George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 3

Psalm 89

1. Title

Like Psalm 88 (see Par. 1 there), this is another Maschil psalm. Maschil means “causing to understand”, perhaps in the sense of exposition, or as signifying: ‘Here is an important lesson to be learned.’ In this psalm it is easy to see what that might be: the all-important Covenant with David (see Par. 4).

2. Authorship

Ethan was one of the leading Levites in the sanctuary service, along with Heman and Asaph. The repeated mention of both Ethan and Jeduthun in the same context as Asaph suggests that the two names may identify the same person (1 Chron. 6:42,44; 15:17,19; 25:1,3,6). Jeduthun (see Psalms 38, 61, and 76) could well mean “Praising Ethan”, i.e., the one who had special responsibility in the praise of God (vv. 1,15 here).

Along with Heman, Ethan is called the Ezrahite, or “Zerahite” (see Psa. 88, Par. 1) — which possibly means ‘son of Zerah’ (1 Chron. 6:41,42). Like Heman, Ethan came to be noted for his exceptional wisdom (1 Kings 4:31). Apparently he was the father of Obed-edom (1 Chron. 16:38), who was given care of the ark at the time of the abortive attempt to bring it to Zion.

The mention of a Jeduthun (i.e., Ethan) in the time of Hezekiah and again in the time of Josiah suggests that this name came to be attached as a title to certain temple offices (2 Chron. 29:14; 35:15), as certainly was the case regarding the name Asaph. Compare also Nehemiah 11:17.

3. Structure

1- 8.
God’s great Covenant
The might and authority of God
His special blessing on His people
God chooses David
God’s Covenant with David
Israel in dire trouble: Has the Covenant failed?
Has God forgotten?
No! His praise must never cease

4. God’s Covenant with David

This theme (2 Sam. 7:12-16; cp. 1 Chron. 7:11-15; Isa. 55:3) is very strong in the opening verses, and is sustained throughout the psalm. Key words which are commonly associated with God’s Covenants occur frequently:

for ever
vv. 1,2,4,28,29,36,37
Yahweh/Jehovah (the Covenant Name)

Other key words associated with the Promise to David also occur:

vv. 2,4
establish (cp. Jachin)
strength (cp. Boaz)

Other details of this kind:

I have sworn unto David my servant. Compare vv. 20,35,49.
Thy seed will I establish for ever, and build up thy throne to all generations. In 2 Samuel 7 every word of this verse is intimately associated with that great Promise of God.

Selah implies an offering of thanksgiving by David, as well as a superb prayer of humble acknowledgment. (Note the word Rock — tsur — in v. 26.)
Blessed is the people. These verses correspond to David’s prayer, spoken in response to God’s covenant with him: 2 Sam. 7:23-29.
The enemy shall not exact upon him (NIV: subject him to tribute); nor the son of wickedness afflict him. This is a quotation from 2 Sam. 7:10:

“Neither shall the children of wickedness afflict them any more, as beforetime.”
My firstborn. This was never said of Saul, and after Israel’s failure in the wilderness was no longer true of them in the collective sense. In “David” there was to be the beginning of a “New Israel”!

The kings of the earth (eretz = the Land) is a quotation of Psa. 2:2, which referred primarily to the futile efforts made in 2 Sam. 8 to wreck David’s new kingdom before it really gained a foothold. But instead, it became an empire!
Men may break their covenants (Deut. 31:16), but My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips.
Once have I sworn (cp. v. 49). This adds a highly important detail to the narrative in 2 Samuel 7. As God confirmed His Promise to Abraham with an oath (Gen. 22:16), so also He does to David (cp. Psa. 110:4; 132:11; Heb. 6:17,18).
As the sun... as the moon... as the faithful witness. This last is the rainbow, the token of God’s eternal Covenant with Noah, and through him with all life in the world (Gen. 9:12,13). Hence a further Selah.

