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Psalms 89 Summary - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

This Psalm presents, with singular force and pathos, the dilemma which must have perplexed many a pious soul in the Exile. On the one hand, the assured lovingkindness and faithfulness of God and His explicit promise of an eternal dominion to the house of David; on the other hand, the sight of the representative of that house a discrowned exile, and his kingdom plundered and desolate. How could the contradiction be reconciled?

The Psalm consists of an introduction, followed by three main divisions. Its argument may be traced as follows.

i. The Psalmist’s purpose is to celebrate the lovingkindness and faithfulness of Jehovah, which he is persuaded are eternal and unlimited. They have been manifested in the covenant with David, and the solemn proclamation of that covenant is given as from the mouth of God Himself (Psa 89:1-4).

ii. After this introduction, marked off as such by a musical interlude, the Psalmist proceeds to celebrate the praise of Jehovah, dwelling especially upon the power and faithfulness which are the double guarantee for the performance of His promises. Heaven and the angels praise Him, for they know that there is none like Him (Psa 89:5-7); He manifests His sovereignty in nature and in history as the Creator and Ruler of the world, and His moral attributes of righteousness and judgement, lovingkindness and truth, are the climax of His glory (Psa 89:8-14). Happy the people who have such a God, and whose king is the special object of His choice and care (Psa 89:15-18).

iii. The mention of the king forms the transition to the next division, which is a poetical expansion of the promise to David recorded in 2 Samuel 7. On that memorable occasion Jehovah had solemnly covenanted to strengthen and support the king of His choice, to give him victory over all his enemies, to extend his dominion to the boundaries foretold of old, to adopt him as His firstborn and make him supreme over the kings of the earth, to give eternal dominion to his seed after him. Though the sins of his descendants might demand punishment, the divine covenant that his seed and his throne should endure for ever, would be sacred and inviolable (Psa 89:19-37).

iv. Having thus confronted God with His own promises, the Psalmist proceeds to confront Him with the actual state of things which is in glaring contradiction to those promises. He has abandoned king and people to defeat, disgrace, ruin (Psa 89:38-45). Remonstrance is followed by earnest pleading. Life is short. If relief come not soon, the Psalmist cannot live to see the proof of God’s faithfulness, and meanwhile he and all God’s servants are forced to endure the contemptuous insults of their heathen conquerors (Psa 89:46-51).

Thus the motive of the Psalm is the contradiction between God’s character and promises on the one hand, and the fate of the king and people of Israel on the other hand. The keywords of the Psalm are lovingkindness and faithfulness, each of which occurs seven times ( Psa 89:1-2 ; Psa 89:5 ; Psa 89:8 ; Psa 89:14 ; Psa 89:24 ; Psa 89:28 ; Psa 89:33 ; Psa 89:49). Cp. also faithful (Psa 89:28; Psa 89:37), I will not be false (Psa 89:33), I will not lie (Psa 89:35), covenant (Psa 89:3; Psa 89:28; Psa 89:34; Psa 89:39), oath (Psa 89:3; Psa 89:35; Psa 89:49). Love moved Jehovah to enter into the covenant with the house of David: faithfulness binds Him to keep it. The enthusiastic praises of Jehovah’s majesty ( Psa 89:5 ff.), and the detailed recital of the splendour and solemnity of the promise ( Psa 89:19 ff.), serve to heighten the contrast of the king’s present degradation, while at the same time they are a plea and a consolation. Can such a God, is the Psalmist’s argument, fail to make good so solemn a promise? How the contradiction is to be solved is left entirely to God. Hope does not yet take the shape of prayer for the advent of the Messianic king.

The Psalm was probably written during the Exile. It can hardly be earlier than the destruction of Jerusalem and the downfall of the Davidic kingdom, and on the other hand there is nothing to indicate that it is later than the Return from Babylon. Psa 89:38 ff. receive their most natural interpretation if it was written while Jehoiachin was still a dishonoured captive in Babylon, i.e. before b.c. 561. For they seem to speak of an individual who is the representative of David and bears the title of Jehovah’s anointed, and yet is actually dethroned and dishonoured; and the feeling of bitter disappointment which they breathe was more natural when the fall of the kingdom was comparatively recent, than it would have been after the Return, when at least the dawn of hope had begun, and a step had been taken towards the solution of the problem which perplexed the Psalmist. Psa 89:14 a is borrowed in Psa 89:2 of the Restoration hymn, Psalms 97.

The theory that the Psalm was written after the conquest of Judah by Shishak in the reign of Rehoboam (1Ki 14:25 ff.; 2Ch 12:2 ff.) is wholly improbable. The language of Psa 89:38 ff. must refer to something more than a temporary disaster, however serious: moreover use is certainly made of Psa 80:12 in Psa 89:40-41, and possibly of Psalms 74, 79 in Psa 89:41 ; Psa 89:46 ; Psa 89:50-51, Psalms which cannot well be earlier than the Fall of Jerusalem.

The exilic date is supported by the parallels in Jer 33:21-22; Jer 33:26, and Eze 34:23-24; Eze 37:24-25, the only passages in prophecy where the phrase ‘David my servant’ is used (except Isa 37:35 = 2Ki 19:34). Cp. too Eze 34:29; Eze 36:6; Eze 36:15 with Psa 89:50-51; the conjunction of ‘lovingkindness’ and ‘faithfulness’ in Lam 3:22-23; and the lament over the capture of ‘Jehovah’s anointed’ in Lam 4:20.

The choice of this Psalm as a Proper Psalm for Christmas Day is doubtless due to its containing the recital of the great Messianic promise to David. But the whole Psalm, and not merely that part of it, is appropriate, for the Incarnation was the true solution of the Psalmist’s perplexity, as the supreme demonstration of the lovingkindness and faithfulness of God in the fulfilment of His promises. Cp. Luk 1:32 f.

On Ethan the Ezrahite see Intr. to Psalms 88.

Consult other comments:

Psalms 89:0 - Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible

Psalms 89:0 - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

Psalms 89:0 - Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers (Old and New Testaments)

Psalms 89:0 - John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible

Psalms 89:0 - Matthew Henry's Whole Bible Commentary

Psalms 89:0 - Jamieson, Fausset and Brown's Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

Psalms 89:0 - Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament

Psalms 89:0 - English Annotations on the Holy Bible by Matthew Poole

Psalms 89:0 - Whedon's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges