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This psalm is entitled “Maschil of Ethan the Ezrahite.” In the margin this is rendered, “A Psalm for Ethan the Ezrahite to give instruction.” On the word Maschil, see the notes at the title to Psalms 42:1-11. As both Heman (Psalms 88:0 title) and Ethan, in the title before us, are mentioned as Ezrahites, it would seem that they were of the same family, and were probably brethren. Ethan and Heman, in connection with Zimri, and Calcol, and Dara, five of them in all, are mentioned as “the sons of Zerah,” grandsons of Judah, 1 Chronicles 2:6. If these were the persons referred to, and if they were the authors of these two psalms, then the period of the composition of these psalms was laid far back in the history of the Hebrew people, far anterior to the time of David. Compare 1 Chronicles 2:6-12. It is hardly probable, however, that they were composed at so early a period in the Jewish history; and there are some things in this psalm, which cannot be reconciled with such a supposition (compare Psalms 89:3, Psalms 89:20, Psalms 89:35, Psalms 89:39, Psalms 89:49), and which make it certain that it was either composed by David, or after the time of David. The probability, therefore, seems to be that these names, “Heman” and “Ethan,” were either the names of some persons subsequent to the time referred to in 1 Chronicles 2:6, (see General Introduction, Section 2 (5)); or that these their names were given to classes of “the sons of Korah” who had charge of the music, and that the psalms were composed by some persons of those classes. As thus composed, they might be spoken of as the psalms of Heman and Ethan.
There are no certain methods of ascertaining when the psalm before us was composed, or what was the occasion of its composition. DeWette supposes that it must have been written about the time of the exile, as the family of David is represented in the psalm as dishonored and dethroned - and yet before the exile, as there is no mention of the destruction of the city and temple. He accords, therefore, with the opinion of Venema that it was not far from the time of the death of Josiah, 2 Chronicles 35:20-24. The author he supposes to be either a successor of David - an humbled monarch - or, someone who personates the king, and who represents the calamity of the king as his own. Hengstenberg also supposes that it was composed between the time of the death of Josiah and the Babylonian exile. There is a strong probability in the psalm itself that it was composed at such a period, but it is impossible to determine the exact time, or the precise occasion. The burden of the psalm is, that most precious promises had been made to David of the perpetuity of his throne, but that now these promises scorned to fail; that reverses and calamities had come which threatened to overturn his throne, and to bring his kingdom to an end. His “crown” had been “profaned” and “cast to the ground.” See Psalms 89:38-44.
The psalm consists properly of three parts:
I. The promise made to David in respect to the perpetuity of his throne, Psalms 89:1-37. The illustration of this occupies a considerable part of the psalm.
II. The fact that this promise seemed to be disregarded; that the “covenant” had been “made void;” that the “crown” had been “profaned,” and “cast to the ground,” Psalms 89:38-45.
III. An earnest plea for the divine interposition in the fulfillment of the promise, and the restoration of the divine favor and mercy, Psalms 89:46-52.
I will sing of the mercies of the Lord for ever - Particularly how the “mercy” was manifested in the promise made to David; the solemn covenant made with him in respect to the perpetuity of his throne. The appointment of David to the throne was an act of mere mercy or favor, since he was not in the royal line, and had no claim to the crown. It will be seen, also, that if it be supposed that the covenant with David, and the promise therein made to him, was intended to include the Messiah as descending from him, there was a still higher reason for celebrating the “mercies” of God, inasmuch as all mercy to our world comes through him.
With my mouth - Not merely in my heart, but with words. The meaning here is that he would make a record which might be used evermore as the language of praise.
Will I make known thy faithfulness - In the fulfillment of these promises. He felt assured that they would be fulfilled. Whatever appearances there might be to the contrary, the psalmist had no doubt that God would prove himself to be faithful and true. See the notes at Isaiah 55:3, on the expression, “the sure mercies of David.”
To all generations - Margin, as in Hebrew, generation and generation. He would make a record which would carry down the remembrance of this faithfulness to all future ages.
For I have said - The Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate render this, “Thou hast said,” which is more in accordance with what the connection seems to demand; but the Hebrew will not admit of this construction. The true meaning seems to be, that the psalmist had said; that is, he had said in his mind; he had firmly believed; he had so received it as a truth that it might be spoken of as firmly settled, or as an indisputable reality. It was in his mind one of the things whose truthfulness did not admit of a doubt.
Mercy shall be built up for ever - The mercy referred to; the mercy manifested in the promise made to David. The idea is, that the promise would be fully carried out or verified. It would not be like the foundation of a building, which, after being laid, was abandoned; it would be as if the building, for which the foundation was designed, were carried up and completed. It would not be a forsaken, half-finished edifice, but an edifice fully erected.
Thy faithfulness shalt thou establish - In the matter referred to - the promise made to David.