5. The Covenant guaranteed

Nothing in all the world or in its history is more certain than the full accomplishment of what God promised to David. There are two solid assurances (if the man of faith needs them):

On His own holiness God has sworn an oath that He will do this (v. 35; cp. vv. 3,49).
Such is the might of God, that He has only to will it for the accomplishment of His Promise. This emphasis is expanded in vv. 8-14 in a very special way:

That he is the Lord God of hosts means, of course: He has a host of angels to do His bidding.

Who is a strong Lord (Yah) like unto thee? Here are combined allusions to Gabriel (Gibbor-El = the Mighty One) and Michael (“like unto El”).
Even the raging of the sea is a small thing for God to control (cp. Psa. 65:7).
Thou hast broken Rahab (= Egypt: Psa. 87:4; Isa. 30:7; 51:9) in pieces, as one that is slain; thou hast scattered thine enemies with thy strong arm. In one verse the shattering of the military might of Egypt and Assyria is coolly summarized. Both judgments were the work of God’s angels (Exod. 14:19-25; Isa. 37:36).
The heavens are thine, the earth also is thine: as for the world and the fulness thereof, thou hast founded them. The whole vast work of Creation was wrought by these ministers of the Almighty. Then how great must His might be! To His mighty arm and His right hand (v. 13), perfect justice and judgment are easy and sure (v. 14). Therefore...
Mercy and truth (the fulfillment of His promises) go before thy face — i.e., they are inevitable, foreordained, absolutely certain of accomplishment. Like servants, they run before the coming presence of Divine Glory — putting all things right in preparation for the visit of the King.

6. Historical background

It is possible that the “Ethan” psalm consists only of vv. 1-8, whilst the rest was added later, in the time of Hezekiah. That this second author was Isaiah may be inferred from the numerous similarities with the book of that prophet.

At this time the cherished Covenant sworn to David seemed to be in danger of disintegration (vv. 38-51), with the apparently inevitable death of the king (thus cutting off the sequence of Davidic kings) and the collapse of the kingdom beneath the weight of Assyrian invasion.

Thou rulest the raging of the sea: when the waves thereof arise, thou stillest them. This is figurative of the stilling of the great raging army of the Assyrian (Isa. 8:7,8; 17:12,13; 37:36; 57:20,21; cp. Psa. 65:7; 93:3,4; Luke 21:25).
Thou hast broken Rahab in pieces, as one that is slain (RSV: like a carcass); thou hast scattered thine enemies with thy strong arm. This verse can be read as an allusion back to Israel’s deliverance from Egypt (“Rahab”: Psa. 87:4) under Moses (Psa. 77:15,16; Isa. 51:9,10; 63:5,11,12). But it may be intended as specific reference to contemporary events — a massive Egyptian army defeated by Sennacherib (cp. Isa. 30:1-7; 31:1-3; see H.A.Whittaker, Isaiah, pp. 232, 316), followed by the decimation of the Assyrians by the angel of the Lord at Jerusalem.
Tabor and Hermon rejoice in thy name. An easy figure for the northern tribes which, overrun by the Assyrians, showed signs of returning to their former allegiance to the Lord and His temple in Jerusalem (2 Chron. 30; see Psa. 133, notes). These are also the people alluded to in v. 15, who know the “joyful sound”.
Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound. The nationwide invitation by Hezekiah (a “trumpet sound”!) to resume the keeping of the Passover at Jerusalem.
The Lord is our defence (magen, literally “shield”). Never was this shown so unmistakably as in the destruction of the Assyrian host.

