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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Psalms 89

Psalms 89

The Psalmist, in language of joy and praise, calls to remembrance first the promise of God which secured the perpetual existence of the royal family of David, and consequently the preservation of the people, Psalms 89:1-37, then complains that the present state of matters forms a sad contrast to this promise, Psalms 89:38-45, and finally prays to God that he would remove this contrast, Psalms 89:46-51. In reference to other introductory matter, compare at Psalms 88.

Verses 1-4

Ver. 1-4. The Church resolves that she will eternally praise the mercy and the faithfulness of the Lord, because these shall eternally be manifested to the family of David, and through that family to the people, in virtue of the promise which God gave to David that he would eternally defend his family, eternally maintain his throne.

Ver. 1. I will sing eternally the mercies of the Lord, I will make known with my mouth thy truth from generation to generation. Ver. 2. For I say: eternally shall thy mercy be built, the heaven—thou maintainest thy truth in it. Ver. 3. “ I have made a covenant with my chosen one. I have sworn to David my servant. Ver. 4. For ever I will maintain thy seed and build thy throne from generation to generation.” Selah.

The mercies of the Lord, Psalms 89:1, are, according to the context, especially the manifestations of his love towards the family of David, (compare Psalms 89:49, and “the mercies of David,” Isaiah 55:3), and the faithfulness of God is that by which he fulfils these promises made to this family. The determination to praise for ever these manifestations of the love and faithfulness of God, shows that it is not one single individual that speaks, but the congregation of the Lord, convinced of its own eternal duration. It is the work of faith to go forth on the supposition of eternal duration at a time when everything visible proclaims near destruction, and to give expression to the determination to praise for ever the love and the faithfulness of God at a time when everything appears to declare that he has changed his love into hatred, and has broken his promises. The עולם here and in Psalms 89:2, Psalms 89:37 is for לעולם , compare at Psalms 61:4.

The determination to praise for ever the mercy and the faithfulness of God is founded on the conviction that these will stand the trial. Psalms 89:2. Mercy appears here under the figure of a building in continual progression, in opposition to one which is left unfinished and falls into ruins. The faithfulness is established in the heavens, in order that it may, partake of their eternity, be like them eternal; compare Psalms 89:36-37, on the eternity of the heavens at Psalms 72:5, and a similar figurative expression, Psalms 119:89, “thy word stands fast in heaven.” The heavens have emphatically the foremost place assigned to them in the collocation of the words.

In Psalms 89:3-4, the foundation of the firm hope of the eternal continuance of the mercy and the faithfulness of God is the promise of, God to David in 2 Samuel 7; in reality we ought to supply “for thou didst say.” This promise, on which see the remarks made in this commentary at Psalms 18:28-47 (vol. i. p. 310-323), upon which also Psalms 21, Psalms 61, Psalms 132, Psalms 72, Psalms 110, depend, forms the proper centre-point of the Psalm. It is merely alluded to here shortly and summarily, but it is entered upon at large in the ( Psalms 89:19) 19th and following verses. As surely as this promise culminates in Christ, so surely is it significant to us, comp. at Psalms 61; and we may learn from this Psalm not only in general how in the church’s most troublous times we may conquer that fear with which the visible aspect of affairs fills us, by clinging to those promises which the Lord has given her, but may also be ourselves comforted with that consolation which is administered here to the Old Testament Church. The promise of God to David extends to all ages, even to the end of the world. [Note: On “I have sworn,” Arnd: “who does not see here how great is the friendship and how faithful is the love which God bears to man, and how deep the lofty majesty of God condescends when he swears to man? And why does he do this? In order that he may make his promise sure, that he may strengthen our faith and help our weakness;—so desirous is God that we should believe on him and not doubt his promise. In Hebrews 6 such causes are assigned. O blessed people, for whose sake God swears! O miserable people, who will not believe God even when he swears!”]

In a promise everything depends upon the person who promises. The question therefore occurs: has he the will and the power to fulfil the promise? and where it is men who promise, the answer to this question is never very consolatory, often very mournful. Hence the Psalmist, before unfolding farther the contents of the promise, proceeds in Psalms 89:5-18 to praise the glory of God, especially his omnipotence and faithfulness. This independent portion of the Psalm is very artificially arranged. The whole consists of 14 verses. The praise of God is completed in 10, Psalms 89:5-14. To this there is added a declaration as to the happiness of the people who have such a God, Psalms 89:15-18. The ten is divided into a three and a seven,—the introduction and the proper treatise. The three of the introduction and the four of the conclusion make up a seven, which corresponds to the seven of the main division. The unbroken seven is enclosed within the broken one.

