Rebuilding the Foundations
We lost something important and special in Psalm 44-47 when western Christians stopped reading the Septuagint (LXX) around 1500 years ago.
Today I was reading Psalms 44-47 in the Orthodox Study Bible (OSB), which is based on the LXX, and I found something that seemed important to pass on.
Those Psalms are numbered 43-46 in most copies of the Septuagint, as they are in Jewish Bibles. I am not going to use that numbering. I am going to use the numbering we have in our English Old Testaments: 44-47.
The translation of the LXX to which I am going to refer you has updated the numbering of the Psalms, so if you decide to read the passage in the LXX, the Psalm chapters will match.
There is an online version of the Septuagint at ecmarsh.com.
As an aside, the Orthodox Study Bible, with its Old Testament translated from the Septuagint, is available as an app on the iPhone, but not on larger devices. I do not know if it is available for Google or Microsoft devices.
I was surprised by the hopelessness in Psalm 44. It begins by telling us that "our fathers" told them about how God "utterly destroyed the nations" (v. 3). Conquering power went with them, and they did not need to depend on the sword or their own strength. God was with them, and he was their salvation. Thus, the psalmist determines not to trust in bow or sword, but in God who saves.
"Now," though, God isn't saving them! He is rejecting and disgracing them (v. 10). Israel is not conquering, but being conquered (v. 11). They are even scattered among the nations (vv. 12-15).
Worse, all these things were happening to Israel without their having done anything wrong! They did not forget him, act unjustly, and their heart did not draw back from his covenant (vv. 18-19).
The Psalm ends with questions about why God has turned his face away from Israel and a prayer for help, but no promise at all that anything would change (vv. 24-27).
My breath was taken away. Really, God? You turned your back on Israel, and they hadn't done anything wrong? I agree with the psalmist ...
It was then I remembered three small words I had read in v. 1, the heading for Psalm 44. Those words are not in our western Bibles, just in the Septuagint: "for the end."
For the end? For The End!
I flipped the page on my phone and, sure enough, Psalm 45 (44 in the OSB) starts the same way. So do Psalms 46 and 47.
Is there something in these three Psalms that answers the psalmist's "why?" Even more enticing, is there something in Psalms 45-47 that tell us about "The End."
We evangelicals may have no way of knowing that Psalm 45 is "for the end" because our Bibles are based on the Hebrew Masoretic text. We do know, however, that it is a "Messianic" Psalm. Through and through, it is a prophecy of the coming Messiah King. Psalm 2, 22, and 110 are other Messianic Psalms.
Because we are focusing on "the End" that these Psalms are "for," we can't dwell on the rich Messianic messages in Psalm 45.
We do, however, have to touch on verse 1 specifically because it begins God's answer to Psalm 44 and his description of "the End."
The NASB of Psalm 45:1a says, "My heart overflows with a good theme."
The LXX reads a bit differently. It reads, "My heart has uttered a good matter."
The basis of both translations is a word that means "Word": dabar in Hebrew and logos in Greek. Dabar is the nearest Hebrew equivalent to the Greek word logos, which is used repeatedly of Jesus in John ch. 1.
Thus, Psalm 45:1a could be translated "My heart overflows with a good Word" or "My heart uttered a good Word."
Why does this matter?
You may find this quote intriguing:
God, then, having his own Word internal within his own bowels, begat him, emitting him along with his own wisdom before all things. He had this Word as a helper in the things that were created by him, and by him he made all things. (Theophilus of Antioch. To Autolycus II:10. AD 180-185. Accessed June 23, 2015.)
In the apostles churches, the word "word" perked up the ears of the disciples. Far more deeply than we do, they knew that Jesus was "the Word," the Son of God begotten before the beginning. When they saw a verse like Psalm 45:1, with the Hebrew dabar or the Greek logos, they thought of Jesus.
Thus, Theophilus refers to the Word as being inside of God, then emitted (or begotten) by him before anything was created.
