Book 1 – Psalm 24 of 41: Christ ascends the hill of the LORD

Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?  Who shall stand in his holy place?  Jesus – for it is only the Christ who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. Before the fall, Adam was able to go up the hill of the LORD, which was the Garden of Eden (c.f. Ezekiel 28:11-15, where we see a description of Satan before the fall.  He was the guardian cherub in the Garden, and even in Eden he was able to walk on the holy mount of God.  It seems before the entrance of sin, the whole creation (heaven and earth) was joined together and the inhabitants of Eden had access to the mount of God).  But now, it is the Second Adam who shall ascend this hill.

Jesus will receive blessing from the Father and righteousness from He who saves the Promised One.  Are we of the generation of those who seek the One, to seek Christ, who is the visible of the invisible One (Colossians 1)?

O ancient gates, be lifted up that Jesus, the King of glory, may enter (v.7; c.f. NIV translation – “everlasting” doors, indicative of the doors of the City of God)!  Jesus is this King of glory – He is the LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle!  Be lifted up ancient gates that Jesus may enter, He who is the LORD of hosts and the King of glory (c.f. Isaiah 41; John 17).

Paul Blackham comments from his Book by Book study on Psalms:

It has been thought by some that this psalm was composed and sung when the Ark of the Covenant was lifted up and brought to Jerusalem by King David (1 Chronicles 15:29-16:3).  There is a lot to be said for this, especially when we look back to how Moses reacted whenever the Ark of the Covenant was lifted up during the journeys in the wilderness – Numbers 10:35 – “Whenever the ark set out, Moses said, ‘Rise up, O LORD!  May Your enemies be scattered; may Your foes flee before You.'”

Those words of Moses are expanded into an entire psalm by David, Psalm 68, which describes the ascension of Jesus Christ after His death and resurrection (see Ephesians 4:8-13).  This makes it clear that Moses saw the lifting up of the Ark of the Covenant as a symbolic prophecy of the ascension of Christ.  Whenever the Ark was lifted up, he looked ahead to the day when Christ would be lifted up to the right hand of His Father in heaven after being brought down so low in His birth, life and death.

So, it might well be that when David also lifted up the Ark and brought it in procession to the earthly Jerusalem, he saw that it was a symbolic prophecy of the day when Christ would be lifted up and led in joyful procession to the right hand of His Father in the heavenly Jerusalem, the City of God.  Given the deep prophetic knowledge of David that we saw in Psalm 22, we would expect this psalm to be similar.

However, we are not told exactly when this psalm was written or the circumstances when it was first sung.  The one thing that is clear is that it is a psalm prophesying the ascension of Jesus Christ.

Christopher Wordsworth said of this psalm that the universe “is Christ’s, by creation (John 1:1-2), and it is His by resurrection (Matthew 28:18), and His by His glorious ascension into heaven where He is enthroned King of the world in His human nature.”

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Book 1 – Psalm 24 of 41: Christ ascends the hill of the LORD

Book 1 – Psalm 23 of 41: the Father is Jesus’ shepherd

This is the classic chapter which all films quote: The LORD is my shepherd.  Yet, the person who quotes this Psalm does not realise that it is Jesus who speaks this to His Father.  It is the Father who is Jesus’ shepherd as Jesus hangs on the cross; it is the Father who gives Jesus comfort in green pastures and leads him beside still waters.  It is the Father who restores and resurrects the Christ and leads the Saviour in paths of righteousness (v.3; the Hebrew for the beginning of v.3 is literally “He brings my soul back” – following on from Psalm 22, this is Christ’s soul brought back from death; c.f. Deuteronomy 21:23 – the penalty of the cross).  How many of us truly walk through the valley of the shadow of death like Christ?  It is no mere near death experience – Christ has to pass right through the valley of the shadow of death.  As Paul Blackham states, with the Lord as Shepherd even death becomes a shadow of what it is. The sting of death is sin (1 Corinthians 15:56) – yet God is with us (c.f. Hosea 13:14).  As Christ proclaims, the Father’s rod and staff comforts him; yet, the rod is commonly seen as a tool of judgment against sin and evil (Psalm 2:9; 89:32).

It is his divine triune relationship with the Father and the Spirit (c.f. John 17) which allows Jesus to fear no evil.  He is the Anointed One (v.5) and by his overflowing cup we are blessed to bless others – it is because he returns to the house of the LORD forever (v.6; the Hebrew for v.6 is return rather than merely dwell in the Father’s house, indicating that the speaker is primarily Jesus and not a mere man) that we too can dwell in the Father’s house.

Jesus’ excitement to return to the Father’s house is to happen immediately after the cross.  Jesus states in Luke 23:42-43 – “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise”.  Not three days later, not after he has spent three days in hell – no, it is today; the day when Christ died on the cross.  Psalm 31:5 shows that Christ committed his soul to the Father and that there was nothing left to do or pay.  Paul Blackham states: “The full work of atonement was carried out on the Cross by the Messiah, and He did not continue to pay for sin beyond the Cross.  There was nothing to prevent Him going to His Father’s house.”  The glory of the Ascension is that Christ entered into the Most Holy Place of paradise with His human body (c.f. Hebrews 10:19-21), and he was with His Father without a body during the period between his death and resurrection.

Yet, at the same time, this chapter can be spoken from our mouths too – just as the Father was Christ’s shepherd, so also Jesus is our Shepherd (John 10:11-14).  It is by him and through him that we are also restored, that we are led in paths of righteousness, that we fear no evil even when we walk through darkness, difficulties and temptations.  As Paul Blackham states in his book by book study on the Psalms (see also Isaiah 40:10-11):

Throughout Scripture it is the Messiah Himself who is described as the Shepherd of His people.  In Genesis 48, when Jacob is about to die, he confesses that Christ has been his Shepherd all through his life.  When he blessed Joseph’s two sons he says: “May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, the Angel who has delivered me from all harm may he bless these boys…”.  All these Scriptures must have helped Jesus to understand both Himself and His relationship to His Father in His life and death.

 

Book 1 – Psalm 23 of 41: the Father is Jesus’ shepherd

Book 1 – Psalm 22 of 41: the Psalm of Christ on the Cross

This chapter is exactly the words of Christ as he hung on the cross: “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34).  How much of a contrast these words are compared to Psalms 20 and 21, where we see the Father saving Christ, answering Him, fulfilling His desires, granting Him glory.  Instead, it seems the Father is not answering (v.2), is not granting Christ rest (v.2), is leaving Christ weary and like a worm, scorned by mankind (v.6).  Is He not the Promised One whose bonds with the Father shall never be broken?  Are not the promises of the Old Testament to be fulfilled in Jesus?  Were not the deliverance of the fathers but types and shadows of Christ’s deliverance?  Is the Father not the One whom Christ looked upon even when He was born of Mary?   Was He not already loved by Jesus in the womb of the Virgin (v.9-10)?

In Spurgeon’s “Treasury of David”, he says:

This is beyond all others the Psalm of the Cross.  It may have been repeated word by word by our Lord when hanging on the tree… It is the photograph of our Lord’s saddest hours, the record of His dying words… Before us we have a description both of the darkness and the glory of the Cross, the sufferings of Christ and the glory that shall follow.  Oh for grace to draw near and see this great sight!  We should read reverently, putting off our shoes from off our feet, as Moses did at the burning bush, for if there be holy ground anywhere in Scripture it is in this psalm.

 

This is the Passion and Suffering of our Lord Jesus; He was persecuted by the bulls of Bashan, by the ravenous wolves and enemies (v.11-13), enduring extreme physical pain (v.14-15).  When had David’s hands and feet been pierced (v.16)?  When had David suffered this level of suffering and torture at the hands of the enemy?  These are but the words of the Spirit granting the author an insight in the life of the Saviour in the act of salvation; even the division of the garments is prophetic (Luke 23:34; John 19:23-24). 

Yet, it is because of these promises that Christ still trusts in the Father, pleading Him to deliver His soul from the sword and from the mouth of the lion (c.f. Daniel 6).  It is in Christ’s persecution that the Father shows His compassion to the despised, the abhorred, the afflicted (v.24, 26), and through God’s work that everyone – Jew or Gentile – shall turn to the LORD and worship Him (c.f. Hebrews 2:10-12); that His righteousness is achieved on the cross for the benefit of those yet unborn (v.31)!  Indeed, David ends this prophecy resolutely and with confidence – He has done it.  Can we proclaim with same conviction that what the LORD has done is applicable to our daily lives today, that we claim His victory as our own even as David did before the crucifixion was yet to occur? 

In the coming chapters we turn to Christ’s thoughts before His final words on the cross as prophesied in Psalm 31:5. 

