Can Psalm 28 Be Applied to Christ?
"It may suit any slandered saint who, being misunderstood by men, and treated by them as an unworthy character, is anxious to stand aright before the bar of God."--Charles Spurgeon
Can Psalm 28 Be Applied to Christ?
By Christina Wilson
September 29, 2012
Part I--Does the Original Language Text Employed by Translators Lead to Significant Differences of Interpretation?
Let us perform this experiment--
Before identifying the sources of any of the following translations, let's answer the question: Which of these genuine translations points most directly and fully to the Lord Jesus Christ in terms of prophesying both His coming and the character of His Messiahship? (If the reader finds this single verse to be insufficient for a determination, please consult the entire context of the relatively short psalm, Psalm 28.)
1) Psalm 28:7 The Lord is my helper and my defender; my heart has hoped in him, and I am helped: my flesh has revived, and willingly will I give praise to him.
2) Psalm 28:7 The LORD is my strength and my shield; My heart trusts in Him, and I am helped; Therefore my heart exults, And with my song I shall thank Him.
3) Psalm 27:7 The Lord is my helper and my protector: in him hath my heart confided, and I have been helped. And my flesh hath flourished again, and with my will I will give praise to him.
4) Psalm 28:7 The Lord is my strength and my shielde: mine heart trusted in him, and I was helped: therfore mine heart shall reioyce, and with my song will I praise him.
5) Psalm 28:7 The Lord is my helper and my champion; In Him my heart hoped, and I was helped, And my flesh revived; And I will give thanks to Him willingly.
6) Psalm 28:7 The LORD strengthens and protects me; I trust in him with all my heart. I am rescued and my heart is full of joy; I will sing to him in gratitude.
7) Psalm 28:7 Jehovah is my strength and my shield; my heart confided in him, and I was helped: therefore my heart exulteth, and with my song will I praise him.
A careful eye will notice that in three of the above translations, numbers one, three, and five, a phrase concerning “my flesh” is present, but in the other translations, such a phrase is not present: Translation one reads “my flesh has revived”; translation three reads “my flesh hath flourished again”, and translation five reads, “my flesh revived”.
In the context of the whole psalm, does not this phrase lead the reader to consider Jesus Christ?
The identities of the above scriptures are as follows: 1) Septuagint, 2) New American Standard, 3) Douay Rheims, 4) Geneva, 5) Orthodox, 6) NET, and 7) Darby.1
Two conclusions present themselves from examining the above translations: 1) the age of the translation is not critical to inclusion of the phrase containing "my flesh", and 2) the source of the translation seems to be the determinative factor. Both the Septuagint English version and The Orthodox Study Bible version are based on the Greek Septuagint in common usage during Jesus' day and the early days of the blossoming church, while the Douay-Rheims translation is a "very literal" translation of the Latin Vulgate. The Latin Vulgate itself in its original form had translated the Psalter from the Septuagint.2 Interestingly, ancient views varied concerning the accuracy, or even the divine inspiration, of the Septuagint, much as they do today.3
Part II--Why Does It Matter Which Text and Translation Are Used?
Psalm 28 is a solid example of a psalm in which the Septuagint translation makes a pronounced difference to the interpretation of a text. Using the translations based upon the Masoretic Hebrew original, one can read through Psalm 28 many times and miss any reference to Messiah at all. Looking back on notes I have made, I see that in past years I have read the whole psalm without any meditation upon the suffering and resurrection of my Lord Jesus Christ.
It is noteworthy, however, that Andrew A. Bonar, using the King James Version, which traces its roots back to the Masoretic Hebrew original, finds plenty to speak about Messiah in Psalm 284. Charles Spurgeon, who also used the King James Version, writes this as his first words regarding Psalm 28: "...The main pleading of this Psalm is that the suppliant may not be confounded with the workers of iniquity for whom he expresses the utmost abhorrence; it may suit any slandered saint who, being misunderstood by men, and treated by them as an unworthy character, is anxious to stand aright before the bar of God. The Lord Jesus may be seen here pleading as the representative of his people."5
To ask, Why does it matter whether or not Christ is in Psalm 28 is like asking, why would it matter if the sun were shining or not? Isn't all of life, for the Christian, about Jesus Christ? For a Christian, isn't the entire Bible about Him? To find Christ in scripture is to find life.
Nevertheless, there are other reasons that have consequences to one's hermeneutic.
