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


This psalm, like Psalm 78, is a long one. It divides easily into three parts. The first part is like a hymn about the goodness and greatness of God (verses 1-18). The second part celebrates the purpose of God for David and for his descendants to be kings after him (verses 19-37). The third part is a prayer when it seemed that the purposes of God had failed (verses 38-51). PSALM 89:1-18


"1. I will sing of your steadfast love, O LORD, forever;
with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all
2. I declare that your steadfast love is established forever;
your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.

3. You said, 'I have made a covenant with my chosen one,
I have sworn to my servant David:
4. "I will establish your descendants 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 feared in the council of the holy ones,
great and awesome above all that are around him?
8. O LORD God of hosts, who is as mighty as you, O LORD?
Your faithfulness surrounds you.
9. You rule the raging of the sea;
when its waves rise, you still them.
10. You crushed Rahab like a carcass;
you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm.
11. The heavens are yours, the earth also is yours;
the world and all that is in it - you have founded them.
12. The north and the south - you created them;
Tabor and Hermon joyously praise your name.
13. You have a mighty arm;
strong is your hand, high your right hand.
14. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne;
steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.
15. Happy are the people who know the festal shout,
who walk, O LORD, in the light of your countenance;
16. they exult in your name all day long,
and extol your righteousness.
17. For you are the glory of their strength;
by your favour our horn is exalted.
18. For our shield belongs to the LORD,
our king to the Holy One of Israel.

As this part of the psalm speaks of the goodness and greatness of God, we can consider in turn what it says about the love of God, the power of God, and how good it is to be the people of God.

The love of God

We have already seen how much is said in the psalms about the "steadfast love" of God and about God's "faithfulness". These words are used time and time again. God is always to be trusted, and is unchanging in his purpose. Part of that purpose expressed in the Old Testament concerned the choice of David as king and God's plan for David's descendants to reign after him. Verses 3-4 speak of this, referring to what is said in 2 Samuel 7:12-13. We will read much more of this in the second part of the psalm. In the next few verses it pictures God, not just in relation to people on earth, but in relation to heavenly beings. All acknowledge that God is "great and awesome". There is none like him, for he alone is Lord and God over all, worthy of the praise of heaven and earth alike.

The power of God

Sometimes it seems that God's creation is unruly, like the wild waves of the sea. But ultimately God is in control. Verse 9 makes us think of what the Gospels tell, Jesus stilling the storms on Lake Galilee, so that the disciples marvelled, and said, "even the wind and the sea obey him" (Mark 4:35-41). Rahab (in verse 10) is sometimes used as a name for Egypt (as in Isaiah 30:7), but in ancient mythology Rahab was a monster conquered when the world was made (see Isaiah 51:9). God has power over all who oppose him. We look to the north and the south, and all that we see - and far more - God has created. Hermon was a mighty mountain in Lebanon, and Tabor, though not nearly as high, stood out from the plain to the west of Galilee. Both mountains made people think of the power of the Creator (see Jeremiah 46:18).

The people of God

"Happy are the people" says verse 15. Happy are the people who join in the praise of God (see Note 2 below on the "festal shout"). Happy are the people who live in the light of God's presence. Such people know the power of God, strong to support them as they trust in him (verse 13). They know God's "steadfast love and faithfulness", leading them on as they seek to walk in his ways, and they know that "righteousness and justice" are found wherever he rules (verse 14). In Psalm 75:10 we read of "the horns of the wicked" and "the horns of the righteous", and we saw that the 'horn' was a symbol of strength, as the horn of a wild animal expresses its strength. Verse 17 speaks in the same way of "our horn", and the Good News Bible gives simply the meaning of that verse, "You give us great victories; in your love you make us triumphant". Verse 18 goes back to the thought of the king who is given to the people. As long as the king belongs truly to the Lord, he is the shield and defender of his people, and they can thank God for him.

Meditation "Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God" (Psalm 146:5).

For further thought and study

a. As we look on God's creation round about us, what thoughts of God should come to us, and how should these thoughts affect our lives?

b. What does it mean to walk in the light of God's countenance? With verse 15 read Numbers 6:24-26 and Psalms 31:16, 67:1 and 80:3, 7 and 19. Notes

1. For the reference to "Ethan the Ezrahite" in the heading of the Psalm see the Note at the end of the section on Psalm 88.

2. The word translated "festal shout" in verse 15 is used in the Old Testament for a war cry, a shout of victory over enemies, a shout of welcome for a king, but also it could express people's single-minded enthusiasm in their worship, proclaiming God as Lord and King over their lives.

