Fulfilling the Psalms

Commenting on II Samuel is complicated because of its deeper narrative structure.  The characters are not types like in Genesis or Exodus; they have a lot more depth and development.  More interpretive moves are required at the literal level before the spiritual senses shake out.  Those spiritual senses are in some ways more profound, but they require more explanation and time to see.

Hacking my way through these issues has helped me get a handle on one of St. Luke’s phrases that I never fully understood.  Of course all the gospels are interested in Jesus fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies, and I can give some easy sense to what it means for Jesus to fulfill the Law.  But St. Luke always chips in this extra mode of fulfillment—that Christ fulfills the Psalms.

Of course there’s a simple way to explain that—St. Luke is saying the Psalms are prophetic.  But it’s a little strange, right?  That’s like picking up a hymnal at mass and saying that it is prophetic.  Prophetic how?

The Psalms sing the story of David—the good and the bad, the triumphs and defeats, and always the cry to God.  They are the soundtrack to I and II Samuel, the lessons that David learns, the internal deliberations and frustrations that he experiences during all these scenes.  Psalms are the blocking to his play.

But if Christ fulfills the Psalms then they are also His soundtrack, and even the more so.  He lives out each of those songs that was written for just such a purpose…and so David lives out the life of Christ.  He sets down the base line, or Christ’s perfect action casts echoes back through time to foreshadow itself in David.

This is also why and how the Psalms are the backbone of Christian prayer.  Because we are incorporated into Christ, they become our soundtrack as well.  It is no feeble imitation when we pray the psalms, any more than Christ was imitating his ancestor when he lived and prayed them.

We can never fulfill psalms—we can’t be the hypostatic union, either—but we can live them and, in a way mysterious and profound, they live us.  They teach us the divine speech, just as children learn by repeating the words of their parents and making them their own.  Christ taught them to David, then David to us, then Christ to us.  The Lord said to my Lord…

So I’ve been thinking lately that David’s entire life is pure prophecy, that he is perhaps the pre-eminent type of Christ.  I hesitate to say that since moving him ahead of Adam or Abraham or Moses is pretty risky business, but the typology is just…everywhere.

And this makes some sense, because David is indisputably priest (he offers sacrifices to God lawfully), prophet (he composes the Psalms), and king (…).  He is the original three-fold messiah, so of course the fulfillment of all prophecy must be as well.

Son of David, have pity on me!

4 thoughts on “Fulfilling the Psalms

  1. Hi, I don’t know whether you’d be interested in this but I found it directly before opening this post of yours so I thought I’d bring it to your attention. It is an annotated version of the illustrated Utrecht Psalter: http://psalter.library.uu.nl/page?p=0&res=1&x=0&y=0. Some of the pages have annotations for each part of the illustration. Here is the Wikipedia entry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utrecht_Psalter. Apologies if you are already familiar with it.
    Yours in Christ,


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