Song of the Anointed

Scott Aniol

psalms

Central to a proper image of blessedness as expressed in the Psalms is a conception of God’s rule as that which brings flourishing, rather than conceiving it as burdensome. God pronounced a blessing upon Adam in Genesis 1:28 that gave him the right to rule as God’s chosen representative under God’s ultimate authority. God made man “to have dominion over the works of [his] hands;” he “put all things under his feet” (Ps 8:6). Adam, however, failed. He conceived of God’s rule as bonds to be broken, and he disobeyed the command of God. Adam forfeited his right to rule as God’s regal representative.

Yet God’s intent to bless man by giving him rule over all things under his ultimate rule did not end with Adam’s failure. God still intends to bless humankind through the mediatorial rule of an Anointed One, and this is a critical element of a proper image of blessedness, one first introduced in Psalm 2 and developed throughout the Psalter. An ungodly conception of blessedness that casts off the rule of God also rejected “his Anointed,” as Psalm 2:2 states. The term translated “Anointed” in the psalms and throughout Scripture is the word “Messiah,” and refers to God’s chosen kingly representative. Therefore, we must understand the nature of this Anointed One and how he plays into a proper conception of blessedness in submission to God’s rule.

Anointed Mediators

In the Old Testament, a special anointing of God’s Spirit was given to those leaders who served as mediators between Yahweh and his people. In a sense, they serve in a role similar to what had been promised to Adam—God’s vice-regent on the earth. The first to be Spirit-anointed in this way was Moses, who then shared some of that anointing with the elders of Israel (Num 11:17). Other anointed mediators include Joshua (Deut 34:9), judges such as Gideon (Judg 6:34) and Samson (Judg 13:25), and prophets such as Elijah (1 Kgs 18:12). Priests were also anointed with oil (Exod 40:15), which symbolized a similar role of serving as mediators between God and his people.

But God uniquely anointed Israel’s kings. He first anointed Saul, but then took away that anointing when he forfeited his reign (1 Sam 16:14). That anointing was instead given to David (1 Sam 16:13).

David

Although Psalm 2 does not have a superscription attributing authorship, the apostles attribute it to David (Acts 4:25). This doesn’t surprise us—David is the most well-known author of the psalms. He did not write them all, of course, but he is certainly featured. And in fact, David is a central focus of how the entire collection of psalms were intentionally organized. David was God’s Anointed King—God’s representative ruler on earth.

God made a covenant with David to this effect (2 Sam 7, 1 Chron 17). Yahweh is the sovereign ruler over all things, but he specifically chose David to be his Anointed King on earth; he told David,

11 And it shall be, when your days are fulfilled, when you must go to be with your fathers, that I will set up your seed after you, who will be of your sons; and I will establish his kingdom. 12 He shall build me a house, and I will establish his throne forever. 13 I will be his Father, and he shall be my son; and I will not take my mercy away from him, as I took it from him who was before you. 14 And I will establish him in my house and in my kingdom forever; and his throne shall be established forever. (1 Chron 17:11–14)

Psalm 2 refers to this promise in verse 7: “I will declare the decree: The Lord has said to me, ‘You are my Son . . .’” The one speaking in this verse is the King that God set on Zion—this is the Lord’s Anointed. And when he says that the Lord said to him, “You are my Son,” he is quoting God’s covenant with David. God had promised David, “I will be his Father, and he shall be my son” (1 Chron 17:13). Psalm 2 is quoting God’s promise to David that his son would continue his kingly line as God’s Anointed. References to God’s Anointed like this appear in at least nine psalms (Pss 2, 18, 20, 28, 45, 84, 89, 105, 132), and two of those psalms specifically mention God’s promises to David’s seed (Pss 18, 89).

God made this covenant with David following a significant event that helped to firmly establish David’s rule in Israel: bringing the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. The center of Yahweh’s rule had been his tabernacle, where the ark of the covenant was housed as a symbol of his presence. The ark had been captured by the Philistines prior to Saul’s reign (1 Sam 4:11), and the tabernacle was moved from Shiloh to Gilgal (1 Sam 11:15) and eventually Gibeon, north of Jerusalem (1 Chron 16:39). In the same region, Gibeah had been King Saul’s capital city. By bringing the ark of God to his capital city in Jerusalem, David was uniting God’s throne with his throne; he was submitting his rule to God’s rule. In this context, God promised to establish David’s kingdom and appoints his son as the one who would build God’s house in David’s capital city.

