God’s Faithful Covenant
With The Messiah & His Seed

a brief study of Psalm 89, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 14 Aug 2009

Psalm 89 is commonly accepted as one of the 13 or so Messianic Psalms by commentators who approach the Psalms purely from a Historical-Grammatical Method. Now, the difference between the Historical-Grammatical Method and the Christological or Grammatical-Canonical Approach is that the former sees Christ in the Psalms only if there is no choice; whereas the latter sees Christ in the Psalm unless there is no choice. And the former tends to see Christ in isolated verses that can appear out of context with the surrounding verses, whereas the latter tends to see Christ in the whole Psalm.

Calvin was working with the Historical-Grammatical Method, when he says concerning verse 30-36—

“To limit what is here said to the ancient people of Israel, is an exposition not only absurd, but altogether impious.… If we set Christ aside, where will we find that everlasting duration of the royal throne of which mention is here made?”

We heartily agree with this sentiment, though we think that the Psalm is so much more meaningful when we see Christ throughout—the way that the Apostles apparently did. But seeing Christ in the Psalm does not mean that we should throw away all the rules of hermeneutics and simply ignore the context. And therefore, it is wrong to say that every first person pronoun in the Psalm must be Christ speaking. Sometimes the ‘I’ is God the Father speaking. Sometimes the ‘I’ could even be the sheep of Christ or the Church speaking. And so very careful thought must be made to decipher what each of the pronoun point to. I bring this up in the exposition of this Psalm because it is especially needful in our understanding of it.

But before we go into some details, let me give you a working title and structure for this Psalm. We may entitle this Psalm as “God’s Faithful Covenant with the Messiah & His Seed.”

There are three main parts in this psalm, which we may entitle: The Promise (v. 1-37); The Present (v. 38-45); and The Plea (v. 46-62).

1. The Promise (v. 1-37)

Now, this is the major division of this Psalm. It begins in a rather interesting fashion, not unique in the Psalter. It begins with a word of praise:

a. Praise to the Father
(v. 1-2)

1  I will sing of the mercies of the LORD for ever: with my mouth will I make known thy faithfulness to all generations. 2 For I have said, Mercy shall be built up for ever: thy faithfulness shalt thou establish in the very heavens.


Who is the speaker of these words? Well, the speaker could be Ethan the penmen. But more likely, Ethan is writing the words of either the Church or of Christ. I believe it is the words of Christ for the Church to sing in union with Him. Only Christ is capable of making God’s faithfulness known to all generations (v. 1). Only Christ could honestly assert: “I have said…” (v. 2).

Christ our Lord would have us join Him to extol the LORD for His covenant faithfulness.

b. The Father’s Response
(v. 3-4)

As the Son speaks, so the Father replies:

3 I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn unto David my servant, 4 Thy seed will I establish for ever, and build up thy throne to all generations.

I think hardly any commentators will dispute that these are the words of God the Father though there is an obvious change in the meaning of the first person pronoun between verses 1&2 and 3&4.

God has made a covenant with David to establish his seed and his throne forever. The covenant, no doubt, was the promise of the Messiah who would descend from David. Remember how the angel Gabriel announced unto Mary, that “the Lord God shall give unto [the son she shall bear] the throne of his father David…and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Lk 1:32-33).

The brings us to ‘selah’ that beckons us to pause and consider the greatness of what God has promised.

c. The People’s Rejoicing
(v. 5-18)

5 And the heavens shall praise thy wonders, O LORD: thy faithfulness also in the congregation of the saints.…


Who is the speaker of these words? The speaker, I believe is intended to be the Church. For look at verse 18—“For the LORD is our defence; and the Holy One of Israel is our king.”

The Church, knowing, the covenant promises of the Father, cannot but praise Him for who He is, for what He has done and for His Son.

We must praise Him for His glory and power (v. 17) as displayed in Creation and Providence (v. 9-12). We must praise Him for His justice and judgement; and for His mercy and truth (v. 14). But we must especially praise Him for his Son. Notice the indirect exaltation of the Son:

6 For who in the heaven can be compared unto the LORD? who among the sons of the mighty can be likened unto the LORD?

8 O LORD God of hosts, who is a strong LORD like unto thee?…

18 For the LORD is our defence; and the Holy One of Israel is our king.

What does Father says to these questions and intimation?

d. The Father’s Rejoinder
(v. 19-37)

