Friday, July 22, 2022

God's Covenant with David (Psalm 89)

While facing affliction, the writer of Psalm 89 (Ethan the Ezrahite, possibly the Levitical singer mentioned in 1 Chron. 6:42 and 1 Chron. 15:17), in need of comfort, raises his thoughts to the eternal promises of God, to the covenant He made with David and all His people forever. He reminds the people of God’s powerful reign over all creation, of His mercy toward His people in particular, and of the unchangeable promise He made to David. The mercies of the Lord could be praised because He does not remove His promises, but fastens them to a people. The people may be rebellious and stiff-necked, but He remains faithful because of His covenant.

Psalm 89:1-2 At the outset, Ethan declares his personal delight in the steadfast love and faithfulness of Jehovah as expressed in the Davidic covenant. He is determined to sing of the mercies of the LORD forever because they endure forever.

Psalm 89:3-4 Faith reverently reminds God of the covenant He had made with David. Because David was His chosen servant, He had sworn that he would never lack heirs to sit on his throne and that his kingdom would endure to all generations. An unbroken dynasty sitting on an everlasting throne!

Psalm 89:5 Then faith rehearses the wonders of the LORD who had made the covenant. It is almost as if Ethan is reminding the Lord that the honor of His name is at stake.

Psalm 89:6–8 He is greater than all the angelic hosts in the heavens. The myriads above are called to praise His wonders and His faithfulness. No angel can be compared to Him; He is supreme above all the heavenly beings. The greatest of them stand in reverential awe of Him; they recognize that He is greater in every way. No one is as mighty as the LORD God of hosts, resplendent in robes of faithfulness.

Psalm 89:9-10 But that is not all. God is great in creation, in providence and in moral perfections (Ps. 89:9–15). One dramatic instance of His greatness in creation is the way in which He rules the raging of the sea and makes its waves cease. He did this on blue Galilee many years ago, and He does it continually in the storm-tossed lives of His people. As to His greatness in providence, what better example could be adduced than His conquest of Egypt (Rahab) at the time of the exodus? He crushed that proud nation like a lion crushes the carcass of its victim; He scattered His enemies like leaves in the wind.

Psalm 89:11–13 The heavens and the earth are His by creatorial right; the world and everything in it belongs to Him because it was He who founded them. The north and the south owe their origin to Him. Mount Tabor and Mount Hermon lift up their heads as if joyfully acknowledging Him as their Maker. His arm is enormously mighty and His hand is strong. His right hand is high over all, supreme in the world of power.

Psalm 89:14 As for His moral perfections, His throne is founded on the twin principles of righteousness and justice. Mercy and truth are shed abroad wherever He goes.

Psalm 89:15–18 Having rehearsed the greatness of the covenant-making God, Ethan now describes the blessedness of His people: “Blessed are the people who know the joyful sound!” To the pious Jew the joyful sound was the festive shouts of the people as they walked to Jerusalem for the high holy days of the religious calendar. To us, it will always be the joyful sound of the gospel. Several things are delineated concerning these happy people. They walk … in the light of His countenance; that is, they walk in His favor and are guided by His presence. They find in Him the spring of all their joy and never stop rejoicing in His righteousness. They do not boast in their own power but in His alone. It is only through His favor that their horn is exalted, in other words, that they are made strong. For our shield belongs to the LORD, and our king to the Holy One of Israel.

Psalm 89:19 And that brings Ethan to the covenant which Jehovah made with David (vv. 19–37). Many years before, God had spoken to his faithful one in a vision. The holy one may refer to Samuel (1 Sam. 16:1–12), to Nathan (2 Sam. 7:1–17) or perhaps to the Servant of Jehovah, the Lord Jesus Christ. He made an unconditional covenant of free grace, setting the crown upon a mighty one, and exalting one chosen from the people. In many of these descriptions of David, we feel almost instinctively that we are seeing beyond David to the coming Messiah-King.

Psalm 89:20–24 Jehovah had selected David from among his brothers and, through Samuel, had anointed him with the holy oil reserved for kingmaking. The covenant guaranteed that God’s hand would forever be upon David and the inheritors of his throne in preservation and protection, and His arm would provide all needed strength. The king’s enemies would not be able to outfox him, neither would the wicked be able to afflict him. The Lord guaranteed to crush his foes and plague those who hate him. The faithfulness and mercy of the Lord would never leave him, and the house of David would derive its strength from Him.

Psalm 89:25 In accordance with the promise made to Abram (Gen. 15:18), the eventual borders of the kingdom would stretch from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates river. In Genesis 15, it says from the river of Egypt to the river Euphrates, but since the river of Egypt flows into the Mediterranean, the boundaries are the same.

