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Conceptions of Davidic Hope in Psalms 2, 45, and 72

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Introduction

Israel’s desire for a glorious Davidic king who would deliver her from all her enemies and usher in a lasting period of victory and universal dominion was inculcated in the community through its worship songs. There is much in the way of regal material throughout the psalter, but we have chosen six psalms which have been traditionally understood as encapsulating hope for a Davidic dynasty, three of which we will discuss briefly now and three in the next paper. We will surface elements of Davidic hope in Psalm 2, 45, 72, 89, 110, and 132, but much of the discussion of critical issues will be kept to a minimum since most of these questions remain unrelated to the purpose at hand. This is now the fourth paper in a series concerning Davidic hope in the Old Testament and intertestamental period. The others on this web site are entitled: 1) An Early Text for Later Messianic Conceptions: A Look at Genesis 49:8-12 Sept. 10, 1998; 2) A Star Will Come Out of Jacob”: Early Regal Images in Numbers 24:15-19 on Sept. 28, 1998; 3) Regal/Messianic Hope in Deuteronomy, 1, 2 Samuel and 1, 2 Kings on Oct. 5, 1998.

Psalm 2

There is widespread agreement among twentieth century exegetes as to the form and structure of Psalm 2. The mention of the king in vv. 2 and 6 and his declarations to be the son of YHWH by decree (qh)) indicate that this is a royal psalm.1 The precise setting and date for the psalm is, however, not as well agreed upon and is inextricably linked to one’s preconceptions about royal ideology in ancient Israel and Judah.2 Certain scholars argue, on the basis of comparative religious conceptions from Egypt and elsewhere, that the point being made about the “son” is metaphysical and mythical. They argue that the writer explicates the idea of the divine nature of the king in Israel (hT*a^ yn]B=) and that the psalm is to be dated in the United or Judean monarchy period and to be associated with the New Year’s festival.3 Though the dating is perhaps correct, this interpretation of “sonship” is highly unlikely for at least three reasons stated by Watts: (1) divine kingship in the ancient Near East was restricted to Egypt; (2) Israel’s early period as a tribal confederacy reveals no attachment to kingship, but such remained only a future hope (e.g., Gen 49:10; Num 24:17-19); (3) when the prophets opposed kings, as they did on occasion, there is no evidence that it was for any claims to divinity.4 These facts coupled with Israel’s strict monotheism, makes it highly unlikely that the psalm is arguing for the king’s ontological divine sonship.5

On the other hand, Gunkel, Mowinckel, and von Rad argue that the Psalm is a coronation psalm (i.e., used in the coronation ceremony of a new Davidic king) to be dated in the Judean monarchy period but that the expression hT*a^ yn]B is a legal metaphor and does not carry with it ideas of ontological divine kingship, but of adoption.6 Thus they too see the antecedents of this terminology in Egyptian and Canaanite thinking, but that it has been adapted by Israel with some significant differences. This better fits the theology of the psalm and Israel’s monotheism. Further, the fact that it is a coronation psalm is evidenced by the language of “his [God’s] anointed” (ojyv!m in v. 2; cf. 2 Kings 11:12); “I have installed my king on Zion, my holy hill” (yv!d+q*-rh^ /oYx!-lu^ yK!l=m^ yT!k=s^n` yn]a&w~ in v. 6) and “today”7 (<oYh^ in v. 7). Whether or not this is the case, and the liklihood seems good,8 the psalm was nonetheless regarded messianically in later Judaism and was so used in the New Testament (cf. m. Ps 2; Heb 1:5; 5:5; Rev 19:15).

