Psalm 89 - God's Covenant Faithfulness Lauded
At first glance it would not seem that Psalm 89 belongs to the Messianic Psalms. It does not refer to a specific instance in the life of Christ. However, it is based to a large extent on 2 Samuel 7 where promises are made to David and to his kingly house. I do not agree with Dr. Alexander when he says that all the Messianic Psalms are based on 2 Samuel 7, but the words there spoken to David certainly refer to the Christ too. It can, of course, also be said that every Psalm is Messianic because all of the Old Testament refers to the Christ. However, we are then using the term Messianic Psalms in a different broader sense.
God's Covenant with David
Psalm 89 cannot be treated in a short lesson, but this lesson will deal in a general way with the entire Psalm. This Psalm, which is well known in the Dutch versification, is tremendously rich in thought. It deals with the covenant which God had made with David and his house. That is the covenant which God has made with His people since the days of Abraham. That is the covenant in which we still rejoice to the present day if we have the proper Biblical understanding of it. This covenant is eternal! This covenant will stand! The God of the covenant has sworn with an oath that He will be faithful to the promise He has made to His people. Now, in time, it seems as though that covenant is no longer honored. Psalm 89 deals with the problem of the apparent failure of its promises to be fulfilled. All of the promises included in the covenant could not be realized in David and his house. They point even farther into the future when David's great Son will come and will rule forever.
The poet begins this beautiful Psalm by singing of the loving kindness of his God. He is the God of loving kindness and of mercy. The faithfulness of this God is established in the heavens. He is not only the God who is able to do great things, He is trustworthy. He is not only the Creator and Sustainer of all things; He loves His people. Of that quality of His God He wishes to sing. He wants to do this with a loud voice so that men everywhere may hear it: This God, the God of David, the God of the covenant, will not disappoint His people! Having said this, the Psalmist quotes the words of 2 Samuel 7. He has made His promises to David. They are well-known. The Psalmist now gives a commentary on the words God spoke in 2 Samuel 7:5ff. Such comment on earlier prophecy is often found in the Scriptures, as when the New Testament frequently quotes the Old. The poet lays the emphasis on the "establishing" of the seed of David and on the "building" of his throne. When we have seen verse 4 in this light, we are able to understand the following verses.
God Guarantees His Promises
This God is Himself the Surety for the words which He spoke to David. The Psalm speaks of the greatness of that God. No one in the skies is to be compared with Him. He is greater than all others and is therefore to be feared by all creatures, but He is also the faithful One. He is faithful to Himself and is also faithful in the words which He has spoken. Men can depend on Him.
None in the heavens is to be compared with Him and there is also no one on earth who is equal to Him. He demonstrates His great power on the earth. When the waters threaten to engulf the land mass, He rebukes them and they are stilled! Whenever any rose up against Him, He utterly vanquished them. Everything belongs to Him because He has made it.
But, we are not only dealing with an all-powerful God. This is indeed important and will comfort His people again and again. He is also the God who has the highest ethical standards. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne. He is always true to the "laws" which govern His own being. He also honors the laws which He has established in all the things which He has made. It is therefore unthinkable that He would not fulfill the promise which He made to David and to his seed. Justice flows forth from His righteousness. He Himself is the standard for the true justice among men. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne, i.e., if these fail, His throne cannot stand. Loving kindness and truth go before His face: that loving kindness by which He stoops to provide for the needs of His people and which finds its most glorious fulfillment in His forgiving love; and His truth so that men may depend on Him and be confident that He will ever be true to His word and His promise. Thus it becomes evident that the people of God may base their confidence on His very being! This is what Moses did! Others followed him herein. God's people can therefore rejoice in their God. They have heard and know "the joyful sound". They walk in the light of His countenance. He, their God, is their strength; He is their glory; He is everything to them. No one will be able to conquer Israel, the people of God, because their God is their Protector. He is their defense, their shield! How blessed is a people that stands in covenant relation with the God of gods!
Promises to David
The Psalmist now reminds his God of the rich promises He had made in the past. He is, no doubt, referring again to the promises contained in 2 Samuel 7. There the Lord had made it very clear that He would build the house of David. He had chosen David even though this one seemed to be the least in Jesse's house. God had highly exalted him. He had anointed him king. Others may rise against him in battle but they will not prevail because God will be his strength. He will be blest to such an extent that the blessing will remind the people of the words of Psalm 72 which speaks of the kingdom of David extending from sea to sea and to the ends of the earth. Although David was the youngest of Jesse's sons, God will make him His firstborn. He will have a place higher than any of the surrounding kings. That little Israel will see glory days during the time of king David.
