Royal Psalms

Dr. W.H. Bellinger discusses, in pp. 45-48 of The Testimony of Poets and Sages, two further categories of Psalms: Royal Psalms and Wisdom Psalms. Both types could be considered types of praise hymns, but they have unique features that deserve to be treated as separate categories.

Royal Psalms

This category includes Psalms 2, 18, 20, 21, 45, 72, 89, 101, 110, 132, and 144. The common denominator of this category is that they refer to the royal lineage of King David. He notes, “The king was central to the life of ancient Israel and central to its faith. For that reason, I continue in the tradition of Gunkel to give separate consideration to these psalms. These texts relate to a variety of settings in the life of the king: preparation for battle, a royal coronation, a royal wedding.”

On the one hand I notice that our current life setting is far removed from the ideals of ancient near-eastern kingship. And yet… there still seems to be a lot of interest among Canadians in the lifestyle, coronations, and weddings of Britain’s royal family. For that matter, Americans seem to invest a lot of interest in their own “first family” as well. What we do not have invested, at least in this current era, is the element of faith in the God who selected Britain’s royal family.

Unlike modern monarchies, Israel has a record of a divine appointment of King David, as well as a promise of a continuing dynasty. This promise is rooted in earlier promises that go back to Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:14-15) and elaborated through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Gen. 22:17-18; 49:8-12). In anticipation of these promises the Covenant included clauses specifically about the rights and duties of kings, long before a formal monarchy was established (Deut. 17:14-20). The anointing and appointment of David as king was a turning point in Israel’s history which marked a time of hope for a divinely wonderful future.

Psalm 2 was, according to Dr. Bellinger, likely a coronation psalm for a king from the line of David. In poetic form, it captures the sense of promise and hope of a glorious reign over the surrounding nations.
It begins with a rhetorical question: why are the nations plotting against God’s anointed king? God’s response is laughter. He certainly doesn’t take the threat seriously, as befits a being with ultimate power.

Dr. Bellinger puts it quite eloquently in the following quote. “Then the king whom Yahweh has established on Mount Zion speaks, beginning in verse 7, and recounts the divine declaration on this day of royal coronation. God has decreed that the Davidic king is now Yahweh’s adopted son and is established to rule” (p. 46).

I have a twisted sense of humour, so I can’t help but think that this takes the schoolyard taunt, “my dad can beat up your dad” to a whole new level. The more serious side of me recognizes that this advice to vassal kings is made with reference to the defining event in Israel’s history: the Exodus. In both the fight from Egypt and the conquest of Canaan, Yahweh proved His might against all comers.

There was apparently a ritual of breaking a pot with a staff within the coronation ceremony, to show the result of breaking faith with the king. Any vassal with a historical memory should recognize that this threat has teeth. It will work far better for those who give allegiance to Yahweh and His appointed king.

Dr. Bellinger notices that where this psalm is placed in the book of Psalms is significant. “It is noteworthy that this psalm’s articulation of the Davidic covenant promise comes at the beginning of the Psalter. By the time we reach Psalm 89, that promise has come to an untimely demise, and the latter parts of the Psalter affirm instead the kingship of Yahweh, which is the basis of the affirmation in Psalm 2” (p.46).

In other words, the increasing corruption in the kingly line of David led to the eventual demise of the blessings of the covenant, leading to their exile from the Promised land. Any hope for deliverance from that fate could not come from the kings. Instead, the only hope of restoration is to be found in God Himself.

Dr. Bellinger also notices that the pattern of offering choices between obedience and disobedience is similar to that of Psalm 1, but applied on an international rather than personal scale. “The text offers sure hope of the coming kingdom of God and calls communities to allegiance to the only giver of life” (p. 47).

The later royal psalms, Psalms 89, 101, 110, 132 and 144, serve to remind us of the coming kingdom of God and its King, our Lord Jesus Christ. Psalm 2 was used by the early apostles to prove the very lordship of Jesus Christ as the legitimate heir of King David, and very Son of God. It is helpful to think of Jesus as we read these psalms.

A later post will deal with the second category mentioned in the first paragraph of this post: Wisdom Psalms.


About John Valade

I facilitate and teach in Wascana Fellowship. I have been married to Wanda since 1984. M.Div. from Briercrest Seminary, SK in 2011 and B.R.E. Canadian Bible College (now Ambrose University College) in 2000.
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