In the very heavens - literally, “The heavens - thou wilt establish thy faithfulness in them.” That is the heavens - the heavenly bodies - so regular, so fixed, so enduring, are looked upon as the emblem of stability. The psalmist brings them thus before his mind, and he says that God had, as it were, made his promise a part of the very heavens; he had given to his faithfulness a place among the most secure, and fixed, and settled objects in nature. The sun in its regular rising; the stars in their certain course; the constellations, the same from age to age, were an emblem of the stability and security of the promises of God. Compare Jeremiah 33:20-21.
I have made a covenant with my chosen - With my chosen one; that is, with David. The original is in the singular number, though by the Septuagint, and the Vulgate, and by Luther, it is rendered in the plural - chosen ones - elect. This is undoubtedly the language of God himself, though it is not expressly ascribed to him. The design is to describe the solemn promise which God had made to David and to his posterity. Compare Psalms 78:70-71. See also, on the use of the phrase “made a covenant,” see Psalms 50:5, note; Psalms 83:5, note.
I have sworn unto David my servant - I have taken a solemn oath in regard to him. The substance of the oath is stated in the next verse. The promise referred to is found in 2 Samuel 7:11-16.
Thy seed will I establish for ever - Thy children; thy posterity. The reference is to his successors on the throne. The promise was that there should not fail to be one on his throne; that is, that his dynasty should never become extinct. See 2 Samuel 7:16 : “And thy house and thy kingdom shall be established forever before thee: thy throne shall be established forever.” Compare also 1 Kings 2:4. The word rendered “establish” means properly to fit; then, to make firm; to put on a solid basis.
And build up thy throne - It shall be kept up; it shall be like a building that is constantly progressing toward completion. The meaning is, that it would not fail. He would not begin the work, and then abandon it. The dynasty, the kingdom, the throne, would be complete and perpetual.
To all generations - As long as the world should stand. This can have been accomplished only by the Messiah occupying in a spiritual sense the throne of “his father David.” Compare Luke 1:32-33.
And the heavens shall praise thy wonders, O Lord - That is, the inhabitants of heaven shall find new occasion for praise in the faithfulness evinced in carrying out the promise to David, and in the marvelous things which will occur under that promise, and in its accomplishment. If we suppose that this promise embraced the Messiah and his reign, then we shall see what new occasions the angels would find for praise - in the incarnation of the Redeemer, and in all that would be accomplished by him.
Thy faithfulness also in the congregation of the saints - In the assembly of the holy ones; that is, the angels. In their songs of praise, this will be among the things which will fill them with joy. The idea is, that the inhabitants of the heavens - the holy angels - would take a deep interest in the fulfillment of this promise, as it would furnish new manifestations of the character of God. Compare Revelation 5:11-14; 1 Peter 1:12.
For who in the heaven ... - literally, In the cloud; that is, in the sky. The idea is that none in the regions above - the upper world - can be compared with God. There is no other god - there is no one among the angels, great and glorious as they are, that can be likened to him.
Who among the sons of the mighty ... - The angels - regarded as mighty. The “sons of the mighty” on earth are spoken of as mighty men - as men of power - as men of exalted rank. So here, the idea is, that none of the angels, though of exalted rank (“principalities,” or “powers,” compare Romans 8:38; Ephesians 1:21), could be put in comparison with God. See the notes at Isaiah 40:25.
God is greatly to be feared - There is that in him which is suited to fill the mind with solemn feelings, and this is a proper state of mind with which to come before him. Nature teaches us that God should be approached with awe; and all the teachings of revelation confirm this. His power is to be feared; his justice is to be feared; his holiness is to be feared; and there is much also in his goodness, his benevolence, his mercy, to fill the mind with solemn emotions.
In the assembly of the saints - The assembly of the holy; the assembly that is convened for his worship. The reference here may be either to worshippers on earth or in heaven. Wherever, and whenever, in this world or in other worlds, creatures are engaged in the worship of God, there should be deep solemnity and reverence. On the word rendered “assembly” here - סוד sôd - a council, or assemblage for counsel, see Psalms 25:14, note; Psalms 64:2, note; compare Job 15:8. The idea here is founded on what is said in the previous verse, that none can be compared with God.
And to be had in reverence - In fear; in awe.
Of all them that are about him - That approach him; that are in his presence. The conscious presence of God should fill the mind with awe. When we feel that his eye is upon us, when we know that he sees us, how can we trifle and be thoughtless? How can we then be sinful?
O Lord God of hosts - See the notes at Isaiah 1:9; Psalms 24:10. God, commanding the armies of heaven; leading forth the stars; controlling all forces - all powers.
Who is a strong Lord like unto thee? - The original word here rendered “Lord” is יה Yâhh, or Jah. This is one of the few places where that word occurs, except in the compounding of words. It is an abbreviation of the name Yahweh, and has the same signification. See the notes at Psalms 68:4. The meaning is, that there was no one who in respect to power could be compared with Yahweh.
