[The audio for this week’s evening service is available at Sermon.net, as is a PDF file of the notes for the service. You should be able to download the audio directly with this link, if you prefer (right-click, save link as….) I am speaking at Northern Grace Youth Camp the next week, back in two weeks with another Psalm.]
When I addressed Psalm 1, I suggested that Psalm 1 and 2 form an introduction to the book of Psalms. Since Psalm 1 begins with a beatitude and Psalm 2 ends with another, there is a hint that the two Psalms were meant to be read together. Psalm 3 is the first psalm with a heading identifying a circumstance in David’s life as the occasion for the Psalm. Perhaps most important is the fact that these two psalms present two themes which re-occur frequently throughout the psalter, wisdom and eschatology. Psalm 1 contrasted the blessed man, who is fruitful and successful in what he does, and the wicked man, who is fruitless and ultimately useless in all he does. Psalm 2 contrasts two kingdoms, God’s kingdom, ruled by his anointed one, and the kingdom of men, who chaff against God’s kingdom. The blessed one takes refuge in God’s kingdom (2:12).
What is the point of introducing the Psalter with Wisdom and Eschatology? Most people have a sense that the Psalms are intended for worship. This is certainly true, but worship in Israel (in contrast to modern America) is not simply setting a “mood” or generating a “spiritual feeling.” Worship in the Psalms always looks back to what God has done and looks forward to what God will do in the future. The Worshiper therefore stands between these two events and must live on the foundation of the past and the hope of the future.
Since the Psalms were collected some time after the fall of the Israel and Judah, a worshiper using the Psalms looked back to the promises of God to establish his anointed one in Zion, but forward to an ultimate Anointed One who will rule from Zion. Living between the fall of Jerusalem and the future re-establishment of a kingdom to Israel, the worshiper ought to live a life of wisdom, in harmony with God’s created order. This is why so many psalms look back to the Exodus. Just as God has (in the past) rescued his people from Egypt and brought then to the land of their inheritance, he will (in the future) rescue True Israel out of the nations are return them to the Land once again.
For the Church, we live between the death of Jesus and his future return. Jesus’ death on the cross finally dealt with the problem of sin, providing the basis of salvation in the present age. While we can be right with God, we are not yet “in the heavens.” We are adopted into God’s family, but we are not yet with him in glory. Therefore we look forward to the return of Jesus in the future. Like Israel, we live between two “salvation events,” the crucifixion and the consummation of the ages.
2 thoughts on “Psalm 1 and 2 as an Introduction to the Psalter”
Interesting. I’ve been teaching Pss. 1 & 2 as an intro the the final book for quite a few years. But when a colleague asked me for my sources for the idea (and it certainly wasn’t my bright idea), I couldn’t remember. Any help?
I am following an article by John C. Crutchfield, “The Redactional Agenda of the Book of Psalms.” Hebrew Union College Annual 74 (2003): 21-47, but also David C. Mitchell, The Message of the Psalter: An Eschatological Programme in the Book of Psalms (JSOTSupp 252; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1997). I wrote a paper few years ago on eschatological themes in the Psalter, both of these were helpful.