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Psalm 89: Long Study

Living Commentary Series

Learning how to Study the Old Testament Psalms

Paul J. Bucknell

This long study of Psalm 89, part 4 of 4 of Learning How to Study the Old Testament Psalms, helps a person learn how to profitably study a Psalm when one has more time in which to find the Psalm's own theme.

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Reading the OT
| Studying Psalms | Psalm 89 Short | Psalm 89 Long study
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Psalm 89 - The ʻLongʼ Approach

Goal: Discover the main reason for writing a certain psalm.

Usually Psalms are short, but at times they are long like this one. The long approach assumes we have more time. We have real time to read through the whole Psalm and still find God speak to us (half hour minimum?).

In many cases, as in Psalm 89, we discover that the whole psalm, rather than some individual verse, also is packed with a significant message. Our concern is to have this significant message impact our lives.Division of Psalm 89

Try scanning the psalm as a whole. We note there are 52 verses. We see that it is largely a praise Psalm which describes God's faithfulness to His people. The Psalmist is especially stirred up to think about God's faithfulness as he recourses the way God has patiently and kindly worked with His people over the ages.

Quickly scan and start making observations like the one above in the short summary. Next you want to prayerfully go through the psalm paragraph by paragraph. This exercise joins the many paragraphs together into a single theme and powerful message.

Note each paragraph division (they are not inspired but helpful). I have listed them below. (In the NASB the verse number is emboldened and there is a wider space above it.) We need to discover two things for this study:

  1. What is the theme or main message of the individual paragraph?

  2. How is the paragraph related to the former and following paragraphs?

I will only state how it relates to the prior paragraph to avoid duplicity.
89:52 (This verse serves as a concluding statement of Book 2 of the Psalms. Maybe this psalm has such a powerful message that it is put at the end of this section as a summary emphasis.)

It might look like a lot of time is used but not too much time is used to take these two steps. Feel free to do your own!

Psalm 89:1-4

  • Theme: He declares God's lovingkindness and faithfulness
  • Relates: No previous paragraph.

Psalm 89:5-10

  • Theme: The heavens and nature declare God's lovingkindness and faithfulness.
  • Relates: 1-4 <-> 5-10 He first states his praise ("I") and then ascribes praise through things God has made.

Psalm 89:11-18

  • Theme: Depicts the proper response from God's people to such a great God.
  • Relates: 5-10<->11-18 Moves from ascribing God's greatness to our response.

Psalm 89:19-29

  • Theme: Records God's special revelation and protection to His people.
  • Relates: 11-18<->19-29 Goes from delight in God to special relationship with Him.

Psalm 89:30-37

  • Theme: Reminds God's people of God's covenant even to judge His people.
  • Relates: 19-29<->30-37 Explains how in Lord's covenant His people might suffer.

Psalm 89:38-45

  • Theme: Points out God is extreme in His anger toward His people.
  • Relates: 30-37<->38-45 Explains how in Lord's covenant His people might suffer.

Psalm 89:46-48

  • Theme: Tells God that His people will not last long under such harsh treatment.
  • Relates: 38-45<->46-48 Statements of God's ways turn to seeking God for change.

Psalm 89:49-51

  • Theme: Seeks God to remember His covenant made to David because of His love.
  • Relates: 46-48<->49-51 (52) No longer "How long?" but "Where is your love?"

Catching the whole idea

After these two steps are done, one can meditate more freely on the whole Psalm. When the Psalm is short, it is easy to say that this psalm is about this or that. This is not true with longer psalms. We have to process the meaning and difference of each sequential paragraph so that we can see where this psalmist is going.

I was wholly caught off guard by Psalm 89. Think of it yourself. Does he end with praises or speaking of God's greatness? No. At some point he begins to veer off. At verse 30 he begins a new trajectory and at 38 we can see where he is going. It is not until the concluding two paragraphs that the full power of the psalmist is seen.

Ethan knew of God's lovingkindness (1,2,49). This is His covenant love shown to His people. He would never break this covenant love. The Lord bound Himself to His promises to David. So David, much like Nehemiah and Daniel, recall God's faithful promises of old to call Him to a future change of treatment. Here are a few extra studies one can more powerfully develop this message.

  • In Psalm 89 Ethan finds the Lord doing many awesome things. List ten great things he finds about God's wonderful works among His people.

  • Go through Psalm 89:21-29 and record all the promises and blessings mentioned.

  • How does the psalmist change his focus starting in 89:19?

The key to understand this section is to see how God was greatly moved to wonderfully bless David because of his trust in the Lord. God just poured blessings upon David's life and his descendants. These promises of God shaped how God would bless His people.

