Matthew Poole's Commentary
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.THE ARGUMENT
This Psalm manifestly treats of the declining and calamitous time and state of the house and kingdom of David, either, first, in Rehoboam’s reign, as a late judicious interpreter conceives; to which those expressions, Psalm 89:40-42, do not agree; or rather, secondly, in or about the time of tim Babylonish captivity.
Either, first, he who is mentioned 1 Kings 4:31. And then the Psalm is prophetical of things to come; which yet, after the manner of the prophets, he represents as present. And this prophetical Psalm might be left upon record as a cordial for David’s family in their future distresses, which Ethan by the Spirit of prophecy foresaw. Or, secondly, Some other person of the same name, and inspired by the same Spirit, Who had lived in the times of which the psalmist here speaketh.
The psalmist praiseth God for making and keeping covenant with David and his seed, Psalm 89:1-4; for his great power and care over his church, Psalm 89:5-18; for his favours to the kingdom of David, Psalm 89:19-22. The destruction of his enemies, Psalm 89:23. The faithfulness of God to them in covenant with him, Psalm 89:24-37. Complaining of contrary events, Psalm 89:38-45, he expostulateth with, prayeth unto, and blesseth the Lord, Psalm 89:46-52.
Intending to discourse of the doleful estate of David’s family and of his kingdom, he prefaceth this, partly lest the following complaints of present miseries should argue ingratitude for former mercies. Thy faithfulness; whatsoever hath befallen or shall befall David’s house, or any other, it proceeded not from thy unfaithfulness, but from some other causes.
For I have said, Mercy shall be built up for ever: thy faithfulness shalt thou establish in the very heavens.I have said within myself. I have been assured in my own mind.
Mercy shall be built up for ever: as thou hast laid a sure foundation of mercy to David’s family, by that everlasting covenant which thou hast made and established with it; so I concluded that thou wouldst carry on the same project of mercy towards it; that thou wouldst build it up, and not destroy it.
Thy faithfuless shalt thou establish in the very heavens: so the sense may be this. Thou sittest in the heavens, and there thou didst make this everlasting and unchangeable decree and covenant concerning David and his house, and from thence thou beholdest and orderest all the affairs of this lower world, and therefore, I doubt not, thou wilt so order these matters as to accomplish thine own counsel and word. But thee Hebrew words are by some others, and may very well be, translated thus, with (as the Hebrew prefix beth is oft rendered) the very heavens, i.e. as firmly and durably as the heavens themselves; as with the sun, in the Hebrew text, Psalm 72:5, is by most interpreters rendered, as long as the sun endureth, as our translation hath it. And so this phrase in the last branch of this verse answers to for ever in the former; as it is also in the foregoing verse, and so in Psalm 89:4; in both which verses for ever in the first clause is explained thus in the latter, to all generations.
I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn unto David my servant,With my chosen; with David, whom I have chosen to the kingdom.
Thy seed will I establish for ever, and build up thy throne to all generations. Selah.I will perpetuate the kingdom to thy posterity; which was promised upon condition, and was literally and fully accomplished in Christ, who was of the seed of David.
And the heavens shall praise thy wonders, O LORD: thy faithfulness also in the congregation of the saints.The heavens, i.e. the inhabitants of heaven, the holy angels, as Job 15:15; who clearly discern and constantly adore thy mercy and faithfulness, when men upon earth are filled with doubts and perplexities about it.
Thy faithfulness also; understand, shall be praised, out of the foregoing clause; which supplements are most usual in Scripture, as hath been already showed by divers instances.
In the congregation of the saints; either, first, Of thy saints upon earth in their public assemblies; who always acknowledge and celebrate thy truth, although they cannot always discern the footsteps of it. Or rather, secondly, Of the angels of heaven, of whom he speaks in the foregoing clause; who are oft called saints or holy ones, as Deu 33:2 Job 15:15 Daniel 4:13,17 8:13.
For who in the heaven can be compared unto the LORD? who among the sons of the mighty can be likened unto the LORD?Among the sons of the mighty; either, first, among the potentates of the earth; or rather, secondly, among the highest angels; who well may and needs must admire and adore time, because thou art incomparably and infinitely more excellent than they.
