Psalms of Christ -- Psalm 89:38-39
I was blessed by my pastor's sermon this morning. His text was Psalm 89. He jumped right in and said it was a psalm about Christ. That blessed me, because even very famous theologians of today don't build that point strongly. Some almost seem to relegate Christ Our Savior to a footnote in their study guides when considering this psalm. I was blessed by my pastor's sermon, because the more we hear of Christ, the better. He is the One whose birth we celebrate this special season of the year. He is God’s love for His creation manifested. God came down. He came! He did not create and then abandon. He created; He came; He saved. He came in a form we could all know, see, understand, relate to, love.
I was so blessed by my pastor’s sermon on Psalm 89 that I went home and began reading the notes and cross references of my study Bibles. Not finding many references to Christ in relation to Psalm 89, I turned to The Treasury of David to learn more about this psalm. The first paragraph in the "Explanatory Notes and Quaint Sayings" section was a quote taken from Christopher Wordsworth, "The present Psalm makes a pair with the preceding one. It is a spiritual Allegro to that Penseroso...That Psalm was a dirge of Passion-Tide, this Psalm is a carol of Christmas."
When Wordsworth makes reference to "the preceding Psalm", he is, of course, referring to Psalm 88, which I call, "The Sorrows of Our Lord Jesus Christ" (see my article, "Psalm 88 -- The Sorrows of Our Lord Jesus Christ"; December 11, 2010.)
But Psalm 89 is a long psalm, and while the first portion might be called an "Allegro", the portion from verses 38 through 51 resembles more the sorrows of Psalm 88 than the joys of a Christmas carol.
Verse 38 is where the joy changes to sorrow; verse 39 picks up this theme, and as the section ending with verse 45 continues, so do the sorrows.
Psalm 89:38 But you have spurned and rejected him; you are angry with your chosen king. 39 You have repudiated your covenant with your servant; you have thrown his crown to the ground. (Psa 89:38 NET) (The NET Bible, Version 1.0 - Copyright © 1996-2006 Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C)
How do we know that verses 38 and 39 and those of the entire section refer to Jesus Christ?
The first clue is context. Writers generally acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the earlier verses of this same psalm:
Psalm 89:27 I will appoint him to be my firstborn son, the most exalted of the earth's kings. 28 I will always extend my loyal love to him, and my covenant with him is secure. 29 I will give him an eternal dynasty, and make his throne as enduring as the skies above. (Psa 89:27 NET)
NET Psalm 89:36 His dynasty will last forever. His throne will endure before me, like the sun, 37 it will remain stable, like the moon, his throne will endure like the skies." (Selah) (Psa 89:36 NET)
So what about the verses which follow immediately after? Don’t the events of Christ’s life while on earth, what is called His humiliation, satisfy these verses as well?
Psalm 89:38 But You have spurned and rejected him; You have become enraged with Your anointed. 39 You have repudiated the covenant with Your servant; You have completely dishonored his crown. 40 You have broken down all his walls; You have reduced his fortified cities to ruins. 41 All who pass by plunder him; he has become an object of ridicule to his neighbors. 42 You have lifted high the right hand of his foes; You have made all his enemies rejoice. 43 You have also turned back his sharp sword and have not let him stand in battle. 44 You have made his splendor cease and have overturned his throne. 45 You have shortened the days of his youth; You have covered him with shame. Selah (Psa 89:38 CSB) (Holman Christian Standard Bible®. Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers.)
To answer that question, we can look at a second clue, the words. Verses 38 and 39 contain words which in their original languages, Hebrew and Greek, are often used in verses which make reference to the Lord Jesus Christ. A non-scholarly lay person’s examination of these words will consume most of the remainder of this article.
I am aware that many biblical scholars place a great deal of weight, an overriding amount of weight, upon the historical context during which the words were written. But, how does that help a non-scholar’s apprehension of and enjoyment of Jesus Christ? Isn’t it true that the great bulk of such interpretations tend to almost leave Jesus out of the Old Testament altogether?
