God’s Promise of Faithfulness

| Psalm 89:1-8; 14-18

The Point:  God is faithful in every circumstance.

The Steadfast Love of the Lord:  Psalm 89:1-8.

[1]  I will sing of the steadfast love of the LORD, forever; with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations. [2]  For I said, "Steadfast love will be built up forever; in the heavens you will establish your faithfulness." [3]  You have said, "I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn to David my servant: [4]  ‘I will establish your offspring forever, and build your throne for all generations.’" Selah [5]  Let the heavens praise your wonders, O LORD, your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones! [6]  For who in the skies can be compared to the LORD? Who among the heavenly beings is like the LORD, [7]  a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones, and awesome above all who are around him? [8]  O LORD God of hosts, who is mighty as you are, O LORD, with your faithfulness all around you?  [ESV]

[1-4]  “The psalm begins by declaring the intention to sing the Lord’s praise forever on the basis of the Lord’s twofold commitment written into creation and covenanted to David. The creation and the David covenant are the twofold basis of the community’s security. Praise psalms commonly begin with an exhortation to sing and then give the reasons, and thanksgiving psalms often involve an individual undertaking to celebrate what God has done. It is a rare pattern in a praise psalm for an individual to make a commitment to give the praise. Indeed, only Psalm 101 also has I will sing as its first verb. There the king speaks, and that might be so here, but in other contexts the “I” that determines to offer praise is the “I” that represents the congregation [e.g., 104:33], and the rest of Psalm 89 will suggest that this is so here. In these opening verses, that ambiguity extends to the question of who is the object of the Lord’s steadfast love (commitment) and faithfulness (truthfulness), though it does so in a creative way. We might reckon that the first obvious object to the Lord’s acts of commitment is the people as a whole. But verse 2 will associate the Lord’s steadfast love and faithfulness with creation (in the heavens) and thus with the Lord’s sovereignty over the whole world. Then verses 3-4 will focus on the Lord’s covenant with David, and the rest of the psalm will focus on the way the Lord’s commitment and truthfulness are shown to David [24,28,33,49] – for the people’s sake, indeed. The last section of the psalm will raise the question whether the Lord’s commitment and truthfulness really are forever and thus will also imply a question as to whether the suppliant’s song will really last forever or is dependent on circumstances. The second part of verse 1 restates the first: with my mouth balances I will sing, suggesting the celebratory and out-loud nature of the testimony the suppliant would like to give to the Lord’s commitment and truthfulness. Part of the complementariness of the two parts is the way the first speaks of the Lord in the third person while the second addresses the Lord, as often happens in Old Testament poetry. After such a beginning, the For line in verse 2 is to be expected, but it does not have its usual significance, and it again gains further significance from verses 38-51. When someone says I said and does not tell us the addressee, this is commonly a way of saying “I said to myself,” “I thought,” and that makes sense here. The line indicates the expectation the speaker verbalized inside, which lay behind the declaration in verse 1. The worshipper knows of the Lord’s acts of commitment in the past and affirms that this steadfast love will last forever which will be matched by the singing in verse 1 also lasting forever. To speak of this commitment being built up involves a unique usage of the Hebrew verb; it is not a regular way to say “be established” or “stand firm” or “be confirmed.” It is verse 4 that will explain why this verb is used here. Meanwhile, what is the basis for this declaration in verse 2? The second part of the verse explains. It is the nature of the heavens that gives this assurance. The further reference to the Lord’s faithfulness in parallel with the Lord’s steadfast love affirms not merely that it will be as secure as the heavens, but also that it will be secure in the heavens. In other words, the Lord will demonstrate steadfast love and faithfulness in the way that the heavens (or cosmos) works. Verses 5-14 will expand on this point. In verse 3 the speaker changes: You have said. The Lord declares the basis upon which verses 1-2 worked. The covenant the Lord here refers to is the one 2 Samuel 7 and 1 Chronicles 17 relate, though the language and the themes are different. There are no references there to sealing a covenant or to David as the Lord’s chosen. Conversely, although the psalm talks about building in verses 2 and 4, it makes no reference to the building of a house for the Lord or for David. Likewise, both the narratives and the psalm make many references to stability and establishing, but they overlap in their use of these terms only in connection with reference to David’s throne; otherwise they link this idea of establishing with different nouns. The psalm speaks seven times of faithfulness or truthfulness, more than any other chapter in the Old Testament, but the narratives never use the word. The psalm also refers seven times to steadfast love (hesed), whereas the narratives use the word only once. It thus seems that neither the narratives’ version of the story nor the psalm is directly dependent on the other. The Lord made a covenant with David. Like the covenants with Noah and Abraham, this is not a mutual agreement between the Lord and David. The covenant is the Lord’s, which He gives to David. The parallel expression sworn in the second part of the verse further underlines the point, as a promise or oath also involves a solemn self-curse to come into effect if one breaks one’s word. In the parallelism, David is first my chosen one and then my servant. These two interpret each other. On one hand, election does convey real privilege, relationship with God that other people do not have, but it does so in association with a summons to service. On the other, being the Lord’s servant means not merely hard work but also a position of privileged support and protection. The continuation of the Lord’s words in verse 4 takes the matter further in a way that is of special relevance for people who live after David’s day, both the king, or the person who would be king, and his people. For all of them it is important that the Lord’s commitment to David explicitly referred to establishing his offspring and building up his throne generation after generation, not just in David’s own day. It also now becomes more evident that the talk of building up and establishing the Lord’s steadfast love and faithfulness in verse 2 links with the building up and establishing of David’s dynasty. The verbs, built up and establish underline the point. As David’s offspring are established as his successors, his throne is built up; and as this happens, the Lord’s commitment and truthfulness are established and built up.

