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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Psalms 89

Verse 1



The occasion for this psalm was the conquest of Jerusalem, the capture of king Jehoiachin, his deportation to Babylon along with Daniel and many other able Hebrews, and the enthronement of the puppet king Zedekiah, a vassal of Nebuchadnezzar. A number of able scholars agree on this.

The statement in Psalms 89:45 that God had shortened the days of the youth of the king and covered him with shame may refer to Jehoiachin who was only 18 years old when carried away captive,[1] - The whole tone of the psalm suggests that it was written when the kingdom was toppling to ruin, or perhaps even after its fall.[2] - The days of ... Zedekiah, just before the fall of Jerusalem seem to fit the situation.[3] - The humiliation Of a king was probably that of Jehoiachin.[4] - The occasion is the defeat and deposition of a Judean king ... many think Jehoiachin, probably in the early sixth century B.C.[5]

The psalm starts off like a song of praise to God (Psalms 89:1-18), after which there follows a rehearsal of God's marvelous promises to David regarding the kingdom to be established "forever" (Psalms 89:19-37); but quite abruptly in Psalms 89:38 the psalm changes into a lament, in terminology that borders on the nature of a reproach against God and a charge that he has failed to keep his promises to Israel. That attitude of vigorous complaint prevails throughout Psalms 89:38-45. Then there comes an urgent plea for God to intervene and restore to Israel the glories to which they believed themselves entitled by the ancient promises of God.

Psalms 89:52 is no part of this psalm but forms the doxology concluding Book III of the Psalter.

By far, the most important verse in the whole psalm is Psalms 89:37 which indicates that the everlasting "throne of David" is not an earthly throne at all. The promises to the Davidic dynasty upon which Israel had so enthusiastically rested their expectations were never to be fulfilled in the literal earthly dynasty of David, the whole institution of the Davidic kingdom being merely typical in a very feeble way of the glorious kingdom of the Messiah, even Jesus Christ, who today is sitting upon the "spiritual throne of David" in heaven itself. See full discussion of all this under Psalms 89:37.

Psalms 89:1-4


"I will sing of the lovingkindness of Jehovah forever:

With my mouth will I make known thy faithfulness to all generations.

For I have said, Mercy shall be built up forever;

Thy faithfulness wilt 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 forever,

And build up thy throne to all generations."

The first two verses here are the pledge of the psalmist to sing the praises of God forever; and Psalms 89:2-4 are a summary of 2 Samuel 7, the key passage of the Scriptures in which God through the prophet Nathan made the glorying promises presented here. The entire psalm is related to God's promise of an everlasting kingdom, through the posterity of David.

Apparently, the thought never entered either the mind of David himself, or that of any other Israelite, that the kingdom God promised was not a kingdom of this world, but a SPIRITUAL kingdom. The entire conception of an earthly kingdom of Israel was sinful in its inception, absolutely contrary to God's will, and constituting, through Israel's demand that they should have such a kingdom, Israel's rejection of God Himself (1 Samuel 8:7).

In this light it appears to us as wholly the fault of Israel that they should have believed that "the everlasting kingdom" which God promised them would be any kind of a literal earthly monarchy. God told them at the very beginning of that earthly kingdom they so much desired just exactly what such a kingdom would be like. See 1 Samuel 8:10-18.

The tragic blindness of the chosen people to this one great epic truth is one of the most incredible mistakes any people ever made. Their refusal to believe God's Word about this was the root cause of their rejection of the true Messiah when he finally appeared.

Verse 5


"And the heavens shall praise thy wonders, O Jehovah;

Thy faithfulness also in the assembly of the holy ones.

For who in the skies can be compared unto Jehovah?

Who among the sons of the mighty is like unto Jehovah,

A God very terrible in the council of the holy ones,

And to be feared above all them that are round about him?

O Jehovah God of hosts,

Who is a mighty one, like unto thee, O Jehovah?

And thy faithfulness is round about thee.

Thou rulest the pride of the sea:

When the waves thereof arise, thou stillest them.

Thou hast broken Rahab in pieces, as one that is slain;

Thou has scattered thine enemies with the arm of thy strength.

The heavens are thine, the earth also is thine:

The world and the fulness thereof, thou hast founded them.

The north and the south, thou hast created them:

Tabor and Herman rejoice in thy name.

Thou hast a mighty arm;

Strong is thy hand and high is thy right hand.

Righteousness and justice are the foundations of thy throne:

Lovingkindness and truth go before thy face.

Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound:

They walk, O Jehovah, in the light of thy countenance.

In thy name do they rejoice all the day;

And in thy righteousness are they exalted.

For thou art the glory of their strength;

And in thy favor our horn shall be exalted.

For our shield belongeth unto Jehovah;

And our king to the Holy One of Israel."

The poetry here is highly imaginative, having a single design, namely, that of extolling the Majesty and Power of God.

"The assembly of the holy ones" (Psalms 89:5). "This is a frequent term in the Old Testament as a reference to Israel as God's Old Testament church."[6]

"Among the sons of the mighty" (Psalms 89:6). This refers to the mighty men of earth, its kings, rulers and dictators. "The mighty" in this passage cannot refer to angels, because angels do not reproduce themselves and therefore have no `sons.'

"The council of the holy ones" (Psalms 89:7). This imagery here is that of a great legislative body, such as a congress, but the figure of speech cannot be pressed beyond the picture of God's being surrounded in heaven by the "living creatures" before the throne and the countless hosts of mighty angels. In no sense whatever, is there any kind of "council" with whom God has any need either to discuss or consult regarding his plans, or from whom he has any need to seek approval of his holy purposes.

"Thou rulest the pride of the sea" (Psalms 89:9). Some scholars find references here to mythological stories of ancient times; but there is no need to import anything like that into this text. The miracle of the Red Sea Crossing, continually in the mind of every Israelite, would have been instantly remembered upon the reading of a verse like this.

"Thou hast broken Rahab in pieces" (Psalms 89:10). "Rahab here is a well-known scriptural reference to Egypt, as in Psalms 87:4."[7] Righteousness and justice are the foundation of thy throne (Psalms 89:14). Hebrews 1:8-9, while not a direct quotation, certainly has the same message as this.

"Our shield belongeth unto Jehovah" (Psalms 89:18). This was a popular conceit of Israel. Their true and only shield was "God"; and their wicked monarchy, at the time of writing this psalm, was in the act of demonstrating to all Israel that it was not the "perfect system" they had imagined when they demanded that God allow it. The Holy Spirit overruled the psalmist's words here, so that they are indeed true. Not merely Israel's king but everything in heaven and upon earth belongs to God; however the psalmist might have been thinking that their earthly monarchy itself was some kind of "shield" for Israel. That myth would perish in the person of Zedekiah.


The next nineteen verses are given over to a rehearsal of God's promises to David through Nathan in 2 Samuel 7. With true poetic license the psalmist also embellished and extended them.

"The first ten verses of this section pertain particularly to David; and the last nine are applicable to the Davidic dynasty."[8]

Verse 19


"Then thou spakest in vision to thy saints,

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 from him,

Nor the son of wickedness afflict him.

And I will beat down his adversaries before him,

And smite them that hate him.

But my faithfulness and my lovingkindness shall be with him;

And in my name shall his horn be exalted

I will set his hand also on the sea,

And his right hand on the rivers.

He shall cry unto me,

Thou art my Father,

My God, and the rock of my salvation.

I also will make him my first-born,

And the highest of the kings of the earth.

My lovingkindness will I keep for him forevermore;

And my covenant shall stand fast with him."

"I have laid help upon one that is mighty" (Psalms 89:19). This rather strange expression is rendered as follows in the RSV. "I have set the crown upon one who is mighty."

"I will set his hand also on the sea, and his right hand on the rivers" (Psalms 89:25). This is probably a reference to the ideal boundaries of the Davidic kingdom, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Euphrates. "Rivers" here is either an honorific plural for the Euphrates, or perhaps, a reference "to the land between the rivers," namely, Mesopotamia.

"I will make him my first-born, the highest of the kings of the earth" (Psalms 89:27). The Spirit of God here passes from what was written of the literal king David to that which is true of no other who ever lived, except the Son of God, that Greater David, called "The Son of David" (Matthew 1:1).

Christ is the "first-born of all creation, the first-born from the dead," the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, indeed the "highest of the kings of the earth."

"Such ideals were only partially fulfilled in David and his earthly successors; it is the Christ who perfectly fulfills them all in his spiritual kingdom."[9] But, of course, Israel never had the slightest understanding of the true meaning of all this.


"In this section (Psalms 89:28-37), the psalmist extended the application of 2 Samuel 7 to David's line of successors. The words here are principally a poetical paraphrase of 2 Samuel 7:14."[10]

The application of the prophecy in 2 Samuel 7 was elaborated in these verses.

Verse 29

"His seed also will I make to endure forever,

And his throne as the days of heaven.

If his children forsake my law,

And walk not in mine ordinances;

If they break my statutes,

And keep not my commandments;

Then will I visit their transgressions with the rod,

And their iniquity with stripes.

But my lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him,

Nor suffer my faithfulness to fail.

My covenant will I not break,

Nor alter the thing that has gone out of my lips.

Once have I sworn by my holiness:

I will not lie unto David:

His seed shall endure forever,

And his throne as the sun before me.

It shall be established forever as the moon,

And as the faithful witness in the sky."

Leupold summarized this paragraph. God's promises to David applied to his descendants also (Psalms 89:29); if they disobey God, God will punish them (Psalms 89:32-33); but God will not cut them off or break his covenant (Psalms 89:33-35); God's covenant is an eternal covenant and will last as long as the created world lasts (Psalms 89:36-37).[11]


"His seed shall endure forever, and his throne as the sun before me. It shall be established forever as the moon, and as the faithful witness in the sky" (Psalms 89:36-37).

