August 17, 2017

Tom Lowe



(“A Maschil of Ethan the Ezrahite)


Title: The Davidic Covenant


Theme: Psalm of the Davidic Covenant


Introduction to Psalm 89

This psalm is entitled “Maschil of Ethan the Ezrahite.” It is the twelfth of thirteen Maschil psalms especially written for instruction.  Ethan the Ezrahite was one of the wise men of the east, so renowned for wisdom that Solomon’s rationality and shrewdness is compared with his.  He is often identified with Jeduthun and it is at least possible that he is Ethan the singer, a Levite of the family of Merari, appointed by David as one of the leaders of the temple music. The exact occasion of its writing is unknown.  Various military defeats, such as the invasion of Judah by Shishak of Egypt (1 Kings 14:25) and the Babylonian Exile, have been suggested.


As for who wrote this psalm, it is a mystery. Though there is nothing within it that could identify the writer, several Bible commentators have expressed opinions; and I will give you what I have learned about these theories:

1)     The most widely accepted theory is that the psalm relates to the exile when the Davidic covenant seemed to be torn to shreds by a God whose patience was exhausted by the wickedness of the later kings of David’s line.  If this is so, some unknown author might have picked up a previous hymn by Ethan, adapted it to the times, perhaps added to it, and republished it under Ethan’s name.

2)     It could be that Ethan was a prophet as well as a singer and a wise person.  He may have written this psalm after foreseeing where the idolatries Solomon had introduced into his kingdom would eventually end.

3)     The tone of the psalm, however, suggests that the final breakup of the monarchy was fresh in the mind of the author.  So probably, with an early manuscript in front of him, this unknown author or editor elaborated on a previous poem by Ethan, adapting it to the uncertainties of the hour.

4)     Some have suggested that the psalm was written by the youthful Jehoiachin during his exile in Babylon.  For thirty-six years he languished in prison, but after the death of Nebuchadnezzar he was released and treated kindly by the evil Merodach, the next Babylonian king.


It was about this godless man, Jehoiachin, that the Prophet Jeremiah wrote: “Write ye this man childless”; that is, childless as far as the throne was concerned.  The royal dynasty of David through Solomon came to an abrupt end in this man.  No further son of David’s line through Solomon and through Jehoiachin would be allowed to set upon the throne of David.


5)     If the psalm was written during the captivity, as so many seem to feel, then perhaps it was written by Daniel.  Daniel’s visions of the coming dominance of the Gentiles must have added to his sense of shame at the wretched failure of Israel to fulfill its national destiny of bearing witness to the world of the goodness and grace of God.  Many a time, especially in his early years in Babylon—before later visions brought things more clearly into focus—he must have prayed just such a prayer as this prayer of “Ethan the Ezrahite.” It is quite possible this psalm found its way into our Bible by way of Daniel’s very able pen.  Who can tell?


This is a long psalm, so we shall not attempt to comment on every detail.  However, we will explore each verse and provide the relevant information obtained from my research.



(89:1-4) God has entered into contractual agreement only with the nation of Israel.  The constitution of other nations may indeed acknowledge God, but no other nation has God as its guarantor and committed ally.  This amazing political situation is Israel’s alone.  God’s covenant with Israel is unique. The speaker in this section is God.



1 I will sing of the mercies of the Lord for ever: with my mouth will I make known thy faithfulness to all generations.


The psalmist begins by acknowledging God’s great love and faithfulness, characteristics that are evident both in heaven and on earth and will be noticed by all generations of people.


“With my mouth (and with my pen, or computer―for we speak by them also)will I make known thy faithfulness to all generations,” assuring future generations, from my own observations and experience, that God is true to every word that He has spoken, that they may learn to put their trust in God.


“Mercy!” “Faithfulness!”  These are the underlying principles of the Davidic covenant.  God had sworn to David that his dynasty and throne would continue forever (28, 29, 35-36, 49; 2 Samuel 7:13), but future generations of Jews would live without any king, let alone a king from David’s line.