I often think of a former pastor’s wife, who is now over 80. She shared with me not that long ago that each morning she loves to sit outside on her patio, reading her Bible, communing with, fellowshipping with, and meditating upon the love of her life, the Lord Jesus. Although I didn’t ask her, I’m almost positive that she doesn’t have a stack of historical/contextual books of Israel’s past kings with her.
That historical/contextual approach is thankfully not what Jesus taught His own disciples, who were not scholars either. But He did say to the scholars of His day,
John 5:39 You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, yet they testify about Me. (Joh 5:39 CSB)
When Jesus spoke those words to the religious pundits of His day, He could only have been referring to Old Testament scriptures.
The Old Testament version I love the most is the Septuagint, scorned by many scholars as not being accurate to the Hebrew. However, it was the Bible commonly used by Greek speaking Hebrews of Jesus’ day, and it is a version often quoted by many New Testament authors. I love the Septuagint because I find that this version, more so than our current English versions, brings out with greater comparative clarity the presence of Jesus Christ in the Old Testament.
For example, the very name Yahweh in the Greek version of the Old Testament is Lord. That is one of our most commonly used names for Jesus Christ (See Psalm 110:1, LORD). Another example is the Hebrew word Messiah, meaning Anointed. The Greek word in the Septuagint for Messiah is Christos—Christ.
The ears of the Hebrew people at the time of Christ were well attuned to these Greek words in scripture. So, when Jesus said to them, Luke 6:46 "Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and don't do what I tell you? (Luk 6:46 NET), His words carried many shades and levels of meaning that His listeners would have readily understood. The temple leaders of Jesus’ day understood that Jesus was presenting Himself as God, the Messiah.
We understand that as well today. Jesus Christ is the long-awaited and ardently hoped for Messiah. So, why do we want to relegate Christ to the sideline in so many Old Testament scriptures, especially the Psalms, which the disciples of Jesus’ day, soon after the resurrection, were taught applied to Him?
What are the words then in Psalm 89:38-39 that cause me to think these verses continue speaking of Christ, just as the verses immediately preceding them were? We’ll take a look at verse 38 first.
NET Psalm 89:38 But you have spurned and rejected him; you are angry with your chosen king.
CSB Psalm 89:38 But You have spurned and rejected him; You have become enraged with Your anointed.
BGT Psalm 88:39 σὺ δὲ ἀπώσω καὶ ἐξουδένωσας ἀνεβάλου τὸν χριστόν σου
LXE Psalm 89:38 But thou hast cast off and set at nought, thou has rejected thine anointed.
Beginning with “chosen king” (NET), we recognize that these words, no less than the words of verses 27, 37, and 38—clearly apply to Christ. I know of no reason to think that “chosen king” in this prophetic psalm would not apply to Jesus Christ.
Other translations (such as CSB, NIV, NAU, KJV, RSV, and ESV) use the phrase, “Your anointed” instead of “your chosen king”. The Greek Septuagint, which is the Bible being read by the Jewish people in Jesus’ day, says, “τὸν χριστόν σου(Psa 88:39 BGT)”, transliterated as, Your “Christ”. Christ means anointed, and in Greek, anointed is the word Christ. In the Hebrew Bible, the word used in Psalm 89:38 is “Messiah”. It is Strong’s number 4899, Messiah.
Net Bible notes on the word Messiah in Psalm 89:38 say that it applies to the “Davidic King”. The first cross reference given is Psalm 2:2—
NET Psalm 2:2 The kings of the earth form a united front; the rulers collaborate against the LORD and his anointed king. (Psa 2:2 NET)
None of the other major versions (versions such as CSB, NIV, NAU, KJV, RSV, and ESV) add the word “king” to Psalm 2:2. They just say “anointed”. Now anyone who has ever heard Handel’s “Messiah” knows that for centuries this Psalm has been applied to Jesus Christ. The NAS notes for this verse cross reference Andrew’s wonderful exclamation of joy recorded in John 1:41—
NET John 1:41 He first found his own brother Simon and told him, "We have found the Messiah!" (which is translated Christ). (Joh 1:41 NET)
The scripture above records Andrew’s initial reaction upon meeting Jesus, "We have found the Messiah!" In other words, Andrew had been among those waiting for and searching for this “anointed” one. Where did this expectation come from if not from Jewish scripture?
