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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries

Psalms 89

Verses 1-52


At first sight, a psalm of praise; but, in reality, one of expostulation and complaint. The praises of God are sung in the opening section (Psalms 89:1-37); they culminated in the Davidical covenant. But this covenant has been "made void," annulled. The existing state of things is directly contrary to all its promises (Psalms 89:38-45). How long is this to continue? Does not God's faithfulness require the deliverance of Israel and of the Davidical house from their calamities, and their speedy restoration to his favour (Psalms 89:46-51)?

Psalms 89:52 is no part of the psalm, but the doxology which concludes the Book.

Psalms 89:1-4

are introductory to the first section (Psalms 89:1-37). They strike the keynote, which is, first, praise of God's faithfulness generally (Psalms 89:1, Psalms 89:2), and secondly, praise of him in respect of the Davidical covenant (Psalms 89:3, Psalms 89:4).

Psalms 89:1

I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever. "Forever" is the emphatic phrase. The psalmist will commemorate God's mercies, not only when they are continuing, but always. With my mouth will I make known thy faithfulness to all generations; literally, to generation and generation.

Psalms 89:2

For I have said, Mercy shall be built up forever. A time shall come when, out of whatever ruins, mercy shall be "built up"—raised from the ground like a solid edifice, and, when once raised up, shall stand firm forever. Thy faithfulness shalt thou establish in the very heavens. At the same time, God's faithfulness to his promises will be established "in the very heavens," i.e. conspicuously (see Psalms 89:37).

Psalms 89:3

I have made a covenant with my chosen. There is an ellipse of "for thou hast said," which Professor Cheyne supplies. God's promise to David is the entire foundation of the psalmist's hope and confidence. He therefore places it briefly in the very forefront—afterwards expanding it into the beautiful passage, which forms more than one-third of the entire composition (Psalms 89:19-37). I have sworn unto David my servant.

Psalms 89:4

Thy seed will I establish forever (see 2 Samuel 7:12, 2 Samuel 7:13; Psa 130:1-8 :12). And build up thy throne to all generations. The promises to David were not fulfilled in the letter. After Zerubbabel, no prince of the Davidic house sat on the throne of David, or had temporal sway over Israel. The descendants of David sank into obscurity, and so remained for five centuries. Still, however, God's faithfulness was sure. In Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, the true King of the everlasting kingdom was raised up—every pledge made to David was fulfilled. "Messiah the Prince," eternal King of an eternal kingdom, appeared as the true "Seed' intended, and began his spiritual reign over the spiritual Israel, which still continues, and will continue forever.

Psalms 89:5-37

The psalmist carries out the intention proclaimed in Psalms 89:1, and proceeds to "sing of the mercies of the Lord" at great length. His song of praise divides into two portions. From Psalms 89:5 to Psalms 89:18 it is a general laudation of the Almighty for his greatness in heaven (Psalms 89:5-7), in nature (Psalms 89:9, Psalms 89:11, Psalms 89:12), and in the course of his rule on earth (Psalms 89:10, Psalms 89:13-18), after which it passes into a laudation of him in respect of what he had done, and what he had promised, to David (Psalms 89:19-37).

Psalms 89:5

And the heavens shall praise thy wonders, O Lord. "The heavens" here are not the material heavens, as in Psalms 19:1-14. l, but the company of the dwellers in heaven. God's praise fittingly begins with them. Thy faithfulness also in the congregation of the saints. The "congregation of the saints" is the company of angels (comp. Job 5:1; Job 15:15). Not on earth only (Psalms 19:1, Psalms 19:2), but in heaven also God's "faithfulness" is the theme of song.

Psalms 89:6

For who in the heaven can be compared unto the Lord? God's angels praise him, and only him; since there is none in heaven or earth to be compared to him. Who among the sons of the mighty can be likened unto the Lord? "The sons of the mighty" are the angels (comp. Psalms 29:1).

Psalms 89:7

God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints; rather, in the council of the holy ones (see the Revised Version). And to be had in reverence of all them that are about him; or, above all them, etc.

Psalms 89:8

O Lord God of hosts; i.e. God of the angelic hosts just spoken of. Who is a strong Lord like unto thee? rather, Who is strong like unto thee, O Jah? (comp. Exodus 15:11). Or to thy faithfulness round about thee! rather, as in the Revised Version, and thy faithfulness is round about thee. It has been said that "the two words 'mercies' and 'faithfulness' are the refrain of the psalm." The latter occurs six times (Psalms 89:1, Psalms 89:2, Psalms 89:5, Psalms 89:8, Psalms 89:24, Psalms 89:33), and "faithful" in Psalms 89:37.

Psalms 89:9

Thou rulest the raging of the sea. There is no reason why this should not be understood literally. God's power over the sea is constantly put forward by the sacred writers as very specially indicative of his might and greatness (comp. Job 38:8-11; Psalms 107:29; Proverbs 8:29; Jeremiah 5:22, etc.). When the waves thereof arise, thou stillest them (comp. Psalms 65:7; Psalms 107:23-30; Matthew 8:26, Matthew 8:27).

Psalms 89:10

Thou hast broken Rahab in pieces; or, "thou didst break" once upon a time, i.e. at the Exodus. (For the designation of Egypt under the term "Rahab," i.e. "arrogant," see Job 9:13; Job 26:12; Psalms 87:4; Isaiah 51:9.) As one that is slain; i.e. completely, utterly. Thou hast scattered thine enemies with thy strong arm (see Exodus 14:27-31; Exodus 15:6).

Psalms 89:11

The heavens are thine (comp. Psalms 8:3; Psalms 33:6; Psalms 115:16). The earth also is thine (see Psalms 24:1). As for the world and the fulness thereof, thou hast founded them (see Psalms 50:12).

Psalms 89:12

The north and the south then hast created them: Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in thy Name. As in Psalms 89:11 "heaven and earth" stand for all creation, the whole of the material universe, so here the four points of the compass designate the same. Tabor and Herman undoubtedly represent the west and the east. They present themselves to the poet's mind as standing over against each other, one on this side, and the other on that side, of Jordan.

Psalms 89:13

Thou hast a mighty arm; literally, an arm with might. Strong is thy hand, and high is thy right hand. These anthropomorphisms will disturb no one; they pervade the whole of Scripture.

Psalms 89:14

Justice and judgment; or, righteousness and justice (Cheyne). The psalmist here rises to a higher level—from that of might to that of right. God is not merely strong to do whatever he wills; but all that he wills is consonant with right and justice. Are the habitation of thy throne; rather, the basis, or "foundation." (So Kay, Cheyne, and the Revised Version.) Mercy and truth shall go before thy face; i.e. shall stand ever in front of thee; be thy inseparable companions. Whatever thou doest shall be done "in truth and equity."

Psalms 89:15

Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound. The sound of devotional joy appears to be intended—the sound which went up from the sanctuary in the great festival times (see Numbers 10:1, Numbers 10:9; Le Numbers 25:9; Psalms 27:6; Psalms 81:1, etc.). They shall walk, O Lord, in the light of thy countenance. Herein consists especially their blessedness (comp. Psalms 4:6).

Psalms 89:16

In thy Name shall they rejoice all the day: and in thy righteousness shall they be exalted. The "Name" and the "righteousness" of God form the glory of the Church, and are a perpetual source of rejoicing to her.

Psalms 89:17

For thou art the Glory of their strength; or, "the Ornament"—that in which their strength and might as a people culminate. And in thy favour our horn shall be exalted. Thy favour towards us exalts us among the nations.

