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How Then Do We Interpret a Psalm?

Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation, II Peter 1:20.

It is Peter himself who taught us how to interpret the Psalms. It was Peter who was delegated by the Holy Ghost to speak to the crowd of curious onlookers on the Day of Pentecost. Jews require a sign (I Corinthians 1:22). The Lord provided a powerful sign with the Apostles speaking one language and the people hearing it in their own language. That alone was not enough to convince them that Jesus Christ was indeed the Messiah. It got their attention.

It was left to Peter to convince them through the scriptures that Jesus was the Christ. If we were to hear Peter preach, we would not need a lot of proof that he knew what he was talking about. After all, isn't this Peter the apostle? Yet, Peter needed more to convince the crowd listening to him. He reasoned from within the 16th Psalm. He taught them and us how to properly interpret a Psalm.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope. For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption, Psalm 16:9,10. There is no doubt that David wrote this Psalm. The Psalm itself tells us that is a Michtam of David. Peter confirmed the authorship when he preached on it. What Peter needed to do was to demonstrate through his preaching that the Psalm could not apply to David himself.

There was no one in that crowd prone to believe Peter because he had walked with Jesus. These are the people who crucified Jesus. The Holy Ghost gave them a powerful sign to make them stop and listen, but it was up to Peter to reason with them from within the scriptures, and reason he did.

In the Psalm, David spoke in the first person. He used words like I and my. Under the normal rules of interpretation, he would have been speaking of himself. However, Peter drew their attention to the impossibility of that Psalm speaking of David. Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption, Acts 2:29-31.

The fact that King David was in a tomb and was most certainly dead and buried left the listeners with two choices. Either they could say that David had made an obvious error, or they could realize that the Psalm was a Messianic Psalm, it was a Psalm speaking of the Messiah. There is a rule of interpretation here. Any Psalm when speaking in the first person, if the statement made cannot possibly be the writer of the Psalm, it is Christ himself.

Let's test that premise on Psalm 22. Did Jesus Christ merely quote Psalm 22:1 when he said, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Or, is Psalm 22 a prophecy of Jesus Christ? Let's test some other verses. For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet, Psalm 22:16. I think we can find times when David was surrounded by dogs (Gentiles), and I think that we can find times when the assembly of the wicked had inclosed him. What we cannot find is any time when anyone pierced his hands and feet. Therefore, by Peter's rule of interpretation, the Psalm is speaking here of Jesus Christ.

All too often, commentators gloss over places in the Psalms that don't make sense to them. Instead, they should ask themselves, "can this statement be talking about David himself?", and if it is in the first person and it cannot be speaking of David, they need to ascribe it to Jesus Christ. Otherwise the Psalms are just filled with jibber jabber. In the Psalms, the full revelation of the passion of Jesus Christ is laid out. It is laid out also in the law itself which Jesus Christ fulfilled. We will look at the Psalms in more detail in my next post.

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