Psalms and Prophets, part 2

Leithart next looks at Psalm 35. his main point here seems to be that, since the language of courtroom and battlefield are so mixed here, that therefore forensic language “is not always strictly tied to ‘forensic’ situations” (p. 219). However, he only cites verses 2-3 as evidence of a military setting. But this is no different from what we might say today, “I fought a courtroom battle today.” The question here is this: how is the language metaphorical? Which set of metaphors is more basic/more prevalent? I believe that the clear answer with regard to Psalm 35 is that the courtroom language is far more prevalent and controlling than the military language. Therefore, the military language is metaphorical of the courtroom. First of all, the Psalm starts with the courtroom imagery, as Leithart notes (p. 218). But surely, the idea that “coutroom language emerges now and then throughout the Psalm” is an understatement. Witness (!) the following data: “put to shame” (vs. 4); “malicious witnesses” (vs. 11); “look on” (vs. 17); “you have seen” (calls on God as witness, vs. 22); all of verses 23-26 are clearly determined by courtroom language, with such words as “vindication,” “righteousness,” “shame,” and “dishonor” occuring regularly. Through and through, this Psalm is riddled with courtroom imagery. It is certainly the most prominent set of images. Leithart’s argument here makes me feel that he is trying to jumble up all the metaphors so that everything describes one act. The language does not force that to be the case.

Two other things must therefore be argued: firstly, the other metaphors do not have to be interpreted in such a way that the courtroom imagery has to include the others within its own conceptual framework. Again, Leithart has not proven his point here by excluding all the alternatives. Even if his claim were true that the imagery was so mixed, that would not justify (!) us in saying that the metaphors have to be all jumbled together. For instance, an unfavorable verdict for David’s accusers results in deliverance from them. The text nowhere forces us to say that they are the same act. The one can be the perfectly logical and ordinary result of the other. This leads us to the second point: being vindicated in a courtroom results in dignity and honor commensurate with the confirmed status of being innocent. This is not the same thing as being delivered from sin. It is the same as being delivered from guilt. So, here, to a certain extent, I can use Leithart’s term “deliverdict,” as long as it is understood of deliverance from guilt, and not deliverance from power or presence.


  1. July 9, 2007 at 12:17 pm

    I think it’s interesting that somehow this language in Psalm 35 must inform our understanding of justification and especially how the New Testament frames the question. However, Jordan advocates are fond of saying that New Testament concerns regarding the Old Testament cannot be allowed to influence what it is we are looking at in any particular passage.

    Take a look at Jordan’s essay in the same volume and you will see what I mean. At root here what remains the problem is a difference in hermeneutics–how we look at interpreting what the Bible says.

    As I stated previously, it is a stretch to think that this Psalm somehow has anything at all to do with forensic justification in the first place whether we’re talking about what the New Testament says or what confessional Reformed theology puts forward. Unless someone can show us that Psalm 35 was considered in the New Testament when putting forward a biblical doctrine of justification, I really don’t see how this applies at all in any discussion of justification.

  2. greenbaggins said,

    July 9, 2007 at 12:40 pm

    You raise excellent points here. I don’t see Paul referencing Psalm 35; certainly not on justification. In fact, my cross-references only have one cross-reference to Paul, and it is to 1 Thess. 5:3 (on verse 8).

    I suppose one could say that Paul pickes up on the judicial context of OT language to formulate his doctrine of justification. But he picks up only on the judicial contexts, not on the other metaphors.

  3. pduggan said,

    July 13, 2007 at 10:26 am

    David was on a whole lot of battlefields, but in very few courtrooms. Wouldn’t that lend prima fascie evidence to the case that psalms about David’s battles are references to battles?

  4. pduggan said,

    July 13, 2007 at 10:28 am

    “For instance, an unfavorable verdict for David’s accusers results in deliverance from them. The text nowhere forces us to say that they are the same act.”

    How is David going to know the verdict? Is he going to go up into the courtroom of heaven? Or is he going to see his enemy loose.

    Why is it so hard to see God’s works of providence as justificatory?

  5. greenbaggins said,

    July 13, 2007 at 10:33 am

    Why is it so hard to keep justification and sanctification distinct?

    How do any of us know that we are justified? Is it not the Holy Spirit testifying with our spirits that we are the sons of God? Is it not assurance? Faith is in things not seen, Paul. We cannot *see* our justification. It is not visible. It is not baptism. In one way, I think the entire FV idea is that there can be hope and faith in things that are seen. They want to see their faith. But that is directly contrary to Hebrews’ definition of faith (Heb 11:1, which explicitly links faith with things *not* seen).

  6. pduggie said,

    July 15, 2007 at 7:11 am

    I think the entire anti-FV idea is that nobody really believes they are weak enough to need sacraments, though that’s what the reformation always say the reason for sacraments is.

    What is the condemnation of sin? Is it just a mental object? What does romans 1 say?

  7. greenbaggins said,

    July 15, 2007 at 1:51 pm

    That’s just why baptism and faith are not the same thing. Our faith is in what is not seen. Baptism is a needed crutch precisely because our faith is weak. So your argument actually turns against you, Paul.

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