Theophilus was the bishop (roughly equivalent to a head pastor) of Antioch, the church that sent Paul and Barnabas off on their missionary journeys in Acts 13:1-2. His interpretation of Psalm 45:1 is typical of everything else we read in the early writings of the church, such as this passage from Tertullian, a Christian from Carthage writing around AD 210.
By proceeding from [God] he became his first-begotten Son, because he was begotten before all things. He also became his only-begotten because he alone was begotten of God, in a way unique to himself, from the womb of his own heart. The Father himself testifies: "My heart ... has emitted my most excellent Word." (Tertullian. Against Marcion II:4. Accessed June 23, 2015.)
As the title of this section suggests, I am telling you this so that you know that the answer God gives to Psalm 44 begins in the beginning, with the begetting of Jesus, God's only-begotten Son. He starts his answer to Psalm 44 by telling us in Psalm 45:1 that he emitted a "good Word," the Word we know as his only-begotten Son, born in eternity past.
Psalms 44-47 are written "for the end," but the end begins with the Word of God, begotten before the beginning, who would be the source of the transformation and salvation of this world and the people in it.
It is very sad that we have to skip almost all of the glorious message of the coming King that is found in Psalm 45. We can only highlight a couple verses that address how Psalms 45-47 answer the problem of Psalm 44, and how all four Psalms tie together into a description of "the End."
Psalm 45 is referenced as a Messianic Psalm in the first chapter of Hebrews, where verses 7-8 are applied to Jesus (Heb. 1:8-9).
I have always loved Psalm 45:11-12. Yes, the wording in those verses are to a female: "Listen, O daughter, consider and incline your ear." However, we are the King's bride, and prophecies of the Church are as likely or more likely to be feminine than masculine.
To all of us, then, Psalm 45 calls to consider and listen to something. That something is to "forget your people and your father's house."
We do this because we are called to a new household (Gal. 6:10; 1 Tim. 3:15), just as we are called to a new kingdom. God becomes our Father; we become his children (2 Cor. 6:17-18). We are translated from the domain of darkness to the Kingdom of the Messiah, God's beloved Son (Col. 2:13).
Jesus warns us that our families can get in the way of this, and just as we should beware of earthly treasures that can draw our hearts away from heaven (Matt. 6:21), so we must attach ourselves first to the family of God. Anyone who loves father or mother more than King Jesus is not worthy of him (Matt. 10:37; Luke 14:26).
In Psalm 44 we find the psalmist claiming God has abandoned them without cause. In verses 18-19 (19-20 in LXX), he says that God has covered them with the shadow of death despite the fact that their hearts had not turned back.
In Psalm 45, God answers the psalmist by introducing the Messiah, Jesus the eternal King.
With the benefit of New Covenant revelation, we know that men are always sinning, always turning from God. We know that there are "none righteous, no, not one." Israel was constantly wandering from the ways of God, and the power of the enemy was constantly knocking at the gates of Jerusalem even under the best of kings (e.g., Jehoshophat and Hezekiah). God delivered them when they were hard pressed and cried to him for help. Both Jehoshophat and Hezekiah found victory without having to raise a sword or shoot an arrow (2 Chr. 20; 2 Kings 18:9-19:37).
But in Psalm 45 God tells the sons of Korah—because the psalmist dedicated these Psalms to the sons of Korah—that a better time is coming. It begins with the begetting of the Word of God in the beginning, who will be King over everything.
His kingdom is the beginning of God's answer to Psalm 44.
Psalm 45 announces the coming of the Messiah, the great King who was the "good Word" emitted from the heart of God in the beginning and who would rule forever. It calls us to forget our people and our father's house in order to become the Messiah's people and become his Father's house.
Psalm 46, which like the rest of these four Psalms is written "for the end," explains life under this new King. The context shows to us that Psalm 46 is about our life in the Kingdom in this era, this dispensation.