Psalms 89:18

For the Lord is our Defence; and the Holy One of Israel is our King; literally, for to Jehovah belongs our shield, and to the Holy One of Israel belongs our king. The meaning seems to be that he who is Israel's king and shield—i.e; the Davidical monarch at the time—being under the constant protection of the Almighty, all must necessarily go well with the people at last.

Psalms 89:19

Then thou spakest; rather, once, or "once upon a time," as Professor Cheyne suggests. The allusion is to the occurrence related in 2 Samuel 7:4-17. In vision (see 2 Samuel 7:7). To thy holy one; i.e. to Nathan the prophet. And saidst. The psalmist reports the words of the vision very freely, interweaving with them thoughts drawn from various psalms; expanding them, and sometimes heightening the colours. I have laid help upon one that is mighty; I have exalted one chosen out of the people. David was "mighty" from his youth—own before he slew Goliath, as appears from his slaughter of the lion and the bear (1 Samuel 17:34-36).

Psalms 89:20

I have found David my servant. With my holy oil have I anointed him (see 1 Samuel 16:13)

Psalms 89:21

With whom my hand shall be established; i.e. "to whom I will give continual support" (see 1 Samuel 18:12, 1Sa 18:14; 2 Samuel 5:1-25.]0; 2 Samuel 7:9). Mine arm also shall strengthen him (comp. Psalms 89:13).

Psalms 89:22

The enemy shall not exact upon him; nor the son of wickedness afflict him (see 2 Samuel 7:10, which has supplied the very words of the second clause).

Psalms 89:23

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

Psalms 89:24

But my faithfulness and my mercy shall be with him (comp. Psalms 61:7). And in my Name shall his horn be exalted (see 2 Samuel 7:9).

Psalms 89:25

I will set his hand also in the sea, and his right hand in the rivers (comp. Psalms 72:8). "The sea" is probably the Mediterranean, and "the rivers" the Euphrates, with its canals and affluents (see 1 Kings 4:21, 1 Kings 4:24; Psalms 137:1). The promise of an extended dominion is implied in 2 Samuel 7:9.

Psalms 89:26

He shall cry unto me, Thou art my Father. My God, and the Rock of my salvation (see 2 Samuel 22:2, 2 Samuel 22:3, 2 Samuel 22:47).

Psalms 89:27

Also I will make him my firstborn. There is but one true "Firstborn"—"the Only Begotten of the Father." All other so called "firstborns"—as Israel (Exodus 4:22), Ephraim (Jeremiah 31:9), David—are reflections or representatives, in some way or other, of the real and only true "Firstborn." Higher than the kings of the earth; literally, the most high above the kings of the earth; i.e. standing to the other "kings of the earth" as "the Most High" to his angelic ministers.

Psalms 89:28

My mercy will I keep for him for evermore. And my covenant shall stand fast with him (see 2 Samuel 7:16; 2 Samuel 23:5).

Psalms 89:29

His seed also will I make to endure forever. And his throne as the days of heaven. "Thy throne shall be established forever;" "I will establish his kingdom" (2 Samuel 7:12, 2 Samuel 7:16)

Psalms 89:30

If his children forsake my Law, and walk not in my judgments. Solomon himself began the falling away (1 Kings 11:1-8). He was followed by Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 12:1), Ahaziah (2 Kings 8:27), Joash (2 Chronicles 24:17-24), Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:16-20), Ahaz (2 Kings 16:2-18), Manasseh (2 Kings 21:2-16), Amon (2 Kings 21:20-22), Jehoahaz (2 Kings 23:32), Jehoiakim (2 Kings 23:37), Jehoiachin (2 Kings 24:9), and Zedekiah (2 Kings 24:19), all of whom "did evil in the sight of the Lord"—forsook his Law, and walked not in has judgments.

Psalms 89:31

If they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments; rather, if they profane my statutes; i.e. make light of them, either in their words or in their lives.

Psalms 89:32

Then will I visit their transgressions with the rod. "The rod" was used upon Solomon (1 Kings 11:14-40), Rehoboam (1 Kings 12:16-20), Ahaziah (2 Kings 9:27), Joash (2 Kings 12:17-20), and all the wicked descendants of David, as sufficiently appears from the history of the divided kingdom in Kings and Chronicles. God visited their iniquity with stripes time after time, and generation after generation.

Psalms 89:33

Nevertheless my loving kindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail. Compare the original promise (2 Samuel 7:15); and see also 1 Kings 11:12, 1Ki 11:13, 1 Kings 11:34-39; 1 Kings 15:4, 1 Kings 15:5, etc. The seed of David was not allowed to fail, but was continued on, until, in the fulness of time, there was born into the world, of David's seed and in David's city, One in whom all the promises made to David could be, and were, accomplished in their utmost fulness.

Psalms 89:34

My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips (comp. Psalms 89:28, and the comment ad loc.). With God is "no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (James 1:17).

Psalms 89:35

Ones have I sworn by my holiness; rather, one thing have I sworn. (On God's oath to David, see Psalms 89:3, Psalms 89:49, and Psalms 132:11.) The present passage shows that it was sworn "by his holiness"—i.e. by his absolute moral perfection. That I will not lie unto David; i.e. that I will keep all my promises to him. God, no doubt, always and in every case "keepeth his promise forever" (Psalms 146:6); but in his mercy and loving kindness he condescended to give David a special guarantee of his faithfulness in respect of the promises made to him.

Psalms 89:36

His seed shall endure forever (comp. Psalms 89:29). And his throne as the sun before me; i.e. shall endure as the sun (comp. Psalms 72:5 and 2 Samuel 7:13).

Psalms 89:37

It shall be established forever as the moon (comp. Psalms 72:7). And as a faithful witness in heaven. Some understand this expression of the moon; but, as Professor Cheyne comments, "Who could witness that such great things were true but Jehovah?" (So too Delitzsch, Kay, and Canon Cook.) If this be regarded as the true meaning, it will be better to translate, "the true witness." Job's citation of God as his witness (Job 16:19) is scarcely parallel.

Psalms 89:38-45

A sudden and complete change here sets in. Rejoicing is turned into mourning, eulogy into complaint. Notwithstanding all the promises of God, notwithstanding his inherent and essential "faithfulness," the Davidical king and his kingdom are at the last gasp. Seemingly, every promise made has been broken, every hope held out of good turned into an actuality of evil. God is wroth with his anointed, has made void the covenant with him, profaned his crown and cast it to the ground, turned the edge of his sword, and made him not to stand in the battle; he has laid his land open to the enemy, broken down its defenses, brought its strongholds to ruin, given it as a spoil to all who pass by; he has set up the right hand of Israel's adversaries, caused them to rejoice and triumph in Israel's disgrace and suffering; he has covered the king with shame, and cut short the days of his youth. How is this? And what is to be the end of it?

Psalms 89:38

But thou hast cast off and abhorred, thou hast been wroth with thine anointed. The first "thou" is emphatic—אתּה, THOU, "the faithful Witness;" THOU, who hast made all these promises, art the very One who has falsified them all—who hast "been wroth with thine anointed," abhorred (or rejected) him, and cast him off:

Psalms 89:39

Thou hast made void the covenant of thy servant; or, "abhorred" (Cheyne, Revised Version). The verb is a very unusual one, occurring only here and in Lamentations 2:7. Thou hast profaned his crown by casting it to the ground (comp. Psalms 74:7). The theocratic crown was so holy a thing, that any degradation of it might be regarded as a "profanation."

