Biblical Commentary
(Bible study)

Psalm 89



This is one of eleven Royal Psalms (2, 18, 20, 21, 45, 72, 89, 101, 110, 132, 144) that deal with the role of Israel’s king in the spiritual life of the nation.  Because even the best of Israelite kings were flawed in some way, the nation’s ultimate hope was in the messiah.  These Royal Psalms, then, point toward the messiah.

The background for this psalm is God’s earlier covenant with David:

“When your days are fulfilled, and you shall sleep with your fathers,
I will set up your seed after you, who shall proceed out of your bowels,
and I will establish his kingdom.

He shall build a house for my name,
and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.

I will be his father, and he shall be my son.
If he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men,
and with the stripes of the children of men;
but my loving kindness shall not depart from him,
as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before you.

Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before you.
Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:12-16).

This psalm emphasizes the “forever” quality of that covenant.


A contemplation by Ethan, the Ezrahite.

“A contemplation” (Hebrew: maskil).  We aren’t certain about the meaning of maskil.  It is found in the titles of Psalms 32, 42, 44, 45, 52-55, 74, 78, 88, 89, and 142––as well as in Psalm 47:7.  We believe that maskil is related to the Hebrew word sakal, which means to have insight.  If so, a maskil is a wise saying.

“by Ethan, the Ezrahite.”  Ethan the Ezrahite was one of five sons of Zerah (the others being Zimri, Heman, Calcol, and Darda) (1 Chronicles 2:6).  He is mentioned in 1 Kings 4:31 where Solomon’s wisdom was being extolled.  That verse says that Solomon was even wiser than Ethan (and Heman, Calcol, and Darda).  That makes it clear that people regarded Ethan (and the other three) as exceedingly wise.  Only Solomon, who asked Yahweh for the gift of wisdom and received it (1 Kings 3:9-12), was wiser.

We know almost nothing about the Ezrahites.


1 I will sing of the loving kindness of Yahweh forever.
With my mouth, I will make known your faithfulness to all generations.

2 I indeed declare, “Love stands firm forever.
You established the heavens.
Your faithfulness is in them.”

3 “I have made a covenant with my chosen one,
I have sworn to David, my servant,

4 ‘I will establish your seed forever,
and build up your throne to all generations.'”


“I will sing of the loving kindness (Hebrew: hesed) of Yahweh forever. With my mouth, I will make known your faithfulness (Hebrew: emunah) to all generations” (v. 1).   The psalmist promises to make known Yahweh’s hesed (loving kindness) and emunah (faithfulness) forever and to all generations.

That might seem an extravagant claim, given that human life tends to be measured as three score and ten (seventy) years.  However, Yahweh made it possible for the psalmist to fulfill his promise.  We still hear the testimony of the psalmist through the reading, privately and publicly, of these psalms.

The word hesed (loving kindness) has a rich variety of meanings––kindness, loving kindness, mercy, goodness, faithfulness, or love.  It celebrates Yahweh’s generous love toward David––and toward Israel.

The word emunah (faithfulness) is a key characteristic of God.  His faithfulness is especially apparent in his loyalty to his covenant promises to Israel.

“I indeed declare, ‘Love (Hebrew: hesed) stands firm forever.  You established (Hebrew: kun) the heavens.  Your faithfulness is in them'” (v. 2).  In verse 1, the psalmist affirmed his unending commitment to make known God’s mercy.  Now in this verse the psalmist affirms God’s unending commitment to his people.

See comments on verse 1 for the meaning of hesed.

The word kun means to set up or establish something lasting.  Thus the heavens, which God established at the beginning of time, stand unchanged, thus serving as a metaphor for the unchanging love and faithfulness of God.

“I have made a covenant with my chosen one” (v. 3a).  In the Bible, God often initiated a covenant with a person or group of people.  In such cases, God dictated the terms of the agreement, which always favored the people but required their compliance.  By initiating such a covenant, God bound himself to the terms of the covenant.

God often chose a person (or the nation Israel) for a particular purpose.  Being chosen entailed obligations, but also promised blessings.

“I have sworn to David, my servant , ‘I will establish your seed forever,  and build up your throne to all generations'” (vv. 3b-4).  See The Context above.

