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The Davidic Psalms; Truth Read Through Spiritual Trifocals

Fully half of the 150 lyrical poems that make up the Book of Psalms were penned by King David. In nearly all of those 75 compositions, Jesus Christ is present, sometimes as a faint shadow and other times as a towering figure.

The connection between King David and King Jesus begins in the Book of 2 Samuel. After years of running for his life, David was established by all twelve tribes of Israel as King in Jerusalem. 

After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”  (2 Samuel 7:1-2)

David disclosed to Nathan his plans to build a permanent temple for the Ark of the Covenant. That night, God spoke to Nathan, giving him a message for David.

“Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in?...Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’  (2 Samuel 7:5,7)

God then reversed David’s plan. Rather than the king building a house for God, God declared that He would build an eternal house or lineage for David, beginning with David’s son, Solomon.

“‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: 12 When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever... 16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’” (2 Samuel 7:11b-13,16)

This Davidic Covenant guaranteed that Israel’s eventual Messiah and King would be a descendent of David-and that His Kingdom would be eternal. 

All of the Bible attests to two equally important aspects of the Messianic King: His suffering and His absolute reign. The Davidic Psalms foreshadow both with particular clarity and power. Consider this passage from Psalm 22:

16 Dogs surround me,

    a pack of villains encircles me;

    they pierce my hands and my feet.

17 All my bones are on display;

    people stare and gloat over me.

18 They divide my clothes among them

    and cast lots for my garment. (Psalm 22:16-18)

Or this prophecy from Psalm 16, cited twice in the New Testament book of Acts in reference to Jesus.

9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
    my body also will rest secure,
10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
    nor will you let your faithful one see decay.
11 You make known to me the path of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence,
    with eternal pleasures at your right hand.  (Psalm 16:9-11)

Or Psalm 21, were we read about the Messiah’s eternal glory: 

The king rejoices in your strength, Lord.
    How great is his joy in the victories you give!

You have granted him his heart’s desire
    and have not withheld the request of his lips.
You came to greet him with rich blessings
    and placed a crown of pure gold on his head.
He asked you for life, and you gave it to him—
    length of days, for ever and ever.
5 Through the victories you gave, his glory is great;
    you have bestowed on him splendor and majesty.
6 Surely you have granted him unending blessings
    and made him glad with the joy of your presence. (Psalm 21:1-6)

The Davidic Psalms are mysterious gifts, offering us irreplaceable insight into the person of Jesus Christ. Uncovering those insights requires concerted and prayerful effort. I suggest a visual metaphor, trifocal glasses, to help us.

Trifocals have three different refractive lenses built into each eyepiece; the top of the lens is for seeing in the distance, the bottom for close objects, and the middle for in between. Modern trifocals blend the three refractions gently, so the differences don’t appear drastic as the viewer moves his eyes between objects near and far. 

To understand them fully, the Davidic Psalms should be studied from at least three points of view: David’s, Jesus’, and our own.  As an example, read the following eight verses from Psalm 27 with your mind fixed on David contending with King Saul and his soldiers:

7 Hear my voice when I call, Lord;
    be merciful to me and answer me.
My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”
    Your face, Lord, I will seek.
9 Do not hide your face from me,
    do not turn your servant away in anger;
    you have been my helper.
   Do not reject me or forsake me,
    God my Savior.
10 Though my father and mother forsake me,
    the Lord will receive me.
11 Teach me your way, Lord;
    lead me in a straight path
    because of my oppressors.
12 Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
    for false witnesses rise up against me,
    spouting malicious accusations.

13 I remain confident of this:
    I will see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord. (Psalm 27:7-14)

The passage can and should be understood on its face value: David is in trouble and he’s asking for God’s attention, forbearance, instruction, and protection. He concludes his prayer with faithful confidence in God’s deliverance. 

But the Davidic Psalms are also about Jesus. Read the same passage again, switching from the far distance of 1000 BC to the time of the Christ’s Incarnation. Imagine it from the perspective of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, knowing that His betrayer is near, His passion is beginning, and His Father is about to turn away from Him.

Perform the same exercise with Psalm 142, which carries the superscript: A maskil of David. When he was in the cave. A prayer. First read imagining yourself to be David, hiding from Saul in the back of a cave.

1 I cry aloud to the Lord;
    I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy.
2 I pour out before him my complaint;
    before him I tell my trouble.

3 When my spirit grows faint within me,
    it is you who watch over my way.
   In the path where I walk
    people have hidden a snare for me.
4 Look and see, there is no one at my right hand;
    no one is concerned for me.
   I have no refuge;
    no one cares for my life.