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.God is greatly to be feared; with a fear of reverence; for dread and terror have no place in those blessed mansions and holy spirits.
In the assembly of the saints; to the whole society of angels, called saints, as Psalm 89:5.
Them that are about him; the angels, which are always in his presence, and encompass his throne.
O LORD God of hosts, who is a strong LORD like unto thee? or to thy faithfulness round about thee?Who is a strong Lord like unto thee? who is equal to thee in power, or, as it follows, in faithfulness?
To thy faithfulness round about thee, Heb. and thy faithfulness is round about thee, like a girdle adorning and encompassing thee. It appeareth in all thy paths and actions, in thy words and works.
Thou rulest the raging of the sea: when the waves thereof arise, thou stillest them.Giving commands and setting bounds to its waves when they are most impetuous and unruly.
Thou hast broken Rahab in pieces, as one that is slain; thou hast scattered thine enemies with thy strong arm.Rahab; Egypt, as Psalm 87:4. As one that is slain; thou didst wound them not slightly, but unto death. See Exodus 14:15.
The heavens are thine, the earth also is thine: as for the world and the fulness thereof, thou hast founded them.The fulness thereof; all the creatures wherewith it is replenished, as Psalm 24:1 50:12.
Thou hast founded them; they are all thy creatures, and therefore wholly subject to thy power and pleasure; and therefore all the monarchs and kingdoms of the earth cannot hinder thee from making good thy promise to the house and kingdom of David.
The north and the south thou hast created them: Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in thy name.The north and the south; the northern and southern parts of the world, yea, even the remotest ends thereof; though not yet known to us, were made and are ruled by thee. Or possibly he may understand the northern and southern empires, and people of the world, who have from time to time annoyed and disturbed the kingdom of David and of Israel, of which this Psalm principally treats, such as Syria, Chaldea, and Assyria; which in Scripture phrase are called the north, in reference to that kingdom; and Egypt, and Ethiopia, and Arabia, which are southward from it. These, saith he, are all thy creatures, and none of them can withstand thee, if thou wilt undertake to deliver thy people. But this I only propose with submission.
Tabor and Hermon; two eminent mountains in the land of Canaan; Tabor in the west and within Jordan, Hermon on the east and without Jordan; by which he may understand either, first, The western and eastern parts of the world; and so all the four parts of the world are contained in this verse. But this may seem an uncouth and incongruous description of the east and west, partly because the north and the south here mentioned are not those parts of the land of Canaan, but of the world with respect to it; and therefore the east and west should in reason have been so too; and partly because these places were not so situated in Canaan, for Tabor was not in the west part of Canaan, but rather in the middle space between the sea and Jordan; and Hermon was not so much on the east as on the north, being indeed the northern border of the land without Jordan. Or, secondly, The several parts of the land of Canaan, both within Jordan, where Mount Tabor is; and without it, where Hermon lies. And the mountains may be named rather than the valleys, because when their fertility is expressed, the fertility of the valleys is more strongly supposed.
Shall rejoice, i.e. shall be fruitful and prosperous, and so give their inhabitants cause to rejoice. Joy and singing are oft ascribed to mountains and fields, &c., in a poetical strain.
In thy name; in or by thy favour, and the fruits thereof.
Thou hast a mighty arm: strong is thy hand, and high is thy right hand.Thy hand; either thy left hand, because thy right hand seems to be opposed to it; or thy right hand, as it is limited and explained in the next clause.
High is; or, is or shall be exalted, or lifted up. That strength of thy hand hath been, or shall be, put forth for thy people, as occasion requireth.
Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before thy face.Justice and judgment, i.e. just judgment, or justice in judging, as Jeremiah 9:24 22:3. A common figure, called hendiaduo. The habitation; or, the basis or foundation, as this word is used Ezra 2:68 3:3 Psalm 97:2 104:5; the groundwork of all his proceedings, and the stability of his throne and government. For God could not be the Judge and Ruler of the world if he did not right, Genesis 18:25: compare Proverbs 16:12. The sense and scope of this verse may be this, Though thy present dispensations, in breaking thy covenant with David, and in suffering his posterity and thine own people to be devoured by such as are much more wicked than they, be a great deep and secret, yet I rest satisfied that they are just. In like manner the prophet fortifies himself under the like thoughts, Jeremiah 12:1.