Book 1 – Psalm 22 of 41: the Psalm of Christ on the Cross

Book 1 – Psalm 21 of 41: The Father’s glory shared with the Son

Psalm 21 continues with the praise of the Father, in whose strength the Christ rejoices, in whose salvation He greatly exults! (v.1)  The Father indeed does not withhold the request of Jesus’ lips or His heart’s desire.  Was not Jesus crowned with the Father’s glory (c.f. Isaiah 41; John 17; v.5) through the Father’s salvation, that such glory, splendor and majesty is shared through the Anointed Son?  He is the Blessed One (v.6; Psalm 1) – the bonds between the Father and the Son shall not be broken.  The Triune God will be victorious against the enemies and their hateful descendants and offspring, their faux-bonds and faux-trinities.  Though they plan evil against you, the bow is directed at them (c.f. Genesis 9:13; the bow is directed at God Himself, an indication of the work on the cross as both a sacrifice and a nailing of the enemy and sin on the cross). 

Book 1 – Psalm 21 of 41: The Father’s glory shared with the Son

Book 1 – Psalm 20 of 41: Save Jesus, O Father in Heaven!

Between chapters 20-29, we see the climax of Christ’s work on the cross.  As Paul Blackham states in his Book by Book study on Psalms:

From Psalm 20 we are approaching the death of the Messiah, set out so powerfully in Psalm 22.  We are taken through the resurrection of Christ in Psalm 23 and the ascension of Christ in Psalm 24.  Psalm 25 expresses the sinner’s confidence in the ascended Messiah, then from Psalm 26-31 we listen in to Christ’s great prayers in His suffering.  It is striking that in these psalms there are several constantly occuring themes:

– ‘Vindicate me’

– ‘I am surrounded by enemies’

– ‘Save me from the grave’

They are precious psalms because we are listening to the only One who can really teach us to pray.

So chapter 20 begins as we look to the LORD who saves His Christ and we are but outsiders of this magnificent promise first laid down in Genesis 3:15.  As Spurgeon once said, “it needs but a moment’s reflection to perceive that this hymn of prayer is prophetical of our Lord Jesus, and is the cry of the ancient church on behalf of her Lord, as she sees Him in vision enduring a great fight of affliction on her behalf.

May the Father answer Jesus in the day of trouble (v.1), and may the Father send you help from the holy sanctuary and give you support from Zion!  May Jesus’ offerings with his life, his obedience, his sacrifice, his blood be remembered – the works of the Promised One, the Messiah, be acknowledged by the Father as He looks favourably on His beloved One (v.3-4, 6).  Because of what the Christ has done, because the Father has saved Him (v.5), we can shout for joy!  I know that my Redeemer lives because the Father saves His Anointed (v.6), answering him from the third heaven.  Do we trust in the gospel plan of the Father and the Son (c.f. Psalm 2)?  O Father, save Jesus, so that He may answer us when he has won! (v.9), for His victory is our victory, where we partake in Christ’s victory on the Cross!

Yet, do we still pray for the victory of Christ when he is already exalted?  Spurgeon states thus:

It may now be said that He is out of the reach of trouble, He is highly exalted, He does not (need) our sympathies or our prayers.  True: yet still we may prayer for Him – see Matthew 25:40 – ‘whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me’.  We can pray for Him in His members.  And thus is fulfilled what is written of Him in Psalm 72:15, ‘May people ever pray for Him (that is, in His suffering Church) and bless Him all day long.'”

Let us therefore pray for all of us who suffer in His church, that they may also call on the Name above all Names and claim His victory which David – whose title of king is but pale in comparison to the work of the Anointed One here – looked forward to in this chapter. 

Book 1 – Psalm 20 of 41: Save Jesus, O Father in Heaven!

