Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
This Psalm presents, with singular force and pathos, the dilemma which must have perplexed many a pious soul in the Exile. On the one hand, the assured lovingkindness and faithfulness of God and His explicit promise of an eternal dominion to the house of David; on the other hand, the sight of the representative of that house a discrowned exile, and his kingdom plundered and desolate. How could the contradiction be reconciled?
The Psalm consists of an introduction, followed by three main divisions. Its argument may be traced as follows.
i. The Psalmist’s purpose is to celebrate the lovingkindness and faithfulness of Jehovah, which he is persuaded are eternal and unlimited. They have been manifested in the covenant with David, and the solemn proclamation of that covenant is given as from the mouth of God Himself (Psalm 89:1-4).
ii. After this introduction, marked off as such by a musical interlude, the Psalmist proceeds to celebrate the praise of Jehovah, dwelling especially upon the power and faithfulness which are the double guarantee for the performance of His promises. Heaven and the angels praise Him, for they know that there is none like Him (Psalm 89:5-7); He manifests His sovereignty in nature and in history as the Creator and Ruler of the world, and His moral attributes of righteousness and judgement, lovingkindness and truth, are the climax of His glory (Psalm 89:8-14). Happy the people who have such a God, and whose king is the special object of His choice and care (Psalm 89:15-18).
iii. The mention of the king forms the transition to the next division, which is a poetical expansion of the promise to David recorded in 2 Samuel 7. On that memorable occasion Jehovah had solemnly covenanted to strengthen and support the king of His choice, to give him victory over all his enemies, to extend his dominion to the boundaries foretold of old, to adopt him as His firstborn and make him supreme over the kings of the earth, to give eternal dominion to his seed after him. Though the sins of his descendants might demand punishment, the divine covenant that his seed and his throne should endure for ever, would be sacred and inviolable (Psalm 89:19-37).
iv. Having thus confronted God with His own promises, the Psalmist proceeds to confront Him with the actual state of things which is in glaring contradiction to those promises. He has abandoned king and people to defeat, disgrace, ruin (Psalm 89:38-45). Remonstrance is followed by earnest pleading. Life is short. If relief come not soon, the Psalmist cannot live to see the proof of God’s faithfulness, and meanwhile he and all God’s servants are forced to endure the contemptuous insults of their heathen conquerors (Psalm 89:46-51).
Thus the motive of the Psalm is the contradiction between God’s character and promises on the one hand, and the fate of the king and people of Israel on the other hand. The keywords of the Psalm are lovingkindness and faithfulness, each of which occurs seven times (Psalm 89:1-2; Psalm 89:5; Psalm 89:8; Psalm 89:14; Psalm 89:24; Psalm 89:28; Psalm 89:33; Psalm 89:49). Cp. also faithful (Psalm 89:28; Psalm 89:37), I will not be false (Psalm 89:33), I will not lie (Psalm 89:35), covenant (Psalm 89:3; Psalm 89:28; Psalm 89:34; Psalm 89:39), oath (Psalm 89:3; Psalm 89:35; Psalm 89:49). Love moved Jehovah to enter into the covenant with the house of David: faithfulness binds Him to keep it. The enthusiastic praises of Jehovah’s majesty (Psalm 89:5 ff.), and the detailed recital of the splendour and solemnity of the promise (Psalm 89:19 ff.), serve to heighten the contrast of the king’s present degradation, while at the same time they are a plea and a consolation. Can such a God, is the Psalmist’s argument, fail to make good so solemn a promise? How the contradiction is to be solved is left entirely to God. Hope does not yet take the shape of prayer for the advent of the Messianic king.
The Psalm was probably written during the Exile. It can hardly be earlier than the destruction of Jerusalem and the downfall of the Davidic kingdom, and on the other hand there is nothing to indicate that it is later than the Return from Babylon. Psalm 89:38 ff. receive their most natural interpretation if it was written while Jehoiachin was still a dishonoured captive in Babylon, i.e. before b.c. 561. For they seem to speak of an individual who is the representative of David and bears the title of Jehovah’s anointed, and yet is actually dethroned and dishonoured; and the feeling of bitter disappointment which they breathe was more natural when the fall of the kingdom was comparatively recent, than it would have been after the Return, when at least the dawn of hope had begun, and a step had been taken towards the solution of the problem which perplexed the Psalmist. Psalm 89:14 a is borrowed in Psalm 89:2 of the Restoration hymn, Psalms 97.