My question then is, why would “anointed” “τοῦ χριστοῦ αὐτοῦ(Psa 2:2 BGT)” be accepted as a reference for Christ in Psalm 2:2 but not for Psalm 89:38? Especially when references to Christ are clearly seen in the first portion of Psalm 89? My answer is, it does mean the same thing. Psalm 89:38 is a direct reference to Jesus Christ. This verse is prophesy; it prophecies Christ’s travail as a man, written for men to see and understand, albeit in hindsight, after the resurrection, the sufferings of Messiah. If anyone had known beyond a shadow of a doubt, clearly and truly, that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the Davidic heir of all of God’s promises, it would have undoubtedly appeared by the treatment He received in His earthly life, that God had spurned and rejected Him as His anointed [king].
NET Psalm 89:38 But you have spurned and rejected him; you are angry with your chosen king.
CSB Psalm 89:38 But You have spurned and rejected him; You have become enraged with Your anointed.
That God forsook and rejected His Son we know from Psalm 22:1, Matthew 27:46, and Mark 15:34. And we know that God’s wrath for our sin He poured out on His Son hanging on the tree (1Thessalonians 5: 9-10, Romans 4:25, 1 Corinthians 15:3, Galatians 1:4, 1 Peter 2:24, 1 Peter 3:18, Isaiah 53:5-6). God meant to do that. He prophesied it in Isaiah and the Psalms centuries and centuries before its occurrence. That is one of the main ways we know that God meant to crucify Jesus on the cross. It was prophesied in advance, and only God can do that.
This action by God is what saves us—God’s spurning and rejecting Jesus on the cross, not coming to His aid, not changing His mind, not being willing that He should come down from the cross, and not wanting Christ to save Himself. God spurned and rejected Christ, His anointed; His anger was poured out on Christ, the sacrifice. We know that it was God’s will to so spurn and reject His anointed and that Jesus agreed with that will from Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane—
Matthew 26:39 Going a little farther, he threw himself down with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if possible, let this cup pass from me! Yet not what I will, but what you will."(Mat 26:39 NET)
We also know it from the predictive prophesy of it in Psalm 89:38.
Continuing in this psalm, verse 39 carries the picture further, making it clearer yet that the entirety of Psalm 89 is speaking about Jesus Christ, heir to the Davidic throne and heir of God’s throne.
NET Psalm 89:39 You have repudiated your covenant with your servant; you have thrown his crown to the ground.
CSB Psalm 89:39 You have repudiated the covenant with Your servant; You have completely dishonored his crown.
NIV Psalm 89:39 You have renounced the covenant with your servant and have defiled his crown in the dust.
NAU Psalm 89:39 You have spurned the covenant of Your servant; You have profaned his crown in the dust. (Psa 89:39 NAU)
Exploring some of the details of Psalm 89:39, I observe that all the English translations I have found use the word “crown”, except one. That one version is the Septuagint, the version that the writers of the New Testament often quoted. The Septuagint says,
LXE Psalm 89:39 Thou hast overthrown the covenant of thy servant; thou has profaned his sanctuary, casting it to the ground. (Psa 89:39 LXE The English Translation of The Septuagint Version of the Old Testament by Sir Lancelot C. L. Brenton, 1844, 1851, published by Samuel Bagster and Sons, London, original ASCII edition Copyright © 1988 by FABS International (c/o Bob Lewis, DeFuniak Springs FL 32433). All rights reserved.)
Psalm 88:40 κατέστρεψας τὴν διαθήκην τοῦ δούλου σου ἐβεβήλωσας εἰς τὴν γῆν τὸ ἁγίασμα αὐτοῦ(Psa 88:40 BGT)
Where our versions say, “crown”, the Septuagint says, “sanctuary”.
“Sanctuary” in the Septuagint is τὸ ἁγίασμα(Psa 88:40 BGT). This is a grammatical variation of hagios, or holy, as in Holy Spirit, and as in saints, which is a word used by New Testament writers to refer to Christians.