Yet it is precisely these covenantal, love-based promises that have failed.  It is easier to picture a psalmist after the fall of Jerusalem{1] (597, 586 bc), and the exile of the last kings (2 Kings 24:8-12; 25:6-7), pondering, in Babylon, the meaning of these events, candidly facing the reality of a throne dominated rather than dominant and of a dynasty that has run into the sand, and asking Balaam’s question: “Does God promise and not fulfill?”  His answer is surprisingly wonderful.  When God’s promises seem to have failed, then affirm them in joyful song (1, 2) and bring all the grief of the unfulfilled promises to God in prayer (46-49, 50-51).  We must remember that the psalmist committed himself to sing the promises (1-2) when he knew he was going to record their failure (38-45) and that he prayed his sorrowful prayer when as yet there was no sign of a remedy.  But how right he was to do so, for (in God’s timetable) soon a root would spring from the dry ground (Isaiah 53:2{6]) and a divine son of David (Isaiah 9:6-7{7]) would rein in victory (Isaiah 9:4, 5) and righteousness (Isaiah 11:1-5; 32:1) for ever (Luke 1:31-33).


In a word, the promises had not failed but human understanding of God’s time-scale and of the complexity of His world-rule was not sufficient to keep step with what He was doing.  So it is for us: the promises never fail, though seeming delay make some laps into doubt (2 Peter 3:4)—and it is not just the great promise of His coming, “for no matter how many promises God has made, they are Yes in Christ.” The promises cannot fail, though our expectations may, at any moment, be blighted.  At such a time, like the psalmist, we must turn the promises into song and the disappointments into prayer.


Though we may find it hard to reconcile present dark providences with the goodness and truth of God, yet we must abide by this principle, That God’s mercies are inexhaustible and His truth is indisputable; and these must be the matter of our joy and praise: “I will sing of the mercies of the Lord for ever.” We may be singing God’s mercies forever; and yet the subject will not be exhausted.  We must sing of God’s mercies as long as we live, train others to sing of them when we are gone, and hope to be singing them in heaven—world without end. 



For I have said, Mercy shall be built up for ever: thy faithfulness shalt thou establish in the very heavens.


“I will sing… for I have said…”(1, 2)  Everything around this singer is dark, yet he begins the psalm with songs of praise; for we must in everything, in every state, give thanks; therefore, we must glorify the Lord even when passing through the fire.  We think when we are in trouble, that we receive some comfort by complaining; but we can do more—we get joy, by praising. For that reason, may our complaints be turned into thanksgiving; and in these verses we find that which will be a matter of praise and thanksgiving for us in the worst of times, whether the matter is personal or public. His nation lies in ruins, but he lays hold of two divine principles and these fill his soul with song. 

1)     He lays hold of God’s mercy.  (The word is the usual word in the psalms—lovingkindness—that marvelous characteristic of God whereby He shows us not just His kindness, but His superlative kindness—His lovingkindness.) He uses the word seven times.  God’s mercy takes the psalmist back—all Israel’s history has been one long exposition of God’s loving kindness.

2)     He lays hold on God’s faithfulness, and he uses this word seven times also.  This word, faithfulness, points the psalmist on—all Israel’s hopes are wrapped up in that word.  No matter what failure there may be in Israel, God cannot fail.  He is faithful to His Word and faithful to His own character.  These are the principles involved.


“Mercy shall be built up for ever,” because “thy faithfulness shalt thou establish in the very heavens.” Though our expectations are in some particular instances disappointed, yet God’s promises are not annulled; they are “established in the very heavens” (that is, in His eternal counsels); they are above the changes of this lower region and out of the reach of the opposition of hell and earth.  The stability of the material heavens is a symbol of the truth of God’s Word.  God is faithful!  Our salvation rests upon the death of Christ, and the faithfulness of God in saving those who put their trust in Him.  It is what God says that is important.



I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn unto David my servant,


At verses 3-4, he introduces the covenant God had established with David—a theme the psalmist will soon return to.


The covenant was not made with wicked Jehoiakim or with weak Jehoiachin or with wretched Zedekiah.  The covenant was made with David.  The psalmist goes back to the original agreement.  The Lord could not tear up a covenant with David, no matter how full of faults and failures his successors had been.  After all, a contract was a contract.


Thy seed will I establish for ever, and build up thy throne to all generations. Selah.


Verses three and four sum up the promise of the Davidic covenant and are taken almost word for word from the actual contract itself.  It is as though the psalmist has a copy of the agreement in his hand, as though he waved it before the Lord and with a resounding “Selah” cried, “There, what do you think of that?  Here it is, in writing, part of Your own inspired Word.  You have promised to establish David’s throne forever.”