You might be wondering what happens if the people do not obey God. Will they still receive His blessings? This is what the Lord addresses in the next section of verses, 89:30-37.

  • How will and will God not deal with His people because of David if they disobey Him? (89:30-37)

  • Read 89:38-45. Who do you think the psalmist is describing? List five things from these verses that have happened.

This will help us better understand the context. From the devastation mention, we must surmise that this happened to the defeat of the Israelites under Solomon's sons after he passed away. But since we cannot be sure, we are safer to assume the general context mentioned in the verses above.

✴ Two questions

Psalm 89:6 and 89:49 each provide thoughtful questions which in turn introduce one of the two closing paragraphs.

✦ How long, O Lord?

✦ Where are your former lovingkindnesses, O Lord? These are very significant questions that bring this psalm to a powerful conclusion.

How Long, O Lord?

Verse 89:46 provides the answer to the first question. The Lord was angry with the Israelites. They have greatly suffered from the Lord's hand. In 89:46-49, the psalmist cries out to the Lord to have mercy. Name 3 of these reasons he begs mercy.

"How long, O LORD? Wilt Thou hide Thyself forever? Will Thy wrath burn like fire? Remember what my span of life is; For what vanity Thou hast created all the sons of men! What man can live and not see death? Can he deliver his soul from the power of Sheol? Selah." (Psalms 89:46-48).

How do you think we should respond to the Lord if we find ourselves or our society under God's righteous judgment? Even now, the so-called Christian nation of America is said to have left the Lord. All sorts of financial, immoral onslaughts are happening. Terrorists are arising. How are we to think of these things?

Where is your promised love, O Lord?

The psalmist closes his argument with 89:49-52. His tone is softer and more trustful. All along the psalmist was trusting God. God faithfully in carried out His promises whether it was to bless or judge. As difficult as it was to look at God's judgment on God's people, He could see God's faithfulness there too. But he now seeks God to forbear their sins and extend His covenant love (Hebrew: hesed ).

"Where are Thy former lovingkindnesses, O Lord, Which Thou didst swear to David in Thy faithfulness? Remember, O Lord, the reproach of Thy servants; How I do bear in my bosom the reproach of all the many peoples, With which Thine enemies have reproached, O LORD, With which they have reproached the footsteps of Thine anointed." (Psalms 89:49-51).

The former section (46-48) asks the question, "How long?" while this section asks, "Where are your former mercies?" The first gives evidence why God should shorten His judgment while the second begs the Lord to make it shorter. He like Daniel and Nehemiah goes back to the promises that God had made to David. (This is what Paul acknowledges of David and Abraham in Romans 4).

  • Do you ever ask for mercy? Who for?

  • Do you ever bring out the Biblical basis upon which you place your hope to convince the Lord to cut back His discipline? Look carefully at these verses and see where Ethan had his confidence.

✴ Summary on Long study

We are just beginning in our 'long' study. Any study can be extended much longer, but we have discovered the point of the clever psalmist. Below I will summarize Psalm 89 as I see it.

The psalmist not only leads us along in the beginning but God too. He begins with praise and adoration. He himself praises God for His faithfulness and then allows the heaven and earth to join him in testifying to Yahweh's sovereign faithfulness. If I had to summarize Psalm 89 from verse 1 to 29 it would be totally different than the summary up to the end.

We are forced to twist our head and ask what is the psalmist doing? The question is the right one. What is he doing with such a misleading introduction? But wait, at the end Ethan speaks of the covenant love (lovingkindness) and God's commitment to bless David (89:49). The psalmist has come back and included the former verses to powerful have God consider His covenant to His people.

In a sense, the psalmist is twisting God's arm. He first gets a good hold on the Lord and then begins to apply force. Of course man cannot really 'twist God's arm,' but he is doing what we see happen several times in the scriptures. God's promises are spoken of and then the writer attempts to prove God to take action based on the promises.

What do we learn from this?

God wants us to care enough, to believe enough, to take God seriously. When your life or society seems to be decaying, do you just idly sit by? Or are you moved to seek God's intervention? Or from the other side, can we say that we are so intimately acquainted with the Lord that we can move Him to action? Jacob wrestled with the Lord and won. Abraham sought to rescue those in Sodom. God is not just an untouchable cosmic pole. He wants us to aggressively seek His grace. The place to start are with His promises.

Conclusion on reading the Psalms

The Psalms are wonderfully enriching because they were written to enter our soul no matter what situation we might find ourselves. We must not casually read the Psalms or any Old Testament passage. God has His purposes to make us a godly person.