Book 1 – Psalm 19 of 41: The Sweet Law points us to the Redeeming Christ

Creation declares His glory (c.f. Romans 1), declares His gospel (v.1-3), declares the truth of Jesus chasing after His bride, of the Christ the sun coming out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber (v.5). There is surety in God’s word (v.6), rising daily to revive our souls and making us, the simple, wise (v.7). Indeed:

  • The law of the LORD is perfect (v.7)
  • The testimony of the LORD is sure (v.7)
  • The precepts of the LORD are right (v.8)
  • The commandment of the LORD is pure (v.8)
  • The fear of the LORD is clean (v.9)
  • The rules of the LORD are true (v.9)

As Paul Blackham states in his Book by Book study on the Psalms:

Psalm 19 marks the end of a section within the psalms.  Psalm 19 begins by telling us that the whole creation is constantly declaring the glory of Christ the LORD.  We sometimes sing “Jesus is LORD, creation’s voice proclaims it” and David in Psalm 19 wholeheartedly agrees.  When the apostle Paul asks the question, ‘are there people who have not heard about Christ?’ he answers by saying, ‘no, everyone has heard of Christ because Psalm 19 tells us so! The whole creation proclaims the universal Messiah LORD.’ (c.f. Romans 10:18)

Indeed, by His law, testimony, precepts, commandment, fear and rules do we know of and learn to become intimate with the LORD who is perfect, sure, right, pure, clean and true – to love the LORD our rock and redeemer (v.14). More to be desired than fine gold and sweeter than honey (v.10) – this is His law, which points us to Him. How can it be a curse then (Romans 3), except for those who wallow in their sins? Let us therefore meditate delight in His word (Psalm 1) that we shall be blameless, and that our words be acceptable in God’s sight.

Book 1 – Psalm 19 of 41: The Sweet Law points us to the Redeeming Christ

Book 1 – Psalm 18 of 41: Jesus, Lover of our souls

What a powerful start to Psalm 18: “I love you”. These are the words of the Shulammite woman to Solomon – “I love you, my sweet, my tender, my Bridegroom, my Husband”. Such words of affection seem to no longer belong in the church. What shame, what sorrow, that today we have descended to mere discussion of distant and calculative theology, to debates over Christian morality and ethics, when we do not do so on the basis of that love which Jesus had for Mary and Martha (John 11), that love which transcends all understanding, that love in which Jesus would weep for us. Can we say “I love you”, without being entangled by the chains of methodical Christianity, but to dance like a madman before Him?

Let us look to Him as our rock, our fortress, our deliverer (v.2), Jesus the Rock of Ages; let us look to the cords between the Father and the Son (Psalm 2) and let that cord destroy the cords of unrighteousness, the chains of injustice (c.f. Isaiah 58), the cords of death, the cords of Sheol (v.4-5) – let us not rely on our strength to destroy these bonds but by petitioner and spiritual healing turn to LORD in our distress (v.6). He is not a LORD to be browbeaten, but the same LORD who can breathe fire from his mouth, more fearsome than the Leviathan and the beast of Job. How dare we compartmentalise Him and control Him as some inanimate object of worship – He is the Living God, He is the One who engages us and loves us in the midst of our sin and formula! He is the One who must first descend to exalt us before we can ascend to meet Him face to face (v.10-15), He is the Judge and Redeemer, He promotes Justice and Mercy (v.18-19; v.25-26) – all are at His behest but all is laid down in His love for us so that we may love Him (v.1). I am but weak and frail, yet He dealt with me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands (v.20-24). How am I righteous but in Christ Jesus, my Rock, the Father’s right hand, the word of the LORD Who proves true (v.30-31, 35)? Are you terrifying to me because of my sins, or lovely because I am humble (v.27)? It is only by You that I have the strength to do all things (Philippians 4:13), it is only by Your Light that I can walk in the darkness without fear (v.28). Make our feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights that I may ascend by You alone (v.33), that I may fight in spiritual warfare with Your armoury (v.34-35; c.f. Ephesians 6).

Let us therefore claim His power and victory that we can presently pursue our enemies and overtake them (v.37), thrust them through that they are not able to rise (v.38), sink them (v.39) and destroy them (v.40) that their cries are not built on faith but on desperation to be restored just so they can return to their wicked ways (v.41). So David, the author of this chapter, proclaims the LORD as the One who established David’s headship over Israel and neighbouring nations (chapter 43-45). Is this not the same as Jesus, the King of kings, who was and is the King of all nations in this world with people of all kinds losing heart in their own plans and ways to submit to the One who will straighten our paths if we acknowledge Him in all our ways (Proverbs 3:5-6)?

I love you God, I sing praises to Jesus, your Name (v.49). So David ends this chapter, recognising that he is but a shadow of the Father bringing salvation to Christ, showing steadfast love to the Anointed Messiah, as well as to David himself and to his offspring (Genesis 3:15) forever.

Book 1 – Psalm 18 of 41: Jesus, Lover of our souls