The theory that the Psalm was written after the conquest of Judah by Shishak in the reign of Rehoboam (1 Kings 14:25 ff.; 2 Chronicles 12:2 ff.) is wholly improbable. The language of Psalm 89:38 ff. must refer to something more than a temporary disaster, however serious: moreover use is certainly made of Psalm 80:12 in Psalm 89:40-41, and possibly of Psalms 74, 79 in Psalm 89:41; Psalm 89:46; Psalm 89:50-51, Psalms which cannot well be earlier than the Fall of Jerusalem.
The exilic date is supported by the parallels in Jeremiah 33:21-22; Jeremiah 33:26, and Ezekiel 34:23-24; Ezekiel 37:24-25, the only passages in prophecy where the phrase ‘David my servant’ is used (except Isaiah 37:35 = 2 Kings 19:34). Cp. too Ezekiel 34:29; Ezekiel 36:6; Ezekiel 36:15 with Psalm 89:50-51; the conjunction of ‘lovingkindness’ and ‘faithfulness’ in Lamentations 3:22-23; and the lament over the capture of ‘Jehovah’s anointed’ in Lamentations 4:20.
The choice of this Psalm as a Proper Psalm for Christmas Day is doubtless due to its containing the recital of the great Messianic promise to David. But the whole Psalm, and not merely that part of it, is appropriate, for the Incarnation was the true solution of the Psalmist’s perplexity, as the supreme demonstration of the lovingkindness and faithfulness of God in the fulfilment of His promises. Cp. Luke 1:32 f.
On Ethan the Ezrahite see Intr. to Psalms 88.
Maschil of Ethan the Ezrahite. I will sing of the mercies of the LORD for ever: with my mouth will I make known thy faithfulness to all generations.1. God’s lovingkindnesses and faithfulness are an unfailing theme for grateful song. The past lovingkindnesses of God are unalterable facts; His faithfulness to His promises is beyond question: thus in these opening verses the poet’s faith rises triumphantly over the circumstances in which he is situated.
the mercies] Better, the lovingkindnesses, and so throughout the Psalm. ‘Lovingkindness’ and ‘faithfulness’ are its key-words, each occurring seven times. Cp. Isaiah 55:3, “the sure” (or “faithful”) “loving-kindnesses shewn to David.”
with my mouth] Aloud and openly.
1–4. The Psalmist states his theme: the lovingkindness and faithfulness of Jehovah, which he is persuaded can never fail; and the promise of eternal dominion to the house of David.
For I have said, Mercy shall be built up for ever: thy faithfulness shalt thou establish in the very heavens.2. For I have said] ‘I have deliberately come to this conclusion.’ Thus emphatically the poet introduces the motive for his song. He is persuaded that one stone after another will continue to be laid in the building of God’s lovingkindness till it reaches to heaven itself, even though it may now seem to be a deserted ruin. Though for rhythmical reasons the verse is divided into two lines, its sense must be taken as a whole: ‘Lovingkindness and faithfulness shall be built up and established for ever in the heavens.’
For the metaphorical use of ‘build’ cp. Job 22:23; Jeremiah 12:16; Malachi 3:15. The choice of the word, as well as of ‘establish’ in the next line, is suggested by their use in Psalm 89:4.
in the very heavens] High as the heavens (Psalm 36:5); or in the region where it is beyond the reach of earthly vicissitudes (Psalm 119:89-90).
Many editors would read, Thou hast said … My faithfulness shall be established &c., a change partly supported by the LXX and Jer. But the structure of the Psalm is against the change, for the verses run in pairs, and Psalm 89:2 is clearly to be connected with Psalm 89:1 : moreover the emphatic ‘I have said’ is by no means superfluous.
I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn unto David my servant,3, 4. These verses contain the sum of the promise to David and his seed (2 Samuel 7:5 ff.) which is expanded in Psalm 89:19 ff. It is in relation to this promise in particular that the poet intends to sing of God’s lovingkindness and faithfulness. Almost every word is taken from the narrative of 2 Samuel 7. For ‘David my servant’ see Psalm 89:5; Psalm 89:8; Psalm 89:26, and cp. Psalm 89:19-21; Psalm 89:25; Psalm 89:27-29 : for ‘establish’ see Psalm 89:12-13; Psalm 89:16; Psalm 89:26 : for ‘for ever’ see Psalm 89:13; Psalm 89:16; Psalm 89:24; Psalm 89:26; Psalm 89:29 : for ‘seed’ and ‘throne’ see Psalm 89:12-13; Psalm 89:16 : for ‘build’ see Psalm 89:27. ‘Chosen’ represents Psalm 89:8 (cp. Psalm 78:70 f.). ‘Covenant’ however does not belong to the phraseology of 2 Samuel 7 (but see 2 Samuel 23:5); nor is the promise spoken of there as confirmed by an oath.