Or to thy faithfulness round about thee? - Rather, “thy faithfulness is round about thee.” That is, It attends thee at all times; it is always with thee; it is a part of thy very nature. To all round about thee, thou art faithful; wherever God is - and he is everywhere - there is faithfulness. He never changes; and people and angels may always trust in him. The psalmist then proceeds to illustrate the greatness of his power, and of his faithfulness, in the works of creation. The design of these illustrations, doubtless, is to keep before the mind the idea of the divine faithfulness as shown in the works of nature, and then to apply this to the covenant which had been made with David. The idea is, that he who is so faithful in nature will be the same in grace; that he who had shown such unchangeableness in the works of creation might be expected to show the like in respect to the promises which he had made.
Thou rulest the raging of the sea - The pride; the anger; the lifting up of the sea. That is, when the sea is raging and boisterous; when it seems as if everything would be swept away before it, thou hast absolute control over it. There is, perhaps, no more impressive exhibition of divine power than the control which God has over the raging waves of the ocean: and yet this was the power which Jesus exercised over the raging sea of Galilee - showing that he had the power of God. Mark 4:39-41.
When the waves thereof arise - In the lifting up of the waves; when they seem to raise themselves up in defiance.
Thou stillest them - At thy pleasure. They rise no higher than thou dost permit; at thy command they settle down into a calm. So in the troubles of life - the storms - the waves of affliction; they rise as high as God permits, and no higher; when he commands they subside, and leave the mind as calm as the smooth sea when not a breath of wind moves over its surface, or makes a ripple on its placid bosom.
Thou hast broken Rahab in pieces - Margin, “Egypt.” See the notes at Psalms 87:4. The reference is to the exodus of the Hebrew people, when he destroyed the power of Egypt.
As one that is slain - Slain on the field of battle; as a man pierced through with a sword or spear.
Thou hast scattered thine enemies - At the time referred to, in Egypt; and at other times, when the enemies of God and of his people had been discomfited.
With thy strong arm - Margin, as in Hebrew, the arm of thy strength. That is, by his power - the arm being the symbol of power. See the notes at Psalms 77:15. Compare Deuteronomy 5:15; Deuteronomy 7:8, Deuteronomy 7:19, et al.
The heavens are thine - Are thy work; and, therefore, thy property - the highest conception of property being that which is derived from creation. It is also implied here that as all things belong to God, he has a right to dispose of them as he pleases.
The earth also is thine - The earth itself, as made by thee; all that the earth produces, as having sprung out of that which thou hast made. The entire proprietorship is in thee.
As for the world - In the use of this word, the earth is spoken of as inhabitable, meaning that the earth and all that dwell upon it belong to God.
And the fulness thereof - All that it produces; what constitutes its enireness. That is, the earth itself considered as earth, or as a mass of matter; and all that springs from it; all that constitutes the earth, with all its mountains, seas, rivers, people, animals, minerals, harvests, cities, towns, monuments - the productions of nature, the works of power, and the achievements of art. Compare the notes at Psalms 24:1.
Thou hast founded them - They all have their foundation in thee; that is, thou hast caused them all to exist. They have no independent and separate basis on which to rest.
The north and the south, thou hast created them - All that there is in the north and in the south - in the northern and the southern sky - the constellations and the stars; and all that there is in the earth - in the regions of cold and of heat - far as they extend in either direction. The word rendered “north” here - צפון tsâphôn - means properly that which is hidden or dark, and was applied to the north, because the ancients regarded it as the seat of gloom and darkness. Hom. Od., ix. 25. The south, on the other hand, was regarded by them as illuminated and made bright by the beams of the sun. The word rendered “south” - ימין yâmı̂yn - means literally the right hand, and was applied to the south because the ancient geographers were supposed to face the east, as now they are supposed to face the north. Compare the notes at Job 23:9.
Tabor and Hermon - That is, the west and the east - the former of these mountains being on the western side of Palestine, the other on the eastern, and both of them being objects of beauty and grandeur. The idea is, that God had control of all parts of the universe; that the world in every direction, and in every part, declared his power, and made known his greatness.
Shall rejoice in thy name - Or, do rejoice in thee. That is, They, as it were, exult in thee as their God. They are clothed with beauty, as if full of joy; and they acknowledge that all this comes from thee as the great Creator. Compare Psalms 65:8, Psalms 65:12; Psalms 96:11-12.
Thou hast a mighty arm - Margin, as in Hebrew,” an arm with might.” That is, Thou hast great power - the arm being the instrument by which we accomplish our purposes.
Strong is thy hand - The hand, too, is an instrument by which we execute our plans. Hence, God is so often represented a having delivered his people with a strong hand.