We find this word in 1 Chronicles 22:19, where we also see the concept of covenant linked with the concept of sanctuary. The covenant of God, represented by the tablets of the Ten Commandments, was to be housed in the ark. Moses is here seen commanding the Israelites to build the tabernacle, the sanctuary, to house the ark. Now if, as in Psalm 89:39, the sanctuary were to be profaned, or thrown to the ground, that would also, in a physical sense at least, “overthrow” the covenant.
NET 1 Chronicles 22:19 Now seek the LORD your God wholeheartedly and with your entire being! Get up and build the sanctuary of the LORD God! Then you can bring the ark of the LORD's covenant and the holy items dedicated to God's service into the temple that is built to honor the LORD."
BGT 1 Chronicles 22:19 νῦν δότε καρδίας ὑμῶν καὶ ψυχὰς ὑμῶν τοῦ ζητῆσαι τῷ κυρίῳ θεῷ ὑμῶν καὶ ἐγέρθητε καὶ οἰκοδομήσατε ἁγίασμα κυρίῳ τῷ θεῷ ὑμῶν τοῦ εἰσενέγκαι τὴν κιβωτὸν διαθήκης κυρίου καὶ σκεύη τὰ ἅγια τοῦ θεοῦ εἰς οἶκον τὸν οἰκοδομούμενον τῷ ὀνόματι κυρίου
LXE 1 Chronicles 22:19 Now set your hearts and souls to seek after the Lord your God: and rise, and build a sanctuary to your God to carry in the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and the holy vessels of God, into the house that is to be built to the name of the Lord.
In the context of Psalm 89 itself, what would be the “covenant” mentioned in verse 39? Would it not be the Davidic covenant of verses 34 through 37, just before it? And aren’t these verses recognized throughout the Christian world as applying to Christ, the greater David?
Psalm 89:34 I will not break my covenant or go back on what I promised. 35 Once and for all I have vowed by my own holiness, I will never deceive David. 36 His dynasty will last forever. His throne will endure before me, like the sun, 37 it will remain stable, like the moon, his throne will endure like the skies." (Selah)(Psa 89:34 NET) … Psalm 89:39 You have repudiated your covenant with your servant; you have thrown his crown to the ground.(Psa 89:39 NET)
In view of 1 Chronicles 22:19 quoted above, it might seem that the covenant of Psalm 89:39 is the covenant made with Israel the nation, which did in fact appear to be broken with the destruction of the sanctuary, the temple. But the immediate context of Psalm 89 demands that verses 38-39 be linked with verses 34-37 just prior. That was a covenant made with a man, David, and his successor, Jesus Christ. It may have concerned a dynasty and a throne, but the covenant itself was a covenant made with a man. (Would we rather see Christ glorified, or the Old Testament nation of Israel glorified?) (1)
Moving back to the etymologies in verse 39 of Psalm 89, we return to the word “crown”. We have already seen that the word “crown” in the Hebrew and in our English versions is translated “sanctuary” in the English translation of the Septuagint. The actual Greek word is “holiness”, ἁγίασμα. I've written a list of other Septuagint verses that use this word, with the translations given by our modern versions following the addresses: Exodus 15:17-sanctuary; Exodus 39:30-holiness; 1 Chronicles 28:10-sanctuary; Psalm 93:5 (92:5 in LXX)-holiness; Psalm 132:18 (131:18 in LXX)-crown; Isaiah 8:14-sanctuary; Jeremiah 17:12-sanctuary; and Ezekiel 45:2-sanctuary.
NET Exodus 15:17You will bring them in and plant them in the mountain of your inheritance, in the place you made for your residence, O Lord, the sanctuary, O LORD, that your hands have established.
LXE Exodus 15:17Bring them in and plant them in the mountain of their inheritance, in thy prepared habitation, which thou, O Lord, hast prepared; the sanctuary, O Lord, which thine hands have made ready.
NET Exodus 39:30They made a plate, the holy diadem, of pure gold and wrote on it an inscription, as on the engravings of a seal, "Holiness to the LORD."
