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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 27

Lecture V. The Psalms

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Lecture V. The Psalms.

The second order of passages commonly regarded as prophecies concerning Christ are mainly to be found in the Book of Psalms. For the sake of simplicity I shall confine this class to that Book, and may even go so far as to include all the passages cited from the Psalms as belonging to that class. This is not to be wondered at when we consider that the Psalms are really personal poems, meditative, devotional, and political. I shall hope to shew that the passages which have been taken, (or which have been even quoted in the New Testament,) as applying to Christ, really relate to experiences in the lives of the original writers, and that these passages can only be applied to Christ as mottoes or illustrative sayings might be applied to any one passing through similar experiences.

In the Hebrews, chapter i. 5-13, we have a cluster of references to the Psalms, all intended in some way to set forth the exalted nature or office of Christ. Into these I shall enter only for the purpose of shewing the real character of the original writings, leaving, as beside the question, the aim of the writer of the Epistle in applying such passages to Christ. The first quotation is from Psalm ii. 7, a passage which is also quoted in Acts xiii. 38. It simply consists of the words

"Thou art my son; this day have I begotten thee."

It is believed that the Psalm from which these words are taken was written 1000 years before Christ, and it would certainly require very decisive evidence to induce us to read it as applying to Christ. But the evidence is all the other way The Psalm from beginning to end is a purely personal one, and descriptive of what is going on at the time. The writer glances at the kings of the earth setting themselves and taking counsel together against the Hebrew monarch, perhaps himself; and then he cries out exultingly," I will declare the decree," as though he had read the book of fate. And what is the decree?—Simply that God has chosen the monarch as His son. That this is so is plain from the very next verse, in which God tells this son to ask for a wide extending dominion, and premises that he shall" break" the Gentiles or heathen" with a rod of iron," and "dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel." How absurd to apply that to Christ,—the poor, peaceful, unwarlike, and uninfluential teacher! And yet it is a part of the description of the reign of the person here addressed as God's son. The Psalm ends with a significant piece of counsel to the kings of the earth, to be wise and come to terms with this son of God, lest they anger him and be crushed. The Psalm from first to last is descriptive of a king before the poet's eye, for whom he predicts, in the glowing language of the East, all the power and dominion and glory a warrior-king could desire;—not a scrap of it agreeing with the life of Christ.

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It may be useful to remark that there was nothing extraordinary in speaking of a Hebrew monarch as a" son" of God," begotten" by God. The word" son" need indicate no more than filial affection; and" begotten" must mean adopted or chosen, for the being who is addressed as "begotten" that day, exists, and the "begotten" must therefore relate to position and acceptance with God.

A similar passage is quoted from II. Samuel vii. 14, where we find that the words "I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son," are distinctly spoken of Solomon the son of David; the words being simply wrenched from their connection and applied to Christ without the slightest justification.

The next passage is Psalm xcvii. 7; or, at all events, that is the nearest we can come to the quotation, in verse 6 of Hebrews i." And let all the angels of God worship him." In the Psalm, the Terse reads," Worship him all ye gods," the word" god," as is common in the Old Testament, meaning mighty one. But the call here is a call to the worship of Jehovah, before whom all are told to bow. It is the impassioned poet's personal cry that we find here;—" Confounded be all they that serve graven images, that boast themselves of idols, worship him, all ye gods." The words not only do not speak of a person besides God; they exclude any such person.

The next passage is Hebrews i. 8-9,—

"But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, 0 God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows."

This is from Psalm xlv. 6-7. The person here addressed is evidently a very different person from Christ. He is called upon to gird his sword upon his thigh, and it it said that his" arrows are sharp in the heart of the king's enemies." His garments are said to "smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, out of the ivory palaces.""King's daughters," it says, are among his 'honourable women," and upon his right hand sits" the queen in gold of Ophir:" and in the very midst of this picture of the person addressed, occurs the passage" Thy throne, 0 god, is for ever and ever." Dr. Davidson says that the proper translation here is" Thy God's throne, i.e., thy throne given and protected by God, is for ever and ever:" but, even retaining the phrase" Thy throne, 0 god," we can quite well understand it as meaning, Thy throne, 0 mighty hero; for so it is often used in the Old Testament,* and the verses before and after shew plainly that a glorious earthly king is meant.

The next passage is Hebrews i. 10-12.

"And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands: they shall perish, but thou remained; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; and as a vesture shalt thou fold them u,' and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail."

The passage is taken from Psalm ch. 25-7, where we clearly find it page 42 as an address to God, the Creator. Its application to Christ in any way is purely arbitrary and without warrant.

The last passage in this cluster is Hebrews i. 18.

"But to which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until 1 make thine enemies thy footstool?"

The reference is to Psalm ex. 1, and as to that passage I have a few words of some importance to say, by way of introduction to a general view of the whole of that interesting Psalm. In the 1st verse, "The Lord said unto my lord," there are in the original two words for "lord" which unfortunately are merged in the translation. The one word for "lord" means Jehovah; the other word for" lord" means any dignitary. The verse is evidently addressed to the king by the poet, who calls the king "my lord" and says—" Jehovah has said to my lord—' Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.'"Matthew Arnold renders the words," The Eternal said unto my lord the king," and adds, that it is" a simple promise of victory to a prince of God's chosen people." But at the very beginning the passage is inapplicable to Christ. The picture is that of a king putting down his enemies and trampling them under his feet. The Psalm is quoted in other places besides this 1st chapter of Hebrews, and requires therefore a little elucidation. Fortunately this is perfectly easy, as the Psalm is so palpably a courtly poem addressed to the king. The nature of the Psalm, as a battle lyric, and its utter inapplicableness to Jesus, will be seen the moment it is read through. Note especially the brutal reference to the dead bodies:—" The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool. The Lord shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion: rule thou in the midst of thine enemies. Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power, m the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning thou hast the dew of thy youth The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek. The Lord at thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of ins wrath. He shall judge among the heathen, he shall fill the place with the dead bodies, be shall wound the heads over many countries. Elo shall drink of die brook in the way: therefore shall he lift up the head." There k the clang of battle all through. The king ("my lord") is to sit at the right hand of his almighty warrior-God, who will send out His rod to smite his enemies; his soldiers shall be all willing, and give themselves as a fresh and beautiful free-will offering, to fight Ins battles, and the end shall be the universal destruction of his foes. Any application of that psalm to Jesus can only be violent, arbitrary, or poetical. Some of the phrases are, on any hypothesis, difficult to explain; but the drift of the whole is clear; and the drift is all away from Christ. The verse "Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek" may refer to the priestly character of the kingly office, or it may be a bad translation of words meaning, Thou shalt be great for ever, because thou shall be a righteous king, for the name "Melchizedek" page 43 simply means a righteous king. But the application to a warrior king is perfect; and, by consequence, its inapplicability to Christ is evident.

The passage in Psalm xci. 11-12, is chiefly interesting as affording a proof that Satan can also quote Scripture, and dig from the Old Testament passages to serve as prophecies. When tempting Christ, Satan says,—Matthew iv. 6.

"If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give His angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone."

The words occur in Psalm xci. very much as Satan quotes them, and his quotation is certainly not less apt than those we have been considering. In the Psalm, the verse occurs in a description of the blessedness of the man who dwells in the secret place of the Most High; and the safety he enjoys is described as the result of his making the Lord his" habitation." It might be applied to any good man, and, as Satan did not say it was a prophecy of Christ, but offered it as a promise or description applicable to persons who trust in God, there was a good deal of point in his quotation, and, on the whole, it is perhaps the most legitimate and respectable quotation we have had to consider

A passage in Psalm xli. 9, is quoted by Christ in John xiii. 18, as applying to his betrayal by Judas. He refers to that event as one that will occur," that the scripture may be fulfilled;

'He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me.'"