And high is thy right hand - It is by the right hand particularly that we carry out our purposes. We lift it high when we are about to strike with force. All this is expressive of the divine omnipotence.
justice and judgment are the habitation of the throne - Margin, “establishment.” The Hebrew word - מכון mâkôn - means properly a place where one stands; then, a foundation or basis. The idea here is, that the throne of God is founded on justice and right judgment; it is this which supports it; his administration is maintained because it is right. This supposes that there is such a thing as right or justice in itself considered, or in the nature of things, and independently of the will of God; that the divine administration will be conformed to that, and will be firm because it is thus conformed to it. Even omnipotent power could not maintain permanently a throne founded on injustice and wrong. Such an administration would sooner or later make its own destruction sure.
Mercy, and truth shall go before thy face - literally, anticipate thy face; that is, thy goings. Wherever thou dost go, wherever thou dost manifest thyself, there will be mercy and faithfulness. Thy march through the world will be attended with kindness and fidelity. So certain is this, that his coming will, as it were, be anticipated by truth and goodness.
Blessed is the people - Happy is their condition. See the notes at Psalms 1:1.
That know the joyful sound - That hear that sound. DeWette explains this of the call to the festivals and offerings, Leviticus 23:24; Numbers 10:10; Psalms 27:6. That is, says he, those who honor and worship God. The Hebrew word - תרועה terû‛âh - means a loud noise; a tumult; especially, shouts of joy, or rejoicing, Job 8:21; 1 Samuel 4:5; the “shout of a king,” that is, the joyful acclamations with which a king is welcomed, Numbers 23:21; the shout of battle, Jeremiah 4:19; Jeremiah 49:2. Then it means the sound or clangor of trumpets, Leviticus 25:9; Numbers 29:1-6. The word is, therefore, especially applicable to the sounding of the trumpets which attended the celebration of the great; festivals among the Hebrews, and there can be little doubt that this is the reference here. The idea is, that they are blessed or happy who are the worshippers of Yahweh, the true God; who are summoned to his service; who are convened to the place of his worship.
They shall walk, O Lord, in the light of thy countenance - They shall live in thy favor, and enjoy thy smiles.
In thy name shall they rejoice - In thee shall they rejoice, or find their happiness. In thy being; thy perfections; thy protection; thy government; thy favor.
All the day - That is, continually. It is their privilege, and it is their duty to rejoice always. Thou art always the same, and the happiness which is found in thy being and attributes at one time may be found at all times; thy promises are ever the same, and thy people may find happiness in them always. There is no reason why the people of God should not be constantly happy; they who have such a God, and such hopes as they are permitted to cherish, should be so. Compare the notes at Philippians 3:1; notes at Philippians 4:4.
And in thy righteousness - Under thy righteous government; or, in the knowledge of thy righteous character.
Shall they be exalted - See Proverbs 14:34. The effect of that knowledge shall be to exalt or to elevate them in moral character, in happiness, in the esteem of others, and in true prosperity. Compare 1 Timothy 4:8.
For thou art the glory of their strength - The ornament; the beauty; the honor; that is, Their strength derives its beauty and honor, not from anything in themselves, but from the fact that it is derived from thee. The strength thus imparted is an honor or ornament in itself; it is an honor and glory to them that it is imparted to them.
And in thy favor - Or, by thy favor, or good pleasure.
Our horn shall be exalted - The horn is a symbol of power. Compare Psalms 22:21, note; Psalms 75:4; Daniel 7:8, note; Job 16:15, note. The meaning here is, that their power had been derived from God; or that all which contributed to their exaltation and honor in the world, had been derived from him.
For the Lord is our defense - Margin, “Our shield is of the Lord.” The original word rendered “defense,” is shield. Compare Psalms 5:12, note; Psalms 33:20, note; Psalms 59:11, note. The meaning is, that protection was to be found in God alone. The true construction of this verse is, “For to Yahweh (belongs) our shield, and to the Holy One of Israel our king.” That is, All that they had, and all that they relied on as a defense, belonged to God, or was of God; in other words, their very protectors were themselves protected by Yahweh. They had no other defense; nothing else on which they could depend.
Then thou spakest in vision - Or, by a vision. See this word explained in the notes at Isaiah 1:1. The meaning is, that God had spoken this by means of visions, or by communications made to his people by the prophets. This “vision” was especially made known to Nathan, and through him to David. See 2 Samuel 7:4-17. The substance of what is here said is found in that passage in Samuel. In 2 Samuel 7:17, it is expressly called a “vision.”
To thy holy one - The vision was addressed particularly to David, but was made through him to the people of Israel. The ancient versions render this in the plural, as referring to the people of Israel. The Hebrew is in the singular number.
I have laid help upon one that is mighty - I have so endowed him that he shall be the protector and defender of my people. He is qualified for the office entrusted to him, and in his hands the interests of the nation will be safe. This was not expressly said in the vision; but this was the substance of what was said. See 2 Samuel 7:9.
I have exalted one chosen out of the people - One not of exalted rank; one not descended from kings and conquerors; but one that had grown up among the people; one called from the ranks of common life; one chosen from among those engaged in humble occupations. In this way it was the more apparent that the power really came from God. Compare 2 Samuel 7:8; see also the notes at Psalms 78:70-72.
