Sunday, June 17, 2007

Jesus and the Restoration of the Davidic Kingdom (3.1.4. The Davidic Suffering Servant of God)

One of the most important ways Jesus is presented as a New David in the Gospels also happens to be one of the most overlooked. While Christians today immediately link Jesus’ suffering and death with Isaiah’s prophecy of the “Suffering Servant” (cf. Isa 53), the Gospels writers―indeed, all four of them―draw primarily from the imagery of another book: the Psalms. In particular, the Evangelists draw on imagery from psalms attributed to David.

Before going further, it is important to point out why this dimension of the portrait of Jesus―so clearly an essential part of the dominical tradition as evidenced by a number of features[1]―has been neglected in modern times and the contemporary discussion. It seems clear that the Davidic echoes are lost due to the fact that certain modern critical presuppositions obscure connections that would have been clear to a first century audience. While in the first century it seems to have been universally believed that David was the primary author of the psalms, readers today come to the text looking through a different set of lenses―that of Gunkel or some other form critic. Such an approach inevitably fails to “catch” much of what the original audience would have understood.

The evidence that the Psalms were associated with David is nothing short of overwhelming. The Old Testament itself makes allusions to David’s reputation as a singer and composer (e.g., 1 Sam 16:18, 23; Amos 6:5). 2 Chronicles 7:6 attributes the instruments used in the temple to David: “The priests stood at their posts; the Levites also, with the instruments for music to the Lord which King David had made for giving thanks to the Lord” (cf. also 2 Chron 23:18; 29:25-27; Neh 12:36). In fact, the very songs (i.e., psalms) sung in the temple are attributed, with Asaph, to David: “Hezekiah the king and the princes commanded the Levites to sing praises to the Lord with the words of David and of Asaph the seer” (2 Chron 29:30).

This tradition was clearly well-known in the first century. In the Dead Sea Scrolls, we read in 11QPsa reads:

“And David ben Jesse was wise. . . and he wrote 3,600 plsams. . . and all the songs that he composed were 446, and songs for making music over the stricken, four. And the total was 4, 050. All these he composed through prophecy which was given him before the Most High God.”[2]
Likewise, the New Testament makes numerous references to David’s role as the author of the Psalms (Matt 22:43; Mark 12:36; Acts 2:34; 4:25).

Of course, the Psalms themselves contain superscriptions assigning them to David’s hand. Moreover, the superscriptions of several of the psalms even attach them to specific episodes from David’s life. With one exception―Psalm 51, which is attached to David’s sin with Bathsheba―the episodes involve contexts wherein David is being pursued and/or persecuted by his enemies.

Psalm 3 “A Psalm of David when he fled from Absalom”
Psalm 34 “A Psalm of David, when he feigned madness before Abimelech”
Psalm 51 “A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him after he had gone in to Bathsheba”
Psalm 52 “A Maskil of David, when Doeg, the Edomite came and told Saul, ‘David has come to
the house of Abimelech”
Psalm 56 “A Miktam of David, when he fled from Saul, in
the cave”
Psalm 59 “A Miktam of David, when Saul sent men to watch his house in
order to kill him”

It would seem just from this that David’s sufferings were believed to be an especially important element of his life.

In particular the Psalms seem to hold up David as a kind of model for holiness. Of course, this concept is found frequently in the Old Testament. 1 Samuel 13:14 refers to David as “a man after [God’s] own heart.” Despite his sinful handling of his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba―a matter for which he would pay for dearly and repent of―references to David’s exemplary holiness abound in the Old Testament. Indeed, he is the model for piety. This is true not only in the book of Chronicles, but also in the books of 1-2 Kings. Consider some of the following passages[3]:

1 Kings 3:3, 6: Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of David his father… Solomon said, “Thou hast shown great and steadfast love to thy servant David my father, because he walked before thee in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward thee…

1 Kings 3:14: if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked…

1 Kings 9:4: And as for you, if you will walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping my statutes and my ordinances…

1 Kings 11:6: So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done.

1 Kings 11:34: Nevertheless I will not take the whole kingdom out of his hand; but I will make him ruler all the days of his life, for the sake of David my servant whom I chose, who kept my commandments and my statutes.

