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Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, by John Nelson Darby, [1857-62], at

Psalms Chapter 1

Psalms 1:1

psa 1:1

BOOK 1 - Psalms 1-41

The first book may be in general thus divided into distinct parts. The first eight psalms form a whole, an introductory whole to the entire collection of Psalms. This series may be subdivided into the first two, which, in a more particular manner, lay the basis of all that is taught or expressed in Psalms 3-7? and, finally, Psalm 8. The character of these I shall enter on immediately. At present I proceed with the order of the book. Psalms 9, 10 form the basis of the psalms which follow to the end of 15. They give, not the great principles which are at the foundation of all Israel's latter-day history, but the historical condition of the remnant in the latter day. Psalms 11-15 unfold the various thoughts and feelings which that condition, and the circumstances in which the pious remnant find themselves, give rise to. Psalms 16-24 present to us Messiah formally entering into the circumstances of the pious remnant, the testimonies of God, the sufferings of Messiah, and the final manifestation of His glory when He is owned as Jehovah on His return. The remnant are found in this series as in Psalms 17, 20, and 23; but the main subject spoken of in them, with the exception of Psalm 19, which gives the testimony of creation and the law, is Messiah. Psalms 25-39 present to us the various feelings of the remnant under these circumstances. The whole book closes and is complete with the true source of the Messiah's intervention in the counsels and plans of God, the place He took in humiliation, and the blessing which belonged to him who could with divine intelligence discern and enter into His humbled condition, and that of the righteous remnant who were associated with Him (for so indeed they were, and this is what the Psalms especially bring out).

It is extremely important that, on the one hand, some psalms should personally bring before us the Messiah; but it is also important that the moral traits which form the beauty and excellency of His character in God's sight, and the attractive object which God delights to bless, should be brought before us also, that, on the one hand, we may delight in them, and, on the other, the indissoluble moral connection between Christ and the remnant may be brought into view. This connection of moral character and its display in Christ is very distinctly brought before us in the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. There blessing is pronounced on those who exhibit certain moral traits and qualities. These characterize the remnant; yet, if they be carefully looked into, they will be found to be morally a description of Christ Himself. Hence it is that we find Him and the remnant so mixed up together in many psalms, while some, as I have said, present distinctively the great foundation of blessing in Himself. We may apprehend also thus the difference of the associations of Christ with the remnant of Israel and those of the assembly with Him. Those of the assembly begin when redemption is accomplished, and Christ is already exalted on high. By the Spirit sent down from heaven the saints are united to Christ there; and their experiences as Christians flow from their position as united to Christ consequent on accomplished redemption, and then in conflict with the world.

Previous to the knowledge of redemption, and for that very reason, saints may now pass through experiences analogous to, and in principle the same as, those of the Psalms, and find, in consequence, great comfort from them; but their own place, as Christians, is in union with Christ. [See Note #1] The Lord's associations with the remnant are different. They pass through their trials before the knowledge of redemption or its application in power to them. Their experiences are not the fruit of union [See Note #2] with Christ. Christ has trod the same path, in grace towards them; not that they were united to Him, for He was alone; but He was afflicted in their affliction and oppression by the world. Death was before Him; the fruits of the penal government of God on them, manifested in the state in which Israel then was, He has entered into in grace, as we have seen. Suffering under wicked Israel, and oppressing Gentiles, as the remnant will in that day, He thus, by His Spirit prophetically, associates Himself with them in all their sorrows, and gives a voice by His Spirit to them on their way up to the discovery of redemption.

This makes the tone and purport of the Psalms very plain The "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" was on the cross when atoning work, the fruit of grace, was going on. Judgment on Israel was then suspended, and the Holy Ghost blessedly took this cry up by the mouth of Peter in Act 3:17, where the return of Jesus to them (as the children of the prophets, and the people in whom the blessing of the nations was to be) was proposed on their repentance. This grace was then of no effect; but in the last days all the fruit of that cross and that cry on earth will be made good on earth, when they have repented and looked on Him whom they have pierced. But this demand (as its final accomplishment will be also) was founded on atoning work, accomplished with God alone, which was based on grace and will bring grace; and not in connection with His sufferings from men, which bring judgment on men, His adversaries.

