Saturday, August 11, 2012

Psalm 89

For my weekly quiet time this week, I will blog about Psalm 89

In Psalm 89, we start with the Psalmist praising God and exalting God's power and supremacy.  Psalm 89 then moves on to discuss God's anointing and strengthening of the Davidic dynasty, as well as God's covenant faithfulness to it, whatever its transgressions (which God will discipline).  Psalm 89 then turns to the Psalmist asking where God's faithfulness to the dynasty is, as God has severely undermined the king's protective walls and strongholds, the king has been taunted and scorned by enemies, God has not supported the king in battle (and, in v 51, the enemies may be mocking the king's retreat), God has thrown the king's crown and throne to the ground, and the king has become impure (see vv 39, 44).

Moreover, someone speaking in the first person----perhaps the king, or an Israelite concerned about the well-being of the Davidic dynasty (one reason being that Israel does well when the Davidic dynasty does well)----reflects on mortality.  He feels that God has shortened his youth, and he then recognizes that life is a mere vapor and that everyone is heading towards death.  The speaker may be wondering what the point is of God's faithfulness to the Davidic dynasty when people do not even live long enough to enjoy it, and when God does not appear to practice it consistently.  Or the speaker may be trying to get God to feel sorry for the king and Israel by reminding God that they are mere vapors----that they do not live long, and so God should help them to enjoy whatever years they have left by reversing their horrible situation.

The Psalm ends by saying (in the KJV): "Blessed [be] the LORD for evermore. Amen, and Amen."

Many apply this Psalm to the aftermath of the events of 587 B.C.E., when Jerusalem was destroyed and the authority of the Davidic monarchy was brought to an end.  But the Psalm is attributed to Ethan the Ezrahite, who appears in I Kings 4:31 to have lived long before that time.  Some interpreters maintain that the Psalmist is not lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.E., therefore, but rather the defeat of the Davidic king in battle sometime before then. 

Personally, I agree with those who believe that Psalm 89 has different layers.  I think that the Psalm was originally praising the power and supremacy of God as well as God's faithfulness to the Davidic dynasty, and a later hand added a lament sometime after 587 B.C.E. because God did not appear to be living up to God's promises or demonstrating God's supremacy over the enemies of God and Israel.  This later hand felt free to indicate that he did not find the positive elements of Psalm 89 to be overly believable.  And yet, he wanted to believe in the promises and in God's supremacy, for those were the keys to his nation's restoration.

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