distant future (2 Sam 7:19). Book I reflects David’s personal struggle as he lived millennia before the realization of the LORD’s promise. “As the head of the line that would ultimately lead to the Royal Redeemer, he must enter into mortal conflict with the many enemies of his messianic kingdom. Particularly as he sought to establish for the first time this kingdom of righteousness, mercy and peace, he would experience constant confrontation with his enemies.” Book I reveals the LORD remaining in sovereign control over Israel’s dynasty while He lays the foundation for His kingdom program through David’s enunciation of it (Pss 1–11), entreaty for it (Pss 12–18), exultation in it (Pss 19– 24), eagerness for it (Pss 25–37) and expectation of it (Pss 38–41).

Book II: The Premillennial Hope

The compiler of Book II uses Elohim to emphasize the LORD’s sovereignty, but for what purpose? Robertson has concluded, “The most likely reason for this usage of the more general name of God is the advanced concern of the psalmist to communicate with the nations of the world even as he strengthens the faith of his own people.” In Book II, the second compiler communicates to his readers that the LORD remains in sovereign control of Israel’s dynasty throughout the conflict between belief and reality (Pss 42–48) which requires a confession of His sovereignty (Pss 49–52) resulting in a confidence in His presence even while experiencing His absence (Pss 53–68) fully realizing that all things will culminate in Elohim’s administration of justice for His King in His kingdom (Pss 69–72). This biblical theology guides the believer, in any age, to live in the LORD’s kingdom program, confident of God’s presence even in the tumultuous experience of His absence and expectant of the reign of His Messiah. The book finds its orientation on the future reign of the Faithful Davidite.

Book III: The Premillennial Frustration

One cannot say with certainty when Book III was compiled but the period was clearly one of distress, perhaps during the divided kingdom. “The two countries struggled with each other, with surrounding nations, and later with the larger distant countries that would dominate Judah and Israel’s life from 700 B.C.E. onward.”4 Book II ends on a high note and Ps 72 looks forward to the kingdom of God administered by Elohim’s Messiah king. However, in Book III the LORD’s kingdom promises have not been realized. Book III reveals Yahweh in sovereign control of Israel and the nations, even in light of the perceived prosperity of the wicked and failure of the Davidic covenant (Pss 73–83), as His loyal-love will one day culminate in the establishment of His Messiah (Pss 84–89).

The biblical theology of Book III is extremely relevant for the covenant community today. “Book Three represents every time when the world and its violence make no sense, times when we do not understand why God does not simply fix it. Book Three is a poetic rendering of theodicy, and its themes fit as well today as they did in ancient times.” Therefore when we read book two we must hold onto the premillennial hope of Book II while experiencing the premillennial frustration of Book III.

Book IV: The Premillennial Confidence

The answer to the Davidic problem was covenant faithfulness and obedience to the Mosaic covenant. Thus Book IV begins with Moses’ intercession. “Just as Moses interceded for the covenant breaking generation departing Egypt, he now intercedes for the covenant breaking generation experiencing exile.”6 Book IV begins with Moses’ intercession (Ps 90) and concludes with his intercessory ministry (106:6–33). Moses appears seven times in Book IV (90:1; 99:6; 103:7; 105:26; 106:16, 23, 32) but only once in the rest of the Psalter (77:21). The recipients of Book IV are encouraged not to respond like Moses’ generation (95:7–11).

Book IV is directed to the exiled covenant community (cf. Ps 106:47) and addresses the questions raised in Book III, namely Ps 89.7 The compiler of Book IV thus reveals the LORD remaining in sovereign control over Israel’s theocracy as He calls them to covenant faithfulness (Pss 90–92), comforts them with His sovereignty (Pss 93–100), and commits Himself to covenant faithfulness (Pss 101–6). This biblical theology enables every believer, of whatever age, to live in Yahweh’s kingdom program, even though no one has sat on David’s throne for more than two millennia, comforted by the LORD’s faithfulness and exhorted to covenant faithfulness. The renewed emphasis on David and the continued emphasis of the covenant faithfulness of God (Pss 104–6) points forward to the realization of the David covenant first spoken of in Ps 2.

Book IV provokes the believer to strive for faithfulness because it provides a confidence in Yahweh’s faithfulness. He will be faithful to all His covenants. He will bring Israel back into the land He has promised her. He will establish a faithful Davidite upon the earth. Believers have confidence in the LORD’s premillennial kingdom program because the LORD is faithful. The premillennial hope calls the believers to covenant obedience. It comforts the believer because He is committed to His covenants.

Book V: The Premillennial Realization

The content of Ps 137 indicates that Book V was compiled in the post-exilic period and celebrates the gathering of the people. Furthermore, Book V addresses the latter-day return of the Davidic King. Thus Book V reveals the LORD remaining in sovereign control of Israel’s theocracy and the nations as He raises up the Davidic King (Pss 107–17), restores the Davidic King’s reign (Pss 118–35), and reigns through His Davidic King forever (Pss 136–50). Book V describes the culmination of the LORD’s kingdom program when the Davidic covenant is fully realized.

Believers struggle to live in a kingdom program that began millennia ago and will not culminate for at least another millennium. The Psalter describes how to live in that kingdom program. A canonical view of the Psalter provides a worldview which every believer must adopt. Book I defines David’s premillennial worldview empowering his prayers and enthusing his devotion to the LORD. Book II leads the believer to an assurance that one day all things will culminate in King Jesus’ earthly reign over the nations. Book III anxiously ponders the perceived failure of the premillennial worldview but answers the premillennial frustration with an appeal to perpetual faithfulness. Book IV provides premillennial confidence portraying the LORD’s sovereign covenant faithfulness while provoking the believer to strive for covenant faithfulness. Book V depicts the premillennial realization as it describes the return of the King and the enthronement of the Faithful Davidite over the nations.

The odyssey of the Davidites in the Psalter from the promise in Ps 2, to the hope of Ps 72, through the failure of Ps 89, by the faith of Ps 103, until the expectation of Ps 144, provides a practical premillennial worldview for all who would identify with King Jesus. A premillennial worldview derived from a Psalteric worldview practically cultivates our sanctification, faith, and worship.

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