The Holy One of Israel is a characteristic Isaiah title of the Lord, based on Isa. 6:3. It comes many times throughout Isaiah, in one or two “Isaiah/Hezekiah” psalms, and hardly anywhere else.
This section emphasizes again and again that God’s Covenant with David and his seed will not fail, despite all appearances to the contrary.
I will set his (left) hand also in the (Mediterranean) sea, and his right hand in the rivers (i.e., the great river Euphrates). This implies that the “servant” (Hezekiah?) is facing north, the direction from which came the brutal Assyrians (Isa. 8:7).
But thou hast cast off and abhorred, thou hast been wroth with thine anointed. This fits Hezekiah’s time perfectly, as to the outward and temporary appearance of things at least: (1) the nation downtrodden, and (2) the king stricken.
But in light of v. 34 (and the general tenor of the whole psalm) this should be read: But thou hast (seemed to) cast off... thou hast (seemed to be) wroth with thine anointed.
Thou hast broken down all his hedges; thou hast brought his strong holds to ruin. In the Taylor Prism inscription, Sennacherib boasts of capturing and utterly destroying 46 of Hezekiah’s “fenced cities” (Isa. 36:1).
All that pass by the way spoil him. The word “all” here is expressive and accurate, for nations round about Judah had become allies in Sennacherib’s attack in order to save themselves from being spoiled by his army (Psa. 47:3; 48:4; 76:12; 79:6; Isa. 5:26,30; 29:7; 30:28; Mic. 4:11).
Thou hast made his glory to cease. “Glory” is really clearness or cleanness or purity. Related words occur numerous times regarding leprosy in Lev. 13 and 14. So probably this is related to Hezekiah’s leprosy. (Most translations — including the AV — miss this connection here: for example, the RSV has “scepter” by an emendation.)
The days of his youth hast thou shortened (cp. vv. 47,48). Hezekiah was cut off in the midst of his days (Psa. 102:11; Isa. 38:10; cp. Isa. 53:8).
Shall thy wrath burn like fire? Fire in the cities (v. 40), and “fire” in the bones of Hezekiah (v. 44)!
Remember, Lord, the reproach of (i.e., against) thy servants (cp. v. 51). Consider Rabshakeh’s propaganda campaign (Isa. 36; 37), much of it directed against Hezekiah’s God.

How I do bear in my bosom (Psa. 79:12) might be an allusion to Moses’ leprous hand thrust into his bosom and miraculously healed. So also Hezekiah was miraculously healed of the same disease.

7. Messianic reference

This dominates the psalm, especially in the section (vv. 19-37) in which allusion to the Promise in 2 Samuel 7 often becomes quotation.

Thou rulest the raging of the sea: when the waves thereof arise, thou stillest them. This found extraordinary fulfillment in the Lord’s ministry, with the stilling of the storm on the sea of Galilee (Mark 4:37-41). And of course this is a kind of acted parable of the peace to be imposed by Christ on the troubled nations at his return.
Mercy and truth (or, the One who is the faithful witness — v. 37 — to thy mercy and truth — i.e., to thy Covenants of Promise) shall go before thy face.
The people that know the joyful sound (festal shout: RSV) have a special Messianic meaning. They describe those who not only hear but also respond readily to the angelic call in Matt. 24:31 (contrast the foolish virgins in Matt. 25:8-13).
Thy holy one (contrast v. 18) is the prophet through whom the Promise was communicated.

I have exalted one chosen out of the people. Every word here befits Christ perfectly (cp. Phil. 2:5-11). What do Trinitarians make of this last phrase? How could an eternally-existent “God the Son” have been chosen out of the people?

Christ was first “exalted” by being “lifted up” on the cross (John 3:14; 12:32), and then truly exalted by resurrection and glorification (cp. the threefold “exalted... extolled... very high” of Isa. 52:13).
David my servant. “David” means “Beloved”. The true reference is to Jesus, King of the Jews, as in Ezek. 34:23,24; 37:24; Eph. 1:6 (“the Beloved”).

With my holy oil have I anointed (“Christ-ed”) him. This mention of the holy oil implies priesthood also. So Messiah is to be a king and a priest (Psa. 110)!
Mine arm = “the arm of the Lord” (Isa. 53:1).
I will beat down his foes before his face, for he is “King of kings” (Rev. 19:15,16). The last phrase here (“before his face”) is significant: The foes are subjugated in his presence, and by his presence, not during his absence in heaven.
In my name. Compare Phil. 2:9-11: the Name of the Father is given to the Son — becoming his Name as well!
Thou art my father, my God, and the rock of my salvation. Again Trinitarians need to pause and consider. In what sense is the Father the God of “God the Son”? And in what sense did “God the Son” need salvation? Parallel references: 2 Sam. 7:14; Psa. 22:9; 1 Chron. 22:10.