It is true that when God entered into contract along similar lines with Solomon a conditional clause was added, but no such conditional clauses were in the original Davidic covenant.  There was a provision that if David’s heirs sinned they would be punished, but nothing could annul the wide scope of the original covenant.  Indeed, behind the Davidic covenant was an older and equally irrevocable, unconditional, divine agreement—the Abrahamic covenant.  That was the significance of the covenant with David and that is how the psalmist begins.


There is something very important that Christians need to remember; which is, “IN TROUBLED TIMES WE MUST CLING TO GOD’S PROMISES.”  There are many promises in His Word and God never breaks His promises, so we are confident that WHATEVER HE HAS PROMISED, HE WILL DO!



The Absolute Security of the Covenant (89:5-18)  The psalmist elaborates on it, rehearsing before the Lord some of his own observations about God’s promise to David.  He looks at this contract in the light of God’s power in Heaven and in the light of God’s power in history.


God’s Power in Heaven (89:5-8)  The psalmist climbs up Jacob’s ladder, as it were, for a better view of things.  David’s throne on earth, after all, was just an extension of the divine throne in Heaven.  David was God’s regent on earth.



And the heavens shall praise thy wonders, O Lord: thy faithfulness also in the congregation of the saints.


The word for “heavens” comes from a verb meaning “to beat.” The word embodies the idea of the heavens as a “beaten out” place, beaten out as a metal that is fashioned into a plate.  If God could so beat out the heavens, so form and fashion the canopy of the skies, then He was quite able to beat out the nations into submission to Himself.


But there is more: up there in Glory, the psalmist saw the “congregation of the saints,” the assembly of the holy ones (the angels).  Perhaps he saw the four-and-twenty elders and the four living creatures, supernatural beings who, being holy themselves, can best appreciate the holiness of God.


So, by who is God to be praised; this verse mentions two groups:

1)    God is praised by the ANGELS above; “the heavens shall praise thy wonders, O Lord!” That is, “the glorious inhabitants of the upper world continually celebrate thy praises.” “Bless the Lord, you His angels.”  The works of God are wonders even to those that are best acquainted and most intimately conversant with them; the more God’s works are known the more they are admired and praised.  This should make us love heaven, and long to be there, for there we shall have nothing else to do but to praise God and His wonders.

2)    God is praised by the assemblies of His SAINTS on earth (praise waits for him in Zion); and, though their praises fall so far short of the praises of angels, yet God is pleased to take notice of them, accept them, and reckon Himself honored by them.


For who in the heaven can be compared unto the Lord? who among the sons of the mighty can be likened unto the Lord?


He tells something else about that court: “For who in the heaven can be compared unto the Lord? who among the sons of the mighty can be likened unto the Lord?” The “sons of the mighty” are the sons of Elohim; they are the Angelic beings.  The psalmist saw the holy ones and the Angelic beings in Heaven, and he saw these mighty creatures subservient to the mighty Lord who underwrote the covenant with David and the consequent well-being of Israel.  He saw God’s court (entourage).



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.


He describes the anthem that awakes the echoes of the everlasting hills.  He hears the thunder of God’s praise as the celestial choirs proclaim the sanctity and strength of the living God.  The sound reverberates around the throne.  God is to be feared in the secret conclaves of Heaven; He has no equal among the lofty ones on high―“the assembly of the saints” is the same as the congregation of the saints in 89:5His is an unswerving integrity, and He is able to subdue the raging of the sea (9, 10).  The hosts of Heaven sing of these things.  All this assures the psalmist that God cannot break the Davidic covenant.  Whatever would the angels say!  Their songs would trail off to nothing.



O Lord God of hosts, who is a strong Lord like unto thee? or to thy faithfulness round about thee?


The psalmist tries to imagine such an impossible situation in heaven (as described in 89:7), where the Angelic choirs would stop singing of the greatness of God.  He conjures up a vision of the angels in full song, celebrating the glorious faithfulness of a God who is utterly dependable.  But then they see Him breaking His promise to David and their songs trail off to nothing….  Impossible!


The psalmist asks a question, “Who is a strong Lord{2] like unto thee”; and then he answers his own question.  He probably said something like this: “No angel, no earthly potentate, whatsoever, is comparable to God, or has an arm like His, or can thunder with a voice like His.  “Thy faithfulness is round about thee”; that is, thy angels who are round about thee, attending thee with their praises and are ready to go on Thy errands, are all faithful.”



(89:9-13): The Revelation of God’s Power in History. 