“Selah” (v. 4b).  Selah seems to be some sort of musical notation, perhaps signaling a pause or a change of volume or intensity.


15 Blessed are the people who learn to acclaim you.
They walk in the light of your presence, Yahweh.

16 In your name they rejoice all day.
In your righteousness, they are exalted.

17 For you are the glory of their strength.
In your favor, our horn will be exalted.

18 For our shield belongs to Yahweh;
our king to the Holy One of Israel.

“Blessed are the people who learn (Hebrew: yada) to acclaim you” (Hebrew: teruah) (v. 15a).  The word yada (learn) means to know or to experience.  The word teruah (acclaim) means a shout of joy.  This verse, then, is really saying, “Blessed are those who know what it means to shout for joy at the goodness of the Lord.”

“They walk in the light of your presence (Hebrew: paneh), Yahweh” (v. 15b). The word paneh (presence) means face, but is often used figuratively.  In this verse, presence captures the sense of it.  The person who has experienced shouting for joy at the goodness of the Lord (v. 15a) walks in the light of Yahweh’s presence.

We who enjoy the privilege of flipping a switch to turn on a light find it difficult to appreciate what light meant to people in the many centuries before kerosene, electricity, and flashlights became widely available.  In those times, a moonless night or overcast sky meant darkness that was nearly impenetrable.

In this verse the psalmist intends the light of Yahweh’s presence to mean spiritual rather than physical light.  Those who have walked in spiritual darkness know that it is even more dangerous than physical darkness.  Whether physical or spiritual, light is a blessing.

“In your name they rejoice all day” (v. 16a).  To rejoice in Yahweh’s name involves remembering the blessings that he has bestowed on us.  An old Gospel song said, “Count your many blessings; count them one by one.  Count your many blessings, see what God has done.”  If we will do that, we will find much cause to rejoice in God’s name.  Rejoicing will fill our day.  We will do other things, but will find occasion to rejoice many times through the day.

“In your righteousness, they are exalted” (Hebrew: rum) (v. 16b).  Righteousness is one of the defining attributes of Yahweh’s character.  Yahweh’s righteousness is reflected in his covenant faithfulness.  Yahweh saves those who trust him.

The psalmist says that Yahweh’s righteousness causes him to exalt those who have exalted him by rejoicing in his name.  As someone has aptly said, “God will be no one’s debtor.”  He gives better than he gets.

 “For you are the glory (Hebrew: tiph arah) of their strength” (v. 17a).  Tiph arah means beauty or glory.

In verse 16b, the psalmist said that Yahweh exalts those who rejoice in his name.  Now he says that Yahweh glorifies their strength––makes their strength beautiful and glorious.

“In your favor (Hebrew: rason), our horn will be exalted” (v. 17b).  The word rason means pleasure, delight, or favor.  When used for God, it means the favor which he dispenses to people.

The word horn is often used in the scriptures to symbolize power or glory.  For instance, the altar of burnt offering had horns on its four corners, symbolic of Yahweh’s power (Exodus 27:2).  In the book of Revelation, the Lamb is pictured as having seven horns, which symbolize his power and glory (Revelation 5:6).

When the psalmist says, “our horn will be exalted,” he is saying that Yahweh will enhance the power of those who rejoice in his name (v. 16a).

 “For our shield (Hebrew: magen) belongs to Yahweh; our king to the Holy One of Israel” (v. 18).  In this verse, shield and king are parallel.  Both shield and king belong to Yahweh, the Holy One of Israel––a title that emphasizes both Yahweh’s moral character and his identification with Israel.

A shield, of course, is a device used to ward off blows by an enemy.  It affords protection from various hazards.  When used metaphorically, as here, it can refer to any person or thing that provides security.  In this case, that is the king––King David––the boy who slew Goliath and the man who led Israel to great victories on the battlefield.  He belongs to Yahweh.  See The Context above.


19 Then you spoke in vision to your saints,
and said, “I have bestowed strength on the warrior.
I have exalted a young man from the people.

20 I have found David, my servant.
I have anointed him with my holy oil,

21 with whom my hand shall be established.
My arm will also strengthen him.