This regal coronation psalm acknowledges the fact that the Lord has a jyvm (“messiah” or “anointed one”) who will establish His rule on earth—a rule that while it is already a foregone conclusion in heaven,9 is nonetheless opposed by foreign nations who resist the installation of YHWH’s vice-regent in Jerusalem (v. 1-2). They desire to throw off his rule (v. 3) but it will be to no avail (vv. 4-5) because the Lord God (ynda) will laugh at them all the way to installing his king to rule over Israel and indeed the nations (8-9). In effect they are attempting to thwart YHWH’s universal rule over the world (v. 8 LXX reads kai; dwvsw soi e[qnh th;n klhronomivan sou). The king will enjoy a special filial relationship with YHWH according to the Lord’s own decree (v. 7)—a relationship, as evidenced in the sonship language of v. 7, goes back to God’s covenant with Davidic as developed in 2 Samuel 7:8-16.10 Further, this Davidic king will punish all who disobey (v. 9, 12a, b).11 Those who, on the other hand, come under his rule, will find him a blessing and refuge. The installation of the king is connected to the worship of YHWH in a reverent and honorable way (v. 11) and will bring in a time of peace as indicated by the overthrow of plots to resist his will. We also note here the idea of ironic reversal; what the world thinks should happen, doesn’t, and what they think ought not to happen, does (cf. 1 Cor. 1:18ff). Thus this psalm provides a great deal of royal conceptions available for later writers to draw on,12 including righteousness, themes of Yahweh’s kingdom and the universal political/spiritual reign involving the nations13 and all who take refuge in him, ironic reversal, forgiveness, and judgment. The important thing to note here for our purposes is that there is no democratizing of the covenant given to the king. While it is true that the nations will benefit in his victorious rule, there is no indication that individuals who comprise the nation of Israel directly receive the covenant. And further, there is certainly no hint that the nations of the world, either corporately or the individuals within, will receive the covenant directly.

Psalm 45

Psalm 45 extols the king on his wedding day and is thus to be regarded as a royal psalm.14 The king is said to be the most excellent of men (v. 2), blessed forever (v.2) and clothed with splendor and majesty (v. 3). He will ride forth victoriously in the name of truth, humility, and righteousness (v. 4). The scepter (fb#v#) of his kingdom—a thought which reminds us of regal images in Genesis 49:10, Numbers 24:17, and Psalm 2:9—will be the scepter of justice characterizing his reign as equitable, fair and honoring to God (v. 7 MT). Indeed, he loves righteousness and hates wickedness with the result that he has been anointed by God to a place of special privilege (as we noted in Psalm 2 and 2 Samuel 7:8-16) above his companions (v. 7). In fact he is actually referred to as God (<yh!Oa$)—hyperbolically speaking—whose throne will last forever and ever (v. 6).15 He is also well known among the nations as the reference to the “daughters of kings” (v. 9) and “men of wealth,” (v. 12) indicate. The result is that his name will be perpetuated throughout all generations as his sons take up political offices throughout the land (v. 16-17). Thus the Israelite Davidic king is pictured here as exalted above men, possessing an eternal throne like God himself, righteous and humble in character, and who possesses a rule which is international (cf. v. 5). Indeed, the universalism of v.18 (MT), du#w` <l*u)l= ;d%wh)y+ <yM!u^ /K@-lu^, indicates that all nations will praise the Davidic king. Further, like God, he too blesses righteousness and punishes wickedness.

Psalm 72

This regal psalm contributes much to the OT portrait of the Davidic king with idealic notions of his reign—notions which later writers were free to pick up and utilize.16 The writer declares that the king’s reign will be characterized by righteousness and just judgments for the afflicted (fP*v=m!b= ;yY ]u&w~ qd#x#b= ;M=u^ /yd!y`; v. 2; see also 4 qv@wu) aK@d^yw] /wy{b=a# yn}b=l! u^yv!wy{). During his rule the land will have abundance and there will be a time of general prosperity (j^r@y` yl!B=-du^ <wl)v* br)w+ qyD!x^ wym*y`B=-jr^p=y], v.7; see also v. 3, 6-7, 16). This recalls images of prosperity expressed in Genesis 49:11. He will stoop to save the afflicted ones and those in need of great help. He will crush their oppressor (v. 4, 12-14). His rule will be universal (Jr#a*-ys@p=a^-du^ rh*N`m!W <y`-du^ <Y`m! D=r=y}w+, v. 8)17 and distant nations will bring tribute to him (v. 10). Indeed, all nations will serve (WhWdb=u^y~~) him and all kings will bow down to him (v.11). All nations will be blessed by him (v. 17b). The whole earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord because of the ideal Davidic king (v. 19). It is through the king that YHWH’s blessings are mediated to the people. Again, like Psalm 2 and 45 previously, we have this focus on the universal rule of the king and the concomitant blessing on those who submit to his rule.