“My Father” is a term used only by Jesus in address to God (Matt. 10:32; 20:23; 26:39,42; Luke 22:29; John 8:19,28,38,49; etc.). All others must pray, collectively, ‘Our Father’ (Matt. 6:9; Luke 11:2; Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3; 2 Cor. 1:2; Phil. 4:20; 2 Thes. 1:1; 2:16; etc.).

  For other Old Testament allusions to the Virgin Birth (Matt. 1:20; Luke 1:30-35), see Psalms Studies, Psa. 22, Par. 5.
My (RSV: the) firstborn implies other children in God’s family: but Christ is first of them all, “the beginning of the (New) Creation of God” (Col. 1:15-18; Rom. 8:29; Heb. 1:6; 12:23; Rev. 1:5).

In Hebrew “firstborn” is not so much a designation of natural birth order, as it is a designation of the one who will receive the inheritance. Natural “firstborns” in Scripture almost always failed (Cain, Ishmael, Esau, Reuben, Amnon, etc., etc.), and were then replaced by spiritual, and appointed, “firstborns” — to whom glorious promises were given. Israel, God’s “firstborn” nation (Exod. 4:24; Hos. 11:1; Jer. 31:9), failed, but Christ — the true “Israel” — succeeded. The “first Adam” failed, but the “last Adam” succeeded (1 Cor. 15:45; Rom. 5:15-19)! And, in his success, many others, through faith, may be called the sons and daughters of God (so Paul alludes to Psa. 89 in 2 Cor. 6:18 and Gal. 3:29).

Higher than the kings of the earth. Psa. 2:2 has this very phrase. And “higher” is Elyon, “Most High” — the divine name used often in a Gentile context. In Rev. 1:5 Jesus is described as “the prince of the kings of the earth” — thus establishing (see above and v. 37 below) three separate contacts between Psa. 89 and Rev. 1:5.
These verses show a remarkable introversion: ABCDE/EDCBA — but with a striking emphasis on the dependability of God in contrast with the fragile loyalty of men.
For evermore echoes the repeated “for ever” in the Promise of 2 Samuel 7; so also vv. 1,2,4,28,29,36,37.
His seed and...
His children. Compare the idiom of Isa. 9:6 and 53:10,11: Jesus is the “father” of the “ages” (cp. v. 27 note), who shall have a great “seed” through the travail of his soul. Also cp. Isa. 8:18 with Heb. 2:10-15.
I will visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. This quotes 2 Sam. 7:14, a part of the Promise which has been a sore trial to many students: e.g. Adam Clarke, the great Methodist expositor, attempted a rather shaky retranslation: “In his suffering for iniquity, I will chasten him... ” This has been adopted (apparently, for want of any better solution) by a number of Christadelphian students. (But there is no Old Testament precedent for adding the word ‘suffering’ in such a context.) Yet here, in the psalm which is a sort of commentary on 2 Samuel 7, there is the inspired interpretation of this troublesome verse: It is not Christ who will be chastened for his “iniquity”, but rather the reference is to “his seed” (v. 29), “his children” (v. 30), “they” (v. 31), and “their” breaking of his statutes and commandments (v. 32). (Note also the references to “his seed” in Isa. 53:8,10; Psa. 22:30; and the “stripes” in Isa. 53:5.)
As the sun = Psa. 72:5,17.
A faithful witness in heaven is the rainbow, the token of God’s faithfulness and the guarantee of His promise not to destroy the earth again by water (Gen. 9:14,15; Ezek. 1:28; Rev. 4:3). Thus Christ himself is the faithful witness (Rev. 1:5; 3:14; cp. Isa. 55:4), because through him the Father has guaranteed all His promises and covenants.
The suffering and rejection of the Messiah follow the pattern of Hezekiah, his prototype.
How long, Lord? (cp. Psa. 13:1; 74:10; 79:5) wilt thou hide thyself for ever? shall thy wrath burn like fire? Just as God’s covenants seemed to be made void (v. 39), but were not, so also the Father seemed to be angry with His Son, but was not; and seemed to hide His face, but did not (cp. Psa. 22:1).
Remember how short my time is. Readers of the gospels often find it difficult to believe that Jesus lived out less than half his days (cp. Hezekiah in Par. 6, v. 45).
What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death? shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave (Sheol) ? (88:10-12). The legacy of human mortality was inescapable even for Jesus.
Lord, where are thy former lovingkindnesses, which thou swarest unto David in thy truth? In the crucifixion the great Promise to David seemed to come to nought (v. 39). And indeed without his resurrection it would have been “void”. Yet throughout 2,000 years David has not lacked a man to sit on his throne (Jer. 33:20-22), for ever since the Ascension the Messiah has stood ready to assume his royal dignity. Therefore, “it is not a question of uninterrupted succession; but of the everlasting occupation of the throne according to the covenant. When the time comes for this to be fulfilled, noted by David’s resurrection, from thenceforth shall his son fill the throne of Israel’s kingdom for ever” (John Thomas, Elpis Israel, p. 306).
I do bear in my bosom the reproach. It was true of Jesus, as it was of Moses (see earlier note on this verse, in Par. 6). In Jesus’ case it was the “leprosy” of sin-nature (Psalms Studies, Psa. 51, Par. 4), which was miraculously healed through faith and his Father’s power.
They have reproached the footsteps of thine anointed. “Footsteps” = aqebim (“heels”): see Psa. 41:9 and the comments therein on Gen. 3:15 (Psa. 41, Par. 5, notes).
Blessed be the Lord for ever more. Amen, and Amen. This is an appropriate conclusion of Book 3 of the Psalms, but just as appropriate as the triumphant fulfillment of the Promise.

