Read Part 2.
The New Covenant
Finally, although it is not named as such, the New covenant is represented in such psalms as Psalm 96:11-13; 98:3 130:7-8, and 147:12-14, although it is central to the realization of eschatological hope in the Book since the themes of Kingdom and Messiah are allied with it. In Psalm 96:11-13 many of the themes we see in Isaiah 11:4-9; Jeremiah 23:5-6, and Ezekiel 34:24-31 are present, such as universal justice and peace, and blessing upon the productivity of the earth. As Yates put it,
Perhaps this refers to a ceremonial enthronement which may have been a part of the New Year’s celebration. However, the main emphasis is eschatological; God is pictured as King of the nations and Judge of the earth.1
We see a celebration of this in Psalm 147, a psalm usually dated to the post-exilic period because of its dependence on other Old Testament passages:2
Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion!
For He has strengthened the bars of your gates; He has blessed your children within you.
He makes peace in your borders, and fills you with the finest wheat. (Psalm 147:12-14)
The descriptions are much more befitting a kingdom restoration rather than a post-Babylon return.
The following categories are given simply for navigational reasons. As a matter of fact, they are more often than not mixed together in the passages where they belong. For example, hope and kingdom are part and parcel of the Messianic expectation, which is itself wrapped up in the Davidic covenant and the New covenant.3 The hopes of Zion draw upon the pledges in the Davidic and the Priestly covenants. Israel’s land expectations, and their national aspirations are rooted in the Abrahamic covenant. As we shall see, the Church’s hopes will also be found in the Abrahamic covenant, although not in its national and land aspects. Of course, these things are true not only for the Psalms, but for all the Scriptures.
The Second Coming
At the close of Psalm 96 it is announced that Yahweh, “is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth. He shall judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with His truth” (Psa. 96:13). The specter of coming judgment at the second coming is a major theme in the Hebrew Bible.
There is an earnest plea that God would come in judgment against the unrighteous nations so that “they may know themselves to be just men” (Psa. 9:19-20). This will one day be answered (Psa. 22:27-28). He will come in fire and glory (Psa. 50:1-3, 18:7-14).4
Eschatological themes such as the government of the coming kingdom are found in several psalms. In Psalm 9:8 we are told that “He shall administer judgment for the purpose in uprightness.” At the same time, the same Psalm foretells a time when the nations will be “judged in your sight” (Psa. 9:19).
Although the Book of Psalms contains many laments and open confessions of discouragement and uncertainty, there are moments when faith takes hold of God’s covenant truth and hope rises. This is seen for example in the following places: Psalms 64:10, 71:16, 73:22-24, and 130:7-8.
The final verse of Psalm 30 David reaches out from amid his earlier despair in the middle of the psalm (30:7b-10), to apprehend God by the realization that he has been made to praise and glorify Him forever (30:11-12). Our souls should learn to wait upon the Lord in hope (Psa. 33:20-22), because “all His work is done in truth” (33:4), and God’s lovingkindness characterizes His dealing with the saints (Psa. 48:9). As an old writer says in another place, “The judgment of Jahve is the redemption of the righteous.”5
For hope to be real it has to reach beyond the grave. The ending of Psalm 17 comes as close as anywhere in the Hebrew Bible to giving validation of a physical afterlife:
As for me, I will see your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in your likeness.(Psalm 17:15)
All of the Creation Project is transcribed in hope, even in its darkest episodes. Why? Because of the truth of the parallel lines of teleology and eschatology which are the two rails upon which the Creation Project runs on. The grammar of faith is provided by God’s covenants.6
One would expect that in a book so pregnant with hope that the kingdom envisaged in such grand prophetic passages as Isaiah 2:2-3, 9:6-7, 11:1-10, 62:1-4 (to pick just one prophet), would be readily seen—and, indeed it is. Psalm 24:5-10, is often viewed in a symbolic sense7, but we see here the Lord bringing salvation (24:5), and a “generation” seeking Him (24:6). In response to this the gates and doors of Jerusalem are addressed to open to let in “the King of Glory” (24:7, 9-10). VanGemeren describes it thus:
The Creator-God is the King of Glory and has come down to dwell in the midst of the city of man.8
I would alter the generic phrase “city of man” to Jerusalem or Zion, since verse 3 refers to “the hill of the Lord”, and “His holy place” (24:3). This locates the scene of Yahweh’s coming in Jerusalem (cf. Psa. 132:13-14). The whole scene could easily be describing the second coming and the rejoicing of Israel as God comes to dwell there with His covenant people. Psalm 47 is very much along the same lines, with the covenant dimension more to the fore with the inclusion of “the God of Abraham” in the last verse (Psa. 47:9).
Psalm 72 might profitably be juxtaposed with Isaiah 11 to show its prophetic value. This “last” psalm of David contains passages that could have been written by the Prophets. Psalm 72:3 says,
The mountains will bring peace to the people,
And the little hills, by righteousness.
How similar that is to Isaiah 32:16:
Then justice will dwell in the wilderness,
And righteousness remain in the fruitful field.