[5-14]  Verses 1-4 have referred both to the heavens, and thus to the creation, and also to the Lord’s involvement in Israel’s own history. Verses 5-14 develop both motifs, without distinguishing clearly between them; this is part of the point. The Lord’s activity in creation and in history are one. As happens in passages such as Isaiah 51:9-11, the psalm in particular sees the Lord’s activity at creation and at the Red Sea as mirroring each other. The Lord’s power and truthfulness are acknowledged in the heavens in light of the way they were manifested at creation and at the Red Sea. Verse 5 picks up from verses 1-2, which closed with a reference to the Lord’s faithfulness being established in the heavens. The connection between the Lord’s faithfulness in the heavens with the Lord’s steadfast love to David invites us to continue to see creation and history in close association. In the heavens the wonders and truthfulness promised and put into effect for Israel are also recognized. Alongside the parallelism of wonders and faithfulness is that of the heavens and the assembly of the holy ones, the latter giving precision to the former. Holy ones is a term that can apply to any heavenly beings. Only here are the holy ones called an assembly or congregation. Although assembly is used for various earthly gatherings, the idea here is that of the assembly of the heavenly beings fulfilling the role of a congregation, confessing what the Lord has done (cf. the worshipping role of the heavenly assembly in Revelation 4-5). Verse 6 marks its continuance of verse 5 by incorporating two more creation expressions (in the skies, among the heavenly beings). The members of the heavenly assembly know that none of them is in the same league as the Lord. Another parallel expression occurs in verse 7: the council of the holy ones. Before this council God is greatly to be feared … and awesome above all. There is no doubt who is in charge of this heavenly body that stands or sits around the Lord. In verse 8, O Lord God of hosts, underlines the point in verses 6-7, especially as the divine beings are themselves the heavenly army. So throughout verses 6-9 the particular point of comparison with other heavenly beings is the unrivaled power of the Lord. That is made even more explicit in the second part of verse 8: who is mighty as you are, O Lord. And then the third part of verse 8 picks up around you from verse 7. The rest of the heavenly assembly also embodies the Lord’s faithfulness, because they are the means by which that faithfulness is put into operation.”  [Goldingay, pp. 663-672]. 

Exult God’s Name:  Psalm 89:14-18.

[14]  Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you. [15]  Blessed are the people who know the festal shout, who walk, O LORD, in the light of your face, [16]  who exult in your name all the day and in your righteousness are exalted. [17]  For you are the glory of their strength; by your favor our horn is exalted. [18]  For our shield belongs to the LORD, our king to the Holy One of Israel.

“The two lines of verse 14 further resume what has preceded as this celebration of the Lord’s power in creation and history draws to an end. What has been said in these lines justifies a generalization about the Lord’s arm and power, which reappear. The reference is expanded to include the Lord’s strength and hand, which adds to its emphasis, and is then given specificity in referring to the Lord’s right hand, which lifts high, raised in authority and/or strength in relation to any opposition. Verse 14 also takes us back to the moral qualities expressed in the Lord’s actions, righteousness and justice … steadfast love and faithfulness. The last two refer back to verse 1. There at the beginning the Lord’s faithfulness was established in the heavens, and the Lord promised to establish David’s offspring and thus build up his throne; here the faithful exercise of authority is the means whereby the Lord’s own throne is established. By implication, the fact that the faithful exercise of authority is the foundation of the Lord’s throne undergirds the promise that this faithful exercise of authority is the foundation of David’s throne. Once more steadfast love and faithfulness are personalized as like aides serving the Lord, entities that come into the Lord’s presence to receive their orders, for instance to see to the fulfillment of those promises. These qualities both undergird the Lord’s own position in the cosmos and are thus key to the Lord’s activity in the world. Four lines in verses 15-18 provide a bridge between the celebration of the Lord’s power as creator and the commemoration of the Lord’s commitment to David. They thus have something in common with verses 1-4, which comprised an introduction to both motifs. We know from the Psalms that Israel’s worship emphasized a celebration of the Lord’s power in creation and at the Red Sea such as verses 5-14 has proclaimed, and verse 15 declares the blessing of God’s people who know the festal shout. The second part of verse 15 begins to explicate what that blessing consists in. Psalm 44:3 speaks of the way the light of your face gave Israel the land, along with the Lord’s right hand and the Lord’s arm. When they walked, they walked with the Lord’s face smiling on them, and that certainly meant good fortune. The worship that celebrates the Lord’s power and the walk that experiences the fruitfulness of that power thus relate to one another. So people rejoice in worship on both sides of their experience of walking that walk. They worship, they walk, they rejoice some more. In the Lord’s name they thus rejoice continually (all the day). The Lord’s right hand lifts high [13], expressing the faithfulness that stabilizes the Lord’s throne [14]; and the Lord’s faithful action means that the people themselves stand high, rather than their enemies doing so. Yes, great is their blessing. In verse 17, you are the glory of their strength again picks up from verses 10 and 13. The phrase suggests that the Lord is their powerful, glorious one, though it might hint at the fact that their good fortune consists in the Lord’s powerful glory becoming theirs as the Lord acts in their experience to give them victory. On the basis of the first understanding the second part of verse 17 indicates a fruit to that; on the basis of the second understanding, the second part restates it. Added to that power and glory of the Lord is the fact that the Lord delights in Israel and therefore makes sure – as the Lord’s hand stands high – that their horn is exalted. The horn is an animal’s strong offensive weapon; when a bull holds its head and horns high and charges, only the unwise get in the way. And it is only the Lord’s favor that enables the people’s horn to be exalted. Whereas the explanation in verse 15-17 relates more to what precedes, this final line in verse 18 of explanation makes for explicit transition to what lies ahead. The means by which power is exercised in Israel is the king as commander in chief of the army. Thus the means by which the Lord’s power is expressed on Israel’s behalf is by being their shield and king.”  [Goldingay, pp. 674-676].

Conclusion:  The unchanging faithfulness of God, forever reliable and firm, is a glorious treasure to believers. Even when God’s people have been unfaithful to Him, He remains faithful to them. People are prone to break their word. They are apt to go back on their promises. They are subject to altering their commitments. But not God, The Lord remains forever faithful to do what He purposes and pledges He will do. Herein is true comfort for all the saints. God will never deny us, never disappoint us, never desert us. All His promises are yes and amen. All of His plans are immutable and eternal. Great is His faithfulness because of the power He wields to keep His word. May all God’s people anchor themselves to Him alone who is perfectly faithful in all things, at all times. The divine promises may be late in their fulfillment, but, be assured, they will surely come to pass in the lives of believers. Such is God’s faithfulness.  [Lawson, p. 79].

Questions for Discussion:

1.         List the attributes of God mentioned in these verses. What is said about these attributes? Describe God’s actions in these verses.

2.         As a result of God’s attributes and actions, how should God’s people respond?

3.         The main theme of these verses is the faithfulness of God. Meditate on what God’s faithfulness means for your Christian life. Think about the times God has been faithful in your life. As the psalmist does, use this time of reflection as a time of worship to the glory of God.

References:

Psalms, Volume 2, James Boice, Baker.

Psalms, Volume 2, John Goldingay, Baker.

A Commentary on the Psalms, Volume 2, Allen Ross, Kregel Academic.

Psalms 76-150, Steven Lawson, Holman Reference.