The introduction of God as the speaker without any prefatory ‘Thou hast said’ is surprisingly abrupt. It is possible that the word has dropped out. But Hebrew leaves much to be understood, and misunderstanding is here impossible.
Thy seed will I establish for ever, and build up thy throne to all generations. Selah.
And the heavens shall praise thy wonders, O LORD: thy faithfulness also in the congregation of the saints.5. The heavens, in contrast to the earth, include the whole celestial order of being. Cp. Psalm 19:1; Psalm 50:6.
thy wonders] The word in the Heb. is in the singular. It denotes not the wondrousness of God in the abstract, but His wonderful course of action regarded as a whole, of which His ‘wonderful works’ are the several parts. The word conveys the idea of what is mysterious, supernatural, divine. (See on Psalm 71:17.) It is especially appropriate here, since the choice of David was a factor in the great plan which was to be consummated in the mystery of the Incarnation. Cp. Isaiah 9:6.
thy faithfulness &c.] Yea, thy faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones. It is not the congregation of Israel, but ‘the company of heaven’ that is meant, as in Job 5:1; Job 15:15, where we have the same parallel between ‘heavens’ and ‘holy ones.’ Holy themselves, as supernatural beings (though only relatively holy, Job 15:15), they best know the absolute holiness of God and can praise Him most worthily (Isaiah 6:3), as they watch the revelation of His wisdom in the unfolding of His purposes of grace (Ephesians 3:10).
5–7. Jehovah’s incomparableness is ever being celebrated in heaven. The angelic beings, “who best can tell,” as standing nearest to the throne of God, and partaking most of His nature, know that there is none like Him. (Cp. Milton, Par. Lost, Book 89:160, ff.).
5–18. The adoring recital of God’s attributes which follows here has a twofold purpose in relation to the subject of the Psalm. It is a plea with God, and it is an encouragement to Israel. His omnipotence guarantees His ability, His faithfulness is the pledge of His will, to perform His promises to David.
For who in the heaven can be compared unto the LORD? who among the sons of the mighty can be likened unto the LORD?6, 7. For who in the sky can be compared unto Jehovah?
Who is like Jehovah among the sons of God,
A God greatly to be dreaded in the council of the holy ones,
And to be feared above all that are round about him?
God’s nature is unique, incomparable. Even among celestial beings there is none that can be compared with Him.
The phrase bnç çlîm, found elsewhere only in Psalm 29:1, denotes angels. It might be rendered sons of the mighty, describing them as mighty celestial beings; or sons of the gods, beings “belonging to the class of superhuman, heavenly powers” (Cheyne); but it is best taken as a doubly-formed plural, and rendered as in R.V. marg., sons of God (El); synonymous with bnç Elôhîm in Job 1:6; Job 2:1; Job 38:7.
With Psalm 89:7 cp. Isaiah 8:13. The angels form the council of the great King (Job 15:8, R.V. marg.; Jeremiah 23:18; Jeremiah 23:22), but He towers above them all in unapproachable majesty.
God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him.
O LORD God of hosts, who is a strong LORD like unto thee? or to thy faithfulness round about thee?8. God of hosts] A significant title in this connexion. See 1 Kings 22:19; and note on Psalm 46:7.
Who is a mighty one like thee, O Jah?
And thy faithfulness is round about thee.
Name and question both recall the great hymn of redemption, Exodus 15:2; Exodus 15:11. Cp. Psalm 68:4; 2 Samuel 7:22. Strength and faithfulness are the attributes upon which the Psalmist dwells, as the pledge for the fulfilment of the promise. Faithfulness surrounds Him like an atmosphere of light, as in a different aspect “clouds and darkness are round about him” (Psalm 97:2).
8–14. Jehovah’s incomparableness is manifested in nature and in history.