Verses 5-7

First, Psalms 90:5-7: The omnipotence and faithfulness of God are devoutly praised even by the angels, his heavenly congregation. Ver. 5. And the heavens praise thy wonders, O Lord, and thy truth in the assembly of the saints. Ver. 6. For who in the clouds is like to the Lord, who comes like to God among the sons of God? Ver. 7. God is very terrible in the confidence of the saints, and dreadful for all who are round about him.— And the heavens praise, Psalms 89:5:—and therefore it is clear of what mighty importance, what a precious treasure, this promise is, the author of which is praised even by the angels, (not wherefore or truly). Psalms 29:1-2, is a parallel, and in all probability the fundamental passage, where in like manner the praise of God by the angels appears as an evidence for the infinite greatness of God. Heaven is in opposition to earth. The second clause shows that it comes into notice in regard to its inhabitants, the angels. The wonders are named as works of omnipotence; comp. Psalms 89:8, where we have as here wonders and faithfulness, might and faithfulness. In the second clause “they praise,” must be supplied from the first. The angels have, as in the fundamental passage Deuteronomy 33:2-3, the name of the “holy ones,” i.e., the sacred and the glorious (comp. at Psalms 22:3), for the purpose of pointing to their dignity, which serves for a basis on which to lay the glory of God, to whom they are devoutly subordinate. The holy ones in heaven stand opposed to the weak mortals of earth whose praise has not much to say. The expression, “the assembly of holy ones,” points to the congregation of God upon the earth, which, in its weakness, sings his praise.

In Psalms 89:6-7, the fact that even the holy ones praise God, is grounded on the infinite superiority of God above the most glorious creatures. [Note: Ven.: “The duty rendered to God by the inhabitants of heaven is confirmed and illustrated by the infinite superiority and excellence of God, in which he very far excels, them, so that there is no room for even any comparison between them and God.”] In Psalms 89:6, שחק , cloud, the singular only here, and in Psalms 89:37, in other passages, שחקים , is employed poetically for the heavens. On the Bne Elim, sons of God: comp. at Psalms 29:1. The agreement in this very singular expression, shows that the Psalmist had this passage distinctly before his eyes. The thrice repeated Jehovah, also, in Psalms 89:5-6, is assuredly designed.

In Psalms 89:7, the אל stands in reference to its appellative sense, the strong one. “The confidence of the holy ones” (comp. at Psalms 83:3, Psalms 55:14), denotes the confidential community to whom God vouchsafes to intrust his secrets, Job 1:6, Job 2:1, though not his deepest ones, 1 Peter 1:12. Notwithstanding this, there always remains an infinite distance between him and them; comp. Job 4:18, Job 15:15. God does not cease to be, even to his holy ones, the object of fear. As the סוד is masculine, and does not exactly denote assembly, the רבה cannot be an adjective, “in the great assembly of the holy ones,” but only an adverb, “very much,” as at Psalms 62:2; comp. מאוד in Psalms 48:1. Those who are around God in heaven stand opposed to those who are so on earth; comp. Psalms 76:11.

Verses 8-14

Ver. 8-14.

The Psalmist praises first, in general, the might and the faithfulness of God, Psalms 89:8, occupies himself next, in detail, first with the might of God, Psalms 89:9-13, dwelling at the greatest length upon it, because it is at this point that his most painful doubt arises, and afterwards at the close with the moral attribute, the truth (corresponding to the faithfulness) which forms the conclusion, Psalms 89:14. In depicting the omnipotence of God, prominence is given first, Psalms 89:9, to the dominion of God over the sea, because it presents, with its tumults, the emblem of the power of the world, by which Israel was oppressed, the Psalmist passing from the figure to the reality, Psalms 89:10; next, the dominion of God over the solid land is adverted to, in opposition to the sea, with which the description had begun; and lastly, the conclusion, Psalms 89:13, consists of a general ascription of praise to God for his power.

Ver. 8. O Lord, God of Hosts, who is mighty as thou art, O Lord, and thy faithfulness is round about thee. Ver. 9. Thou rulest over the pride of the sea, when its waves swell thou stillest them. Ver. 10. Thou crushest Rahab, like one slain, by thy mighty arm thou destroyest thine enemies. Ver. 11. Thine is the heaven, thine also the earth, the world and its fulness thou hast founded them. Ver. 12. The north and the south thou host created, Tabor and Hermon rejoice in thy name. Ver. 13. Thine is a mighty arm, strong is thy hand, high is thy right hand. Ver. 14. Justice and judgment are the ground (on which) thy throne (stands), mercy and truth go before thy face.

On יה in Psalms 89:8, comp. at Psalms 68:4. The Jah as the concentration of Jehovah, is the more emphatic word. The second vocative, moreover, would have no significance if Jehovah stood. The spirit, impressed with a sense of God, feels the necessity of repeating frequently that name of God, in which his being is comprehended; comp., for example, Psalms 89:6. The faithfulness of God is round about him, surrounds him as his attendants, so that he never appears without it.

