The Suffering Servant and the Angel of the Lord in Psalm 35

Let those who delight in my righteousness
   shout for joy and be glad
    and say evermore,
“Great is the LORD,
   who  delights in the welfare of his servant!”

-Psalm 35:27

My Righteousness [v.27]

[Read: Psalm 35]

Our Lord Jesus repeatedly emphasized that the Scriptures are about Him,[1] so it strikes me as odd that there are many believers who claim that we can read New Testament theology back into the Old Testament. To be sure, God’s self revelation throughout history became clearer and clearer from the time of the first substitutionary sacrifice[2] up to the time of our Lord’s crucifixion. However, to say that the content of the New Testament can be read back into the Old Testament is to imply that such content is alien to the Old Testament, which is not the case at all. If it were the case, then higher criticism, the atheists, and the Muslims, along with many others, would be right to state that the New Testament writers were merely cherry picking verses that suited their particular theological agenda when they quoted from the Old Testament. Thankfully, we can say that driving a wedge between the Old and New Testaments is impossible, for the Old conceals what the New reveals – that is to say, the New Testament’s content is derived from the Old Testament’s teaching.

As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, even the concept of dual imputation, which some scholars attempt to argue is an Augustinian/Reformational doctrine foreign to the text of the Old Testament, is contained in the Old Testament.[3] Is it any surprise then to read of this “Servant” of the Lord who is unjustly persecuted by His enemies, vindicated by God, and whose righteousness is the cause of delight in the saints of God? Is Christ Jesus not the Servant who suffers in our place?[4] Is He not the One to whom our sins have been imputed and whose righteousness has been imputed to us?[5] Are we Christians not those who are “not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…for in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith…”?[6] Is not the righteousness of Christ that which we are to seek after, the righteousness that comes by faith and not by the Law?[7] The righteousness of God the Son is what we are to revel in, for He fulfilled the Law in our place. Moreover, His perfect obedience has been credited to our account. How can the true Christian not rejoice?

This psalm, I believe, is about Christ, in two senses. Firstly, it present Christ to us typologically in the person of David, who speaks as the Lord’s Suffering Servant. Secondly, it presents Christ to us as the Angel of the Lord who judges the wicked and saves God’s elect people. He is sent by the Father to bring salvation to the elect and simultaneously bring judgment upon the wicked. This second presentation of Christ in Psalm 35 is made clear in vv.4-6.

Two Christological Aspects [vv.4-6]/[v.27]

Psalm 35 teaches us about Christ’s suffering in our place/as our Substitute, and it teaches us about Christ as the Judge of the wicked. We see this in vv.4-6, where David cries out to the Lord and prays that “the Angel of the Lord” would drive away his enemies, enemies which he likens to chaff before the wind. The wording here powerfully points us to Christ as our deliverer and as the Judge of the wicked in two ways: (a.)By identifying Christ as “the Angel of the Lord” and (b.)by identifying His enemies as chaff before Him. These two parts of David’s prayer could easily be overlooked by us in our casual reading of God’s Word, so we would do well to stop here and consider both of them.

Regarding (a.), the first Biblical reference to “the Angel of the Lord” is in Genesis 16:7-14. This “Angel” is identified as God,[8] and blessed Hagar, Abram’s mistress, after she had been thrown out by Abram’s wife, Sarai. This Person appears repeatedly throughout the Old Testament canon and is identified as God, Yahweh, to whom worship must be ascribed. However, He is also distinct from Yahweh in the heavens,[9] and therefore is a Divine Person who is visible, endowed with absolute authority and power to execute judgment, show mercy, to save, and who is distinct from the Father. So when David cries out to the Lord, he is asking for salvation to come from none other than the Son of God Himself, God Himself, “the Angel of the Lord” – the Lord who spoke with Hagar, Abraham, and Jacob,[10] the God who sees.[11]

Regarding (b.), when we turn to the pages of Matthew we read these words: “His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will clear His threshing floor and gather His wheat into His barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.”[12] Christ is recognized as the One who will save the elect and judge the reprobate. The elect are referred to as wheat, while the non-elect are referred to as chaff. Taken in conjunction with David’s prayer for salvation/condemnation to be delivered/meted out by “the Angel of the Lord,” we see that Christ is meant.

There are two ways, then, to read this psalm. Firstly, we recognize that it is Jesus Christ alone who can fully claim that His righteousness is the cause for celebration among the people of God, so we read this psalm as it relates to Him. David is speaking prophetically about Christ’s suffering, death, resurrection, and vindication before His enemies. However, in the second instance we are reading about David’s own trials, his desire to see Christ (it seems to me, at least), the Lord’s faithfulness to His promise to ultimately deliver His people out of the hands of the enemy, and the joy that comes from seeing God deliver His people from their trials.

Amen.

-h.


[4] Cf. Isa 53:1-10

[5] Cf. Isa 53:11-12

[6] Cf. Rom 1:16-17

[7] Cf. Phil 3:1-10

[8] This is evident from the fact that the text says in vv.8-11 that the only Person speaking to Hagar is the Angel of the Lord, and yet in v. 13 we are told that it was The Lord who spoke to Hagar, which she confirms by saying “You are a God of seeing…Truly here I have seen Him who looks after me.” The Angel, therefore, is identified as God, Yahweh, and yet He is a visible messenger. This is the pre-incarnate Christ Jesus.

[9] Cf. Gen 18:1, 22, 33; 19:24-25 & Amos 4:11

[10] Cf. Gen 32:22-30

[11] Cf. Gen 16:13-14

[12] Cf. Matt 3:12

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