The Difficult Journey of Faith: Psalm 89

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Today’s Sunday Psalms entry is written by Timothy Tennent.

Psalm 89 (NIV)

I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever;
    with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known
    through all generations.
I will declare that your love stands firm forever,
    that you have established your faithfulness in heaven itself.
You said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one,
    I have sworn to David my servant,
‘I will establish your line forever
    and make your throne firm through all generations.’”

The heavens praise your wonders, Lord,
    your faithfulness too, in the assembly of the holy ones.
For who in the skies above can compare with the Lord?
    Who is like the Lord among the heavenly beings?
In the council of the holy ones God is greatly feared;
    he is more awesome than all who surround him.
Who is like you, Lord God Almighty?
    You, Lord, are mighty, and your faithfulness surrounds you.

. . .

46 How long, Lord? Will you hide yourself forever?
    How long will your wrath burn like fire?
47 Remember how fleeting is my life.
    For what futility you have created all humanity!
48 Who can live and not see death,
    or who can escape the power of the grave?
49 Lord, where is your former great love,
    which in your faithfulness you swore to David?
50 Remember, Lord, how your servant has been mocked,
    how I bear in my heart the taunts of all the nations,
51 the taunts with which your enemies, Lord, have mocked,
    with which they have mocked every step of your anointed one.

52 Praise be to the Lord forever!
Amen and Amen.

Sing this psalm with the Seedbed Psalter today! Visit the resource here.

CONSIDER THIS

Psalm 89 is a lengthy psalm that brings us into a ­difficult, but great journey. It is the only psalm in the Psalter written by Ethan the Ezrahite. The only thing we know about Ethan is that he played the bronze cymbals in the ancient Levitical worship band (1 Chron. 15:19) and he wrote this remarkable psalm, which brings Book Three of the Psalms to a close.

The opening words set the stage for the journey by triumphantly declaring the Lord’s great love and his faithfulness. The first part of the journey focuses on the created order. We can see abundant signs of God’s presence and power in creation (vv. 1–9). The heavens, the skies, and the raging sea all testify to his greatness and power. The second part of the psalm focuses on Israel and, in particular, God’s covenant with David. God has made a covenant with David and promised him that his covenant will never fail. God promised David, “I will establish your line forever and make your throne firm through all generations” (v. 4). “My covenant with [David] will never fail” (v. 28). “His line will continue forever and his throne endure before me like the sun” (v. 36). The word selah appears in the psalm after verse 37. This is the point where we enter into the third and final phase of this journey. The word selah, as we have noted in Psalm 44, is some form of early musical interlude and probably indicates a time to pause and take our breath before we enter into the final leg of the journey.

Now the tone dramatically changes. The psalmist feels as though God has not kept his side of the covenant. He senses God’s anger. He sees his strongholds reduced to ruins. Everywhere he looks he sees the people of God defeated and plundered. The psalmist is distraught. He feels as if God has forgotten him and his people. He believes that God has renounced the covenant. The psalm then breaks into a series of questions, which are almost shouted out at God: How long O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever? Where is your former great love? Where is your faithfulness you swore to David?

All of us can remember times when we sensed the silence of God and wondered if he was really going to keep his promises. All of us can think of times when we felt abandoned and alone. As Christians, we recognize that the unresolved discord of this psalm ultimately points us to the New Testament and to Christ himself. Christ is great David’s greater Son, and in him the everlasting covenant made to David is fulfilled and made more certain than anything David could have imagined. But we should still allow this psalm to bring us through the agony of this experience. Indeed, even with the limited view of the plan of salvation, the psalmist cries out how God’s Anointed One has been mocked (v. 51). The unresolved tensions are finally met in Christ. It is only with an eye to the Messiah, God’s Anointed One, that we can resonate with the final conclusion of the psalm, which ends with a powerful exclamation of trust in the Lord: “Praise be to the Lord forever! Amen and Amen” (v. 52).

The great sign of faith is not the absence of difficulties or always emotionally feeling God’s presence. It is the dogged determination to hold on to the Lord in the midst of the storm, knowing that the great Maker of promises has not forgotten a single one. And, in Christ, all the promises of God are yes and amen (2 Cor. 1:20). This dogged determination is the somber note that brings Book Three of the Psalms to a close. Even though the psalmist cannot see the answer, he is holding on to the hope that God must have some further word that might make sense of the promises of God that he does not yet see fulfilled. Although Psalm 89 ends with the taunts and mocking of the enemies against God’s “anointed one” (v. 51), we must remember that the Hebrew word for the “anointed one” is Messiah. The Greek word for the same phrase is Christ. Book Three closes by prophetically pointing to the sober rejection of the passion of Jesus Christ. We are thankful that the sufferings of Christ are neither the last chapter of redemption, nor God’s final word for us. The hope of the psalmist was not in vain. Even in the darkest point of night, we hope for, and await, the dawn.

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Timothy C. Tennent is the President of Asbury Theological Seminary and a Professor of Global Christianity. His works include Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian Missiology for the Twenty-first Century and Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church Is Influencing the Way We Think about and Discuss Theology. He blogs at timothytennent.com and can be followed on twitter @TimTennent.

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