Thou rulest the raging of the sea: when the waves thereof arise, thou stillest them.

10 Thou hast broken Rahab in pieces, as one that is slain; thou hast scattered thine enemies with thy strong arm.

11 The heavens are thine, the earth also is thine: as for the world and the fulness thereof, thou hast founded them.

12 The north and the south thou hast created them: Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in thy name.

13 Thou hast a mighty arm: strong is thy hand, and high is thy right hand.


What is it that we should praise God for?  Several things are mentioned here:

1)    The command God has of the most ungovernable things (89:9);“Thou rulest the raging of the sea.” Nothing is more frightful or threatening than “the raging of the sea,” nor more out of the power of man to restrain or stop; but it can surge no higher, roll no further, beat no harder, continue no longer, nor do any more damage, than God permits.

2)    The victories God has obtained over the enemies of His church. Great power is revealed in God’s conquests (10).  As in so many of the psalms, the singer goes back to that greatest of all events in Hebrew history—the exodus from Egypt and the overthrow of “Rahab”{3] (a poetic name for Egypt).  One mighty sweep of God’s arm and the armies of Egypt were no more.

3)    The irrefutable property He has in all the creatures of the upper and lower world (11).  Men are honored for their abundant and valuable possessions; but the “heavens are thine,” O lord!  “The earth also is thine”; therefore we praise thee, therefore we trust in thee, therefore we will not fear what man can do to us.  “The world and the fullness thereof,” all the riches contained in it, all the inhabitants of it, both the tenaments and the tenants, are all thine.; for “thou hast founded them.”

4)    But more significantly, that power is revealed in God’s creation (11-13).  The psalmist looks around the earth and pictures to himself the two most prominent features of his native land, Tabor and Hermon.  Mount Tabor towered above the monotonous plain beneath, clothed almost to the top with trees.  It was a notable landmark.  God had made it!

5)    The power and justice, the mercy and truth, with which He governs the world and rules in the affairs of men (13).  God is able to do everything; for He is the Lord God Almighty.  His arm, His hand{4], is mighty and strong, both to save His people and to destroy His and their enemies.  None can either resist the force or bear the weight of His mighty hand.  “High is his right hand,” to reach the highest, even those that “set their nests among the stars” (Amos 9:2-3).  “His right hand is exalted” in what He has done, for in thousands of instances He has demonstrated His power.


This was the God who had pledged Himself to David.  The Davidic covenant certainly could not fall apart because God was too weak to enforce it, or because some petty pagan princeling thought to challenge it.  Thrilled with his contemplation of this revelation of God’s power in conquest and creation, the psalmist hurries on to meditate upon the next verse and listen for the still small voice of the Holy Spirit.



(89:14-18) The Response to that power.


14 Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before thy face.

15 Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound: they shall walk, O Lord, in the light of thy countenance.

16 In thy name shall they rejoice all the day: and in thy righteousness shall they be exalted.

17 For thou art the glory of their strength: and in thy favour our horn shall be exalted.

18 For the Lord is our defence; and the Holy One of Israel is our king.


He begins to praise God!  The circumstances were dark, never in all of Hebrew history had they been blacker and more ominous.  The throne of David was gone, the monarchy was in ruins, the surviving Kings languished in exile, the people were scattered.


He praises God for His righteous principles (14).  “Justice and judgment are the habitation of Thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before Thy face.” “Justice” (righteousness) and judgment….  Mercies and truth” are the basis of God’s sovereign rule over His universe.  God was still on His throne (14), and David’s line (“seed”) was secured forever in Jesus Christ, the Son of God (4, 29, 36-37).


He praises God for His redeemed people: “Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound….in thy righteousness shall they be exalted” (15-16).  God could not let His people down!  Perhaps “the joyful sound” is the sound of trumpets on the occasion of Israel’s national and religious rejoicing.


“Walk, O Lord, in the light of thy countenance” (15) has been translated, “go about radiant with Your presence.” In 89:17 the phrase “Our horn shall be exalted” means, “Our power is increased”—the horn of the ram or the ox symbolized strength.


The psalmist praises God for His royal protection: “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.” (17-18).  He uses a couple of metaphors for Israel’s king.  The human ruler serves as both a horn (a symbol of power) and a shield (a symbol of protection; Israel’s king was now in captivity).  If God is our ruler, He will be our defender.