Psalms 89:40

Thou hast broken down all his hedges; i.e. "all his defences"—the strongholds, that guarded the frontiers of the land, were brought to ruin.

Psalms 89:41

All that pass by the way spoil him. This feature of the situation recalls 2 Kings 24:2, but might, no doubt, suit also other times of distress. He is a reproach to his neighbours; or, "he is become a reproach" (comp. Nehemiah 1:3; Nehemiah 2:17; Psalms 44:13; Psalms 79:4, etc.).

Psalms 89:42

Thou hast set up the right hand of his adversaries; i.e." thou hast increased their power and strength, exalted them, and depressed him." Thou hast made all his enemies to rejoice (comp. Psalms 35:15, "In mine adversity they rejoiced;" and see also Micah 7:8; Obadiah 1:10-12). Every depression of Israel caused the neighbouring nations, who alike feared them and detested them, to rejoice.

Psalms 89:43

Thou hast also turned the edge of his sword; literally, the rock of his sword. It is not quite clear whether a "blunting of the sword," or a "turning to flight of those who drew the sword," is intended. In either ease the phrase implies military disaster. And hast not made him to stand in the battle; i.e. '" hast caused him to give way before his enemies." The words imply defeat in the open field.

Psalms 89:44

Thou hast made his glory to cease; literally, thou hast put an end to his brightness; but the meaning is that given in the text. And cast his throne down to the ground (comp. Psalms 89:39).

Psalms 89:45

The days of his youth hast thou shortened. This does not seem to mean an actual cutting short by death (since the Davidical king has been spoken of as alive in Psalms 89:38, Psalms 89:41, Psalms 89:43), but rather a cutting short of youthful energy and vigour, a premature senescence, such as may well have fallen upon Jehoiachin or Zedekiah. Thou hast covered him with shame; or, "heaped shame upon him"—"covered him up with shame." The phrase would suit Jehoiachin, who was kept in prison by Nebuchadnezzar, and in "prison garments" (2 Kings 25:29), for the space of thirty-five years.

Psalms 89:46-51

The psalm ends with an appeal to God—"How long" is the present state of things to continue? How long is God's wrath to endure? Will he not remember how weak and futile, how short-lived and fleeting, the whole race of man is? Well he not bethink him of his old loving kindnesses to David, and of the promises made to him, and confirmed by oath? Will he not therefore remove their reproach from Israel, and especially from his anointed, on whom the disgrace chiefly falls? To these questions there can be but one answer. God will assuredly make his faithfulness known (see Psalms 89:1).

Psalms 89:46

How long, Lord? wilt thou hide thyself forever; (comp. Psalms 13:1; Psalms 74:10; Psalms 79:5). Shall thy wrath burn like fire? i.e. furiously, without cessation, till all be consumed.

Psalms 89:47

Remember how short my time is. Consider how short-lived is the whole race of men. Come, therefore, to our deliverance quickly. Wherefore hast thou made all men in vain? literally, for what vanity thou hast made all the sons of men. Another point suggested for God's consideration, as fitted to call forth his compassion.

Psalms 89:48

What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death? Shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave? An expansion of the first clause of Psalms 89:47. Man's littleness, feebleness, and fleetingness should draw forth the pity and loving kindness of God.

Psalms 89:49

Lord, where are thy former loving kindnesses? or, "thy ancient mercies," those "sure mercies of David," whereof Isaiah spoke (ch. Iv. 3). Which thou swarest unto David in thy truth.

Psalms 89:50

Remember, Lord, the reproach of thy servants; i.e. the reproach under which all thy people lie so long as their enemies are allowed to plunder and oppress them at their pleasure (see Psalms 89:40-44). Remember also how I do bear in my bosom the reproach of all the mighty people. The reproach under which his countrymen lie—a reproach laid on them by "all the mighty people among whom they dwell—falls on the psalmist's heart with especial weight through his deep sympathy with all of them.

Psalms 89:51

Wherewith thine enemies have reproached, O Lord; wherewith they have reproached the footsteps of thine anointed. The reproach which rests upon the people rests no less upon their king—upon his "footsteps," his movements, all that he does, "every step he takes" (Bishop Perowne). This is an additional affliction to the psalmist, and emphasizes his last cry to God for mercy.

Psalms 89:52

Blessed be the Lord forevermore. Amen, and Amen. This detached verse, not necessarily from the same hand as the rest of the psalm, winds up, with the usual refrain, the Third Book.


Psalms 89:7

The fear of God.

"God is greatly to be feared," etc. True religion contains three indispensable elements—right beliefs concerning God; right feelings; right conduct. If either be deficient, our religion will be proportionately injured or worthless. Religion without faith is impossible. Religion without morality is a mockery. Religion without feeling is lifeless and powerless. Preaching commonly deals more with faith and duty than with feeling—i.e; affection, desire, emotion—for two reasons:

(1) Faith and duty supply the motives to feeling; faith works by love.

(2) If we concentrate too much attention on our feelings, and cultivate them for their own sake, they grow morbid or exaggerated.

Yet this vast region of Christian experience is far too important to be left unexplored, uncultivated. The affection referred to here is often spoken of in Scripture as synonymous with true religion—the fear of God. Consider

(1) its nature;

(2) its motives.


1. It is not terror; the fear which "hath torment," which "perfect love casteth out" (1 John 4:18). Terror would drive us from God; the fear the Bible teaches begets trust, and draws us near to him (Psalms 115:11; Psalms 22:23; Psalms 25:14, etc.). Ungodly men, in the presence of sudden danger or impending death, often pass in a moment from impious carelessness or defiant blasphemy to abject terror; but there is no more religion in the latter than in the former.

2. It is not a passing feeling, but a permanent habit of mind. It is central and fundamental; for without it love, trust, gratitude, hope, obedience, would lack their truly religious character. Yet we cannot sum it up in any single, simple phrase. It is the temper which prompts and inspires worship (Psalms 95:6). It is awe of God's greatness, reverence of his majesty. It is reverence for his authority, prompting obedience to his Law, submission to his will. It is sensitiveness to his praise and blame, making the thought of displeasing him intolerable. There is in it ever some mingling of that sort of terror with which we contemplate tremendous power or awful danger, though in safety; the precipice over which we nearly fell; the avalanche that swept by without touching us; the storm in which our frail boat would have been wrecked had we not come ashore in time (Luke 12:5).


1. The revelation of God's omnipotence, omnipresence, infinite wisdom, eternal being in the vastness, order, variety, unity, of the universe (Psalms 8:3, Psalms 8:4).

2. Our personal relation as creatures to our Creator (Acts 17:28). By "saints" ("holy ones")angels may here be meant; they share with us this awful, incomprehensible, ineffably intimate relation to God.

3. God's holiness, in itself and in contrast with our selfishness (comp. Exodus 3:5).

4. God's goodness and mercy (see Hosea 3:5, where Revised Version is a paraphrase, Authorized Version more literal; Jeremiah 33:9). Our Saviour's presence, gracious as it was, inspired intense awe (Luke 5:8).

In former times, harsh and terrible views of God were often preached, out of all harmony with not only New Testament, but Old Testament teaching (1 John 4:8; Exodus 34:6). At present an exaggerated reaction tends to thrust out of view the awe-inspiring teaching of both Law and gospel as to the evil of sin and its penalties, and to lose sight, in curious speculation about the nature and duration of future punishment, of the two most important facts—its certainty, and its righteous severity (Romans 1:18; Romans 2:4 Romans 2:12).