David refers to mountains and hills. Isaiah to the wilderness and the fields, but the sense of peace and justice pervades both because “a King will reign in righteousness” (Isa. 32:1). Truly,
His name shall endure forever;
His name shall continue as long as the sun.
And men shall be blessed in Him;
All nations shall call Him blessed. (Psalm 72:17)
While the expectation is that “the whole earth be filled with His glory” (Psa.72:19), He is still the covenant God of Israel (Psa. 72:18).9
In Psalm 87 is one of “the songs of Zion”. The other songs of Zion are Psalms 46, 48, 76, 84, and 122. In verse 3 we are told “Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God!” God loves Zion (here this refers to Jerusalem, not merely just a mountain). In fact, He loves Jerusalem “more than all the dwellings of Jacob” (Psa. 87:2). Then several ancient powers are listed, and prophetically, those who believe from among these nations will be thought of as if they were born in Zion (87:5). So VanGemeren, who is not premillennial in his eschatology, states,
The individuals are “those who acknowledge” him (v.4), … who worship Yahweh as the living God. On this confession their names are recorded as having been “born in Zion” (v.6).10
The future Zion is a kind of Oz, though realized by its King. Psalm 50 mixes the coming of the King with the impact of His arrival in fire and tempest (Psa. 50:3), as He comes to judge His people (Psa. 50:4). The prophetic element is strong in verse 2:
Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty,
God will shine forth. (Psalm 50:2)
The hope of Jerusalem is that it will be “a land allotted to the righteous” (Psa. 125:3). A land covenanted to a people who themselves covenanted to Yahweh. The New covenant cleanses the race and it effects bring about the implementation of long-awaited covenant fulfillments.
God will bring this about through Messiah, the Branch, the Ruler who is to come to Jerusalem and raise it up above all the cities of earth (cf. Psa. 48). The Divine covenants guarantee the prophetic picture of the Old Testament. “The God of Israel is He who gives strength and power to His people” (Psa. 68:35).
If we understand God’s plans in this way—as covenantally inured—it is implausible to imagine those plans being reconditioned by later revelation.
1 Kyle M. Yates, Jr., “Psalms”, in The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, edited by Charles F. Pfeiffer & Everett F. Harrison, 531. The theory of an annual New Year’s celebration is linked with the name of Sigmund Mowinckel, The Psalms in Israel’s Worship, although the theory does not enjoy the support it once did. See Eugene Merrill, Everlasting Dominion, 573
2 See Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms, Vol. 3 (90–150), 932-933
3 I have already taught that Jesus is Himself the New covenant encapsulated
4 This is part of what is known as “the Divine Warrior” motif. See e.g. Psa. 97:2-6; Exod. 15:1-5; Josh. 5:13-15; Isa. 42:13, 59:15-20, 63:1-6; Jer. 20:11.
5 Franz Delitzsch, Psalms, 2.223. On a side note, I much prefer the spelling Jahve to Yahweh, but since the latter is the custom in English spellings of the covenant Name I continue to employ it. See Delitzsch’s “Note” in Ibid, vol. 1.vii-viii
6 A particularly good example is seen in Psalm 85, probably written some time after the exile (VanGemeren, “Psalms,” 546). Israel has been forgiven (vv.1-3), then there is a supplication to God to restore Israel (vv.4-7). Then the writer responds in faith by claiming God’s future salvation based upon His character (vv.8-9). Finally, in verses 10-13 there is what might truly be called a New covenant passage that mentions “righteousness” three times, and that pulls together the hopes of the people in a regenerated land (cf. Matt. 19:28). The thread which binds the national lament to its future hope is God’s covenant.
7 This seems to be the way Eugene Merrill takes it. See Everlasting Dominion, 571. Notwithstanding, I whole-heartedly agree with him when he observes that from the Divine point of view, the theology of the Psalms, “revolve…around the concept of the Lord’s sovereignty, its exercise in a messianic ruler yet to come, and the role of Zion as the locus of his kingdom” (Ibid, 570. Cf. also 575).
8 Willem VanGemeren, “Psalms,” 224
9 “the kingdom cannot fail because of the irrefragable promises of God inherent in the covenants made with its founders” (Merrill, Everlasting Dominion, 600).
10 VanGemeren, “Psalms,” 563. See also Stephen G. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty, 197. Please note that there is no need at all to extrapolate on this and begin calling Gentiles “Jews” on this basis. Yet this is common among amillennial interpreters. E.g. G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 658, who does this and so refers to these Gentiles as “true eschatological Israelites.” But all that is happening in the passage is the fulfilment of the third aspect of the Abrahamic covenant; namely, that “all the peoples of the earth will be blessed in him” (Gen. 12:3). Sadly, this is the only part of the covenant that amillennialists and postmillennialists will allow a literal fulfilment. To be fair to Beale, he does note alternative views in a footnote.
Paul Martin Henebury is a native of Manchester, England and a graduate of London Theological Seminary and Tyndale Theological Seminary (MDiv, PhD). He has been a Church-planter, pastor and a professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics. He was also editor of the Conservative Theological Journal (suggesting its new name, Journal of Dispensational Theology, prior to leaving that post). He is now the President of Telos School of Theology.