In this context also, David composed a great hymn of thanks (1 Chron 16:7–36). This song is significant in the Book of Psalms and becomes key for understanding the organization and progression of thought through the five books. Portions of David’s hymn of thanks appear in at least twelve psalms (Pss 29, 41, 93, 96, 97, 99, 100, 105, 106, 107, 118, 136). Particularly prominent is David’s great refrain,

Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!
For his mercy endures forever. (1 Chron 16:34)

This refrain appears in many psalms, and it was also notably sung at the dedication of Solomon’s temple (2 Chron 5:13; 7:3, 6). The following portion of David’s hymn appears in at least two psalms (29, 96):

Give to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
give to the Lord glory and strength.
Give to the Lord the glory due his name;
bring an offering, and come before him.
Oh, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness!
Tremble before him, all the earth.
The world also is firmly established,
it shall not be moved.
Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad;
and let them say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.” (1 Chron 16:28–31)

And the final doxology of David’s hymn appears at the end of Book 1 (Ps 41:13) and Book 4 (Ps 106:48) of the Psalter:

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel
from everlasting to everlasting!
And all the people said, “Amen!” and praised the Lord.
(1 Chron 16:36)

Interestingly, a superscription for Psalm 96 in the Greek translation (the Septuagint) says that the psalm, taken almost in its entirety from David’s hymn of thanks, was sung “when the house was built after the Captivity,” referring to the rebuilt temple after God’s people returned from exile.

It is quite clear, then, that David’s hymn of thanks in 1 Chronicles 16, along with God’s covenant in 1 Chronicles 17, are very important in the Book of Psalms. This is even less surprising when we consider that Ezra may have both written 1 and 2 Chronicles and edited the canonical form of the Psalter. The five books of the Psalter are in a significant way an unfolding of the Davidic Covenant, God’s promise to David that his throne would be established forever through his seed.

Messiah and Torah

As I’ve already noted, when Psalm 2 speaks of Yahweh’s “Anointed,” it refers to David and his seed. Not only that, even the Blessed Man of Psalm 1 alludes to God’s Anointed leader as well. For example, when Psalm 1:1–2 describe the blessed man as one who refrains from three things (walks not . . . nor stands . . . nor sits) and does one thing (delights in Yahweh’s law), it resembles commands given to Israel’s king in Deuteronomy 17:16–20, where he is told to refrain from three things (multiply horses, wives, or silver and gold) and to do one: “he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book” (v 18). Further, the pronouncement in Psalm 1:3 that “whatever he does shall prosper” brings to mind God’s command to an earlier Anointed leader of Israel, Joshua:

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. (Josh 1:8)

Again, this is in the context of God’s chosen leader for his people. The imagery of a flourishing tree in Psalm 1 also reminds the reader of God’s promise of blessing to Adam, his first chosen royal representative. The psalmist is intentionally using images that describe not just any blessed man, but specifically one in the line of Adam, Moses, Joshua, and ultimately David. That imagery is only intensified in Psalm 2 with explicit mention of Yahweh’s Anointed and quotation of the Davidic Covenant.

The specific connection between God’s Anointed One and delighting in his Law is also key to the overarching image of blessedness the psalms portray. Psalms 1 and 2, which form an important introduction to the whole canonical structure of the psalms, are a paring of a Torah psalm (Ps 1) with a Messianic psalm (Ps 2). The other two important Torah psalms (Pss 19 and 119) are also paired with Messiah psalms (Pss 18, 20–24 and 110) at key junctures in the progression of the Psalter.

Solomon

David’s first heir was Solomon, and thus we would expect to see him appear in the Psalms. Indeed, Solomon has two psalms ascribed to him, both included at key places in the five-movement development. The first is Psalm 72, the last psalm of book two. The psalm opens with a direct reference to his father, David, and Solomon’s relationship to the promises of the Davidic Covenant:

Give the king your judgments, O God,
and your righteousness to the king’s son. (72:1)

Solomon may have composed this psalm on the occasion of his coronation, but clearly it is meant to signal the transition of the promises of Yahweh’s Anointed from David to his royal son. Verse 8 proclaims that “he shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth,” hearkening back to Psalm 2:8 (“Ask of me, and I will give you the nations for your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for your possession.”) and the Davidic Covenant itself.