In Psalms 89:9, the גאות is not “the lifting up,” but the “pride,” as “thou rulest” shows; comp. גאוה in Psalms 46:3. The figurative expression is chosen with reference to what it represents, the pride of the sea of the people. A reference to this also explains the fact, that in such representations of the omnipotence of God, the subjugation of the waves of the sea is dwelt upon with peculiar delight; comp. at Psalms 46:3, Psalms 65:7. It has been already intimated in the summary, that the whole arrangement of the clauses of this paragraph can only be explained on the supposition, that the Psalmist regards the sea a symbol of the power of the world. [Note: Calvin: “And thus when the world is in a state of the greatest excitement, the Lord can immediately bring all things into a tranquil condition.” Arnd: “It is indeed a mighty power on the part of God which holds the sea; and the man who has not seen the sea, has not seen the smallest portion of the power and wonders of God. As now God rules over the sea, he rules also over the whole world, which indeed is a very boisterous sea when the persecutors rise against the church like great waves and billows; but he stills them so that they must not destroy Christ’s poor little sheep. Yea, he also rules in our heart; when it is as unquiet and impetuous as the sea, so that the great billows of conflict, trouble, anguish, despair, strike against the heart, then shall we know that the Lord rules over such hellish floods. Therefore in such troubles we should pray: O Lord, thou who rulest over the impetuous sea, art able to render quiet and soft even my little restless heart.”] The שוא is a noun abbreviated from the infinitive of נשא ; comp. the שיא of Job 20:6.

From the ordinary sea the Psalmist turns, in Psalms 89:10, to the sea of the nations. He mentions Egypt first as a particularly powerful and famous humbled enemy of God and his people in past times; after this, as Egypt got its main overthrow in the sea, the figure and the reality meet together; and after this he turns generally to the enemies of God. By the name Rahab, here applied to Egypt (comp. at Psalms 87:4), attention is directed to its appellative sense, pride, haughtiness, גאות , which had already been used of the ordinary sea. The expression, “like one slain,” is to be considered as equivalent to, so that the proud, haughty person sinks down to the feebleness of a slain man; [Note: Arnd: “The Son of God has not only slain and laid low the Egyptians, and all outward enemies, but also the hellish Egyptians of our sins, which pursue us in great numbers, and whose captain is the devil.”] comp. Psalms 88:5.

On תבל , land, in opposition to sea, as ארץ , earth, in opposition to heaven; comp. at the fundamental passage, Psalms 24:1-2.

Psalms 89:12 describes the dominion of God over the earth in its whole extent. After the north, and the right hand = the south, Tabor lying on the one side of Jordan, and Hermon on the other, can only be considered as representatives of east and west; comp. Psalms 42:6. They were well fitted to represent these on account of the manifest traces of the creating power of God which they bear. They rejoice, because their very existence is a matter-of-fact praise. In thy name,—over it, over the deeds of thy glory which have been done on them; comp. Psalms 89:16, and on “the name of God,” for example, at Psalms 44:5.

In Psalms 89:13, according to the connection of arm, hand, and right hand, according to “thy mighty arm,” in Psalms 89:10, and according to Psalms 89:21, we cannot explain: thine is might with power, but only: thine is an arm with strength, a strong powerful arm.

In Psalms 89:14, מכון is not foundation, basis,—this sense is neither ascertained nor suitable; what should it mean? thy kingdom stands through righteousness? who would overthrow it then, if God were not righteous?—but as always the site, the soil on which the building rests: the dominion of God, is the sense, is situated on the domain of justice and righteousness. The קדם signifies to go before, to come before, קדם פנים occurs in the sense of to come before the face, Psalms 17:12, Psalms 95:2. It is not, therefore: mercy and truth step before thee, or stand before thee, but: they go before thee; comp. at Psalms 85:13.

Verses 15-18

Ver. 15-18. Happy the people who have such a God, a God of omnipotence, faithfulness, and righteousness! Salvation can never fail to be imparted to such a people. For this holy and awful God is, as he has solemnly said and sworn, the protection of his anointed one.

Ver. 15. Happy the people which know the joyful sound: O Lord, in the light of thy countenance they shall walk. Ver. 16. In thy name they rejoice always, and through thy righteousness they are glorious. Ver. 17. For thou art their mighty ornament, and by thy favour thou exaltest our horn. Ver. 18. For our shield is the Lord’s, and our King is the Holy One of Israel’s.

At the expression, “who know the joyful sound,” Psalms 89:15, we must supply from the preceding verse, “in the presence or before the face of such a God;” who knows to rejoice to thee. The joyful sound is that which Israel shouted to God, his king and saviour, with the mouth and trumpets (comp. Numbers 10:1 ss.), at the regular periodical festivals, and on extraordinary occasions, such as in war; comp. Numbers 10:9, Joshua 6:5, Joshua 6:20, 1 Samuel 4:5-6, 2 Samuel 6:15, the treatise “on Balaam,” at Numbers 23:28, where Balaam says of Israel, “the shout of a king is in the midst of him.” We are not justified, with many, in limiting the joyful sound to the festivals, or in interpreting it exclusively of the sound of the trumpet, comp. at Psalms 27:6. The relation of the two clauses of the verse to each other, as is also the case in Psalms 84:4, is that of cause and consequence, not: who walk, but: who shall walk in the light of thy countenance, in the splendour of thy grace; comp. at Psalms 4:6; Psalms 44:3; Psalms 43:3. The face of the Lord is itself the light which brightly illuminates their otherwise dark way. Arnd: “There is great loveliness in the countenance of a joyful virtuous man. There is greater loveliness still in the countenance of an angel; but the highest loveliness is in the countenance of God. Just as parents look joyfully upon their little children, and when they are learning to walk guide them with their countenance and eye, so does the merciful God to those who love him.”

