Messianic Psalm or Language of Theophany?

Almost two years ago I had a debate concerning Psalm 18.  The position that someone else took on this particular psalm is that this was metaphoric language that David used to describe what happened when God defeated His enemies for Him.  My position is that while the aforementioned may be true, the psalm was also prophetic describing the coming of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.  The thing that sticks out in my mind in that debate is that this led the other person to imply that I was claiming apostolic authority because I had a Messianic interpretation of Psalm 18.  I replied that this was not the case, but that I was simply using the same system of interpretation that the apostles used in seeing the psalms as Messianic just as the apostles did.
 
Just this past month I had another little debate on the subject of the Apostles’ Hermeneutic.  This was just as eye-opening as the debate I had almost two years ago.  I would like to post part of that debate on Psalm 18 today, then perhaps later I will post some of my thoughts on the Apostles’ Hermeneutic.  Just before I post that debate, let me share where I come from on the subject of Messianic Psalms.
 
David’s life has basically three sections. 
 
Anointing to rejection.  Samuel anointed David as king over Israel.  David was mighty in words and deeds before his people.  He slew the giant, led the armies of Israel, and was the sweet psalmist of Israel.  But he was rejected by his own people, specifically the leadership of Israel.
 
Rejection, Exile, and Return.  David was exiled to a foreign country while his nation rejected him as king.  Yet the time came for him to return to his own people and present himself again.  The second time, they believed and were willing to follow him. 
 
Ascension, Defeat of Enemies, and Establishment of the Kingdom.  David was anointed again as king.  Yet the surrounding nations were not happy about this.  They gathered to defeat David, but David defeated them all.  This led to the nation of Israel being preeminent over all other nation during that era.  David’s kingdom was established.
 
As David wrote the psalms, he was writing out of personal experience, but he also wrote prophetically.  The rejection psalms like Psalm 22, 41, and 69 were David’s experiences, but they were also prophecies of the rejection of the Messiah who would come.  Enthronement psalms are the same.  David wrote of his experiences, yet they are prophecies of the enthronement of the Messiah.  This is just to preface to give you an idea of where I am coming from as I post a portion of this debate.  As usual, I’m Orange.  The whole debate was sparked by a comment from a third person that I’ll post in green.
 
Psalm 18 claims to have been written by King David as a result of his
rescue from and successful defeat of his enemies, which he credits to
having God’s favor. The pattern we find is:

The oppressors threaten David’s very life.
David calls out to the LORD for help.
The LORD answers, rescuing David.
David goes on to completely crush his enemies.

It’s the same pattern that we’ve been discussing concerning Zech. 12,
Joel 2, and Joel 3. But I want to set that discussion aside right now
and focus on a different aspect of this Psalm.

In Psalm 18, we see God’s destruction of David’s enemies described in
excessive, unrealistic terms. That is, there is no historical record

to back up the description and verify that this is a factual
description rather than a far-fetched, poetic exaggeration. This is
what some Bible scholars call "the language of theophany."

God is said to "come down" and to cause earthquakes, fire, hail, and
so on. Did he really do that for David? I doubt it.

Could part of this Psalm be prophetic rather than historic? Check out
vv. 7-19, especially these phrases:

7 Then the earth shook and quaked;
8 Smoke went up out of His nostrils,
9 He bowed the heavens also, and came down
With thick darkness under His feet.
13 The LORD also thundered in the heavens,
And the Most High uttered His voice,
Hailstones and coals of fire.
14 He sent out His arrows, and scattered them,
And lightning flashes in abundance, and routed them.
15 Then the channels of water appeared,
And the foundations of the world were laid bare
NASU

Now for the debate.

We should be able to have the same insight that Peter had as he addressed the multitude concerning Christ quoting Psalm 16. In Psalm 18, I would say the same. Let me freely speak unto you of David that he never saw the LORD come down from the heavens and heard the voice of the LORD thundering in the heavens. David was a prophet and knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that one of his descendents would bring forth the Messiah to sit on his throne. He seeing this beforehand spoke of the defeat of the Messiah’s enemies as He comes to pour out His wrath on the heathen.

The above is the exact same type of application that Peter uses in Acts 2:29-31 in applying Psalm 16. The only difference is that Psalm 16 was fulfilled at the first advent. Psalm 18 will be fulfilled at the second advent and therefore we need to have the foresight that the disciples DID NOT have until after Christ revealed this to them after the fulfillment.

>I respect your position and know that others hold it, as well. I do not, however, see the same parallel between Psalm 16 and Psalm 18 that you do.

> In Psalm 16, there is a general principle, "You will not allow your Holy One to see corruption" that can be applied beyond David’s prayer. But in Psalm 18, we see David describing God’s coming judgment in grand language of praise, but he is applying it directly to his own situation, front and back. If we take it as a general principle — God answers prayer, judges, and His judgment is terrible and inescapable — it applies to ALL judgment, including the end times, but it is a general principle, not a prophecy. Besides, the New Testament writers had something we don’t have — direct revelation.

Yes, and I am not claiming direct revelation. I am using the same system of interpreting the psalms that is laid out for us in the NT. Acts 2:25 tells us "For David speaketh concerning HIM", not concerning himself (David), but concerning HIM the Messiah. Peter is simply applying the LORD’s teaching in Luke 24:44 that the psalms are really about Christ. This tells us that Psalm 16 was written about Christ, not about David and then we can see Christ in it if we begin with that premise.

Acts 2:29-31 tells us several facts that cannot be dismissed. David was a prophet as he wrote the psalms. David knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his loins (a fleshly descendant) would bring forth a Messiah. This Messiah would sit on David’s throne. David wrote of things that did not apply to himself, and so were not fulfilled in his life, but he wrote of the Messiah. These are all facts and can be used in interpreting the writings of David.

Acts 2:33-34 tells us that David knew of the ascension as well, since the Messiah couldn’t go from the grave to the right hand of God without ascending. Then Peter quotes another passage to prove the ascension was in view in the psalms seeing the Messiah in Psalm 110. Paul as well saw the ascension in the Psalms by quoting Psalm 68 in Ephesians 4, making that psalm Messianic.

> None of us, without the benefit of the same, would have applied Psalm 16 to the Messiah, had we been His disciples at the time. It’s just not an obvious application.

If we take the method that the disciples had for interpreting the psalms in believing that David wrote about the Messiah and not himself, then it could be more obvious if we were to give ourselves over to the same type of study that the disciples did.

> Thus, to try to apply the same authority to us, today, as supporting a prophetic reading into a historical passage – especially when the context clearly places it as a historical passage – is "thinking beyond what is written," which Paul warns us not to do.

This is clearly the interpretation that the writer to the Hebrews used and that Stephen used. Stephen first. In Acts 7:20-37 Stephen simply gives the Israelites their own history, the history of Moses, to teach what the prophet like Moses will be like. This same Moses that they rejected, the same did God send to be a ruler and a deliverer with wonders and signs. HISTORY LAID OUT TEACHES THE PROPHECY. Then in verses 38-41 he moves even further forward to show the Israelites their own apostasy and rejection of God which is happening even as they stone him. Passages of scripture can be clearly historical but prophesy what is to come.

With the writer to the Hebrews, he simply gives the history of Melchisedec’s life to show the pattern for the priest after the order of Melchisedec in Hebrews 7:1-3. Then he expounds on that history showing the prophetic fulfillment that the Messiah has in fulfilling the role of a priest after the order of Melchisedec. Prophetic readings into historical passages are definitely incorporated into the theology of the writers of the NT.

In chapter 1 of the same, the writer quotes Psalm 2, 97, 104, 45, 102, and 110 all to prove the superiority of the Messiah to the angels. In every single psalm, the writer saw that David (or whoever) was not writing about themself, but about the Messiah. Yes, even in Psalm 104 because it is the Messiah who makes the angels spirits and a flaming fire. So the following comment…

> I think our tendency, as prophecy students, is to over-analyze sometimes. We see prophetic fulfillment everywhere and in everything, and I wonder if we, in our zealousness for the Word, create things that just aren’t there.