1 Kings 11:36: if you will hearken to all that I command you, and will walk in my ways, and do what is right in my eyes by keeping my statutes and my commandments, as David my servant did…

1 Kings 14:8: yet you have not been like my servant David, who kept my commandments, and followed me with all his heart, doing only that which was right in my eyes,

1 Kings 15:5: because David did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, and did not turn aside from anything that he commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.

1 Kings 15:11: Asa did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, as David his father had done.

1 Kings 22:2: [Josiah] did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, and walked in all the way of David his father, and he did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left.
The last passage from 1 Kings 22:2 is especially interesting in that it equates “walking in all the way of David” with “doing what was right in the eyes of the Lord.” Something similar may be found in Sirach 48:22 (cf. Sir 47:1-11; 49:4). This tradition was clearly present also in Jesus’ day. Josephus writes that Josiah was holy because he held up David as a model of holiness: “[Josiah] was of a most excellent disposition, and naturally virtuous, and followed the actions of king David, as a pattern and a rule to him in the whole conduct of his life” (Ant. 10.29).

The way the Psalms hold up David as a model of holiness may be seen in the close combination of Psalms 1-2. Psalms 1-2 clearly form an introductory unit, which sets the tone for the whole Psalter.[4] This is highlighted by the fact that the LXX Psalter includes superscriptions for every psalm except these two.[5] Furthermore, the link between the two psalms is evident from the inclusio formed by the blessing at the beginning of Psalm 1 and at the end of Psalm 2. Psalm 1:1 begins, “Blessed is the man”, while Psalm 2 ends, “Blessed are all who take refuge in Him”(2:11). This observation has been made in rabbinic tradition.[6]

Along with the blessing inclusio there are other parallels as well. In Psalm 1:6 we read that “the way of the wicked will perish”, while in Psalm 2:11, we find that those who do not fear the Lord will “perish in the way”. Likewise, in Psalm 1:1 the blessed man “sits not in the seat of scoffers”, whereas in Psalm 2:4, the Lord “sits” in heaven and laughs, scoffing at the wicked, so to speak. Finally, in Psalm 1:2 the blessed man “meditates” on the law of God, while in Psalm 2:1 the same word used for “meditate”, the Greek word in the LXX and the Hebrew word in the MT, is used for those who “plot” in vain.[7]

Scholars recognize numerous wisdom themes in Psalms 1-2. The first psalm’s contrast of the righteous and the wicked is a common theme found throughout the sapiential (wisdom) tradition. Moreover, the Edenic imagery used in the psalm describing the righteous man as a tree planted by streams of water (v.3), is much like wisdom passages such as Sirach 24, which we looked at earlier. Also, the inevitable judgement of the wicked, who will be “like chaff which the wind drives away”, is also a theme found in the wisdom literature. The idea that the blessed man walks not in the “counsel” of the wicked is a dominant theme in the wisdom collection as well.

Psalm 2, with its close parallels to Psalm 1, thus displays David as the exemplary “wise” man. As the wisdom literature teaches, David elevates the “fear of the Lord” over the fear of impending death of his enemies – trusting that the Lord is capable of delivering him.[8] Sheppard further explains:

“The profane nations and rulers in Ps 2 are identified with those who walk the way of sinners and the wicked in Ps 1. Opposite these, one finds the divine king depicted in the language of Nathan’s oracle as one who, by contrastive implication, walks in the way of the righteous. Consequently, David is represented in Ps 2 both as the author of the Psalms and also as one who qualifies under the injunction of Ps 1 to interpret the Torah as a guide to righteousness.”[9]
Hence, David is understood to be the model “wise” man depicted in Psalm 1. Furthermore, since he is the author of the psalm, he is portrayed as the teacher of wisdom: “Now therefore, O kings, be wise, be warned O rulers of the earth” (2:10).