In Psalms 89:16, “in thy name,” as is manifest from the parallel clause, “through thy righteousness” is to be understood as equivalent to “over it,” “over thy glory manifested in guiding them,” comp. at Psalms 89:1. 2. The righteousness of God is also here that property by which he gives to every one his own, salvation to his people. The ירומו is not “they are proud,” but “they are high,” “lifted-up as the right hand of God itself,” Psalms 89:13, comp. “thou liftest up,” Psalms 89:17 and Psalms 27:6.

As it is undoubted that תפארת can only signify “an ornament” (comp. Psalms 78:61, the Christol. on Zechariah 12:7), and עז only “strength,” “might,” we can only translate in Psalms 89:17: for thou art their mighty ornament; comp. “the arm of thy strength,” for “thy strong arm,” in Psalms 89:10, “the ark of thy strength,” instead of “the strong ark,” Psalms 132:8. The אזמו looks back to תעז in Psalms 89:13. On “thou liftest up our horn,” comp. at Psalms 75:10; Psalms 92:10. The Keri תרום “our horn is high,” has been introduced only by an unseasonable comparison of ירומו in Psalms 89:16, and of תרום in Psalms 89:24.

In Psalms 89:18 the confidence which had been expressed in the preceding verses is grounded upon the mighty assistance of the Lord. How can he do otherwise than be surety for him, when Israel’s king is his anointed, and Israel’s guardian is his guarded one? The ל denotes here, as in Psalms 47:9, “for the shields of the earth are the Lord’s,” HIM to whom the king belongs. The common translation is: for the Lord is our shield, the Holy One of Israel our king. But ל never stands in this way before a nominative, and the thought is not sufficiently suitable, as the joyful confidence in the salvation of God expressed in Psalms 89:15-18 is in this way wholly disjoined from the person of the anointed, around which the whole Psalm revolves. In reference to the appellation of God, “the Holy One of Israel,” comp. at Psalms 71:22; Psalms 78:41.

There follows, in prosecution of the subject entered upon in Psalms 89:3-4, a more full development in two sections, of the glorious promise made to the anointed, and in him to the people, Psalms 89:19-38. First in Psalms 89:19-28, it is represented that God had promised perpetual deliverance to the people in him, perpetual victory over its enemies, perpetual dominion; and after that the objection is met that this promise may, in consequence of the sins of the anointed, become altogether null: God has already explained that the promise is in its nature an unconditional one, that he will punish the sins of his chosen family, but that he will never withdraw his favour from it, and from the people in it, Psalms 89:29-37.

Verses 19-28

Ver. 19. At that time thou did speak in the appearance ( to Nathan) to thy holy ones, and didst say: I have laid help upon a man of war, I have lifted a young man out of the people. Ver. 20. I have found David my servant, with my holy oil I anointed him. Ver. 21. With him my hand shall be constant, yea my arm shall strengthen him. Ver. 22. The enemy shall not oppress him, and the wicked shall not afflict him. Ver. 23. And I beat down before him his opponents, and his haters I will strike. Ver. 24. And my truth and mercy are with him, and through my name his horn shall be exalted. Ver. 25. And I put his hand upon the sea, and upon the rivers his right hand. Ver. 26. He shall also thus address me: Thou art my father, my God, and the rock of my salvation. Ver. 27. I will also make him my first born, most high over the kings of the earth. Ver. 28. I will perpetually secure for him my mercy, and my covenant shall remain continually with him.

That the paragraph ends here, and that Psalms 89:29 belongs to what follows, is evident from the circumstance that there it is the seed of the anointed that is spoken of, while here it is only one person that always meets us, the ideal person of the anointed, the royal family of David represented by him.

The “at that time,” in Psalms 89:19, connects the paragraph with Psalms 89:3-4. חזון , appearance is the term applied to the revelation of God made to and by Nathan in 1 Chronicles 17:15, comp. the חזיון in 2 Samuel 7:17. In its original form the promise was directed to David. But it is made very manifest in 1 Chronicles 17:15, and 2 Samuel 7:10, that it was intended not only for him but also for the people. This view of the promise, as intended for the people, is the only one that is kept before our eye throughout the whole of the Psalm; and in accordance with this, the people, as the original recipient of the revelation, are termed “thy holy ones,” and in harmony with it David, in what follows, is spoken of in the third person. All the old translators, many MSS. and editions give חסידך in the plural. The singular owes its existence, as in Psalms 16:10, to an exegetical incapacity. It was felt to be impossible to reconcile the plural with the application to David or Nathan; and to one or other of these, all interpreters, without exception, down even to modern times, have applied the expression, without observing that in the following part of the Psalm it is the people that complains that God does not appear to be keeping his promise, and that it is the people that prays that he would fulfil his promise. When one goes deep into the root of the matter, the singular is seen to be unsuitable. The address cannot be made to David, for he is never addressed throughout the remaining portion of the Psalm. The Psalmist has given no ground for changing the address, which historically was directed to David through Nathan, into an address to Nathan, so that he should be considered as the person meant by the holy one; it would be considered as a step backwards, inasmuch as the language employed in the Psalm does not refer to a decree of God received inwardly, but to one openly promulgated; and there is, moreover, no ostensible reason why Nathan should be termed the holy one of God. His piety has nothing to do with the matter. The divine revelation made through Nathan first goes backward in Psalms 89:19-20, to what had taken place long ago, the first choice of David by Samuel, and there is next connected with this in the ( Psalms 89:22) 22d and following verses, the promise for the future which rests upon this as its basis. The expression “I have laid help” is not to be understood as equivalent to “I have provided help,” but it means: I have on behalf of you, my holy ones, laid help upon him, made him the depository of my help, or constituted him a helper; compare Judges 13:5, when it is said of Samson: he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines. On the term, “a man of war,” compare 2 Samuel 17:10, all Israel knoweth that thy father is a man of war. David was a powerful young man, (compare Psalms 78:31, Psalms 78:63

