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1. God’s character and covenant with David 89:1-4
Ethan announced two major themes of this psalm in Psalms 89:1-2. These are the loyal love (Heb. hesed) and faithfulness of Yahweh. References to God’s loyal love occur in Psalms 89:1-2; Psalms 89:14; Psalms 89:24; Psalms 89:28; Psalms 89:33; Psalms 89:49. He referred to God’s faithfulness in Psalms 89:1-2; Psalms 89:5; Psalms 89:8; Psalms 89:24; Psalms 89:33; Psalms 89:49. He proceeded to appeal to God to honor His promises to David on the basis of these qualities.
The psalmist restated the Davidic Covenant promises in Psalms 89:3-4. Interestingly the word "covenant" does not occur in either 2 Samuel 7 or 1 Chronicles 17, the two places in the Old Testament where God recorded the giving of that covenant. Three key terms used in these two verses also recur throughout this psalm. These are "covenant" (Psalms 89:3; Psalms 89:28; Psalms 89:34; Psalms 89:39), "David My servant" (Psalms 89:3; Psalms 89:20; Psalms 89:50 where it is just "My servant"), and "throne" (Psalms 89:4; Psalms 89:14; Psalms 89:29; Psalms 89:36; Psalms 89:44). Obviously the Davidic Covenant was central in the writer’s thinking in this psalm.
"The background for the Davidic Covenant and the sonship imagery associated with it is the ancient Near Eastern covenant of grant, whereby a king would reward a faithful servant by elevating him to the position of ’sonship’ and granting him special gifts, usually related to land and dynasty. Unlike the conditional suzerain-vassal treaty, after which the Mosaic Covenant was patterned, the covenant of grant was an unconditional, promissory grant which could not be taken away from the recipient. [Note: Footnote 18: "See [Moshe] Weinfeld, ’The Covenant of Grant in the Old Testament and in the Ancient Near East,’ [Journal of the American Oriental Society 90 (1970):] pp. 184-203, for a thorough study of this type of covenant and its biblical parallels, including the Davidic Covenant. . . ."] Consequently God’s covenantal promises to David were guaranteed by an irrevocable divine oath (Psalms 89:3; Psalms 89:28-37; Psalms 132:11)." [Note: Chisholm, "A Theology . . .," p. 267.]
The writer of this royal psalm was Ethan, another wise Levitical musician in David’s service (1 Kings 4:31; 1 Chronicles 15:17-18). The occasion of writing is unclear. Judging from the content of the psalm it appears to have been a time after David had suffered defeat and some severe affliction.
Ethan interceded for the king, claiming the Davidic Covenant promises (cf. 2 Samuel 7:5-16; 1 Chronicles 17). Why was God afflicting David so severely since He had promised to bless him so greatly? Ethan called on God to honor the Davidic Covenant and send the king relief.
These verses exalt the uniqueness of Yahweh. Ethan praised Him for His attributes (Psalms 89:5-8) and works (Psalms 89:9-14). Outstanding among His attributes are His faithfulness and His might. The "holy ones" (Psalms 89:7) are the angels. The works he cited were subduing the flood, defeating Egypt (Rahab, cf. Psalms 87:4) at the Exodus, and creating the heavens and earth. He personified Mt. Tabor and Mt. Hermon rejoicing in God’s great power.
"Tabor and Hermon are possibly paired as works of God which praise Him in different ways: the lowly Tabor (1,900 ft.) by its history, as the scene of Deborah’s victory, and the giant Hermon (9,000 ft.) by its physical majesty. The Creator’s hand is both strong and high (13)." [Note: Kidner, Psalms 73-150, p. 321.]
2. The character of God 89:5-18
Ethan went on to speak of the blessings the Israelites who acknowledged and walked with God experienced. They had joy, exaltation, glory, strength, and security. "The joyful sound" (Psalms 89:15, NASB) refers to the shout of joy God’s people uttered when they saw Him lifted up and honored (cf. 1 Samuel 4:5-6). [Note: Ibid., p. 322.] A better translation might be, "Happy the people who have learnt to acclaim thee" (NEB). "Our horn" (Psalms 89:17) means "our strength." Ethan rejoiced that Israel’s king, who was her defense, belonged to God (Psalms 89:18).
"In many Jewish synagogues today, Psalms 89:15-18 are recited on their New Year’s Day after the blowing of the shofar." [Note: Wiersbe, The . . . Wisdom . . ., p. 252.]
The psalmist now reminded God that He had chosen David to be His anointed servant king. God’s "godly ones" (Psalms 89:19) were the godly in Israel.
3. The promises of God 89:19-37
God had promised to bless David with success and power. He had foretold that David would defeat his enemies and extend his influence greatly. Furthermore, He had pledged to be faithful and loyal to David.
God promised that David would enjoy a special relationship of intimacy with Yahweh, who would treat him as His firstborn son (2 Samuel 7:14). This involved double blessings and much authority under his Father. David would become the most highly exalted king on the earth. Moreover, God would bless him with a dynasty that would rule Israel forever (cf. 2 Samuel 7:12-13; 2 Samuel 7:16).
Sin and disobedience would not cancel God’s promises to David in the covenant. They would bring discipline on the offenders, but God swore to deliver the blessings He had promised David.
Since Jesus Christ, David’s descendant, has not yet ruled over Israel as these promises guarantee, we should look for a literal fulfillment of them in the future. This means He will rule on the earth, since this is what God promised David (2 Samuel 7:5-16). For this reason we look for an earthly reign of Messiah, not just a heavenly reign over the hearts of all believers. [Note: See the discussion of the messianic king in VanGemeren, pp. 586-91.] The hope of an earthly reign over Israel is what distinguishes premillennialists from amillennialists and postmillennialists. This hope rests on a literal interpretation of God’s promises in the Davidic Covenant (cf. Psalms 89:3-4; Psalms 89:27-29; Psalms 89:35-37; Psalms 89:49). [Note: See Ronald B. Allen, "Evidence from Psalms 89," in A Case for Premillennialism: A New Consensus, pp. 55-77.]
Next, Ethan recounted what God had permitted to overtake David. He was now weak and defeated, rather than strong and successful. God had seemingly cut David off and gone back on His promises. The fall of Jerusalem is probably in view, and the Davidic king would have been Jehoiachin.
4. The appeal to God 89:38-52
Ethan called on God to remember David and His promises before the king or his line died. In conclusion, he reaffirmed his belief in God’s loyal love and faithfulness (Psalms 89:49). However, he asked God to remember His servants and His anointed before long (Psalms 89:50-51). All the psalmist could do was wait for God to answer.
When God seems to be acting contrary to His character and promises, the godly should remember that He is loyal and faithful. They should call on Him to act for His own glory and for the welfare of His people. However, they must remember that appearances can often be deceiving, as they were in this case. God was disciplining David; He had not cut him off.
Psalms 89:52 concludes Book 3 of the Psalter (Psalms 73-89).
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Psalms 89". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter