Study Guide

Psalms Psalm 89

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Psalm 89

I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.
I declare that your steadfast love is established forever; your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.
You said, "I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to my servant David:
'I will establish your descendants forever, and build your throne for all generations.'"

I will sing of the mercies of the Lord for ever: with my mouth will I make known thy faithfulness to all generations.
For I have said, Mercy shall be built up for ever: thy faithfulness shalt thou establish in the very heavens.
I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn unto David my servant,
Thy seed will I establish for ever, and build up thy throne to all generations. Selah.

  • The covenant is a huge piece of the biblical contract between the Israelites and God. It's a deal that trades acceptance of God's law for protection and power from God. Kind of like a patronage situation.
  • Not surprisingly, writing gets produced when the covenant is broken. Whenever a biblical writer waxes poetic about how great the covenant is, it's to remind people about it. ("Yeah, it exists. Follow it.")
  • "Steadfast love" is a phrase often used in place of "covenant." Notice how in the KJV, that gets converted into Mercy with a capital M. Mercy isn't really on God's agenda as a universal human concept in the Hebrew Bible. But hey, we'll give them the power of poetic license.

Verses 5-18

Let the heavens praise your wonders, O Lord, your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones.
For who in the skies can be compared to the Lord? Who among the heavenly beings is like the Lord,
a God feared in the council of the holy ones, great and awesome above all that are around him?
O Lord God of hosts, who is as mighty as you, O Lord? Your faithfulness surrounds you.
You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them.
You crushed Rahab like a carcass; you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm.
The heavens are yours, the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it—you have founded them.
The north and the south—you created them; Tabor and Hermon joyously praise your name.
You have a mighty arm; strong is your hand, high your right hand.
Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.
Happy are the people who know the festal shout, who walk, O Lord, in the light of your countenance;
they exult in your name all day long, and extol your righteousness.
For you are the glory of their strength; by your favor our horn is exalted.
For our shield belongs to the Lord, our king to the Holy One of Israel.

And the heavens shall praise thy wonders, O Lord: thy faithfulness also in the congregation of the saints.
For who in the heaven can be compared unto the Lord? who among the sons of the mighty can be likened unto the Lord?
God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him.
O Lord God of hosts, who is a strong Lord like unto thee? or to thy faithfulness round about thee?
Thou rulest the raging of the sea: when the waves thereof arise, thou stillest them.
Thou hast broken Rahab in pieces, as one that is slain; thou hast scattered thine enemies with thy strong arm.
The heavens are thine, the earth also is thine: as for the world and the fulness thereof, thou hast founded them.
The north and the south thou hast created them: Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in thy name.
Thou hast a mighty arm: strong is thy hand, and high is thy right hand.
Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before thy face.
Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound: they shall walk, O Lord, in the light of thy countenance.
In thy name shall they rejoice all the day: and in thy righteousness shall they be exalted.
For thou art the glory of their strength: and in thy favour our horn shall be exalted.
For the Lord is our defence; and the Holy One of Israel is our king.

  • Back to the fire and brimstone.
  • What's going on with the "assembly" and "council" of holy beings that God is a part of? And why is he described as the master of the sea and he storm? Well, in the ancient world, polytheism was the norm. As a new kind of worship emerged, part of the Hebrew Bible's project as a piece of community literature was to assert God's dominance over the rest of the other gods. Only later did this morph into what we call monotheism today. Who knew? (We did.)
  • Speaking of which, it seems like God has won a war among the heavenly beings to assert his control. Don't forget it, because this motif will come back in a big way when John Milton writes Paradise Lost millennia later.
  • Who's this Rahab character? We're glad we asked. Rahab is a mythical sea dragon, and he was the big opponent for gods back in the day. It was like passing the bar, but for ancient gods—you just have no street cred unless you take on Rahab. Given God's status as a storm god, he pulled this off, no problem.

Verses 19-37

Then you spoke in a vision to your faithful one, and said: "I have set the crown on one who is mighty, I have exalted one chosen from the people.
I have found my servant David; with my holy oil I have anointed him;
my hand shall always remain with him; my arm also shall strengthen him.
The enemy shall not outwit him, the wicked shall not humble him.
I will crush his foes before him and strike down those who hate him.
My faithfulness and steadfast love shall be with him; and in my name his horn shall be exalted.
I will set his hand on the sea and his right hand on the rivers.
He shall cry to me, 'You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation!'
I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.
Forever I will keep my steadfast love for him, and my covenant with him will stand firm.
I will establish his line forever, and his throne as long as the heavens endure.
If his children forsake my law and do not walk according to my ordinances,
if they violate my statutes and do not keep my commandments,
then I will punish their transgression with the rod and their iniquity with scourges;
but I will not remove from him my steadfast love, or be false to my faithfulness.
I will not violate my covenant, or alter the word that went forth from my lips.
Once and for all I have sworn by my holiness; I will not lie to David.
His line shall continue forever, and his throne endure before me like the sun.
It shall be established forever like the moon, an enduring witness in the skies." Selah