Thou rulest the raging of the sea: when the waves thereof arise, thou stillest them.9, 10. In this and the following verses thou, thine are the emphatic words.
the raging] Or, proud swelling. Cp. Psalm 46:3. The sea represents the most turbulent and formidable of the powers of nature. Cp. Psalm 93:3 f.; Job 38:11. From the sea of nature the poet turns to the sea of nations of which it is the emblem (Psalm 65:7). At the Red Sea God proved His sovereignty over both. For Rahab as a name of Egypt see note on Psalm 87:4. Broken in pieces denotes crushing defeat (Psalm 44:19): as one that is slain expresses the result; the ferocious monster lies pierced through and harmless. A comparison of Job 26:12-13 (on which see Dr Davidson’s notes) suggests that the language is chosen so as to allude not only to the destruction of the Egyptians at the Red Sea, but to the primitive mythological idea of a conflict between God and the powers of nature personified as ‘Rahab.’
with thy strong arm] Better, With the arm of thy strength didst thou scatter thine enemies. Cp. Isaiah 51:9-10.
Thou hast broken Rahab in pieces, as one that is slain; thou hast scattered thine enemies with thy strong arm.
The heavens are thine, the earth also is thine: as for the world and the fulness thereof, thou hast founded them.11. THINE are the heavens, THINE also the earth:
The world and the fulness thereof, THOU hast founded them.
Cp. Psalm 24:1-2; Psalm 50:12; Psalm 78:69; Job 38:4; Proverbs 3:19.
The north and the south thou hast created them: Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in thy name.12. The north and the south] The furthest extremities of the world. Cp. Job 26:7.
Tabor and Hermon] These mountains are named, not so much to represent the West and East of the land, as because they are the grandest and most conspicuous natural features of Palestine. Tabor is described as a “strange and beautiful mountain,” towering “over the monotonous undulations of the surrounding hills,” and “so thickly studded with trees, as to rise from the plain like a mass of verdure.” In Jeremiah 46:18 it is used as an emblem of pre-eminence. Hermon was “the image of unearthly grandeur, which nothing else but perpetual snow can give; especially as seen in the summer, when ‘the firmament around it seems to be on fire.’ ” Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, pp. 350, 404.
shall rejoice in thy name] Better as R.V., rejoice. Nature is a revelation of its Creator, and rejoices in the fulfilment of its office. Cp. Psalm 19:1; Psalm 65:12-13.
Thou hast a mighty arm: strong is thy hand, and high is thy right hand.13. THINE is an arm with might. ‘Arm,’ ‘hand,’ ‘right hand’ (terms frequently used in connexion with the Exodus, e.g. Exodus 15:6; Exodus 15:9; Exodus 15:12; Exodus 15:16) denote not merely power but the exertion of power; and the use of verbs in the second line, lit. Thy hand sheweth strength, thy right hand exalteth itself, emphasises the thought, that God not only possesses but exercises His power.
Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before thy face.14. Righteousness and judgement are the foundation of thy throne:
Lovingkindness and truth attend thy presence.
The first line recurs in Psalm 97:2. Cp. too Psalm 33:5. Righteousness, or the principle of justice, and judgement, or the application of it in act, are the basis of all true government, divine as well as human (Proverbs 16:12; Proverbs 25:5). Lovingkindness and truth are represented as angels attending in God’s Presence (Psalm 95:2), ready to do His bidding (Psalm 43:3), rather than as couriers preceding Him.
Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound: they shall walk, O LORD, in the light of thy countenance.15. Happy the people that know the shout of joy,
That walk, Jehovah, In the light of thy countenance.
Terû‘âh may mean the jubilant shouting with which religious festivities were celebrated (Psalm 27:6; Psalm 33:3; Psalm 81:1; Psalm 95:1-2; 2 Samuel 6:15); or the acclamation with which a king was greeted (Psalm 47:1; Psalm 47:5; Numbers 23:21); or the blowing of trumpets upon certain solemn occasions (Leviticus 23:24; Numbers 29:1). Happy indeed is Israel when it can thus greet its God (Psalm 144:15), enjoying the sunshine of His favour (Psalm 4:6).
15–18. Happy the people that have such a God, and whose King is the vicegerent of such a Sovereign. These verses form the transition to the second division of the Psalms , vv19 ff. From the praise of God it is natural to pass on to the felicity of His people, and from the mention of the people to the king who is their head and His representative.