With magnificent faith the psalmist came to the conclusion that since God is so great in conquest and creation, He is unique. Since God is so good that He cannot break His spoken word, then, Israel could afford to sing because all was well.  God is still on the throne.  He sang because of the absolute security of the covenant, a security which temporary shifting of the sands of time could not erase.  The rock of God’s dynamic and dependability may be covered up for a moment as the seas of fortune surge, but it cannot be removed.



(89:19-37) The Amazing Splendor of the Covenant.  From soaring in the heavens, from traveling back in time, the psalmist comes back and once again picks up his copy of the covenant.  He reads it through again and is astonished at the fresh wonders which shine out upon him from its peerless paragraphs.  He sings again of the wonder of it all—that God should commit Himself so irrevocably, so irreversibly to David, and through David to Israel.  He reminds himself of the unique features of the covenant. [In verses 19-37, it is the Lord who speaks and reminds us of what He did for David.]


19 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.

20 I have found David my servant; with my holy oil have I anointed him:

21 With whom my hand shall be established: mine arm also shall strengthen him.

22 The enemy shall not exact upon him; nor the son of wickedness afflict him.

23 And I will beat down his foes before his face, and plague them that hate him.


It would be easy to linger here over each delightful expression of the psalmist.  Note that divine initiative is underscored by the sender: “Then thou spakest in vision to thy holy one….I have found David my servant; with my holy oil have I anointed him” (89:19-20).  “Thy holy one” (19) is better stated, “Thy trusted seer.” David was helped, chosen, anointed (20), established (21), and strengthened by Almighty God.  Therefore “the enemy shall not exact (attack)….him” (22); but God “will beat down his foes…. and plague them that hate him” (23).


In those early days before he sinned with Bathsheba, David had indeed been the ideal servant of the Lord.  In the camp, in the court, and in the cave, as a fugitive who carried with him everywhere the fragrance of the anointing oil poured upon him by Samuel, David was all that God could want in a servant. 


The eye of God rested on David in satisfaction down there in Hebron when he was anointed once more to be king by the tribe of Judah and also up there in Jerusalem when he was announced king over all Israel.  He was “a man after God’s own heart.” Taking all the initiative, God came to his servant and treated him as the anointed of God.  God says, “I will make good what I promised David at the time I anointed him.” God rests upon what He had promised David. David received the support and blessings of God.  He is victorious in all his battles.  He calls God Father, and the Lord bestows on him the entitlements of a firstborn son.  No one will be more successful as king.  As a result, God promises to establish David’s line forever.


Note, too, the divine incentive (21-23). God promised to deliver David from two things: from subversion by the conspirator (21-22) and from subjection to the conqueror (23).  Neither the foe within nor the foe without would ever succeed―“the enemy shall not exact upon him” (22; do him violence). The whole story of David, as the psalmist very well knew, was proof that God kept his word.  Not even Absalom’s formidable conspiracy succeeded, and certainly no foreign foe ever successfully fought against David.


This covenant was majestic in its expression.



24 But my faithfulness and my mercy shall be with him: and in my name shall his horn be exalted.


God knew that David was only human.  He failed.  He fell as badly as any man has ever fallen.  Yes God had mercy upon him; God was faithful to His promise despite David’s unfaithfulness in the matter of Bathsheba and Uriah.


This encourages the psalmist.  If God was faithful to David then, He would be faithful to David now! 



(89: 25-28) It was Messianic in Expression


25 I will set his hand also in the sea, and his right hand in the rivers.

26 He shall cry unto me, Thou art my father, my God, and the rock of my salvation.

27 Also I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth.

28 My mercy will I keep for him for evermore, and my covenant shall stand fast with him.


With a bold leap into the future, the psalmist picks up one of the more notable features of the Davidic covenant and runs with it through the ages to the end of time.  God’s promises to David were after all, to be “yea and amen” in Christ, in great David’s greater son.  He mentions three aspects of the Messiah.


The dominion of the Messiah: “I will set his hand also in the sea, and his right hand in the rivers (25).  There is a reference here to the eastern and western boundaries of the Promised Land;to the Mediterranean Sea in the west and the river Euphrates in the east.  But in its fullest messianic sense this verse embraces the whole world.  A better translation: “I will extend his power to the Sea, and his authority as far as the Euphrates” (see Zechariah 9:10).