The wisdom nature of Psalms 1-2 is further highlighted by its close relationship with Proverbs 1. Proverbs 1 introduces the book with many of the same themes Psalms 1-2 introduce at the beginning of the Psalter. These include: the contrast of the two ways (Ps 1:1; 2:11; Prov 1:15); the wicked as “scoffers” (Ps 1:1; Prov 1:22); description of the “righteous” (Ps 1:5; Prov 1:3); the motif of “walking” (Ps 1:1; Prov 1:15); accepting right “counsel” (Ps 1:1; 2:2; Prov 1:25, 30); the use of “torah” (Ps 1:2; Prov 1:8 – mother’s “teaching”); “fruit” (Ps 1:3; Prov 1:31); the fear and knowledge of the Lord (Ps 1:6; 2:10, 11; Prov 1:7, 22, 29); “laughing and mocking / derides” (Ps 2:4 ; Prov 1:26).[10]

From all of this it seems possible to conclude that Psalms 1-2 introduce the “law” to be meditated on in the five books of the Psalter as wisdom. However, just as the Mosaic Law, the Pentateuch, taught by not only the words of God but also the actions of the Patriarchs, so too the Psalter will teach Israel wisdom through the words and deeds of David. Sheppard explains:

“The entire Psalter, therefore, is made to stand theologically in association with David as a source of guidance for the way of the righteous. In this fashion, the Psalter has gained, among its other functions, the use as a source for Wisdom reflection and a model of prayers based on such a pious interpretation of the Torah.”[11]
Thus, as we have seen, the Davidic psalms are often closely linked with some event in his life.[12]

In the Passion narrative, the sufferings of Christ are connected with the sufferings of David, the exemplary righteous man known for his sufferings in the Old Testament. As Jesus was betrayed by Judas, David was likewise betrayed by someone close to him―Ahithophel. Ahithophel is called “David’s counselor” in 2 Samuel 15:12. We read about David’s flight in 2 Samuel 15:

And all the country wept aloud as all the people passed by, and the king crossed the brook Kidron, and all the people passed on toward the wilderness. But David went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went, barefoot and with his head covered; and all the people who were with him covered their heads, and they went up, weeping as they went… And it was told David, "Ahith'ophel is among the conspirators with Ab'salom." (2 Sam 15:23, 31).
Here we see many parallels with the passion narratives found in John as well as the other Gospels: both cross the Kidron (2 Sam 15:23; John 18:1); both go to the Mount of Olives (2 Sam 15:23; Matt 26:30); both are followed on their way out of Jerusalem by people who weep for them (2 Sam 15:23; Luke 23:27). Like Jesus, David is betrayed by a close confidant, Ahithophel. Ahithophel later goes on to hang himself (2 Sam 17:23)―prefiguring Judas who does the same (cf. Matt 27:3-5). As Jesus prays to his Father in the garden, so too David prays, "O LORD, I pray thee, turn the counsel of Ahith'ophel into foolishness" (1 Sam 15:31).

During the Passion three Davidic psalms in particular come into focus: Psalm 22, Psalm 69 and Psalm 109. All three relate the sufferings of David. First, lots are casts for his garments, fulfilling Psalm 22:18: “they divide my garments among them, and for my raiment they cast lots” (cf. Matt 27:35; Mark 21:24; Luke 23:34; John 19:23-24). While the allusion is clear in the Synoptic accounts, John explicitly calls this a “fulfillment” of the psalm. The language seems to indicate that the Psalm was more than a mere song but also a messianic prophecy. The crucifixion, which involved nailing Jesus to the wood of the cross (cf. John 20:25) may also have been seen in connection with another verse of the Psalm 89:25: “they have pierced my hands and feet.”

It is here in Jesus’ Davidic-like sufferings that his “kingship” is finally revealed for all to see as the words, “King of the Jews”, is finally fastened to the Cross. After the sign is fastened above his head we read: “And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads, and saying, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!’ (Mark 15:29; cf. Matt 27:39). Here is an allusion to David’s words in Psalm 109:25: “I am an object of scorn to my accusers; when they see me, they wag their heads.”

