I will sing of your steadfast love, O LORD, for ever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.2 I declare that your steadfast love is established for ever; your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens. 3 You said, ‘I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to my servant David: 4 “I will establish your descendants for ever, and build your throne for all generations.”
Psalm 89:1-4 is a very nice, joyful, “psalm-y” passage. In its beginning, we encounter a psalmist positively bursting with hope. The reason’s pretty clear: God loves King David deeply and has declared that his kingdom will never end. Being a part of that, the psalmist is understandably psyched!
That’s the part we read today in verses 1-4. What we didn’t read, though, is verses 5 through 53. Much of the psalm continues in similar fashion, reveling in the power, supremacy and promises of God to the people of Israel. But with verse 39 comes a gut punch: After many lines dedicated to God’s lavish and gracious promises, the psalmist simply says: “Your have renounced the covenant with your servant; you have defiled his crown in the dust.” What follows is the unflinching accusation that God actually hasn’t kept the promise He made to His people, each line further amplifying the pain and anguish seeing everything promised torn to the ground and seemingly deserted.
Scholars believe that this psalm was written during a time when God’s people had been overcome by their enemies. With their king, a descendant of David, dethroned, the people understandably began questioning whether God would keep His promise that David’s line would stand eternal.
While the differences between today’s American and ancient Israelite cultures are many, that feeling of anguish isn’t nearly so alien. With constant political turmoil, social unrest, and news of world-ending diseases and climate crises, the world we encounter every day seems far from what we feel it should be. In all that confusion, it’s not that hard to wonder where God is in the midst of it all. Has He finally given up on a world so hell-bent on destruction?
The psalmist apparently concludes that the answer is “Yes.” Yet in a last ditch effort he still cries out for God’s return, to restore these destitute people to the glory once promised. Could the psalmist—or anyone for the matter—have imagined God’s response to that question? That, centuries later, an answer would ring from a night-darkened stable? That among the filth and mire, amidst an overlooked place and family, part of an oppressed people, the very face of God would twist in a desperate baby’s cry?
In that cry, did God unleash among the people His own deep anguish for their pain; or did He announce that their glory was here at last?
Maybe neither, and maybe both. But this is certain: In that cry, God did answer the psalmist’s question. Has God given up?
Contributed by Jake Smith