Lord, where is your former great love,
which in your faithfulness you swore to David?
If you were to read only the first thirty-seven verses of Psalm 89, you’d think it was an exuberant song of praise to God for anointing David as Israel’s glorious and permanent king, through his descendants. This psalm begins with the jubilant lines: “I will sing of the LORD’s great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations” (89:1). And so it goes for thirty-six more verses.
Yet if you were to read only the next fourteen verses, you’d consider Psalm 89 to be a sad lament that seems to question God’s faithfulness. As verse 49 reads, “Lord, where is your former great love, which in your faithfulness you swore to David?” Now, God’s anger with his “anointed one” has led to divine rejection (89:38). “You have put an end to his splendor and cast his throne to the ground” (89:44). The writer of this Psalm yearns for God to remember his unfailing love and deliver Israel from devastation, but the psalmist fills the closing verses of his psalm, not with requests for help, but rather with laments and accusations. Then he adds the unexpected final verse: “Praise be to the LORD forever! Amen and Amen.” (89:52).
How are we to make sense of this peculiar psalm, with its apparently contradictory themes?
The middle of Psalm 89 reminds us of God’s promises to David, promises that seemed to be forgotten when Israel became subject to foreign rulers. The latter portion of the psalm underscores the pain of God’s people as they experienced domination, suffering, and disgrace. Psalm 89 expresses the goodness of God, the sad history and yearning of the Jews, as well as the hope that God would fulfill his promise to David by sending an anointed king to deliver Israel and reestablish God’s kingdom. This psalm can both celebrate God’s love and lament what seems to be the disappearance of this love.
Though our life settings differ from that of the Jews in the time when Psalm 89 was written, most of us can relate to the mix of celebration and lament found here. We have been blessed richly by God’s grace in our lives. Yet our lives have not been free from disappointment and pain. Perhaps your best friend at work betrayed you. Or your teenage children rejected their faith and chose to live in a way that you don’t appreciate. Or your “secure” retirement income evaporated in an economic crisis. Or a loved one was diagnosed with serious cancer. Or… you name it. Like the writer of Psalm 89, we often find ourselves thanking God for his goodness and wondering where his goodness went. We yearn for God’s grace to reappear, so that we might be delivered from our difficulties.
Psalm 89 gives us freedom to tell the Lord exactly what we’re thinking and feeling. It reminds us that we don’t have to pretend as if everything in our lives is perfect. We can be fully honest with God. At times, this means that we will celebrate God’s love even when we’re uncertain about it. God wants us to be genuine in our prayers. He wants relationship with us, with the people we really are. What a wonderful gift!
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
In what ways have you experienced God’s abundant blessings?
How has God not done what you expected? How have you felt about that?
Do you feel free to tell God exactly what you think and feel? Why or why not?
What helps you to be more honest with God in prayer?
What are your deepest yearnings for God’s help today?
Gracious God, thank you for Psalm 89. It models for us exuberant praise. It encourages us to remember your goodness and to offer extensive thanks for all you have done.
Yet this psalm also reminds us of our disappointment in you, our questions, our aching cries for mercy. Even though we have been wondrously blessed by you, our lives have not gone as we had hoped. Your faithful love to us seems to have gotten lost in translation somehow. Thank you for giving us this psalm, which invites us to pour out our hearts to you, both in praise and in lament.
Though our lives are far from perfect, and though we sometimes wonder where you are and what you’re doing—or not doing—nevertheless, we acknowledge you as God. Thus we pray as in the closing verse of Psalm 89: “Praise be to the LORD forever! Amen and Amen!”