Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A look at Messiah in the Psalms

This work by Richard P. Belcher Jr. has to be one of the best works this author has read in a very long while. He treats the Scripture with an awe and respect that sometimes can seem to be lacking in Christian commentator circles.  One aspect that is highly appreciated about this work is that while its used on a seminarian level, it is still accessible to the average reader.
Belcher has an approach that many people may have never even thought to consider; after he lays out the first several introductory chapters he gets in to the wealth of knowledge of interpretation he has.  He spends the first three chapters covering interpretive issues, and different approaches to messianic psalms, the third chapter focuses primarily on the Christological approach to the Psalms. For those of us new to this method of reading the Psalms Belcher opens up a whole new world to us,; he uses chapters four through six to show how Christ can be seen even when not directly pointed to. He calls these psalms, psalms of orientation, disorientation and new orientation.
After teaching the reader how to see Christ in words they may have never thought of, he takes the concluding three chapters of the book (like a good Presbyterian with a three point sermon) and shows the reader where Christ is spoken directly of.  Chapter seven is about the royal psalms that speak of the king, and the ultimate king Jesus. The eighth chapter is what everyone has been waiting for, the direct messianic psalms that leave no question whether or not Jesus is meant to be revealed or heard in the psalm. In the final chapter everything is tied together and we can now understand how Christ can be found in the Psalms even when there seems to be no allusion to him.
Before the reader leaves the first chapter, he has been encouraged to read the psalms not just looking for Jesus but in doing proper exegesis. It is important to remember that the way the Psalms are found are not how they were written, because the Psalms of Moses would come long before the Psalms of David. Belcher says, “The structure of the Psalms has significance for the meaning of the individual psalms and reflects the concerns of those who edited the Psalter.”[1]
In chapter two he argues against the thought that none of the Psalms could be messianic which is a view some have taken. He argues, “The view that none of the psalms are Messianic would seem to run into a problem because the New Testament looks back to the psalms and understands them as being fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah.”[2] While Belcher says, “The New Testament implies that all Psalms have a relationship to Jesus Christ.”[3] There are other scholars who would say that not every Psalm directly or even indirectly points to Jesus. Craig Broyles for example says that Psalm 88 complains of life long suffering and would be inappropriate to Jesus.[4]
If all a person does is take a casual glance at the table of contents they would be confused reading about orientation, disorientation, and new orientation. Upon reading the actual material it was easier to understand while it could still possibly use better categorization. One of his strongest chapters was on the Royal Psalms as they are commonly referred to. It was in this section that his writing truly began to flourish and shine especially his commentary on Psalm 45.
Analysis of Psalm 45
When teaching upon this Psalm this side of the cross, I can see no way not to preach it with a typological emphasis. According to Willem A. VanGemeren, “Because of the theological significance of the wedding and the Davidic king within God’s order of life in Israel and Judah, the wedding song takes on typological significance.”[5] And while it is easy for the modern day reader to get caught up in the typological view, the historical context must always be kept in view. Belcher emphasizes, “Thus it would appear that this psalm is rooted in a particular, historical royal wedding.”[6]
There is one major thing that stands out in the middle of a Psalm that is focused on the king and less on God; the reference to the Lord in verse six needs a closer look. The word used here for Lord is elohim instead of Yahweh, and is part of the Elohistic Psalter.[7] There are some who try and deny that this is referenced to the Lord himself and point that this is about the Davidic king. Broyles offers us a great solution, “we should realize that once this verse is applied to Jesus Christ the son of David (as in Heb 1:8-9), the problem of human and divine identity disappears.
We should have no problem seeing the body of believers as the bride of Christ because the Apostles did not have that problem; even some of the prophets were speaking of the bride of Christ before he came. In reading of Rev 21:2 there it is noted of the change and the readying of a bride. Paul speaks to his followers and tells them, “For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.[8]
Analysis of Psalm 22
            How does Psalm 22 speak of the Messiah? For anyone who has read the accounts of the crucifixion the words in the very first of this psalm should sound rather familiar. David at the time of writing this psalm was going through a trial of his own. There are some scholars that will try and say there should only be messianic meaning taking from this Psalm while others will say it has both. One way the psalm can be understood is viewing the suffering of the individual in Psalm 22 as suffering a type of suffering similar to Christ’s own.[9] As we read through the rest of the psalm it should be recommended to read it as a prophecy and not a typology. A typology is more of an analogous style of understanding; while prophecy in this sense is something that points ahead to what is coming.
            If we examine verses twelve through eighteen we can see even more clearly the prophetic nature of this psalm. When we focus so much on the Christological nature of the psalm we can sometimes miss other aspects of it. For example in verse fifteen it speaks of being laid in the dust of death; Broyles points out, “The one who sapped him of life and made him vulnerable to ferocious attack is God himself.”[10] However, if   we understand this verse in light of Christ and the way he surrendered himself to the father, and that God was ultimately in control. The only thing left to consider is whether or not David knew he was writing about the end of the life of the Savior and ultimate Davidic king.
            This has been a great work to read to gain an even greater understanding of Christ. It is so easy to think that the only way to learn about Jesus is to read the NT over and over, he is on every page of the Bible even if in just a whisper. David Murray has a work out entitled Jesus on Every Page it would be an excellent compliment to this work. If you are looking for a way to enjoy the Psalms and go deeper I would recommend this book to a new believer all the way up to a seasoned veteran follower of Jesus.


Belcher Jr., Richard P. The Messiah and the Psalms. Glasgow: Mentor, 2006.
Broyles, Craig C. Understanding the Bible Commentay Series- Psalms. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999.
VanGemeren, Willem A. Expositors Bible Commentary-Psalms . Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein. Vol. 5. 12 vols. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991.

[1] Richard P.Belcher Jr., The Messiah and the Psalms. (Glasgow: Mentor, 2006)17.
[2] Ibid., 23.
[3] Ibid., 30.
[4] Craig C.Broyles, Understanding the Bible Commentay Series- Psalms. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999)120.

[5] Willem A.VanGemeren, Expositors Bible Commentary-Psalms . Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein. Vol. 5. 12 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991)343.
[6] Belcher., Messiah, 129.
[7] Broyles., Psalms., 207.
[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001).
[9] Belcher., Messiah., 167.
[10] Broyles., Psalms., 118.

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