1 What is not extremely clear in the psalm is the particular person or persons doing the speaking. Herman Gunkel, Die Psalmen (Gottingen:Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1968), 5, argues that the king is the one speaking throughout the psalm in its entirety. So also J. H. Eaton, Kingship and the Psalms, SBT 32 (London: S C M Press, 1976), 111, who says: “There seems to cause to assume, with Schmidt and Johnson, any change of speaker in the psalm. With Gunkel and Mowinckel, therefore, we should consider the Davidic king as the speaker throughout, referring to himself in the third as well as the first person.” See also A. A. Anderson, Psalms 1-72, The New Century Bible Commentary, ed. Ronald E. Clements (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 64 and Artur Weiser, The Psalms, The Old Testament Library, ed. G. Ernst. Wright, John Bright, James Barr, and Peter Ackroyd (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962), 109. Others read the psalm with alternating speakers. See e.g., Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalmen, Biblischer Kommentar Altes Testament, ed. Siegfried Herrmann and Hans Walter Wolff, vol. XV/1 (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchen Verlag, 1978), 1:145-46 and Peter C. Craigie, Psalms 1-50, Word Biblical Commentary, ed. John D. W. Watts, vol. 19 (Waco, TX: Word books, Publisher, 1983), 65. While the reading of the psalm with multiple speakers may be more dramatic, the net result is that there is no appreciable change in meaning either way one understands it.

2 James W. Watts, “Psalm 2 in the Context of Biblical Theology,” Horizons in Biblical Theology 12 (1990): 74. For a brief discussion of actual historical events that might form the setting of the psalm, as well as the problems inherent in such a study, see John T. Willis, “A Cry of Defiance—Psalm 2,” JSOT 47 (1990):37-38.

3 See e.g., Aubrey R. Johnson, Sacral Kingship in Israel, 2d ed. (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1967), 128-30. Martin Noth, Gott, Knig, Volk im Alten Testament, Gesammelte Studien zum Alten Testament (Munich: Kaiser Verlag, 1957), 192-200.

4 See also Dahood, Psalms 1-50, 12, and Gerald Cooke, “The Israelite King as Son of God,” ZAW 73 (1961): 202-25.

5 Watts, “Psalm 2,” 78-79.

6 Gunkel, Die Psalmen, 5-7; Sigmund Mowinckel, Psalmenstudien II. Das Thronbesteigungsfest Yahws und der Ursprung der Eschatologie (Kristiana: J. Dybwad, 1922), 302-3; Gerhard von Rad, “The Royal Ritual in Judah,” The Problem of the Hexateuch and Other Essays (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966), 228. So also Hans-Joachim Kraus, Theology of the Psalms, trans. Keith Crim (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 1989), 113-14, who argues that the “meaning of the text is falsified by interpreting it in terms of foreign mythologies.” See also Waltke, “The Phenomenon of Conditionality,” 131-32. But Martin Hengel, The Son of God: The Origins of Christology and the History of Jewish-Hellenistic Religion (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976), 23, who sees more in the concept of sonship than simple adoption: “The juridical concepts of adoption and legitimation are hardly adequate to describe this happening appropriately. It is certainly no coincidence that Psalms 2 and 110 become the most important pillars of the early church’s christological argument from scripture.”

7 See Craigie, Psalms, 67, who says, “The Davidic covenant was eternal, but all covenants were renewed from time to time; the principal form of renewal in the royal covenant took place in the coronation, when a new descendent of the Davidic dynasty ascended to the throne. Thus the words ‘you are my son’ mark a renewal of the relationship between God and David’s house in the person of the newly crowned king. ‘Today’ points to the fact that the words were announced on the coronation day, the day on which the divine decree became effective.”