The Psalms constantly present to us this consequence of the wickedness of men against Christ, and the wish of the remnant that it may arrive. Such a wish will never be found expressed by Christ in the Gospels. He pronounces prophetic woes on others for hindering those that were entering in; but this is love to these souls. No call for judgment is found. In the Psalms, on the other hand, no such passage as "Father forgive them" is found; though the fruit of grace, after His own deliverance from the horns of the unicorns, is most strikingly unfolded. The gospel was the good news of the visitation of the world and of Israel in love by the Son of God. The incarnation was Christ entering alone into this path of love towards all. God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself. Nought else was, nought else could be, revealed and unfolded then. It was what He was personally in the world. But the remnant of God's people are to go through these sorrows. The only possible means of their deliverance was the destruction of their enemies. We shall go up from the midst of our sorrows to meet the Lord in the air; we have no need to wish our enemies destroyed in order to our deliverance; we have in the gospel to do with grace, with a heavenly Christ that is not passing through sorrows, and with glory.

The remnant of Israel therefore call for this execution of judgment on their enemies. They have to do, not with that heavenly, sovereign, abounding grace which gives us a place with Christ clean out of the world (not of it, as He was not of it who was loved before the world was founded), but with the government of this world. Objects, no doubt, of grace themselves (and of mere grace, for they have rejected the promises in Christ presented to them in the truth of God, and have been concluded in unbelief that they might be the objects of mercy), still, they are the nation in whom the government of this world centers and in respect of whom it is displayed. Hence they await judgment, and the display of the righteous exercise of that government, and the cutting off of the oppressor and the wicked. Hence Christ (who has entered into, and will in spirit enter into, their sorrows, but was Himself cut off instead of seeing His enemies cut off, accomplishing a better and more glorious work) did not then ask for the world, but for those that were His, and that they might be with Him where He was. John 17 marks the formal contrast of the two systems. He would not call down fire from heaven would not execute righteous judgment. It is intimated indeed in the Sermon on the Mount that He was in the way with Israel (as in John, that the world had not known Him). Still, the Christian path is to do well, suffer for it, and take it patiently, as He did.

Hence, while passing through the sufferings, He could only prophetically be associated with the desires and aspirations after judgment which will have their righteous place when the time of public divine government of this world and judgment is come. Hence already in Psalm 2 this is the place we find Him set in. All the psalms are constructed in view of that. Thus the remnant in suffering, calling for judgment, reach back to Him who, though He never sought judgment for Himself, did suffer and will seek judgment for them and execute it Himself the center of that center of earthly government divine. He is seen by the prophetic Spirit in the same circumstances and the cry for judgment is heard. But it will be found that, wherever this is the case, as we have remarked, the remnant, other men, are found besides the Lord Himself.

In principle, any suffering Jew might so speak; only, as Christ suffered above all, the terms used in the Psalms, where the demands for vengeance occur, sometimes rise up to circumstances which have been literally true in Him in His sorrow on earth. But the point of departure of the feeling, and of the whole of what is said, is any godly Jew whatever in the last days. Into that Christ has entered. The proper or exclusive personal application to Himself is only true when it is proved by the circumstances and the terms of the passage. The point of moral departure is always the remnant and their state. He is merely associated with them in the mind of the prophetic Spirit; though, as to the facts, He entered into deeper sorrow than they all. Hence the immense importance of first of an seeing the position and necessary thoughts of the remnant in the Psalms.

Christ is merely associated with them and their position in grace; though He must be the center, and pre-eminent, wherever He is found. There is no possibility of understanding the Psalms at all otherwise. All interpretation is false which does not take this principle or truth as its point of departure. When we get into a prophetic and governmental order, even in the New Testament, we at once find the same demands of vengeance. It is judgment, and not grace. The souls under the altar in the Revelation desire that their blood may be avenged; and the holy apostles and prophets are called to rejoice over the destruction of Babylon.

This important principle then is to be laid down, that, in every psalm in which the godly remnant can have a part, that is, where the Person of Christ is not the direct subject (we have seen there are some, as Psalms 2, 102, and others, which speak personally of Christ), the whole is not to be applied to Christ, nor the psalm itself, in general, primarily. It belongs to the condition of the remnant, and speaks of it; and the principle of God's dealings with them through Christ is often given as the great example of the sorrow of the suffering godly. And hence, in the circumstances it refers to, it may rise up to such as literally depict those through which Christ has passed, so as to show the way in which Christ has entered into their circumstances. This last may be evidently the most important part of the psalm. But this does not change the principle. There may be psalms where the remnant are introduced collaterally as objects of blessing in result, but where a particular part may be evidently applicable to Christ, who only procures that result.