Psalms 89:1, Psalms 89:2, Psalms 89:5, Psalms 89:8, etc.

God's faithfulness.

This is the keynote of the psalm, the beautiful strain which is heard over and over again in varied forms throughout. There are pieces of music in which some one sweet air recurs repeatedly, now as if amid the rush and roar of a tempest, anon, when the music has sunk down into quietness; you hear it now loud, now soft, now stirring in sonorous strains, now soothing in plaintive gentle tones; but it is the same air still. And the blessed thought of the faithfulness of God thus recurs throughout this psalm. In Psalms 89:1 praise celebrates it. "With my mouth will I make known," etc. Does it not deserve this? Who is there can deny the faithfulness of God? He is ever true to his word. Let us, then, openly confess it, and in the very confession the conviction of it in our own souls shall be deepened. In Psalms 89:2 faith stays itself upon it. The verse seems to be a sort of soliloquy. The speaker is encouraging his own trust by asserting his belief that mercy shall be built up forever; it shall not crumble away and come to nought, but, like some glorious fabric that may take a long time for its completion, it shall, nevertheless, be built up, and so built that it shall eternally abide. And as to God's faithfulness, it shall be as are the heavens themselves—the very type of all that is abiding, unchangeable, and the reverse of "the restless vicissitudes, the ever-shifting shores, of earth." So did the soul of the psalmist speak to itself of God's faithfulness, and thereby encourage itself to trust in him. Well will it be for us to talk to ourselves in a similar way. In Psalms 89:5 the angels of God praise it. "Thy faithfulness also is praised in the assembly of the holy ones" (Perowne). That is, in the midst of the angels of heaven, in that Church of the Firstborn, God's faithfulness is the theme of their song. Compare the songs of the redeemed as given in the Apocalypse. Let us get ready to join in that blessed choir by our now beginning a like song. In Psalms 89:8 no human faithfulness can be compared with it. "What faithfulness is like unto thy faithfulness?"—so a great scholar renders the last half of Psalms 89:8. And may we not all of us ask the like question? Not but what human faithfulness is a blessed fact; there have been those who have been faithful unto death to God and to their fellow men. Paul, when ready to be offered up, could declare, "I have kept the faith." And there have been many such. But what is the fidelity even of the best of men, much more of the mass of men, as compared to that of God. Hence are we bidden, Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help." Would that we trusted God as we do men! In Psalms 89:24 it is promised to his people. "My faithfulness shall be with him." What a rebuke is this to our wretched yet ever recurring misgivings and fears! It is one of the gifts of God that are "without repentance" (cf. Romans 3:3). In Psalms 89:33 the sins of God's people do but change its form, not its substance. God was equally faithful in the sore distresses which he sent to Israel, as in the great benefits and blessings which, when they were obedient, he bestowed upon them. He will have all men to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). Therefore, if gentle means will not serve, stern ones shall. In Psalms 89:38-51 believing prayer pleads it as an all-prevailing plea.—S.C.

Psalms 89:2

Mercy built up forever.

The psalmist seems to have before his mind the picture of some glorious palace, whose foundation, laid broad and deep and strong, was now uprising in majesty and beauty before him. He seems to see it rising tier on tier, and course on course, and as he beholds it being gradually and gloriously up built, his adoration and Praise burst forth, and he exclaims, "I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever." What did he mean? Probably the remembrance of God's mercy to Israel was present to his thought—how that had been "built up;" more and more added; new favours, new enlargements, new communications of the Divine bounty continually given, until Israel had risen to the height of her national glory;—so had God's mercy gone on, building up their state and filling them with good. In their own history the text had been shown to be true. But it has other illustrations. Take—

I. THE SALVATION OF THE HUMAN RACE. It is the supreme instance of mercy being built up forever.

1. It began in the nature of God. For God is love, and love longs for objects on which to lavish itself. Hence came creation, and then redemption in all its successive stages of mercy.

2. The first promise after man had fallen.

3. The preservation of a righteous seed in such as Seth, Enoch, and those who, called on the Name of the Lord."

4. The call of Abraham, the father of the faithful, in whose seed all the families of the earth should be blessed.

5. The multiplication and redemption of his seed.

6. The giving of the Law. This was to be for the nations as "a child leader to lead us to Christ." And in spite of all corruptions, this knowledge of God was preserved, and by the providence of God spread abroad widely.

7. Then the coming of Christ, of whom all the Law and the prophets did testify.

8. The baptism of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and the creation of the Christian Church. Thus step by step the glorious fabric of redeemed humanity has been thus far built up; and the building is still going on, and will go on

"Till the whole ransomed Church of God
Be saved, to sin no more."

II. THE PERFECTING OF THE INDIVIDUAL SOUL. Trace the history of any one of those whom God has redeemed, and in that individual's experience of the ways of God there will be found further illustration of how "mercy is built up forever."

1. In the circumstances, whatever they were, which led the soul to realize its deep need. The Holy Spirit uses all manner of means to bring this about.

2. In the surrender of the will to Christ. Faith, believing, coming to Christ, are all, with other such expressions, only different forms of stating that the soul has given up its will to God.

3. Then the indwelling of the Holy Ghost. From this results that sanctification which is the "being changed into Christ's image, from glory to glory,"

4. The disciplines of God's providence. All these are parts of the building process, unsightly, unlovely, repellant, having no form nor comeliness in them, and yet in and through them mercy is being built up, the work of God in the soul is advanced.

5. The means of grace—prayers, sacraments, Scriptures, work for God, to which he calls us—all are for our perfecting.

III. THE RECOMPENSES OF MERCY. "Blessed are the merciful," said our Lord, and it is so. Take as an historic illustration the founding of Pennsylvania, and the way in which the Quakers dealt with the Indians. Other methods are but demonstrations of the truth that they that take the sword perish by the sword. And it is so with individuals. God loves mercy, and recompenses it; he will build it up forever.


1. Render praise to the Lord. For mercy is ever needed by us all.

2. Hope continually. For mercy is to be built up forever: it wearies not; it will, it must, have its way at length. Hope, then, for the myriads yet unsaved; God knows how to build them in. And never despair of yourselves.

3. Get employed in this blessed building work. There is room for us all.

4. Weary not in showing mercy. It is to go on forever. If we meet with rude rebuff, still go on with the sacred toil. God's mercy is built up forever: be ours likewise!—S.C.

Psalms 89:15, Psalms 89:16

The joyful sound.

We do not know the circumstances which occasioned this psalm, but we may fitly apply the words of our text to the revelation of God in Christ. Now—


1. It tells of forgiveness. This is the need of all, the indispensable need, and is met only in Christ. Therefore the gospel, which tells of Christ, and his atonement, and the full free forgiveness granted in him to every penitent, believing soul, is a joyful sound.

2. Of a new nature. Forgiveness apart from this would be of little avail. but Christ is "made unto us …sanctification" (see Ezekiel 36:25-31).

3. Of peace of soul—that inward calm and rest of faith which, combined with the consciousness of pardon and purity in Christ, constitute here and now a real heaven in the soul.

4. Of eternal life. Our joy abides. For all these reasons the gospel is a joyful sound.


1. In what they possess. A new and happy relationship with God.

2. In what they are.

3. In the influence they exert.


1. A man's life. "They shall walk, O Lord, in the light of thy countenance," etc. A man must get through life some way: the question is—How? But here is a way told of which is, indeed, a good way. To walk in the light of God's countenance is to have the consciousness of God's love resting on one. To know you have the love of a valued friend is good: how much more that of God! It gives serenity of heart, freedom from fear, confidence of deliverance from all evil.