Shall go before thy face, as thy harbingers and companions, wheresoever thou goest. Thou art neither unmerciful nor unfaithful in any of thy dealings.
Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound: they shall walk, O LORD, in the light of thy countenance.The psalmist, intending to describe the doleful estate of the royal family and kingdom of Israel, aggravates it by the consideration of their former felicity.
That know the joyful sound, i.e. who enjoy the presence of God and his ordinances, and the tokens of his grace and mercy to them, to which they were called and invited by the sound of trumpets, which upon that only reason was very pleasant and grateful to the Israelites. See Numbers 10:9,10. So the sign is put for the thing signified, as is manifest, both from the following clause of the verse, and because otherwise the hearing of the outward sound of trumpets could never make them blessed.
Walk in the light of thy countenance; they live under the comfortable influences of thy grace and favour; whereof at present we are bereaved.
In thy name shall they rejoice all the day: and in thy righteousness shall they be exalted.In thy name; in the knowledge and remembrance of thy name, i.e. of thy infinite power and goodness, revealed and imparted to them.
In thy righteousness; whereby thou art both inclined and in some sort engaged to hear the prayers of thy people, and to save them from all their enemies.
For thou art the glory of their strength: and in thy favour our horn shall be exalted.All that strength in which they do or may glory is not their own, but is a mere vouchsafement of thy grace, and to thee alone belongs the glory of all their valiant achievements.
Our horn shall be exalted, i.e. our power and honour, which now lies in the dust, shall be raised and recovered.
For the LORD is our defence; and the Holy One of Israel is our king.This verse gives a reason of the psalmist’s confidence that their horn would be exalted.
The Holy One of Israel is our King; having therefore so potent a Friend, we have no reason to despair of our restitution to our former felicity. Or, as the words may well be, and are by divers, rendered, Of or from the Lord is or was our shield, (to wit, our king, as it is explained in the next branch of the verse, compared with Psalm 47:9) and of or from the Holy One of Israel, i.e. the Lord, who is oft so called, is or was our king. He gave us our king and royal family at first, and therefore he can easily restore it when he sees it fit.
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.Then, i.e. of old; for this particle is sometimes put indefinitely. Or, then, when thou didst set David in the throne.
In vision; which then was the usual way by which God spake to the prophets, Numbers 12:6.
To thy holy one: to thy holy prophets; the singular number being put for the plural; especially to Samuel and Nathan; for part of the following message was delivered to the former, and part to the latter. I have laid help; I have provided help and relief for my people, which I have put into safe hands.
Upon one that is mighty; upon a person of singular courage and wisdom, and every way fit for so great a charge.
One chosen out of the people; one whom I have picked and chosen out of all the people, as the fittest for the kingly office, one enriched with eminent gifts and graces, &c.
I have found David my servant; with my holy oil have I anointed him:I have found: this is spoken of God figuratively after the manner of men, to imply the great scarcity of such persons, and the difficulty of finding them out.
With my holy oil; both. with material oil, 1 Samuel 16:13 2 Samuel 5:3, and with the gifts and graces of my Holy Spirit, which are oft signified by oil or unction, as Psalm 45:7, compared with Hebrews 1:9 Isaiah 61:3 1Jo 2:20,27.
With whom my hand shall be established: mine arm also shall strengthen him.With whom my hand shall be established, i.e. constantly abide to protect and assist him.
The enemy shall not exact upon him; nor the son of wickedness afflict him.Not exact upon him; not conquer him, or make him tributary. Or, shall not deceive or circumvent him, as this word is used, Genesis 3:13 2 Kings 18:29.
Afflict him, to wit, so as to overthrow or destroy him.
And I will beat down his foes before his face, and plague them that hate him.No text from Poole on this verse.
But my faithfulness and my mercy shall be with him: and in my name shall his horn be exalted.Faithfulness, in making good all my promises to him, and mercy, in doing more for him than I have promised, or in pardoning his sins, for which I might justly make him to know my breach of promise.
