“I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever” Psalm 89, a study with David Guzik on The Incomparable God and His Covenant to David


Psalm 89, a Study by David Guzik  Enduring Word.com / Bible Study with David Guzik


The title of this Psalm is A Contemplation of Ethan the Ezrahite. There are several men named Ethan in the Hebrew Scriptures, but this man is mentioned specifically in 1 Kings 4:31, as someone who was famous for his wisdom yet surpassed by Solomon’s greater wisdom. This means he was likely a contemporary of Solomon and as such was also alive during the reign of David.

“Ethan is probably identical with Jeduthun, who founded one of the three choirs, 1 Chronicles 15:19, 2 Chronicles 5:12

A. The incomparable God and His covenant to David.
1. (1-2) Forever mercy and faithfulness.
I will sing of the mercies of the LORD forever;
With my mouth will I make known Your faithfulness to all generations.
For I have said, “Mercy shall be built up forever;
Your faithfulness You shall establish in the very heavens.”

a. I will sing of the mercies of the LORD: Ethan began this Psalm with a declaration of praise in song, focused on the mercies (from the word hesed, sometimes thought of as covenant love or loyal love) of Yahweh. The great lovingkindness of God lasts forever, so the praise of it should also be sung forever.

i. This is a psalm with a lot of trouble, but the presence of trouble didn’t silence the psalmist’s praise; he sang of God’s mercies. “We have not one, but many mercies to rejoice in, and should therefore multiply the expressions of our thankfulness.” (Spurgeon)

ii. “We think when we are in trouble we get ease by complaining; but we do more, we get joy, by praising. Let our complaints therefore be turned into thanksgiving.” (Matthew Henry, cited in Spurgeon)

b. Will make known Your faithfulness: Ethan was not only concerned to experience the mercies and faithfulness of God; he also felt the need to make them known to others. This was for their benefit, that they might be led to also experience God’s faithfulness and mercy. More importantly it was to spread the glory and fame of God as broadly as possible.

i. Ethan knew something of how good God was; it was fitting that others also know and he was determined to tell them.

c. Mercy shall be built up forever; Your faithfulness You shall establish: This was something that Ethan said to declare the goodness of God. He noted the permanent, enduring character of God’s mercy and faithfulness, and how God had established these things.

i. Mercy shall be built up forever: “Another of the key words in 2 Samuel 7, with its play on the theme of the house David would have built for God, and the living house God would build instead for David.” (Kidner)

ii. “A building is an orderly thing as well as a fixed thing. There is a scheme and design about it. Mercy shall be built. God has gone about blessing us with designs that only his own infinite perfections could have completed.” (Spurgeon)

2. (3-4) God’s covenant with David.
“I have made a covenant with My chosen,
I have sworn to My servant David:
‘Your seed I will establish forever,
And build up your throne to all generations.’” Selah

a. I have made a covenant: As an expression of the mercies and faithfulness mentioned in the previous verses, Ethan noted the covenant God made with David as described in 2 Samuel 7. There, God promised to build and establish the house of David.

i. Ethan’s mention of the covenant shows that it was public knowledge in the days of David and Solomon. People knew what God promised to David and they understood that Solomon fulfilled it only partially.

b. Your seed I will establish forever: God promised David, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom 2 Samuel 7:12. This promise was partially fulfilled in Solomon, the direct son of David and immediate heir to his throne. It would be most perfectly fulfilled in the One known as the Son of David – the Messiah, Jesus Christ, Matthew 12:23.

i. “We have an incontestable proof, that the covenant with David had Messiah for its object; that Solomon was a figure of him; and that the Scripture hath sometimes a double sense.” (Horne)

c. And build up your throne to all generations: God promised David, I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever 2 Samuel 7:13. Again, this was fulfilled in an immediate and partial way with Solomon, but in a full and perfect way with Jesus the Messiah.

i. “The pledge to David is also extended to his descendants (v.4) and thereby to the future generation of subjects. The Lord himself will secure the rule of the Davidic dynasty.” (VanGemeren)

d. Selah: Ethan believed that the wonderful generosity and faithfulness of God in such a promise was worthy of emphasis and meditation, so he instructed the musical pause selah.