2. A man's spirit. "In thy Name shall they rejoice," etc. Joy is essential to the healthy life of the soul, as light is to that of the body. Now that in which they who are spoken of here rejoice is the Name of God: "thy Name." But by the Name of God is meant all that which we find in God. "He hath done all things well" is the verdict which their souls promptly and steadily pronounce. The man is born again, renewed in the spirit of his mind, and hence God is no longer a terror or a dislike to him, hut "his exceeding Joy."

3. A man's condition. "In thy righteousness shall they be exalted." Before their own conscience; for it is kept pure and void of offence. Before their fellow men. Is not that so? "Them that honour me I will honour," saith God. We see this every day. And in the presence of God at last. "They shall be mine in the day when I make up my jewels" (Malachi 3:17).


1. For many professed Christians do not; and hence they show a sad and unhappy contrast to what has been said. They do not seem blessed any way—not in their daily life, nor in the spirit of their mind, nor are they "exalted" at all as is here said.

2. The reason is that, though they may be familiar with the letter of the gospel, they yet do not really know it. For to know the joyful sound is to realize and to appropriate it, to heartily believe and obey it.

3. The conditions of such knowledge are: We must greatly desire it; we must prepare for it, for however large our heart may be, the Lord's grace will want all the room; therefore if it be cumbered with other and evil things, there will not be room for him. The Israelites at the Passover were to put away the leaven. So must we put away all known sin. And then believe, trust, and for yourself, the glad gospel message. So shall you come to really know it, and our text shall be fulfilled for you.—S.C.

Psalms 89:17

The exalted horn; or, the secret of strength.

The horn is a constant symbol of strength; the exalted horn, therefore, of strength triumphant. Now, we observe—

I. STRENGTH IS THE GREAT NEED OF THE SOUL OF MAN. Not physical strength, nor intellectual, nor social, but spiritual. There may be knowledge, and good desire, and religious emotions, and holy resolve; but all these things leave a man weak unless they be rendered effectual by a fervent will.


1. Restores it.

2. Sustains it.

3. Inspires it.

4. The loss of God's favour paralyzes it.

We know how the favour of men, their applause and encouragement, puts strength into us: how much more the conscious favour of God! With that there is nothing a man will not do and dare and be.

III. THOSE WHO ARE IN THAT FAVOUR ALONE POSSESS THIS SECRET. We may know of it, speak of it, extol it, commend it, and yet not be "in" it. We enter into it:

1. By coming away from whatever cannot dwell with it; from all known sin especially.

2. By surrender of our will—our heart, that is—to God.

3. By keeping touch with God, in habitual prayer, praise, and obedience. So we enter this favour, and abide there.—S.C.

Psalms 89:19

Chosen out of the people.

This declaration, besides its main theme, teaches us much concerning God's exaltations of men. As:

1. Wherefore God exalts men. It certainly is not to gratify mere selfish ambition. Those who climb up to high places from such motives are certainly not set there by God, and will soon have to climb down again. All history teaches the short-lived power of mere selfish ambition. But one motive we may regard as moving the Divine mind would be his love for the exalted one. Now, there is no greater joy that ever comes to a good man than that of being the means of great good. to others. It is a pure delight, and of intense kind. The love of God would, therefore, bestow such delight on his chosen ones. His chief motive, however, is the good of others. What would have become of Israel but for David? Saul's rule was but another name for shipwreck of the state. David saved it from such ruin. And the good of others, the people at large, is the motive of all God's exaltations; other ends may be proposed and secured, but this is assuredly the chief. The possession of power is, therefore, a tremendous responsibility, and happy are the peoples whose rulers ever remember and practically recognize this. And it is true of all power whatsoever, whether little or great. "No man liveth to himself."

2. Such exaltation generally means great suffering. He who is the supreme illustration of the truth of our text was "made perfect through suffering." And it is ever so. What a terrible discipline David went through ere he attained the throne! Moses too, and Paul, and God's heroes generally. Let us, then, remember wherefore suffering is sent to any of us—that it is for our uplifting; let us take care not to hinder this purpose.

3. How God exalts—by choosing those whom he exalts not by, but out of, the people. The people can rarely be trusted. Go over the list of mankind's greatest helpers and saviours, right up to our Saviour himself. Would the people have chosen them? They would far more likely have crucified them, as they did the greatest of them all. The vox populi is the vox Dei only when it endorses the previous choice of God. For men have seen that God has chosen for them, and they willingly accept his choice. But the main theme of our text concerns:

4. Whom God chooses—from "out of the people." Now, consider in this statement—

I. ITS TRUTH. See this:

1. In the history of David. (Psalms 78:70, Psalms 78:71.)

2. In well nigh all deliverers of the people, from Moses downwards, from Gideon to Garibaldi—they have been ever "chosen out of the people."

3. In Christ our Lord. He was indeed thus chosen. His royal descent from David availed him not, for the glory of that race had utterly disappeared. Hence he was altogether of the people—by birth; associates; social rank; habits; education; by his teaching, which was not at all "as the scribes," but understood and welcomed by "the common people;" by his life of poverty; by his death; all the way along, from "the bare manger to the bitter cross," he was one of the people. It was a slave's death that he died. "He was rich, yet for our sakes," etc.


1. "The people" were the mass of mankind, who needed to be saved.

2. One from themselves would better understand them.

3. More readily sympathize.

4. God is wont to choose the foolish things of this world (1 Corinthians 1:27).

5. Christ's sharing the people's lot assured them of the love of God, and so led them to turn to him, which is salvation. They learned so that "God is love."

III. ITS LESSONS. They are such as these:

1. The approachableness of God. Christ has shown us that he keeps no state to frighten us from his presence. Everybody came to him, and may come to God.

2. The indispensable condition of rendering real help. We must go down among those whom we would bless.

3. How little worth are the great things of the world! Power, wealth, rank—God chose none of them.

4. Christ knows all about me; for he, too, was one of the people. I need not keep away.

5. Adore him. Does he not deserve it? O thou ever-blessed Lord!

6. Help in the exaltation. For his throne, the throne of his exaltation and which he delights in, is made of human hearts. Enthrone him, then, in your heart.

"Take my heart, it is thine own;
It shall be thy royal throne."

Psalms 89:20

David my servant.

The text reads on, "With my holy oil have I anointed him," and right down to Psalms 89:37 we have the repeated declarations of God's favour towards him. Now, this has seemed to many a choice most strange, and sorely needing vindication. The statement concerning David—that he was "a man after God's own heart" (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22)—has perplexed not a few. And we unreservedly admit that—

