Psalms of Solomon, Psalm 17-18 – Analysis

Psalm 17 – A Psalm. Pertaining to Salomon. With an Ode. Pertaining to the king.

The seventeenth psalm represents the culmination of the community’s hopes and their ideal fruition to the wrath of God which they are currently experiencing at the hands of the Romans. While there are hints at a figure which would be king over Israel in the fifth and eleventh psalm, here, the figure takes shape as a king from the royal line of David, fulfilling the promises of God not only to David but to the people[1]. It uses the canonical Psalm 2 as the overarching theme, expounding upon it to usher in a Messiah that is not bent upon war, but brings peace. Much like the Gospel account, the Messiah is seen as the exemplar Son of David, a king which will defeat the kings of the earth and rule the nations[2].

The author begins, and ends, with his petition to God who is ‘king forever and ever,’ compares the life expectancy of a person’s life with the eternality of the ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμῶν[3], and reminds God of the covenant made with David (v4). For nearly a hundred years, the Hasmoneans had not only been kings, but priests as well, taking what a minority had seen as the role of the coming king. The author sees the Hasmonean dynasty as a result of Israel’s sins, and the destruction of the dynasty as a result of their sins. Pompey is not mentioned here, but Herod the Great is, as is the genocide he attempted on the Hasmonean line (v7-9)[4]. Now, the community was reminding God, and maybe themselves, that it was supposed to only be a member of David’s line[5]. They retell the destruction which befell the community, but this time, the destruction is not to either Jerusalem or the Temple, but to the palace – the throne of David (v6). They reissue the calls made in previous psalms for the judgment of God recounting the injustice which had occurred to them (v7-20). For a large portion of the psalm, the author makes a prayer (v21) for the restoration of the Davidic line and pictures what this new reign would look like (v22-43). The post-script presents what might be a personal touch from the author (v43), a final prayer, and returning to the statement that the Lord is king.

The canonical Psalm 2 comes into focus first in v23-24 in which the Messiah is seen with the ῥάβδῳ σιδηρα which is the weapon of choice in Psalm 2.9 and in verse 27 where the Messiah will remove the ἄνθρωπος μετ᾽ αὐτῶν εἰδὼς κακίαν γνώσεται which corresponds with the final verse of Psalm 2. Further, verse 30 -34 should be read parallel with the Psalm 2.6-8 where we see that the ἐθνῶν will be given for a possession, and all will come ἀπ᾽ ἄκρου τῆς γῆς (Psalm 2.8 reads πέρατα τῆς γῆς). In verse 35, the author quotes, somewhat, Isaiah 11.4 which appears to use Psalm 2 as well, which was later used in Revelation 19.14. God is seen using λόγῳ τοῦ στόματος to rule the earth, but the λόγῳ τοῦ στόματος is the Messiah-King who will bless the people of the Lord.

The Messiah in the seventeenth Psalm is a divine agent but very human. He, the Messiah, is supported by 21-25) and subordinate to God (v34), able to accomplish the victory single-handed (v33), taught by God (v32), pure from sin (v35)[6], but is mortal. While the Messiah’s end is not numbered, the promise for him to not ἀσθενήσει ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις is given once in v37. While he is given the spirits mentioned in Isaiah 11.2 (cfv37) he still must hope upon God v39. He is human, but in his divine attributes, he carries the Isaianic attributes (Isaiah 11.2-5), is the source of blessing (v35), and cannot be seen as a king apart from God. He is God’s vicar, embodied with divine attributes, representing God to the people. One might say that if they see the Messiah-King, then they see God. The Messiah-King, the χριστὸς κυρίου, will accomplish much during his tenure. He will, according to Nickelsburg[7], remove the foreign oppressors and the Gentiles (v22-24); gather the dispersed (v26, 44); and restore the old boundaries (v28). He will be, as was called for in Ezekiel 34, a ‘ruler, judge, and shepherd, exalting Israel above all, fulfilling the prophecies of Isaiah 60 and Daniel 7.27. The land will be free of sin, entering into a Messianic Age of peace and prosperity akin to the age of Solomon.

The author of the seventeenth psalm does not expect to happen soon or at least soon enough for him. Perhaps he is old, as he writes in the v44 with a future expectation that those who see it will be happy, indicating that he doesn’t expect too. As in the second verse, there is a bleed through of the author, in which he first ponders how long he has left and then almost regrets that he will not be able to see the Messiah.

Psalm 18 – A Psalm. Pertaining to Salomon. Again of the Anointed of the Lord.

The great crescendo that was the seventeenth psalm is followed by a suitable post-script in the eighteenth. It returns to the view that Israel is God’s πρωτότοκον and μονογενῆ[8].  Because this, they can accept discipline which washes them, preparing them for the ἡμέραν ἐλέους and the ἡμέραν ἐκλογῆς (v5) which will see the χριστοῦ come. It repeats some of the attributes of χριστοῦ the previous psalm (v7) and then dramatically shifts to a hymn celebrating the control which God has over the cosmos.


[1] 2nd Samuel 7.10-16

[2] For a fuller discussion on the use of Psalm 2 during this time period, see You Are My Son: The Reception History of Psalm 2 in Early Judaism and the Early Church, Leuven ; Walpole, Mass.

[3] It must be noted that this is the first time in biblical literature that the phrase which is found so often in the New Testament is mentioned.

[4] For a discussion on Herod and the 17th Psalm see, On the Herodian Origin of Militant Davidic Messianism at Qumran: New Light from Psalm of Solomon 17 Kenneth Atkinson Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 118, No. 3 (Autumn, 1999), pp. 435-460 Published by: The Society of Biblical Literature.

[5] The failure to mention the Son of Joseph who found a cultic following as well should solidify the notion that it was the Pharisees who contributed to this document.

[6] The author demands purity from sin in order that the Messiah can rule and rebuke, καὶ αὐτὸς καθαρὸς ἀπὸ ἁμαρτίας τοῦ ἄρχειν λαοῦ μεγάλου ἐλέγξαι ἄρχοντας καὶ ἐξᾶραι ἁμαρτωλοὺς ἐν ἰσχύι λόγου

[7] Nickelsburg, 243

[8] Cf Exodus 4.22



Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

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