Psalm 89:26-27 David would acknowledge Jehovah as his Father, his God, and his rock of refuge. God in turn would make him His firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth. The phrase “the firstborn” sometimes means first in time, as when Mary brought forth her first-born Son (Luke 2:7). But it could not mean that in David’s case because he was the last-born son of Jesse. Here it means first in rank or honor, as explained in the rest of the verse, “the highest of the kings of the earth.” This is also what Paul means when he refers to the Lord Jesus as “the firstborn over all creation” (Col. 1:15). It does not mean that Jesus was the first created being, as some cults teach, but that He is preeminent over all creation.

Psalm 89:28-29 Nothing will ever alter God’s love for David, and nothing will affect the covenant He has made. There will always be a throne of David, and the royal line will be perpetuated forever.

Psalm 89:30–32 The covenant would not exempt David’s sons from punishment when they sinned. Any infractions of the law would be dealt with righteously. Historically, this is what had happened. David’s descendants had been unfaithful to Jehovah, and He had chastised them with the rod and scourges of Babylonian captivity.

Psalm 89:33 Nevertheless the covenant still stood, and although the kingdom was in eclipse for a time, and there was no king reigning in Jerusalem, yet God was still miraculously preserving the royal seed and He would re-institute the kingdom in His own time.

Psalm 89:34–37 In the strongest possible language, God repeats the inviolability of the covenant and His determination to keep His promise to David. David’s line would endure forever, and his throne as long as the sun and the moon … in the sky.

Psalm 89:38-39 To outward appearances it may have seemed that God had forgotten the Davidic covenant. Judah was invaded by the Babylonians and carried off into exile. No one has sat on the throne of David from that day to this. But God had not forgotten. Almost two thousand years ago, the Lord Jesus was born in David’s royal city. He was the adopted son of Joseph, and since Joseph was in the direct line of the kings of Judah, Jesus inherited the legal right to the throne of David through him (Matt. 1). Jesus was the real son of Mary, and since Mary was a lineal descendant of David through Nathan, our Lord is of the seed of David (Luke 3:23–38). So the covenant is thus fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ. David’s throne is perpetuated through Him, and since He lives in the power of an endless life, there will always be a descendant of David to sit upon the throne. One day, perhaps soon, He will return to earth to take His rightful place on the throne of David and reign as David’s greatest Son.

Ethan could not have seen this, of course. To him it looked as if the covenant had been scrapped. Listen to him as he complains that God has cast off and rejected the royal line, that He has been furious against the king whom He had anointed. To Ethan there was no other explanation than that God had gone back on His promise to David, and dragged his crown in the dust. Ethan knew deep in his heart that God couldn’t renege on His promise, and yet from all appearances it had happened.

Psalm 89:40–45 The walls of Jerusalem had gaping holes in them, and the strongholds were shattered. Travelers passing the city helped themselves to the unprotected loot, and unfriendly Gentile neighbors sneered at Judah’s plight. Israel’s adversaries held the upper hand and chortled over their victory. The weapons of God’s people proved useless in battle; the soldiers simply were not able to stand against the foe. The king was deposed and his throne vandalized. Humiliated and covered … with shame, he became an old man prematurely.

Psalm 89:46–48 The LORD who had made the covenant seemed to be hiding from His people. His wrath against them was burning like fire. The plaintive “How long?” goes winging its way to heaven. Ethan asks God to remember how short He has made human life anyway, how frail man is, and how insignificant as well. In his day, every man could be sure of death; the power of the grave would at last win over him. We have a better hope than Ethan; we know that not all will die but that all will be changed when the Lord Jesus returns to take His church home to heaven (1 Cor. 15:51; 1 Thess. 4:13–18). But all this was a secret as far as OT saints were concerned.

Psalm 89:49–51 Ethan’s pleading is very bold and clamant. He asks what has happened to the lovingkindnesses which God had guaranteed to David in the strongest possible terms. He is keenly sensitive to the taunts and jeers of Israel’s enemies, how they insult Ethan himself and mock the exiled king as he moves about.

Psalm 89:52 But in the closing verse faith triumphs. Though Ethan cannot see the answer to his perplexity, he can still bless Jehovah. It is as if he is saying, “Lord, I can’t understand but I will still trust.” So he ends his prayer on the rapturous note, “Blessed be the LORD forevermore! Amen and Amen.”

We often need to be reminded of this great truth, that God remains faithful; no matter how great your sin, if you are His, He will pardon you. “For so easily do we slide into evil, and so prone are we to continual falls, that unless God, in the exercise of His infinite mercy, pardoned us, there would not be single article of His covenant which would continue steadfast,” John Calvin wrote. God, therefore, has provided a remedy for sinners—His pardoning grace in Jesus Christ. This does not mean that we will escape without fatherly discipline, that we have the liberty to sin. But it does mean that we are forgiven and secured by the love of God, who is faithful to His covenant promise.