I. GOD'S CHOICE OF DAVID DOES APPEAR STRANGE. For what a category of crimes his career as recorded in the Scriptures declares! In cold blood he slays two hundred Philistines (1 Samuel 18:20-27). He leaves his wife Michal to face her father's rage, when she had risked her own life to save his (1 Samuel 19:11-17). He bids Jonathan lie to his father (1 Samuel 20:5, 1 Samuel 20:6). He lies cruelly to Abimelech and the priests at Nob, and then left them to Saul's vengeance (1 Samuel 21:1, 1 Samuel 21:2; 1 Samuel 22:9-19). He deceives Achish (1 Samuel 21:10-15). He would, in revenge, have slain Nabal and all his house (1 Samuel 25:2-38). He lies to King Achish, who had given him Ziklag, by pretending that he had fought against Judah; and, to conceal his lie, he cruelly slaughters the Geshurites and others (1 Samuel 27:1-12.). He takes terrible revenge on Amalek (1 Samuel 30:1-17). Instead of punishing Joab, as he ought to have done, he utters terrible imprecations against him (2 Samuel 3:28, 2 Samuel 3:29). He tortures the Ammonites (2 Samuel 12:27-31). He deals cruelly with Mephibosheth, stripping him of all his property, and giving it to Ziba (2 Samuel 16:1-4; 2 Samuel 19:24-30). He violates his oath to Saul, that he would not slay his children; nevertheless, he afterwards gave them up to the Gibeonites, who hanged them (1 Samuel 24:21; 2 Samuel 21:1-9). And then his great sin in the matter of Uriah—a sin in which no element of baseness, treachery, cruelty, and lust was wanting; and yet all the while he was a great psalm singer (2 Samuel 11:2-17). He piously exhorts Solomon to walk in the ways of the Lord; and yet he himself kept his harem crowded with ever more women (2 Samuel 5:13; 1 Kings 2:3). His terrible death bed charge to Solomon to slay Joab and Shimei. His imprecatory psalms (see Psalms 109:1-31.). And we have no record of any great good deeds to set off against these other terrible ones. Yes; it must be admitted that the choice of David needs vindication. A loud professor of religion, and yet, etc.


1. Because the expression so much complained of—David's being "a man offer God's own heart"—refers, not to his personal character, but to his official conduct. "He was called of God to restore the kingdom which Saul had destroyed, to subdue the Philistines, etc. These purposes he accomplished. So far he was a man after God's own heart. His moral delinquencies are recorded that we may know where the Divine approbation stops short" (F.D. Maurice). But we confess we do not lay much stress upon this. 1 Kings 15:1-5 does not bear it out. We prefer to vindicate the Divine choice of David in another manner.

2. He was worthy when the words were spoken of him, and for a long while after. Had he been always what he afterwards became, such high commendation would not have been given. Then:

3. He knew no better than to do as did all others. As to his life as an outlaw, a kind of Oriental Robin Hood, he was driven to it by the jealousy and hate of Saul; and as to his lies and stratagems, his ferocities and tortures, all such things were held lawful in his day; and, though they shock us as we read of them, they were held as altogether right by his contemporaries. We must distinguish between the vitia temporis and the vitia hominis (Farrar), and not condemn the man for not tieing altogether different from and beyond the public sentiment of his age.

4. What he did know of right he mainly did. See his patriotism, his courage, his military ability, the salvation of his country from ruin. See his delight and his trust in God, and his deep penitence for his sin. And see the unbounded honour and love of his people which he won and kept. Is all this to go for nothing?

5. And remember how he was punished for his sins. In his family. His sons had seen their father indulge himself: why shouldn't they? (Kingsley). And in his nature he was punished; Its bent and bias became horribly sensual. Indulgence increased the evil, and so came about the shameful tragedy of his adultery and Uriah's murder. It was not a sudden fall, he had long been tending that way. And in his character. He never really recovered. He shuffles shamefully to his grave; his courage, his self-control, his nobleness, well nigh all gone. One is reminded of King Lear—

Vex not his ghost; oh, let him pass;
He hates him,
That would upon the rack of this rough world
Stretch him out longer."

He dies a miserable and pitiful man, his last words being his charge to Solomon about Shimei: "His hoary head bring thou down to the grave with blood." Think of that as the last words of the David of the twenty-third psalm! What a melancholy failing away! There is no favouritism in God. If his children sin, they suffer, and that supremely. God loves them too much to let it be otherwise.


1. Thankfulness that we are born in a more enlightened age; that there would be shame now where there was then no shame.

2. Strong religious feeling and profession are no certain safeguards against sin, but only heighten its guilt.

3. Repentance may be real, yet the results of sin not be recalled.

4. We dare never remit even for one day the waiting of our soul upon God in watchfulness and prayer.

5. The judgments of God against our sin are his mercy to our soul.

6. He who forgave the contrite David forgives still.—S.C.


Psalms 89:1

A singer in the dark.

The previous psalm was written by a man in the dark, who could pray, but could not sing. The writer of this psalm can both pray and sing, But there is an important difference between the "darknesses" of the two psalmists. Heman suffered from severe bodily afflictions, such as are often attended by severe mental depressions. Ethan was distressed by anxious public or national conditions, which concerned him in an official rather than in a personal way. His hope in God was not clouded by bodily weakness. In him faith could triumph over fear.

I. ETHAN'S TIME OF DARKNESS. "Ethan was born in the time of David, but moulded chiefly by the influences, literary and religious, which characterized the age of Solomon." There is no reason for rejecting the ancient reference of this psalm to the reign of Rehoboam; to the breaking up of the Davidic kingdom; and to the humiliating invasion of Shishak, the Pharaoh of Egypt. Exactly what would then come to the mind of the pious man was that the Davidic covenant seemed to have failed; God was not fulflling the promise to establish David's seed forever. "It was in the reigns of Rehoboam, when ten tribes had forsaken their allegiance to the Davidic dynasty, and the promise of the steadfastness of David's throne seemed suddenly revoked, that the faithful worshippers would most readily recall the vision of Nathan, with its attendant promises, and wonder where were the former loving kindnesses which God sware unto David in his truth. Appropriate to this period is the apparent allusion to the raids of a foreign army." Distress that comes from public circumstances is rather intellectual than emotional, and the struggle cannot be so severe as when there is introduced the element of personal suffering. But they do invaluable service who can inspire the hope of a nation in its dark hours; for nations, too, "are saved by hope."

II. ETHAN'S SONG IN THE TIME OF DARKNESS. A song of faith in a time of fear. A song of thankful memories in a time of present calamities. A song of joy in God himself, when God's ways seemed "past finding out." A man can sing in the dark, however dark it may be, and whatever form the darkness may take, only if he has right thoughts of God, and can keep firm hold on God. Things may be perplexing; but if we know the doer of the things, and have full confidence in him, we can quietly wait until his issues can be unfolded. Our song stops when we lose the sense of God's relation to our circumstances. Keep the relation, and we can always sing of God, and then we soon come to sing also of God's ways.—R.T.

Psalms 89:2-4

The security of God's pledged word.

"Thy seed will I establish forever." The keynote of the psalm is the "faithfulness" of God to his word. "God had entered into 'an everlasting covenant' with David, and had confirmed that covenant with an oath. In the most absolute and unconditional form, God had pledged himself to establish the kingdom of David and his seed forever, to beat down all their adversaries under their feet, and to maintain their throne as long as the sun and moon should endure" (see 2 Samuel 7:8-16; Isaiah 55:3). The psalmist lived when men were tempted to think God was forgetting his word, or failing to fulfil it. But he persisted in it that, whatever appearances might suggest, God never forgot his word, never failed to fulfil his word, and the covenant with David was being kept, in the fullest and best sense, though it might prove to be a spiritual rather than a material sense.

I. GOD'S WORD MUST ALWAYS BE TAKEN WITH GOD'S MEANING. So often men fix their own meanings to what God says or promises, and then they are surprised and disheartened because that does not happen which they expect. Take two illustrations. Men said that God's covenant with David meant that there should always be a Davidic kingdom, and always a member of David's house on its throne. That was man's meaning put on God's words; that was not God's meaning put into his own words. So the Jews read into the prophecies their expectations of a temporal, delivering Messiah, and the Messiah who came was no fulfilment of their dreams. We need to learn that, whatever God says, using material terms and figures, is but illustrative of spiritual fact or truth. David's perpetual kingdom is Messiah's spiritual kingdom. Head with God's meaning, God's word stands eternally true. And if spiritual sensibilities are duly awakened and cultured, the spiritual meanings and spiritual fulfilments come to be regarded as really the only important ones.

