Psalm 89: A Covenantal Problem . . . and Its Resolution

Psalm 89 presents the Bible reader with a covenantal problem. Located at the end of Book 3 (Psalms 73-89), it prepares the way for a new movement of God in Books 4 and 5 (Psalms 90-106 and 107-50). It stresses God’s unilateral promise to David that God will keep his covenant. For instance, read verses 28, 34-37.

My steadfast love I will keep for him forever, and my covenant will stand firm for him.

I will not violate my covenant or alter the word that went forth from my lips. Once for all I have sworn by my holiness; I will not lie to David. His offspring shall endure forever,his throne as long as the sun before me. Like the moon it shall be established forever, a faithful witness in the skies.” 

Yet, it also laments that God has renounced the covenant (v. 38-39).

But now you have cast off and rejected; you are full of wrath against your anointed. You have renounced the covenant with your servant; you have defiled his crown in the dust.

Hence the problem. God has committed himself to , yet God’s covenant can only stand when his people—in particular, the sons of David—walk in covenant obedience.

Going back to God’s promise to David, Psalm 89 points out the rub (vv. 32-34):

If his children forsake my law and do not walk according to my rules, if they violate my statutes and do not keep my commandments, then I will punish their transgression with the rod and their iniquity with stripes,

The covenantal problem is this: As long as David’s sons sin against God, God cannot bless his people. God’s covenant is unilateral, but it is not blind to sin. It is gracious, but never at the expense of holiness. It is monergistic, but it requires a faithful covenant partner. It is unilateral but not unconditional.

Therefore, the problem lamented by Psalm 89 and its focus on the Davidic covenant can only be resolved in a new covenant. Standing at the end of Book 3, Psalm 89 drives the reader forward to find resolution in God’s intervening Lordship (Pss 90-99), in his provision of Savior (Ps 110) and a greater sacrifice (Ps 118), the reestablishment of the Law (Ps 119) and entrance into the eschatological temple with its greater priesthood (Pss 120-34, esp. Ps 132). To summarize it, while Psalm 89 laments the fall of the Davidic covenant; Psalms 90-150 function to establish a new covenant with a better David.

In this way, Psalm 89 illustrates the tension of all the older covenants. Each was gracious, but ultimately ineffective. Sin destroyed them all. Only the covenant mediated by Jesus Christ could fulfill the promises to David, Abraham, and Israel. He alone was and is the true covenant mediator.

Praise be to God for his unswerving commitment to bless his people, and for sending his Son to effect what all the old covenants promised but could not deliver.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss