Psalm 89 Bible Commentary

John Darby’s Synopsis

(Read all of Psalm 89)
The subject of the Thrid Book: the restored people in the land, but attacked, destroyed and the temple ruined

We have seen that Psalm 88 puts Israel in the presence of Jehovah (when guilty of having been unfaithful to Him), under the judgment of Jehovah, with the sense of wrath, yet in faith in Jehovah Himself—a place Christ most especially took, though of course for others, in particular for Israel, but not for that nation only. Psalm 89 takes the other side of Jehovah's relationship with Israel; not the nation's, Israel's, which was under law, but Jehovah's promises to David. It is not, remark here, guilt which is brought forward—surely in both cases it was the ground of the state spoken of—but wrath, instead of salvation. For Jehovah had been Israel's Saviour, and so faith viewed Him still; yet instead of the fulfilment of promise, as made to David, there was desertion of him. There is no trace of confession of sin. Psalm 88 is complaint of death and wrath; and this (89), when mercy was to be built up for ever, shews the covenant made void and the crown profaned. Isaiah (40-58) pleads against Israel to convict them of guilt: first, against Jehovah, by having idols; secondly, by rejecting Christ (40-48, 49-58). But here the plaint is Israel's against Jehovah Himself, not unholily, I apprehend, as blame, but as an appeal to Himself on the ground of what He had been for Israel. Jehovah is establishing these relationships here, as indeed we have seen. Israel is Israel, and in the land (Psalm 85). The heathen are there—all is not restored; the last confederacy is in view, but it is against Israel. God is standing in the congregation of the mighty, judging among the gods (Psalm 82). Jehovah has been Himself recalling His former mercies (Psalm 81: 10-16). The ark is remembered, and God as the dweller between the cherubim, as once in the wilderness (Psalm 80). In a word, the whole book is the condition of a restored people in the land, but attacked, destroyed; the temple which exists again ruined and broken down (Psalms 74-76, 79). Not a mere Jewish remnant complaining of antichristian wickedness within, with which they were associated externally, or which had cast them out; but Israel the nation (represented by the remnant) with enemies who destroy what is dear to them, with encouraging prophecies of the result, having instruction as to sovereign grace in David when they had failed in their own faithfulness as a nation (Psalms 78, 79), which looks to God (Elohim) as such in contrast with man—to the Most High, but returns to Jehovah (as His own out of Egypt) with prayer, and demand that His hand might be on the Son of man, the branch [1] made so strong for Himself (Psalm 80). The whole book, in a word, is Israel taking the ground of being a people, and actually in the land, and with a temple, entering into the relationship by faith, but subject to the destructive inroads of hostile powers—the Assyrian and allies, to whom indeed, because of success, the people return (Psalm 73: 10; for Isaiah 10: 5-23 is not yet fulfilled. Compare Isaiah 18, particularly v. 5-7).

Now these two last psalms of the book present the whole pressure of this state of things on the spirit of the faithful. Instead of a blessed people, it is loneliness under wrath. Yet Jehovah is the God of their salvation. The throne cast down and profaned, though immutable promises in mercy, not to be set aside by faults, had been given to David. The result is in the next book, in the manifestation of Jehovah, the bringing in the Only-begotten into the world. In all this book we are on prophetic ground with Israel; not the special condition in which the Jewish remnant will be with Antichrist, because they rejected Christ—their sorrows therefore coming much more fully out when that condition is treated of. This, we have seen, is in the first and second books. Hence, in the following books we get to the recognition of Jehovah having been their dwelling-place in all generations. It is their history which ends by the appearing of Jehovah-Messiah in glory.

Details of Psalm 89: the sure mercies of Daivd: Jehovah's faithfulness

A few words now on Psalm 89 in detail. Its subject is the mercies of Jehovah (His graciousness, chasdee, towards Israel), and their unchangeableness—the sure mercies. There was faith to say, "for ever," for it was grace. This gave the appeal, elsewhere noticed. How long should it be otherwise, and even apparently for ever? Jehovah was faithful. For he had said in faith, Mercy, manifested goodness, shall be built up for ever, and faithfulness was established where nothing could reach it. And so it will be, Satan being cast down. It is the very description of the millennium. He then recites the covenant originally made with David, which is the expression of mercy, and that to which Jehovah was to be faithful, the sure mercies of David. He turns then, and continues his praises of Jehovah (v. 5-18), recalling the ancient deliverance from Egypt, and looking to the praise necessarily flowing from what He was, and the blessedness of the people that know the joyful sound. In His name they would rejoice all the day, in His (for we are in grace here) righteousness be exalted. He was the glory of their strength; and in His favour their horn will be exalted.

Such was the blessedness of association with Jehovah in favour. But this blessing was in the faithful mercy to David. And where was this? (v. 18). Jehovah, the Holy One (kodesh) of Israel, is their King. But, then, He had spoken of, not a kodesh, but a chasid, in whom all the chasdee (the same word in the plural as chesed, mercy), all the mercies, were to be concentrated, and to whom the unchangeable faithfulness was to be shewn—the sure mercies of David. Read "of thy holy One" (chasid) in verse 19. Here he returns to the covenant made with David, shewing it never to be altered (v. 34-37). But all was different. But there was faith, founded on this promise, to say, How long, Jehovah? If He hides for ever, and His wrath burns like fire, what is man to abide it, and not go down into death? (v. 48).

The former loving-kindness to David is appealed to, as in the person of David himself, but, I doubt not from verse 50, applicable to all the faithful. Still, the Spirit of Christ falls in here, as He did with the wrath, to take the whole reality of the burden. He of course in that day will suffer nothing. But He has anticipated that day of suffering, that His Spirit might speak as with His voice in His people; for the reproach of the mighty ones and apostates in that day will reproach the footsteps of God's anointed. And if the faithful walk in them, they will share the reproach from the enemies of Jehovah. Such is their then position—walking in His footsteps, looking for Israelitish covenant blessings, feeling wrath, yet in faith, but looking to God's promise in mercy to David (which was already pure grace, for the ark of the covenant was gone, and Israel Ichabod), and yet waiting for the answer. This is in the following book. We are here, as I have said, in prophetic times, in Isaiah's scenes with the Assyrian and a devastated temple. The wicked are there: people flock with them in prosperity. If we are in Daniel, it is chapter 8, not 7. The beast and the Antichrist are not on the scene, but the land, guilty Israel, promises—not the question of a rejected Christ. This psalm closes the third Book.

[1] Compare the connection and remarkable contrast with John 15.