I have found David my servant - That is, I found him among the sheepfolds; in humble life. I saw there one who was qualified for the high office of being the ruler of the nation, and I designated, or set him apart, for that office. The idea is, that there was in him a precious qualification for this work, and that God had seen this, and, in accordance with this, had summoned him to his service.
With my holy oil have I anointed him - By the hand of Samuel. 1 Samuel 16:13. Oil was used in setting apart prophets, priests, and kings. It was poured upon the person - emblematic of the pouring out upon him of wisdom and grace from on high to qualify him for his office.
With whom my hand shall be established - Septuagint: “My hand shall aid him.” Luther; “My hand shall hold him.” DeWette; “With him my hand shall be continually.” Professor Alexander; “Shall ever be present.” The idea is, that God would always defend or protect him. He would not merely interpose at times, or at intervals, but he would be his constant protector. His hand would be permanently, or constantly, extended for his aid - as if it were a part of David’s own person, or were his own hand, to be used as he pleased. So God is the constant helper of his people. They may rely on his power; they may avail themselves of it, as if it were their own.
Mine arm also shall strengthen him - In using his own arm, he will in fact make use of the strength of mine. The people of God are as really defended as if the strength of God were theirs; or as if they were themselves almighty. The omnipotence of God is employed in their defense, and it will be as certainly exerted in their favor, and as constantly, as if it were their own. It will be no less surely employed in their defense in the hand of God than if it were in their own hand. It will be more wisely employed by him in their behalf than it would be by themselves.
The enemy shall not exact upon him - The literal meaning here is derived from the force sometimes used in extorting or demanding a debt, where no indulgence is shown, but where it is exacted to the last mite, whether the man is able to pay it or not. Compare Matthew 18:25, Matthew 18:28. Then it is used to denote oppression, or subjugation, which is the idea here. The enemy shall not be suffered to act the part of one who rigidly exacts the payment of a debt; that is, he shall not be allowed to oppress him.
Nor the son of wickedness afflict him - This is copied almost literally from 2 Samuel 7:10. The phrase “the son of wickedness” means simply the wicked. He shall not fall into the hands, or under the power of wicked men.
And I will beat down his foes before his face - I will crush them, or destroy them: showing that the power of doing this was not his own, but was the power of God exerted in his behalf.
And plague them that hate him - His enemies. I will bring “plagues” upon them: calamities, judgments, afflictions. The word is commonly used to denote those judgments which come directly from the hand of God - as famine, pestilence, wasting sickness, the plague, or the “plagues” of Egypt. Exodus 12:13; Exodus 30:12; Numbers 8:19; Numbers 17:11-12. These are all in the hand of God, and can be employed at his pleasure, as storms and tempests may be, in executing his purposes.
But my faithfulness and my mercy shall be with him - I will at the same time be faithful to him, and merciful. These attributes of my nature shall be always attendant on him, as if they were his own.
And in my name - By me; or - He, acting in my name, and in my cause, shall be exalted.
Shall his horn be exalted - See the notes at Psalms 89:17.
I will set his hand also in the sea ... - His dominion shall extend from the sea on the one hand to the rivers on the other. The sea here evidently refers to the Mediterranean; and the rivers to the great rivers on the east - the Tigris and Euphrates. These were the promised boundaries of the land. Genesis 15:18. David secured a conquest over all these territories, and united all under his scepter, thus securing the accomplishment of the promise made to Abraham. See the notes at Psalms 60:1-12.
He shall cry unto me, Thou art my Father - He shall appeal to me, or come to me as a Father, and as his only hope and defense.
My God - He shall come to me as God, and shall recognize me as his God, his only trust and hope.
And the rock of my salvation - See the notes at Psalms 18:2. The meaning of all this is, that he would at all times recognize him as his only trust and hope, and that he would be faithful on his part to God.
Also I will make him my first-born - He shall be regarded and treated by me as the first-born son is in a family; that is, with distinguished favor and honor. Compare Genesis 27:19; Genesis 29:26; Exodus 4:22; Exodus 13:12; Jeremiah 31:9. See also the notes at Colossians 1:15, notes at Colossians 1:18.
Higher than the kings of the earth - Than other kings; the most exalted among kings and rulers. This was entirely fulfilled in David, who occupied a pre-eminence among princes and rulers which no other king did: a prominence alike in his own personal character and his reign; in his relation to God; and in the fact that he was the ancestor of the Messiah, the “King of kings, and Lord of lords” Revelation 19:16; “the prince of the kings of the earth,” Revelation 1:5.
My mercy will I keep for him for evermore - I will not withdraw my favor from him, nor from his posterity, Psalms 89:33-36. In him, and in his Great Descendant, the throne shall be established forever. This dominion will not be like the changing dynasties of this world, but will be perpetual and eternal.
And my covenant shall stand fast with him - See 2 Samuel 7:14-16; 2 Samuel 23:5. It shall be firm, or established with him and his family.
