The God Who Is Faithful
Main Idea: The most important time to believe that God’s promises never fail are when they seem to have failed.
I. Faithful in Love (89:1-4)
II. Faithful in Power (89:5-18)
A. Heavenly hosts revere him (89:5-8).
B. The raging sea obeys him (89:9).
C. Earthly powers tremble (89:10).
D. Creation shouts his praise (89:11-16).
E. This God is for us (89:17-18).
III. Faithful to Save (89:19-37)
A. It’s a promise of total salvation.
B. It’s a promise pointing to the Messiah.
IV. Faithful When We’re Faithless (89:38-52)
The historical background of this, the third-longest psalm, is likely the Babylonian exile. Babylon came in 586 BC and destroyed Jerusalem and carried the people of Judah away to Babylon. Perhaps two clues that suggest the exile are what we find in verse 40—the fortified city is in ruins—and verse 44—the throne of David had been overturned.
In the United States we sometimes mark time by 9/11. This or that thing was before or after 9/11. Everybody knows where they were when it happened. For the Old Testament people of God, 586 BC was the darkest of days. They marked time by it. Yet we hear this man singing from exile.
There are some primary turning points in the text. Verses 1-4 sing about the Lord’s faithful love and God’s promise to King David. Verses 5-18 speak of God’s sovereignty and grace. Verses 19-37 zoom in further on the Davidic covenant. Then verse 38 sounds a different note. It’s as though we’ve driven past Jerusalem the day after Babylon swept through, and the psalmist is basically saying, “Wait, why? How did this happen?” Verses 49-51 move from a question about God’s faithful love to appeals for God to act in judgment, and verse 52 closes with Godward praise.
Sometimes we find ourselves living in this tension between glorious promises and present darkness. If you want to feel some of force of his questions, go back and listen to what God promised David centuries earlier:
The Lord declares to you: The Lord himself will make a house for you. When your time comes and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up after you your descendant, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. . . . Your house and kingdom will endure before me forever, and your throne will be established forever. (2 Sam 7:11-12,16)
“But you promised!” Do you ever feel like saying that? You hear the psalmist in verse 49 ask, “Lord, where are the former acts of your faithful love that you swore to David in your faithfulness?” It’s like he’s saying, “I don’t have a theology for this.” He’s got 2 Samuel 7 on his lap and exile all over the evening news, and he’s saying, “How is this happening?” We can struggle in the same way. Christian friend, the most important time to believe that God’s promises never fail is when they seem to have failed.
But there’s something instructive for us here. The first words in this psalm are, “I will sing about the Lord’s faithful love forever.” And despite all the questions in the middle, the last words are “Blessed be the Lord forever.” This psalm is bookended with worship. This psalm reminds us of the character of God—the God who is faithful.
Faithful in Love
The psalmist begins by announcing his intention to sing (v. 1). The theme on his lips is the faithful love—or it could be translated the “mercies”—of the Lord. It’s in the plural. He’s counting them up, and there are so many he just keeps counting.
Believers, this is true for us as well. I could sit down with you for an hour and walk you through my life (the ups and downs) and tell story after story. In a way, the one word over it all would be mercies. Mercies in the form of comfort in a time of loss. Mercies in the form of discipline, peeling me away from things that were destroying me. Mercies in the form of relocating me away from high school friends who were influencing me more than I was them. Times where God’s Word leaped off the page with transforming power. I could put you in specific places where I read, for the first time, Philippians 3:7-11; Psalm 63; Isaiah 35; Romans 8; and John 15, where God turned lights on in my heart. Relentless mercy.
I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Niagara Falls, or any of the world’s great waterfalls. I saw Niagara Falls when I was in college. I was spellbound. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anything in nature more deserving of the word relentless than a waterfall.
In Scripture there is nothing more relentless than the love of God. You see it in several places in Scripture. Romans 8, for example, is a Niagara Falls text. The raging river of God’s almighty love bursts forth from Calvary. It is relentless. You get too close, and it’ll pull you in and drag you over the ledge, and it’ll be wonderful.
What we see in verse 1 is more than a resolve to sing but to keep singing. This song will never be outdated because God’s faithfulness is unchanging. However, it’s not just musical singing because the parallel is “I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations with my mouth” (v. 1). So you ask, Wait, is he singing or sharing the gospel? Yes! This “singing” isn’t less than singing, but it’s more. For Christians, this is a summons into a life of making much of Christ in all things.
Faithful in Power
The psalmist is talking about the innumerable angels who worship before God. He calls them “the assembly of the holy ones” (v. 5). The word assembly in the New Testament is often translated “church.” This is “having church” in heaven.
Did you ever stop to think that, as we gather as a church, we aren’t the only ones singing the praises of God? There are innumerable angels, the hosts of heaven, and those who have crossed the finish line of faith, together with the cherubim and seraphim, falling down before the holy, almighty Lord of heaven. Worship in the local church is meant to be a foretaste, a preview, of heaven.