BGT Exodus 36:37καὶ ἐποίησαν τὸ πέταλον τὸ χρυσοῦν ἀφόρισμα τοῦ ἁγίου χρυσίου καθαροῦ καὶ ἔγραψεν ἐπ᾽ αὐτοῦ γράμματα ἐκτετυπωμένα σφραγῖδος ἁγίασμα κυρίῳ [the verse numbering here does not match]
LXE Exodus 39:30And they made the golden plate, a dedicated thing of the sanctuary, of pure gold; and he wrote upon it graven letters as of a seal, Holiness to the Lord.
NET Psalm 93:5The rules you set down are completely reliable. Holiness aptly adorns your house, O LORD, forever.
CSB Psalm 93:5LORD, Your testimonies are completely reliable; holiness is the beauty of Your house for all the days to come.
BGT Psalm 92:5τὰ μαρτύριά σου ἐπιστώθησαν σφόδρα τῷ οἴκῳ σου πρέπει ἁγίασμα κύριε εἰς μακρότητα ἡμερῶν
LXE Psalm 93:5Thy testimonies are made very sure: holiness becomes thine house, O Lord, for ever.
NET Psalm 132:18I will humiliate his enemies, and his crown will shine.
CSB Psalm 132:18I will clothe his enemies with shame, but the crown he wears will be glorious."
BGT Psalm 131:18τοὺς ἐχθροὺς αὐτοῦ ἐνδύσω αἰσχύνην ἐπὶ δὲ αὐτὸν ἐξανθήσει τὸ ἁγίασμά μου
LXE Psalm 132:18His enemies will I clothe with a shame; but upon himself shall my holiness flourish.
NET Isaiah 8:14He will become a sanctuary, but a stone that makes a person trip, and a rock that makes one stumble– to the two houses of Israel. He will become a trap and a snare to the residents of Jerusalem.
CSB Isaiah 8:14He will be a sanctuary; but for the two houses of Israel, He will be a stone to stumble over and a rock to trip over, and a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
BGT Isaiah 8:14καὶ ἐὰν ἐπ᾽ αὐτῷ πεποιθὼς ᾖς ἔσται σοι εἰς ἁγίασμα καὶ οὐχ ὡς λίθου προσκόμματι συναντήσεσθε αὐτῷ οὐδὲ ὡς πέτρας πτώματι ὁ δὲ οἶκος Ιακωβ ἐν παγίδι καὶ ἐν κοιλάσματι ἐγκαθήμενοι ἐν Ιερουσαλημ
LXE Isaiah 8:14And if thou shalt trust in him, he shall be to thee for a sanctuary; and ye shall not come against him as against a stumbling-stone, neither as against the falling of a rock: but the houses of Jacob are in a snare, and the dwellers in Jerusalem in a pit. (2)
As used in Psalm 89:39, it is not hard to see why the Greek noun form “holiness” is the word chosen for “sanctuary” in the Greek Old Testament translation. A sanctuary is where God meets man; God is holy; therefore, His sanctuary must also be holy. Moses taught the Hebrews at great length how to purify the tabernacle of God and how to purify the priests before they entered in. The inner sanctuary is called the Most Holy Place.
Jesus applied this terminology to Himself, with regard to the temple—
NET John 2:19Jesus replied, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again." 20 Then the Jewish leaders said to him, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and are you going to raise it up in three days?"
CSB John 2:19Jesus answered, "Destroy this sanctuary, and I will raise it up in three days." 20 Therefore the Jews said, "This sanctuary took 46 years to build, and will You raise it up in three days?"
A note in Gingrich’s Greek lexicon says that “naos” in John 2:19, or temple, was an architectural term that referred to the inmost part of a temple, the holiest part.
But, although we can see the connection between “holiness” and “sanctuary” in the Septuagint, it seems a little bit more difficult to trace out the connections between “sanctuary”, “holiness”, and “crown”—the word used in all of our English versions. Just a reminder, in the Septuagint, these three words, “holiness”, “sanctuary”, and “crown” are all represented by the same Greek word, “ἁγίασμα” (Please see the several verses above, especially Psalm 132:18).
NET Psalm 89:39You have repudiated your covenant with your servant; you have thrown his crown to the ground.
Psalm 89:39Thou hast overthrown the covenant of thy servant; thou has profaned his sanctuary, casting it to the ground. (Psa 89:39 LXE)
Looking at the Hebrew word “crown”, we see that its etymology (Strong’s 5145 and 5144) leads us to the concept expressed by the phrases “set apart”, “dedication”, “consecration”, “separation”. The Hebrew word was used of priests, Nazirites, and royalty. The symbol of such separation was for the Nazirites their uncut hair, and for royalty, a ringlet upon the head, a crown. Even today, one of the ways a bride distinguishes herself—sets herself apart—from her bridesmaids is by the wearing of some sort of tiara, or ringlet, upon her head, to which a veil is often attached. This is the same concept, according to Strong’s, present in the Hebrew word “crown”. The basic idea that connects “crown” with “holiness” is that of being “set apart”.
This idea is present in the New Testament concept of “sanctification”, being set apart for use by God through Christ, especially through our behaviors.
We now move to some of the other words contained in Psalm 89:39.
NET Psalm 89:39You have repudiated your covenant with your servant; you have thrown his crown to the ground.
CSB Psalm 89:39You have repudiated the covenant with Your servant; You have completely dishonored his crown.
BGT Psalm 88:40κατέστρεψας τὴν διαθήκην τοῦ δούλου σου ἐβεβήλωσας εἰς τὴν γῆν τὸ ἁγίασμα αὐτοῦ
LXE Psalm 89:39Thou hast overthrown the covenant of thy servant; thou has profaned his sanctuary, casting it to the ground.
What did God do to the crown, or sanctuary, the holiness, of His servant? Each of the three English translations above describes God’s action in somewhat different terms. The Hebrew and Septuagint, on the other hand, are in close agreement on this phrase. Each uses a single verb for the concept of “profane”, “dishonor”. Each contains further words to catch the meaning of “to [or towards] the ground.”
The Septuagint does not contain a word meaning “cast” or “throw”. That is supplied by the translation. The same holds with the Hebrew. Each of the Greek and Hebrew verses has three parts: 1) profaned, 2) to the ground, and 3) either crown (Hebrew) or sanctuary (Greek).
The NET version above seems to represent the act of profaning by using the image of throwing to the ground. There is no verb in either Hebrew or Greek that signifies “throwing”. NET has supplied this verb in conjunction with “to the ground”, which is present, and ignored the actual verb “profaned”.
The CBS for its part ignores the original text as concerns “towards [or to] the ground”, and supplies an extra word, “completely”, in the phrase “completely dishonored”, to bring out the interpreted meaning of profaning towards the ground.
The English translation of the Septuagint supplies the meanings of both the NET and the CBS by adding the words, “casting it”.
Consulting Strong’s 02490c for the Hebrew, we find that the word for the action of what God did is a primitive root meaning to “pollute, defile, profane”. The Septuagint verb also means to “profane, desecrate”.
Interestingly, one of the variant meanings of the Hebrew word group to which “profaned” belongs means “pierced”. “Fallen by the sword, pierced, wounded,” in Hebrew, belong to the same word family as “profaned” in Psalm 89:39. We find an example of a member of this word group in Isaiah 53:5a But He was pierced because of our transgressions,… (Isa 53:5 CSB) and again in Psalm 88:5 like one forsaken among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave… (Psa 88:5 RSV)—the word “slain”. (3)
Bringing the sections above on “profaned” together, and breaking any conventions which may say that translations should be kept separate—which breaking seems to be what both the NET and the CBS did (see above)—in order to achieve a word picture, we can combine the Hebrew and Septuagint to arrive at—
Psalm 89:39 You have destroyed the covenant of Your servant, piercing into the earth His sanctuary (my own translation).