3. Following our translation, we have taken "our shield" in verse 18 to be a reference to the "king", in the same way as "princes" are spoken of as "shields" in Psalm 47:9. The verse could, however, be translated as the New English Bible takes it, "The LORD, he is our shield; the Holy One of Israel, he is our king." PSALM 89:19-37


"19. Then you spoke in a vision to your faithful one, and said:
'I have set the crown on one who is mighty,
I have exalted one chosen from the people.
20. I have found my servant David;
with my holy oil I have anointed him;
21. my hand shall always remain with him;
my arm also shall strengthen him.
22. The enemy shall not outwit him,
the wicked shall not humble him.
23. I will crush his foes before him
and strike down those who hate him.
24. My faithfulness and steadfast love shall be with him;
and in my name his horn shall be exalted.
25. I will set his hand on the sea
and his right hand on the rivers.
26. He shall cry to me, "You are my Father,
my God, and the Rock of my salvation!"
27. I will make him the firstborn,
the highest of the kings of the earth.
28. Forever I will keep my steadfast love for him,
and my covenant with him will stand firm.
29. I will establish his line forever,
and his throne as long as the heavens endure.
30. If his children forsake my law
and do not walk according to my ordinances,
31. if they violate my statutes
and do not keep my commandments,
32. then I will punish their transgression with the rod
and their iniquity with scourges;
33. but I will not remove from him my steadfast love,
or be false to my faithfulness.
34. I will not violate my covenant,
or alter the word that went forth from my lips.
35. Once and for all I have sworn by my holiness;
I will not lie to David.
36. His line shall continue forever,
and his throne endure before me like the sun.
37. It shall be established forever like the moon,
an enduring witness in the skies.'" Selah

The first part of the psalm has spoken of the goodness and greatness of God, but has also spoken (in verses 3-4) of God's purpose for David and his descendants. Now this part of the psalm tells the story of God's choice of David, God's blessing of David, and it tells more of that purpose to be fulfilled in him and his descendants after him.

God's choice of David

Verses 19 and 20 sum up what is told as history in 1 Samuel 16. God sent Samuel to the home of Jesse in Bethlehem, showing him that one of Jesse's sons was to become king in Israel. One by one the sons of Jesse were brought before Samuel, and until the turn of the youngest came, Samuel was shown clearly that they were not chosen, "for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart." David was the young man chosen by God, "found" by God, as this psalm puts it. Samuel anointed him "with holy oil", the outward sign of the gift of God's power for him to do the work of king, and (as 1 Samuel 16:13 says), "the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward".

God's blessing of David

Verses 1-18 have spoken of the power of God and of victory over enemies. Now it is said that God promised to strengthen David with that power (verse 21). Verse 17 has said "by your favour our horn is exalted", and verse 24 says of David, "in my name his horn shall be exalted", and verses 22-23 give the assurance that his enemies would not be able to overpower him. The earlier part of the psalm has spoken of the steadfast love and faithfulness of the Lord; now assurance is given that David will experience that steadfast love and that faithfulness (verse 24). He would be able to turn to the Lord as his Father, his God, and the Rock of his salvation (verse 26), and be treated as God's "firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth" (verse 27).

God's purpose for David's descendants

As in the words of the prophet Nathan to David in 2 Samuel 7:12-14, so here God's purpose is expressed that David's son and son's son, and their descendants after them, would rule on the throne of Israel. The experience of the full blessing of God, however, always depends on the obedience of those who are called to serve him. Again closely following 2 Samuel 7:14, the warning is given in verses 30-32 that if David's descendants are unfaithful to God, they will suffer for their "transgression". Yet in the end the purpose of God could not fail. God's word, God's covenant, God's promises can never ultimately fail. Sun and moon and all nature show the faithfulness of God (verses 36-37). As his creation is always dependable, so is God's word and his purpose. What happened to the descendants of David? Did God "establish his line forever" (verse 29)? David's son, Solomon, ruled after Solomon, but his foolishness caused the kingdom of Israel to break into two parts. David's descendants continued to rule for about 4 years. There were some godly kings among them, like Hezekiah and Josiah. But many failed to be just and wise and God-fearing kings. In their times prophets were inspired to give a message of hope that one day in the future there would be a king who would rule "with justice and righteousness" (Isaiah 9:7). One would come to "reign as king and deal wisely, and -- execute justice and righteousness in the land" (Jeremiah 23:5). There were many such prophecies, and the New Testament guides us to see that they found their fulfilment in the coming of Jesus. Mary was told of her Son: "He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David --- and of his kingdom there will be no end" (Luke 1:32-33).

Meditation "If we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful - for he cannot deny himself" (2 Timothy 2:12-13).

For further thought and study

a. Read carefully 2 Samuel 7:8-17 and note how many things said there are also found in this psalm.

b. Note down the ways that the faithfulness of God is described in these verses, and the ways that human unfaithfulness and disobedience to God are described. What can we learn from these different expressions?


