Just a Bit O’ History… Psalm 89: Celestial City after the Slough of Despond

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Psalm 89.

‘Who in the heaven can be compared unto the Lord? Who among the sons of the mighty can be likened unto the Lord?

–Verse 6.   

‘The reply of a French Huguenot to a courtier who was urging Henry IV to choose the strongest side.’

This long Psalm is like the Celestial City after the Slough of Despond of the previous Psalm.  Oh, what a change! Psalm 88 commences with a sob –Psalm 89 with a song.  The former ends in darkness, the latter in benediction and doxology.

Gregory the Great raised the question as to how perpetual singing of the mercies of God is compatible with the unalloyed bliss in Heaven, inasmuch as the thought of mercy connotes the memory of sin and sorrow, which needed mercy, whereas Isaiah said that “the former troubles are forgotten,” and “the former things shall not be remembered, nor come upon the heart,” Is. 65: 15, 17.  Then Gregory gives the explanation, “It will be like the memory of past sickness in the time of health, without strain, without grief, and serving only to heighten the felicity of the redeemed, by the contrast with the past, and to increase their love and gratitude towards God.” 

It would seem as if this was also the sentiment of saintly Bernard of Clairvaux, expressed in this verse—

Their breasts are filled with gladness,
Their mouths are turned to praise,

What time, now safe forever
On former sins they gaze:
The fouler the error,
The sadder the fall,
The ampler are the praises
Of Him Who pardoned all.
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What man is he that lives, that shall not see death?

–Verse 48

The word for man here means, what hero, or champion, or great man. The same word is used of a king, Psalmist saith, is certain to all: all shall die.”  So Justices Shallow to Silence, alluding to Psalm 89:48.  “What man is he that liveth and shall not see death?”

Death spares no rank, no condition of men. We read that Julius Caesar bid the master of the ship wherein he was sailing, notwithstanding the boisterous tempest, because he was Caesar and his fortunes embarked in that vessel, as much to say, the element on which they could not prove fatal to an Emperor, so great a one as he was.

England’s William, surnamed Rufus, once said that he never heard of a king that was drowned.  Charles the 5th, at the Battle of Tunis, being advised to retire when the battle became fierce, told them that it was never known that an Emperor was slain with great shot, and so rushed into battle. But the fact of the matter is that no king or crowned head escaped the blow of death at last.  The Scepter cannot keep off “the arrows that fly by day and the sickness that wastes at noonday.” Great Tyrants have vaunted that they had the power of life, and death, but yet were not able to guard against the shafts of their own death.  To king and knave alike the King of Terrors comes.

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,

Await alike the inevitable hour—
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
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Blessed be the Lord forever more, Amen, and Amen,

–Verse 52.

The Psalmist ends where he began; he has sailed round the world and reached port again.  Perhaps he wrote this Psalm in his old age when troubles were coming thick and heavy upon the dynasty of David and the land of Judah, and thus left a text-book for the spiritual instructions for future generations.  Victory begins to shine in this last verse, marking the end of the Third Book of the Psalms.

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Taken adapted from, Psalms: A Devotional Commentary, written by Herbert Lockyer, Sr.

Taken from, “The Psalms in History and Biography,” written by John Ker,