11-6-7 The Restoration Psalms
A case can be made that the whole of book 3 of the Psalter (Psalms
73-89) was written / edited in Babylon. The Psalms of Korah (83-87)
seem to reflect the longing of the righteous remnant in Babylon
for the temple services. And it is just possible that the entire
Psalter was re-edited there in Babylon, under inspiration- for so
many Psalms have elements of appropriacy to the exiles
in Babylon and the restoration. The LXX titles of Psalm 56 [“Concerning
the people that were removed from the Sanctuary”] and 71 [“Of the
sons of Jonadab, and the first that were taken captive”] speak for
themselves. Likewise the LXX attributes Psalms 146-148 to Haggai
and Zechariah. Even Psalm 60, whose title apparently refers to David, is full of reference to the exiles: "O God, You have scattered us [recognizing God's hand in the Babylonian scattering of Judah]; O restore us again [RV]"; to which God responds that the land is in fact His and His alone (Ps. 60:6-9), i.e. Judah did not in His eyes belong to the Babylonian nor Persian empires. The request for God to "heal the breaches" (Ps. 60:2) was answered in that God raised up Ezra and Nehemiah with the potential power to indeed mend the breaches in Jerusalem and the temple.
According to the LXX titles, there were certain Psalms which were
written for the dedication of the rebuilt temple, and others written
by Haggai and Zechariah. They include: Psalms 96,138,147,148. These
all seem to speak as if the time of a glorious temple was to be
the time of God’s Kingdom; this was the possibility, and it was
the prevailing hope in the minds of the faithful minority. But the
Psalms had to remain prophecies of the future day of Zion’s glory.
Psalms 96 is very clear: “Give unto the Lord the glory due unto
his name [i.e.] bring an offering, and come into his courts” (:8).
But Judah did not bring the right offerings, although the
glory of Yahweh’s Name ought to have elicited them (Mal. 1:11-16).
Psalms 96:13 confidently anticipate the coming of Messiah there
and then: “then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice before the
Lord: for he cometh, he cometh to judge the earth: he shall judge
the world with righteousness”. These words are quoted about the
second coming of Jesus in Acts 17:31.
The Psalms Of Asaph
Additionally, there are the Psalms of Asaph, who lived at the time
of the restoration (Ezra 2:41). All his Psalms draw on the past
dealings of God with His people and encourage them on this basis
to make the wilderness journey back to the land, just as they
had done at the Exodus. Psalms 77:11,12 invites the surrounding
nations to “Bring presents unto him that ought to be feared”, so
that the Messianic Kingdom could then be established. And it is
an Asaph Psalm that warns Israel about the danger of limiting what
God is potentially prepared to do for His people (Psalms 78:41).
And in another one, Psalms 81:15,16 says that if Israel had been
obedient, their Arab enemies would soon have submitted to them,
and God would have fed them with honey from the rock rather than
just water. Note that Psalms 80:16,17 asks God to strengthen a Son
of Man to be Messiah, seeing that the temple is in ruins; the raising
up of a Messiah was perceived as potentially possible at the time.
In this context, Psalms 83 concerns the Arab nations who were wanting
to cut off the people of Judah who had returned at the restoration.
Verse 13 asks for the prophecy of Dan. 2:44 to be fulfilled against
them in the form of Messiah’s coming. But this prophecy has been
deferred to our last days, when a returned Israel seek the same
Psalm 80 is a psalm of Asaph, written [or re-edited] in Babylon.
He speaks much of the cherubim- of how God dwelt between the cherubs,
and still lead His people in that way (Ps. 80:1). Asaph grasped
Ezekiel's fundamental point- that God hadn't forgotten His people,
but the cherubim was just as actively leading and protecting God's
people in Babylon as they had been in the land of Judah. Asaph asks
God in this context to "restore us" to the land (Ps. 80:3,14,19
RVmg.), lamenting how the walls of Zion are broken down (Ps. 80:12).
He speaks of how the faithful people weep tears "in great measure"
(Ps. 80:5), a reference to their weeping by the rivers of Babylon,
and the theme of tears and weeping amongst the exiles which we meet
so often in Lamentations. But in this context, Asaph speaks of how
a "branch" or "son" (Ps. 80:15) would be made
strong by God, and this Messiah figure would be the man of God's
right hand as well as "the son of man whom you make strong
for yourself" (Ps. 80:17). Clearly Asaph prayed for and expected
a Messiah figure to arise at the same time as the restoration from
Babylon. But none did; those who could've played that role, such
as Zerubbabel "the branch", ultimately failed. And the
cherubim Angels are hovering above us, too, enabling so, so much.