In plain English, God destroyed His covenant with Jesus Christ the greater David by wounding, piercing, slaying on the cross, and thereby profaning, the body [sanctuary, holiness] of the Heir apparent and sending Him into the grave. If there had been no resurrection, this is how Christ’s death would have been perceived. Before becoming aware of the resurrection, that is how Jesus’ disciples did perceive his death. (4)
But this psalm is prophecy. The latter portion of it prophesies the humiliation of God’s anointed. And, Jesus Christ really did die. The Old Covenant, that of works embodied by the Ten Commandments housed inside the Ark inside the Tabernacle, also died with Christ. That covenant was slain and repudiated, never to rise again. The covenant with the man David and His divine successor, Jesus Christ, however, though physically profaned and cast to the ground, proved to be both spiritually eternal and physically eternal in the resurrected and glorified Christ.
Luke 22:20In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.(Luk 22:20 NIV)
Colossians 2:13And even though you were dead in your transgressions and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, he nevertheless made you alive with him, having forgiven all your transgressions.(Col 2:13 NET)
I want to close this portion of my article by posting the passage in Psalm 89 that begins with verses 38 and 39.
CSB Psalm 89:38But You have spurned and rejected him; You have become enraged with Your anointed. 39 You have repudiated the covenant with Your servant; You have completely dishonored his crown. 40 You have broken down all his walls; You have reduced his fortified cities to ruins. 41 All who pass by plunder him; he has become an object of ridicule to his neighbors. 42 You have lifted high the right hand of his foes; You have made all his enemies rejoice. 43 You have also turned back his sharp sword and have not let him stand in battle. 44 You have made his splendor cease and have overturned his throne. 45 You have shortened the days of his youth; You have covered him with shame. Selah (Psa 89:38 CSB)
Is there anything in that entire passage which is not true of the Lord Jesus Christ? Even verse 43, “You have also turned back his sharp sword and have not let him stand in battle,” was fulfilled in—
Luke 22:49When those around Him saw what was going to happen, they asked, "Lord, should we strike with the sword?" 50 Then one of them struck the high priest's slave and cut off his right ear. 51 But Jesus responded, "No more of this!" And touching his ear, He healed him. (Luk 22:49 CSB)
What do we make of all of this? Frankly, I would be very surprised to learn that many people might even be interested to read and follow my entire article. What I’ve written at this moment seems remote to any real, live, fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ through His Holy Spirit. I think it would be safe to say that most Christians throughout most of the ages since Christ’s life on earth, have not been privileged with the enormous ease of access to various translations and original languages that we have available to us today.
I would even venture to guess that I probably have more resources available to me on my home computer than most of the authors quoted in my beloved Treasury of David. I assume that those who write the notes in my various study Bibles have even more than I.
Is this what God intended? My best memories are times when the light of the knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6) has broken through to my heart and mind. Most often this happens to me not when I am “studying”, although it does happen then, but more frequently when I am simply “reading” God’s word. In my heart of hearts, I do not believe that God favors “scholars” over anyone else.
And, what is the whole point of reading scripture, both New and Old, except to discover the Lord Jesus Christ?
Therefore, my thesis is that if, in the simple, humble, Spirit enlightened reading of the Psalms, including Psalm 89, one should happen to see a most amazing portrait of the Lord, the Lord Christ, as revealed in the pages of gospel of the New Testament, why should such an awe-inspiring pleasure be disturbed by scholars who might deny that such passages have anything at all to do with Christ? Why limit our appreciation of God to historical/contextual considerations? Going down that path provides a second hand experience at best. To illustrate what I mean, it would be as though I were to say, “Look what God did for these people, or this psalmist, so very long ago. Amazing and wonderful. He is the same God we have today; therefore, I can extrapolate that He will be as amazingly wonderful for me.”
The statement I just made of that kind of second hand experience, though extremely useful at times in and of itself, stands in contrast, in the specific case of Psalm 89, to seeing the actual horror of what happened there on the cross! When I read all of Psalm 89, the happy, victorious first portion, as well as the tragic, sad, final portion—when I read all of Psalm 89 as applying directly to Christ, through God’s purposefully having written it from the beginning with that application to Christ, what I get is a small glimpse of the vastness and horror of God’s love for humankind that takes my breath away and causes me to worship Him.
He came! Look what He did to His Son—breaking the covenant with Him, spurning and rejecting Him on the cross, becoming enraged, wrathful with Him as the sacrificial substitute for my sin, dishonoring, profaning, and casting to the ground His crown, His body, breaking it, piercing it, humiliating Him beyond comprehension—then, I see God’s love for both myself personally and for the entire human race.