The deity of the Messiah: “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” (26-27).  The king (both human and divine) shall recognize God as his father (26) and in return shall be proclaimed the Lord’s firstborn, a term which in its strictest application belongs to Christ alone―“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (John 1:14; also see Romans 8:29). This is one of the few places in the Old Testament where God is referred to as a Father.  It was a name for God often on the lips of Jesus.  His first recorded utterance shows us how, from the very beginning, he claimed God as His Father: “Wist ye not I must be about My Father’s business?” His Father’s business was not the craft of a carpenter; it was the dark and dreadful business of the cross.  He went into death with the same name upon His lips: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” And after the terrible hours of darkness He called upon God as His Father once more: “Father, into thy hands I commend My spirit.” It was on His lips again after the resurrection; it was His characteristic name for God; he was uniquely God’s Son.


The durability of the Messiah: “My mercy will I keep for him for evermore, and my covenant shall stand fast with him” (28).  That mercy was shown in sending the angels to sustain Him in Gethsemane, in forbidding profane hands to touch Him once He was dead, and in flinging wide the portals of death before Him.  In Christ the Davidic covenant will find its fullest and most glorious fulfillment when, in a coming day, He comes back to reign and is made “higher than the Kings of the earth.” That means that He is Lord of lords and King of kings!  Therefore, it is “the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ” to which we look for eternal life― “Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (Jude 21;see also John 17:2).  And, as the mercy of God flows to us through Him so the promise of God is, through Him, firm to us: “My covenant shall stand fast with him,” both the covenant of redemption made with Him and the covenant of grace made with us in Him.  The new covenant is therefore always new and firmly established, because it is lodged in the hands of a mediator―But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises” (Hebrews 8:6).


The psalmist takes pride in the fact that the covenant was made with David personally.  It was David’s close relationship to the Lord and his desire to exalt the Lord alone that made him a success (26).



29 His seed also will I make to endure for ever, and his throne as the days of heaven.


Again the psalmist focuses on the messianic aspect of the covenant.  The “seed” of David was Christ, of course.  No wonder there was such breadth in the covenant!  No wonder it could guarantee everlasting blessing!



30 If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments;

31 If they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments;

32 Then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes.


This was the warning to Solomon.  The psalmist could look back over the tragic history of the monarchy and see how terribly necessary this clause had been.  The Babylonian captivity itself was the final blow of the “rod.”  The crimes of so many of Judah’s kings fill many a dark page of Old Testament history.  Manasseh especially, Judah’s longest reigning king, turned his kingdom into a veritable Sodom and Gomorrah.  Allowing Jeconiah to be childless so far as the throne was concerned was an act of justice, too.  We learn from the New Testament that God went back and redrew the messianic line, starting with Nathan, another of David’s sons; that line ran down the annals of history until it ended with the virgin Mary and in Jesus, her Son.  Joseph, the lineal descendant through Solomon, was only the foster father of Jesus.


The Lord had sworn not to break His covenant even if the people disobey.  If they disobeyed, “the rod” would be brought down on them (i.e., God would punish them), but He would not remove His “love” or “faithfulness” by ending the “covenant.” His promises, including those in the Davidic Covenant (27-29), stand “forever.”


There is however a stipulation—the house of David has some covenant responsibilities also.  Should David’s sons abandon Yahweh’s law, fail to live by His judgments, prostitute His statutes and fail to keep His commandments, Yahweh will punish their transgressions with a “rod,” their perversities with the scars of judgment, however, Yahweh will not turn aside “from His chosen king His unchanging love; nor will He be deceitful about His consistency.  He will not betray His covenant or go back on His word.  He has sworn by His holiness a single time.  It is enough.  He will not be false to David.  Then the dynasty of David will be forever; his throne will be like the sun in Yahweh’s Presence, established forever like the moon (37), a constant witness in the sky.  Does it sound as though God is through with His children if they are not faithful to Him?  NO!



33 Nevertheless my lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail.

34 My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips.

35 Once have I sworn by my holiness that I will not lie unto David.

36 His seed shall endure for ever, and his throne as the sun before me.

37 It shall be established for ever as the moon, and as a faithful witness in heaven. Selah.


The psalmist recalls the promise: “Nevertheless my lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him.” It is an unconditional pledge (33-35).  Pardon and performance are again the themes.  The psalmist reiterates God’s unconditional pledge: “My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips” (34).  According to Hebraists, the word for “altar” means “to fold” or “to double.” The Septuagint renders it “to make avoid.” If we were to put it in our vernacular, God promises that He will not double-cross His covenant.  He will not alter it in the slightest.  After all, when He made the covenant with David, He knew what kinds of people would set on David’s throne.  He was not taken by surprise by Solomon’s excuses, Rehoboam’s folly, the stupidity of Ahas, or the unspeakable vileness of Manasseh.


