Where Are You God?
Have you felt abandoned by God? How have such dark times shaken your faith?
Pride comes before the fall? The psalmist must have had this thought in mind for this royal hymn. The nation's faith in YHWH were closely tied to the fortunes of Judea's monarch, because of the covenant with David. If the king fell, the reputation of God was in jeopardy. So, the psalmist praised the Lord, but bluntly asked, "Why did you abandon the king?"
The psalm can be divided into three sections: praise for YHWH (89:2-18), a reminder of the Davidic covenant (89:20-37), and lament for a defeat of the king (89:38-52). The beauty of the first section made a striking contrast with the last section. How could such a great God allow such a loss to his chosen? Were is his promises for not?
A contemplation by Ethan, the Ezrahite.
1 I will sing of the loving kindness of YHWH forever.
With my mouth, I will make known your faithfulness to all generations.
2 I indeed declare, "Love stands firm forever.
You established the heavens.
Your faithfulness is in them."
3 "I have made a covenant with my chosen one,
I have sworn to David, my servant,
4 ‘I will establish your seed forever,
and build up your throne to all generations.'"
5 The heavens will praise your wonders, YHWH;
your faithfulness also in the assembly of the holy ones.
6 For who in the skies can be compared to YHWH?
Who among the sons of the heavenly beings is like YHWH,
7 a very awesome God in the council of the holy ones,
to be feared above all those who are around him?
8 YHWH, God of Armies, who is a mighty one, like you?
YHWH, your faithfulness is around you.
9 You rule the pride of the sea.
When its waves rise up, you calm them.
10 You have broken Rahab in pieces, like one of the slain.
You have scattered your enemies with your mighty arm.
11 The heavens are yours.
The earth also is yours;
the world and its fullness.
You have founded them.
12 The north and the south, you have created them.
Tabor and Hermon rejoice in your name.
13 You have a mighty arm.
Your hand is strong, and your right hand is exalted.
14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne.
Loving kindness and truth go before your face.
15 Blessed are the people who learn to acclaim you.
They walk in the light of your presence, YHWH.
16 In your name they rejoice all day.
In your righteousness, they are exalted.
17 For you are the glory of their strength.
In your favor, our horn will be exalted.
18 For our shield belongs to YHWH;
our king to the Holy One of Israel.
World English Bible
Praises for the Almighty overflowed in 89:2-18. The introduction to the psalm (89:1-4) reminded God of his steadfast love and promise to David and his descendants. The next scene (89:5-7) described an assembly of spirits where God reigned with such power that it inspired awe. From the royal court of heaven, God's power shown forth in creation: control over the waters (and the defeat of the sea monster/spirit, Rahab), the creation of the land and the great mountains (Zaphon and Amanus in Syria; Tabor, and Hermon in Lebanon). Such power meant justice for the nation beacuse of YHWH's steadfast love and loyalty. Such power meant victory for the king and the people. Such power justified the praise given to God.
19 Then you spoke in vision to your saints,
and said, "I have bestowed strength on the warrio.
I have exalted a young man from the people.
20 I have found David, my servant.
I have anointed him with my holy oil,
21 with whom my hand shall be established.
My arm will also strengthen him.
22 No enemy will tax him.
No wicked man will oppress him.
23 I will beat down his adversaries before him,
and strike those who hate him.
24 But my faithfulness and my loving kindness will be with him.
In my name, his horn will be exalted.
25 I will set his hand also on the sea,
and his right hand on the rivers.
26 He will call to me, ‘You are my Father,
my God, and the rock of my salvation!'
27 I will also appoint him my firstborn,
the highest of the kings of the earth.
28 I will keep my loving kindness for him forevermore.
My covenant will stand firm with him.
29 I will also make his seed endure forever,
and his throne as the days of heaven.
30 If his children forsake my law,
and don't walk in my ordinances;
31 if they break my statutes,
and don't keep my commandments;
32 then I will punish their sin with the rod,
and their iniquity with stripes.
33 But I will not completely take my loving kindness from him,
nor allow my faithfulness to fail.
34 I will not break my covenant,
nor alter what my lips have uttered.
35 Once have I sworn by my holiness,
I will not lie to David.
36 His seed will endure forever,
his throne like the sun before me.
37 It will be established forever like the moon,
the faithful witness in the sky."
In response, God spoke in a revelation in 89:20-37. Speaking in a dream (a typical symbol for revelation), God set David as a a leader for a nation of warriors, a king of victorious armies (89:19-26). David had an intimate relationship with God, like a firstborn son has with his father (89:27). God's steadfast love and his covenant would stand forever, even if David's descendants slid into idolatry and sin. Despite the action of men, God's promise to David would stand forever, like the rising of the sun or the firm appearance of the moon. (Notice how the psalmist equated God's covenant to David with his creative power; the dynasty had a status on par with the light of the day and the night!)
38 But you have rejected and spurned.
You have been angry with your anointed.
39 You have renounced the covenant of your servant.
You have defiled his crown in the dust.
40 You have broken down all his hedges.
You have brought his strongholds to ruin.
41 All who pass by the way rob him.
He has become a reproach to his neighbors.
42 You have exalted the right hand of his adversaries.
You have made all of his enemies rejoice.
43 Yes, you turn back the edge of his sword,
and haven't supported him in battle.
44 You have ended his splendor,
and thrown his throne down to the ground.
45 You have shortened the days of his youth.
You have covered him with shame.
46 How long, YHWH?
Will you hide yourself forever?
Will your wrath burn like fire?
47 Remember how short my time is!
For what vanity have you created all the children of men!
48 What man is he who shall live and not see death,
who shall deliver his soul from the power of Sheol?
49 Lord, where are your former loving kindnesses,
which you swore to David in your faithfulness?
50 Remember, Lord, the reproach of your servants,
how I bear in my heart the taunts of all the mighty peoples,
51 With which your enemies have mocked, YHWH,
with which they have mocked the footsteps of your anointed one.
52 Blessed be YHWH forevermore.
Amen, and Amen.
Yet, God has turned his back on the warrior king of Judea (89:38-45). Defeat has led to destruction within Jerusalem. Enemies have plundered the riches of the city and have threatened the monarch with murder. At this point (89:46-51), the psalm became personal; the king himself cried out: Why, O Lord, why are you angry? Death seemed to be everywhere and inevitable. Instead of proud and victorious, the king was weak and scorned by his foreign enemies. And if he were scorned, so was his God.
The royal psalm began with praise and triumph, but ended in utter despair. (The praise verse in 89:52 was not the end of psalm but the end of the section with in the book of Psalms; hence, it was not original to the psalm.) A boastful psalmist was humbled, like the nation. From the time of the Babylonian exile onward, the nation could sing this psalm and ask the question: did our pride blind us before our fall? As the king goes, so do we, the nation?
This psalm was appropriate for the early Christian understanding of the Messiah. Jesus of Nazareth fit the model of fulfillment. Through despair and death, God kept his promise. Through defeat, God created victory; through death came life!
Our expectations can be turned upside down, and, in doing so, our faith can be shaken. But, aren't these faith crises our problem? Doesn't God work on his own time table and in his own ways?
Reflect on your own crises of faith. How has God helped you to survive and grow closer to him?