As we read through the gospels concerning John the Baptist's ministry of heralding the Messiah, the annunciation of Christ's birth to His parents, Mary's response in her magnificat, the visits by the shepherds and kings to the Christ child's side, the maniacal response of Herod when he heard of the mission of the three sages from the east, the words of Simeon and the prophetess Anna in the temple when Jesus' parents presented Him for dedication, the childlike and joyful exuberance of Andrew and Philip when they were first called, the enmity of the Pharisees and other religious leaders, and the overwhelming response of the masses of afflicted people in an era when news only traveled by word of mouth--as we read and consider all these facets of Christ's ministry on earth, don't we as readers receive the impression that the "pump was primed", so to speak? As readers looking in from the outside, don't we find that the people were ready, eagerly awaiting, desiring, and anticipating the appearance of their Messiah?
What was the source of their anticipation, if not Old Testament prophecy? If we, as modern believers, were to read through Isaiah, Moses, and the Psalms with the same devotion that we exhibit towards Revelation, would we not also find mention of Messiah in those scriptures?
Would it be fair to say that the remnant of believing Israelites did not miss their Messiah when He came? Many believed on Jesus in His day (John 2:23, John 4:39, John 4:41, John 7:31, John 8:30, John 10:42, John 11:45, John 12:11) and immediately after Pentecost, the early church grew rapidly from the ranks of the Israelites (Acts 2:41, Acts 4:4, Acts 6:7, Acts 9:42, Acts 10:45, Acts 11:19, Acts 13:48, Acts 17:11-12, Acts 18:8).
I remember back several years to a time when I would persistently read through Isaiah (or hear it being read straight through) more than once. I remember the excitement I felt when the speaking voices began to separate for me, and I perceived that there was a "second voice" equivalent with that of God's and blessed by God. "There's two of them!" My joy was intense, as I realized that God had a partner. Who was this?!!?
This excitement was not dissimilar to the excitement of the Old Testament prophets concerning their own writings, as recorded by the Apostle Peter.
NET 1 Peter 1:10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who predicted the grace that would come to you searched and investigated carefully. 11 They probed into what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating when he testified beforehand about the sufferings appointed for Christ and his subsequent glory.
Peter continues in the next verse describing how God revealed to those prophets that their writings were not about themselves (i.e., did not have to make complete sense to them, because it was a message given them by God for people other than themselves.)
NET 1 Peter 1:12 They were shown that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things now announced to you through those who proclaimed the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven– things angels long to catch a glimpse of. (See also Luke 10:24)
How then, can some biblical interpreters say, "If you say that the Old Testament cannot be rightly interpreted apart from the New Testament then you have denied the perspicuity of the Old Testament"?6 Rather, according to the scripture from 1 Peter, the Old Testament prophets knew that what they were writing did not make complete sense to themselves. They wanted to find out "what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating" and "they were shown that they were serving not themselves" but the people of what later became known as New Testament times.
The people of Jesus' day, having read Moses, the prophets, and the Psalms, and many of them having read or heard read to them the Psalms and prophets from the Septuagint, were ready and expecting Messiah to come.
The Septuagint translation distinctly points out Christ to a far greater extent than translations based upon the Masoretic Hebrew text. (The Septuagint was translated from Hebrew texts, just not the specific text known as the Masoretic.) Even apart from the Septuagint, even using the translations based upon the Hebrew of the Masoretic Text, one finds multitudes of verses in the Psalms which Christian preachers of bygone days, such as Spurgeon and Bonar to name but two, have appropriated as speaking directly of Christ and the church. Psalm 28:8-9 provides a good example of both Christ and His church being in view.
NAS Psalm 28:8-9 The LORD is their strength, And He is a saving defense to His anointed. 9 Save Thy people, and bless Thine inheritance; Be their shepherd also, and carry them forever.
There are those who say that only King David himself is in view here, and the people and inheritance refer specifically to ethnic Israel, as identified concretely in the Old Testament.7 But, there are a host of others who find both Christ and His church present in these verses.
"The Lord Jesus may be seen here pleading as the representative of his people." --Charles Spurgeon8
"Here behold king David as the type of our Lord Jesus, our covenant Head, our anointed Prince, through whom all blessings come to us."9
"He is their strength, the strength of all Israel, because he is the saving strength of 'his anointed,' i.e., [italics in original] 1. Of David in the type:...2. Of Christ, his Anointed, his Messiah, in the antitype." --Matthew Henry10
New Testament scripture in regard to the church as a whole uses the language of Psalm 28:8-9, as found in those translations which don't hide the similarities of vocabulary between these verses and those found in the New Testament.
NAS Psalm 28:8-9 The LORD is their strength, And He is a saving defense to His anointed. 9 Save Thy people, and bless Thine inheritance; Be their shepherd also, and carry them forever. (This is the New American Standard translation, once held in very high esteem as clinging closely to the original.)
RSV Acts 4:26 The kings of the earth set themselves in array, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed' --
NET 1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may proclaim the virtues of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 You once were not a people, but now you are God's people. You were shown no mercy, but now you have received mercy.