In 89:35 it is revealed how the covenant was sworn to and ratified.  “Once have I sworn by my holiness,” that darling attribute.  In swearing by His holiness, he swore by Himself; for He would just as soon cease to be, than to be anything other than holy.  His swearing “once” is enough; he does not need to swear again, as David did (1 Samuel 20:17); for His word and oath are two immutable things.  As Christ was made a priest, so He was made a king, by an oath (Hebrews 7:21); for His kingdom and priesthood are both unchangeable.


The psalmist follows this unconditional pledge with a word about the unconquerable power of the God who made it: “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.(89:36-37).  He adds a resounding “Selah.”  You Babylonians!  You Gentile nations!  Go and blot out the sun, pull down the moon if you think you can keep a son of David off David’s throne forever!


Thus ends the great eulogy of the Davidic covenant.  But the psalmist has not finished.  There is a whale of anguish in his next word: “But!” All of a sudden, it seems, he folds up his copy of the contract, puts it away, looks at the disarray of the kingdom, weeps, and speaks of things as if they were before his eyes.


“Established for ever, as the moon” (37)—is an exquisite description of the rise and development of David’s power, which was a shadow of Christ’s.  Just as the sun and moon change not, but remain faithful to their posts in the heavens, so is God’s covenant unalterable, made with Christ and all who believe in Him.



The Apparent Suspension of the Covenant (89:38-51)  While it was impossible that the covenant could be canceled, it had certainly been suspended.


38 But thou hast cast off and abhorred (rejected), thou hast been wroth with thine anointed.

39 Thou hast made void the covenant of thy servant: thou hast profaned his crown by casting it to the ground.

40 Thou hast broken down all his hedges; thou hast brought his strong holds to ruin.

41 All that pass by the way spoil him: he is a reproach to his neighbours.

42 Thou hast set up the right hand of his adversaries; thou hast made all his enemies to rejoice.

43 Thou hast also turned the edge of his sword, and hast not made him to stand in the battle.

44 Thou hast made his glory to cease, and cast his throne down to the ground.

45 The days of his youth hast thou shortened: thou hast covered him with shame. Selah.


The psalmist now lamented the fact that the king had been afflicted and defeated in spite of God’s covenantal promises.  He wrote that God had cast off His servant (38-39), broken his vineyard walls and defenses (40), made him weak in battle (41), strengthened (exalted the right hand of) his enemies, “turned (blunted) the edge of his sword” (42-43), cast down “his throne in shame”(89: 44-45), and brought his splendor to an end.  It certainly appears that God has deserted His people, but the psalmist should have remembered the words of Solomon: “For whom the Lord loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:12, also see Hebrews 12:3-11).


The reality of life does not seem to fit the promises God has made, and the psalmist begins to bemoan his nation’s situation.  The current king (thine anointed) has not proven faithful to God and therefore God has become angry and rejected him.  God’s relationship with this king is contrary to his relationship with David, as described in verses 40-45.  This king experienced not only defeat in battle but also the scorn of his enemies.  The nation has been plundered.  Its former splendor has disappeared, and the king is impotent to do anything about it. From all appearances, it looks as if God has gone back on His covenant (39).


He goes over seven things which were all too evident as he looks around at the triumphant Babylonians and at the uprooted and castoff nation of Israel. He speaks of the displeasure of the Lord, of the disruption of the covenant, of the destruction of the nation, of the delight of the foe, of the defeat of the army, of the dishonor of the throne, of the dismay of the king.


He thinks particularly of Zedekiah in all his abysmal wretchedness: “Thou hast covered him with shame, Selah.” Almost defiantly he writes it down: Selah! “There, what do you think of that?” In view of all the exceeding great and precious promises to David—what about it?  Then, hastily, as if he had been too daring, he falls on his knees. 





46 How long, Lord? wilt thou hide thyself for ever? shall thy wrath burn like fire?

47 Remember how short my time is: wherefore hast thou made all men in vain?

48 What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death? shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave? Selah.


He himself, it would seem, was in captivity and deeply conscious of it.  He tells the Lord that His displeasure seems unending: “How long, Lord? wilt thou hide thyself for ever? shall thy wrath burn like fire?” (46) He uses the covenant name for God.