At the climax of his passion, Jesus quotes directly from Davidic psalms. In Mark and Matthew we read that he quotes explicitly from Psalm 22: “And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Elo-i, Elo-i, lama sabach-thani?” which means, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (cf. Ps 22:1; Mark 15:34; Matt 27:45-26). Luke records Jesus alluding to another Davidic psalm, Psalm 31: “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!” (cf. Ps 31:5; Luke 23:46).
All four Gospel accounts relate that Jesus’ final moments on the cross involved an allusion to Psalm 69:21b: “for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” In Mark we read that immediately prior to his death someone ran to get some “vinegar” for Jesus: “And one ran and, filling a sponge full of vinegar, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink (Mark 15:26). Matthew 27:49 tells us that Jesus was given the sponge to drink. In John, it is especially clear that Jesus initiated the event and did so to deliberately fulfill Psalm 69:21b:

“After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the scripture), ‘I thirst.’ 29 A bowl full of vinegar stood there; so they put a sponge full of the vinegar on hyssop and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the vinegar, he said, “It is finished”; and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:28-30).
John goes on record that the soldiers did not break Jesus' legs in order to fulfill another passage: "For these things took place that the scripture might be fulfilled, 'Not a bone of him shall be broken'"(Jn 19:36). While this is likely a reference to the Passover instructions of Exodus 12 (cf. Exod 12:46), another passage is clearly being alluded to--a Davidic psalm: "Many are the afflictions of the righteous; but the Lord delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken" (Ps 34:19-20).

Jesus’ death is thus inextricably linked to David’s identity as the royal suffering servant of God.

Continue to the next post in this series...

Complete outline (with links) of first two parts of "Jesus and the Restoration of the Kingdom" series

[1] Even the most skeptical scholars would have to recognize its coherence with the so-called “criteria of authenticity” including “multiple attestation,” and “discontinuity”.
[2] The text is from, James A. Sanders, “The Qumran Psalms Scroll (11QPsa) Reviewed,” in On Language, Culture, and Religion: In Honor of Eugene A. Nida (The Hague: Mouton, 1974): 136.
[3] Some scholars have tried to argue that there is a difference between the “high view” of David in the Chronicler and the “pessimistic” view of David in the historical books. Yet, a close reading reveals that the books of Samuel and Kings hold up David as an exemplar of holiness every bit as much as the Chronicler does.
[4] Patrick Miller, “The Beginning of the Psalter”, in The Shape and Shaping of the Psalter (J. Clinton McCann, ed.; England: Sheffield Press, 1993): 85: “[The connections between Psalms 1-2] indicate, at least on the editing level, that Psalms 1-2 were to be read together as an entrĂ©e into the Psalter.”
[5] David M. Howard, "Editorial Activity in the Psalter: A State-of-the-Field Survey," in The Shape and Shaping of the Psalter, 58: “Most introductions and commentaries . . . note that while the Masoretic text (MT) of the Psalter carries superscriptions for only 116 psalms, the Septuagint (LXX) carries superscriptions for all but Psalms 1 and 2, lending credence to this idea.”
[6] See Gerald Wilson, The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter (Chico: Scholars Press, 1985), 205.
[7] For these three connections see Scott Harris, “Proverbs 1:8-19, 20-23 As ‘Introduction’”. RB 107-2 (2000): 211-212.
[8] See Psalm 2:10-11: “Now therefore, O kings, be wise. . . serve the Lord with fear.” Proverbs 9:11 states: “The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord.”
[9] Sheppard, Wisdom As A Hermeneutical Construct (New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1980), Wisdom, 142.
[10] Harris, “Proverbs”, 215-218.
[11] Sheppard, Wisdom As A Hermeneutical Construct, 142.
[12] The superscription to Psalm 51 reads: “A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him after he had gone in to Bathsheeba.”


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this! Very illuminating. May God bless your work.

ElaineT said...

Now why couldn't our Catholic Bible Study of the Psalms have given us any of this wonderful insight instead of the pap it did provide?

May I borrow this (with credit) to read at our last meeting?

Michael Barber said...


Yes, of course, you may read it. Please also mention my book on the Psalms, Singing in the Reign: The Psalms and the Liturgy of God's Kingdom (Steubenville: Emmaus Road, 2001). Also point them in the direction of this website. Thanks and may God bless your study!

ElaineT said...

Michael, I have. How much stuck, I don't know, but I've been waving your books (we studied Revelation before Psalms) around for a while now, and quoting copiously from them. And I've referenced your site, so I hope you get some visitors out of it all.

ElaineT said...

Reporting back: It was very well received, with several comments along the lines of "this was what we were hoping for from the official study, wish they'd done it..."

And lots of 'what's the web site, again?"