22 No enemy will tax him.
No wicked man will oppress him.

23 I will beat down his adversaries before him,
and strike those who hate him.

24 But my faithfulness and my loving kindness will be with him.
In my name, his horn will be exalted.

25 I will set his hand also on the sea,
and his right hand on the rivers.

“Then you spoke in vision (Hebrew: hazon) to your saints” (Hebrew: hasid) (v. 19a).  The word hazon refers to a divine revelation in the form of a vision or an appearance.  It is closely related to the Hebrew word hazah, which means to see or behold––as in seeing God in a vision––or as God appearing before his people.

The word hasid has several meanings, such as kind and merciful and pious.  Elsewhere, the psalmist uses hasid to mean faithful people whom the Lord has set apart for himself (Psalm 4:3; see also Psalm 86:2).  Micah uses hasid to mean faithful or Godly people (Micah 7:2).  In the light of those verses, “saints” seems like a good translation here.

 “and said, ‘I have bestowed strength (Hebrew: ‘ezer––help) on the warrior” (v. 19b).  While the psalmist won’t name David until the next verse, this verse refers to the help that God gave to David, beginning with God’s initial identification (through the prophet Samuel) that God had chosen David to lead Israel, and would empower David to do what was needed (1 Samuel 16:1-13).

The word ‘ezer (strength) would be better translated “help”.  Yahweh has bestowed help on David, the warrior.

 I have exalted a young man (Hebrew: bahar––a chosen one) from the people'” (Hebrew: am) (v. 19c).  The word bahar would better be translated “a chosen one”.  God often chose a person (or the nation Israel) for a particular purpose.  He chose David to be a mighty warrior in behalf of Israel––and to become Israel’s king.

The word am (people) is broad, potentially including all the peoples of the earth.  However, in this verse it probably refers to the people of Israel––although it could mean that God chose David from all the peoples of the earth.  Both are true.  God chose David from all the peoples of the earth––and from the people of Israel.

 “I have found David, my servant” (Hebrew: ‘ebed––servant or slave) (v. 20a).  The word ‘ebed means servant or slave.  The meaning here is somewhere between the way we use the two words.  By servant, we mean a person who serves, but who has considerable (often absolute) power to terminate the relationship.  By slave, we mean someone who has no freedom to do anything other than to follow orders.

An ‘ebed (servant or slave) in Israel had rights dictated by Jewish law (Exodus 21:1-11).  He could rise to a high position, as Joseph did in Egypt (Genesis 41:12ff).  In David’s case, he rose to become King of Israel.

 “I have anointed (Hebrew: masah) him with my holy (Hebrew: qodes) oil” (v. 20b).  Anointing with oil was used for various purposes (healing, burial, expressing grief or joy).  Most especially, it was used to designate a person for a significant role.  In the Old Testament, prophets were anointed (1 Kings 19:16).  Priests were anointed (Exodus 40:13-15).  Kings were anointed (1 Samuel 10:1; 16:3, 12-13; 2 Samuel 23:1; 1 Kings 1:39).

First, note that Yahweh anointed David to be king of Israel.  While the prophet Samuel performed an anointing (1 Samuel 16:13), he did so at Yahweh’s direction.  Yahweh chose David and set him apart for a special place in salvation history.

Second, note that the oil with which Yahweh/Samuel anointed David was holy (qodes) oil––consecrated oil to serve a Godly purpose.

“with whom my hand shall be established (Hebrew: kun) (v. 21a).  Yahweh’s hand and arm are symbols of his power.

For the meaning of kun (established), see the comments on verse 2 above.

 My arm will also strengthen him” (Hebrew: ‘amas 553) (v. 21b).  The word ‘amas has a number of meanings, the most prominent being to be strong or courageous.  Yahweh is promising not only to make David strong, but also to make him courageous.

David, of course, was both strong and courageous from an early age.  When Israel’s army quavered in the face of Goliath and the Philistine army, David offered to face Goliath alone.  When King Saul pronounced him immature and unqualified, David replied that, as a shepherd, he had killed both lions and bears that were threatening his flock.  He said, “Yahweh who delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:37).  Saul reluctantly gave his permission, and David defeated Goliath, using only a slingshot, a stone, and Goliath’s own sword (1 Samuel 17).

“No enemy will tax (Hebrew: yassi from sho) him.  No wicked man will oppress him” (Hebrew: ‘anah) (v. 22).

