Claiming the Hope of the Psalmists for the Church
The Church has claimed Israel’s Scriptures, Israel’s story, and Israel’s God as its own. If (as we contend) the Church is to see biblical Israel as its “origin story,” we must also appropriate Israel’s hope as we seek to reconcile our house divided.1
The book of Psalms is packed with poetic promises of hope in the face of crisis and conflict, and thus it is to the Psalms we now go as we seek to heal the wounds of separation which presently cripple the Body of Christ.
“Behold,” the psalmist writes, “how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!”2 The introduction to this psalm identifies its author as King David, who experienced firsthand more than his fair share of division among God’s people. Yet David remains driven by his hopeful vision of unity, because “the LORD has commanded the blessing.”3
Hope in the Faithfulness of God
Israel’s hope is distinct from—and something more than—mere optimism, because it is tied to a distinct person: their God. Where optimism hopes for the best given its circumstance, biblical hope is not tied to circumstance and is often chosen with no evidence that circumstances will improve.
We see this hope in Psalm 42, where the psalmist writes: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.”4
As seen here, Israel’s hope is rooted in the character of God, which is a character of faithfulness. And to remind themselves of this character, they look back to God’s previous works of faithfulness (especially the exodus) in order to look forward in anticipation of God’s continued faithfulness.
Psalm 78 affirms this. It reads: “I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.”5
The Hope of Glory
This hope is also a redemptive sort of hope. Psalm 130 says: “O LORD, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy! If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O LORD, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope… O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.”6
It is a hope that believes in God’s faithful graciousness in spite of human unfaithfulness.
If the Church is to read Israel as our own origin story, we would do best to claim Israel’s hope in the work of God’s redemption in and through our own brokenness. Like Israel, we must look back to God’s past actions of faithfulness as we look to the future in hope.
In the Church’s case, we should look back to the saving work of God in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus; Christian hope is rooted in identification with the crucified Christ,7 and when we live through this posture, we remember that: “…if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”8
On that day when God’s people are united with Christ in their resurrection, so they will be united with each other. But, then, the question arises: “How are we supposed to seek this unity here and now, before that day comes when we are resurrected with Christ?” And that is where we will turn next.
This is the second part of our series on Christian Unity
Previous: No King in Israel
Next: That They May Be One
1. Mark 3:25
2. Psalm 133:1 ESV; emphasis added
3. Psalm 133:3 ESV
4. Psalm 42:5-6 ESV; emphasis added
5. Psalm 78:2-7 ESV; emphasis added
6. Psalm 130:2-5, 7-8 ESV; emphasis added
7. cf. Galatians 2:20
8. Romans 6:5 ESV; emphasis added