The psalm chosen to open the collection roots it firmly in the whole tradition of God's revealed truth, for it is the conviction of one whose delight is in the law of the Lord. The Scriptures, or those which existed at the time, were known as the law of the Lord, for the word TORAH means more than a code of rules; it is the instruction or knowledge that God has revealed, which is contained in history and wisdom books as well as laws. The psalms are part of this tradition. Although many are personal reflections about individual experience, they are still the word of God.
The justification for this claim lies in the spiritual standing of their writers, who are the righteous, so-called because they delight in the word of a righteous God. They are clearly distinguished from the wicked, who do not. The prayers and complaints come from those who because of their righteousness are opposed by the wicked. The praises are addressed to a righteous God who steps in on behalf of the righteous.
Although written in the third person, we may take this as the writer's personal testimony. He finds his happiness in avoiding the company of the wicked, for the reasons he gives here.
Verse 1: he is rejoicing in his isolation from society. Far from being boring, he finds it a blessing. For although Israel was 'God's people', there was little true godliness among them. Many were wicked, sinners and even mockers at the godly. The writer was glad not to have to put up with their company, and counsels anyone who might hear his song to beware of such.
Verse 2: tells us how he spent his time when there was no one to converse with, possibly because of the nature of his occupation; he spent his time meditating on the law of the Lord, which he had been taught as a boy. Since education was done orally by memorization, he would have no difficulty recalling this. Far from being tedious, he found it a delight, even when his work kept him awake at night.
Verse 3: suggests he was composing his psalm under a tree by a stream, which may only have been an irrigation ditch. Nevertheless it kept the tree's leaf from scorching in the sun and even enabled it to yield fruit. This to him is a good illustration of the character of one who avoids bad company and spends his time thinking about the word of God.
Verse 4 shows him observing agricultural operations, in which he may himself have taken part – the cutting of the corn, or its threshing. What he notices is how easily the wind blows away the chaff. This is a good picture of the lives of those whose company he disdains (v. 1) – they are useless and unstable.
Verse 5 goes further: it is a preview of their final appearance before God, when they will be swept away from his presence.
Verse 6 ends on a positive note: he encourages himself and any others who hear or read his words (down to the present time and company) to hold fast to their faith and their faithfulness to God. However difficult this is, they will be glad at the end of the day – and sorry if they follow the way of the wicked.
(1) How does the psalm help us relate our faith to our daily life, and use our daily routine for the good of our soul?
(2) What does the psalm teach us about the uses of solitude, showing us that loneliness is not the worst thing in the world?
(3) How do verses 4-6 compare with Matthew 7:23?
Although it has no title the psalm is ascribed to David in Acts 4:25 in very specific terms: 'You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant our father David'. Apparently his tenure of the throne had come under threat, but victory has confirmed it. The psalm is used in the NT in relation to Christ's sonship and resurrection (Matt. 3:17; Acts 13:33; Heb. 1:5). It breathes an air of confidence which is well suited to the exaltation of Jesus to his kingdom.
The background here is that David is established on his throne in Jerusalem by the Lord as his Anointed One. The ceremony of anointing by the High Priest has taken place, symbolically transferring authority and power to the King. To protect his kingdom from further attacks by these nations, David has apparently imposed some kind of vassalage on them (v. 3). Angered by this they get together to plot how they can escape (v. 1). In this their kings... and... rulers take the lead, seeing David as a common threat (v. 2). They pass a resolution to break the terms of peace imposed on them (v. 3), which may be economic sanctions, disarmament or the closing of their borders.
But the key word is the first one: Why? (v. 1). This is not so much a request for information as an exclamation of astonishment that these mere mortals should set themselves up against the one chosen by God. This explains its use by the early church in their prayer of Acts 4:18-31. The apostles had been threatened with death if they continued to teach in the name of Jesus, but saw this as fulfilling the nations' defiance of David, as they say in verse 27. But how can it succeed when it is God's Son they are opposing and God's word they are refusing (v. 28)? It is all in vain as the psalmist says in verse 1.
David's bold Why? is justified, for he speaks on God's behalf. As his Anointed One he is not only king but prophet and can report the reaction of the One enthroned in heaven. At first God is merely amused at the insolence of these feeble mortals (v. 4). But when they persist he grows angry (v. 5) and thunders out that David's installation in Jerusalem was his will and deed (v. 6). This both silences the nations and emboldens David, as the next three verses show.
David's prophetic insight into the mind of God enables him to go even further and proclaim the decree of the Lord. He did this again later in Psalm 110:1 when he made known what the Father ('the Lord') said to the Son ('my Lord') in eternity concerning his Son's appointment as King of the universe. Here David declares that his own appointment as king is similarly God's decree, and constitutes a special relationship with him as Son to a Father. Further, it entitles him to an inheritance – the nations of the earth, over whom he has authority to govern powerfully, and if they rebel to destroy them totally (v. 9).
This was – indeed could only be – true in a limited way of David and his successors. It is really prophesying Messiah's kingdom, as the NT writers bring out. The Father himself addressed the words of verse 7 to Jesus on his baptism (Matt. 3:17) and transfiguration (Matt. 17:5). Paul preached in Pisidian Antioch that the resurrection of Christ established that he was the Father's Son and quoted verse 7 (Acts 13:32-33). Hebrews 1:5 applies it to Christ's exaltation to the throne of heaven with authority over all the powers of heaven and earth. Verses 8-9 are referred to in Revelation 2:26, where the church too is given a share in Christ's kingdom. This decree was soon to be set down in the form of a covenant between God and the line of Davidic kings (2 Sam. 7).
Fortified by God's decree, David is able to reply to the challenge of verses 1-3 with his own challenge. It is a gracious rather than an aggressive response, for it combines an invitation to join him in worshipping God (v. 11) with a warning against the folly of continuing in opposition (v. 10), lest the Lord's patience runs out, with dire consequences (v. 12a). If they do this, they too will find blessing (v. 12b). It will therefore be wise (v. 10) for them to Kiss the Son, that is, to acknowledge David's appointment sincerely.
In New Testament fulfilment, the gospel comes to us with the same two notes: of gracious invitation, offering us blessing if we kiss the Son (Jesus, that is), accept him as Saviour and Lord, and of serious warning of the consequences of refusing the One God has appointed to rule, who will, if we persist, 'put us under his feet' with all his other 'enemies' (1 Cor. 15:25).
(1) Do verses 1-3 help explain why the church frequently finds herself opposed and attacked by political authorities? Look again at Acts 4:18-31.
(2) How has Christ been fulfilling verses 8-9 since his return to heaven?
(3) How should the church respond to opposition according to verses 10-12? (See Matt. 5:9-16, 43-48; Rom. 12:17-21; 1 Pet. 3:13-17.)