The word sho (tax) means to ravage or devastate.  The word ‘anah (oppress) means to afflict, oppress, or humiliate.

Yahweh promises to so empower David that no foe will be able to defeat or humiliate him.

The exception to this rule will be when David commits adultery with Bathsheba and has Uriah killed to cover his sin.  The one person who can defeat David is David himself.

“I will beat down his adversaries before him, and strike those who hate him” (v. 23).  This verse repeats the promise of verse 22 in different words.

 “But my faithfulness and my loving kindness will be with him.  In my name, his horn will be exalted” (v. 24).  For the meaning of faithfulness and loving kindness, see the comments above on verse 1.

For the meaning of “his horn will be exalted,” see the comments above on verse 17b.

This is Yahweh’s promise that his faithfulness and loving kindness will be with David, and Yahweh will enhance David’s power.

“I will set his hand also on the sea,  and his right hand on the rivers” (v. 25).  Our hands make it possible to do things, and so have become a symbol of power and authority.  For most people, the right hand is the dominant hand––the strong hand––the hand that wields a sword.  Therefore the right hand is a symbol of power and authority (Exodus 15:6, 12; Nehemiah 4:23; Psalm 18:35; 20:6; 21:8; etc.).

While Israel was not a great maritime power, many men made their living as fishermen.  They knew the seas and rivers, especially the seas, as powers beyond their control.  A storm even on a small sea such as the Sea of Galilee (really just a good-sized lake) could inspire fear in usually fearless fishermen.

In that dry climate, people associated rivers and other streams with abundance.  Rain was considered a blessing (Deuteronomy 11:1-14; 28:12; Job 5:10; Psalm 68:7-10), and drought could be life-threatening (1 Kings 18:1-2; 2 Chronicles 6:26-28).

In this verse, Yahweh promises to extend David’s power even to those realms that were usually beyond human control––seas and rivers.


26 He will call to me, ‘You are my Father,
my God, and the rock of my salvation!’

27 I will also appoint him my firstborn,
the highest of the kings of the earth.

28 I will keep my loving kindness for him forevermore.
My covenant will stand firm with him.

29 I will also make his seed endure forever, and his throne as the days of heaven.

“He will call to me, ‘You are my Father, my God'” (v. 26a).  In Hebrew families, fathers wielded authority.  Children were expected to honor fathers (and mothers) (Exodus 20:12) and to obey them (Deuteronomy 21:18; Proverbs 23:22).  In return, the father was expected to show compassion for his children (Psalm 103:13).  He was expected to train and discipline them (Proverbs 13:24; 19:18; 22:6).  God served as the model for fatherhood (Hosea 11:1-4).

In this verse, Yahweh says that David will call Yahweh, not just father, but “my Father, my God”––thus acknowledging God as a special authoritative and nurturing presence in his life.

“and the rock (Hebrew: sur) of my salvation!” (v. 26b).  A sur is a large rock, a boulder.  A large rock can offer refuge to someone being besieged by enemies.  A rock is hard enough to deflect enemy arrows.  It can also provide a person a hiding place where his enemies cannot find him.

Yahweh says that David will acknowledge that Yahweh is his rock of salvation––his bastion of defense against every threat, both physical and spiritual.

 “I will also appoint him my firstborn” (v. 27a).  In most families, there is a special joy associated with the firstborn.  That was especially true in ancient times.  Torah law granted special privileges to the firstborn, who were to be consecrated to Yahweh (Exodus 13:2; 12-13).  Firstborn sons were to receive a double portion of the inheritance, and fathers were prohibited from reassigning the firstborn’s portion to another son (Deuteronomy 21:15-17).

So Yahweh’s appointment of David to firstborn status was an honor that came with significant advantages.

“the highest (Hebrew: ‘elyon) of the kings of the earth” (v. 27b).   The word ‘elyon is sometimes translated Most High, and is often used for God.  Yahweh does David a great honor by using this word of David.  That Yahweh refers to David as “the ‘elyon of the kings of the earth” expands the honor.

 “I will keep my loving kindness (Hebrew: hesed) for him forevermore.    My covenant will stand firm with him” (v. 28).    See comments above on verse 1 for the meaning of hesed.

See the comments above in The Context and on verse 3 to understand the covenant that Yahweh made with David––and its significance.