In my name; by my favour and help.
I will set his hand also in the sea, and his right hand in the rivers.I will set his hand, i.e. establish his power and dominion.
In the sea; the midland sea.
The rivers, to wit, Euphrates, called rivers in the plural number, as Nilus also is, Isaiah 18:1 Ezekiel 29:3,4, in regard of divers branches of it, and rivers which flow into it. So here is a description of the uttermost bounds of the Promised Land, Exodus 23:31 Numbers 34:3, to which the Israelitish power was extended by David and Solomon.
He shall cry unto me, Thou art my father, my God, and the rock of my salvation.He shall find me to be a true and a kind Father to him, and shall familiarly and confidently make his addresses to me as such, for all necessary supplies and assistances, which parents willingly afford to their children, as need requires.
Also I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth.As he calls me Father, Psalm 89:26, so I will make him my son, yea, my first-born, who had divers privileges above other sons. This and the following passage in some sort agree to David, who may well be called God’s
first-born, as all the people of Israel are, Exodus 4:22; and so is Ephraim, Jeremiah 31:9. Nor can I see fit wholly to exclude David here, of whom all the foregoing and following verses may, and some of them must be, understood. But this is more fully and properly accomplished in Christ, and seems to be ascribed to David here as a type of Christ, and that our minds might be led through David to him whom David represented, even to the Messias, to whom alone this doth strictly and literally belong.
Higher than the kings of the earth: this also was in some sort accomplished in David, partly because he had a greater power and dominion than any of the neighbouring kings, yea, than any other kings of his age, and in those parts of the world, except the Assyrian monarch; nor is the expression here universal, but indefinite, and if it had been said higher than all the kings, yet even such universal expressions admit of some limitation or exception, as is manifest and confessed: and partly because David had many privileges, wherein he did excel all other kings of the earth of his age without exception; which probably he did in the honour and renown which he got by his military achievements, and by that wisdom and justice wherewith he managed all his dominions; but certainly he did in this, that he was a king chosen and advanced by the immediate order and appointment of God himself, that he was set over God’s own peculiar and beloved people, that he was intrusted with the care and patronage of the true religion and the worship of God in the world, and especially that he was not only an eminent type, but also the progenitor of the Messias, who is King of kings and Lord of lords, and God blessed for ever.
My mercy will I keep for him for evermore, and my covenant shall stand fast with him.My mercy, declared and promised to him and his seed, as it here follows. My covenant; of which see 2 Samuel 7:12,13, &c.
His seed also will I make to endure for ever, and his throne as the days of heaven.To endure for ever, i.e. to sit upon the throne for ever, as the next words explain it. This was accomplished only in Christ, the eternal King of the church, and of the world, who was of David’s seed according to the flesh.
As the days of heaven, i.e. for ever, as he now said; as long as the world shall have a being. It shall be as unchangeable and durable as the heavens themselves, which are of an incorruptible nature. See the like expression Deu 11:21 Jeremiah 31:35,36.
If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments;Of this and the two next verses, See Poole "2 Samuel 7:14", See Poole "2 Samuel 7:15".
If they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments;By this variety of expressions he implies that God will pardon not only their lesser, but even their greater sins.
Then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes.No text from Poole on this verse.
Nevertheless my lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail.My loving-kindness; my mercy promised to David.
My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips.No text from Poole on this verse.
Once have I sworn by my holiness that I will not lie unto David.Here he gives some reasons why he would not break his covenant with David, though he should have just cause to do so, and though he had upon such just cause broke his covenant made with others; first, Because this covenant was confirmed by his oath, which adds not only more solemnity, but more stability and certainty to it, as is evident from Hebrews 6:17, wherein he showeth that God addeth an oath to his promise or covenant to make and prove it to be immutable; and from Hebrews 7:20, &c., where he proveth the priesthood of Melchisedec to be unchangeable, because it was confirmed by an oath. And though judgments simply threatened have not always been executed, but sometimes were prevented, yet those comminations which were confirmed by oath were thereby rendered and declared to be irrevocable, as we see, Numbers 14:28-30 Jeremiah 44:26. Secondly, Because this is said to be sworn
once, which word and phrase sometimes implies the completeness, certainty, and irrevocableness of the thing said or done, as Proverbs 28:18, shall fall at once. Thus Christ is said to have died or suffered once, Romans 6:10 Hebrews 9:26,28. Thirdly, Because God sware by his
holiness; in or by which God is but seldom read to speak or swear, and when he is, it constantly adds more weight and confirmation to the speech, as Psalm 60:6 108:7 Amos 4:2.