I prefer this kind of reading of scripture over theological, textual correctness whenever that kind of correctness limits my appreciation of Christ. All I really know is that when I read Psalm 89, I see all of it as applying to Christ, and I worship Him; but when I read the study notes of my various Bibles, I do not see Him hardly at all.
(1) There is the possibility that the covenant being spoken of in Psalm 89:39 is the Covenant of Moses, i.e., the covenant of works as Paul calls it. This would fit in with the use of the images of verse 39 with 1 Chronicles 22:19 cited above. This interpretation would also fit very well with the prominent New Testament teaching that the covenant of works, i.e., the law, was replaced with the covenant of grace through faith in Jesus Christ. It also fits well with Paul's statement that the law, the Old Covenant, the written ordinances that stood against us, was nailed to the cross with Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:14). However, if this is the covenant spoken of in Psalms 89:39, then a great leap out of context would have occurred. For this reason, I prefer to think that the covenant that God has repudiated in verse 39 is the one spoken of in the immediate context of verses 34-37, the Davidic covenant, the covenant with one man, David and His descendant, His Seed.
(2) I love the Septuagint for this verse, since to my eye it contains a clearly stated—in the hindsight of New Testament theology granted us—mini-gospel to the Hebrews of Jesus’ day and beyond. (Cf. Romans 9:32-33; also Isaiah 28:16). In applying these two verses from Isaiah to the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul makes it possible for us, by extension, to apply the word “sanctuary”, present only in the Septuagint of Isaiah 8:14, to Christ as well. And if this verse in Isaiah, in the Septuagint alone, speaks of Christ as being a “sanctuary”, why wouldn’t the use of the same word in Psalm 89:39 (whose context clearly refers to Christ) also point to Him?
(3) As an aside on Psalm 88:5, in the days of Old Testament battles, a common means of slaying an enemy combatant was to pierce him with a spear or a sword. Frequently, when searching through the rubble of corpses for a living body, the soldiers would pierce one to make sure he was dead. There is certain level of detail found in Psalm 88:5. The psalmist says first that he was “forsaken among the dead”, then adds the explanation, “like the slain [or pierced] that lie in the grave.”
So it was with our Lord Jesus, who first died upon the cross, and later was pierced through His heart with a spear for the express purpose of determining if He was dead or not.
CSB John 19:33When they came to Jesus, they did not break His legs since they saw that He was already dead. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. (Joh 19:33 CSB)
There is one translation which actually uses the words “fallen by the sword” in Psalm 88:5, and that is the NBH NUEVA BIBLIA DE LOS HISPANOS; (c) Copyright 2005 by The Lockman Foundation; La Habra, California 90631. This translation uses as its sources the Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic texts of scripture.
NBH Psalm 88:5Abandonado entre los muertos; Como los caídos a espada que yacen en el sepulcro, De quienes ya no Te acuerdas, Y que han sido arrancados de Tu mano. (Psa 88:5 NBH)
(4) In fact, doesn’t Luke record a conversation of two unnamed disciples verbalizing the thought of what I just stated? And when Jesus joined them, He explained to them what was written about Himself in Moses, the prophets, and in another verse, the Psalms.
Luke 24:13Now that very day two of them were on their way to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking to each other about all the things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and debating these things, Jesus himself approached and began to accompany them 16 (but their eyes were kept from recognizing him). 17 Then he said to them, "What are these matters you are discussing so intently as you walk along?" And they stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who doesn't know the things that have happened there in these days?" 19 He said to them, "What things?" "The things concerning Jesus the Nazarene," they replied, "a man who, with his powerful deeds and words, proved to be a prophet before God and all the people; 20 and how our chief priests and rulers handed him over to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel... (Luk 24:13-21a NET)
Luke 24:25So he said to them, "You foolish people– how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Wasn't it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and enter into his glory?" 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things written about himself in all the scriptures. (Luk 24:25-27 NET)
Luke 24:44Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled." (Luk 24:44 NET)