 “I will also make his seed (Hebrew: zera) endure forever,  and his throne as the days of heaven” (v. 29).  These two lines express in different words the same thought––that Yahweh will extend David’s seed (his children and descendants) and his throne forever.

The fulfillment of this promise was realized in Jesus Christ, who whose mother was married to “Joseph, of the house of David” (Luke 1:27; see also Luke 3:31).

  • The angel promised Mary that her son “will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father, David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever. There will be no end to his Kingdom” (Luke 1:32-33).
  • When Joseph was required to participate in an enrollment, he “went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David” (Luke 2:4).
  • Paul later wrote of the eternal reign of Christ, saying: “Being found in human form, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, yes, the death of the cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him, and gave to him the name which is above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, those on earth, and those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:8-11).


30 If his children forsake my law,
and don’t walk in my ordinances;

31 if they break my statutes,
and don’t keep my commandments;

32 then I will punish their sin with the rod,
and their iniquity with stripes.

33 But I will not completely take my loving kindness from him,
nor allow my faithfulness to fail.

34 I will not break my covenant,
nor alter what my lips have uttered.

35 Once have I sworn by my holiness,
I will not lie to David.

36 His seed will endure forever,
his throne like the sun before me.

37 It will be established forever like the moon,
the faithful witness in the sky.”


“If his children (Hebrew: ben––sons) forsake my law,  and don’t walk in my ordinances;  if they break my statutes,  and don’t keep my commandments” (vv. 30-31).  Until now, Yahweh has been speaking of David.  Now he moves to the next chapter––to David’s children––to his descendants.

This is the beginning of an IF-THEN conditional statement.  IF this happens (the condition), THEN that will happen (the consequence).

Verses 30-31 constitute the IF clause:  IF David’s children forsake my law.  IF they don’t walk in my ordinances.  IF they break my statutes.  IF they don’t keep my commandments.

The IF clause leaves us waiting for the other shoe to drop.  That’s the role of the THEN clause.

“then I will punish their sin (Hebrew: pesa––rebellion) with the rod,  and their iniquity (Hebrew: ‘awon––especially evil sin) with stripes” (v. 32).  This is the THEN clause.  If David’s children turn out to be disobedient, THEN Yahweh will punish their sins with rod and stripes.

The rod and stripes are two forms of corporal punishment.  Rods were sticks or switches used to beat a person on the buttocks or back, and were sometimes used to discipline children (Proverbs 13:24; 22:15).

Stripes were inflicted on a person’s back by a whip, usually made of leather and sometimes containing sharp bits of stone or metal.

Both rod and stripes were harsh punishments, but Yahweh’s purpose was not primarily to inflict injury but rather to inspire repentance.

 “But I will not completely take my loving kindness (hesed) from him,  nor allow my faithfulness (emunah) to fail” (v. 33).  See comments on verse 1 for the meaning of hesed and emunah.

Yahweh will not be controlled by the sins of David’s children.  He will punish them, but will not allow their failures to cause his love and faithfulness to fail.

“I will not break my covenant,  nor alter what my lips have uttered” (v. 34).  In establishing a covenant with David, Yahweh has made promises that limit his options.  He can discipline without breaking his promises, but he cannot totally destroy.

“Once have I sworn by my holiness,  I will not lie to David” (v. 35).  Yahweh is the fount from which all holiness springs.  He is the eternal source of holiness.  He is holiness personified.  If Yahweh were to break his promises, his holiness would be compromised.  He will not allow that to happen.

“His seed will endure forever,  his throne like the sun before me” (v. 36; see also verse 29).  What could be more enduring than the sun?  When Yahweh created the man and woman and put them in the garden, on their first day they saw the sun rise in the morning and set in the evening.  We observe the same rising and setting today.  Not many things are the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, but the sun is.

Yahweh promises that the same will be true of David’s seed (his descendants) and his throne.  As noted in the comments on verse 29 above, this promise reached its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ.

“It will be established forever like the moon,  the faithful witness in the sky” (v. 37a).  This restates the promise of verse 36 using the image of the moon rather than the sun.

“Selah” (v. 37a).  Selah seems to be some sort of musical notation, perhaps signaling a pause or a change of volume or intensity.

SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.



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Copyright 2017, Richard Niell Donovan