Psalm 89: A Covenantal Psalm of Complaint

Do me a favor and please read Psalm 89.

Psalm 89 caps off the group of psalms that fall under “Book 3”. These psalms have covered a wide spectrum of feelings from authors that encourage us to stand in awe before the presence of God. And this last one in this section is no different.

At first glance one word we see time and time again is “covenant” (4 times to be exact). And as we go through this psalm we see this constant ping-pong of hope and actions between God’s keeping the covenant and his people breaking it. But what is REALLY interesting for me is that while the psalmist declares God’s goodness in keeping his covenant, while he declares the people horrible at keeping THEIR side of it, and while he cries out to God to remember them and hold to said covenant that’s not enough. They want God to act now.

We don’t know much about what all was going on when “Ethan the Ezrahite” wrote it. There are thoughts that they are in the midst of some military defeat, that they are in exile, or maybe even simply reflecting on all they’ve seen and heard. But regardless of where they’ve been there is this sense that where they are is not where they WANT to be. I appreciate how one author (H.D.M. Spence) writes that at first sight it appears that this is a psalm of praise, but in reality it is one of complaint. The psalmist praises God consistently for his love and the covenant he made with David – but he does so as a way to “encourage” God to restore them. Then again, he’s not encouraging God – he truly is complaining and demanding.

  • – God you have done all these things, said you would do all these other things and never waiver (vs 19-37) but now you reject us? Now you spurn us? Now you are angry with the very one you established your covenant with? Why God? Why is our crown in the dust? Why are our walls crumbled and our homes plundered? Why have we become a laughing stock to our neighbors and foes? (vs 38-45)
  • – How long will you abandon us, forsake us, ignore us, hide from us, and pour out your wrath upon us? When will your love return, life come back, and faithfulness to the house of David be restored? (vs 46-52)

As with many of the psalms of complaints, as well as all of OUR lives, we frequently find ourselves caught up in where we are and wanting to be somewhere else. But what we often fail to realize is that so often our current “place” is where we are because of what WE have done. The psalmist cries out and complains to God because of their surroundings – and yet where is their apology for the sins they commit against God and others? Where is the self-reflection? Where is the remembrance of not only God’s covenant (which they are quick to point out) but the PEOPLE’S holding to the covenant too? Where is the reflection of their FAILING to keep said covenant? Where is the request of God’s love to return AND the people’s promise to do better, be better, and act better? Where is the seeking of forgiveness?

The reality of all of this is that this isn’t the way we think. It is much easier to complain than it is to self-reflect and make any necessary changes in our life. It is much easier to ask God to move mountains than for me to take 1 simple step in the right direction. It’s less painful for me to declare the love and forgiveness of God than it is for personal accountability for my own sins. I’m simply really good at deflecting and pointing fingers at others than looking in the mirror. I’m actually QUITE good at it – as is the psalmist. But this isn’t a psalm about the psalmist or even me…this is a psalm about a covenantal God.

6 times we see the word “love” given and spoken of (vs 1-2, 14, 24, 28, 33, 49) and 5 times we read about God’s “faithfulness” (vs 1-2, 5, 8, 33, 49). And while the psalmist uses those terms in a way to motivate God to move – he uses those words because he knows they are true. And while I may not agree with his method I 100% agree with the truthfulness of those words.

The reason the psalmist can complain, the reason the psalmist has the voice to speak, the reason they aren’t completely taken over (as well as the people) is BECAUSE God is faithful and loving and holds to his eternal covenant. And the reality for you and I is that we know how this story, this lament, this complaint ends: Jesus Christ. It doesn’t end because God remembers his Davidic Covenant it ends because he casts a new, wider, and better ETERNAL covenant for his people. One where we don’t need to worry about a “fleeting life” (vs 47) or escaping the grave (48) because we have died and been raised to life with Christ (Rom 6:4)

I do think that that this psalm does a wonderful job at reminding us of God’s covenant, but I also think we should learn from the lack of self-reflection that is going on here too. We should never be complacent about being held accountable when we don’t love and serve others. We should never blame God for where we are when often times it’s our own choices that put us there. So yes hold to the love, forgiveness, and mercy of God but do some self-reflection as well. I think all of our lives could be slightly easier if we spend a little more time reflecting and a lot less time blaming.

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