8 But see Willis, “Defiance,” 33-50 who argues that the psalm is not an enthronement psalm, though verses 6-7 refer directly to the enthronement of the Davidic king, but is instead a psalm of defiance. Willis’ exegesis has some merit in its desire for a concrete historical situation for the psalm, but it downplays too much the idealism in the psalm which itself indicates a more generalized setting such as that of a coronation ceremony where tremendous hopes for Israel’s glorious future through her new king are expressed.

9 The reference to a decree in v. 7 and the nations as an “inheritance” suggests that this is certainly going to come to pass and regarded by YHWH as being accomplished in history through his anointed one.

10 See Craigie, Psalms, 64, who says, “The identification of the psalm with the coronation of a Davidic king is clarified by the parallels between this psalm and the promises given to David in the oracle of Nathan (2 Samuel 7:8-16).

11 The fact that he may ask YHWH for the rule of the entire world demonstrates his special relationship with the Lord. See Weiser, Psalms, 113.

12 The idealistic reign of messiah envisioned in the psalm had no counterpart in the history of Israel which may account in part for its messianic use in the New Testament and in the midrash on Psalm 2. The m. Ps. 2:3 says, “should it be reported to Lord Messiah in time-to-come,” and R. Huna commenting on verse nine refers to the creation of the messiah as a future event associated with the redemption of Israel. These facts as well as several other references throughout the midrash on Psalm 2 indicate that it was viewed as having an ultimate eschatological fulfillment centered in the coming of the messiah.

13 In the OT the hl*j&n^ refers to the land of Canaan given to the Israelites by God, the tribes’ share in the land, the priestly share in the land, and the inheritance of a son from his father, but the universalism in the psalm is striking for there it is said that the nations will be the inheritance of the messiah (v. 8. See James Luther Mays, “’In A Vision’: The Portrayal of the Messiah in the Psalms,” ExAud 7 (1991): 3; BDB, 635 (a), s.v. hl*j&n. The mention of the inheritance of the nations presupposes a promise already in existence in Israelite thinking. This, of course, is the Abrahamic promise where blessing is promised to the entire world (Gen 12:1-3). In the Davidic covenant and here in this psalm (both of which are connected organically to the Abrahamic covenant as logical developments of the seed aspect of the covenant) the means by which this blessing is to be actualized is through an ideal ruler to come.

14 Kraus, Psalmen, 1: 488. For the particular problems with the text and metrical analysis of the psalm see J. A. Emerton, “The Syntactical Problem of Ps 45:7,” JSS 13 (1968): 58-63; T. H. Gaster, “Psalm 45,” JBL 74 (1955): 239-51; J. S. M. Mulder, Studies on Psalm 45 (Oss [The Netherlands]: Offsetdrukkerij Witsiers, 1972. J. R. Porter, “Psalm XLV.7,” JTS 12 (1961):51-53.

15 The interpretation of the Hebrew <l*wu) <yh!l)a$ ;a&s=K! is problematic and has been referred to as the crux interrpetum of the verse. The major problem involves the sense of the passage, if the pointing of ;a&s=K! is correct and <yh!l)a$ is taken as a vocative (which is in agreement with all the versions except the Targum on Psalm 45). In this case the king is said to be “God”—a thought, which taken at face value, is foreign to Old Testament monotheistic thinking. Cf. Porter, “Psalm XLV.7,” 51-53, and B. Couroyer, “Dieu ou roi? Le vocatif dans le Psaume XLV (vv 1-9),” RB 78 (1971): 233-41, who argue that the vocative is to be maintained and that the phrase should be translated as “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.” The problem of the idea of divine kingship has, however, led to a variety of proposed emendations to the text, the most likely suggestion involving the repointing of ask as a piel denominative verb meaning “enthrone” (so Craigie, Psalms, 336-7, n. 7.a. following Dahood, Psalms 1-50, 273, who translates it as “The eternal and everlasting God has enthroned you.”). But even this suffers from the fact that the verb is not attested in the OT. The most likely solution seems to be to leave the MT as is, since the versions are in agreement with it, and to take the passage as a reference to the king employing hyperbolic language. This fits well with the overall heightened description of the king in the psalm. So Weiser, Psalms, 363. But Anderson, Psalms, 1:349, disagrees saying that such an interpretation lends itself to the possibility of misinterpretation. With Israel’s strong monotheism in the background, Anderson is probably not correct. See Craigie, Psalms, 336-37 and Anderson, Psalms, 349-50 for a discussion of the problem and criticisms of several proposed solutions. In the final analysis, whether the passage is emended as Dahood and Craigie suggest or whether it ought to remain as is—in neither case is the text espousing a theology of divine kingship. Rather, the king has a very exalted role in establishing the Davidic kingdom. In addition, the kingdom of YHWH moves beyond Israel to include all the nations.

