The Psalter remains, perhaps, the most visited segment of the scriptural corpus. Notwithstanding one’s spiritual maturity or theological acuity, the Psalms offer an abundance of resources from which one’s understanding of one’s faith and experience is concretized in the Lord’s assurance of peace, presence, and power. The truth of God’s identity, security, and authority — exercised on behalf of his people — is amplified through a wealth of “poetic language, rich imagery, and stark honesty,”1 in which form and meaning are mingled together. This divinely-inspired amalgamation of style and substance affords one ample opportunity for thoughtful reflection, out of which is found a keen apprehension of how the corporeal is informed and sustained by the spiritual.
The Psalter’s fusion of vulnerability with liturgy brings to bear the contextual environment in which the people of Yahweh affirm and reaffirm Yahweh’s providential capacity in all times and seasons, providing “readers with a glimpse into the cultic life of ancient Israel and offer a primer on OT theology,” W. D. Tucker Jr. comments.2 As God’s people sing God’s words back to God himself, one is furnished by notes on the laws and covenants of God and the functional role they hold in the lives of those in the covenant community. Allusions to the Torah and to the covenants are critical ingredients by which the Psalms are rightly understood.
Psalms 1, 19, and 119 are classically identified as “Torah Psalms,” in which Yahweh’s program of righteousness is ensconced on the souls of Yahweh’s people as it is sung into existence. “The psalms are a means of opening oneself to the living Torah of Yahweh,” E. Zenger notes, which sees the anthemic verses of the Psalter as the “actualization of the way of life (Torah) instilled in the cosmos.”3 These psalms pulse with Sinaitic reverberations (Ex 32—34), suggesting that God alone knows the way in which his people ought to live. Yahweh’s words are, therefore, recognized as “the fundamental guide that leads one into the way of the righteous.”4
The covenantal motifs are nowhere better realized, however, than in the psalms of Zion and Yahweh’s enthronement. Tucker asserts that “the kingship of Yahweh may be considered the ‘root metaphor’ of the entire Psalter.”5 Coupled within these genres of psalms, one can find elements of both the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants. The inclusion of Zion in the psalms is not meant to merely evoke thoughts of the city itself. Rather, it is indicative of Yahweh’s culminating presence as Zion’s rightful king. Trumpeting the king’s presence in Zion formalizes God’s covenant concern for Israel as seen in the promise of the Davidic covenant. (2 Sam 7) “In some ways,” Tucker continues, “Zion serves as a cipher for the active and protective presence of God among his people. It is this presence that demands the celebration and praise of the psalmist.”6 So long as the King is enthroned in Zion, the King’s people can sing loud and long. (Pss 46:4–7; 76:1–6)
Accompanying Israel’s assent to Yahweh’s presence in Zion, though, is Israel’s declaration of Yahweh’s reign as the “great King over the whole earth.” (Ps 47:2) Affirming God’s rule over the nations evokes the Abrahamic promises of blessing and nationhood. (Gn 12:1–3) Yahweh’s reign is not only seen as a local reality but as a global verity. (Pss 47:1–4; 97:9; 98:1–2) Nations and nature bow before this Sovereign. (Pss 93:1–4; 97:1–5) He alone is “exalted above all the gods.” (Ps 97:9) “His victory,” writes Tucker, “over the floods confirms his capacity as cosmic king to hold chaos at bay and retain order.”7 The Royal Psalms are, thus, connected to the Torah Psalms as one recognizes that the King of Zion alone retains creative, redemptive control over the cosmos. “God’s ability,” F. J. Mabie writes, “to bring order to the created realm via holiness functions as the basis for trust in God’s saving power.”8 As Yahweh formalizes a holy people out of their unholiness, one can recognize Yahweh’s salvific interest in forming a global covenant community.
W. D. Tucker Jr., “Psalms 1: Book Of,” Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry & Writings, edited by Tremper Longman III and Peter Enns (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 578.
E. Zenger, quoted in J. A. Grant, “Editorial Criticism,” Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry & Writings, edited by Tremper Longman III and Peter Enns (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 155.
Tucker Jr., 585.
F. J. Mabie, “Chaos and Death,” Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry & Writings, edited by Tremper Longman III and Peter Enns (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 49.