For example, verses 6-7 tell us that "the heathen raged" and "The Lord of hosts is with us." In Acts 4:24-31 the church hears about the persecution of the apostles Peter and John. In response they quote Psalm 2 (and by default Psalm 46), praying, "Why did the heathen rage?" When they got done praying, "the place in which they were gathered was shaken." Truly the Lord of hosts was with them.
In the last verse of the Psalm, verse 10, God tells his people to "be still and know that I am God." In the midst of persecution, in the midst of troubles, the God of Jacob is a near and present refuge.
This is true because we have been given the Holy Spirit. Few Israelites were given such a privilege, to have the Holy Spirit guiding them. We have not only been given the Holy Spirit to be with us, but also to be in us (Jn. 14:17).
Now we must pause and discuss why I am able to believe that "he makes wars to cease to the ends of the earth" would be a reference to this era and not to a time after his return.
I may arouse a lot of ire with this portion, but at one time it was universal Christian doctrine.
One of the most commonly quoted passages in the writings of early Christians is Isaiah 2:2-5. In that passage, we read:
He shall judge among the people and rebuke many nations. They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war anymore. (v. 4)
Justin Martyr, a Christian in Rome around AD 150, quotes verses 3-4 in a letter to the emperor known as his "First Apology" (ch. 39). He follows the Isaiah passage with, "And that it did so come to pass, we can convince you. ... We who formerly used to murder one another do not only now refrain from making war on our enemies, but also ... willingly die confessing Christ."
Irenaeus is another early Christian who quoted Isaiah 2:2-5. He was only one human link from the apostles, having been taught as a young man by Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, whom tradition holds to have been appointed to his position by apostles, specifically the apostle John. Writing around AD 185, he says:
If ... another law and word, going forth from Jerusalem, brought in a peace among the Gentiles who received it ... then only it appears that the prophets spoke of some other person. But if the law of liberty, that is, the word of God preached by the apostles through all the earth caused such a change in the state of things that these formed their swords and war-lances into ploughshares and changed them into pruning hooks for reaping corn, into instruments used for peaceful purposes, and that they are now unaccustomed to fighting ... then the prophets have not spoken these things of any other person than the one who put these things into effect. This person is our Lord. (Against Heresies IV:34:4)
The reason for all this complicated wording is that Irenaeus was opposing the teaching of the Marcionites who claimed that the God of Israel was a false God unrelated to the God of the New Testament, who was Jesus. Irenaeus is showing that the God of Israel spoke through Isaiah and then Jesus fulfilled Isaiah's prophecy through the church. Thus the God of Israel is also the Father of Jesus, they are not opposed to one another, but they work together.
What we should catch here is that Isaiah 2:2-5 was understood by the churches to refer to the Gentiles coming into the Kingdom of God and putting down their weapons and their war. As Justin put it, rather than murdering others, Christians were willingly dying. This, they understood, was the fulfillment of Isaiah 2:2-5.
Tertullian, a Christian from Carthage who wrote about 20 years after Irenaeus, also appeals to Isaiah 2:2-5 in his "An Answer to the Jews" (ch. 3). He explains to them that it is the Christians who have fulfilled Isaiah 2:2-5, not the Jews. "Who else," Tertullian asked, "are understood but those who are fully taught by the new law and observe these practices."
"These practices" are the practices he had just mentioned from Isaiah 2:2-5, including ceasing to make or learn about war. The "new law" is the "law of the King [Christ]" mentioned by Paul (1 Cor. 9:21) and the writer of Hebrews (7:12).
This was the mindset of the early churches, so when I see mention of wars ceasing to the end of the earth, my mind goes immediately to the early Christian belief that they were the ones who had fulfilled Isaiah 2:4 by forsaking war and beating their swords and spears into ploughshares and pruning hooks.
Thus, I make one final argument that Psalm 46 is a reference to this era, before Jesus returns, when Gentiles flock into the kingdom of God and stop learning war anymore.
