“O God, arrogant men have risen up against me, and a band of violent men have sought my life, and they have not set You before them. But You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth” (Ps 86.14-15).
In God’s magnificent creativity and grace he created us to be both historians and poets. Tacticians and dreamers. We report and reflect. We describe and deliberate. God made us sensual people whose minds turn electrical impulses into emotions. We tell stories but life is in the passion evoked by those stories.
We need not look much further than the Psalms to see the full range of what it means to be human, really human. Eugene Peterson describes the five books of Psalms as the output of Torah:
“For the five books of God’s creating/saving word to us there are five books of our believing/obeying word to God. Five is matched by five, like the fingers of two clasped hands.” (Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity)
The Psalms have it all: creation (Ps 33.6; 134.3), fall (Ps 106.6), redemption (Ps 111.9) and resurrection (Ps 30.3). And all of the redemptive-historical movements eventually converge in the son of David who “rules over the nations” (Ps 22.28). Within the confines of biblical poetry, God has masterfully given narrative, prophecy, wisdom and apocalyptic literature room to roam.
The Psalms also teach us the righteous life is rarely easy and is often complicated. There is often a war between the heart and mind (Pss 42-43). The Psalms make no excuses because they were not written by Pollyanna, but by estranged fathers, wounded soldiers and tattered worshipers. The portray God’s people in a fierce struggle with the world, their flesh and the devil. We often know better than we do or feel. And the Psalms can legitimate the sense of confusion we experience in a world under Satan’s sway (Ps 39.7-13). Indeed the Psalms teach us what to know and how God’s people should and do feel about what we know.
The Psalms depict a world where what may be true now will not always be the case. The wicked will not always prosper and the righteous will not always suffer. There is hope because the day and night are God’s day and night (Ps 74.16). Our God will “changes a wilderness into a pool of water and dry land into springs of water” (Ps 107.35). The Psalms readily meet real and legitimate pain with real and legitimate hope.
And the Psalms broadcast the humility of Christ. It is only fitting that we hear the Psalms often on the lips of Jesus, or others about him (cf. Mt 13.35; 21.9; 27.43, 46: Lk 20.42f.). But Jesus did not quote Psalms because he was a Bible Drill winner. He did not even quote Psalms so we would know which ones were messianic. He was not unveiling cryptic clues left by the psalmists so that we would connect otherwise disconnected dots.
Jesus quoted Psalms because he “emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2.7). In the incarnation, God was actually entering into a world in such a way that he himself would also pray/sing the Psalms. Christ himself would endure the world, our flesh and the devil such that the Psalms would be the cry of his heart as well. Jesus quoted the Psalms because that’s what God’s righteous people do who live surrounded by God’s enemies.
“Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise also partook of the same” (Heb 2.14a).
To partake of our flesh and blood was more than having bones and capillaries. It meant taking on the devil and his enslaving fear (v15). It meant the Son of God become as much the Son of Man: the Psalm-dependent man who would lament and rejoice, weep and praise, obey and suffer. A man of whom the Psalms would be particularly applicable. A man of grief and sorrows, our grief and sorrows (Is 53.4). Only he alone was able to take that on without remaining a slave. As the New and Better Moses (Heb 3.5-6), Jesus invaded Babylon to lead the last Exodus God’s people would ever need.
As we read the Psalms, consider our humble Christ who would so be one of us (Is 53.12) that he would be compelled to pray:
- Give hear to my words, O LORD, consider my groaning (Ps 5.1).
- Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me; O LORD, be my helper (Ps 30.10).
- But my enemies are vigorous and strong, and many are those who hate me wrongfully. And those who repay evil for good, they oppose me, because I follow what is good. Do not forsake me, O LORD; O my God, do not be far from me! (Ps 38.19-21)
- O God of hosts, turn again now, we beseech you; look down from heaven and see, and take care of this vine (Ps 80.14).
- You pushed me violently so that I was falling, but the LORD helped me. The LORD is my strength and son, and he has become my salvation (Ps 118.13-14).
And on and on. Our God came to us, became like us, and lived a life that required the Psalms to obey, suffer and worship faithfully. Not only are the Psalms about Jesus because he is God; but they are prayed, meditated on, and needed by Jesus because he was Man. He is the Tree of Life chose to be planted and grow into a fruitful oak (Ps 1.3). The Creator of the cosmos assumed a life where he would be humbled by its majesty (Ps 8.3-4). He is the Good Shepherd who chose to be led as a sheep (Ps 23.1) and that to be slaughtered (Ps 44.22) as one who went astray (Is 53.6). The One who heals wounds took on a life where he must rejoice in the One who heals his wounds (Ps 147.3). And by his wounds we are healed (Is 53.5).
The blessed man delights in God’s law (Ps 1.2) is also the one who takes refuge in the King-Son (Ps 2.12). Jesus is both the Blessed Man and our Refuge. And he more than anyone knows the life to which the Psalms would be most relevant. Take refuge in him as he took refuge in God.