Angels in the Bible are not like their porcelain gift-shop depictions, holding harps and wearing diapers. No, Scripture calls them “angels of great strength, who do his word” (Ps 103:20). They’re called fiery messengers (see Ps 104:4). They show up, and the holiest people in the Bible hit the dirt. The angels frequently have to say, “Fear not,” because people’s first instinct is to fear. You can hardly pay attention to what the angelic messenger is about to say because you’re too busy trying not to die. Consider this: Humans in the Bible tremble in the presence of the holy angels. Angels tremble in the presence of the holiness of God (v. 7).
What is more untamable in nature than the sea? You watch these tsunami videos, and the sea just comes in and does whatever it wants. It moves cars like they’re plastic toys. It takes an ocean liner and rams it into a building. But verse 9 says that God tames and rules the sea. Charles Spurgeon said, “As a mother stills her babe to sleep, so the Lord calms the fury of the sea, the anger of men, the tempest of adversity, the despair of the soul, and the rage of hell” (Treasury of David, 27).
“Rahab” in the Old Testament often symbolizes Egypt. At an earlier point in Israel’s history, Egypt was the superpower of the world. The ESV translates verse 10, “You crushed Rahab like a carcass.” The one true and living God is fearfully holy. He is a consuming fire (Heb 12:29). He opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (Jas 4:6).
Sometimes in the Bible when God comes to town, it’s a bad day for the town. He is a God of justice. There is mercy for any broken sinner who runs to Jesus Christ for rescue, no matter what you’ve done. But those who shake their fists at heaven, those who inflict violence on the weak and multiply oppression in this world, will, at the end of it all, find Jesus, and they’ll wish they hadn’t.
God’s power to execute justice has been a word of assurance and consolation for his embattled people through the ages. God’s people throughout history have taken comfort in knowing no collaboration of human intellect or military might can stop the Lord from bringing his promises to pass.
I lived to experience one of the greatest inventions (maybe of all time): the Walkman. You could listen to music and walk places. I wore out a few tapes that brought together some musical highpoints (or not so much) for children of the ’80s: Michael Jackson, a Christian rock band called Stryper, Ray Boltz (some of you know the song I’m talking about), and a trio called 2nd Chapter of Acts. That last group introduced me to a hymn I had never heard before.
This is my father’s world, And to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres. (Babcock, “This Is My Father’s World”)
The theme of joy continues in verses 15-16, but it’s not just mountains shouting for joy; it’s people. What a song to sing in the midst of hardship and questions! To remember that heavenly hosts revere him, the raging sea obeys him, earthly powers tremble, creation shouts his praise—and to think: this God is for us!
Verses 17-18 answer the question of why God’s people are joyful in verses 15-16. I heard a well-known author and biblical scholar relate a personal story of how he was driving his son to his first semester of college, and his son was clearly stressed and anxious. No encouragement was sticking. The father decided to pull over, and he told his son he loved him and was proud of him, no matter what happened this semester. And that somehow broke through the flood of anxious thoughts in his son’s heart.
I remember hearing a pastor describe a moment in his ministry in which he was wrestling with deep discouragement. Tragedies and difficult decisions all seemed to be converging in the same moment. He went to bed one night so heavy of soul and feeling “done.” He woke up eighteen hours later. All the same realities were facing him. In desperate prayer he said he sensed the Lord telling him, “If you preach weak sermons, I love you. If this church tanks, I love you.” And the fog began to lift.
Faithful to Save
All those promises concerning David’s kingship were seen in the Old Testament as the inheritance of people as well. Consider God’s great promises to King David in verses 21-24. Israel didn’t hear that and say, “Man, wouldn’t it be awesome to be in David’s family?” They heard it and said, “He’s our king. Those promises fall to us!” The same thing is true about the “in Christ” language of the New Testament. United to him by faith, we are coheirs with him. We see in these verses the nature of God’s promises to save.
It’s a Promise of Total Salvation
God’s promises of rescue in Psalm 89 include constant presence (v. 21), defeating enemies (vv. 22-23), faithful love (v. 23), extended borders (v. 25), chasing them when they stray (vv. 30-35), and everlasting dominion (vv. 29,36-37). These promises to David, and ultimately to Jesus Christ, were promises that rest not only on the king but on the people of the kingdom.
God’s promises to us in Christ are comprehensive. It’s a life-abundantly promise (John 10:10). A sin-will-not-rule-over-you promise (Rom 6:14). An I-will-give-you-a-new-heart promise (Ezek 36:26). A there-is-therefore-now-no-condemnation promise (Rom 8:1). A pleasures-evermore (Ps 16:11), rest-for-the-weary-and-heavy-laden (Matt 11:28), grace-the-hour-you-first-believed and grace-that-leads-you-home promise.
It’s a Promise Pointing to the Messiah
I will extend his power to the sea
and his right hand to the rivers.
