What the Psalms do to us
The Psalms teach us to be deeply occupied with our God. They magnify and exalt Him as the Sovereign Creator and Ruler of the universe. What is it to be much occupied with God? It is to treasure His Word, to delight in His worship, to reflect on His glorious attributes, to rehearse His great acts in history, to trust in His care, to glory in His gospel and to anticipate His final victory. The more we are occupied with God, the more strength we find for living.
The Psalms teach us to praise our God and also show us how to praise Him. There are few lessons that we need more. So very often we mumble mechanical praise from hearts that are crowded with unworthy loves and occupied with earthly concerns. The need is for robust praise from hearts that are deeply schooled in the stunning truths of the Sovereign Lord who not only made us but pours from his bounty countless blessings, the chief of which is eternal salvation through his Son.
The Psalms teach us how to trust our God during afflictions and how to receive comfort from Him. They express every human emotion and address every human need. John R. W. Stott writes: “The reason why Christian people are drawn to the Psalms is that they speak the universal language of the human soul… Whatever our spiritual mood may be, there is sure to be a psalm which reflects it—whether triumph or defeat, excitement or depression, joy or sorrow, praise or penitence, wonder or anger.”
We might say the Psalms show us how to respond to every conceivable situation that life throws at us. In the Psalms we can pour out our hearts before Yahweh. Examples of repentance, communion, hope, faith, love, and lament abound. There are psalms for every occasion in life and for every spiritual condition in which we find ourselves. The Psalter is simply universal in its appeal to believing hearts.
The Psalms show us how to be zealous for the cause of our God. From hearts flooded with love for God, the various psalmists expressed fervent desires to see the advancement of God’s truth, the vindication of His name, the acknowledgement of His glory and the triumph of His kingdom. All of this requires, as the imprecatory psalms so wonderfully comprehend, the defeat of evil and the judgment of evil-doers.
The Psalms show us how to worship our God both publicly and privately. The Psalms throb with both kinds of worship. The former is vigorously endorsed in the pilgrimage psalms, as well as in other types. And the latter is modeled by individual psalmists who, even in the midst of heart-wrenching circumstances, find their hearts going out after God in praise and adoration.
The Psalmists have learned in the midst of life’s distractions that security comes from fixing our eyes on our Sovereign Lord and making God the exclamation point at the center of our lives.
What is the ultimate message of the Psalms?
The Book of Psalms is ultimately a message about the Messiah, our Lord Jesus. We find Jesus here because he found himself here. As he walked with two of his disciples on the day of his resurrection, Jesus “expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (NKJV, Luke 24:27). Later that day he appeared to other disciples and said: “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me” (Luke 24:44).
All of Scripture is about Jesus the Messiah, His ineffable Person and His saving work, and that includes the Psalms! The above passages indicate that it is not just individual verses that are about Him (one author calls these individual “prophecies” the tips of a very large iceberg!), but the OT as a whole is also about Him!
But where do we find our Messiah in the Psalms? There are more prophecies and allusions and types of the Messiah in the Psalms than in any other book of the Old Testament! Some of these, as we shall see, are so very detailed and precise that they appear to be the descriptions of those actually viewing the events instead of foretelling them hundreds of years before. Below is a suggested list, although I do not intend it to be exhaustive.
Psalms Reference — New Testament Fulfillment
- Ps. 2:7 God declares Him to be His Son. — Matthew 3:17
- Ps. 8:6 All things will be put under His feet. — Hebrews 2:8
- Ps. 16:10 He will be resurrected from the dead. — Mark 16:6, 7
- Ps. 22:1 God will forsake Him in His hour of need. Matthew 27:46
- Ps. 22:7, 8 He will be scorned and mocked. — Luke 23:35
- Ps. 22:16 His hands and feet will be pierced. — John 20:25, 27
- Ps. 22:18 Others will gamble for His clothes. — Matthew 27:35, 36
- Ps. 34:20 Not one of His bones will be broken. — John 19:32, 33, 36
- Ps. 35:11 He will be accused by false witnesses. — Mark 14:57
- Ps. 35:19 He will be hated without a cause. — John 15:25
- Ps. 40:7, 8 He will come to do God’s will. — Hebrews 10:7
- Ps. 41:9 He will be betrayed by a friend. — Luke 22:47
- Ps. 45:6 His throne will be forever. — Hebrews 1:8
- Ps. 68:18 He will ascend to God’s right hand. — Mark 16:19
- Ps. 69:9 Zeal for God’s house will consume Him. — John 2:17
- Ps. 69:21 He will be given vinegar and gall to drink. — Matthew 27:34
- Ps. 72:1–19 He will be a worldwide king. — Revelation 19:11–20:6
- Ps. 109:4 He will pray for His enemies. — Luke 23:34
- Ps. 109:8 His betrayer’s place will be filled by another. — Acts 1:20
- Ps. 110:1 His enemies will be made subject to Him. — Matthew 22:44
- Ps. 110:4 He will be a priest like Melchizedek. — Hebrews 5:6
- Ps. 118:22 He will be the chief cornerstone. — Matthew 21:42
- Ps. 118:26 He will come in the name of the Lord. — Matthew 21:91
(From Dr. Varner’s blog, in preparation for Awake O Harp: A Devotional Commentary on the Psalms.)