1 (A Maskil of Ethan the Ezrahite.) I will sing of the lovingkindness of the LORD forever; To all generations I will make known Thy faithfulness with my mouth. 2 For I have said, "Lovingkindness will be built up forever; In the heavens Thou wilt establish Thy faithfulness." 3 "I have made a covenant with My chosen; I have sworn to David My servant, 4 I will establish your seed forever, And build up your throne to all generations. "Selah. 5 And the heavens will praise Thy wonders, O LORD; Thy faithfulness also in the assembly of the holy ones. 6 For who in the skies is comparable to the LORD? Who among the sons of the mighty is like the LORD, 7 A God greatly feared in the council of the holy ones, And awesome above all those who are around Him? 8 O LORD God of hosts, who is like Thee, O mighty LORD? Thy faithfulness also surrounds Thee. 9 Thou dost rule the swelling of the sea; When its waves rise, Thou dost still them. 10 Thou Thyself didst crush Rahab like one who is slain; Thou didst scatter Thine enemies with Thy mighty arm. 11 The heavens are Thine, the earth also is Thine; The world and all it contains, Thou hast founded them. 12 The north and the south, Thou hast created them; Tabor and Hermon shout for joy at Thy name. 13 Thou hast a strong arm; Thy hand is mighty, Thy right hand is exalted. 14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Thy throne; Lovingkindness and truth go before Thee.

15 How blessed are the people who know the joyful sound! O LORD, they walk in the lightof Thy countenance.

16 In Thy name they rejoice all the day, And by Thy righteousness they are exalted. 17 For Thou art the glory of their strength, And by Thy favor our horn is exalted. 18 For our shield belongs to the LORD, And our king to the Holy One of Israel. 19 Once Thou didst speak in vision to Thy godly ones, And didst say, "I have given help to one who is mighty; I have exalted one chosen from the people. 20 "I have found David My servant; With My holy oil I have anointed him, 21 With whom My hand will be established; My arm also will strengthen him. 22 "The enemy will not deceive him, Nor the son of wickedness afflict him. 23 "But I shall crush his adversaries before him, And strike those who hate him. 24 "And My faithfulness and My lovingkindness will be with him, And in My name his horn will be exalted. 25 "I shall also set his hand on the sea, And his right hand on the rivers. 26 "He will cry to Me, 'Thou art my Father, My God, and the rock of my salvation.' 27 "I also shall make him My first-born, The highest of the kings of the earth. 28 "My lovingkindness I will keep for him forever, And My covenant shall be confirmed to him. 29 "So I will establish his descendants forever, And his throne as the days of heaven. 30 "If his sons forsake My law, And do not walk in My judgments,

31 If they violate My statutes, And do not keep My commandments, 32 Then I will visit their transgression with the rod, And their iniquity with stripes. 33 "But I will not break off My lovingkindness from him, Nor deal falsely in My faithfulness. 34 "My covenant I will not violate, Nor will I alter the utterance of My lips. 35 "Once I have sworn by My holiness; I will not lie to David. 36 "His descendants shall endure forever, And his throne as the sun before Me. 37 "It shall be established forever like the moon, And the witness in the sky is faithful." Selah. 38 But Thou hast cast off and rejected, Thou hast been full of wrath against Thine anointed. 39 Thou hast spurned the covenant of Thy servant; Thou hast profaned his crown in the dust. 40 Thou hast broken down all his walls; Thou hast brought his strongholds to ruin. 41 All who pass along the way plunder him; He has become a reproach to his neighbors. 42 Thou hast exalted the right hand of his adversaries; Thou hast made all his enemies rejoice. 43 Thou dost also turn back the edge of his sword, And hast not made him stand in battle. 44 Thou hast made his splendor to cease, And cast his throne to the ground. 45 Thou hast shortened the days of his youth; Thou hast covered him with shame. Selah. 46 How long, O LORD? Wilt Thou hide Thyself forever? Will Thy wrath burn like fire? 47 Remember what my span of life is; For what vanity Thou hast created all the sons of men! 48 What man can live and not see death? Can he deliver his soul from the power of Sheol? Selah. 49 Where are Thy former lovingkindnesses, O Lord, Which Thou didst swear to David in Thy faithfulness? 50 Remember, O Lord, the reproach of Thy servants; How I do bear in my bosom the reproach of all the many peoples, 51 With which Thine enemies have reproached, O LORD, With which they have reproached the footsteps of Thine anointed. 52 Blessed be the LORD forever! Amen and Amen. (Psalms 89:1-52). - NASB