Vol. 3, No. 5
Matthew, in chapter thirteen, verses thirty-four and thirty-five, made a direct reference to the first two verses of this Psalm when he said, (34) "All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them, (35) that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: 'I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.'"
This Psalm was written by Asaph who was a musician who lived during the lifetimes of both David and Solomon.
The claim that Asaph wrote the Psalm is authenticated by the fact that the Psalm itself recounts the history of the people of God only down to the time of David.
Biblical commentators often struggle in their efforts to release Matthew from using merely accommodative language when he quotes this Psalm in the passage mentioned above.
One explanation is that Asaph was not only a musician but a prophet as well, and that he was here in his teaching showing how the Messiah would teach on earth.
But Matthew regarded these verses as a direct prediction of the nature of the teaching of Christ during his earthly ministry.
But it must be remembered that physical Israel was a type of spiritual Israel (the church) and here Asaph, as a prophet speaking in parables, is a type of Christ who would also speak in parables during his ministry upon the earth. (However, we shall see when we get to our discussion that the speaker of verses one and two is God and not Asaph. Asaph is only quoting God here, so there is no great problem.)
Therefore, Matthew correctly attributes the first two verses of this Psalm as a prediction of the kind of teaching that would be done by the Messiah.
The Holy Spirit inspired Asaph to write the Psalm, and the Holy Spirit inspired Matthew to quote from it and ascribe the language to the Messiah. We have no doubt that the Holy Spirit knows what is predictive prophecy of the Old Testament, and what is not, and that he has the right to state such in the New Testament, or anywhere else he so pleases.
With this brief background before us, let us now turn to the portion of scripture we will study and begin by reading it. Psalms 78:1-2,(1) "Give ear, O my people, my law; Incline your ears to the words of my mouth. (2) I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old. . . ."
WHO IS THE SPEAKER IN VERSES ONE AND TWO OF THE PSALM
As we suggested in the introduction to this lesson, the first problem with which we shall deal is the problem of who is doing the speaking in the first two verses.
Evidence is abundant that Asaph wrote the psalm, but is he the speaker?
Or is he, like so many of the prophets and writers of the Old Testament, quoting God?
He did not, like Jeremiah or Ezekiel indicate when he was quoting God, but the language of the text itself suggests that he was. For example:
The sentence, "O my people, to my law; incline your ears to the words of my mouth," strongly indicates that Asaph is quoting God, for though Asaph was a Jew and belonged to the nation of God's chosen people, and he might refer to them as "my people," he would not refer to the law as "my law," nor would he refer to the words which he was writing as "my words."
Furthermore, Asaph would not have used the expression in verse two, "I will open my mouth in a parable;" because Asaph did not speak in parables but in poetry.
Lastly, we must point out from the passage itself that Asaph could not "utter dark (mysterious) sayings of old," because only God knew the complete scheme of redemption from before the foundation of the world.
During the days of Asaph, "the dark sayings of old," or what Paul called "the mystery," in such passages as Romans 16:25-27; 1 Corinthians 2:7-8; and Ephesians 1:7-9; 3:1-4, had not been given to man, so Asaph could not have spoken them.
During the period when Asaph lived upon the earth, even the prophets and the angels desired to look into the things concerning the salvation of man, as is evident from 1 Peter 1:6-12.
In addition to this evidence, we have a rather lengthy statement from Dr. James Smith in which he said, "God is the speaker, The language admits no other interpretation. The speaker addresses his readers as my people. Such direct address in the psalms is found elsewhere only two times, in both of which God is the speaker. (Psalms 50:7; 81:8, par mine, DGW) In Psalms 81 another Asaphic psalm, God refers to Israel as my people three times (vv. 8, 11, 13). The use of the terminology my people is presumptive evidence that God is the speaker."1
Dr. Smith further points out that it would be blasphemy for any prophet or poet of the Old Testament to insist that Israel heed his (i.e., the poet's) law.2
Based upon the evidence stated above, Dr. Smith concludes that it is not Asaph who is doing the speaking, but that it is Asaph who is quoting God, ad with this I concur.
Incidentally, in Psalm 59:11, which is a psalm of David, we find the only instance in which someone other than God referred to Israel as my people.