Luther falsely a chosen one), at the time when his selection became possessed of vitality in his deed of heroism against Goliath. Still we must not limit ourselves to David as an individual. We must rather consider him as the representative of his eternally youthful heroic seed, a seed which reached its summit of perfection in Christ (Jesus = him on whom God has laid help), compare Psalms 89:45.—“I have found” in Psalms 89:20, intimates that the choice of David was not a blind arbitrary act lifting him out of the mass of the people, but a step taken in consequence of a fixed divine purpose. For the sake of impressing this upon the people, God, according to the history of the choice of David, put on the appearance of seeking and finding. The anointing of David with the holy oil was, according to 1 Samuel 16:13, the form under which the gifts of the Spirit were imparted to him, which were developed in the most glorious forms in Christ who at the same time was anointed in him.—“With whom my hand shall be established,” in Psalms 89:21 (compare Psalms 89:37; Psalms 78:37), is to be considered as equivalent to “my hand shall be continually with him,” Psalms 89:24, 1 Samuel 18:12, 1 Samuel 18:14, 2 Samuel 5:10.

In ver. 22 the הִ שׁ ּ ִ יא is “to act like a creditor,” (a נושה ,) “to oppress.” The second clause is quite literally taken from 2 Samuel 7:10, “neither shall the children of wickedness afflict them any more as in the beginning.” What is there said of the people is applied here to the anointed, who receives everything for the community, and without whom the community receives nothing.

In Psalms 89:25, the hand is that which takes possession of anything. The article in the sea, in the river, stands generically as in Isaiah 43:2. The sea and the rivers generally are meant as in Psalms 24:2. The Psalmist enlarges the promise, as the language of prophecy had already done, with special reference to Psalms 72:8, “he has dominion from sea to sea and from the river to the ends of the earth.” As decisive against the limited application to the Mediterranean Sea and the Euphrates, may be mentioned the parallel passages already referred to in Psalms 72, and in the prophets, the clause, “the highest over the kings of the earth” in Psalms 89:27 and the plural “the rivers,” which cannot be explained by connecting the Tigris with the Euphrates, for no such connection ever occurs.

On “He will call me my father,” Psalms 89:26, compare 2 Samuel 7:14, and the investigations at Psalms 2:7.

The first-begotten in Psalms 89:27, as in Exodus 4:22, where Israel, and Hebrews 1:6, where Christ the true David is thus named, is at the same time the only begotten. In the second clause, what is said in Deuteronomy 28:1 (compare 26:19) of the people, “and the Lord thy God make thee higher than all the nations of the earth,” is transferred to the anointed in whom and through whom the people were to obtain their lofty destination. Here also we must ascend to Christ, compare Psalms 72:11-12; it was only a feeble type of the fulfilment that was witnessed in David, compare 1 Chronicles 14:17.

Verses 29-37

Ver. 29. And I set upon eternity his seed, and his throne like the days of heaven. Ver. 30. If his sons forsake my law and walk not in my statutes. Ver. 31. If they profane my ordinances and observe not my commandments. Ver. 32. I visit with the rod their iniquity, and with stripes their sin. Ver. 33. But my mercy I will not withdraw from him, nor break my faithfulness. Ver. 34. I will not profane my covenant, and I will not alter what has gone out of my lips. Ver. 35. One thing have I sworn in my holiness, I will not lie to David. Ver. 36. His seed shall be eternal, and his throne as the sun before me. Ver. 37. As the moon he shall be established for ever, and the witness in the clouds is perpetual.

At the beginning and at the end of this paragraph there is an assurance of the perpetuity of the kingdom of David. And in the middle of it, the Psalmist removes everything which appeared to endanger that perpetuity, by dwelling upon the one verse, 2 Samuel 7:14, what had obtained a very peculiar importance in consequence of the history, the manifest dreadful sins of the family of David, which seemed to imply total rejection.

On Psalms 89:29, compare 2 Samuel 7:12; Psalms 72:5, Psalms 72:7, Psalms 72:17. The expression as “the days of heaven” is taken from Deuteronomy 11:21, where there is promised to the people in case they remain faithful to the covenant, a continuance “on earth as the days of heaven.”