The passage m Psalm xh. is purely personal to the poet, who is describing his own sorrows, then happening, probably 1000 years before Christ. He is telling of his" enemies," who" speak evil" of him, who speak" vanity," who attribute to him" an evil disease" and even his "familiar friend," whom he "trusted," is turned against him This is obviously a description of his own sorrows, and can only be made applicable to Christ just as it could be made applicable to any one whose case was similar. But, in fact, Christ's case was hardly similar. Judas was not his "familiar friend" whom he "trusted." The Psalm so describes this friend, but Jesus, we are told, knew from the beginning who should betray him; so that Judas could hardly have been regarded as a "friend," much less a" familiar" friend, and still less as a friend to be" trusted." The quotation is singularly inapt, and the utmost that can be said for it is, that it was a natural thing for. Christ to express his sorrow in old familiar religious words, without at all intending to do what his over-eager followers made him do,—convert a description of personal sorrow into a far-reaching prophecy, and find the application in himself.

Three passages concerning the crucifixion are of some interest. One relates to the piercing of the hands and feet, and is to be found in Psalm xxii. 16. This will be best considered in connection with a second passage, in the same Psalm, verse 18, concerning the parting page 44 of garments by casting lots for them. This latter passage is in Matthew xxvii. 35—

"And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots"

Here is a direct reference to a prophecy and a statement concerning its fulfilment. All we can do is to turn to the place and see whether it really is a prediction of a future event, and whether, if so, the prediction answers to the alleged fulfilment. My affirmation is that the whole Psalm from which this verse is taken is a purely personal outpouring of woe. Christ, in his death-agony, appropriates the opening words of the 1st verse of the psalm" My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" But the next verse shews how inapplicable the Psalm is to him, for it proceeds to speak of long-continued but unanswered prayer, day and night and assuredly Christ knew nothing of this. A little further on, we find the same person contrasting himself with his ancestors, to his own disparagement. "They cried unto Thee, and were delivered," he says, "but I am a worm and no man:" and that likewise is not applicable to him In fact, it is only a little scrap, severed from its place in the psalm, and read apart from the connection, that can be at all applied to Christ. In the Psalm, the cry about parting his garments and casting lots upon his vesture is followed by the cry "0 my strength, haste thee to help me, deliver my soul from the sword, my darling (or my life) from the power of the dog, save me from the lion's mouth, for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns." Here there is hope for the person spoken of, but there was none for Christ; the psalmist fears the "sword," but Christ's terror was the cross, and his death-blows came from the nails. Besides, this miserable being looks forward to praising God in the "congregation" with his" brethren," and, in general, to a happy deliverance from his ill users: not one word of which applies to the crucified one. The question for us is whether we have any right to cut out two or three lines from the Psalm, and make them apply to Christ, although they form part of an extended description the greater part of which is utterly inapplicable. Those two or three lines may and do bear a striking resemblance to two or three lines in the record of Christ's crucifixion, but many things must be taken into account;—the bias of the evangelists and of the translators, for instance, who dearly loved a prophecy and revelled in a fulfilment: but there is nothing so exceptional in the piercing of hands and feet and the dividing of the garments of a victim as to make a reference to Christ necessary. But such a reference is not admissible when many other portions of the description do not apply to him at all.

The other quotation connected with the crucifixion well illustrates the excessive eagerness of the Evangelists to work into their narratives the slightest scrap of Old Testament matter. In John xix. 28 we read that, in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled, Jesus page 45 said "I thirst;"—a very slender quotation, and slenderly supported as any one may see who will turn, to the place from which it is taken. The passage, or something like it, occurs in Psalm lxix. 21, and I feel no hesitation in saying that the whole Psalm is as inapplicable to Christ as anything could well be. It presents us with the sorrowful complaint of a man miserable, repining, mistrustful, and bad-hearted The poet is evidently telling of his own sorrows: the Psalm is emphatically personal to himself. He calls to God, as Oae who knows his" foolishness."—Would Christ have done that? He cries," My sins are not hid from thee."—Did Christ ever do that? He says he fasted and went clothed in sackcloth.—Did Christ do that? Immediately after the statement about the vinegar for his thirst, he adds, verses 22-28," Let then table become a snare before them: and that which should have been for their welfare, let it become a trap. Let their eyes be darkened that they see not; and make their loins continually to shake. Pour out thine indignation upon them, and let thy wrathful anger take hold of them. Let their habitation be desolate; and let none dwell in their tents: for they persecute him whom thou hast smitten; and they talk to the grief of those whom thou hast wounded. Add iniquity unto their iniquity: and let them not come into thy righteousness. Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous." Imagine Christ talking like that! Why, he shewed a spirit the very opposite of that revealed in these revengeful words. He cried, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." And yet, remember, these wicked imprecations in the Psalm are a part of the cry in which occur the words" in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink." The saying is evidently a poetic one, expressive of the unkindness of those to whom the Psalmist appealed. I was thirsty, he said, and they mocked me with vinegar. It was a poetic expression which might have occurred to any one, and which might describe any grief accompanied by pitiless neglect: but the proof is overwhelming that the Psalm is no prophecy of Christ.