Many of the Psalms reflect the feelings of the righteous remnant
in Babylon- e.g. the thought that just one day in God's temple is
better than a thousand days in Babylon's "tents of wickedness"
(Ps. 84:10). Ps. 85 reflects how that faithful remnant believed
that God had forgvien them (Ps. 85:2), and therefore they asked
for His anger to cease and for Him to lead their feet in the way
which would lead back to Zion (Ps. 85:4,13 RV).
Asaph says he will “utter hidden things…what our fathers
have told us…we will not hide them from their
children” (:2,4 NIV). He speaks as if these things had been known
by the fathers but not repeated to Asaph’s generation, and now Asaph
as a teaching priest was going to teach them to the present generation.
This would imply that after initially pining for Zion, the Jewish
community in Babylon got on with life and forget their historical
roots; for “the things” of which the Psalm speaks are a recounting
of the covenant history of God with His people. In this context
Asaph reminds them that Yahweh had chosen Zion for His temple (:60,68),
and now at the restoration “The Lord awoke from sleep, as a man
wakes” (:65). Asaph warns them that He has “rejected the tents of
Joseph, he did not chose the tribe of Ephraim” (i.e. the 10 tribe
Kingdom had been scattered and were not returning at that time),
but he chose the tribe of Judah”. The final verses must surely be
read as prophetic perfect, i.e. speaking about what was going to
happen as if it had: “He beat back his enemies, he put them to everlasting
shame…He built his sanctuary…he chose David his servant (the same
phrase recurs in Ezekiel’s temple prophecies)…and David shepherded
them with integrity of heart” (:67-72). It could have been so that
the surrounding Arab enemies of Judah were eternally destroyed (this
has never yet happened, so it can’t be describing a previous historical
event), the temple built on Zion, and a David-like Messiah appeared.
This was potentially possible; but it wasn’t to be. The people preferred
to live in ignorance of Asaph’s appeal to their previous history.
To sum up. Judah knew what the Kingdom life was all about; but
they didn’t live it. They liked the idea of it, but it wasn’t their
dominant desire. And so with us. We must live the Kingdom now if
we wish to be in it. This is the sense behind the Lord’s repeated
promise that we can right now live and experience “eternal life”.
Insofar as we act and think and feel now as we will do in the Kingdom,
so far we have the experience of the “eternal life”. That life was
pre-eminently “in his Son” (1 Jn. 5:11-13,20). There in the living
and thinking of the historical Jesus we have the definition of what
eternal life will be all about. In this sense, “the kingdom” is
a title of Jesus, seeing He was the living definition of it (Lk.
17:21). We can so orientate ourselves relating to the physicalities
of the coming Kingdom that we overlook the fact that it will be
but the material articulation of the Kingdom life which we are now
called to live. In this sense the Kingdom of God is not so much
about material things [eating, drinking, for example] as about righteousness,
joy and peace lived out right now in a spirit of holiness (Rom.
The Songs Of Ascents
These songs, part of the restoration Psalms, are relevant to any
‘ascent’ or ‘going up’ to the Lord’s house. They are full of reference
to God’s eternal purpose with Jerusalem and the temple. It seems
to me that they may have been re-written under inspiration with
reference to God’s people returning from Babylon to Jerusalem. Consider
the following details:
“The Lord is thy keeper…the sun shall not smite thee by day…”
(Psalms 121:5,6)- reference to Israel’s exodus from Egypt, but
also to God’s miraculous keeping them on the desert journey from
Babylon to Jerusalem, without a guard from the Babylonian authorities.
“I was glad when they said unto me, let us go unto the house
of the Lord” (Psalms 122:1)- the feelings of a faithful Jew in
Babylon responding to Cyrus’ decree. “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem”
(Psalms 122:6)- the faithful in Babylon praying for Zion.
“As the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters….so
our eyes look unto the Lord…until he have mercy upon us. Have
mercy upon us…for we are exceedingly filled with contempt…with
the scorning of those that are at ease” (Psalms 123:2-4)- the
faithful by the rivers of Babylon praying for the captivity to
“The Lord brought back those that returned to Zion” (Psalms 126:1
RVmg.) is obviously relevant to the exiles returning. They are
described as going forth into captivity weeping but bearing previous
seed, and now returning home with the sheaves (Psalms 126:6).
This could be a reference to their children whom they had taken
with them 70 years previously returning; or it could also imply
that there had been a spiritual growth and fruition during the
captivity. At least, this was what God had intended.
Psalms 127 has obvious relevance too: “Except the Lord build the
house [the temple], they labour in vain that build it…the watchman
[cp.. Nehemiah placing watchmen on the rebuilt walls] waketh but
in vain…it is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late [cp.
working so hard on the wall they had no time to even change their
clothes]…they shall speak with their enemies in the gate” [cp. Nehemiah
talking to the Arab traders and enemies in the rebuilt gate of Jerusalem].