Then thou spakest in vision to thy holy one, and saidst, I have laid help upon one that is mighty; I have exalted one chosen out of the people.
I have found David my servant; with my holy oil have I anointed him:
With whom my hand shall be established: mine arm also shall strengthen him.
The enemy shall not exact upon him; nor the son of wickedness afflict him.
And I will beat down his foes before his face, and plague them that hate him.
But my faithfulness and my mercy shall be with him: and in my name shall his horn be exalted.
I will set his hand also in the sea, and his right hand in the rivers.
He shall cry unto me, Thou art my father, my God, and the rock of my salvation.
Also I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth.
My mercy will I keep for him for evermore, and my covenant shall stand fast with him.
His seed also will I make to endure for ever, and his throne as the days of heaven.
If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments;
If they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments;
Then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes.
Nevertheless my loving kindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail.
My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips.
Once have I sworn by my holiness that I will not lie unto David.
His seed shall endure for ever, and his throne as the sun before me.
It shall be established for ever as the moon, and as a faithful witness in heaven. Selah.

  • How about more storm god imagery? Sure, but this time, God lends David some of his power. God "sets his hand on the sea" (89:25) so that David can use his power during periods when God is absent. Not a bad deal.
  • This passage is designed to assure the reader that God's covenant is ironclad for David; no amount of pushing can make God violate his end of the bargain…
  • …or can it? The passage is careful to hold David in high esteem, but it allows for anybody new who violates the covenant to be punished.

Verses 38-52

But now you have spurned and rejected him; you are full of wrath against your anointed.
You have renounced the covenant with your servant; you have defiled his crown in the dust.
You have broken through all his walls; you have laid his strongholds in ruins.
All who pass by plunder him; he has become the scorn of his neighbors.
You have exalted the right hand of his foes; you have made all his enemies rejoice.
Moreover, you have turned back the edge of his sword, and you have not supported him in battle.
You have removed the scepter from his hand, and hurled his throne to the ground.
You have cut short the days of his youth; you have covered him with shame. Selah
How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire?
Remember how short my time is— for what vanity you have created all mortals!
Who can live and never see death? Who can escape the power of Sheol? Selah
Lord, where is your steadfast love of old, which by your faithfulness you swore to David?
Remember, O Lord, how your servant is taunted; how I bear in my bosom the insults of the peoples,
with which your enemies taunt, O Lord, with which they taunted the footsteps of your anointed.
Blessed be the Lord forever. Amen and Amen.

But thou hast cast off and abhorred, thou hast been wroth with thine anointed.
Thou hast made void the covenant of thy servant: thou hast profaned his crown by casting it to the ground.
Thou hast broken down all his hedges; thou hast brought his strong holds to ruin.
All that pass by the way spoil him: he is a reproach to his neighbours.
Thou hast set up the right hand of his adversaries; thou hast made all his enemies to rejoice.
Thou hast also turned the edge of his sword, and hast not made him to stand in the battle.
Thou hast made his glory to cease, and cast his throne down to the ground.
The days of his youth hast thou shortened: thou hast covered him with shame. Selah.
How long, Lord? wilt thou hide thyself for ever? shall thy wrath burn like fire?
Remember how short my time is: wherefore hast thou made all men in vain?
What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death? shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave? Selah.
Lord, where are thy former loving kindnesses, which thou swarest unto David in thy truth?
Remember, Lord, the reproach of thy servants; how I do bear in my bosom the reproach of all the mighty people;
Wherewith thine enemies have reproached, O Lord; wherewith they have reproached the footsteps of thine anointed.
Blessed be the Lord for evermore. Amen, and Amen.

  • This last part of the psalm laments God's apparent departure. But as you might have guessed, it's not God's fault. Nope, it must have been of a lapse of faith.
  • The author doesn't want God to help him just because he's been faithful; he wants God to help him because a defeat would mean God's humiliation. Yep, it's all about reputation.
  • In the ancient world, if you won a battle, your god was great—simple as that. Preserving images of invincible gods would have helped leaders to win new battles. After all, if the enemy is shaking in their boots, that helps the worshipers.

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