Verse 25 can be explained in a way that links it with verse 9. God who "rules the raging of the sea" gives to his anointed to have power over sea and rivers. The other way to explain the verse is as describing the extent of the kingdom of Israel as from the sea (the Mediterranean) to the great river (Euphrates), as it is described in many parts of the Old Testament (for example 1 Kings 4:21).

PSALM 89:38-52


"38. But now you have spurned and rejected him;
you are full of wrath against your anointed.
39. You have renounced the covenant with your servant;
you have defiled his crown in the dust.
40. You have broken through all his walls;
you have laid his strongholds in ruins.
41. All who pass by plunder him;
he has become the scorn of his neighbours.
42. You have exalted the right hand of his foes;
you have made all his enemies rejoice.
43. Moreover, you have turned back the edge of his sword,
and you have not supported him in battle.
44. You have removed the sceptre from his hand,
and hurled his throne to the ground.
45. You have cut short the days of his youth;
you have covered him with shame. Selah

46. How long, O LORD? Will you hide yourself forever?
How long will your wrath burn like fire?
47. Remember how short my time is -
for what vanity you have created all mortals!
48. Who can live and never see death?
Who can escape the power of Sheol? Selah

49. Lord, where is our steadfast love of old,
which by your faithfulness you swore to David?
50. Remember, O Lord, how your servant is taunted;
how I bear in my bosom the insults of the peoples,
51. with which your enemies taunt, O LORD,
with which they taunted the footsteps of your anointed.

52. Blessed be the LORD forevermore. Amen and Amen.

In the first part of this psalm (verses 1-18) we have seen how the steadfast love and faithfulness of God have been celebrated. In the second part (verses 19-37) the emphasis has been on the promise of that steadfast love and faithfulness to David and his descendants who followed him. Then, as this psalm was written, it seemed that God's steadfast love and faithfulness were very far away. The people were conquered and the Davidic king was disgraced and his days as king cut short (verse 45). It may have been at the time when the Babylonians conquered Judah, and the eighteen year old Jehoiachin, after being king for only three months was made a prisoner in Babylon ( 2 Kings 24:8-12). It was a tragic time, and the psalmist asked what had happened to the steadfast love and faithfulness of God.

The king's situation

There were the great promises to David for his descendants, but now instead of the favour of God, God seemed to be "full of wrath" against the king (verse 38). The covenant that was supposed to "stand firm" forever (verse 28) was forsaken (verse 39). The king's crown was "in the dust" (verse 39), and it seemed that God had "hurled his throne to the ground" (verse 41). Instead of experiencing the victory over enemies that had been promised (verses 22-23), his enemies defeated him and all the surrounding nations took advantage of his weakness (verses 40-43).

The people's situation

In verses 46-48 the psalmist's thoughts turn from the situation faced by the king to that facing all people. Life is short and death brings it to an end all too soon. Are we just created for "vanity", to finish up in the grave (Sheol)? God has reason to show his wrath, his righteous anger, against us because of our sin. The prophet has rightly said, "your iniquities have been barriers between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you" (Isaiah 59:2). But must that wrath of God go on burning like fire, and must God hide himself forever?

Why? why? why ?

Verse 49 takes us back to the first part of the psalm with its question, "Lord, where is your steadfast love of old?" God's love and goodness had been shown so much in the past, so why not now? Then that verse takes us back also to the second part of the psalm. What about "your faithfulness you swore to David?" So the psalmist pleads with God., It is "your servant" who is taunted and despised. It is "your enemies" who have the upper hand. It is "your anointed" whom they "insult --- wherever he goes" (verse 51, Good News Bible). The psalm gives no answer to these questions, but the psalmist continues to turn to God in earnest prayer. Sometimes Christian people may feel that there is no answer to their particular problems. They may continue to feel that God is far away. But there are three things that we can say with confidence: a. God is not angry with us forever; if we turn to him in repentance and faith, we can be completely sure of his forgiveness.

b. Because Jesus went through the darkness of death for us and was raised to life, death is conquered, and through Christ we have the hope of eternal life.

c. Because of what God has done for us and for others, we can be sure that, however dark and troubled our way may seem to be, God's steadfast love and faithfulness will never fail us.

Prayer Pray today for those known to you who are facing very hard experiences in life, whether sorrow or sickness or other kinds of suffering.

For further thought and study

a. How can Christian people tell whether troubles that they (or other people) face are the result of their sin and their rejecting God's ways, or whether there may be other reasons for them?

b. The Book of Lamentations shows us the situation that the people of Judah faced when the Babylonians had defeated them. What lessons in facing such troubles can be learnt from what we read in Lamentations 3:22-42?


The last verse here (verse 52) probably did not belong originally to this psalm, but is the conclusion of Book 3 of the Psalms. We have similar doxologies at the end of Book 1 (41:13), Book 2 (72:18-19) and Book 4 (106:48). In fact all our thoughts about God should lead us to think, "Blessed be the Lord forever", and to respond with confidence, "Amen and Amen".