Psalm 89: A Song of Two Halves

I will sing of the Lord’s great love for ever;
    with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known
    through all generations.
I will declare that your love stands firm for ever,
    that you have established your faithfulness in heaven itself.
You said, ‘I have made a covenant with my chosen one,
    I have sworn to David my servant,
“I will establish your line for ever
    and make your throne firm through all generations.”’

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Psalm 89

I’m sure that many of us have watched sporting fixtures that have been described as ‘a game of two halves’. This psalm is ‘song of two halves’. In my experience it is always so much better if your team has an absolute stinker in the first half and then emerges victorious in the second half. The opposite, when all is going right and they end up blowing it, is just depressing. This Psalm is in the latter category.

The first half of the Psalm is great. Things could not be going better. The Psalmist speak of YHWH’s great love and faithfulness (v. 1) that lasts forever (v. 2). YHWH rules over creation, sustains it and keeps it from collapsing into chaos (v. 10). It’s like the best David Attenborough documentary ever where the viewer is just blown away by the wonders of the natural world. And this God – whose beauty and creativity are displayed in technicolour all around us – is not a distant deity but a personal God who has made a covenant with David and his descendants (vv. 4, 36–7), an agreement that he will not go back on (v. 35). Blessing and joy are the experience of all those who follow him.

And then it’s the second half and it all falls to bits (vv. 38–51). Instead of victory, it looks like defeat. The exact circumstances of composition might be unknown but we can imagine that this is the sort of thing that might have been written after the fall of Jerusalem, the exile of King Zedekiah and the murder of the royal princes (2 Kings 25:1–7). At best, and often they weren’t, the kings of Israel were shepherds of God’s people, but without them, the flock they were meant to care for was thrown to the wolves. The Psalmist can’t understand what has happened to the covenant, to that commitment God had made, and he feels that YHWH has rejected his own people.

Then it’s the final whistle and it ends in disappointment. The match is over…but not necessarily the league. Loyal supporters who had hoped for so much will not abandon the cause. The Psalm ends not with a chorus of boos from the terraces but with declarations of loyalty (v. 52). Sometimes faith is like that.