In thy name shall they rejoice all the day: and in thy righteousness shall they be exalted.16. shall they rejoice … shall they be exalted] Render with R.V. do they rejoice … are they exalted. Jehovah’s revelation of Himself is at once the source and the subject of their joy: His unswerving adherence to His covenant is the secret of their prosperity.
For thou art the glory of their strength: and in thy favour our horn shall be exalted.17. Jehovah alone is the strength of which they boast. Cp. Psalm 44:6 ff.
in thy favour] Cp. Psalm 44:3; Psalm 30:7.
our horn shall be exalted] So the Qrç, with the LXX and Syr. The Kthîbh, with which agree Targ. and Jer., has wilt thou exalt our horn. Cp. Psalm 75:5; Psalm 75:10. By the change of person, the poet claims his share in this glorious inheritance. “They gives place to we unconsciously, as his heart swells with the joy that he paints.” (Maclaren.)
For the LORD is our defence; and the Holy One of Israel is our king.18. For to Jehovah belongeth our shield;
And our King to the Holy One of Israel.
Shield, as in Psalm 47:9, is a metaphor for the king as the protector of his people. The king of Israel belongs to Jehovah, because he is appointed by Him to be His representative, as his title Jehovah’s anointed testifies; he derives his authority from Him, and therefore can claim His protection. For Holy One of Israel see note on Psalm 71:22.
The A.V. is grammatically unjustifiable; and the R.V. marg. rendering of the second line, Even to the Holy One of Israel our King, though grammatically possible, and supported by some Ancient Versions, is less suitable to the context.
Then thou spakest in vision to thy holy one, and saidst, I have laid help upon one that is mighty; I have exalted one chosen out of the people.19. Then] On the well-known occasion already referred to in Psalm 89:3-4. in vision] See 2 Samuel 7:17.
to thy holy one] Nathan, or more probably David, as the principal recipient of the message. So some MSS. But the traditional text, supported apparently by all the Ancient Versions, reads the plural, to thy saints, or rather to thy beloved; i.e. the people of Israel, for whom the promise made through David to Nathan was intended. The word rendered thy beloved denotes Israel as the object of that lovingkindness which the Psalmist is celebrating. See Psalm 50:5, and Appendix, Note I.
I have laid help] Endowed him with the power and assigned to him the office of helping My people in their need. For laid = ‘conferred,’ of the Divine endowment of the king, see Psalm 21:5; and for help as a Divine gift to the king, see Psalm 20:2. The phrase is unusual, but the conjectures a diadem (cp. Psalm 89:39) or strength are unnecessary.
one that is mighty] Cp. 2 Samuel 17:10. The word is chosen with reference to the Divine ‘might’ of which he was the representative, Psalm 89:13 : cp. Psalm 20:6; Psalm 21:13.
one chosen] Cp. Psalm 89:3; Psalm 78:70; 1 Kings 8:16.
19–37. The mention of the king in Psalm 89:18 naturally leads up to the covenant with David which was briefly alluded to in Psalm 89:3-4. The Psalmist now recites the promise in detail in a poetical expansion of the narrative in 2 Samuel 7.
I have found David my servant; with my holy oil have I anointed him:20. I have found] Sought out and provided. Cp. 1 Samuel 13:14; 1 Samuel 16:1; Acts 13:22. David my servant] See on Psalm 78:70, and cp. 2 Samuel 3:18; 2 Samuel 7:5; 2 Samuel 7:8. have I anointed him] 1 Samuel 16:1; 1 Samuel 16:12 f.
With whom my hand shall be established: mine arm also shall strengthen him.21. With whom &c.] My helping hand shall continually be with him: a stronger equivalent for “the Lord was with him,” 1 Samuel 18:12; 1 Samuel 18:14; 2 Samuel 5:10.
The enemy shall not exact upon him; nor the son of wickedness afflict him.22. shall not exact upon him] Shall not oppress him as a creditor oppresses a debtor. But the sense is doubtful, and the word probably means surprise him, fall upon him unawares, as in Psalm 55:15.
nor the son of wickedness afflict him] The phrase is taken from 2 Samuel 7:10, where however it is applied to the people.
And I will beat down his foes before his face, and plague them that hate him.23. But I will beat down his adversaries before him,
And smite them that hate him.
But my faithfulness and my mercy shall be with him: and in my name shall his horn be exalted.24. And my faithfulness and lovingkindness shall be with him.
