Read Psalm 61.
“I knew it,” I said, staring at my graded seminary paper. I was now satisfied my theory was correct: “The professor of this course never reads these things.” Not really, anyway. No matter how hard I worked (or didn’t), the result was always the same: a B+. It was as if this professor had summed up each student in the class early on in the semester and just decided each one of us deserved a certain grade. I was apparently a B+.
How did I know? I did two things to test him on this particular paper. First, on page seven, in the third paragraph. I dropped in the following: “If you’re reading this paper, would you be so kind as to circle the word reading? Thanks and God bless.” Nothing was circled. There was no comment in the margin. Second, I quoted myself a few times toward the end of the paper. I interacted with published articles I’d written and cited them as such. The footnotes had my name and web addresses to the articles, where my bio and picture could be found. The articles, of course, had little or nothing to do with the topic of my paper, and it’s hardly credible to call yourself as a witness to the truth of your own words. Again, no comment in the margin.
As I read Psalm 61 this morning, I had the feeling I was being tested by David. In the middle of the psalm, for no apparent reason, David goes from talking about himself in the first person (“I” and “me” in vv. 4–5) to talking about himself in the third person (“his” and “he” in vv. 6–7). David, who is king in Jerusalem, begins praying for… the king in Jerusalem: “Increase the days of the king’s life, his years for many generations. May he be enthroned in God’s presence forever; appoint your love and faithfulness to protect him” (vv. 6–7). It’s odd to say the least—the sort of thing that makes me want to leave a note in the margin of my Bible in red ink.
Some Bible commentators suggest that these words are a later addition from someone else—an editor or compiler of the psalms. Perhaps they are, but it seems an odd thing for a scribe living a generation or more later to ask God to increase the king’s days when the king in question has been dead for some time. I see little reason to go that route. Instead, I think David’s shift in voice is to make us sit up and take notice.
On one level, David’s words can apply to David himself. He’s asking the Lord to increase his days. Even the bit about being enthroned forever has a catch—he’s asking to be enthroned “in God’s presence forever” (v. 7). God’s presence breaks the bounds of human mortality. There’s nothing strange here, when you know where David’s coming from. It was David who wrote, “You will not abandon me to the realm of the dead” (Psalm 16:10). For David, life after death is life in God’s presence. He trusts this is true, long before the Messiah has come to earth to pay the price to make it so.
But there’s more going on here than awkward self-reflection in the third person. David knows that another King is coming. The prophet Nathan had given David a message from God:
When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. (2 Samuel 7:12–13)
David seems to have this future king in mind when he prays in Psalm 61. He’s looking ahead to King Jesus and to the kingdom that will never perish. It’s the kingdom Jesus brought with Him when He came to earth (Matthew 12:28; Luke 17:21). It’s the kingdom that will come in its fullness at the end of history (Matthew 6:10; Revelation 11:15). It’s the kingdom where our citizenship is registered if we’ve trusted Jesus (Philippians 3:20). And it’s the kingdom where we, too, will be “enthroned in God’s presence forever” (Psalm 61:7), according to the promises of God (Ephesians 2:6).
It gives me another reason entirely to write in the margin of my Bible.