18 June 2012

Psalm 89:1-18

"I declare that your steadfast love is established forever; your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens." (v. 2)


Psalm 89 functions as a bookend, drawing to a close the third book of the psalter. As the last word in this collection, it has particular importance, and can be seen as a comment on all the psalms assembled so far. One of the longest of the psalms, Psalm 89 begins by praising God's creative power (verses 1-2) and giving thanks for the special care God has shown towards David (verses 3-4). But it ends on a note of bitter complaint (verse 38-52), accusing God of no longer caring. Like so many other psalms, it is a conversation - an argument, even - with God.

The psalm celebrates God's saving activity which makes space for life to flourish. God overcomes chaos and establishes a far-reaching rule, over the heavens and earth, from north to south, over land and sea. In recognition of God's reign, even the mountains, Tabor to the south and Hermon to the north, sing praises (verse 12).

The image of Rahab, crushed like a carcass (verse 10), may at first glance appear odd or insignificant, but repeated use of certain names within the biblical tradition indicates their importance. Rahab is firstly a sea monster, described in the mythic tales of this region. And later the name comes to symbolise the Sea of Reeds, through which the people of Israel fled from slavery (Exodus 14). And yet this name is also a thread leading back to the story of Rahab, the woman who bartered with the Israelites for her and her family's lives (Joshua 2). Through this name, then, the psalm speaks of how the land emerges from the waters, and of the ebb and flow of the different groups who settle there.

The whole psalm is framed by the concept of God's steadfast love and faithfulness, on which God's power rests (verses 13-14). These two words, often found together, suggest a constancy of care. It is these qualities that make God praise-able, and in fact the psalm is an extended discussion as to whether God has remained faithful, and therefore worthy of praise.

To Ponder

What aspects of nature speak to you most clearly and persistently of God's power, wonder, and care?

How have you experienced God's steadfast love in your own life? And how might you share this experience with others?

Bible notes author

Rachel Starr

Rachel Starr is the Methodist tutor at The Queen's Foundation for ecumenical theological education in Birmingham, where she teaches studies in the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. Before that she spent three years in Buenos Aires completing doctoral studies at the Instituto Superior Evangélico de Estudios Teológicos (Instituto Universitario ISEDET).