I will set his hand also in the sea, and his right hand in the rivers.25. in the sea … in the rivers] R.V., on the sea … on the rivers; i.e. I will extend his dominion to the Mediterranean on the west, and to the Euphrates on the north-east, the boundaries of the land according to ancient promise. See Genesis 15:18; Exodus 23:31; Deuteronomy 11:24; 1 Kings 4:24; cp. Psalm 72:8; Psalm 80:11. The plural rivers is a poetical generalisation, or may denote the Euphrates and its canals.
He shall cry unto me, Thou art my father, my God, and the rock of my salvation.26. The promise made to David on behalf of Solomon is here extended to David himself. For my God, and the rock of my salvation cp. Psalm 18:2; Deuteronomy 32:15.
Also I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth.27. I also corresponds to the emphatic He at the beginning of Psalm 89:26. It is God’s answer to David’s cry of filial love. The titles son and first-born applied to Israel (Exodus 4:22; Jeremiah 31:9) are conferred upon the king who is Israel’s representative: and the promise made to Israel (Deuteronomy 26:19, cp. Psalm 28:1) is here transferred to David,
I also will appoint him as firstborn,
Most high above the kings of the earth.
David’s posterity is included in his person: and the high promise, never fully realised in any of his successors, points forward to Him Whom St John styles in language borrowed from this verse and Psalm 89:37, “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth.”
My mercy will I keep for him for evermore, and my covenant shall stand fast with him.28, 29. The emphasis is on for evermore. The permanence of the promise is expressed in the strongest terms. Cp. 2 Samuel 7:13; 2 Samuel 7:16.
Once more too the notes of lovingkindness and faithfulness are sounded, for the word rendered shall stand fast is from the same root as the word for faithfulness; hence R.V. marg. shall be faithful.
as the days of heaven] I.e. for ever; the heaven is the emblem of permanence as well as stability. Again a phrase originally referring to the nation (Deuteronomy 11:21) is applied to the king.
His seed also will I make to endure for ever, and his throne as the days of heaven.
If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments;30–34. The sins of David’s descendants will bring chastisement to them, but they will not annul the promise to David. Man’s unfaithfulness cannot make void the faithfulness of God, though it may modify the course of its working.
If they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments;31. If they break] Lit. profane.
Then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes.32. The rod … stripes] From 2 Samuel 7:14, where the fuller phrases the rod of men … the stripes of the children of men seem to mean correction such as even human parents know they must administer. The paternal relation involves the duty of chastisement (Proverbs 23:13 f.; Hebrews 12:9 f.).
Nevertheless my lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail.33. But my lovingkindness will I not break off from him,
Neither be false to my faithfulness.
The word rendered break off is an unusual one to apply to lovingkindness, and its form is anomalous. The change of one letter however gives the word used in 1 Chronicles 17:13, I will not take away, and this emendation should probably be adopted. Be false to is the word found in 1 Samuel 15:29, “The Strength of Israel will not lie.”
My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips.34. break] Lit. profane, as in Psalm 89:31. God’s covenant, like His laws, is a sacred thing. Men may violate His laws, but He will not violate His covenant.
the thing that is gone out of my lips] The word once spoken is irrevocable. The phrase is used of vows in Numbers 30:12; Deuteronomy 23:23.
Once have I sworn by my holiness that I will not lie unto David.35. Once] Once for all (LXX ἅπαξ, Vulg. semel): or, one thing.
have I sworn] Cp. Psalm 89:3. by my holiness] See note on Psalm 60:6.
that I will not lie] R.V. omits that, and makes this clause parallel to, not dependent on, the preceding line.
35–37. The irreversible nature of a promise confirmed by God’s oath.
His seed shall endure for ever, and his throne as the sun before me.36. Cp. Psalm 89:4; Psalm 89:29; Psalm 72:5; Psalm 72:7; Psalm 72:17.
It shall be established for ever as the moon, and as a faithful witness in heaven. Selah.37. Construction and meaning are doubtful. (1) The original passage in 2 Samuel 7:16 is in favour of making his throne the subject to shall be established, and against the marginal alternatives of R.V., As the moon which is established for ever, and as the faithful witness in the sky: or, and is a faithful witness in the sky.