16 For a discussion of the structure of the psalm including the possible chiasms and its strophic structure see, J. S. Ksleman, “Psalm 72: Some Observations on Structure,” BASOR 220 (1975): 77-81, and P. W. Skehan, “Strophic Structure in Psalm 72 (71),”Bib 40 (1959): 302-08. The particular placement of this psalm as a “seam” psalm is important as well for it lays great stress on the Davidic covenant. It has been recognized by some that the Psalms can be broken down into 5 general groupings or books on the basis of “seam” psalms: 1) 3-41; 2) 42-72; 3) 73-89; 4) 90-106; 5) 107-150. For this breakdown, see Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), 274-285. It is possible that the “seam” psalms (i.e., 41, 72, 89, 106) suggest that the purpose for the organization of the material (at least Pss 1-89) centers on David and the Davidic covenant, as well as how people respond to Israel’s national disasters in light of the covenant God made with David. See also Gerald H. Wilson, “The Use of the Royal Psalms at the ‘Seams’ of the Hebrew Psalter,” JSOT 35 (1986): 85-94, who argues for the positive development of Davidic theology in the first three books (i.e., Pss 1-89), but says that the last two books (i.e., Pss 90-150), based on different organizational techniques, the restricted use of hllwyh and hwdw psalms to the last two books, the relative lack of author designations and genre categories as markers, focus attention on the dismay expressed in Psalm 89 and direct the reader to hopes for the restoration of the Davidic dynasty after the exile. There is a shift away from hope in a human Davidic king to the pre-monarchic period and the direct access to God afforded in the Law (e.g., Ps 90 and 119). See also D. M. Howard, Jr., “Editorial Activity in the Psalter: A State-of-the-Field Survey,” Word and World 9 (1989): 279, 281; Leopold Sabourin, The Psalms: Their Origin and Meaning, rev. ed. (New York: Alba House, 1970), 8-11; J . H. Walton, “The Psalms: A Cantata about the Davidic Covenant,” JETS 34 (1991): 21-31.

17 The use of the Hebrew expression Jr#a*-ys@p=a^-du^ recalls the language of universal rule attested in Psalm 2:8. See also Isa 45:22; Jer 16:19; Zech 9:10 (which is virtually identical to Psalm 72:8 except that the former uses the verb lvm and the latter hdr for the verb “to rule”; Pss 22:28; 67:8 (MT) and 98:3 (Wnyh@l)a$ tu^Wvy+ ta@ Jr#a*-ys@p=a^-lk* War*). Further, the use of rh*n* in verse 8 may not necessarily indicate the Euphrates as it does quite often (cf. Gen 15:18; 31:21; 2 Sam 10:16), but may refer, given the exalted language and vision of the rule of the Davidic king in this psalm, to the “great stream that issues from the temple in Israel’s visions of Zion (cf. Ps 46:5; Ezek 47). In this case the poet would be seeing the power of the king extending from Jerusalem over the world.” So Marvin E. Tate, Psalms 51-100, Word Biblical Commentary, ed. John D. W. Watts, vol. 20 (Dallas, TX: Word Books, Publisher, 1990), 221, n. 8a. There may also be a polemic here against the Canaanite deity El who is also said to reign “at the well-head of the two streams, In the midst of the two deeps.” See John Gray, The Legacy of Canaan: The Ras Shamra Texts and their Relevance to the Old Testament, Supplements to Vetus Testamentum, 2d ed. (Leiden: Brill, 1965), 158. It is clear, nonetheless, in various portions of the rest of the psalm, that the psalmist is envisioning YHWH’s world-rule through his Davidic king.

Related Topics: Christology, Prophecy/Revelation