01 Oct. 2004            
A Prayer
of Jesus
I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise
and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will

The Promise

Chapter 9
The Psalms

The Book of Praises

By Edgar Jones


The promises of the LORD are promises that are pure, silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times. (Psalm 12:6)

Such was the confidence of the Psalmists of Israel, which we find throughout the 150 Psalms of the Hebrew Bible.  Before going to the Psalter's testimony to the promises of God, we can provide some relevant facts.

Authorship is uncertain.  Many believe that they were written according to the ascription of authorship in the titles, and it is, of course, possible that some of them go back to David, the "sweet psalmist of Israel" (II Samuel 23:1). However, the available evidence indicates that they were composed following the return of the exiles from Babylon in 538 BC and prior to 100 BC, a span of four hundred years.  They are hymns composed for temple and synagogue use.  They have been classified in a variety of ways, including (1) Thanksgiving Psalms, (2) Laments, (3) Royal Psalms, (4) Wisdom Psalms, and (5) Liturgies.  One can find more information in this brief article at Encyclopedial.com.

Here, we concern ourselves only with their testimony to the promises of the God of Israel.  We would expect this to be significant if they were composed during the period when the Israelites had returned from Babylon, yet remained under alien domination in their promised land.  They would have been asking the Lord to fulfill his promises speedily, and this would surely have been reflected in their prayers and hymns, and so it was.  We can classify the references to the promise in the Psalms as Promise Implied, The Promised Land and The Promised King.  We will see also that they hark back to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

I. The Promised Implied

Psalms in this category do not make specific references to the Promise, but are such as to imply reliance on God for a speedy fulfillment of what He has promised.  We see the implication in particular in the following:

Ps.9 [9] The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.
[10] And those who know thy name put their trust in thee, for thou, O LORD, hast not forsaken those who seek thee.
[18] For the needy shall not always be forgotten, and the hope of the poor shall not perish for ever.
Ps.14[7] O that deliverance for Israel would come out of Zion! When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people, Jacob shall rejoice, Israel shall be glad.
Ps.18[50] Great triumphs he gives to his king, and shows steadfast love to his anointed, to David and his descendants for ever.

[14] For the LORD will not forsake his people; he will not abandon his heritage;
[15] for justice will return to the righteous, and all the upright in heart will follow it.
[13] Thou wilt arise and have pity on Zion; it is the time to favor her;
the appointed time has come.
[14] For thy servants hold her stones dear, and have pity on her dust.
[15] The nations will fear the name of the LORD, and all the kings of the earth thy glory.
[16] For the LORD will build up Zion, he will appear in his glory;
[17] he will regard the prayer of the destitute, and will not despise their supplication.

These are typical.  Sometimes they are confident statements full of assurance, sometimes appeals of a weary soul who cries out from the heart, "How long?"

[5] How long, O LORD? Wilt thou be angry for ever?
Will thy jealous wrath burn like fire?

But always, one sees in the heart of the Psalmist the confident faith in God, that he will yet arise and fulfill his promises to Israel.  Such are the implications distributed throughout.

II. The Promised Land

These verses show that the children of Abraham who composed them had not lost their hope that God would finally fulfill his promise to give them the Land he had covenanted to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Usually they speak of an inheritance, as land was and is passed along from one generation to another by inheritance.  The events in modern Palestine testify to the continuing hope of Israel that God will fulfill his promise that they should inherit the land forever.  We have visited these promises before, but here is one of the earliest records of the Promise:

[13] Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou didst swear by thine own self, and didst say to them, `I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it for ever.

It doesn't get any clearer than that!  So the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob remember, and the Psalmist helps to assure, that they can never forget what God has promised.

[9] For the wicked shall be cut off; but those who wait for the LORD shall possess the land.
[10] Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look well at his place, he will not be there.
[11] But the meek shall possess the land, and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.

You may recall that this promise remains intact in the teaching of Jesus, in Matt. 5:5.
It is not a promise of the whole earth, as most translations indicate.  It is the recollection in the teaching of the Lord of this particular line in Psalm 37 that is God's promise of the land (of Canaan) for their heritage forever.  The Faithful New Testament (FNT) preserves the correct rendition:

Blessed are the gentle,
For they will inherit the land.

Some verses preserve more details of the Promise:

[35] For God will save Zion
and rebuild the cities of Judah;
and his servants shall dwell there and possess it;
[36] the children of his servants shall inherit it,
and those who love his name shall dwell in it.