NET Ephesians 1:18 – since the eyes of your heart have been enlightened– so that you may know what is the hope of his calling, what is the wealth of his glorious inheritance in the saints,
NET Colossians 1:12 giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the saints' inheritance in the light.
NET Colossians 3:24 because you know that you will receive your inheritance from the Lord as the reward. Serve the Lord Christ.
NET James 2:5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters! Did not God choose the poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him?
NET John 10:11 "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
NET John 10:16 I have other sheep that do not come from this sheepfold. I must bring them too, and they will listen to my voice, so that there will be one flock and one shepherd.
NET Hebrews 13:20 Now may the God of peace who by the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep, our Lord Jesus Christ,
Why exclude the blessing of contemplating Christ as God's Anointed and His church as His people and inheritance in Psalm 28:8-9? I have a proposition to answer that question. If Christ is in view, then the Psalm would surely point to His first coming. If Christ's first coming is ultimately in view (as an intent of God in having authored this Psalm through the human psalmist, His amanuensis), then His people, the church are also in view, as shown by the scriptures in the paragraphs above. If Christ in His first coming and His church are ultimately in view, then the argument favoring an Old Testament prediction of an exclusively Israelitish future kingdom ruled by Christ in His second coming is severely weakened. Verses used to support that view work only if the church is systematically kept out of them.
As I read through certain study Bible notes, I get a distinct impression that the presence of Christ is being forcefully excluded from most of the Psalms. And following closely in His footsteps, as befits those for whom He died, His church--which includes men of all nations, tribes, and tongues, of which Israel is one--is also excluded. Why? Because including Christ and His church in many of the Psalms--from those Psalms not directly quoted by New Testament writers, who cannot for sake of space quote the entirety of Psalms--including Christ and His church weakens the argument for an exclusively Israelitish kingdom on earth at some future date. Is it not true that the ones who speak most loudly about a coming millennial kingdom exclusively for Israel on earth are the ones who deny most vociferously that the New Testament provides a most welcome and necessary beam of light upon the Old?6 Authors who insist that the Old Testament must squarely stand on its own feet without the benefit of light shed upon it by the New (in contradiction to scripture itself), are the same authors who most consistently exclude Christ from the Psalms by limiting their application to those living at the time of the Psalms' composing.
But such interpretation also weakens the blessing for those who read the Psalms that way.
Christians are "in Christ". If Christ is in the Psalms, then they, too, are in the Psalms, and the Psalms are written for their blessing, comfort, and strength. If only King David and other Old Testament kings and personages are in the Psalms, then a Christian may still be blessed, but not nearly as directly as by seeing the Savior of their souls in view.
How can a simple reader, such as I am, determine which hermeneutic is correct? I can do no better than quote again from C. H. Spurgeon, with whom I heartily agree on his point, as expressed in the quotation that follows in the paragraph just below. And with Spurgeon, I encourage all who may be reading this article to read the Psalms many times straight through over the course of the following months without the aid of study notes, nor even The Treasury of David. Let the Psalms speak for themselves with the Holy Spirit as your guide. I pray that God through the Psalms will speak strongly to your hearts of His love for you, poured out in Jesus Christ, who in His suffering love is present in most of the Psalms.
"More and more is the conviction forced upon my heart that every man must traverse the territory of the Psalms himself if he would know what a goodly land they are. They flow with milk and honey, but not to strangers; they are only fertile to lovers of their hills and vales. None but the Holy Spirit can give a man the key to the Treasury of David; and even he gives it rather to experience than to study. Happy is he who for himself knows the secret of the Psalms."11
1 Translation Source Notes:
1) The English Translation of The Septuagint Version of the Old Testament by Sir Lancelot C. L. Brenton, 1844, 1851, published by Samuel Bagster and Sons, London, original ASCII edition Copyright © 1988 by FABS International (c/o Bob Lewis, DeFuniak Springs FL 32433). All rights reserved. Accessed through BibleWorks 9, Windows Vista/7 Release, Copyright © 2011 by BibleWorks, LLC, Version 9.0.005f.1 (SH)
2) The New American Standard Bible (NASB) (NAS  and NAU ). Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1988, 1995, and La Biblia de Las Americas. Copyright © 1986, both by The Lockman Foundation. All rights reserved. Accessed through BibleWorks 9, Windows Vista/7 Release, Copyright © 2011 by BibleWorks, LLC, Version 9.0.005f.1 (SH)
3) DRA The Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition. Very literal translation of the Latin Vulgate. Public Domain. Accessed through BibleWorks 9, Windows Vista/7 Release, Copyright © 2011 by BibleWorks, LLC, Version 9.0.005f.1 (SH)
4) GNV Geneva Bible 1599. Text edited and provided by Mark Langley (email@example.com). Accessed through BibleWorks 9, Windows Vista/7 Release, Copyright © 2011 by BibleWorks, LLC, Version 9.0.005f.1 (SH)
5) The Orthodox Study Bible, Copyright ©2008 by St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology.