(2) The A.V., with which substantially agrees the R.V., And (as) the faithful witness in the sky, raises the question what is meant by ‘the faithful witness in the sky.’ Is it the sun, or the moon, or the rainbow? Or is it the fixed laws of nature which are appealed to in Jeremiah 31:35-36; Jeremiah 33:20 f., 25f., as a symbol of the permanence of God’s covenant with Israel and with David? This last explanation is the best, but it seems somewhat far-fetched; and the omission of the particle of comparison as points (3) to another rendering: And the witness in the sky is faithful. The witness is God Himself, Who thus confirms His promise with a final attestation. Cp. Jeremiah 42:5, “Jehovah be a true and faithful witness against us”: Job 16:19, “my witness is in heaven.”
But thou hast cast off and abhorred, thou hast been wroth with thine anointed.38. And THOU, thou hast cast off and rejected,
Hast been enraged with thine anointed.
The Psalmist has drawn out God’s promise in the fullest detail, and now he confronts God with it:—thou Who art omnipotent, faithful, and just; thou Who hast made this promise, and confirmed it with the most solemn oath; thou hast broken it! Some punishment might have been expected (Psalm 89:30 ff.), but not this total abandonment (Psalm 89:33 ff.). David’s heir has the same fate as Saul (1 Samuel 15:23; 1 Samuel 15:26), in spite of the express promise that it should not be so (2 Samuel 7:15).
The audacity of the expostulation scandalised many ancient Jewish commentators, and the famous Aben-Ezra of Toledo (d. 1167) relates that there was a certain wise and pious man in Spain, who would neither read nor listen to this Psalm. But the boldness is that of faith, not of irreverence: it finds a parallel in Psalm 44:9 ff., and in Habakkuk’s questionings (Habakkuk 1:2 ff., Habakkuk 1:13 ff.).
38–45. But present realities are in appalling contrast to this glorious promise: the king is rejected and dethroned, his kingdom is overrun by invaders, his enemies are triumphant.
Thou hast made void the covenant of thy servant: thou hast profaned his crown by casting it to the ground.39. Thou hast abhorred the covenant of thy servant:
Thou hast cast his desecrated crown to the ground.
Thine anointed, thy servant (cp. Psalm 89:20) include both David and the successor who represents him. The titles plead the claim which the king had on God’s protection.
The word nçzer means (1) consecration, and (2) the crown or diadem of the high priest (Exodus 29:6) or the king (2 Samuel 1:10), as the mark of consecration to their office. For the phrase profaned to the ground cp. Psalm 74:7.
Thou hast broken down all his hedges; thou hast brought his strong holds to ruin.40. Insensibly the king is identified with the nation whose head and representative he was. The first line is taken from the description of Israel as a vine in Psalm 80:12.
hedges] Or, as R.V. in Psalm 80:12, fences.
All that pass by the way spoil him: he is a reproach to his neighbours.41. The first line from Psalm 80:12, with the substitution of spoil for pluck: the second from Psalm 79:4; cp. Psalm 44:13. The ‘neighbours’ are surrounding nations, once tributary to Israel.
Thou hast set up the right hand of his adversaries; thou hast made all his enemies to rejoice.42. Thou hast set up] R.V. thou hast exalted. Contrast Psalm 89:19; Psalm 89:24.
to rejoice] The malignant delight of enemies is constantly deprecated as an aggravation of the bitterness of misfortune. Cp. Psalm 25:2; Psalm 30:1; Psalm 35:19; Psalm 35:24 ff.; Psalm 38:16; and the close parallel in Lamentations 2:17.
Thou hast also turned the edge of his sword, and hast not made him to stand in the battle.43. Yea, thou turnest back the edge of his sword (R.V.): i.e. not as A.V. might seem to mean, bluntest it, but as the parallelism shews, makest it give way in battle. Cp. 2 Samuel 1:22.
Thou hast made his glory to cease, and cast his throne down to the ground.44. his glory] R.V. his brightness: the lustre of his kingdom.
The days of his youth hast thou shortened: thou hast covered him with shame. Selah.45. He is prematurely old. Cp. Psalm 102:23. The words might be figuratively applied to the nation (Hosea 7:9), or to the kingdom, prematurely brought to an end: but it is more natural to regard them as referring to the king himself. Jehoiachin was but 18 (2 Kings 24:8), or according to 2 Chronicles 36:9, only 8 years old, when he came to the throne, and he reigned only three months and ten days. The prime of his life was spent in exile, apparently in actual confinement in which he was literally ‘clothed with dishonour’ (2 Kings 25:29).