[7] He is the LORD our God;
his judgments are in all the earth.
[8] He is mindful of his covenant for ever,
of the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations,
[9] the covenant which he made with Abraham,
his sworn promise to Isaac,
[10] which he confirmed to Jacob as a statute,
to Israel as an everlasting covenant,
[11] saying, "To you I will give the land of Canaan
as your portion for an inheritance."

42] For he remembered his holy promise,
and Abraham his servant.
[43] So he led forth his people with joy,
his chosen ones with singing.
[44] And he gave them the lands of the nations;
and they took possession of the fruit of the peoples' toil,
[45] to the end that they should keep his statutes,
and observe his laws.

It is this promise of the land of Canaan that remains the hope of the children of Abraham, and that is the prime motivation for the existence of modern Israel.  What they are not recognizing is that this promise was always conditional on the faithfulness of Israel.  They failed, and Jesus announced the termination of all of God's obligations to them as a nation.  But today, as then, they do not listen to him.  From where I sit, it is so very sad to see so much bloodshed in their vain quest of this long lost Promise. 

III. The Promised Kingdom

The Land Promise began with Abraham; the Kingdom Promise began with David, though there are hints of it as early as Jacob (Gen. 49:10).  As the Land Promise was conditional, search as we may, we find that the Kingdom Promise is certain.  There are no conditions attached, and this shows up in the Psalms as clearly as in the prophets.  Here are examples:
[50] Great triumphs he gives to his king,
and shows steadfast love to his anointed,
to David and his descendants for ever.
[67] He rejected the tent of Joseph,
he did not choose the tribe of E'phraim;
[68] but he chose the tribe of Judah,
Mount Zion, which he loves.
[69] He built his sanctuary like the high heavens,
like the earth, which he has founded for ever.
[70] He chose David his servant,
and took him from the sheepfolds;
[71] from tending the ewes that had young he brought him
to be the shepherd of Jacob his people,
of Israel his inheritance.

Psalm 89 is unique in that the focus is on David throughout, and the Promise is clear.

Psalm 89
1] I will sing of thy steadfast love, O LORD, for ever;
with my mouth I will proclaim thy faithfulness to all generations.
[2] For thy steadfast love was established for ever,
thy faithfulness is firm as the heavens.
[3] Thou hast said, "I have made a covenant with my chosen one,
I have sworn to David my servant:
[4] `I will establish your descendants for ever,
and build your throne for all generations.'" [Selah]
[5] Let the heavens praise thy wonders, O LORD,
thy faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones!

[19] Of old thou didst speak in a vision
to thy faithful one, and say:
"I have set the crown upon one who is mighty,
I have exalted one chosen from the people.
[20] I have found David, my servant;
with my holy oil I have anointed him;
[21] so that my hand shall ever abide with him,
my arm also shall strengthen him.
[22] The enemy shall not outwit him,
the wicked shall not humble him.
[23] I will crush his foes before him
and strike down those who hate him.
[24] My faithfulness and my steadfast love shall be with him,
and in my name shall his horn be exalted.
[25] I will set his hand on the sea
and his right hand on the rivers.
[26] He shall cry to me, `Thou art my Father,
my God, and the Rock of my salvation.'
[27] And I will make him the first-born,
the highest of the kings of the earth.
[28] My steadfast love I will keep for him for ever,
and my covenant will stand firm for him.
[29] I will establish his line for ever
and his throne as the days of the heavens.

Do you see?  There are no conditions whatsoever attached to this kingly promise.  But now see the change as we continue:

[30] If his children forsake my law
and do not walk according to my ordinances,
[31] if they violate my statutes
and do not keep my commandments,
[32] then I will punish their transgression with the rod
and their iniquity with scourges;

The condition is clear and certain, and we saw how it worked itself out in the Books of Kings and Chronicles.  His children were not faithful, and were punished.  But this does not effect the certain promise to David, as we continue:

[33] but I will not remove from him my steadfast love,
or be false to my faithfulness.
[34] I will not violate my covenant,
or alter the word that went forth from my lips.
[35] Once for all I have sworn by my holiness;
I will not lie to David.
[36] His line shall endure for ever,
his throne as long as the sun before me.
[37] Like the moon it shall be established for ever;
it shall stand firm while the skies endure.

Nevertheless, for all the absolute certainty of the conditionless Promise to David, his throne was not in evidence when this Psalm was penned.  We cannot say who penned it, but it is ascribed to "Ethan the Ezrahite."  More on this later, but for now we proceed so that you may see that the psalmist appears to be either David or someone very close to David, and he is writing at a time when the Promise looks very dim.