II. GOD'S WORD TO SOME MUST BE TAKEN TO REPRESENT GOD'S PURPOSE FOR ALL. Much mistake has been made by regarding God's covenants with individuals as mere privileges of the individual. God puts his covenant into a form for some, that all men may be helped to understand what his covenant with all men is. The illustrative character of all local covenants needs to be more fully apprehended, and more clearly pointed out. "Every Divine promise is but a limited expression of a general principle; every Divine covenant, even if it be made with a few, is nevertheless made for the benefit of the many, and can only be an instance of his ways, an illustration of a mercy as wide as the heavens, and of a faithfulness which extends to all generations of man kind."—R.T.

Psalms 89:5

The Lord's saints.

The Bible writers seem to think that the angels must be referred to by this term. But God's people are certainly called "saints" in the Psalms, as in Psalms 116:15. There may be intended a contrast between heaven and earth in this verse. Heaven above and the earth below unite to praise the faithfulness of God. The term "saints" is one that we find difficult to apply, in a general way, to God's people, because it seems to assume an actual and perfect holiness, which we can neither find in ourselves nor ascribe to others. And, on the other hand, the term "saints" has been deteriorated by its application to the hermit class, who, by bodily austerities, have endeavoured to cleanse away sin and master passion. We have but little admiration for "saints" after that pattern. The Old Testament term has a clear, well defined meaning. Its idea is "separated ones." It stands for all the people of Israel regarded as separated unto God—his peculiar people. Then as "holiness" is specially associated with God, and is his supreme requirement of those who belong to him, God's saints, or separated ones, come to be thought of as "holy ones," and so we get our modern idea of the saint. Giving the widest, and yet most searching, application of the term, we may say—

I. THE LORD'S SAINTS ARE THOSE WHO ARE SEPARATED FROM SELF. Illustrate this by the contrast of the Israelite nation with the Gentile nations. God left the Gentiles to a free experiment. By self-effort and self-service they were to win the highest possibilities of humanity, if they could. Israel was taken out of this self-experiment, separated from the nations and from the self-service. So now the Christian is the man who, in the world of self-interests, is separated from the self-seeking principle. The Christian's Lord "pleased not himself." Christians do not "seek their own." Their saintliness ties in this: "By love they serve one another."


(1) That they may praise his Name;

(2) carry out his mission;

(3) witness for his truth;

(4) obey his will;

(5) catch and reflect his Spirit.

So their saintliness comes to be godliness, God-likeness, and this really is Christliness, Christ-likeness. The Christian saint is the man in Christ.—R.T.

Psalms 89:6

Comparisons with Jehovah.

"Who in the heaven can be compared unto the Lord?" It does not come to our minds to attempt any comparisons of God with any one, because, according to our associations, there is no one on the same plane with him, and so no comparisons are suggested. But in ancient times every nation had its separate deity; these deities were thought, by their worshippers, to be real and supreme, and so comparisons with Jehovah could be made. They were made, by outsiders, to his disadvantage; and they might well be made, by psalmist and prophet, to his honour (see the eloquent comparisons in Isaiah 40:1-31.). Here the psalmist is but assuring himself by thinking high things of God, because the actual present dealings of God suggested doubting thoughts. What God is always steadies our thinking when we are perplexed by what God does. The comparison need not be fully elaborated; the following points may be illustrated.

I. GOD IS INCOMPARABLE IN POWER. If God does a thing, we may first of all say he was under no compulsion to do it. He could have done otherwise. If he has put forth his power in this particular way, we may be sure he willed to act this way, and his will is based on perfect knowledge and absolute wisdom. Of no created being, of no so called deity, can it be declared that he has uncontrolled power, and yet the power is in no way to be teared, because it is in the control of perfect intelligence, absolute wisdom, and infinite love.

II. GOD IS INCOMPARABLE IN PURITY. Here the one idea on which we may dwell is God's truthfulness, faithfulness, to his word. Scripture constantly asserts that God never disappoints men. He is true to his word. This cannot be asserted of any created being, or of any so called deity, whose word can only be the word of some created being representing him. "Hath he said, and shall he not do it? hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?" "God is not a man, that he should lie."

III. GOD IS INCOMPARABLE IN PITY. It seems to the psalmist of Rehoboam's distressed age as if God "had forgotten to be gracious." But he may rest his soul in the confidence that none can pity like God; and if Divine action should ever seem strange, it can only be said that God's pity is checking the action of what, in God, men may think to be severity.—R.T.

Psalms 89:9

Ancient sentiments concerning the sea.

Throughout the Scriptures the sea is regarded as an object of fear; its majesty, greatness, masterfulness, seem mostly to have impressed men. It had not then been tamed by human skill; the compass was not known; the few vessels were inefficiently constructed for ocean sailing, and they seldom ventured out of sight of land. Scripture speaks of "the raging of the sea," of "the raging waves of the sea," of its voice "roaring," of the "floods lifting up their voice," of the "wicked being like the troubled sea," of "those that go down to the sea" seeing "the wonders of the Lord, and his judgments in the deep," of the "great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable." And even when it seems to have a gentler thought, and says, "There go the ships," immediately it adds a note of power and fear, "There is that leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein."

I. THE SEA WAS A SYMBOL OF SEPARATION, AND SO OF THE EARTHLY TROUBLES THAT COME OUT OF SEPARATIONS. When friends in those days were carried away over the sea, they seemed to be utterly, hopelessly lost. We may have to some extent mastered this feeling by making of the ocean a highway, and yet still our friends are more truly lost to us when the sea divides us than when the land does. And yet, in family life, there are worse dividers than the sea.

II. THE SEA BROUGHT THE SUPREME SENSE OF DANGER, AND SO SYMBOLIZED THE PERILS TO WHICH DAILY LIFE IS EXPOSED. The sea is ever raging as if it would devour. The waters sink as if they would swallow us up, or rise as if they would cast us out. In our boats there is but an inch of wood between us and death. Yet our real perils are those which come to our soul's life. "Fear not them who can but kill the body." What the sea may typify is far more important than what the sea can do.

III. THE SEA SEEMED TO EMBODY THE IDEA OF MYSTERY. We can never seem to understand the sea; never account for the sea; never feel sure what it is going to do; never read the secrets it holds in its bosom. It is the symbol for us of the mysteries, often so distressing, so agonizing, with which we are surrounded—mysteries of life, of truth, of duty, of ourselves, of God, of eternity, which compel our life on earth to be a "life of faith."

IV. THE SEA WAS AN EMBLEM OF THE CHANGEABLENESS THAT CHARACTERIZES ALL EARTHLY THINGS. It is well called the troubled, restless sea; and this we feel quite as truly in summer calm, when only gentle winds blow across it, as in winter conflicts, when wild winds raise high the tides. It ever reminds us that "the fashion of this world passeth away." Yet the psalmist could see God restraining and using even the sea, and with this thought encourages our fullest confidence in him.—R.T.

Psalms 89:14

Equity and righteousness.

