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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Psalms 89

Maschil of Ethan the Ezrahite.

Evidently this psalm, with Psalms 88:0, are parts of one whole, as we have seen. See introduction to Psalms 88:0. Ethan, the author of this, and Heman, the author of that, both Ezrahites or Zarhites, must be regarded as descendants of Zerah, or Zarah, son of Judah, who was twin brother to Pharez, the ancestor of David, (compare Genesis 38:24-30; 1 Chronicles 2:4; 1 Chronicles 2:6; Ruth 4:18-22,) and, being intimately allied to the royal family, were taken captives to Babylon, with all of the king’s household and nobility, by Nebuchadnezzar. 2 Kings 24:11; 2 Kings 24:14-16; Jeremiah 52:28-30; Daniel 1:3. Both psalms appear to have been written by public officers who entered deeply into government views, especially concerning the perpetuity of the house of David. Compare Psalms 89:3-4; Psalms 89:19-29, with 2 Samuel 7:0. Indeed, Psalms 89:0 exhibits faith straggling to maintain a standing on this ancient covenant (of 2 Samuel 7:0) against all the contradictory dispensations of the present, while Psalms 88:0 had already gone down to the lowest depths of despondency, and reckoned the nation as “prostrate among the dead, like the slain in battle.” See on Psalms 88:5. The political tone, if we may so speak, of these psalms, suits well the strong individuality of Judah among the tribes, and the royal house of David in the government.

The psalmist joyfully and thankfully pleads the perfections of God, his faithfulness, especially to the covenant of David, on which he bases his hope for the nation, Psalms 89:1-37; urges the sad contrast to this in their present condition, Psalms 89:38-45; and pleads earnestly for divine interference and the vindication of his reproached name and apparently doubted fidelity, ending with an emphatic doxology, Psalms 89:46-52.

TITLE: Maschil of Ethan the Ezrahite An instructive psalm of Ethan, son [or descendant] of Zerah, [or Ezrah.] See preceding introduction, and introduction to Psalms 88:0

Verse 1

1. Mercies… faithfulness The two pillars of the psalmist’s hope. On these the covenant with David (Psalms 89:3) rested, and in them it originated. These shall be the theme of his song for ever. Though now the covenant seems forgotten, faith steadily looks to the promise.

Verse 2

2. For I… said Faith said, on the authority of the word of promise. The Septuagint changes to the second person: “For thou [Lord] hast said.”

Mercy shall be built up The work of mercy shall go steadily forward, though much may appear to hinder.

Establish in the… heavens Or, As to the heavens, thou wilt establish thy faithfulness in them. The “heavens” may be mentioned as the seat of authority, and for settling the divine counsels, or as illustrating the faithfulness of God by the order and harmony of the celestial bodies. Psalms 119:89-91; Psalms 36:5

Verse 3

3. I have made a covenant God speaks, reaffirming his promise. 2 Samuel 7:0

Verse 4

4. Build up thy throne The figure of a building carries the idea of prosperity and permanency.

To all generations The phrase is parallel to עולם , ( ‘olam,) eternity, in the previous sentence. This stability and perpetuity of David’s throne is realized only in the spiritual sense, through Christ, the son of David, according to Acts 2:30; Acts 13:32-37; Acts 15:16

Verse 5

5. The heavens Here to be understood as the abode of God and his angels, and by metonomy put for the inhabitants of heaven, the angels and saints. From this to Psalms 89:14 the perfections of God are confessed, and illustrated by allusions to nature and to history.

Thy faithfulness… in the congregation of the saints That is, the holy beings in heaven shall celebrate the “faithfulness” of God toward his Church. The idea is parallel to Ephesians 3:10

Verse 6

6. Who in the heaven This recognises orders of created beings in “heaven.” To say glorified saints are not included, is to deny that they are in “heaven.” See notes on Psalms 16:3; Psalms 73:25.

Sons of the mighty Hebrew, Sons of God. So in Psalms 29:1, “O ye mighty,” is O sons of God, an advance upon “who in heaven,” which included all orders whatsoever, while this designates angels, specially the higher order, archangels. These are created beings messengers of God doing his will. The supremacy of God over nature and all orders of being is pure theism.

Verse 7

7. Assembly of the saints The council of his holy ones. The idea is, that those who are admitted as a privy council to the most intimate knowledge of the divine purposes are those who reverence him most.

Verse 8

8. Thy faithfulness round about thee Compare Isaiah 11:5: “Faithfulness the girdle of his reins.” But the idea here is, On all sides the evidences of thy “faithfulness” appear.