3. (5-10) God praised for His faithfulness and might.
And the heavens will praise Your wonders, O LORD;
Your faithfulness also in the assembly of the saints.
For who in the heavens can be compared to the LORD?
Who among the sons of the mighty can be likened to the LORD?
God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints,
And to be held in reverence by all those around Him.
O LORD God of hosts,
Who is mighty like You, O LORD?
Your faithfulness also surrounds You.
You rule the raging of the sea;
When its waves rise, You still them.
You have broken Rahab in pieces, as one who is slain;
You have scattered Your enemies with Your mighty arm.

a. The heavens will praise Your wonders, O LORD: Ethan was probably familiar with David’s words in Psalm 19: The heavens declare the glory of God. God was not only to be praised for His faithfulness also in the assembly of the saints, but for His staggering work of creation.

i. Several commentators regard the mentions of the saints and the sons of the mighty and the assembly of the saints to refer to angelic beings. If so, Ethan the Psalmist brings together all creation to recognize the greatness and majesty of God.

ii. “Earth and heaven are one in admiring and adoring the covenant God: Saints above see most clearly into the heights and depths of divine love, therefore, they praise its wonders; and saints below, being conscious of their many sins and multiplied provocations of the Lord, admire his faithfulness.” (Spurgeon)

iii. “Did not ‘the heavens praise the wonders of Jehovah,’ when a choir of angels descended from above, to sing an anthem, at the birth of Christ? And how must the celestial courts have resounded with the hallelujahs of those blessed spirits, when they again receive their King, returning in triumph from the conquest of his enemies?” (Horne)

iv. Your wonders… Your faithfulness: “They praise God’s ‘wonder’ (which here means, not so much His marvellous acts, as the wonderfulness of His Being, His incomparable greatness and power), and His Faithfulness, the two guarantees of the fulfilment of His promises.” (Maclaren)

b. Who in the heavens can be compared to the LORD: God’s greatness means that He is also incomparable. He is not to be measured on the scale used to measure the greatness of men or even angels (perhaps the sense of sons of the mighty).

i. God’s incomparability is an aspect of His holiness. The sense of holy is apartness, that God is incomparably greater than all created things.

ii. “The biblical universe is not empty, but peopled with myriads of angels, here called holy ones (5, 7) and heavenly beings (6, literally ‘sons of elim).” (Kidner)

c. God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints: Understanding the incomparability (holiness) of God should bring forth a sense of awe and praise from His people, especially as they collectively gather. He is to be held in reverence by all those around Him.

i. “Irreverence is rebellion. Thoughts of the covenant of grace tend to create a deeper awe of God.” (Spurgeon)

d. Who is mighty like You, O LORD: Ethan continued his meditation on the incomparability of God with attention to His might, expressed in His ability to control unruly creation. This unruly creation is described as the raging of the sea and the defeat of the proud creature Rahab.

i. “The extent of the ocean, the multitude of this waves, and their fury when excited by a storm, render it, in that state, the most tremendous object in nature.” (Horne)

ii. “The ruling of the raging of the sea, the stilling of the stormy waves, and the breaking and scattering of the might of Egypt are used by the psalmist to illustrate the omnipotence of Jehovah, before which the mightiest monarchy on earth had no more power than if it had been a corpse.” (Spurgeon)

e. You have broken Rahab in pieces, as one who is slain: Rahab is often taken as a personification of proud and strong Egypt. This may be true in this context, yet there is also a a fascinating connection to the Canaanite mythology of the time, transforming and using that connection to glorify God as in the Incomparable One.

i. The name Rahab means proud one, and in Canaanite mythology the sea god Yam was subdued and the sea serpent Rahab was killed at creation. Here, as in Job 26:12-13 (which perhaps Ethan had in mind), this Canaanite mythology is co-opted and transformed.

ii. Later the Prophet Isaiah would use the same imagery and tone in speaking of Yahweh’s great victory over Rahab: Are You not the arm that cut Rahab apart, and wounded the serpent? (Isaiah 51:9Open in Logos Bible Software (if available))

iii. In the ancient times Middle East there were many popular legends about the gods who combated different hostile deities in order to create the earth. Ethan, Asaph, Job, and Isaiah took some of these stories and made Yahweh the hero of them. Therefore, it is Yahweh who rules the raging of the sea, when ancient legends said that Tiamat (the Deep) was the chaotic goddess defeated by the hero god Marduk (Bel), or Yam (the Sea) who was defeated by Baal. It is Yahweh who cuts Rahab in pieces, not Marduk or Baal.

iv. There is the possibility that there is a grain of historical truth communicated in these ancient mythologies and legends. Ancient rabbinic mythologies suggest that an evil serpent was in the primeval sea resisting creation, and that God killed the serpent and brought order to the world as may be described in Genesis 1:1-2Open in Logos Bible Software (if available).

v. Satan is often represented as a dragon or a serpent (Genesis 3; Revelation 12 and 13) and the sea is thought of as a dangerous or threatening place in the Jewish mind (Isaiah 57:20; Mark 4:39; Revelation 21:1. It’s possible that Rahab is another serpent-like manifestation of Satan, who was the original proud one (Rahab). It is also possible that Leviathan describes the same creature (as in Job 3:8, Job 41:1, Psalm 74:14, and Isaiah 27:1.

