Revelation 7:9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Excerpt from below: “Following a long pause equivalent to the three days Christ spent in the tomb, the psalmist-worshiper-musician breaks into his joyful peals of praise, which continue to the end of the psalm.”
Psalm 57 is so similar to Psalm 56 that it could be considered an expansion of it. Psalm 56 focuses upon the enemies of Christ and closes with statements expressing his great faith and hope in God’s resurrection of him. Psalm 57 picks up these themes and develops the significance of the resurrection portion, while looking back upon the duress experienced under the persecution of the enemies, which led to the cross.
Craig C. Broyles captures the “flashback” nature of the first portion of the psalm when he writes, “Thus, verses 2-4, 6 may function largely as a confession of trust or a testimony, not as a lament.” (Broyles, 244) What Broyles lacks in his interpretation, however, is the basic thesis that Christ is the speaker of this and many other psalms like it. Hearing the voice of Christ in the psalmist’s prophetic words is the key that unlocks the relationship of the psalm’s various parts. (See Luke 24:25-27, 44)
A great help to the modern reader is to envision a readers’ theater setting for this and many other psalms. In such a theater, there would be a “stage” where actors in identifying costumes or wearing identifying facial masks would speak the lines of the psalms. The words our Bibles present record the readers’ words, but not stage directions, and very few narrative elements that would connect or interpret the speeches. The psalms often are abbreviated scripts. One interpretive help is knowing that Christ the Messiah, Son of God (See Psalm 2), is most often the first person speaker. A second help is knowing the basic outline of Christ’s incarnation: his mission, good works, the enemies who opposed him, his passion and death, resurrection, and ascension into glory and dominion. Keeping both these points forefront in the mind will help the reader connect the various portions of any given psalm.
The Structure of Psalm (56)57
First, Psalm 57 could well be a continuation of Psalm 56, even though the entire Psalter is not arranged in this sequential fashion. Often the reader must jump around among the psalms to uncover sequential material. But here verse 13 of Psalm 56 provides a strong connection to Psalm 57.
Psalm 56:13 For thou hast delivered my soul from death, and my feet from sliding, that I should be well-pleasing before God in the land of the living. (LXE)
[LXE means Septuagint in English. The version I love and use is Brenton’s. See footnote one for more information about the Septuagint.]
The phrases, “thou hast delivered my soul from death,” and “before God in the land of the living,” indicate resurrection from death. The ESV translation is very similar:
For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life. (ESV)
Psalm 57 develops the resurrection theme, beginning with a flashback to the prayer Christ prayed, possibly in the Garden of Gethsemane:
Psalm 57:1 Have mercy, upon me, O God, have mercy upon me: for my soul has trusted in thee: and in the shadow of thy wings will I hope, until the iniquity have passed away. (LXE)
The function of the flashback is to state the nature of the problem the psalmist faced before his deliverance and to recall the prayer he prayed while under duress.
Verse 2 also states as a recollection before deliverance the resolve of the speaker, “I will cry to God most high.” The next phrase in verse 2, “the God who has benefited me,” is better translated as a present, “the God who benefits me.” (2)
Verse 3 launches into a past tense narrative of God’s saving actions, which continues through verse 4. After reading the verses below, compare these to the highly dramatized narrative of the resurrection found in Psalm 18:14-19.
3 He sent from heaven and saved me; he gave to reproach them that trampled on me: God has sent forth his mercy and his truth;
4 and he has delivered my soul from the midst of lions’ whelps: I lay down to sleep, though troubled. As for the sons of men, their teeth are arms and missile weapons, and their tongue a sharp sword. (LXE)
[Translation note: In Brenton’s translation, the word “though” is italicized. This indicates that this connecting word is not in the original Greek. If translated as written, one would say, “I lay down to sleep, troubled.” I believe Brenton erred here in supplying the word “though.” The original wording is best for a simple reason. To say, “I lay down to sleep, though troubled,” forces a meaning upon the original of a literal sleep, as in overnight or a nap. On the other hand, while “I lay down to sleep, troubled,” does not preclude the meaning of a night’s sleep in the midst of angst, it allows for the metaphorical sleep of death, as in Matthew 27:52, Isaiah 14:8, 43:17, and 1 Kings 11:43. I believe that the sleep of death is the primary meaning of this passage, in agreement with Psalm 22:1, “O God, my God, attend to me: why hast thou forsaken me?” and with Luke 22:44, “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground,” while Jesus prayed in the Garden.]
In verse 5, we see what Christians often sing and marvel over–the glory of the cross:
5 Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens; and thy glory above all the earth. (LXE)
This exclamatory verse interrupts the narrative of the actions of the enemies in verses 4-6. The ESV and NET place an exclamation point at the end of the line. Verse 6 continues the narrative, but differs from verse 4 in that it gives the final outcome of defeat for God’s enemies.
6 They have prepared snares for my feet, and have bowed down my soul: they have dug a pit before my face, and fallen into it themselves. Pause. (LXE)
Following a long pause equivalent to the three days Christ spent in the tomb, the psalmist-worshiper-musician breaks into his joyful peals of praise, which continue to the end of the psalm.
7 My heart, O God, is ready, my heart is ready: I will sing, yea will sing psalms.
8 Awake, my glory; awake, psaltery and harp: I will awake early.
9 O Lord, I will give thanks to thee among the nations: I will sing to thee among the Gentiles.
10 For thy mercy has been magnified even to the heavens, and thy truth to the clouds.
11 Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens; and thy glory above all the earth. (LXE)
What Broyles found strange (see paragraph 2 above) was the perceived dissonance between the opening strain of individual lament followed by the shouting praise to God on an international and cosmic level (Broyles, 243). He concludes that the speaker “is a representative liturgist speaking on behalf of the people of God, who regularly experience opposition from non-believers” (ibid). Yes! He still falls short, however, by not recognizing that Christ is here being prophesied as the representative of not only his own people according to his flesh but the entire human race internationally. The non-believers in Christ’s case were the religious leaders whom he called out on many occasions.
25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me,
26 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep.
27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.
28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:25-28 ESV)
The same chapter of John from which the above quotation is taken also announces the international and racially inclusive nature of God’s glorious victory in Christ:
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)
Psalm 57 is a joyful psalm of praise and thanksgiving for God’s victory in overcoming the psalmist’s enemies. The voice in the psalm is the prophetic voice of Christ. We know this by comparing this psalm with other psalms, such as Psalm 22, which are widely accepted as messianic prophecies. We also recognize Christ prophetically in the speaker’s voice of Psalm 57 through application of hindsight, comparing this psalm with events of Jesus’s life, as recorded in the gospels. The use of hindsight is not to be disparaged–Jesus himself gifted his disciples and the church with the light of understanding that hindsight brings (See Luke 24:25-27). While Psalm 57 gives the joyful outcome for those who gladly receive Christ’s mediation for them, looking ahead, Psalm 58 describes the outcome of judgment upon the enemies of God and his Son, those enemies who dug a pit and fell into it themselves, Psalm 57:6.
1 See the chapter in this blog on the Septuagint, “Psalm 28: Why the Septuagint?” and the Bibliography for many books specifically about this marvelous treasure. Authors to note are Jennifer Dines, Natalio Marcos, Karen Jobes and Moises Silva, and Timothy Michael Law.
2 See NETS on this phrase, “to God who acts as my benefactor.”