Verse 9

9. Thou rulest the raging of the sea And therefore canst control the passions of men and the ambition of princes.

Verse 10

10. Rahab Poetic name of Egypt, as a symbol of pride, or tumultuous violence. Psalms 87:4; compare Isaiah 51:9. In Job 26:12, it is translated “the proud,” where it should be “Egypt,” probably alluding to the passage of the Red Sea; if the book of Job would allow so late a date.

Broken Rahab… as one that is slain The version of Gerard is better, founded on the Arabic derivatives of the word: “Thou, like a warrior, hast crushed Rahab.”

Verse 11

11. The heavens are thine The universe is again, as in Psalms 89:5, brought in to illustrate the power of God over all things.

Verse 12

12. Tabor and Hermon Not the “Little Hermon,” south of Tabor, as some have supposed, but the celebrated spur of Anti-Lebanon of that name, both mentioned poetically as representative mountains, the former for its beauty, the latter for its grandeur. These shall rejoice shout for joy leading the anthem of the mountains in Jehovah’s praise for his glorious deeds toward his people.

Verse 14

14. Justice and judgment The former the principle, the latter the administration, of righteousness.

Habitation The restingplace, the foundation of thy throne.

Mercy and truth The same as the “mercies” and “faithfulness” in Psalms 89:1, which the author makes the theme of his psalm. God’s mercy must always be in harmony with his justice, judgment, and truth.

Verse 15

15. Joyful sound The word means, loud shouting, or noise of trumpets, whether for triumph, signal of battle, or alarm. The allusion here is to the sounding of trumpets accompanied with shouting, to announce a feast and call the people to worship. See on “the feast of trumpets,” (Leviticus 23:24; Numbers 29:1,) where the word is rendered blowing of trumpets, and the “year of jubilee;” also, Numbers 25:9, where the same word is jubilee in the common version. But the true idea of the text is given by French and Skinner: “Happy the people who are familiar with the sound of the trumpet inviting them to join in the celebration of their religious observances.” The figure is easily transferred to Christian times.

Verse 16

16. They rejoice all the day Psalms 89:16-18 describe the happiness of the people who delight in God, and are familiar with the “joyful sound” calling them to his worship. Psalms 89:15

Verse 19

19. Then thou spakest Either read, Then, at that time, thou spakest, which connects with Psalms 89:3-4; or, Once, of old, “thou spakest.”

I have laid help I have delegated power, commissioned.

Mighty A strong man, a warrior. See 2 Samuel 17:10.

Chosen… of the people Literally, A young man, one full of vigour one fit for war. Psalms 78:31. These are designations of the kingly qualities of David, at once a mighty man and a youth, (1 Samuel 16:11-12;) but there is also a foregleam of Christ as the prototype. From Psalms 89:19-37 the covenant of God with David (2 Samuel 7:0) is particularly rehearsed as the ground of the nation’s hope, now in their extremity.

Verse 20

20. Anointed him The consecration of David with holy oil, by an acknowledged prophet of God, placed his title to the throne beyond all question. This was in accordance with the theocracy, and to this the people bowed. 1 Samuel 16:12-13

Verse 21

21. Established… strengthen him God, having anointed him for the office, now pledges continued and adequate help. Thus far he speaks in general terms; the particulars follow.

Verse 22

22. Shall not exact upon him Shall not levy tribute.

Afflict him Oppress, or maltreat him. Compare 2 Samuel 7:10. Such was God’s purpose, and only the unbelief and disobedience of the people ever suspended or reversed the decree. The Herodians, in Christ’s time, were a political sect who held it was lawful for a Jew to pay tribute and submit to a heathen government, (Matthew 22:16-17,) but the nation never accepted the doctrine.

Verse 24

24. His horn be exalted A phrase denoting elevation to honour, prosperity, and victory. The figure is based upon the horn of the buffalo as an emblem of power, and to the lofty tossing of the “horn” as a token of defiant strength and victory.

Verse 25

25. Sea The Mediterranean.

Rivers Historically construed, the plural form of this word must be accepted here in the same sense as the well-known dual Naharaim, which is a standing designation of the Euphrates and Tigris, as in the proper name Aram-Naharaim, or Aram, (that is, “the high-lands,”) of the two rivers, same as Mesopotamia, Genesis 24:10; Deuteronomy 23:4; Judges 3:8; Psalms 60:0, title. In this sense it describes, geographically, the eastern limit of the dominion of David and Solomon. 1 Kings 4:21; Ezra 4:20; Psalms 80:11. But prophetically, as applied to Messiah, the sense is general, and the description sets forth a universal empire, as in Psalms 72:8

Verse 27

27. Firstborn Here, again, Christ must be understood, of whom David only becomes the feeble type. Comp. 2 Samuel 7:14; Psalms 2:7; Colossians 1:15; Colossians 1:18; Hebrews 1:5.