His seed also will I make to endure for ever - That is, His posterity shall occupy the throne:
(a) this would have been true of his descendants, if they had been faithful to God, and had not revolted from him;
(b) it is true of him who is the successor of David in his spiritual kingdom, the Lord Jesus, the Messiah. Compare the notes at Isaiah 9:6-7.
And his throne as the days of heaven - As long as the heavens endure; that is, to the end of the world. Compare Psalms 72:5, note; Psalms 72:7, note; Psalms 72:17, note.
If his children - His posterity; his successors on the throne.
Forsake my law - If they are not regulated by it in the administration of their government, and in their private lives. It is here supposed that they might forsake his law, or fail to observe it; but still there is the assurance that the power would not depart permanently from the successors of David, but that it would be restored ultimately to that line, and be permanent and eternal.
And walk not in my judgements - And do not obey my commandments.
If they break my statutes - Margin, “profane.” The Hebrew word means to pollute or defile; and the idea is, If they practically contemn them; if they regard them as things of nought, or treat them with disdain as a polluted or defiled thing. It is in this way that the mass of mankind do regard the commands of God. They treat them with no respect; they practically class them among objects that are polluted, and that are to be avoided as defiled and defiling.
And keep not my commandments - If they do not regulate their conduct by my laws.
Then will I visit their transgression with the rod - They shall be punished, though my mercy shall not be wholly taken from them. God has two objects in his dealings with his backsliding and offending people;
(a) one is to show his displeasure at their conduct, or to punish them;
(b) the other is to reclaim them.
All who have been truly converted, or who are truly his people, will be recovered though they fall into sin; but it may be done, and will be likely to be done, in such a way as to show his own displeasure at their offences.
And their iniquity with stripes - The word rendercd stripes means properly a stroke, a blow; then, judgments or calamities such as God sends on mankind as a punishment for their sins. Genesis 12:17; Exodus 11:1; Psalms 38:11.
Nevertheless my loving-kindness - My mercy; my favor. I will not utterly cast him off. He shall not be in the condition of those who are my enemies, or who are entirely forsaken.
Will I not utterly take from him - Margin, “I will not make void from.” The Hebrew word - פרר pârar - means to break, to break in pieces; then, to violate, as a covenant; then, to make vain, to bring to nought, to frustrate; then, to annul, to abolish. The idea here is that of making entirely vain; wholly removing from; or taking completely away. The meaning is, that he would not wholly take away his favor; he would not entirely abandon him; he would not suffer him to become wholly apostate; he would not leave him to ruin. The covenant once made would be accomplished; the promise given would be carried out.
Nor suffer my faithfulness - My faithfulness as pledged in the covenant or promise. “To fail.” Margin,” lie.” I will not prove false, or deal falsely in the pledge which I have made. It shall not appear at last that I have made a promise which has not been kept. This passage contains a very important principle in regard to the dealings of God with his people. The principle is, that if people are converted, if they in fact become his people - he will never suffer them wholly to fall away and perish. They may be suffered to backslide; they may fall into sin, but they will not be allowed to go so far as to apostatize wholly. They will be brought back again. Whatever method may be necessary for this, will be adopted. Commands; warnings; entreaties; remonstrances; - their own experience; the admonitions of others; the influences of the Holy Spirit: judgments and calamities; sickness; loss of property; bereavement; disappointment; disgrace; any of these, or all of these, may be resorted to, in order to bring them back; but they will be brought back. God, in mercy and in love, will so visit them with sorrow and trouble that they shall be recovered, and that their “spirit shall be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”
My covenant will I not break - literally, I will not pollute, defile, profane. See the notes at Psalms 89:31, where the same word is used. God says that he will not do in regard to the covenant as they had done.
Nor alter the thing ... - The promise which I have made. I will not make it a different thing. I will not modify its conditions, or withdraw it. It shall stand precisely as it was when I uttered it. What God promises will be exactly performed.
Once have I sworn by my holiness - That is, once for all; - a single oath - an oath once taken by me - makes it certain. To swear by his “holiness” is to pledge his own holy nature; to make it as certain as that he is holy; to stake the whole question of his holiness on that. That is, If this should not be accomplished - if he should fail in this - it would prove that he was not a holy God.
That I will not lie unto David - Margin, as in Hebrew, “if I lie.” The meaning is, He would be found faithful to the promise. See Psalms 89:3-4; compare 2 Samuel 7:8-16.
His seed shall endure forever ... - His posterity. See the notes at Psalms 89:29. There, the expression is, “his throne as the days of heaven.” Here it is, “his throne as the sun before me.” The meaning is the same. It would stand through all time. Compare the notes at Psalms 72:5.
It shall be established forever as the moon - As long as the moon shall endure. The heavenly bodies are the most permanent objects that we know of; and they, therefore, became the emblems of stability and perpetuity. Compare the notes at Psalms 72:7.