The last passage I shall quote relates to the resurrection. It is found in Acts ii. 25-7, and 30-1. Speaking of the resurrection of Christ, Peter says,—

"For David speaketh concerning him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved: therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope: because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption."

Then Peter adds, explicitly, that David,

"Being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; he, seeing this before, spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption."

This is perhaps the most clear and emphatic of all alleged prophecies concerning Christ. Peter undoubtedly does say that David looked for Christ, and that he predicted his resurrection. Turn we page 46 then to the place where the prophecy is said to be found. It is in Psalm xvi. 10-11.

"For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore."

Note, in the first place, that the very highest authorities read, not "Thy holy one" but "Thy holy ones"—making the statement general, as to the lot of all God's faithful and holy ones. But this, though probably correct, is not my reliance. I rely upon my old court of appeal,—the context. We, as well as Peter, can read the Psalm for ourselves, and form our own judgment. It is one person who speaks throughout the Psalm: it is he whose heart is glad and whose flesh shall rest in hope: it is he who expresses his confidence that God will not leave his soul in hell nor suffer His holy one to see corruption. Now who is this speaker? Evidently the Psalmist himself, who tells his own hope in God. This is clear from verse 4 where he says he will not go after other gods nor offer their "drink offerings of blood." How utterly inapplicable is all that on the lips of Christ !—how perfectly in keeping with the case of one who lived in idolatrous times, and whose own pure worshiping of God contrasted with the idolatrous worship of others ! The word "hell" in the passage really means the grave, and the cry of the Psalmist is a simple, natural expression of confidence in God—that He would take care of him, and guide him through the valley of the shadow of death into the land of light beyond. If we apply that language to Christ we can only do so just as we might apply it to any other trusting child of God: and Peter himself had no business to use it in any other way.

I have now fulfilled my promise,—to trace home to their source the alleged prophecies concerning Christ in the Old Testament. We have seen that the original writers lived for their own day, and were earnestly intent upon the fortunes of the nation in their times. They uttered many glowing predictions concerning the people they loved, and pictured glorious scenes of prosperity and peace. They described mighty deliverers, wise rulers, triumphant kings, and halcyon days for Israel. But alas! their dreams did not come true. What wonder, then, that Israel took these prophecies to heart, and went on hoping for the promised golden days! what wonder that even now, broken and scattered as they are, the Jews still hug the old words to their hearts, and look for a Messiah yet to come! What wonder that the early Christians eagerly caught at the idea that all the unfulfilled hopes of Israel were fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth !

And why have I tried to dispel that dream? First, because it is not good to believe even a pleasant thing if it is not true, since, above all things, it is our duty to face the truth: but chiefly because I want us to look forward, and to see that before us and not behind us he the fairest hopes of the race. Jesus came only to shew us what we all may be. He was a messiah,—a being sent by God, for page 47 that is what it means,—just as each one of us may be. He was a son of God, to make our sonship clear. He came to do a better thing than to fulfil predictions; for he came to create a new brotherhood. He came to do a better thing than to make past prophecies come true; for he came to give light to future ages. It is true that I have laboured in these lectures to dispel the delusion concerning Christ's Deity and concerning his supernatural origin, but, in doing that, I restore him to the race, I bring him within the circle of humanity, I find his place in the history of our kind, I make him all our own. Freed from superstition we can now come to him,—not our God—not a mysterious, doubtful, double-natured being, not something abnormal, miraculous, exceptional, monstrous, and bewildering, but our teacher, our brother, and our friend.

* See Lecture II.