8. Other details

Mercies = Isa. 55:3.
As in several places in this psalm (vv. 26,35), this verse needs the addition of: “... saying... ”
Here heavens and saints are in parallel. Compare also v. 6: heavens ... the sons of the mighty.
These may be designed allusions to Moses’ Song in Exodus 15:10-13.
God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints. 2 Thes. 1:10 uses the LXX phrase (“God is glorified in the counsel of the saints”) here, applying it to the Second Coming: “When he comes to be glorified in his saints”.
With thy strong arm could read: by the Seed of thy strength.
Tabor and Hermon refer, firstly, to the northern tribes joining David, and also Hezekiah (Par. 6). But compare also the northern — that is, Galilean — scope of Christ’s preaching (Isa. 9:1; Matt. 4:13-23).
They shall walk, O Lord, in the light of thy countenance, as though on a unique Day of Atonement (Num. 6:24-26). Contrast those who could not face the light of Christ’s countenance (John 3:19).
Our horn (cp. v. 24; Psa. 75:4,5; 2 Sam. 22:3) shall be exalted over all the strongholds of wickedness (Josh. 6:5).
The Holy One of Israel is our king. Did Peter deliberately allude to this?: “You are the Holy One of God” (John 6:69, RSV).
I have found David my servant; with my holy oil have I anointed him. 1 Sam. 16:1-13.
I will set his hand also in the sea, and his right hand in the rivers. Here is a picture of surpassing dominion, over all God’s Land (Psa. 72:8,17).
I will make him my firstborn. This proves that Jesus was not the “firstborn” prior to the creation of Gen. 1 and 2. Rather, Jesus was not to be made firstborn until many years after this psalm was written. The “firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1:15) is equivalent to “the firstborn from the dead” (v. 18); the “creation” intended by Paul is the “New Creation” in Christ (Eph. 2:10; Col. 3:9,10; Gal. 6:15; 2 Cor. 5:17; etc.).
I do bear in my bosom the reproach.

“He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young” (Isa. 40:11).

Hezekiah suffered as the representative of his people (Isa. 1:5,6; 53:4-6); and so also did Christ: The reproach that belonged most especially to his “sheep” fell also upon him (1 Pet. 2:21-25), i.e., into his own bosom.
Amen, and Amen is essentially the s.w. as faithfulness, which is used so often in this psalm. It is also Christ’s “Verily, verily... ”

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