The two principal purposes of this psalm are: 1) To warn Israel against their continuing in unbelief and in rebellion against God, which had been established as a pattern by the forefathers. 2). To provide appropriate instruction for each generation of children, so that God's divine law could remain a part of the lives of the people.
FURTHER EVIDENCES THAT GOD IS THE SPEAKER THROUGH THE POET ASAPH.
God said that he would do the speaking, "open my mouth."
"The verb is cohortative in form and has the force of an emphatic future. God is determined to speak."3
God was going to speak to his people. Not first to other nations; but he would speak first to the Jews.
God would speak to his people I a parable (mashal). "The word 'means (1) primarily a comparison, (2) a proverb, as frequently involving a comparison, (3) a parable, as the extension of a proverb, (4) a poem either contemptuous of didactic."4
God would speak in dark sayings. The Hebrew word for dark sayings here is the term chidoth. According to Dr. Smith, this term means, "(1) an enigma or riddle, (2) a parable or simile, (3) any profound or obscure utterance, a problem, dark saying."5
These dark sayings, or parables, express truths which are ancient, because they are of old.
Matthew expands upon this idea by pointing out that the truths which Jesus presented in parables had been hidden since the foundation of the world.
MATTHEW'S LANGUAGE CLARIFIES THE MATTER THAT JESUS WOULD SPEAK IN PARABLES.
Matthew, observing that it was Jehovah who was speaking in Psalm 78:1-2, and that the verbs in these verses are emphatic future ones, quite properly assigns the fulfillment of the prophecy to the teaching ministry of Jesus Christ.
God had announced, some eight hundred years before the birth of Christ, that the Messiah would speak his truth in parables.
In Matthew 11:25, and Luke 10:21, after the return of the seventy from their mission, Jesus praised God because he had hidden these things (the teaching and activities of the seventy) from the wise and prudent (that is, from a worldly point of view) and revealed them to babes (those who would humbly accept the teaching of Jesus).
In Matthew 13:10-17, and in Luke 8:9-10, Jesus explained that he spoke in parables so that the apostles could learn "...the mysteries of the kingdom of God.. " but the rest could not, and this was done to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 6:9-10.
In Mark 4:33-34, Mark pointed out that Jesus spoke to his disciples as they were able to learn, and in public he did not speak to them without a parable, and when they were alone, he explained his parables to the apostles and disciples.
So, through Jesus Jehovah opened his mouth, figuratively speaking, and spoke truths which had been in the mind of God since before the foundation of the world in the form of parables, which is sometimes defined as, "an earthly story with a heavenly meaning." Possibly it would be more correct to say that a parable is a physical story with a spiritual application.
God said that Jesus would do this, Asaph quoted God, and Jesus did exactly what the Psalm said he would do.
One more point needs to be cleared up, and that is, what is the relationship between the predictive prophecy of Psalm 78:1-2, and the lengthy recital of the involvement of God in the history of Israel?
God spoke in mysterious utterances while Asaph and the faithful within the nation of Israel spoke those things which they have heard, known, and understood.
That which had been heard, known, and understood by the faithful of Israel was the wondrous activities of God in the history of his people.
So, this Psalm presents a distinction, between how God (Jesus) would teach his people, and how the faithful teachers, such as Asaph, taught their history.
Verses three through seventy-two do not contain the parables, or dark sayings, spoken of in verses one and two, but are an accounting of the history of Israel up to the time of David to get the people to see their fault in their rebelling against God.
It may seem like a very small thing that Asaph should quote God in this way, and that Matthew, by divine inspiration, would apply it to Jesus. (Yet the parables of Jesus confound many of us today.)
But it is such minute things that prove that Jesus was the Messiah!
The men who came before and after the time of Jesus did not teach their disciples in parables.
This, in and of itself, would be sufficient evidence that none of these men was the Messiah.
And if one were to come upon the scene today, claiming to be the Messiah, a thing which occurs among the Jews from time to time, he could be tested by whether or not he spoke the Word of God in parables.
1 Smith, Dr. James E., What The Bible Teaches About The Promised Messiah, Thomas Nelson, Publishers, Nashville, TN,1993, p.129.
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