In Psalms 89:30-31 the strongest possible descriptions of sin are designedly chosen in order to express the thought that the substance of the covenant is altogether independent of human conditions, that even the greatest unfaithfulness on the part of man does not alter the faithfulness of God.

In Psalms 89:32, the words themselves do by no means convey the idea of a slight punishment; and neither can this be said of the fundamental passage, 2 Samuel 7:14, “if he (the seed of David his race) errs, I will visit him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men,” i.e., with such punishments as all men (because all are sinners) are exposed to, grace shall not remove him from this the common lot of men, he has no commission to sin, contrary to Proverbs 23:13-14, “withdraw not thy son from chastisement, if thou smitest him with the rod he shall not die, and thou shalt deliver his soul from hell.” The alleviating limitation is here first given in Psalms 89:33, as it is in the fundamental passage in Psalms 89:15. The alleviation, however, is not to be misunderstood as if it referred to individuals contrary to the nature of the thing, and contrary to the history, according to which annihilating judgments did descend upon the rebellious members of the family of David; but the opposition is of the punishment of sin in the individual, and of grate continually remaining to the family. We must not fail to notice that in Psalms 89:33 it is not said: I will not withdraw my mercy from them, the sinners, but from him, the family as such. Now that the kingdom has passed from the sinful to the holy seed of David, the direct application of this paragraph has ceased. The case provided for in the promise cannot again occur. Still there exist between Christ and his church a case analogous to that between David and his seed. As David’s family was chosen in him (compare 1 Kings 11:36, 2 Kings 8:19, Isaiah 37:35, 2 Chronicles 6:42), so that it always remained in possession of the favour of God, notwithstanding the fall and rejection of many of its individual members, in like manner the church is chosen in Christ and the sins of its members may hurt themselves but cannot injure it. Notwithstanding the fall of a whole generation, it always flourishes again and under the most inexorable judgments which are not removed by the appearance of Christ, but rendered more severe, compassionate grace is always concealed.

In reference to the שקר with ב in Psalms 89:33, comp. at Psalms 44:17.

The חלל in Psalms 89:34 signifies, as it always does, to profane. The covenant sworn by God was a holy one, comp. at Psalms 55:20, and “in my holiness” at Psalms 89:35. That is holy which God, the Holy One, promises, desires, and has agreed to. “I will not profane” refers back to “if they profane,” in Psalms 89:31. The second clause rests on Deuteronomy 23:24 (comp. Numbers 30:13), “whatever has gone out of thy lips thou shalt perform and do.” God desires, on the part of his people, truth and fidelity towards himself only on the ground of his own truth and fidelity towards them. All the commands of him who has said, “Be ye holy for I am holy,” are also promises.— In Psalms 89:35, the אחת is not once (this sense, in this case, would be generally uncertain, and it is still more uncertain whether once could be taken as equivalent to once for all), but one thing, as at Psalms 27:4,— if I have anywhere sworn anything to him, I have sworn this. The thing sworn, and, according to the second clause (on which we may compare Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29), the thing to be kept inviolate, follows in Psalms 89:36-37. On “in my holiness,” (Gesenius, manifestly falsely: in my sanctuary) comp. Psalms 60:6.

The “before me,” in Psalms 89:36, is “under the sheltering covering of my favour.”

The constant witness, in Psalms 89:37, is the moon. As God has connected with his own duration the continued existence of the family of David, so has he, in like manner, given a constant witness which would convict him of unfaithfulness, should he permit this family to fall to the ground. As long as the church of God beholds the moon shining, which no more goes out in darkness than the other witness and pledge, the sun, she may be full of comfort and joy,—he promises to her David life and victory, even though he seems to be laid on his death-bed, and the sons of wickedness shout over him as one already dead. Many expositors give the totally false rendering: the witness in the clouds, God himself is to be depended on:—the still more arbitrary view is not for one moment to be thought of, which refers to the rainbow, with which the family of David had nothing to do. God cannot be named as his own witness, and נאמן in parallel with יכון cannot signify “to be depended upon,” but only “constant,” as in Psalms 89:28.

With the joyful assurance of the everlasting continuance of the family of David, and, therefore, of her own deliverance, the church proceeds to contemplate the actual state of matters at the present moment. ( Psalms 44:9, and following verses, are exactly similar.) The contradiction between the present state of matters and this assurance gives occasion to the church to utter a painful lamentation, Psalms 89:38-45. She soon turns, however, from the lamentation to the prayer, Psalms 89:46-51, that the Lord would remove the appearance, of contradiction.

The whole has fourteen verses, the first paragraph twice four and the second twice three (comp. סלה in Psalms 89:48), the four of lamentation is both times supplemented by three of prayer so as to form seven.

