Wednesday, 27 October 2010

A Trinity of Psalms: King David's vision of Christ, 1000 b.c.

When Saint Patrick was a herd on Slemish mountain in county Antrim, he found liberation in the words of Psalm 23 which begins "The Lord is my Shepherd ...". Thousands of years earlier, and thousands of miles away, King David had written this Psalm with its images of shepherds and green pastures that struck a chord with Patrick.

I don't understand the replacement theology of some "New Testament Alone" churches. There are many reasons why it doesn't hold up, but for me it is like trying to ride a 1-wheeled bicycle, or rather, a 2-wheeled bicycle with one of the wheels removed. I heard two sayings recently that struck home. The first was that "Christ is in every page of Genesis", and the second was:
"the Old Testament is the New Testament concealed, while the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed".

The 23rd Psalm is the one that every Christian, of any denomination, still knows best. Maybe it is because it contains a complete summary of the gospel message that very few folk read it in the context of the two psalms that embrace it, the one before and the one after. It sits in the middle of a 'trinity' of psalms (Psalms 22, 23 and 24) that take the central one out of the realms of symbolism and metaphor into the sphere of prophetic detail.

The first Psalm of this trinity is Psalm 22 and it is a quite stunning vision of Christ's death and passion on the cross, while the third Psalm 24 is a breath-taking vision of Christ's victorious entry into and enthronement in the Kingdom of Heaven - on the third day.
It is only when I read these three Psalms together that the full impact of those 3 pivotal days in world history comes alive.

Psalm 22 (I have highlighted some verses for reasons which will be obvious to anybody familiar with the gospel accounts of the Crucifixion)

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? 6 But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. 7 All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: 8 "He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him." 14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax;it has melted away within me. 15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. 16 Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet.
17 I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me.
18 They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.
23 You who fear the LORD, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! 24 For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help. 25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you will I fulfill my vows. 26 The poor will eat and be satisfied; they who seek the LORD will praise him — may your hearts live forever! 27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, 28 for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations. 29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him — those who cannot keep themselves alive. 30 Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. 31 They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn— for he has done it.


Moving then to Psalm 24, the scene moves to the Resurrection, but not from the perspective of the empty tomb on the third day, but that of Christ's triumphal entrance to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Psalm 24

1 The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;
2 for he founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the waters.
3 Who may ascend the hill of the LORD
Who may stand in his holy place?
4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart

7 Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. 8 Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle. 9 Lift up your heads, O you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. 10 Who is he, this King of glory? The LORD Almighty— he is the King of glory.


With these two pillars of support to the 23rd Psalm, like the prelude and finale to a pastoral symphony, I leave this (King James) version of the old, old story without further comment.

Psalm 23
1 A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.