He tells the Lord that his days seem uncertain (47-48).  “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” (47-48).  Even a saint like Daniel, who lived to be a very old man in Babylon and who rose to great power in the land under both the Babylonians and the Persians, never knew when death would claim him.  Certainly, he must have known how precious his hold on life was.  The psalmist longs to see the disruption of the Davidic covenant end in his own lifetime.


If Daniel did write this psalm, he lived to see the end of the captivity but not the resumption of the Davidic covenant.  That would have to wait until the coming of Christ. 



49 Lord, where are thy former lovingkindnesses, which thou swarest unto David in thy truth?

50 Remember, Lord, the reproach of thy servants; how I do bear in my bosom the reproach of all the mighty people;

51 Wherewith thine enemies have reproached, O Lord; wherewith they have reproached the footsteps of thine anointed.


To Ethan, it all seems so futile.  Life is short, all people will die, and God’s people had to spend their days in exile.  Then Ethan looked back (49) and asked what had happened to the great lovingkindness the Lord had shown to David.  But God’s love had not changed; it was Judah’s love for the Lord that had waned.  Like any good parent, God shows His love to His children either by blessing their obedience or chastening them for their disobedience, but in either situation, He is manifesting his love.


He thinks of the fame previously assured: “Lord, where are thy former lovingkindnesses, which thou swarest unto David in thy truth?” (49).  Again and again God had made Himself famous for His mercy, love, and grace.  Had that changed?  Had God changed?  If then, why not now?  He thinks of the shame presently allowed: “Remember, Lord, the reproach of thy servants…. Wherewith thine enemies have reproached, O Lord…. they have reproached the footsteps of thine anointed.” (89:50-51).  The words may have been inspired by the thought of the actual insults offered to wretched Zedekiah as he was led blind and desolate through the streets of Babylon on his way to prison.  Insults offered to God’s servants, fallen as they were, were insults offered to the Lord’s anointed and to God Himself.


And yet the psalmist continues to seek answers.  He is tired of hearing the insults and mocking of others directed toward his king.  He knows life is short, and he wants to again experience the love of God.  He appeals to God because of his own loss of face which he has experienced, suggesting that his enemies are likewise gods!  He knows God has made promises to David that are still in effect, but he just can’t understand his nations state of despair.  He ends the psalm on that unsettled note. 



52 Blessed be the Lord for evermore. Amen, and Amen.


The psalm ends with a doxology which in turn ends the third book of Psalms: “Blessed be the Lord for evermore. Amen, and Amen{5].” Thus the psalmist brings his soul to rest.  All is well; the Davidic covenant is secure.  It is not in his hands, but in God’s hands.  In this, Israel’s darkest hour, he will worship God for whatever shadows may be cast upon the nation; they are only shadows after all.  As the hymn writer puts it:


Behind a frowning providence

God hides a smiling face.


Note, some believe verse 52 is not part of the psalm as originally written.  This final verse is a doxology inserted as a conclusion for book III following the lament that ends psalm 89, it is a welcome addition.



 Scripture and Special Notes:


[1} Even though these verses do not specifically mention the fall of Jerusalem they describe something more than a passing defeat of the Davidic king.  No mere set-back could be described as a breach of covenant or a casting down of crown and throne to the ground.  Nothing suits the verses as well as the events of 597 bc and 586 bc with the ensuing captivity and end of the monarchy.  Likewise in 89:46 the long duration of trouble speaks to the same point.

[2} Strong Lord means the sovereign Ruler of the universe.

[3} Rehab (alternate meaning) is thought by some to stand for the fierce and awesome powers of the raging deep, as a sea monster.  Yahweh humbled “Rahab,” the primeval sea dragon, as though she was an invalid, and with His strong arm He scattered His enemies.  The references are all to Yahweh’s triumph over chaos, the rebellion of His primordial sea and its creatures at creation (Isaiah 51: 9-10; Job 9:13).

[4} Arm and the hand suggest power which his active, not merely latent.  Literally, an arm with might, another rugged construction used by this psalmist.

[5} The double Amen was at one time no doubt a congregational response.

[6} “For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him” Jesus does not appear in the form which we had anticipated. He does not come with the regal pomp and splendor which it was supposed he would assume. He is apparently of humble rank” (Isaiah 53:2).  

[7} “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this” (Isaiah 9:6-7).