Verses 38-45

Ver. 38. And thou castest off and rejectest, art angry with thine anointed. Ver. 39. Thou destroyest the covenant of thy servant; thou profanest on the ground his crown. Ver. 40. Thou tearest down all his hedges, thou layest in ruins all his strong works. Ver. 41. All who pass by rob him, he was a reproach to our neighbours. Ver. 42. Thou dost exalt the right hand of his enemies, thou lettest all his foes rejoice. Ver. 43. Thou causest also the strength of his sword to turn back, and dost not stand by him in battle. Ver. 44. Thou robbest him of his purity, and castest his throne to the ground. Ver. 45. Thou shortenest the days of his youth, thou coverest him with shame. Selah.

It is to be observed that all the objections of the Psalmist are directed to the one point, that the family of David is apparently in danger of utter destruction. It is not anything that had hitherto happened, considered in itself, that disquiets him—all might have happened only in terms of Psalms 89:32—but as foreboding a yet more dreadful future. He is contending only against appearances, and knows in God that he is contending only against appearances, yet the contest is, on that account, all the harder; the signs are very threatening, and, were it not for God and his word, he would be forced to regard it as folly still to hope. No difficulty would ever have been felt by expositors with the lamentation, if it had been viewed as, what it really is, the basis of the following prayer, and if, at the same time, attention had been directed to the light which breaks in upon its darkness out of the preceding praise of God.

The expression “Thou profanest his crown,” in Psalms 89:39, is to be explained by the fact, that the crown was the official badge of the king, as the anointed of the Lord. There stood also upon it, though in an invisible form, what was visible on that of the high priest, “holiness to the Lord,” Exodus 28:36, Exodus 29:6. In reference to לארץ on the ground,” comp. at Psalms 74:7.

In the first clause of Psalms 89:40, the king appears, under the image of a vineyard, whose protecting walls have been thrown down, and in the second, of a city whose fortifications (for this is the proper meaning of מבצר ) have been demolished, comp. Job 16:14. The sense is: thou hast left him defenceless and helpless. That we cannot translate “Thou breakest down all the walls of his city,” is clear from this, that גדרה is never used of the walls of cities, but always of the enclosures of vineyards or sheep-folds, and also from comparing the parallel passage, Psalms 80:12, “Why hast thou broken down its wall (i.e., the wall of thy vineyard)?” It is quite obvious that this is the fundamental passage. In that passage “its wall” (its fence) is an expression for which preparation had been made, as the language used had all referred to the Lord’s vine, and allusion had been made to Isaiah 5:5; The expression in the ( Psalms 89:41) 41st verse, “all who pass by the way,” is also borrowed from the eightieth Psalm. Those quotations in the Psalm before us from the eightieth Psalm, quotations which ft is impossible to mistake, show that we formed a right judgment as to the age of that Psalm. Had it referred, according to the assumption of several, to the Chaldean catastrophe, it would have been later than the Psalm before us. The sense of destruction, ruin, is commonly given here to מחתה . But this sense is not well ascertained, and the ordinary sense, terror, is also here very suitable: thou causest his fortifications to be terrified before the enemy, and to be removed; comp. Jeremiah 1, “the fortification is confounded and dismayed.”

In Psalms 89:41, “the passers by” are the nations of the Asiatic kings who visited Judah in marching through against the king of Egypt (comp. at the fundamental passage), the neighbours, the surrounding nations who, on a former occasion, approached David and Solomon with reverence, and paid tribute; comp. 2 Samuel 8:2; 1 Kings 5:1; now they despise the anointed of the Lord in his disgracefully degraded condition, comp. Psalms 80:6; Psalms 88:8.

In Psalms 89:42 the Psalmist complains that the anointed of the Lord missed the fulfilment of the prayer, “let not mine enemies triumph over me,” which appeared to have been secured to him for all eternity. But it is well for him that he derives all the sufferings of the anointed singly and alone from the Lord, and considers human enemies only as instruments in his hands. This is the first foundation of the hope of deliverance.

The expression, “thou causest his sword to turn back” in Psalms 89:43, is illustrated by 2 Samuel 1:22, “the sword of Saul returned not empty.” The sword returns back ashamed when it does not pierce. The rock or the stone (comp. at Psalms 18:2) of his sword, is his sword which, according to the promise, Psalms 89:22-23, and through means of the rock of salvation, Psalms 89:27, should have been unchangeably firm and sure. The whole meaning is: the edge of his sword is as it were unaccountably turned away. The צור means always a stone, even in Joshua 5:2-3.

In the first clause of Psalms 89:44, the suffix is to be supplemented out of what precedes, comp. the אנית in Psalms 88:7: thou hast caused him to cease from his purity, thou hast robbed him of his splendour, comp. Ezekiel 34:10. The explanation, thou hast robbed from his splendour a part of it, gives a flat, and hence in the connection an unsuitable meaning.—”Thou hast shortened the days of his youth,” in Psalms 89:45, is equivalent to, thou hast made him, thine anointed, old before the time, whereas according to Psalms 89:19 he should have been eternally young. The youth is alluded to as the season of strength, comp. Job 33:25. Old age, as the season of feebleness, here referred to in connection with the anointed, is in other passages spoken of in connection with the church in the same view, comp. at Psalms 71:9, Psalms 71:18, Hosea 7:9, “Old age whitens his hair, and he knows it not.” In Christ the family of David returned to the strength of youth, which had apparently vanished. “Its flesh became again as that of a little child.” Several expositors altogether erroneously refer to this or that Jewish king before the captivity, who reigned only a short while. The Psalmist has to do throughout, not with a single individual, but with the whole race.