And as a faithful witness in heaven - As the witness in heaven, or in the sky, is sure. The reference is to the moon, regarded as a witness for God. What is said here of the moon as an index of his faithfulness, might be said also of the sun and the stars; but the beauty of the image is increased by the attention being fixed to a single object. As the moon is fixed, regular, enduring - so are the promises and purposes of God. Such were the promises made to David; such was the oath which had been taken by God; such the covenant which he had made. The psalmist now proceeds Psalms 89:38-45 to show that this oath and these promises seemed to be disregarded; that there were things occurring which appeared as if God had forgotten them; that there was not that manifest prosperity and favor which was implied in the promise; but that a series of calamities had occurred which it was difficult to reconcile with these solemn pledges. On the ground of this he prays Psalms 89:46-52 that God would return, and would remember his covenant, and would bless David and his people.
But thou hast cast off - literally, Thou hast treated as a foul, offensive thing; thou hast treated him to whom these promises were made, as if he were a vile and detestable object - as that which one throws away because it is worthless or offensive.
And abhorred - Hast despised; that is, as if it were an object of aversion or contempt. Compare Psalms 60:1, Psalms 60:10.
Thou hast been wroth - literally, “Thou hast suffered (thine anger) to overflow,” or to pour itself forth. See Psalms 78:21, Psalms 78:59.
With thine anointed - With him who had been anointed as king - anointed as thine own - to administer justice, and to rule for thee. 1Sa 16:1, 1 Samuel 16:13. This might seem to refer to the time of Absalom, when David was driven from his throne and his kingdom; see, however, the Introduction to the Psalm.
Thou hast made void the covenant of thy servant - Thou hast dealt with him as if there were no such covenant; as if no such promise had been made to him. The word rendered “made void,” means to abhor, or reject.
Thou hast profaned his crown, by casting it to the ground - literally, “Thou hast profaned to the earth his crown;” that is, Thou hast treated it as a polluted thing; a thing to be rejected and abhorred; a thing which one casts indignantly upon the ground.
Thou hast broken down all his hedges - His walls or defenses; all that he relied on for safety.
Thou hast brought his strongholds to ruin - His towers, fortifications; defenses. The enemy has been suffered to destroy them. They are now heaps of ruins.
All that pass by the way spoil him - The sentiment here is substantially the same as in Psalms 80:12. See the notes at that place. The idea is that of fields or vineyards, where all the fences, the walls, and the hedges are thrown down so that they become like an open common.
He is a reproach to his neighbors - An object of ridicule, as if he were forsaken by God; as if east out and despised.
Thou hast set up the right hand of his adversaries - Hast given them the victory. Thou hast suffered them to accomplish their purposes.
Thou hast made all his enemies to rejoice - They joy or rejoice in the success of their plans; in their triumphs over thy servant and over his people.
Thou hast also turned the edge of his sword - That is, Thou hast turned it away, so that when it is raised to strike, it does not descend on the object aimed at by the blow. The meaning is, that he had not been successful in battle, or had been defeated.
And hast not made him to stand in the battle - To stand firm; to hold his ground. He has been driven back; his forces have fled.
Thou hast made his glory to cease - Margin,” brightness.” Luther, “Thou destroyest his purity.” The original word means brightness, sp endour. The literal translation here would be, “Thou causest to cease from being brightness;” that is, Thou hast taken away from his brightness, so that it is gone. The allusion is to the splendor, the glory, the magnificence connected with his rank as king. This had been destroyed, or had come to nought.
And cast his throne down to the ground - See Psalms 89:39.
The days of his youth hast thou shortened - This does not mean that he had shortened his life, but that he had abbreviated the period of his vigor, his hope, and his prosperity; instead of lengthening out these, and prolonging them into advancing years, he had by calamities, disappointments, reverses, and troubles, as it were, abridged them. No such youthful vigor, no such youthful hope now remained. The feelings of age - the cutting off from the world - had come suddenly upon him, even before he had reached the season when this might be expected to occur. Though at a time of life and in circumstances when he might have hoped for a longer continuance of that youthful vigor, he had suddenly been brought into the sad condition of an old man.
Thou hast covered him with shame - Hast clothed him with shame or disgrace. Everything in his circumstances and in his appearance indicates shame and disgrace, and the divine displeasure.
How long, Lord? - How long is this to continue? Can it be that this is to continue always? Is there to be no change for the better? Are the promises which have been made, never to be fulfilled? Compare Psalms 13:1, note; Psalms 77:7-9, notes.
Wilt thou hide thyself for ever? - Thy favor. Wilt thou never come forth and manifest thyself as the Helper of those who trust in thee?
Shall thy wrath burn like fire? - Fire which entirely consumes; fire which never ceases as long as there is anything to burn; fire which never puts itself out, but which wholly destroys that on which it preys.