38] But now thou hast cast off and rejected,
thou art full of wrath against thy anointed.
[39] Thou hast renounced the covenant with thy servant;
thou hast defiled his crown in the dust.
[40] Thou hast breached all his walls;
thou hast laid his strongholds in ruins.
[41] All that pass by despoil him;
he has become the scorn of his neighbors.
[42] Thou hast exalted the right hand of his foes;
thou hast made all his enemies rejoice.
[43] Yea, thou hast turned back the edge of his sword,
and thou hast not made him stand in battle.
[44] Thou hast removed the scepter from his hand,
and cast his throne to the ground.
[45] Thou hast cut short the days of his youth;
thou hast covered him with shame. [Selah]
[46] How long, O LORD? Wilt thou hide thyself for ever?
How long will thy wrath burn like fire?
[47] Remember, O Lord, what the measure of life is,
for what vanity thou hast created all the sons of men!
[48] What man can live and never see death?
Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol? [Selah]
[49] Lord, where is thy steadfast love of old,
which by thy faithfulness thou didst swear to David?
[50] Remember, O Lord, how thy servant is scorned;
how I bear in my bosom the insults of the peoples,
[51] with which thy enemies taunt, O LORD,
with which they mock the footsteps of thy anointed.
[52] Blessed be the LORD for ever!

So, this entire psalm appears to be an outpouring from the heart of David, but such cannot be the case because there is no experience in the history of David and his monarchy when he would cry out the words of vs. 46:

[46] How long, O LORD? Wilt thou hide thyself for ever?
How long will thy wrath burn like fire?

This is the plea of a hope long unfulfilled, but there was no such experience in David's lifetime.  From the time he assumed his throne, there was only one brief period when it appeared in danger, which was during the insurgency of Absalom -- one that was quickly suppressed.  However, it was very appropriate for the long period prior to 100 BC during which there was no son of David reigning from Jerusalem but rather a long series of alien, tyrannical rulers who knew not David.  I mentioned earlier that it is ascribed to Ethan the Ezrahite.  There is record of such a person during the personal reigns of David and his successor, Solomon, in this one verse:

[31] For he was wiser than all other men, wiser than Ethan the Ez'rahite, and Heman, Calcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol; and his fame was in all the nations round about.

This was written of King Solomon, and reveals one Ethan the Ezrahite who was reputed to be very wise in his time.  The songwriter, the one composing Psalm 89, writing during the post Exilic period, sought to give his psalm greater legitimacy by ascribing it to this ancient seer who may, indeed, have lived and acquired a reputation for wisdom during the days of David.  The conditions under which the psalm was obviously written -- How long, O Lord? -- dictate otherwise. 

This strongly indicates, for us, that Post Exilic Judaism was yet reaching out to God with such plaintive reminders of his unconditional promise to David.  Where was the long delayed anointed one (messiah)?  How long, O Lord? 

One more plaintive Psalm seeks to remind the Lord of his certain promise to David:

[10] For thy servant David's sake
do not turn away the face of thy anointed one.
[11] The LORD swore to David a sure oath
from which he will not turn back:
"One of the sons of your body
I will set on your throne.
[12] If your sons keep my covenant
and my testimonies which I shall teach them,
their sons also for ever
shall sit upon your throne."
[13] For the LORD has chosen Zion;
he has desired it for his habitation:
[14] "This is my resting place for ever;
here I will dwell, for I have desired it.
[15] I will abundantly bless her provisions;
I will satisfy her poor with bread.
[16] Her priests I will clothe with salvation,
and her saints will shout for joy.
[17] There I will make a horn to sprout for David;
I have prepared a lamp for my anointed.
[18] His enemies I will clothe with shame,
but upon himself his crown will shed its luster.

Verse 11 is the unconditional promise that has been fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, who sits on his throne in heaven; Verse 12 is the conditional one, that the successors sons of David utterly failed to keep and so the successors sons of David were eliminated as claimants of the heritage of David.  The end of the Lord's patience with those sons of David, announced to Zedekiah who was the last in the line to wear the crown, was stated by the prophet Ezekiel:

[24] Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Because you have made your guilt to be remembered, in that your transgressions are uncovered, so that in all your doings your sins appear -- because you have come to remembrance, you shall be taken in them.
[25] And you, O unhallowed wicked one, prince of Israel, whose day has come, the time of your final punishment,
[26] thus says the Lord GOD: Remove the turban, and take off the crown; things shall not remain as they are; exalt that which is low, and abase that which is high.
[27] A ruin, ruin, ruin I will make it; there shall not be even a trace of it until he comes whose right it is; and to him I will give it.

That one has come, and the Promise remains without conditions -- a sure promise that was fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth forever.

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