His seed shall endure for ever, and his throne as the sun before me.In respect of perpetual duration, as appears both from the foregoing words, and from the following verse.
It shall be established for ever as the moon, and as a faithful witness in heaven. Selah.Whereby he understands, either, first, The moon, last mentioned, to which this clause may be added rather than to the sun, to imply that as the moon, though subject to eclipses and frequent and manifold changes, yet doth constantly and perpetually remain in heaven, as a witness of my covenant of the night, as it is called, Jeremiah 33:20; so shall the house and kingdom of David continue for ever, not withstanding all the changes and calamities which it may undergo. Or, secondly, The rainbow, which though in itself it be unstable and transient, and doth but seldom appear, which learned men object against this opinion, yet in Scripture is mentioned as God’s faithful and perpetual witness, being called a token of God’s everlasting covenant between God and every living creature for perpetual generations, Genesis 9:12,16. And although it do not always appear to us, neither do the sun or moon do so, yet its appearances are doubtless very frequent in one or other part of the world, and will be repeated from time to time to the end of the world. Add to this, that the word here rendered heaven, may as well be rendered the cloud or clouds, as it is used Deu 33:26 Job 35:5 36:28 Psalm 18:12 77:17 78:23 Proverbs 3:20 Isaiah 45:8. And so the place being thus translated, and as the faithful witness in the cloud or clouds, doth plainly point us to the rainbow.
But thou hast cast off and abhorred, thou hast been wroth with thine anointed.Having hitherto declared the certainty of God’s promises, he now proceeds to show the unsuitableness of the present dispensations of God’s providence thereunto, and humbly expostulates with God about it. Thine anointed; that person and family which thou hast invested with the kingdom.
Thou hast made void the covenant of thy servant: thou hast profaned his crown by casting it to the ground.Made void the covenant; which seems contrary to thy word given Psalm 89:34.
Of thy servant, i.e. made with him.
Profained his crown, by exposing that sacred person, and family, and kingdom to contempt, and giving his sceptre and power into the hands of the uncircumcised.
Thou hast broken down all his hedges; thou hast brought his strong holds to ruin.All his hedges; all the means of his protection and safety.
All that pass by the way spoil him: he is a reproach to his neighbours.An object of their scorn and reproach. Is this the anointed of the Lord? Is this the everlasting family and kingdom?
Thou hast set up the right hand of his adversaries; thou hast made all his enemies to rejoice.Thou hast given them courage, and power, and success.
Thou hast also turned the edge of his sword, and hast not made him to stand in the battle.Turned the edge of his sword; so that he can neither offend his enemies, nor defend himself.
Not made him to stand, but to flee and fall before his enemies; for more is understood than what is expressed.
Thou hast made his glory to cease, and cast his throne down to the ground.No text from Poole on this verse.
The days of his youth hast thou shortened: thou hast covered him with shame. Selah.The youthful and flourishing estate of David’s kingdom was very short, and reached not beyond his next successor, and it hath been languishing by degrees till this time, when it seems to be dead and buried.
How long, LORD? wilt thou hide thyself for ever? shall thy wrath burn like fire?No text from Poole on this verse.
Remember how short my time is: wherefore hast thou made all men in vain?My time, i.e. our time, the time of our king and kingdom, in whose name the psalmist puts up this petition, and about whom he was much more solicitous than about himself, as is evident, both from the following verses, and from the whole body of the Psalm. The sense seems to be this, Our king, and all his people, and I among the rest, are shortlived and perishing creatures, that of themselves and according to the course of nature must shortly die; and therefore there is no need that thou shouldst add further afflictions to sweep them away before their time.