How long, LORD? wilt thou hide thyself for ever? shall thy wrath burn like fire?46. How long, Jehovah, wilt thou hide thyself for ever?
(How long) shall thy wrath burn like fire?
A repetition of Psalm 79:5, with slight variations.
46–51. The Psalmist appeals to God to withdraw His wrath and remove this contradiction, pleading the shortness of life and the taunts of God’s enemies as grounds for a speedy answer.
Remember how short my time is: wherefore hast thou made all men in vain?47. Literally, if the text is right, O remember what a fleeting life I am! but it is possible that the letters of the word chçled have been accidentally transposed and that we should read châdçl, as in Psalm 39:4 : how frail, or, transitory, I am. As in that Psalm (cp. Psalm 89:13) and in Job 7:6 ff; Job 14:1 ff, the shortness and uncertainty of life are pleaded as a ground for the speedy restoration of God’s favour. The Psalmist desires to see the solution of the riddle with his own eyes, and doubtless he gives utterance to the feelings of many pious souls in the Exile, whose faith was tried by the thought that they would not live to see the fulfilment of the prophecies of restoration.
wherefore &c.] For what vanity hast thou created all the sons of men! Must life end thus in unsatisfied longing? Cp. Psalm 39:5; Psalm 39:11.
What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death? shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave? Selah.48. What man is he that shall live on, and not see death,
That shall deliver his soul from the hand of Sheol?
The word for man is gĕbĕr, ‘strong man,’ as distinguished from women, children, and non-combatants, as much as to say, What man is so strong that he shall live on and escape the iron grasp of Death?
“There is no armour against fate,
Death lays his icy hand on kings.”
Lord, where are thy former lovingkindnesses, which thou swarest unto David in thy truth?49. After an interlude of music the Psalmist resumes his prayer. He returns to the thoughts of God’s lovingkindness and faithfulness, from which he started (Psalm 89:1). But His lovingkindnesses seem to belong to an age that is past and gone: have they vanished never to return? The faith which had to look for the manifestation of God’s love in this world was often sorely tried. See Psalms 77; Isaiah 63. For the question cp. Jdg 6:13; and for the second line, Micah 7:10.
in thy truth] In thy faithfulness.
Remember, Lord, the reproach of thy servants; how I do bear in my bosom the reproach of all the mighty people;50. the reproach of thy servants] The taunts which they have to bear as the servants of a God Who, say their enemies, cannot or will not help them. Cp. Psalm 74:10; Psalm 74:18; Psalm 74:22; Psalm 79:4; Psalm 79:10.
how I do bear &c.] The Massoretic text must be rendered, How I do bear in my bosom all the many peoples. It is grammatically anomalous and gives no satisfactory sense. A simple emendation, which has some support from Ancient Versions, reads thus:
How I bear in my bosom the dishonouring of the peoples.
Cp. the similar phrase with the same word for ‘dishonouring’ (A.V. shame) in Ezekiel 34:29; Ezekiel 36:6; Ezekiel 36:15. As a faithful Israelite he must perforce bear the burden of his people’s shame.
Wherewith thine enemies have reproached, O LORD; wherewith they have reproached the footsteps of thine anointed.51. Cp. Psalm 79:12, of which Psalm 89:50 is also a partial reminiscence.
the footsteps of thine anointed] They are like a rabble hooting and insulting him wherever he goes. Cp. Psalm 17:11; Jeremiah 12:6 (R.V.). May not the phrase have been suggested by the recollection of actual insults offered to the discrowned Jehoiachin as he was led through the streets of Babylon in the conqueror’s triumph? Insults offered to the king are insults at once to Jehovah and to the people whose representative he was.
The Targum interprets the words of the delay of Messiah’s Advent. “For thine enemies reproach, O Lord, they reproach the slowness of the footsteps of Thine Anointed.”
Blessed be the LORD for evermore. Amen, and Amen.52. The doxology marks the close of Book iii. Cp. Psalm 41:13; Psalm 72:18-19; Psalm 106:48. In P.B.V. it is joined, somewhat incongruously, to the preceding verse. But though it is no part of the original Psalm, it is entirely in harmony with the spirit of it, as an expression of the faith which can bless God even when the visible signs of His love are withdrawn. Cp. Job 1:21.