If you are from the US, you may be stunned. What do you mean Christians don't learn war anymore? They're the worst warmongers of all!
Agreed. Christianity has reached America in an extremely corrupt form. In countries like Somalia, India, North Korea, and China, you find that Christians are not taking up arms against their cruel governments. They are willingly dying in order to proclaim the Gospel and stand up for King Jesus.
US Christians want to crush ISIS with the power of the US government. The truth is that ISIS is creating a Christian revival in the Middle East (ref, accessed 7/15/2015). I pray that the converted Muslims in Middle Eastern countries will be strong and also that they will have peace. Until peace comes, God is using the evil of ISIS to break the stronghold of Islamic ideology. He is "breaking up the fallow ground" (Jer. 4:3; Hos. 10:12). In that tilled ground he is growing an army of warriors who choose death over war and destroy spiritual wickedness and principalities rather than fighting against flesh and blood.
I don't think I need to explain why I see Psalm 47 as describing the next age, after the return of Jesus. It should stand out when you read it.
Psalm 2 tells us that God's Messiah—his King and Son—will eventually crush the nations with a rod of iron and rule over everything. This is what we see in Psalm 47. God will "subdue the nations under us" and put "nations under our feet" (v. 3). He is the "King over all the earth," and he "reigns over the heathen" (vv. 7-8). The shields of the earth belong to him, and he is greatly exalted (v. 9).
The question in Psalm 44 is "why are we losing all our battles and being destroyed by our enemies when we have not gone astray or forsaken your covenant?."
God's answer is to reveal his eternal plan, the one that is "for the end."
It won't always be like it is in Psalm 44. There is a King coming. He was birthed of God before the foundation of the world (Ps. 45:1; Rev. 13:8). This King is going to change everything in two ways.
First, he will bring a New Covenant, in which every person will receive the Spirit of God (Jer. 31:31-34; Acts 2::16-18). He will be the King of a kingdom that, for now, rules from heaven only. If you'll come into his kingdom, forsaking your own people and your father's house, then you will experience God as a near and strong refuge. You will begin to live like a member of God's eternal Kingdom, filled with the Spirit of God. Though the world in this current age goes on in wickedness, producing suffering in us—perhaps much like that in Psalm 44—it won't matter because, as a spiritual rather than fleshly people, our eyes are on things above, awaiting the glory to be revealed in us at the return of King Jesus.
This may not seem like a very encouraging answer to the psalmist who is asking why they are suffering, but it is the way of the holy ones of God. Hebrews 11 gives a list of the heroes of faith of the Old Testament, showing that all of them gave themselves to suffering in this world because they were waiting for another (vv. 15-16).
Not only were they waiting for another world, they awaited the promised New Covenant as well, even though they knew that they themselves could never partake of it. They knew that "without us they could not be made perfect," says the writer of Hebrews (11:40).
But a kingdom based in heaven is not God's ultimate answer, which brings us to the second way King Jesus will change everything. One day the King will return from heaven on a white horse, with a sword coming from his mouth with which he will smite the nations and then rule them with a rod of iron (Rev. 19:11,15).
God's ultimate answer is Psalm 47. Jesus returns and God's kingdom is universal, subjugating all others to his rule. There will be no more destruction of the righteous because the one just Judge and Ruler will have claimed his rule over all the earth.
It is coming. God calls the psalmist, and all Israel, to await that day like the heroes of Hebrews 11, who "received a good report through faith," but who did not "receive the promise" (v. 39). The sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared to the glory which shall be revealed in us (Rom. 8:18). Because of this, it is worth the wait so that God can bring the full number of the elect to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9).
All of creation groans with us, awaiting the revelation of the sons of God (Rom. 8:19-23). As God reveals to the psalmist of Psalm 44, let us, too, wait patiently for what we do not yet see (Rom. 8:25), the city whose Builder and Maker is God (Heb. 11:10).