vi. It is important to note that the Hebrew Scriptures do not simply believe or adopt this Canaanite mythology; they take it and transform it, using it to exalt Yahweh in a way that the Canaanite myths never did. Elmer B. Smick notes this in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary on Job: “Here the sea that God subdues is not the deity Yam. Job depersonalized Yam by using the definite article (the sea), thus expressing his innate monotheistic theology… Further, by his own wisdom, skill, and power he ‘cut Rahab to pieces’ and ‘pierced the gliding serpent,’ unlike Marduk who depended on the enablement of the father-gods.”

vii. “A study of the Old Testament names for the well-known Canaanite mythological sea monsters like Rahab shows how purposefully the Old Testament authors used the language to enrich their own poetic conceptions of the supremacy of the one and only true God.” (Smick)

4. (11-14) The glory and strength of God in heaven and on earth.
The heavens are Yours, the earth also is Yours;
The world and all its fullness, You have founded them.
The north and the south, You have created them;
Tabor and Hermon rejoice in Your name.
You have a mighty arm;
Strong is Your hand, and high is Your right hand.
Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne;
Mercy and truth go before Your face.

a. The heavens are Yours, the earth also is Yours; the world and all its fullness: In the previous verses the Psalmist Ethan transformed a Canaanite myth to show that Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel, performs all things and none other. He stated the same principle in different words, proclaiming that no other god or gods created or maintains the heavens or the earth. The fullness of the entire world, north and the south, all belong to God.

i. “Turn to all points of the compass, and behold the Lord is there. The regions of snow and the gardens of the sun are his dominions: both the land of the dawning and the home of the setting sun rejoice to own his sway.” (Spurgeon)

b. Strong is Your hand, and high is Your right hand: The skill and strength of men is often expressed in the arm and hands, especially the right hand. Ethan applied this principle in a metaphor to God, expressing His skill and strength.

i. You have a mighty arm: “Towards the Christian church ‘the arm of Jehovah’ hath been revealed in a still more extraordinary manner. She reflecteth on the wonders wrought by Jesus; a conquest over more formidable enemies than Pharaoh and his Egyptians; a redemption from more cruel bondage; salvation from sin and death; a new heavens, and new earth, a new Jerusalem, and spiritual Sion.” (Horne)

c. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne: The Psalmist praised the incomparable might of God, but did not ignore God’s moral greatness. Yahweh has the right to reign merely because of His omnipotence, but His nature demands that righteousness and justice mark His rule, the foundation of His throne and mercy and truth go before His face.

i. Mercy and truth go before Your face: “These shall be the heralds that shall announce the coming of the Judge. His truth binds him to fulfill all his declarations; and his mercy shall be shown to all those who have fled for refuge to the hope that is set before them in the Gospel.” (Clarke)

5. (15-18) The blessedness of those who know the incomparable God.
Blessed are the people who know the joyful sound!
They walk, O LORD, in the light of Your countenance.
In Your name they rejoice all day long,
And in Your righteousness they are exalted.
For You are the glory of their strength,
And in Your favor our horn is exalted.
For our shield belongs to the LORD,
And our king to the Holy One of Israel.

a. Blessed are the people who know the joyful sound: Those who know the good sound of this truth – of God in His incomparable might, His righteousness and justice, and His mercy and truth – are a blessed people, and blessed in many ways.

· They enjoy the favor and fellowship of God’s face: They walk, O LORD, in the light of Your countenance.

· They rejoice all day long in the name – the character and nature – of the incomparable God.

· They find their strength in God, especially in His favor: You are the glory of their strength.

· They enjoy God’s protection: our shield belongs to the LORD.

i. You are the glory of their strength: “It is the duty of Christians, as it was that of Israelites, to ascribe all their strength, their success, and their glory, whether in matters temporal or spiritual, to Jehovah alone.” (Horne)

b. And our king to the Holy One of Israel: A further blessing to the people who know the incomparable God is that God takes a particular interest in their king. The following lines of the Psalm suggest that this king was David.

B. The vision to God’s holy one regarding the covenant with David.
1. (19-24) God’s help to the king.
Then You spoke in a vision to Your holy one,
And said: “I have given help to one who is mighty;
I have exalted one chosen from the people.
I have found My servant David;
With My holy oil I have anointed him,
With whom My hand shall be established;
Also My arm shall strengthen him.
The enemy shall not outwit him,
Nor the son of wickedness afflict him.
I will beat down his foes before his face,
And plague those who hate him.
But My faithfulness and My mercy shall be with him,
And in My name his horn shall be exalted.”

a. I have given help to one who is mighty: The previous lines (Psalm 89:18 spoke of God’s special interest in the ruler of His people. Here some of the result of that interest is described. Speaking in a vision to the king (Your holy one), God promised help to the ruler.

© David Guzik, The Enduring Word.com

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