Paul had reminded his readers that Jesus had come from heaven in accordance with the Scriptures. We can imagine that some of Paul’s Jewish readers would have said to themselves, ‘I wonder where the Bible says that is the case.’ Even if they did not, Paul often cited Old Testament passages on which he was basing his teaching.
Here he quotes from each of the divisions of the Old Testament, known as the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms. Or if we wish to describe them in another way, he recites from the historical books, from the prophetic writings, and from the wisdom literature of the Old Testament. I suppose we could say that by this method Paul was showing that his teaching was the message of the entire Old Testament.
The first quotation is from Psalm 18:49 (‘Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name’). In that psalm, David describes the victories that God had given him over surrounding Gentile peoples. David then mentions his intentions after his victory, which was not to crush the defeated peoples, but to sing among them about God. They would hear him sing about the Lord and hopefully join in his songs. Paul takes David’s desire as a picture of what the Messiah would do after winning his battle, and that the desire of Jesus was for Gentiles to sing God’s praise. We can see how the Saviour stressed this in the Great Commission.
The second quotation is from Deuteronomy 32:43 (‘Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people’), part of the song that Moses taught the Israelites to sing shortly before his death. This song is about reminding the Israelites about being faithful to God and adhering to his ways. In addition to exhorting the Israelites, Moses addresses the Gentiles to rejoice with the Israelites in praising God. That seemed very unlikely at the time, yet Paul says to his readers that they are part of God’s fulfilment of what he said through Moses.
The third quotation is from Psalm 117 (‘Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him’). This psalm expresses the message of the Old Testament as well as the longing of God’s true people in Old Testament times, which was that the Gentile nations would praise the covenant God. If we turn to the Old Testament version, we will see that the name of God that is used is Yahweh, the covenant name. The compilers of the psalm believed that the covenant blessing would yet extend to all the nations of the world. The short psalm seems to be based on the two points made here by Paul when he wrote that the Messiah came to confirm God’s covenant love to Israel and extend his mercy to the Gentiles.
The fourth quotation is based on Isaiah 11 (‘The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope’). The prophecy in that chapter says that the Messiah would be anointed by the Holy Spirit and bring in a kingdom of peace into which the nations will come. Here is a summary of the mission of Jesus – although of the royal line, he will arise (which implies prior lowliness) to a place of total world domination (exalted to God’s throne). And when that happens, it will be a great day for the nations because they will be able to hope in Jesus.