We noted in the previous installment that the prophets of both Old and New Testaments seem to have studied the Law and the work of other prophets. It may surprise us to discover that psalms are also frequently quoted or referred to by prophets in both Testaments.
Jeremiah also plays with a theme and a phrase from Psalm 31:13 in three different contexts during his ministry. The psalm is about needing God’s help because of persecution by enemies. The most direct application of the theme in Jeremiah comes in a lament about being put down and derided by kings and false prophets in Jer. 20:10. Just prior to this, in v. 3, God inspires him to use the phrase “Terror-all-around” as a nickname of Pashhur, his main opponent. In doing so, he flips the meaning of the phrase in the psalm upside-down, referring to Pashhur as a terror to himself and his own friends and family. Jeremiah uses the phrase again in 46:5 and 49:29 as he pronounces judgment against neighbouring nations that exult in Israel’s downfall. This time the reference is to the fear that the soldiers of Egypt and Kedar have as the formidable enemy army surrounds them.
Newer translations of the Bible usually show large portions of the writings of the prophets in versified form to indicate a change in genre from narrative (story-flow) to poetry/psalm format. Poetry and song writing were both popular forms of expressing God’s will among the prophets of the Old Testament, as we explored in a previous post. Several of the writers of the Psalms are called prophets in 1 Chronicles 25:1-2. In a sense, one might consider references to Psalms as a special case of prophets using the material of other prophets.
The Apostle John, in the only prophetic book of the New Testament, Revelation, refers to the theme of the cup of the wine of God’s wrath in Psalm 75. This is a theme also used by Jeremiah in 25:15 in reference to Jerusalem and all the nations of the earth. In Jer. 51:7 he uses it in reference to the city of Babylon as the agent holding God’s wrath for all nations to drink.
In Revelation 14 John describes the incredible wickedness of a city called “Babylon the Great” in attempting to destroy the people of God and ruling ruthlessly over the world. John uses the imagery of the cup of God’s wrath in Psalm 75 to refer to the powerful wrath of God against all who “worship the beast.” This wrath will lead to the ultimate destruction of all the forces of evil in the world, typified by the wealthy and powerful Imperial City of Rome in his day.
Why would Old Testament and New Testament prophets write or quote songs and poems from the Psalms when they want to get important information across from God?
The Psalms were an integral part of the worship of ancient Israel at the Temple. King David established clans of Levites as singers and musicians at the Tabernacle site in preparation for building a Temple for God. He wrote many Psalms himself, and commissioned many others from the Levite composers, such as Asaph.
The Psalms became the prayers and praises of Israel, and functioned as teaching tools for wisdom and prophetic words of reproof or encouragement for the nation in its various circumstances. Like today, the Psalms were memorized and used devotionally. Nowadays we read them devotionally, but back then they were sung and even acted out.
It would be worthwhile to spend a few sessions going more deeply into the Psalms to see what they can teach us about prophetic (and any other) ministry. So we will.