Wherefore hast thou made all men in vain? wherefore hast thou made us and our king (and consequently all other men, whose condition is in nothing better than ours, and in respect of thy grace and mercy is much worse than ours) in vain, or to so little purpose? Didst thou raise us and him, establish us for thy people, settle the crown upon David and his seed for ever by a solemn and unchangeable covenant, erect a magnificent and glorious temple, and vouchsafe so many and great promises and privileges, and all this but for a few years, that our crown and glory should be taken from us within a little time after it was put upon our heads; that our kingdom should be broken almost as soon as it was firmly established; that thy worship should be so soon corrupted, and thy temple quickly robbed, and not long after frequently abused, and polluted, and wasted, and now at last utterly demolished? It is not strange that such considerations as these did fill the psalmist’s mind with amazement, and sad and perplexing thoughts. Nor doth the psalmist accuse or upbraid God herewith, but only useth it as an argument to move God to repair and restore their decayed state, that they might live to praise, and serve, and glorify him, and not be such useless and insignificant creatures as now they were in this forlorn estate of things, and as they should be if they should go into the place and state of the dead before the restitution of their broken state and kingdom.
What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death? shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave? Selah.All men at their best estate are mortal and miserable, kings and people must unavoidably die by the condition of their natures; and therefore, Lord, do not increase our affliction, which of itself is more than enough; neither proceed in these violent courses upon us, who, without such severity, must perish of and from ourselves.
Lord, where are thy former lovingkindnesses, which thou swarest unto David in thy truth?Hast thou forgotten or repented of all that mercy and kindness which thou hast promised and sworn, and sometimes performed, unto David and his family and kingdom?
Remember, Lord, the reproach of thy servants; how I do bear in my bosom the reproach of all the mighty people;I, i.e. we thy servants, as he now said; our king and his people; of whom he speaks as of one person, as is very usual in Holy Scripture. Or the psalmist showeth how particularly and passionately he resented those reproaches which were cast upon their king and kingdom, as if they were east upon himself.
Bear in my bosom: this phrase may denote either, first, the multitude of these reproaches, things being said to be given or received into a man’s bosom, which are given or received in great plenty, as Isaiah 65:6 Luke 6:38; or, secondly, their grievousness, that they pierced him to the very heart, which is sometimes called the bosom, as Ecclesiastes 7:9. Of all the mighty people; of the great potentates and princes of the world, who now reproached the house of David with their vain and confident boasting of the everlastingness of their kingdom, which was now in a desperate and lost condition. Or, all the reproaches of many people.
Wherewith thine enemies have reproached, O LORD; wherewith they have reproached the footsteps of thine anointed.Or, of thy Messiah; by whom he seems to understand either, first, the kings of Judah, the singular number being put for the plural; and by their footsteps may be meant either their ways or actions, and the sad consequences thereof; or the traces or memorials of their ancient splendour and dominion, wherewith they now upbraid them: or rather, secondly, the Messiah, most properly and eminently so called; of whom not only many Christians, but the Chaldee paraphrast and the Hebrew doctors, understand this place. And this suits very well, both with the singular number here used, which points at one particular and eminent person anointed by God to be the king of his people, and with the matter and occasion of this Psalm. For it was universally believed by the Jews, that the Messiah should come of the seed of David, and that by him the ancient glory and power of David’s house should be revived and vastly increased. And this coming of the Messiah the Jews did continually expect for a long time together before he did come, and supported themselves therewith under all their calamities; all which being well known to many of the heathens, they reproached the Jews with the vanity of this belief and expectation. And by the footsteps of the Messiah he may understand his coming, as by the feet or footsteps of ministers, Isaiah 52:7, their coming and bringing the gospel with them is understood.
Blessed be the LORD for evermore. Amen, and Amen.Let thine enemies reproach thee, and thy promises concerning the sending of the Messiah, and the deliverance of thy people by his hand; I do and will heartily bless and praise thee for them, and encourage myself with them, not doubting but thou wilt consider and take away all our reproaches, and in thine own due time (which is the best) send him who is the consolation and expectation of Israel, and the desire of all nations.