Commentary on Psalms (42 - 89)
© by Francis Foulkes
& Cyril Okorocha



"1. We give thanks to you, O God;
we give thanks; your name is near.
People tell of your wondrous deeds.

2. At the set time that I appoint
I will judge with equity.
3. When the earth totters, with all its inhabitants,
it is I who keep its pillars steady. Selah

4. I say to the boastful, 'Do not boast,'
and to the wicked, 'Do not lift up your horn;
5. do not lift up your horn on high,
or speak with insolent neck.'

6. For not from the east or from the west
and not from the wilderness comes lifting up;
7. but it is God who executes judgment,
putting down one and lifting up another.
8. For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup
with foaming wine, well mixed;
he will pour a draught from it,
and all the wicked of the earth
shall drain it down to the dregs.

9. But I will rejoice forever;
I will sing praises to the God of Jacob.

10. All the horns of the wicked I will cut off,
but the horns of the righteous shall be exalted."

This psalm begins by praising God because his "name is near". God's name, as we have seen, means his nature, his attributes, and his very presence. The presence or nearness of God means more to the psalmist than anything else in life. All people have reason to speak about God's "wondrous deeds". There are God's mighty deeds in creation, and all he has done for us in salvation and in lovingkindness towards us. We need to realise, however, that in the world God's work in salvation and in judgment must go together. Some people are oppressed, and their situation can only be changed when their oppressors are defeated and no longer have power to use against others. This psalm is about both judgment and salvation.

The time for judgment

Sometimes it may seem to us that everything is going wrong in the world. Morally and spiritually it seems that "the earth totters" on its foundations. But we can be sure that God is still in control. In the way that verse 3 likens the earth to a building, God keeps "its pillars steady". Though it seems that evil has been allowed to have its way, and oppressors are very powerful, God's word is, "At the set time that I appoint I will judge". And when God judges we can be sure that it will be "with equity", with perfect fairness. One of the ways in which judgment is often described in the Bible is as drinking a cup that causes a person to stagger about out of control. God offers to those who trust him a cup of blessing (see 16:5 and 23:5), but those who reject that cup of blessing and work against God and against God's people have to drink another kind of "cup" (see Jeremiah 25:15-29 and Habakkuk 2:15-16). They will have to drink it "down to the dregs" (verse 8, and compare Isaiah 51:17). That means that they will have to receive the full consequences of their wrongdoing.

The strong and the proud brought down

Another way of speaking that we find often in the Old Testament is of the "horn" as a symbol of strength. The horn of an animal, especially one like a "wild ox" (see 92:10), is very powerful and can be used to do much harm to other animals or to human beings. In the same way oppressive men boast in their power and what they can do to others. But the Lord's word to them is , "Boast no more --- do not lift your horns against heaven" (verses 4-5, New International Version). "Against heaven" means against God. Whether people come from east or west, north or south - today we might say whether European or African, Asian or American - let them not boast. To use power to harm others - those who are weak or a minority race or tribe - is an offence against God. Proverbs 14:31 puts it, "Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker". It is also wrong to try to get to the top by fighting or bribing. God alone has power to lift people up, and power to bring them down. This is the message of Hannah's song in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 and Mary's song in Luke 1:46-55.

The humble lifted up

The final verse of the psalm brings the assurance of God's word, "All the horns of the wicked I will cut off, but the horns of the righteous shall be exalted". In other words, the time will surely come when the power of wicked people will be broken. Proud people, proud nations, proud empires in history all have fallen, while those who trust in God find unfailing strength even though they suffer. Those who are weak in themselves but rely on God can "rejoice forever", and "sing praises to the God of Jacob " (verse 9). They can confess, as in the words of Psalm 3:3, "you, O Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, and the one who lifts up my head".

Meditation "The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth" (Psalm 145:18).

For further thought and study

a. Read carefully Hannah's song in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 and Mary's song in Luke 1:46-55, and see the ways in which their message is like that of this psalm. b. Consider the way that in Acts 9:4 the words of the Lord to Saul of Tarsus indicate that in persecuting Christians he was persecuting Christ. What does this mean for us if we are harsh with those under us in the workplace or in any other relationships?. Read Isaiah 58:1-9 and 1 Peter 5:5.


1. The heading of the psalm speaks of it as another "Asaph" psalm (see Note 1 on Psalm 73). We have also the words "Do not destroy" as in the heading of Psalm 57 (see Note 1 on that psalm).

2. In verse 6 the "wilderness" may be a reference to the south, and it is possible to take the Hebrew word that follows to be one that means "mountains" and so speaks of the north rather than meaning "lifting up". There would then be reference to the four directions, east, west, south, north. This would, however, make little difference to the meaning.