…I would respond that we don’t analyze enough. If the NT writers saw Christ in everything, shouldn’t we?

In Hebrews 2 the writer quotes Psalm 8 and states concerning the psalm, "But we see Jesus", that is, we see Jesus IN THAT PSALM. Then moving on, the writer wishes to teach us the concomitance of the sanctifier and the sactified and does so by quoting 3 OT references to prove the point. The first is Psalm 22. It is both the voice of the Messiah and the voice of those who praise the Messiah. The third reference is Isaiah 8:18, which the passage is saturated with Messianic references, notably 7:14, 9:1-7, 11:1-12. In the midst of this, there is the mention of "my disciples" in verse 16 followed with "Behold I and the children whom the LORD hath given me" both together being signs and wonders.

The second reference must be a quote to demonstrate the intimate relationship between the Messiah and His people. The quote "I will put my trust in Him" is from Psalm 18:2 showing us that the Messiah and His people trust in the LORD together. Thus the following verse, "I will call upon the LORD… so shall I be saved from mine enemies" is applied to both His people and the Messiah. Psalm 18, by the reference from the writer to the Hebrews, is clearly Messianic.

Thus we conclude, or at least I conclude, that David was not writing about himself, but about the Messiah in Psalm 18.

> > > I can’t read this passage any other way than as referring to David’s specific situation.  Trying to read an end-times interpretation into it, in my view, is straining. If we have to strain THAT hard to take passages literally, then I think we’re on shaky exegetical ground.

I am not straining. I don’t feel tired anyway. We know that the Messiah will descend and defeat all of His enemies. The passage says that the LORD will descend and defeat all His enemies. We know that when He comes that the earth will quake, there will be darkness, He will come with the clouds, His voice will thunder. The passage says all of these things. And perhaps just to cement what I feel is a solid position, David uses the word "Messiah" in verse 50. I’m sure you’ll be able to spot it.

> But that’s just my two cents, and I know others disagree.

I believe with your system of application there can be many good insights into such psalms, but I fear we are far from having the insight that the early Christians had into such passages. Two examples.

#1 ~ Two Christians, not apostles, Aquila and Priscilla, spent time with Apollos to explain the way of God more perfectly. The result was a man who proved by the scriptures, that is OT because the NT was not written, that Jesus is the Messiah. And to the Jews no less.

#2 ~ In Acts 17:2-3 it is expained to us what the manner, or pattern of teaching, that Paul had as he traveled. He went to the scriptures and proved from them that the Messiah had to have suffered and risen from the dead. Then at the end of the sermon after he proved from the scriptures the rejection, suffering, death, and resurrection of the Messiah FROM THE OLD TESTAMENT ALONE, then he proclaimed that Jesus is that Messiah.

How many of us could be teachers in NT times, reasoning from the OT scriptures these very things that many Christians at that time could do?

Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13

-The Orange Mailman

P.S.  I am not Christocentric, A-Mill, or Covenant Theology, just for clarification since that’s the destination that this road winds up at sometimes.

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5 Responses to Messianic Psalm or Language of Theophany?

  1. Evan says:

    Thanks! I was studying the first book of Psalms today and couldn’t find much dialog on the Messianic theme of Psalm 18. I might be crazy, but a lot of Psalm 18 lends itself to the crucifixion and ressurection, perhaps even more than the second coming. But thanks for your insight!

  2. Reed alsip says:

    I’m surprised you missed the opportunity to compare Psalm 18 with Revelations, verse by verse….Rev. Chapters 10, 11 and 12 would be a great place to start…if interested I can prove that Psalm 18 is prophetic.

  3. Vladimir says:

    I agree with you. I believe psalm 18 is Messianic as well. After all, it have Jesus’ name (or some form of it) in it 3 times. In verses 2, 35 and 46.

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