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Monday, August 20, 2007

Reading the Psalms in the Light of Christ

One of the last things that Jesus did after His Resurrection and before His Ascension into Heaven was to open His disciples' minds to Scripture. Now they were able to see how Jesus is hidden in the Scriptures, meaning the Old Testament. The great secret of the Old Testament is that it has Jesus's footprints all over it, and this is an additional meaning that Christians perceive in the Old Testament that is not evident to Jews.

I found the following in the comments section of Mere Comments, written by Wonders for Oyarsa and reproduced below.

Let's take Psalm 1, and I'll show you what I think it means to read it "in the light of Christ."

Psalm 1
Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

Original Reading

Now, the plain original meaning of this psalm is rather obvious. A righteous man is one who chooses to spend his time away from bad men - wicked men, sinners, and scoffers. Instead of desiring their company and approval, he delights in contemplating the Torah of God - which includes the story of God's creation and redemption as well as God's outline of how his people are to live.
Holding fast to the Torah keeps this man firmly planted in God, and makes him successful in all that he does. This is in contrast to wicked men, who come to ruin. God "knows" the way of the righteous - in that deep Biblical sense of the word - walking in this way unites the righteous man to God in a way not wholly unlike Adam "knowing" his wife Eve. As they walk apart from God, the wicked simply wither away.

This is how an Old Testament (and presumably a modern) Jew would read this psalm. And this should be the first sense in which we read it as well. However, I believe that we Christians should go beyond just this reading, and read it in the light of Christ.

Reading in the Light of Christ

So, we should immediately think of the Son of Man who did not walk in the counsel of the wicked. He did nothing of his own accord, but only from the word he heard from the Father. Day and night, he was immersed in prayer, listening to his Father's will. In all that he did, he prospered. All things were put under his feet - all his enemies were conquered - including that last enemy, Death itself. Yet we must keep in mind that this victory was done, paradoxically, through his apparent defeat on the tree of the cross. His body seemed to be destroyed, but did not see corruption or decay. He did not wither. And those powers that saw fit to put him to death were indeed destroyed (both the Priestly establishment and the Roman imperial powers), withering away, while his name is exalted over all other names.

The Lord knows the way of Christ - to know him is eternal life itself. To see him is to see the Father. Those who place their believing allegiance in him are united to him in love - love which is born of God and knows God. Whoever rejects the Son will not see life - for he cuts himself off from the knowledge of God. Such branches wither, and are fit only to be thrown into the fire.

The Relationship Between the Two

I don't think, after looking at Christ, we should ever look at anything the same again - even the Old Testament scriptures. We should obviously not be blinded to the Old Testament as it was read by the original authors, but we should see far more.

So, for instance, we would no longer be content to bask in the glory of how much a man visibly prospers by his adherence to the Torah of God, without speaking of Christ. For Christ redefines the very notion of Torah - being himself the Word and Law of God in person. Christ redefines the very nature of prosperity - it is not to be found in self-aggrandizement but in self-sacrificial service. To prosper means to share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so somehow to attain the resurrection of the dead.

We also cannot look down our noses at those formerly deemed as "wicked", "sinners", and "scoffers" - for the Lord of Life has invited those formerly cut off from the knowledge of God to his table. To exalt in one's own adherence to Torah, against these outsiders is to play the part of the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son. Do not call common what God has made clean.
So who are the wicked that wither away? Those who persist in rejecting the gospel, of course, but ultimately, if this be read in the light of Christ, we should see that corruption and decay and death itself ironically now corrodes, decays, and dies. This is done by means of the cross of the aforementioned blessed man.

So it is the same God who inspired those original psalms who also sent us his son. But that does not mean we are to read these in the same way, from where we stand. When that which is perfect has come, that interpretation that was in part must go away. When you've beheld the glory of the Only Begotten Son, you should never look at the Law and the Prophets the same again - or rather, when you look upon them, they only continue to point you back again towards what they were ultimately meant to reveal all along.


To show you that this is how the Church interprets Scripture, I give you another example, a small commentary on Psalm 1 by a respected Bible scholar and Orthodox, Father Patrick Henry Reardon, (go here and scroll down to Monday, August 28). It's so short I've reproduced it here below:

Psalms 1 & 2: The first two psalms in the Psalter describe the same "Man," who is the perfect Man, Christ our Lord.

In Psalm 1 Christ is presented as the Man who fears the Lord and walks in His ways, and He is contrasted with the wicked, who are the enemies of God. In Psalm 2 He is described as the King, against whom the enemies of God make war.

Both of these psalms speak, not only of Christ, but also of Christ's enemies. The enemies of Christ are seldom absent from the Book of Psalms, because this is a prayer book for warriors. No one else need try to pray them.

These first two psalms are likewise the key to the understanding of the whole Psalter, because they identify the "Man" whose presence dominates each of the psalms. This is why the Book of Psalms is the Old Testament work most cited and quoted in the New Testament. This is also why the Book of Psalms has been, from the beginning, the major prayer book of the Christian Church, which is the company of Christian warriors.

To pray the psalms outside of this Christological center is to render one's prayer less than Christian. (cf. Patrick Henry Reardon, Christ in the Psalms, Conciliar Press 2000 -- www.conciliarpress.com)

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