19 Then thou spakest in vision to thy holy one [i.e. the Church], and saidst, I have laid help upon one that is mighty; I have exalted one chosen out of the people. 20 I have found David my servant; with my holy oil have I anointed him:…

God has found David. And He made a covenant with David. But certainly he did not only have David the son of Jesse in mind, for as Matthew Henry observed, …

[This covenant] certainly… looks at Christ, and has its accomplishment in him much more than in David; nay, some passages here are scarcely applicable at all to David, but must be understood of Christ only (who is therefore called David our king, Hos. 3:5), and very great and precious promises they are which are here made to the Redeemer, which are strong foundations for the faith and hope of the redeemed to build upon. The comforts of our redemption flow from the covenant of redemption; all our springs are in that, Isa. 55:3. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David, Acts 13:34.

The Father says many things relating to the covenant He has made, but let us highlight a few verses.

26 He shall cry unto me, Thou art my father, my God, and the rock of my salvation. 27 Also I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth. 28 My mercy will I keep for him for evermore, and my covenant shall stand fast with him. 29 His seed also will I make to endure for ever, and his throne as the days of heaven.

33 …my lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail.   34 My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips. 35 Once have I sworn by my holiness that I will not lie unto David.

God’s covenant with David and the Greater David is an unconditional, eternal covenant. He will chastise the children of David, i.e. all believers, if they stray from the commandments of the Lord, but He will never forsake His covenant.

It is for this reason that we can continue to trust in the Lord through all the ups and down and all the pains and struggles in our battles as the Church of Christ. The Father has promised. The Son has kept the covenant. The gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church (Mt 16:18).

But what of the present reality faced by the Church at every age…

2. Present

38 But thou hast cast off and abhorred, thou hast been wroth with thine anointed. 39 Thou hast made void the covenant of thy servant: thou hast profaned his crown by casting it to the ground. etc


We do not know when this Psalm was written. We know Ethan the Ezrahite was a very wise man (1 Kgs 4:31), but we don’t know when he lived. Very possibly he lived to see the destruction of Jerusalem and the humiliation of the Davidic kings by the Babylonians.

Whatever the case might be, the present reality on the ground, appears to contradict God’s covenant promises. The crown has been cast to the ground. The walls and palaces are torn down. The homes are plundered. A multitude has been killed. Shame covers Jerusalem.

Can we not sing the same words today to describe the situation of our day? The Church is small and decimated. The crown of Christ is not represented in the nations. There are few faithful churches and fewer in faithful churches. Shame has shrouded many churches due to scandalous sin and worldly behaviour.

What could be the reason? Well, we could explain to our fathers in the faith who lived in old covenant times that the covenant did not mean that the line of David would not be cut off in any sense at all; for the full fulfilment of the Covenant awaited Christ.

But today, Christ has come, and yet in some sense, the kingdom in its outward manifestation is not much better than in the days after the Babylonian captivity. How do we explain that? Well, we must explain, I believe by the fact that the kingdom of Christ is not of this world. This is what the Lord said: “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight” (Jn 18:36).

The kingdom of Christ is a heavenly kingdom. During the period of time until the final manifestation of His kingdom, there will be ups and downs. There will be periods of prosperity and periods of declension brought about by disobedience. This will be so till the last day. But the promises of God stand sure.

For that reason, we may come to the Father to plead with Him as we are taught in the last part of this Psalm.

3. The Plea

46 How long, LORD? wilt thou hide thyself for ever? shall thy wrath burn like fire? etc

We must go to the Father to present our grief. We must come to Him to plead with Him according to His covenant mercies:

49 Lord, where are thy former lovingkindnesses, which thou swarest unto David in thy truth?

We know from retrospect and from comparing Scripture with Scripture that God does not promise prosperity even for the Church in this world. But we know that God is pleased to hear the cries of His people so that very often He would pour down His blessing in such a way that the glory of His Kingdom emanate through the Church visible and is visible to the world.

May the Lord grant us the hearts so to pray! I am not persuaded that the postmillennial vision that things will get better and better in the world is scripturally or historically sustainable; but I think we should share an optimism in God’s answer to prayers. We must not assume things will get better with or without prayer because God has promised. No, no; it is because God has promised, we must pray.


Let us refuse to resign to the state of things when we see the crown of Christ trampled underfoot in this world. Let us remind ourselves that He is reigning. He is reigning at the right hand of the throne of God. And he will be pleased to manifest His power in prayer until the great and glorious day when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.

52 Blessed be the LORD for evermore. Amen, and Amen.

—JJ Lim