Higher than the kings of the earth Parallel to “firstborn” in the first hemistich.

Verse 29

29. His seed… will I make to endure for ever I will set, or establish, for ever.

As the days of heaven Without end, as in the former clause. True only of Christ’s kingdom in the absolute sense, as the prototype of David’s throne. Hitherto the firmness of the covenant with David has been discussed, henceforward (to Psalms 89:37) the subject is the same covenant with his seed.

Verse 30

30. If his children forsake my law The only contingency which can make void the covenant. The argument to Psalms 89:37 is wholly based upon 2 Samuel 7:14-16, and it is to the effect “that the faithlessness of David’s line in relation to the covenant shall not interfere with (annul) the faithfulness of God.” Delitzsch.

Verse 34

34. My covenant will I not break Or, profane. Comp. on Psalms 89:31: “If they break,” or profane. God will keep the covenant if they do not. So individuals shall be punished for their sins and perish, but the Church shall not fail. God keepeth covenant with Christ and the holy seed.

Verse 35

35. Sworn by my holiness In my holiness. The most awful sanction of the covenant.

I will not lie Comp. Hebrews 6:17-18

Verse 37

37. In heaven In the clouds, as the word often means. Job 36:28; Psalms 78:23. In this sense the allusion is to Genesis 9:13: “I do set my bow in the clouds.” But if שׁהק , shahak, be understood of the starry heavens, (comp. Job 16:19; Jeremiah 33:20-26,) language and metaphor can go no further in setting forth the immutability of the covenant which, in its higher sense, is realized only and fully in Christ.

What blessings would have come to the Hebrew nation, and to the world through them, had they and the house of David been faithful to the covenant! The backslidings of the Church have, in all ages, been the chief obstacle to her success.

Verse 38

38. But thou hast cast off and abhorred Notwithstanding all that had been assured to David, the present state of the nation seems to contradict God’s gracious promises heretofore given, and to be a violation of his covenant with Israel.

Verse 39

39. Made void the covenant Wholly rejected the covenant; treated it as worthless. Contrast Psalms 89:34-35.

Profaned his crown By allowing it to be “cast to the ground” despoiled. See Psalms 89:19-20

Verse 40

40. His hedges His defences, called his strongholds in the next member.

Verse 41

41. All that pass by the way spoil him So destitute is he of either military defences or protective government, that even the casual traveller, as he goes along, makes free plunder of his substance.

Neighbours Bordering tribes and nations.

Verse 42

42. Set up the right hand To do any thing with an uplifted hand was to do it proudly, defiantly, (Exodus 14:8; Numbers 33:3,) sometimes also rebelliously. 1 Kings 11:26. Contrast with Psalms 89:21-22

Verse 43

43. Turned the edge of his sword Contrast Psalms 89:23

Verse 44

44. Made his glory to cease, etc. Contrast Psalms 89:24-27

Verse 45

45. Days of his youth hast thou shortened Contrast Psalm 4:29-36. In fine, every specification of the covenant seems annulled by the present disastrous state of the nation.

Verse 46

46. How long… for ever The frequent lament and inquiry of the psalms of the captivity. Psalms 74:1; Psalms 74:9-10; Psalms 75:5; Psalms 85:5

Verse 47

47. Remember how short my time is The psalmist speaks in his own person in behalf of the nation, which accords well with the supposition that this psalm is the second part of Psalms 88:0.

Made all men in vain If human life is so short, and to be filled up with utter disappointment and sorrow, wherein is its benefit?-what is its gain? This, like Solomon’s “ vanity of vanities,” (Ecclesiastes 1:2,) contemplates eternal life in the background, and human life a failure only as apart from the life to come.

Verse 49

49. Former lovingkindnesses… thou swarest The force of the word “ former,” with the preterit tense of the verb sware, here and in Psalms 89:3; Psalms 89:35, clearly prove that this psalm was written long after David’s time.

Verse 50

50. Reproach One of the keenest points of the existing chastisement.

I do bear in my bosom So perfectly identified is the psalmist with God’s people that the thrust which was aimed at them is received in his own bosom. So Jeremiah 15:15. But the language is applied, in a higher sense, to Christ. See Psalms 69:9; Romans 15:3.

All the mighty people Either all the powerful nations who now reproached the Hebrews, or, taking the words prophetically, all the mighty powers of the world who persecute the true Church.

Verse 51

51. Reproached the footsteps That is, reproaches “follow him everywhere, wheresoever he may go, and whatsoever he may do.” Delitzsch. There is no truce to the assaults of sin and Satan upon the Church. Thus dies away the voice of this sad complaint, but faith gives a happier omen, and a silver lining to the cloud, in the sweet doxology of the closing verse.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Psalms 89". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.