Similarly, Solomon’s other composition, Psalm 127, is a meditation on the Davidic Covenant. His reference to “house” (“Unless the Lord builds the house . . .”) is not just any house, but the house promised to David: “I tell you that the Lord will build you a house” (1 Chron 17:10). When verse 3 proclaims, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,” the word translated “children” is literally “sons” and directly references the Davidic royal line. Just a few psalms later, Psalm 132 uses the same term in an explicit quotation of the Davidic Covenant:

11 The Lord has sworn in truth to David;
he will not turn from it:
“I will set upon your throne the fruit of your body.
12 If your sons will keep my covenant
and my testimony which I shall teach them,
their sons also shall sit upon your throne forevermore.”
(Ps 132:11–12)

However, like Adam, and like David his father before him, Solomon fails to be the perfect mediator of God’s rule on earth. God’s promise that “he shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth” (Ps 72:8) does not come to pass under Solomon’s rule. The prophet Zechariah will quote this promise later as something yet unfulfilled (Zech 9:9). In fact, as a direct result of disobedience to God’s prohibitions (Deut 17:16–20) against multiplying horses (1 Kgs 4:26), wealth (1 Kgs 10:14–29), and wives (1 Kgs 11:1–2), the entire nation of Israel rebelled against the rule of Yahweh. Solomon’s heir, Rehoboam, walked in ungodly counsel (2 Chron 10:8), and the nation split it two: “So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day” (2 Chron 10:19).

David’s Greater Son

Yet Solomon’s failures did not annul God’s covenant with David. Indeed, as David proclaims in Psalm 18:50:

Great deliverance he gives to his king,
and shows mercy to his anointed,
to David and his descendants forevermore.

And after reaffirming his delight in God’s Law in Psalm 19 (“More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.”), David affirms his confidence in God’s faithfulness to his covenant:

Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed;
he will answer him from his holy heaven
with the saving strength of his right hand. (Ps 20:6)

The king shall have joy in your strength, O Lord;
and in your salvation [lit. “victory”]
how greatly shall he rejoice! (Ps 21:1)

Yet in this section of Messianic psalms (Pss 20–24), David begins to hint at the reality that the ultimate fulfillment of God’s covenant with him will be fulfilled by a critically important relationship between the rule of God’s Anointed and the sovereign rule of Yahweh himself. For example, while Psalms 20 and 21 focus on the certain rule of David’s throne, Psalms 22 and 23 reaffirm the certain rule of Yahweh’s throne:

For the kingdom is [Yahweh’s],
and he rules over the nations. (Ps 22:28)

This connection between the Anointed One’s rule and Yahweh’s rule is critical for understanding the canonical flow of the psalms, and indeed, the progress of redemptive history. God promised to bless humankind by exercising his sovereign dominion through man as his mediatorial king over the earth. Adam failed, and so God promised the fulfillment of his dominion blessing in another seed of the woman. He narrowed that promise in his covenant with David, vowing to bring about his blessing through David’s seed. David’s son failed, but God remained faithful to his promise through David’s Greater Son. This side of the cross, we now know that this is Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man. God fulfilled his promise of blessing by uniting his sovereign throne with the mediatorial throne of man in a son of David who is both God and Man, Jesus the Anointed One.

Each of the Messianic psalms certainly apply to David and his royal seed, but ultimately they are fulfilled in David’s Greater Son. The apostle Paul interpreted the reference to God’s Anointed in Psalm 2 in exactly this way:

32 And we declare to you glad tidings—that promise which was made to the fathers. 33 God has fulfilled this for us their children, in that He has raised up Jesus. As it is also written in the second Psalm: “You are my Son, today I have begotten you.” (Acts 13:32–33)

In other words, the death and resurrection of Jesus is what established his right to rule as David’s descendent whose kingdom will be forever.

This recognition opens up a powerful reality for both the interpretation and use of the psalms for us today: these songs are not obsolete and inapplicable for Christians today. As Michael Lefebvre observes, “When you sing the Psalms, you are actually singing the songs of Jesus, with Jesus as your songleader.”1Lefebvre, Singing the Songs of Jesus, 50.

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References

References
1 Lefebvre, Singing the Songs of Jesus, 50.
Author psalms

Scott Aniol

Executive Vice President and Editor-in-Chief G3 Ministries

Scott Aniol, PhD, is Executive Vice President and Editor-in-Chief of G3 Ministries. He lectures around the world in churches, conferences, colleges, and seminaries, and he has authored several books and dozens of articles. You can find more, including publications and speaking itinerary, at www.scottaniol.com. Scott and his wife, Becky, have four children: Caleb, Kate, Christopher, and Caroline. You can listen to his podcast here.