They will be Fulfilled
These benefits are due to the fact that God has entered into covenant relation with David and with his children. There may come a time when his children (or he) will sin. Then the justice of God will demand that this sin be punished. He is a God of justice. Nevertheless, He will not take His loving-kindness from David! This is the important sentence and thought in this entire paragraph. God says that He has sworn an oath to this effect. He will not lie to David. That covenant is an eternal covenant and therefore it will continue with the seed of David throughout their generations. Nothing will thwart His purposes and nothing will cut off His relationship with David and his seed. It will last as long as the moon and the sun. God's relationship to His people is permanent!
The Promises Appear Unfulfilled
The poet has reminded God of the things He had promised because he seeks to know the reason for the present difficulty in which the people of God find themselves. We do not know the time in which this Psalm was written, but it was written in a time in which it seemed as though all the blessings had been taken away from Israel and all possible difficulties had overcome them. Did this occur because this people had sinned? No, the writer has reminded God that He had sworn that even though David's seed should sin this would never break the bond of the covenant which He had laid between Himself and His people! It is too easy a solution to say that the reason for the present ills is the sin which has been committed. When the reader sees the way in which the Psalmist describes the present situation and the responsibility which God has taken upon Himself in 2 Samuel 7, he almost holds his breath in wondering whether or not this writer is going to accuse God of breaking His oath!
Notice, the writer speaks of the fact that God has cast off His people. That He has abhorred the covenant with His servant! He has cast the crown of David to the ground. And this was the crown which was going to flourish forever! His strongholds are broken down. Others rob him and reproach him. His enemies are gaining the upper hand and they are defeating him, despite the promise that he would conquer all his foes. He is not able to stand in battle against his enemies. His glory is departed and his throne is cast down. Shame covers the man who had been chosen of God as His servant, as His friend, as the man after His own heart!
A Prayer for Fulfillment of God's Promises
How long will this continue? Is Jehovah's wrath going to burn against His own covenant people forever? These are the questions which this Psalmist asks. To them there are no cheap answers. Job's friends have experienced that.
But, the author is still a Psalmist. He sings. He has sung of the loving kindness of Jehovah in the past, and he will still sing even though his heart is burdened and his mind finds no answers. His song is a prayer. He prays that this exhibition of Jehovah's disfavor may not last too long. Let it not last because man has few days. If the favor of God is not seen soon, it will arrive too late for the man who has so few days. The writer also reminds his God of the loving kindnesses which He had sworn to David in the past. Let them now be seen again. So only can it become clear to the one who is struggling with the deepest problems of life that these words have indeed been spoken to David and that they are also for him. The Lord must also see the reproach of His people. While they are going through the suffering of the present difficult times they feel the reproach of the unbelievers. But, this is not a reproach which ends with His people! No, these reproaches are then also leveled at their Lord, don't let that happen! The writer is concerned about the good name of his God. The covenant God has spoken. He has sworn to the truth of His promises.
In this Psalm the author pours out his heart. He indeed rejoices in the glorious fact that he belongs to that people with whom God has made a covenant. He is the faithful covenant God. Innumerable blessings come to him through that relationship. All the problems of life can also be faced when he trusts in that covenant.
God's anger has been turned away. Messiah came to fulfill the covenant. He took His people's sins upon Himself. He bore the wrath of God. "Blessed be Jehovah forevermore. Amen and Amen".
Questions for Discussion:
- God made a covenant between Himself and Abraham. This covenant was reaffirmed time and again during sacred history. Are we able to understand God's dealings with His people apart from the covenant? Are we able to understand the Bible if we do not recognize His covenant relationship to His people?
- What is the covenant of grace? Who are members of it? Give reasons for your answers.
- Does it seem as though God has forgotten His covenant promises at times? Is it not significant that the Bible often deals with this question?
- What happens to the responsibility of those who are members of the covenant? Is their responsibility like that of others or greater? Is their punishment, if they do not repent, equal to or greater than that of others?
- The Psalmist pleads his case on the veracity of God's promises. He realizes that the reproaches which fall on him also fall on God. Moses pleaded with God to hear him "for thy great name's sake". What can we learn from this for our own prayer life?
- Despite the problems of life (spiritual problems), this Psalmist can sing. What is the reason for this? Should the Psalms be our "praise selections", or can we use other passages just as profitably?