Psalm 22 has a distinct and peculiar character, because there Christ, while speaking of sufferings common in kind, though not in degree, to Him and the remnant, yet, as in them already, passes into that in which He was entirely alone. Indeed, the bringing these out in contrast is the very subject of the psalm. The godly have been, the remnant will be, in suffering. But the godly were delivered when they cried, so will the remnant; but Christ, perfect in the fullest sorrow, was not. So that Christ is really alone here; though, in order to show the contrast of this suffering with others in which saints could be, and had been, this last character of suffering is mentioned. The fact already mentioned (that, in the psalms expressive of the godly man's suffering from men, there is always the call for vengeance on the part of the speaker, and that in Christ's life as the Gospels give it to us, that is, according to truth as personally come into the world, and standing as a witness alone in the world He never does so, but the contrary when on the cross, and in His life-time forbids it, reproaching the disciples with not knowing what manner of spirit they were of) evidently has the most important influence on our judgment, how far and in what way we find the living historical Christ in the Psalms as a direct object.

To turn now to details.

The attentive reader will remark that, in the order of which I have spoken of the psalms of the first book, a principle I have referred to is fully exemplified: that is, that standard psalms with some great principle or fact come first, and then a series expressive of the thoughts and feelings of the remnant produced by these. Thus Psalms 1, 2 are followed by Psalms 3-7, which depict the state of things as felt by the Psalmist connected with Psalms 1, 2, Christ being rejected (closing with the result in Psalm 8); [See Note #3] then Psalms 9, 10, the state of facts in the latter days; Psalms 11-15, the various feelings of the remnant connected with them. Next, Psalms 16-24 Christ and the whole testimony of God, and Christ on the cross or atonement, having been set before us, the feelings consequent on this are depicted from Psalms 25-39. Sins are acknowledged for the first time in Psalm 25. Trials and deliverance had been spoken of before; but sins could not be confessed but in view of, and as building on, the foundation of atonement, when God really taught. So it will be indeed historically with Israel in the last days; though that is not entered on here.

I will now pursue in detail what the Lord may graciously afford me on the psalms of the first book. I have already said that the first two psalms lay the ground of the whole collection They show the moral character and position of the remnant; and the counsels of God as to Christ King in Zion; the law and Christ, the two great grounds of God's dealing with Israel. Psalm 1 is the description of the godly remnant, and the blessing that accompanies their godliness according to the government of God. This blessing, save in the heart-comfort and peacefulness of an upright mind, has never been accomplished; but it is given in the same manner as the portion of the meek when Christ presents the kingdom (Matthew 5). They shall inherit the earth; but the kingdom was not, has not yet been, set up in power. [See Note #4] (This is the subject of Psalm 2). Hence the Lord in Matthew speaks of suffering for righteousness sake. The kingdom of heaven is the portion of those who do; and if suffering for His name's sake, then heaven itself comes in, and their reward there is great. [See Note #5]

Note #1

Hence it is too that in the Romans we find experiences, because the soul is brought through the process which brings it into liberty; while in the Ephesians we find no experiences, because man is seen first dead in sins; and then united to Christ exalted to God's right hand. The Epistle to the Philippians gives us, almost exclusively, proper Christian experience.

Note #2

Union belongs to the assembly's position alone, and is by the baptism of the Holy Ghost. By one Spirit we are all baptized into one body. He that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit. Union in scripture is not attributed simply to life. (Compare Joh 14:20.)

Note #3

Psalm 8, while it is the great result, is a mighty change in the position of Christ according to the counsels of God, which forms the basis of all that follows. It is referred to in John 1, in contrast with what Nathaniel says, which refers to Psalm 2. It is found in Luke 9 and parallel passages, and quoted in Ephesians 1, 1 Corinthians 15, and unfolded in Hebrews 2. In the close also of John's Gospel, we have the three characters noticed on which these psalms are founded. God vindicates in testimony His rejected Son. He raises Lazarus, and the Son of God is glorified thereby. He rides into Jerusalem as king of Israel. Then the Greeks come up, and He says, The hour is come that the Son of man should be glorified; but thus, to take this place in God's purpose, He must suffer and die. In chapter 13 consequently He begins His heavenly place. Psalms 1, 2 are in fact an introduction to the whole book. For His glory as Son of man, though prophesied of here when entered into is another sphere of glory. Still He is owned as such, as He ever called Himself such down here.

Note #4

But they are viewed as in the last days with the judgment at hand.

Note #5

1 Peter makes the same distinction, chapter Pe1 3:14; Pe1 4:14.

The following commentary covers Psalms 1 and 2.

In Psalm 1, however, we have simply the godly remnant on the earth. I say remnant, for the subject of the psalm is spoken of as characterized by individual faithfulness. The ungodly, sinners, and scornful, are around him. The law is his delight. He is a godly Jew, keeping apart from the ungodly, and is blessed, and prospers. Such is the principle of the psalm. But to make it good the earthly judgment must come in. There the ungodly shall not stand, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous then left free from the pressure of those who cared not for God. The psalm gives us the general character of the godly man, and the result under the judicial government of God.

Another element is then brought in. Jehovah knows the way of the righteous the way of the ungodly shall perish. It is a judgment on one side, and a moral approbation before that judgment come on the other, which is connected with the covenant-relationship of Jehovah with Israel. We have seen that Christ was on earth this godly man, and took His place among the faithful remnant, these excellent of the earth was perfect in that place. So far this psalm takes Him in; but that is not yet directly spoken of. Its subject is the character of the godly, and the result under the government of God, Jehovah, in the midst of His people. It is not yet suffering because of this. That is a circumstance which will come out in its time. It is the character of the godly man in presence of the wicked, and the result measured by the abiding principles of God's government. Jehovah knows the righteous others shall positively perish. Psalm 1 is the moral character of the remnant, their position in the midst of the ungodly, and the general government of God, and the connection of Jehovah and the righteous.

Besides this, remark that the psalm places both in presence of a proximate judgment, by which the wicked are driven away like chaff, and the righteous form the congregation; that is, it refers definitely to the remnant in the last days. The principles of this psalm, the character of the persons spoken of in it, and their position, are clear enough, and important as laying one great part of the basis of the whole superstructure of the Psalms God's government, and the trials of the remnant which seemed to deny the government here spoken of, which is only to be made good in judgment when the mystery of God shall be finished. We are on the ground of Israel's place and of God's government according to the law, but the righteous distinguished from the wicked, and blessing, not the portion of all Israel as a whole, but of the righteous who will form the congregation when judgment is executed. Blessing is on the righteous, but these shall be the people when the ungodly shall be driven away as chaff. It is just the doctrine of the end of Isaiah (see Isa 48:22; Isa 57:20; Isaiah 65; Isaiah 66). Only in the last passage the judgment reaches the nations also.

A godly remnant of the people, delighting in the law, and the judgment of God, resulting in the congregation of the righteous, according to the true character of Jehovah, the wicked being driven away such are the first truths presented to us, the moral government of God on the earth made good by judgment in Israel. [See Note #1] Hence the last days are clearly in view.

The next great element of the condition of Israel and the government of God, is Messiah the counsels of God concerning His Anointed. Here the heathen are brought in, and form the principal subject of the psalm; and again we find ourselves in the last days, when Christ's rights will be made good against the kings of the earth and all opposers. But Israel is again here the center and sphere of the accomplishment of these counsels of God. The Anointed is to be King in Zion. The adversaries are the great ones of the nations, the evil reaching alas! to the heads of Israel who, as we shall find, "shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes" "an ungodly nation" (Psalm 43) and as Peter also himself has taught us in applying this psalm.

I have said that the counsels of God as to Messiah are the element here introduced to us of the ways of God treated of in the Psalms. But the psalm opens with the rising up of the nations to cast off His authority, and Jehovah's who establishes it, the apostate Jews, as we have seen, being engaged in this great rising alas! against God. The nations rage, the peoples imagine a vain thing the kings of the earth, and the rulers would break the bands of Jehovah and His Anointed together. But this rising only brings in wrath and displeasure, against which all resistance will be vain. He that sits in the heavens shall laugh, Adonai [See Note #2] has them in derision; Jehovah, in spite of all, has set His King upon His holy hill of Zion. Such is the sure counsel of God made good by His power. Man's presumption in resistance only brings his ruin.

But more is then brought out. This King, who is He? Jehovah has said to Him, "Thou art my Son: this day have I begotten thee." It is One who begotten on what can be called "today," that is, begotten in time is owned Son by Jehovah. It is not then here the blessed and most precious truth of eternal sonship with the Father, though it is not to be dissociated from it, as if it could be without it, but One who the Anointed Man, and that holy thing born into this world with the title, by His birth there also, of Son of God is owned such of Jehovah. Thus, Paul tells us, this raising up Jesus (not raising up again) is the accomplishing the promises made to the fathers, quoting the psalm in confirmation. He quotes another passage for His resurrection and incorruptibility. Thus we have Christ born into the earth, owned Son of God by Jehovah.

But large counsels flow from this title. He has only to ask of Jehovah, and the heathen are given Him for His inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession. He will rule them with a rod of iron and break them in pieces like a potter's vessel break with resistless power, ruling in judgment all that impiously and impotently rise up against His throne. But this execution of judgment is not yet accomplished. The psalm itself invites the kings and judges to submission and humbly owning the Son, lest they perish if His wrath be kindled but a little. He is Himself to be trusted; and who can claim this but Jehovah?

This summons to the kings of the earth is founded, remark, on the establishing the title of Christ to royal judgment and power on the earth. But is Christ set King in Zion? He was cast out of it and hung upon the cross for better blessing and higher glory, even that He had with the Father before the world was, yet cast out of Zion, to which He presented Himself as king. And as to the heathen and the earthly inheritance, He has not yet asked for it; when He does, in the Father's time, He will surely give it, and so His foes be His footstool. He declares (John 17) that He did not ask about it, but about those given Him out of it. The kings of the earth reign on, many bearing His name to be found yet in rebellion when He shall take to Him His great power, and the nations be angry, and His wrath come. No rod of iron has yet touched them the potter's vessel, broken as nothing, is not now their image. The Lord is not yet awakened to despise it. They reign by God's authority. But there is no king yet in Zion. Christ has been rejected. Meanwhile we know He is Adonai in the heavens.

We have now the great elements of latter-day history, a Jewish remnant awaiting judgment, the wicked being still there, the heathen raging against Jehovah and His Anointed, He that sits in heaven laughing at their profitless rage, Jehovah setting Christ surely king in Zion, yea, upon His asking, giving Him all the nations for His inheritance (the submission of all to be enforced by resistless judgment). No sorrows here, not even as to the remnant in Psalm 1; but the counsels and decrees of God, and power such as none can resist. In a certain sense the kings of the earth did stand up and the rulers take counsel together, and as to earthly power and scenes succeeded. Christ was rejected and did not resist.

Where then is the remnant viewed in the Jewish scene of this world's history? What place have they? The great principles on which they stand are unfolded in the Psalms 3-7. It will be easily seen now how the first two psalms form the basis of the whole book, though the great body of its contents are the consequences of their non-fulfillment in the time to which those contents apply. Indeed in this the structure of the book resembles that of a great multitude of psalms the thesis stated in the first or few first verses, and then the circumstances, often quite the opposite, through which the saint passes to arrive at what is expressed at the beginning of the psalm. The five following psalms then unfold to us, in general and in principle, the condition of the remnant and the thoughts and feelings produced by the Spirit of Christ in them, in the state of things consequent in Israel upon His personal rejection. The circumstances in which they find themselves are not historically alluded to till Psalms 9 and 10. Hence these psalms give the working of the Spirit of Christ in them in the suited moral fruits, so as to display the state of the godly remnant, the holy seed that is in Judah when all is ruined. The principles of their state, the elements of feeling unfolded in it, are brought before us. There is not the strong expression which flows from the pressure of circumstances; but each moral phase is exhibited, the different feelings to be produced by the Spirit of Christ in relationship to God.

Note #1

More specifically in the Jews. The remnant of the Jews are spared and pass through the tribulation when two-thirds are cut off in the land (Zechariah 13). The judgment of the ten tribes is outside the land, and the rebels do not enter into it (Ezekiel 20). Israel is the general term of promise as applied to the nation.

Note #2

The Lord, but not the word LORD which represents generally Jehovah in the English version; but that which gives the Lord as an official relative title.

Next: Psalms Chapter 2