5 I cry to you, Lord;
    I say, “You are my refuge,
    my portion in the land of the living.”

6 Listen to my cry,
    for I am in desperate need;
   rescue me from those who pursue me,
    for they are too strong for me.
7 Set me free from my prison,
    that I may praise your name.
   Then the righteous will gather about me
    because of your goodness to me. (Psalm 142)

Now reread Psalm 142, but from the perspective of Jesus as he faces the traps and plots of the Pharisees and Scribes. Reread it in light of Hebrews 5:7:During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.

The third point of view, our own, should be sought only after we’ve wrestled with the first two. If we’re to properly profit from the Davidic Psalms, we’ll have to suppress the natural selfishness that immediately inserts our own experiences into biblical texts. The Holy Spirit invites us into the texts, but our entrance is best accomplished by identifying with the humanity of David and Jesus.

 

We identify with David by reading his story (In the Books of Samuel, Chronicles, and the Psalms) and recognizing that his fears, illnesses, temptations, depressions, and failures are similar to our own. The following section from Psalm 143 expresses David’s--and all disciples’-soul-cry to God. We all have human and spiritual enemies that seek to harm us.

1 Lord, hear my prayer,

    listen to my cry for mercy;

  in your faithfulness and righteousness

    come to my relief.

2 Do not bring your servant into judgment,

    for no one living is righteous before you.

3 The enemy pursues me,

    he crushes me to the ground;

  he makes me dwell in the darkness

    like those long dead.

4 So my spirit grows faint within me;

    my heart within me is dismayed. (Psalm 143:1-4)

Notice verse 2 above, a part of the psalm that applies to David and us, but not to Jesus. The Messiah is spotless and blameless, the only man who can stand as righteous before the Father. All others, David included, struggle with divided hearts, unguarded words, and evil actions. Though he was “a man after God’s heart”, David committed murder and adultery. He failed to properly govern his kingdom. He allowed wickedness among his children. Like David, we regularly turn from God’s will and the Spirit’s leading. We rightly plead with God that He not bring us into judgment. Only Jesus can speak these words from Psalm 17:

Though you probe my heart,

    though you examine me at night and test me,

  you will find that I have planned no evil;

    my mouth has not transgressed.

Though people tried to bribe me,

    I have kept myself from the ways of the violent

    through what your lips have commanded.

5 My steps have held to your paths;

    my feet have not stumbled. (Psalm 17:3-5)

The Davidic Psalms allow us to identify with David’s brokenness and Jesus’ righteousness. Meditating on these psalms fosters a Holy Spirit-initiated unity with both Kings. After seeing David in the distance, and the eternal Messiah, Jesus, nearer, we’re able to claim and recite the Davidic Psalms as our own. Amidst our up-close struggles and sufferings, we can declare with David and Jesus:

1 I love you, Lord, my strength.

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
    my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
    my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

3 I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise,
    and I have been saved from my enemies...

6 In my distress I called to the Lord;
    I cried to my God for help.
   From his temple he heard my voice;
    my cry came before him, into his ears. (Psalm 18:1-3, 6)

I struggled with my first pair of trifocals--how to position them on my nose and what angle to tilt my head in front of books and computer screens. The optometrist told me that, with practice, I’d learn to use them fluidly and unconsciously. He was right. 

With consistent practice, we can learn to read the Davidic Psalms in a similar fashion, allowing the Holy Spirit to fluidly unite us to King David and the Lord Jesus. Unconsciously moving between David, Jesus, and ourselves, we will confidently declare:

3 When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.

4 In God, whose word I praise—

   in God I trust and am not afraid.

   What can mere mortals do to me? (Psalms 56:3-4)



Dr. Rick Donlon is a med-peds doc, and the co-founder and co-director of Christ Community Health Services in Memphis, TN. In 2011 Rick founded a residency track of the UTHSC-Saint Francis Family Medicine Residency in Memphis that focuses on underserved and international missions. Rick has dedicated himself to challenge and inspire students, residents, clinics, and residency programs to express their service to Christ by embracing sustained careers in primary care among the underserved, incarnational living among the poor and church planting

Fully half of the 150 lyrical poems that make up the Book of Psalms were penned by King David. In nearly all of those 75 compositions, Jesus Christ is present, sometimes as a faint shadow and other times as a towering figure.

The connection between King David and King Jesus begins in the Book of 2 Samuel. After years of running for his life, David was established by all twelve tribes of Israel as King in Jerusalem. 

After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, 2 he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”  (2 Samuel 7:1-2)