He will call to me, “You are my Father,
my God, the rock of my salvation.”
I will also make him my firstborn,
It turns out there are two ways God’s promise to David could have been fulfilled. The psalmist only seems to anticipate one—namely, David’s house will sit on the throne forever. That is, one son will rule then die, then another will rule then die, on and on, for all generations. That’s certainly one way of looking at it. Or maybe God was intending to raise up a Son from David’s line and put him on the throne forever, world without end. That’s what ended up happening.
When Jesus rose again from the dead, God gave him the name above every name. Jesus ascended on high and was crowned King over all the kings and Lord over all the lords. And Jesus Christ is the ruling, reigning, and coming King who will bring righteousness, peace, and joy in fullness forever, to be enjoyed by all who have trusted in him.
This leads us to one more reason to worship God while we wait for all of his promises to be fulfilled. We worship because he is faithful in love, faithful in power, faithful to save, and faithful when we are faithless.
Faithful When We’re Faithless
I read psalms like this, and in one way I so wish I could travel back there. We see things the psalmist couldn’t see. Ethan the Ezrahite hasn’t read the New Testament. Given where we live in history, when we hear him asking questions that imply God has abandoned his promise, we wish we could travel back and say, “Wait, there’s more! Listen, in about five hundred years, the skies above Bethlehem are going to light up. Angels will announce that the wait is over and a King has been born. He will rule the raging sea. He says, ‘Peace be still,’ and the waves obey him! He will take our sin on himself (just as Isaiah predicted!). He’ll rise again from the dead. And God will put Jesus Christ, the Son of David, on an eternal throne.” We could tell him that in our time we are seeing the kingdom and rule of Jesus expanding through the church of Jesus Christ. Nations are being drawn to him right now. We could say that because we see things the psalmist couldn’t see.
But at the same time, we wait with the psalmist for what we still don’t see. Just as we could go back and tell Ethan, “Hang on, there’s more,” Hebrews 12 tells us a great cloud of witnesses have gone before us, and if we could hear them, they would be saying to us, “Hang on. There’s more.” The problem is that waiting isn’t always easy.
I don’t know if they still have this, but in some places when you waited in line, you pulled a ticket number. So for example, you might walk inside and pull the number 43, and then you hear someone yell out, “Serving number five,” and you want to give up and leave. But what happens when you pull number 43, and you immediately hear them call, “Number forty-two”? Feels different, right?
The Bible has four tickets to pull. Ticket 1 was called in Genesis 1 (creation). Ticket 2 was called in Genesis 3 (fall). Ticket 3 was called in Matthew 1 when Jesus came to be our Redeemer (redemption). Believer in Christ, in your hand right now is ticket 4. The next thing on the calendar of redemption is pleasures evermore (glory).
The reason the ancient believers called this truth the “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13) is because if we knew this and lived life in light of eternity, though it wouldn’t give us heaven on earth, it would give us something we desperately need: hope. Hope in the knowledge and certainty that Jesus is ruling, Jesus is reigning, and Jesus is coming.
While we wait for the fulfilment of the promise, what do we do? We sing of the Lord’s faithful love. We call to mind his promises of salvation. We proclaim his glory to the nations.
My life goes on in endless song, above earth’s lamentations.
I hear the real, though far-off hymn, that hails a new creation.
Above the tumult and the strife, I hear its music ringing.
It sounds an echo in my soul. How can I keep from singing?
What though my joys and comforts die, the Lord my Savior liveth.
And though the darkness round me close, songs in the night he giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?
(Lowry, “How Can I Keep from Singing?”)
What does faith sound like when we’re still waiting for God’s promises to land in our experience? It sounds like a life bookended by worship, where we open our eyes on the day of our conversion with, “I will sing about the Lord’s faithful love forever” (v. 1). And by God’s grace we close our eyes at the end of this life saying, “Blessed be the Lord forever” (v. 52).
Reflect and Discuss
- What does it feel like to live as a Christian in the tension between God’s glorious promises of redemption and the current reality of the world’s brokenness?
- How do we guard our hearts from allowing our circumstantial feelings to influence the truth we know about God? What role does God’s Word have in anchoring our hearts to the truth of God’s character?
- Even in his time of pain and doubt, the psalmist begins and ends this psalm with worship. What does this say about the value of worship in times of pain?
- Think of how God has shown his mercies to you throughout your life. What demonstrations of his love have made you the person you are today?
- How can we trust God when he has the power to intervene in situations but doesn’t? Why is our trust in his faithfulness and love so important in circumstances like these?
- What does it mean about our understanding of ourselves to be able to trust in a God who knows more than we do and won’t always tell us everything we want to know?
- What does it mean to fight for our faith? How can we do this on a daily or weekly basis?
- How can we steward the circumstances we have experienced or are experiencing to proclaim the faithfulness of God to others?
- How can we steward our waiting time to grow in our relationship with him?