Remember how short my time is - The word rendered “time” - חלד cheled - means duration; lifetime. Psalms 39:5. Then it means life; time; age; the world. Literally, here, “Remember; I; what duration.” The meaning is plain. Bear in remembrance that my time must soon come to an end. Life is brief. In a short period the time will come for me to die; and if these promises are fulfilled to me, it must be done soon. Remember that these troubles and sorrows cannot continue for a much longer period without exhausting all my appointed time upon the earth. If God was ever to interpose and bless him, it must be done speedily, for he would soon pass away. The promised bestowment of favor must be conferred soon, or it could not be conferred at all. The psalmist prays that God would remember this. So it is proper for us to pray that God would bless us soon; that he would not withhold his grace now; that there may be no delay; that he would (we may say it with reverence) bear in remembrance that our life is very brief, and that if grace is to be bestowed in order to save us, or in order to make us useful, it must be bestowed soon. A young man may properly employ this prayer; how much more appropriately one who is rapidly approaching old age, and the end of life!
Wherefore hast thou made all men in vain? - As thou dost seem to have done, since they accomplish so little in the world, and since so many appear wholly to miss the great purpose of life! Nothing, in certain moods of mind, will strike one more forcibly or more painfully than the thought that the mass of people seem to have been made in vain. Nothing is accomplished by them worthy of the powers with which they are endowed; nothing worthy of so long living for; nothing worthy of the efforts which they actually put forth. In a large portion of mankind there is an utter failure in securing even the objects which they seek to secure; in numerous cases, when they have secured the object, it is not worth the effort which it has cost; in all cases, the same effort, or an effort made less strenuous, laborious, costly, and continuous, would have secured an object of real value - worth all their effort - the immortal crown!
What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death? - Shall not die - to see death being an expression often used to denote death itself. Death is represented as a real object, now invisible, but which will make itself visible to us when we die. The meaning here is, “All men are mortal; this universal law must apply to kings as well as to other men; in a short time he to whom these promises pertain will pass away from the earth; and the promises made to him cannot then be fulfilled.”
Shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave? - His life. Will he be able to deliver that from the power of the grave; in Hebrew, שׁאול she'ôl. Death - the grave - Sheol - asserts a universal dominion over mankind, and no one can be rescued from that stern power.
Lord, where are thy former loving-kindnesses - Thy mercies; thy pledges; thy promises. Where are those promises which thou didst make formerly to David? Are they accomplished? Or are they forgotten and disregarded? They seem to be treated as a thing of nought; as if they had not been made. He relied on them; but they are not now fulfilled.
Which thou swarest unto David - Which thou didst solemnly promise, even with the implied solemnity of an oath.
In thy truth - Pledging thy veracity.
Remember, Lord, the reproach of thy servants - Remember this, so as to cause it to pass away; he not forgetful or unmindful of this. Compare Psalms 89:47. The psalmist desired that all this might be before the mind of God as a reason why he should help him. These promises had been made to David and his people. They had relied on them, and they were now reproached as having trusted to promises which had never been made. This reproach was consequent on what seemed to be the failure to fulfill those promises; and as this reproach came upon God, and was a reflection on his fidelity, the psalmist prays that he would allow it to come before him.
How I do bear in my bosom the reproach of all the mighty people - literally, “I bear in my bosom all the many people.” That is, everything that pertained to them came upon him. All their troubles; all their reverses; all their complaints; all their murmurings, seemed to come upon him. He was held responsible for everything pertaining to them; all this pressed upon his heart. Compare the bitter complaint of Moses in Numbers 11:11-15. The phrase “to bear in the bosom” here, is equivalent to bearing it on the heart. Trouble, anxiety, care, sorrow, seem to press on the heart, or fill the bosom with distressing emotions, and lay on it a heavy burden. The allusion here is not merely to reproach, but the meaning is that everything pertaining to the people came on him, and it crushed him down. The burdens of his own people, as well as the reproaches of all around him, came upon him; and he felt that he was not able to bear it.
Wherewith thine enemies have reproached, O Lord - Have reproached thee and me. Wherewith they reproach thy character and cause, and reproach me for having trusted to promises which seem not to be fulfilled. As the representative of thy cause, I am compelled to bear all this, and it breaks my heart.
Wherewith they have reproached the footsteps of thine anointed - Of myself, as the anointed king. They have reproached my footsteps; that is, they have followed me with reproaches - treading along behind me. Wherever I go, wherever I put my foot down in my wanderings, I meet this reproach.
Blessed be the Lord for evermore - Praise to God always. So Chrysostom was accustomed to say, even when driven out as an exile and a wanderer, “Blessed be God for everything.” The passage here denotes entire acquiescence in God; perfect confidence in him; a belief that he was right, and faithful, and true. It is an instance of the faith which those who are truly pious have in God, in all circumstances, and at all times; of their belief that he is worthy of entire confidence, and ought always to be praised. Compare Job 1:21. At the close of all kinds of trouble - and in the midst of all kinds of trouble - true piety will enable us to say, “Blessed be God.”
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Psalms 89". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter