Psalm 89

For my weekly quiet time this week, I will blog about Psalm 89.

In Psalm 89, we start with the Psalmist praising God and exalting God’s power and supremacy.  Psalm 89 then moves on to discuss God’s anointing and strengthening of the Davidic dynasty, as well as God’s covenant faithfulness to it, whatever its transgressions (which God will discipline).  Psalm 89 then turns to the Psalmist asking where God’s faithfulness to the dynasty is, as God has severely undermined the king’s protective walls and strongholds, the king has been taunted and scorned by enemies, God has not supported the king in battle (and, in v 51, the enemies may be mocking the king’s retreat), God has thrown the king’s crown and throne to the ground, and the king has become impure (see vv 39, 44).

Moreover, someone speaking in the first person—-perhaps the king, or an Israelite concerned about the well-being of the Davidic dynasty (one reason being that Israel does well when the Davidic dynasty does well)—-reflects on mortality.  He feels that God has shortened his youth, and he then recognizes that life is a mere vapor and that everyone is heading towards death.  The speaker may be wondering what the point is of God’s faithfulness to the Davidic dynasty when people do not even live long enough to enjoy it, and when God does not appear to practice it consistently.  Or the speaker may be trying to get God to feel sorry for the king and Israel by reminding God that they are mere vapors—-that they do not live long, and so God should help them to enjoy whatever years they have left by reversing their horrible situation.

The Psalm ends by saying (in the KJV): “Blessed [be] the LORD for evermore. Amen, and Amen.”

Many apply this Psalm to the aftermath of the events of 587 B.C.E., when Jerusalem was destroyed and the authority of the Davidic monarchy was brought to an end.  But the Psalm is attributed to Ethan the Ezrahite, who appears in I Kings 4:31 to have lived long before that time.  Some interpreters maintain that the Psalmist is not lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.E., therefore, but rather the defeat of the Davidic king in battle sometime before then.

Personally, I agree with those who believe that Psalm 89 has different layers.  I think that the Psalm was originally praising the power and supremacy of God as well as God’s faithfulness to the Davidic dynasty, and a later hand added a lament sometime after 587 B.C.E. because God did not appear to be living up to God’s promises or demonstrating God’s supremacy over the enemies of God and Israel.  This later hand felt free to indicate that he did not find the positive elements of Psalm 89 to be overly believable.  And yet, he wanted to believe in the promises and in God’s supremacy, for those were the keys to his nation’s restoration.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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3 Responses to Psalm 89

  1. truthceeker says:

    Sorry I haven’t been as active on WordPress lately. Got a new job. Praise the Lord. 🙂

    I read Psalm 89 in the ESV Bible and the verse which stood out to me was v. 48:

    “What man can live and never see death? Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol?”

    Clearly this is what the writter of Hebrews had in mind in Heb. 7:16:

    “…who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life.”

    Jesus is presented in Luke’s geneology as from the line of David, through Mary through her father, Heli, who decended from Nathan, Soloman’s brother. This is the best speculation I know of Luke’s geneology.

    The early Christians however do not simply rely only on Jesus linage through David, as Paul states in Rom. 1:3:

    “…who was descended from David, according to the flesh,” (i.e. through Mary),

    And also Gal. 4:4:

    “…God sent forth his Son, born of woman (i.e. Mary), born under the law,…”

    but also on His power over death as Paul states in Rom. 1:4:

    “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead,”

    It is not just in Psalm 89:48 which we see the allusion to a Messiah who will live forever on the throne of David, but also in Psalm 16:10:

    “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.”

    Clearly Psalm 16:10 uses the same ideas of power over death and Sheol. Psalm 89:48, “…from the power of Sheol…” Psalm 16:10, “…will not abandon my soul to Sheol…”

    And, Psalm 89:48, “…can live and never see death..” Psalm 16:10, “…or let your holy one see corruption.”

    Those who are familiar with other interpretations of the translations might find this comparison hard to explain away the ideas of a Messiah who does not die. For myself, I see it very easily, that this was a Jewish idea. Otherwise, why would Christians believe as such? Simply because the idea was a Jewish one first.

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  2. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Good to see you, Truthceeker! I wouldn’t be surprised if there were Jewish interpreters who believed that the Messiah would not die, for the Jewish leaders in the Gospel of John ask Jesus how he can say that the Messiah would be lifted up, when the Messiah does not die. In terms of the Psalm passages that you cite, I think that historical-critics would interpret those as the Psalmist asking God to deliver him from a near-death experience. I can see their point, but their interpretation does create an oddity: asking God to deliver one from a near-death experience, but eventually dying, anyway.

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  3. truthceeker says:

    I should say so! 🙂 After all Jesus, his Apostles, and Paul were all Jewish and they certainly interpreted that the Messiah would not die.

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