Psalm 89 Study Notes


Ps 89 title Ethan the Ezrahite was a Levitical musician (1Ch 15:17,19). The connections of this psalm with 2Sm 7 and 1Ch 17 are unmistakable.

89:1 On faithful love, see note at 77:8.

89:2 The covenant significance of the verb built up is seen in 2Sm 7:5,13,27; 1Ch 17:4,10,12.

89:3 I have made a covenant implies obligation and binding responsibility. The Lord assumes responsibility while imposing obligations on Israel as part of the covenant. My chosen one may refer to David, or collectively, to his descendants.

89:4 As Yahweh’s covenant loyalty is “built up” (v. 2), so the Lord will establish David’s throne. The longevity of David’s dynasty is compared to the Lord’s faithfulness; both have been established forever.

89:5 Heavens could be a metonymy for “heavenly beings” (see note at 82:1).

89:6 Skies refers metaphorically to the heavenly realm (Jb 37:18). The expression heavenly beings is part of a formulaic expression typical of statements describing the incomparability of the Lord (18:31; 82:1; Ex 15:11; Is 40:18; 44:7).

89:7 On council of the holy ones, see v. 5 and note at 82:1.

89:8 Armies (Hb tseva’oth) is military language describing the Lord as warrior.

89:9-10 Rahab, the name for an ancient Near Eastern mythological chaos monster, was associated with the chaotic sea (Jb 26:12; Is 51:9). In contrast with that myth, God created the ocean and continues to demonstrate his sovereignty over it (Ps 74:13-17).

89:11 Compare Ps 50:12: “The world and everything in it is mine.” Also Is 48:13: “My own hand founded the earth, and my right hand spread out the heavens” (cp. Is 51:13; Am 9:6; Zch 12:1).

89:12 North and south is a merism, the two extremes referring to everything between them. The Hebrew word for “create” (bara’) is always used of God. Tabor and Hermon were noteworthy mountains in the north.

89:13 The Lord’s right hand is lifted high (lit “exalted”), ready to exact judgment.

89:14 Righteousness and justice serve as the platform or pedestal on which the Lord builds his majesty. Ancient Near Eastern myths used figures of “righteousness” and “justice” as divine powers that function as throne supports. Combined with faithful love and truth, the four characteristics summarize the essential attributes of Yahweh. The Lord’s throne denotes the worldwide realm of his kingship (97:2).

89:15-17 God’s people recognize the call to praise, and they are happy in his presence (see notes at 1:1; 15:1). When the Lord’s right hand is exalted (89:13), his people are exalted. Israel receives esteem, honor, and recognition through God’s gracious favor. Horn, a figurative term for power or strength (75:4), reappears in 89:24, where the Lord raises David’s horn through the divine name.


Hebrew pronunciation [yah MEEN]
CSB translation right hand, right, south
Uses in Psalms 42
Uses in the OT 141
Focus passage Psalm 89:12-13,25,42

Yamiyn signifies right hand (Is 41:10) and right as opposed to left (Gn 13:9). People oriented themselves by looking toward the sunrise, so yamiyn signifies south, the right side when facing eastward (Ezk 16:46). “To the right or to the left” connotes elsewhere (Gn 24:49). It suggests deviation from paths of moral integrity (Pr 4:27) or covenant obedience (Jos 1:7). The ancients viewed the right hand as the hand of action and power, whether for God or the wicked (Ps 21:8; 26:10). One phrase for left-handed means “restricted in one’s right hand” (Jdg 3:15). The place of honor was at someone’s right hand (Ps 45:9; 110:1). One giving assistance is pictured at the right hand of the one helped (Ps 109:31; 110:5). Courtroom accusers stood at the defendant’s right hand (Zch 3:1). Distinguishing right and left shows maturity (Jnh 4:11). Right symbolizes uprightness in contrast with the left (Ec 10:2).

89:18 The shield of Israel was their king, who with God’s help protected and defended the people. The king was given by God and was the servant of God (vv. 19-20), and therefore belonged to him.

89:19 The vision refers to vv. 3 and 4 and the larger context of the oracle of Nathan to David in 2Sm 7:1-17. The warrior selected from the people refers to David as the Lord’s anointed and divinely empowered warrior. The Lord’s right hand was exalted (v. 13). As a result, God’s people were exalted (v. 16) and their horn of victory was exalted (v. 17); now the Lord has exalted the king.

89:20-38 This passage is similar to 2Sm 7:14-17 and 1Ch 17:3-15, suggesting a conceptual and literary relationship between them.

