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John Gill on Psalms 2, 41, 72 and 89

April 7, 2008
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Psalm 2
This psalm is the second in order, and so it is called in Acts 13:33; which shows that the book of Psalms was in the same form in the apostles’ days as now, and as it ever had been; and though it is without a title, yet certain it is that it is a psalm of David, since the twelve apostles of Christ with one voice ascribe it to him, in which no doubt they the generally received sense of the Jewish Acts 4:24; and the Messiah is the subject of and that it is a prophecy concerning him, his person, office, and kingdom, appears from the express mention of the Lord’s Anointed, or Messiah, in his being set as King over Zion, notwithstanding the opposition made against him; from the person spoken of being called the Son of God, and that in such sense as angels and men are not, and therefore cannot belong to any creature; and from his having so large an inheritance, and such power over the Heathen; and from the reverence, service, and obedience due to him from the kings and judges of the earth; and from the trust and confidence which is to be put in him, which ought not to be placed but in a divine Person; and more especially this appears from several passages cited out of it in the New Testament, and applied to the Messiah, Acts 4:25, to which may be added, that the ancient Jewish doctors interpreted this psalm of the Messiah; and some of the modern ones own that it may be understood either of David or of the Messiah, and that some things are clearer of the Messiah than of David; and some particular passages in it are applied to him both by ancient and later writers among the Jews, as Psalm 2:1, “Why do the Heathen rage”, &c.; Psalm 2:6, “I have set”, &c.; Psalm 2:7, “I will declare the decree”, &c., and Psalm 2:8, “Ask of me”, &c.; and we may very safely interpret the whole of him.

Psalm 41
In this psalm is a prophecy concerning Christ, and concerning Judas Iscariot, as runs part of the title in the Syriac version; and in the Arabic version it is called a prophecy concerning the incarnation, and the salutation of Judas; and certain it is that Psalm 41:9 is to be understood of him, and of his betraying Christ into the hands of his enemies, since it is cited and applied to him by our Lord himself, John 13:18; so that having such a sure rule of interpretation, we may safely venture to explain the whole psalm of Christ, which treats both of his humiliation and exaltation; for it neither agrees with David wholly, nor with Hezekiah, to whom some ascribe it, as Theodoret remarks.

Psalm 72
The title of this psalm is by some rendered, “a psalm of Solomon”; as a psalm לדוד, “for David”, is often rendered “a psalm of David”; and so make Solomon to be the writer of it: to which the Targum inclines, which paraphrases it, “by the hand of Solomon, said in prophecy.” But, though Solomon had a gift of divine poetry, as appears by the Song of Songs, composed by him; and the Thousand and Five, he was the author of; and perhaps wrote the hundred twenty seventh Psalm: yet by the first and last verses of this psalm it may be concluded it was not written by him, but by David; and very likely at the close of his days, when he ordered Solomon to be anointed king, and expressed his satisfaction in it; his prayers and wishes then being ended with regard to that affair; see 1 Kings 1:34. And so the title in the Syriac version is, “a psalm of David, when he made Solomon king:” the same Kimchi observes; it was written for him, and on his account: and it might be sent to him, and delivered into his hands, to be laid up and kept by him, and be referred to for his use at proper times. For it may be rendered, as in the Arabic version, “to Solomon”; which adds, the son of David: or else it may denote the subject of the psalm, and be read, “concerning Solomon”; the Messiah, the antitypical Solomon; who is often called by this name in the Song of Songs; see Song 3:7; Solomon being a type of him in his wisdom and riches, and in the peaceableness and extent of his kingdom; to which reference is had in this psalm. But a greater than Solomon is here; that the Messiah is the subject of it is manifest from the largeness of his kingdom, it reaching to the ends of the earth; which was not true of Solomon, Psalm 72:8; and from the duration of it, it being as long as the sun and moon endure, Psalm 72:5; and from the abundance of peace and prosperity in it, which equally last, Psalm 72:3; and from the subjection of kings and nations to him, even all of them, Psalm 72:9; and from the happiness of his subjects; they having protection, deliverance, and salvation by him, and all spiritual blessings in him; which shows him to be the promised seed, in whom all nations should be blessed, Psalm 72:2, and from the honour, praise, glory, and blessedness, ascribed to him, Psalm 72:15. So Tertullian, long ago, observed, that this psalm belongs to Christ, and not to Solomon. And that the Messiah is intended, many of the Jewish writers, both ancient and modern, acknowledge, as appears from the Targum, Talmud, Midrash, and other writings, which will be observed in the exposition of it. Jarchi, though he interprets it of Solomon, yet owns that their Rabbins expound the whole psalm of the Messiah: and Kimchi, who explains it hyperbolically of Solomon, acknowledges that, in the proper and literal sense, it is to be understood of the Messiah; and which is the sense given by his father, R. Joseph Kimchi. Aben Ezra says, this psalm is either concerning Solomon, or concerning the Messiah; but Abarbinel makes no doubt that it is said concerning him. R. Obadiah says, it is concerning the coming of the Messiah; and to this agrees the title in the Syriac version, “and a prophecy concerning the coming of the Messiah, and the calling of the Gentiles.”

Psalm 89
Who this Ethan [whose name appears in the title] was is not certain. Kimchi takes him to be the same with Ethan the wise man, a grandson of Judah, 1 Kings 4:31. But seeing he lived some hundreds of years before the times of David, it is not likely that he should be the writer of this psalm; for David is made mention of in it, which could not be, unless it can be thought to be by a spirit of prophecy; which indeed is the opinion of Doctor Lightfoot, who takes this Ethan to be the penman of this psalm; and who “from the promise, Genesis 15:1 sings joyfully the deliverance (of Israel); that the raging of the Red sea should be ruled, Psalm 89:9, and Rahab, or Egypt, should be broken in pieces, Psalm 89:10, and that the people should hear the joyful sound of the law, Psalm 89:15, and as for the name of David in it, this, he says, might be done prophetically; as Samuel is thought to be named by Moses, Psalm 99:6, which psalm is held to be made by him; or else might be put into it, in later times, by some divine penman, endued with the same gift of prophecy, who might improve the ground work of this psalm laid by Ethan, and set it to an higher key; namely, that whereas he treated only of bodily deliverance from Egypt, it is wound up so high as to reach the spiritual delivery by Christ; and therefore David is often named, from whence he should come.”

There was another Ethan, a singer, in David’s time; and it is more probable that he is the person, who might live to the times of Rehoboam, and see the decline of David’s family, and the revolt of the ten tribes from it; or perhaps it was one of this name who lived in the times of the Babylonish captivity, and saw the low estate that David’s family were come into; to which agrees the latter part of this psalm; and, in order to comfort the people of God, he wrote this psalm, showing that the covenant and promises of God, made with David, nevertheless stood firm, and would be accomplished: the title of the Septuagint version calls him Etham the Israelite; and the Arabic version Nathan the Israelite: the Targum makes him to be Abraham, paraphrasing it “a good understanding, which was said by the hand of Abraham, that came from the east.” But whoever was the penman of this psalm, it is “maschil”, an instructive psalm, a psalm causing to understand; it treats concerning the covenant of grace, and the promises of it; and concerning the mercy and faithfulness of God, in making and keeping the same; and concerning the Messiah and his seed, his church and people; and the stability and duration of all these: many passages in it are applied to the Messiah by Jewish writers, ancient and modern; and Psalm 89:20 is manifestly referred to in Acts 13:22.

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