6) The NET Bible, Version 1.0 - Copyright © 1996-2006 Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. Accessed through BibleWorks 9, Windows Vista/7 Release, Copyright © 2011 by BibleWorks, LLC, Version 9.0.005f.1 (SH)
7) The English Darby Bible 1884/1890 (DBY), a literal translation by John Nelson Darby (1800-1882), ASCII version Copyright © 1988-1997 by the Online Bible Foundation and Woodside Fellowship of Ontario, Canada. Licensed from the Institute for Creation Research. Accessed through BibleWorks 9, Windows Vista/7 Release, Copyright © 2011 by BibleWorks, LLC, Version 9.0.005f.1 (SH)
2 United Methodist Women, "Three Early Biblical Translations", available at http://gbgm-umc.org/umw/bible/translations.stm and Samuel Angus, "The Vulgate" from "The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)", available at http://www.bible-researcher.com/vulgate1.html
3 "Among Hellenistic Jews, two views of the Septuagint developed. One group thought the translation was too loose and revised the books in order to make them a more literal translation. Aquila, a Jewish proselyte produced such a translation ca. 128. Others, like Philo of Alexandria (c. 15 BCE-50 CE), believed that the original Greek translators of the LXX were inspired and shared equal authority with the original Hebrew version. Jewish reaction against the LXX began in the first century and grew until Judaism rejected it entirely in the second century. Christians, on the other hand, followed the view of Philo." United Methodist Women, "Three Early Biblical Translations", available at http://gbgm-umc.org/umw/bible/translations.stm
4 Andrew A. Bonar, Christ and His Church in the Book of Psalms, Published in 1978 by Kregel Publications, a division of Kregel, Inc. All rights reserved, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49501, pages 96-98
5 C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Three Volume Set, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA 01961-3473, Volume Two, page 20
6 “Now a note here please: it is not legitimate to interpret the Old Testament as secondary to [stet—this is how the original is written] the New Testament as primary. Okay? That's not legitimate. Otherwise, the Old Testament was literally darkness not light. If you say that the Old Testament cannot be rightly interpreted apart from the New Testament then you have denied the perspicuity of the Old Testament.” Quotation from John MacArthur, as found in article by Dr. Kim Riddlebarger, “John MacArthur on Calvinism, Dispensationalism, Israel and Hermeneutics: A Few Comments”, available at http://kimriddlebarger.squarespace.com/a-reply-to-john-macarthur/, © 2012 by Kim Riddlebarger
My own counter-argument to the point of view expressed in the quotation above is to ask, What does scripture itself say about itself?
NET Matthew 4:16 the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, and on those who sit in the region and shadow of death a light has dawned."
NET Luke 2:32 a light, for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel."
NET John 1:4 In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind. 5 And the light shines on in the darkness, but the darkness has not mastered it.
NET John 3:19 Now this is the basis for judging: that the light has come into the world and people loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil.
NET Acts 26:22 I have experienced help from God to this day, and so I stand testifying to both small and great, saying nothing except what the prophets and Moses said was going to happen: 23 that the Christ was to suffer and be the first to rise from the dead, to proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles."
NET 2 Timothy 1:10 but now made visible through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus. He has broken the power of death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel!
NET 1 John 2:8 On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.
NET 2 Corinthians 3:14 But their minds were closed. For to this very day, the same veil remains when they hear the old covenant read. It has not been removed because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 But until this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds, 16 but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.
NET 1 Peter 1:10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who predicted the grace that would come to you searched and investigated carefully. 11 They probed into what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating when he testified beforehand about the sufferings appointed for Christ and his subsequent glory. 12 They were shown that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things now announced to you through those who proclaimed the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven– things angels long to catch a glimpse of.
7 See the NET Bible notes on Psalm 28:8-9.
Also, there is this: "28:8 His anointed. This is most likely a corporate reference to the people of God being anointed, not to an individual (cf. Hab 3:13)." John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, Copyright © 2006 by Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, Tennessee, page 754. Not even the NET study Bible agrees with the interpretation quoted.
8 C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Three Volume Set, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA 01961-3473, Volume Two, page 20.
9 Ibid., Volume Two, page 22.
10 Ibid., page 27.
11 C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Three Volume Set, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA 01961-3473, Volume Two, on an unnumbered page in the preface to the second volume.