Verses 46-51

Ver. 46. How long, O Lord, wilt thou hide thyself for ever, shall thine anger burn like fire? Ver. 47. Remember how short my life is, wherefore hast thou created all the children of men in vain? Ver. 48. Where is the man who lives and does not see death? who delivers his soul from the hand of sheol? Selah. Ver. 49. Where are thy early tender mercies, O Lord, which thou didst swear to David in thy faithfulness? Ver. 50. Remember, Lord, the reproach of thy servant, that I bear in my bosom all the many nations. Ver. 51, That thine enemies reproach, O Lord, that they reproach the footsteps of thine anointed.

On “how long—always,” in Psalms 89:46, comp. at Psalms 13:1; Psalms 79:5. [Note: Arnd: “Is it not an odd thing that when we see a fire break out we are terrified and run, and every man looks after what is his own, yet no man will be terrified at the fire of the wrath of God? Whereas every man should rather help to quench the wrath of God by prayer and true repentance, and after this consider that he has a gracious God, and one who is not angry with him. And if this were so it would be well with us all, and the common fire of the wrath of God would be extinguished.”]

In Psalms 89:47-48, the prayer that God would not further withhold his favour from his anointed, and from the church in him, is founded on the shortness of human life, as is the case very often with similar prayers in the book of Job, for example, Job 7:6, “remember that my life is a breath, mine eye will not return to see good,” Job 14:1, s., comp. at Psalms 39, Psalms 78:39. It would be hard if God were to fill up entirely with sufferings, in the case of his own people, the short span of time which man has to live. [Note: Arnd: Thou wilt be long angry, and our life is so short. And truly, beloved Christians, there is a high, immeasureable, noble way and disposition in the most high God, there is such great long-suffering and compassion with him, that when a man holds up before him his nothingness and his deep misery, he does not punish us as we have well deserved, but thinks, what should I do with poor dust and ashes, why should I be angry with dust.”] The first clause of Psalms 89:47 is to be explained: remember, I, what life, i.e., what I have to live, how short my existence is; comp. the fundamental passage, Psalms 39:5, “behold as an hand-breadth thou makest my days, and my life is as non-existence before thee.” Some hasty critics would read instead of &#אני אדוני , O Lord. But the Psalmist is not so prodigal of his addresses to God, and the אני cannot be dispensed with, more especially as the חלד , properly existence or continuance, does not exactly point out human life. Even in the fundamental passage the language used does not apply to human life generally, but to the life of the Psalmist, who speaks here in the name of every individual member of the Church. In the second clause על מה stands in its usual sense, why; שוא adverbially, in vain, as Psalms 127:1-2. We are to suppose added: as would be the case, wert thou to give over man in perpetuity to misery. The expression, therefore, “why hast thou,” &c., is in reality as much as “yet will not have been made in vain.” Even here the rich background of salvation after death is concealed before the eye of the Psalmist. It must first be made perfectly manifest in Christ.

The former tender mercies are those which God manifested to David in the early part of his history, and which were pledges of the future, all the more on this account that God had sworn his favour in perpetuity to David. In the second clause the former (tender mercies) are not the object directly contemplated; it is only the idea of the general favour of God that is there placed before the mind. [Note: Calvin: “God had attested the faithfulness of his word by clear proofs, and therefore believers present before him both the promise and its numerous effects.”]

That the many nations in the second clause of Psalms 89:50 are referred to in connection with the reproach which they cast upon the people of God is clear from the first clause. But to supply grammatically the reproach from the preceding clause, “ all (the reproach) of the many nations” is hard and flat:—such a resumption of the st. constr. in a subsequent clause is altogether without example; Job 26:10, to which Ewald refers, has nothing to the point. The Church of the Lord has, as it were, many nations in its bosom ( Psalms 79:1), in the reproach which she suffers from them.

Psalms 89:51 is still dependant upon “remember” in Psalms 89:50. The אשר is that, comp. Ewald § 597. It is emphatically shown that the enemies of the king, as he is the anointed of God, are the enemies of God. The footsteps of thine anointed ( Psalms 77:20)—him wherever he goes and wherever he stands.

Psalms 89:52 does not at all belong to the Psalm, but contains the doxology which concludes the third book. Hitherto the arrangement of the Psalms has presented no difficulty. The first book contains the Davidic Jehovah-Psalms; the second the Elohim Psalms of the singers of David, the sons of Korah, Psalms 42:1 to Psalms 49:20, Asaph, Psalms 50, then his own Elohim Psalms; the third book, the Jehovah Psalms of his singers, Asaph, Psalms 73-83, the sons of Korah, Psalms 84, 89. The Elohim-Psalms are designedly enclosed on both sides by the Jehovah-Psalms.

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 89". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/psalms-89.html.