– Aurelio Porfiri

When we think of the Psalms, we may think of them or refer to them as events happening in the Old Testament. But we should remember that throughout the Old Testament there is a promise to the Jewish people, that God will send the one who is to come, the Messiah. So, the Psalms for Christians refer to Jesus, they are all centered around Jesus Christ on His coming and the final judgment.

CS Lewis in his Reflections on the Psalms said: “We need not therefore be surprised if the Psalms, and the Prophets, are full of the longing for judgment, and regard the announcement that ‘judgment’ is coming as good news. Hundreds and thousands of people who have been stripped of all their possessions and who have the truth entirely on their side will at last be heard. Of course, they are not afraid of judgment. They know their case will be justified-if only it could be heard. When God comes to judge, at last he will. Dozens of passages make the point clear. In Psalm 9 we are told that God will ‘minister true judgment’ (8), and that is because He ‘forgetteth not the complaint of the poor’ (12). He ‘defendeth the cause’ (that is, the ‘case’) ‘of the widows.’ The good king in Psalm 72:2, will ‘judge’ the people rightly; that is, he will.”

We have also a similar thought  coming from Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “The Psalter is the prayer book of Jesus Christ in the truest sense of the word. He prayed the Psalter and now it has become his prayer for all time…we understand how the Psalter can be a prayer to God and yet God’s own Word, precisely because here we encounter the praying Christ … because those who pray the psalms are joining in with the prayer of Jesus Christ, their prayer reaches the ears of God. Christ has become their intercessor….” So Jesus Christ is not alien to the Psalms, indeed He is at their heart.

A good book by William L Holladay (a professor of Old Testament), The Psalms through Three Thousand Years (1993) has a chapter that gives us useful reference about the strong relationship between Jesus and the Psalms. For example, we all know that in Mark 14:26 it is said: “Then, after singing a hymn,  they went out to the Mount of Olives.” Now, this “hymn” that was typical of the Jewish Easter celebration, were Psalms 113-118. In Luke 4:10-13, quotes from Psalms and from other parts of the Scripture are between Jesus and none other than the devil. The following is an excerpt from the passage: “Then he led him to Jerusalem, made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written: “He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,” and: “With their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.”’ Jesus said to him in reply, ‘It also says, “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”’ When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time.” The evil one is quoting from Psalm 91:11: “For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.” As Holladay has observed in his book, it is an interesting passage from scripture, because it makes us aware that the Psalms can be put to good use like prayer, but it can also be quoted by the devil.  The above passage is a good example of that.

There are references to the Psalms not only mentioned in the sermon on the mount, but in many of the sayings of Jesus there are reminiscences from the Old Testament and from the Psalms.

In the events of what we call “Holy Week,” there are also many references to the Psalms, this is probably because the compilers of the account of Jesus Passion, Death and Resurrection wanted to be sure that the readers understand the relationship between what was happening to Jesus and what was predicted to the Jews. When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the crowds shouted out to him, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” following several accounts that we can find in the Gospels. This is a direct quote from Psalm 118:26. When we affirm this, we should never ever think that the evangelists “made up” these quotes to make everything sound right, but that they probably favored particular phrases that were really said, because these phrases clearly explained the mission of Jesus, in the light of the Old Testament.  Also, the word “Hosanna” (meaning “save us, we implore you,” is a Hebraic word which is derived from Aramaic), is a quotation taken from the same Psalm (25) “Save now, I beseech thee, O Lord.”

It is also important to note that Jesus and the other apostles (especially Peter) quoted Psalm 110:1: “The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.” In Acts 2:32-36 we read: “God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses. Exalted at the right hand of God,  he received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father and poured it forth, as you (both) see and hear. For David did not go up into heaven, but he himself said: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ Therefore let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

There are several other references to the Psalms in the New Testament but one of the most important is the one when Jesus was on the cross, when he quoted psalm 22: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” In Matthew 27:46 we read: “And about three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’  which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”

Was Jesus chanting these words? This is not a sort of strange question, because we need to remember that the Psalms were always sung or chanted, the people would recognize the tunes that were so familiar to them. Let us see what Amy Julia Becker has to say about this: “Just before Jesus died, according to Matthew and Mark, he cried out in a loud voice, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ It’s a question that has rung out ever since, as Jesus’ followers continue to wonder exactly why he uttered this ‘cry of dereliction’ among his final words. It could be that he was expressing the agony of his physical suffering. It could be that the agony of emotional and spiritual separation from God had pressed in upon him so severely that he needed to cry out. It could be the ultimate indication of his humanity, and of his willingness to bear the sin of the world on our behalf or it could be that he was singing. For Jewish people like Jesus, who knew the Hebrew Scriptures and who used the Psalms as a songbook, the opening line of any Psalm served as a reference to the whole. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” is the opening line of Psalm 22. Imagine for a moment, if I were to walk into almost any room in America and sing out, “Let it go!” Those three words alone would probably conjure up the rest of the chorus of this banner anthem from Disney’s Frozen, but certainly, “Let it go, let it go, I can’t hold back any more,” would get every small child and most of their parents singing. Whether those lines provoke a roll of the eyes (as they do with my son William) or a heartfelt declaration (as they do with my daughters Penny and Marilee), all it takes is the initial line for people to receive the message. Those three words signal much more than the words themselves – the scenes and images that accompany this song in the movie, and perhaps even the larger context of the song within the film itself. Similarly, when Jesus cries out using the initial line of Psalm 22, he is referring to his listeners to the entirety of the Psalm” (ref:

You may think that it is strange that someone on the verge of dying would sing, being in great pain, but Jesus was certainly not “every man,” and the fact that he was referring to  Psalm 22, which was very familiar to His listeners, may have a meaning that goes beyond our immediate understanding.