20 June 2012

Psalm 89:38-52

"Lord, where is your steadfast love of old, which by your faithfulness you swore to David?" (v. 49)


The introductory words of this final section of the psalm indicate a dramatic shift as the psalmist turns away from the glory days of God's choosing of David to the grim reality of the present. "But now" (verse 38) nothing is how it should be, laments the psalmist. God appears to have reneged on the promises made to David. Imitating the style of the earlier description of God's creating acts (verses 10-15), in short, sharp statements the psalm lists God's destructive actions: the renouncing, breaking, ruining, and shaming of the one chosen (verses 38-45). Piece by piece, the symbols of his reign are pulled away from the once forever king.

Given that up until this point, the psalm has been concerned to demonstrate the lasting quality of the relationship between God and the descendants of David, these verses comes as something of a shock. In the same breath, the psalmist accuses God of renouncing the covenant with David, while denying that even God has the authority to do this (verse 49).

In this section of the psalm, David is referred to as God's anointed and servant (verses 38-39 and 50-51; see also verse 20). These titles depict a close and special relationship, and link the psalm to many other texts within the Bible, which offer the possibility that the community of faith may at some point become the recipients of the promises made first to David, taking on the accompanying roles and responsibilities.

Psalm 89 ends where it began, with God's steadfast love and faithfulness (verses 1, 49). Unlike the earlier commitment to praise God's qualities (verse 2), however, here such love and commitment are present only by their absence. Nevertheless, the psalmist stubbornly refuses to cease praising God. Perhaps singing of enduring love and faithful justice, will call them out from the heavens to appear once again on earth.

To Ponder

How does the psalm take you from praise to lament and on to blessing?

What events in your life or in the life of the world have led you to question God's care and commitment?

To what extent can speaking or singing can bring something about / create change?

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).