89:20 Kings and priests were anointed with oil in a formal inauguration ceremony, figuratively denoting divine approval, a close association with the Lord, and endowment with the Holy Spirit (Lv 4:3-4,16; Jdg 9:8; 1Kg 19:16; Is 61:1).

89:21-22 The hand of God establishes his faithfulness (v. 2), the Davidic dynasty (v. 4), and divine power (v. 21). As the Lord’s arm is empowered with strength, so his divinely appointed agents will be empowered.

89:23 The promise in 2Sm 7:10 is here applied to David alone.

89:24 On horn, see note at vv. 15-17; on exalted, see notes at vv. 13, 15-17, 19.

89:25 David will act with divine authority, which will extend from the Mediterranean sea in the west to the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in the east. The right hand always denotes the actions of God and his representative with authority and dominion (see word study at vv. 12-13,25,42, and note at v. 13).

89:26 Father exemplifies the language of adoption. Near Eastern and Egyptian mythology appropriated this concept, in which the pharaoh or the divinely appointed king was considered a divine “son” of a god. This psalm reached ideal fulfillment in Christ as a descendant of David and as the actual Son of God.

89:27 The father-son relationship in 2Sm 7:14 refers to David’s son Solomon, while the idea in this psalm centers on David alone. The firstborn son usually received a special blessing from the father and a double inheritance. Greatest is the same Hebrew word that describes God as the “Most High” (Ê¿elyon, 87:5; 91:1). While these words fit David, they were fulfilled in Christ.

89:28 The covenant promises of God to his people will be realized through the line of David.

89:29 The longevity of David’s seed is guaranteed by the Lord, and the eternal rule of David’s dynasty will continue as long as heaven lasts. Psalm 72:5,17 compares the king’s enduring reign with the life of the sun. The concept reflects an expression common in ancient Near Eastern thought.

89:30-32 If David’s descendants should fail to exemplify righteous living and the fear of God, the Lord would not hesitate to discipline them. He would punish the dynasty with a staff or rod, a symbol of his royalty and kingship, and by natural means, such as disease or plague.

89:33-34 Despite disobedience, corruption, and divine correction, the Lord’s promises will not be invalidated (Lv 26:44; Jr 14:21; Zch 11:10). God’s nature is unchangeable (Mal 3:6; Heb 13:8), so his promises are immutable (Ps 102:27-28; Is 51:6,8; 55:10-11).

89:35 Only the Lord can swear an oath by his holy nature. Because he is holy, he cannot lie (78:36; Is 57:11; Heb 6:18).

89:36-37 The stability of the Davidic throne is as reliable as the course of the sun and the moon (72:5,17), established forever. The language of the psalm resembles that of ancient royal grant covenants, unilateral in nature as a gift to those who show themselves faithful. The faithful witness in the sky could be the moon, God’s throne, or the Lord himself.

89:38-39 A tone of accusation in a series of charges toward the Lord (vv. 38-45) suggests the psalmist saw his current circumstances as a breach of God’s covenant agreement. Repudiated implies the removal of the Lord’s covenant loyalty from his servant.

89:40-41 Jerusalem became vulnerable to enemies through a breach in her defenses and the destruction of her strongholds. On object of ridicule, see note at 44:13-16.

89:42 In an ironic twist, the Lord had lifted high (lit “exalted”) the hand of David’s enemies. In v. 13 the Lord’s hand was “lifted high” against Israel’s enemies; Israel’s horn was “exalted” through God’s favor (vv. 16-17); God’s anointed was “exalted” from among the people (v. 19); and the anointed one’s horn would be “exalted” (v. 24).

89:43 Not only did the Lord empower David’s enemies, but he also removed David’s military power.

89:44 Splendor is literally “purity.” This cessation of purity connects the political downfall to a state of cultic defilement, eliminating access to God. As the king’s crown had been defiled by dust, so the king’s throne had been overturned, reinforcing his humiliation.

89:45 On the shortening of one’s days, see note at 102:23-24.

89:46 On how long, see notes at 13:1-2; 79:5.

89:47-48 The psalmist questioned God’s motives in creating mankind and establishing a covenant with David that he later appeared to break. The inquiry underscores the psalmist’s frustration and his inability to understand the Lord’s actions.

89:49 Appealing to God’s promise to David, the psalmist called on the Lord to act faithfully, remembering that the continuation of the dynasty depended on God’s protection and providence.

89:50-51 The repetition of ridicule reinforces the continual torment experienced by the Lord’s Anointed (80:12-15). By repeating your (servants, enemies, anointed), the psalmist calls on Yahweh to defend his people who represent his name.

89:52 See note at 41:13.