Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

A Messianic Reading of Psalm 89: A Canonical and Intertextual Study

Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

A Messianic Reading of Psalm 89: A Canonical and Intertextual Study

Article excerpt


Psalm 89 closes Book III of the Psalter, perhaps the most theologically challenging book of the Psalter due to its recurring laments over the perceived absence and silence of God. A "royal" psalm, Psalm 89 is found at one of the "seams" of the Psalter, and has been recognized as making a significant contribution to the overall theme and structure of the Psalter itself.1 Its canonical significance emerges also from its content. Interpreters consider Psalm 89 a lament over the failure of the Davidic covenant and the loss of the Davidic dynasty.2 This raises a number of questions regarding the nature of God vis-à-vis his promises to his people as a whole. Has the Davidic covenant failed? Has God reneged on his promises to his people? The psalmist is asking these very questions (89:39-52) in light of what he knows about God (89:6-19) and the glorious promise to David (89:20-38).3 These questions arise not just in light of the content of Psalm 89, but in light of the OT as a whole, which reveals a messianic hope rooted in Davidic and royal themes.4 If Psalm 89 laments the failure of the Davidic covenant, how does this square with the messianic hope found elsewhere that testifies to a coming king in the line of David?

In light of these considerations, what is the canonical significance of Psalm 89? The thesis presented here is threefold: (1) Psalm 89 is messianic in that it encour- ages hope in a return for David in the midst of lament; (2) the psalm indicates the loss of the Davidic dynasty is only temporary and the covenant has not failed and is not broken; and (3) this messianic hope is rooted in God's character and kingship, indicating that Psalm 89 anticipates themes that scholars have rightly argued are the answer to the laments of Book III given in Books IV and V of the Psalter. While some interpreters think the focal point of Psalm 89 is its lament over the "failed covenant," this psalm is better read as expressing and encouraging a messianic hope, though recognizing the depth of emotion over the perceived abnegation of the Davidic promises. Put another way, the psalm reflects the pathos of the demise of the Davidic dynasty while simultaneously being grounded in a messianic hope that recognizes the demise is only temporary.

In order to demonstrate this, an examination of Psalm 89 is necessary. Second, Psalm 89's connection to the broader canonical context of the Psalter will be explored, especially its connection to the subsequent Books IV-V. Finally, the significance of Psalm 89 will be explored in an intertextual dialogue with two prophetic texts, Isa 55:1-5 and Jer 33:14-26.5


As noted above, scholars have suggested that Psalm 89 is a lament over some national disaster, most likely the loss of the Davidic dynasty during the exile.6 For example, Tate suggests,

The key to the interpretation of the psalm in its present form is found in the lament of vv 39-52. The hymn and the oracle must be read in relation to the distress reflected in these verses. The promises of Yahweh and his praise have been called into serious question by the trouble and pain of disasters and unfulfilled expectations which are expressed in the last part of the psalm.7

The lamented disaster is likely the "broken and failed" covenant, the failure of the promise of Psalm 2, according to Gerald Wilson.8

While these interpretations certainly have merit and offer one potential reading of Psalm 89 in its canonical context, another reading of the psalm is possible, and perhaps more appropriate. Rather than viewing the lament as the controlling interpretive key to the psalm, as Tate suggests, there is good reason to read the psalm with the hymn and oracle sections (vv. 6-19 and vv. 20-38, respectively) playing a more prominent role in the interpretation of the psalm. If this proposal is followed, the result is an entirely different understanding of the psalm. Rather than a lament over the failure of the Davidic covenant, the hymn and oracle sections encourage a messianic hope and an anticipation of restoration in light of God's character. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.