An Introduction to Orthodox Christology: The Historical Books and Psalms
In our study of the doctrine of Christ, we have already looked at the Pentateuch. We turn now to several significant texts found in the historical books and in the Psalms. The historical books, narrate the story of the rise and fall of Israel as well as the development of the Israelite monarchy. David becomes the model king and God’s covenant with him points forward to the coming of an even greater king. In Israel’s Psalms, we repeatedly hear the inspired hopes of Israel for the coming Messianic king.
2 Samuel 7
One of the most important chapters in the historical books for understanding biblical Christology is 2 Samuel 7. This chapter records the events surrounding the establishment of the Davidic covenant. David had captured Jerusalem and had brought the ark into the city, and God had given him rest from all his enemies (2 Sam. 7:1). At this point, David calls Nathan the prophet and expresses his desire to build a “house” (Heb. bayit) before God, a permanent temple instead of a tent. God’s response to David is found in 2 Samuel 7:4–16.
God reminds David that since the time he brought Israel out of Egypt he has moved with the people in the tabernacle (2 Sam. 7:4–7). He reminds David that he has been with him wherever he went and has defeated David’s enemies (vv. 8–9a). He then promises David that he will make for David a great name (v. 9b). God declares that he will give Israel rest from her enemies and that he will make a house for David (vv. 10–11). God promises that he will establish the kingdom of David’s offspring (v. 12). He promises that David’s offspring will build a house for God, and that he will establish David’s kingdom forever (v. 13).
God promises, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son” (v. 14a). God warns that he will discipline David’s offspring if he commits iniquity, but God also promises that his steadfast love will not depart from David as it was taken from Saul (vv. 14b–15). Finally, God promises David, “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever” (v. 16). David’s prayer of gratitude is found in 2 Samuel 7:18–29. In this prayer, he refers to God’s promise as “instruction for mankind,” indicating that this covenant will involve the destiny of all mankind (v. 19).
The Davidic covenant had been anticipated in God’s covenant with Abraham (cf. Gen. 17:6). It would be through the Davidic king that God’s promise of blessing to the nations would be accomplished (cf. 2 Sam. 7:19; Ps. 72:8–11, 17). The Davidic covenant had also been anticipated in the Mosaic covenant (cf. Deut. 17:14–20). The Davidic king would be the expression of God’s theocratic rule in Israel. He was to reflect the righteous rule of the divine King. He was also to lead Israel in the faithful observance of the Mosaic law. The Abrahamic covenant had promised a realm and a people for God’s kingdom. The Mosaic covenant provided the law of the kingdom. The Davidic covenant now provides a human king for the kingdom.
In Genesis 49:10, Jacob had prophesied that the scepter would belong to the tribe of Judah until the coming of the one to whom such royal status truly belonged. This prophecy finds its initial fulfillment in the establishment of the Davidic kingship. But the Davidic covenant looks not only to the fulfillment of past prophecies, it also looks forward, laying the foundation for Israel’s eschatological hopes. The Davidic covenant becomes the foundation for the messianic prophecies of the later prophets (See Amos 9:11; Isa. 9:6–7;). The promises that had not yet been fulfilled would be fulfilled in the future (cf. Isa. 7:13–25; 16:5; 55:3; Jer. 30:8; 33:14–26; Ezek. 34:20–24; 37:24–25; Hos. 3:5; Zech. 6:12–13; 12:7–8). Ultimately, these messianic hopes would be fulfilled in Jesus, the true Son of David (cf. Matt. 1:1; Acts 13:22–23). Jesus is the Son of David who will build a “house” for God, a new temple made without hands. He is the Son of David whose kingdom is established forever.
Psalm 2 is one of the kingship or royal psalms. As one of the Messianic psalms it looks forward to the full establishment of the kingdom of God’s Son. It encourages the people to trust in God and to look forward to a time when all of God’s enemies will be judged and righteousness will be established. The psalm contains four subsections: the rebellion of the nations (vv. 1–3); God’s response (vv. 4–6); God’s decree (vv. 7–9); and the reign of the king (vv. 10–12).
Verses 7–9 build on the promises found in the Davidic covenant, namely God’s promise to David: “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son” (2 Sam. 7:14). These verses anticipate the extension of the Messiah’s kingdom to the ends of the earth. In the New Testament, God the Father uses words taken from this section of Psalm 2 (and Isa. 42:1) to declare that Jesus is His Son (cf. Matt. 3:17; 17:5). This Psalm teaches us about the Messiah. It teaches us about Jesus.
Psalm 45 is another of the kingship songs. It is attributed to the sons of Korah and addressed to the Davidic king. The first five verses are straightforward expressions of honor and praise to the king. In verses 7–8, however, the psalmist appears to be looking beyond the present Davidic king.
Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.
The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness;
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness.
Therefore God, your God, has anointed you
With the oil of gladness beyond your companions…
The Hebrew words translated “Your throne, O God” have been translated in several ways. They have been translated: “Your throne, O God” (e.g., KJV, NIV, NASB, NRSV, ESV). They have also been translated: “Your throne is like God’s throne” (e.g., NEB). They have been translated: “Your divine throne” (e.g., RSV). The Septuagint supports the translation: “Your throne, O God.” The New Testament citation of this verse from the Septuagint supports this translation as well (cf. Heb. 1:8).
This translation means that the king is addressed here as “God,” and his throne is identified with God’s throne. In verse 7, however, the Davidic king is distinguished from God: “God, your God, has anointed you.” As Derek Kidner explains, this kind of paradoxical language can only be understood in light of the incarnation of Christ: “It is an example of Old Testament language bursting its banks, to demand a more than human fulfillment. . .”
Psalm 110 is another of the kingship psalms. It is one of the most frequently quoted psalms in the entire New Testament (cf., Matt. 22:44; 26:64; Mark 12:36; 14:62; 16:19; Luke 20:42–44; 22:69; Acts 2:34–35; Rom. 8:34; 1 Cor. 15:25; Eph. 1:20; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3, 13; 5:6; 7:17, 21; 8:1; 10:12–13; 12:2). According to its title, David was the author of this psalm, a fact that is crucial to its interpretation within the New Testament.
Yahweh says to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.” (v. 1)
These introductory lines are important because of what they say about the Messianic king. The first words of the verse following the title are: ne’um yhwh indicating that this is an oracle of the Lord. The words la’doni are translated “to my Lord.” It is significant that David speaks of the king in this psalm as “my Lord.” Another translation of these words is: “my master.” In short, David himself expresses submission to the king who is to sit at God’s right hand. The authority of this king is derived from Yahweh who promises to extend His rule by putting all of His enemies under His feet (cf. Ps. 2:8–9). The “footstool” metaphor indicates absolute control.
Yahweh sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter.
Rule in the midst of your enemies.
Your people will offer themselves freely
On the day of your power, in holy garments;
From the womb of the morning,
The dew of your youth will be yours. (vv. 2–3)
The authority of the Messianic king will be extended to the point that all of His enemies will be forced to acknowledge His rule. The interpretation of verse 3 is difficult but seems to indicate that the king’s people will voluntarily consecrate themselves to serve Him in battle.
Yahweh has sworn
And will not change his mind,
“You are a priest forever
after the order of Melchizedek.” (v. 4)
To say that Yahweh has “sworn” indicates the existence of a solemn oath. In this case, the oath refers to the covenantal promises He has made to David (cf. 2 Sam. 7:13). He declares, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” Melchizedek was a priest king over the city of Salem (cf. Gen. 14:18). Like him, the Davidic king was a priestly-king (cf. 2 Sam. 6:14, 17–18; 1 Kgs. 8:14, 55, 62–64). The perfect union of priesthood and kingship is ultimately found only in Jesus (cf. Heb. 5:1–10; 7:1–28).
The Lord is at your right hand;
He will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.
He will execute judgment among the nations,
Filling them with corpses;
He will shatter chiefs over the wide earth.
He will drink from the brook by the way;
Therefore he will lift up his head. (vv. 5–7)
The final verses of Psalm 110 declare the coming victory of the Messianic king. Hans-Joachim Kraus helpfully summarizes the significance of this psalm’s statements about the anointed king: “In summary, four points should especially be emphasized: (1) Yahweh himself exalts the king and places him at his right hand, he nominates and empowers him as the coregent; (2) the enthroned is adjudged to be of heavenly birth; (3) he is declared to be a priest (after the order of Melchizedek); (4) through him and his presence, Yahweh, the world judge and war hero, overcomes all enemies.” The authors of the New Testament recognized only one figure who fulfilled all that this psalm portrayed, namely Jesus of Nazareth. This psalm would become central to their proclamation of his exaltation.
These are only a handful of the many texts in the historical books and Psalms that shed light on the person and work of the Messiah. In our next post, we will continue by examining some of the richest messianic texts in the Old Testament, those found in the writings of the prophets.
- An Introduction to Orthodox Christology: Why Christology Is Important
- An Introduction to Orthodox Christology: The Pentateuch
- An Introduction to Orthodox Christology: The Historical Books and Psalms
- An Introduction to Orthodox Christology: The Prophets
- An Introduction to Orthodox Christology: New Testament Christology
- Learn more about the person and work of Christ in the Ligonier Statement on Christology.
Dr. Keith Mathison is professor of Systematic Theology at Reformation Bible College.