Prayer book Version, "Righteousness and equity are the habitation of thy seat;" Revised Version, "Justice and judgment are the foundation of thy throne." The terms "justice," "righteousness." stand for the abstract virtue; the terms "judgment," "equity," stand for the applications and adaptations of justice to times, circumstances, and men. Equity is the law of right applied to particular circumstances. The double assertion made concerning God is that what he does is always right judged by the standards of righteousness, and always right judged by the frailties and infirmities of men. Both these considerations help to bring men full confidence in him, and assurance concerning his ways with them.

I. GOD'S WAYS ARE ALWAYS RIGHT TO THE STANDARD. "Righteousness is the basis of his throne;" the distinguishing feature of his rule. "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" If it be asked—Where is the standard of righteousness? we may reply—In man's own moral sense. If he knows right from wrong, he must know right. The appraisement man can make of his own acts involves his power to appraise acts which are said to be acts of God. But this caution needs to be fully presented and illustrated—that the standard of right is not the sentiment of any single individual, but the harmouious sentiment of all the race in all the ages. It is a human standard, not an individual standard. There has grown up in the world a standard of righteousness, which is now well established; by it the acts declared as God's may be judged; and it will always be found that inspired descriptions of righteousness are, in effect, descriptions of the established human standard; and that all acts of God commended in the inspired record will stand the test of that established human standard. It should be carefully shown that there is not one standard for man, and a differing standard for God. Right for God is right for man. Cases that seem doubtful are simply cases misapprehended. Poets may say, "Whatever is is right." Pious men say, "Whatever God does is right."

II. GOD'S WAYS ARE ALWAYS RIGHT TO THE CIRCUMSTANCE. There is a temporary right as well as an eternal right. There is an uneducated right, and a cultured right, dependent on conditions of conscience. There is a right at the moment, and a right forever. There is a right absolute, and a right in adaptation. Illustrate from the mother's idea of right in relation to her child. She has to fit her right to the capacity and condition of her child. There is a right form and setting and clothing of the eternal right. So the psalmist may find God's right in the adjustment of his dealings with the wilful and wayward Davidic king, Rehoboam.—R.T.

Psalms 89:38

Perplexities of present appearances.

"But thou hast cast off, and abhorred, thou hast been wroth with thine anointed." The psalmist may have been reminded of the first king, Saul, from whom the favour of God was wholly removed, and he may have feared that the same sad fate was reserved for David's grandson, Rehoboam, in spite of the very remarkable and apparently ever-enduring promises made to David. Certainly, when he composed this psalm, everything did look very black. Rehoboam was acting very foolishly and very wilfully, and bringing himself and the nation into what seemed overwhelming judgments. The king was humiliated, the kingdom was prostrated, the people were perplexed; all the world seemed out of joint. All depended on the point of view from which the psalmist regarded these "present appearances." He might stand beside his fellow countrymen, and see them as they saw them, in a strictly human light. Or he might try to rise up to a place beside God, and see them as God saw them—see them in the Divine light. Then he would know that "things are not what they seem."

I. PERPLEXITIES OF PRESENT APPEARANCES PARTLY ARISE FROM MAN'S IMPERFECT VISION. He never sees more than parts of a thing at a time; even as, with his bodily vision, he can only see a front, a little of two sides, and nothing at all of the back. What man cannot see often holds the key to the meaning of what he sees. Man's mistakes are imperfect apprehensions. Concerning God, man may search all ways, and yet be compelled at last to look on all the product of his toil, and say, "These are parts of his ways." We never really know a thing until we know it all round, and all through; and we mistake when we attempt to judge appearances. If it seems that God has forsaken David, and forgotten his covenant, we may confidently say," Since God is what he is, that cannot be which seems." Appearances here are deceitful.

II. PERPLEXITIES OF PRESENT APPEARANCES ARE RELIEVED AS WE CAN ENTER INTO GOD'S PURPOSES. Once apprehend that God is the Lord of discipline; the eternal Father who chastises and corrects and trains his children, and then strangest appearances begin to gain their meanings. They are seen to be as temporary as a boy's flogging, and as truly the sign of a Father's anxious love. They are proofs that God has not "forgotten to be gracious." "How did Ethan, in this psalm, find ground for faith, for trust and hope? Simply in the conviction that God had sent these calamities in mercy, for correction, for discipline, and not for destruction." We can never read appearances aright until we read them in the light of what we do know, or may know, of God.—R.T.

Psalms 89:47

The argument from the brevity of life. "Remember how short my time is." This is the argument of an old man, who knows there can be but a "little while" before his passing time, and is supremely anxious to see the ways of the Lord justified while he is "in the land of the living" Compare Hezekiah's exclamation, when told that he must die. As Ethan was born in the reign of David, and lived through the forty years of Solomon's reign, he must have been an old man in the later time of Rehoboam. In this psalm he gives us the last results of a long life of observation and experience. Trusting fully in God's faithfulness, Ethan could grasp the idea that the present depression of the nation was a temporary discipline; but this only made him the more earnestly plead with God that the discipline might be completed, and the restoration might be granted, before he passed away.

I. First argument: BECAUSE LIFE IS SO FRAIL, DO NOT OVER TRY IT WITH PERPLEXING DEALINGS. The psalmist says, "How fleeting and frail life is!" It is a poor thing, very weak; it cannot stand over-much strain. He deprecates too severe trial in the Divine discipline; afraid of himself, lest faith should fail. The calamities falling upon David's nation seemed more than he could bear. He thought about them day and night; they suggested painful doubts. So he pleads his frailty before God, begging that the calamities may not be carried to extremes, and the faith in God, which he longs to keep, be quite overwhelmed. We can sympathize with Ethan. The strain of modern conflict often seems as if it would overwhelm us. We are too weak, we think, to bear any more. Learn of Ethan that we may plead our frailty with God, and ask for gracious limitations of the strain under which we are put.

II. Second argument: BECAUSE LIFE IS SO SHORT, FINISH THE COURSE OF DISCIPLINE SPEEDILY, SO THAT I MAY UNDERSTAND THY DEALINGS, AND REJOICE IN THE ISSUES. It is the argument of one who intensely longs for the honour of God to be manifested, and for the highest well being of God's people to be secured. Indeed, his very intensity puts his faith in peril; for he wants to see for himself, while he lives, God's honour vindicated, and God's word fulfilled; he cannot be quite content with the assurance that God is jealous of his own honour, and supremely concerned in his people's well being. It is impatience, but it is the impatience of a thoroughly earnest soul. God's work will go on, God's glory will be advanced, whether we die or live.—R.T.


Psalms 89:1-52

The general subject—

God's promise to David and his seed

but the present state of things is a bitter contrast to the promise, and a prayer that God would remove the contrast. Suggests—

I. THAT GOD HAS ENTERED INTO A GRAND COVENANT WITH MANKIND. Given us the greatest and most precious promises.

1. Promises that relate to our highest nature. "I will be a Father to them, and ye shall be my sons and daughters."

2. That relate to our greatest calamity. Redemption from sin and pardon to the penitent.

3. That relate to our endless being. The completeness and glory of the Divine work begun in us here.


1. Because the covenant was made out of his love, voluntarily.

2. Because God is true and faithful, and cannot deceive.

3. Because God has the power and ability to do all that he promises. Not like men.


1. We transgress, and bring upon ourselves punishment. The consequences which God has attached to transgression.

2. Our unrepented sins take from us the power to receive the Divine promises. "As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God."


1. He has sent Christ as the proof of this to a sinful world.

2. He sends his Spirit into the heart to plead with us.

3. He is infinitely patient, waiting for our penitent return.—S.

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 89". The Pulpit Commentary. 1897.