The teaching here is that the throne of David is eternal; it will last forever. It (the throne) shall be established forever "as God's faithful witness" in the sky, in heaven.

The KJV is more accurately translated, although our version does not change the meaning.

"His seed shall endure forever, and his throne as the sun before me. It shall be established forever as the moon, and as a faithful witness in heaven" (Psalms 89:36-37 KJV).

Men have diligently tried to get David's throne out of these verses; but it is impossible to do it. Dummelow did his best; "The meaning is uncertain; the faithful witness may be the moon"![12] Such a view cannot be accepted, because the moon never witnessed anything to mankind. Moreover, Briggs pointed out that the it in Psalms 89:37 here refers to the word `throne.'[13]

"As the sun ... as the moon" (Psalms 89:36-37). These words forever forbid the notion that the "ultimate" throne of David was to be on earth, because neither the sun nor the moon is "on earth." Call their location "heaven" as in KJV, or "sky" as in KJV, the meaning is the same either way; it means "Not on earth."

There is a complete discussion of this based upon the apostle Peter's Pentecostal sermon in Acts 2chapter, in which Peter flatly declared that the raising up of one of David's posterity to sit upon David's throne was a prophetic reference to "The resurrection of Jesus Christ." See Vol. 5 of our New Testament Commentaries (Acts) under Acts 2:32.

The psalmist, no doubt feeling that such promises as he had cited absolutely bound God to do something at once for Israel. However, God would make it clear enough to all Israel in the terrible seventy years lying just ahead of them that the earthly succession to David's throne was terminated, that God was absolutely through with it; and that their earthly kingdom in its totality was dying, never to live again.


There is no need to elaborate this, the psalmist himself did it in these verses.

Verse 38

"Thou has cut off and rejected

Thou hast been wroth with thine anointed.

Thou hast abhorred 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 strongholds to ruin.

All that pass by the way rob him:

He has become a reproach to his neighbors.

Thou hast exalted the right hand of his adversaries;

Thou hast made all his enemies to rejoice.

Yea, thou turnest back the edge of his sword,

And thou hast not made him to stand in the battle.

Thou hast made his brightness to cease,

And cast his throne down to the ground.

The days of his youth hast thou shortened:

Thou hast covered him with shame.


How long, O Jehovah? wilt thou hide thyself forever?

How long shall thy wrath burn like fire?

Oh remember how short my time is:

For what vanity has thou created all the children of men!

What man is he that shall live and not see death,

That shall deliver his soul from the power of Sheol?


Lord, where are thy former lovingkindnesses,

Which thou swarest unto David in thy faithfulness?

Remember, Lord, the reproach of thy servants;

How I do bear in my bosom the reproach of all the mighty peoples,

Wherewith thine enemies have reproached,

O Jehovah,

Wherewith they have reproached the footsteps of thine anointed."

The appeal to God in these verses comes about as near as any mortal could have dared to come toward charging God with unfaithfulness to his covenant with David and lodging an accusation that God had failed to keep his promises. All of this was due to one thing, "The Jews simply could not get the "earthly kingdom" out of their minds. All of the terrible things mentioned here did not merely "seem" to have happened; they had actually occurred. David's earthly dynasty was being liquidated. All of the prayers for God to intervene were of no avail. "God said, I have given them a king in mine anger, and have taken him away in my wrath" (Hosea 13:11). Despite the misunderstanding of all Israel, God never intended David's earthly successors to his throne to be an eternal institution. Historically, with very few exceptions, David's descendants who inherited his throne were as evil a group of monarchs as the world ever saw.

Yates has given us a summary of the extensive complaint in this section.

"What a contrast between the promises of God and that current situation! The covenant had been made void; the city walls were broken down; the land was spoiled; the battle was lost; the throne was cast down; the king's youth was shortened when Nebuchadnezzar took him to Babylon at age 18; and many had been carried away captive at the same time."[14]

"Remember how short my time is" (Psalms 89:48). The thought here is that the psalmist prays that God will rescue Israel and restore the old order of things while he is yet alive.

"Remember the reproach of thy servants" (Psalms 89:50). This was to call God to notice the terrible reproaches being heaped upon Israel, and upon their kings, and upon God's name by all of the enemies.

Leupold commented, concerning one extensive section of this psalm that, "Few comments are needed."[15] And, in a sense, this applies to the whole psalm, the great element of which, is the pitiful disappointment of Israel; and yet, there is no way to avoid the conclusion that Israel itself was largely responsible of their tragic mistake.

Verse 52


"Blessed be Jehovah forevermore.

Amen, and Amen."

This, of course, is no part of the psalm; it is the doxology marking the end of Book III of the Psalter. The feature of these impressive doxologies is their double Amen, and Amen.

Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 89". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.