Evening Prayer today, the 17th day of the month, is occupied in its psalmody solely with Psalm 89. This psalm is quite lengthy, and one of the big challenges with long psalms is keeping the attention span alive, and the comprehension alive, all the way through.
In short, Psalm 89 is a celebration and lament in a single package. God has given a covenant to the house of David, promising the eternal kingship to his servants. Yet God has allowed Israel, in their unfaithfulness, to fall into misfortune at the hands of their enemies. Which mood wins out? Let’s look at a little outline of its verses:
- vv1-2 Introduction
- vv3-4 Summary of the Davidic Covenant
- v5-19 Hymn to God the Creator
- 20-36 Celebrating the promise to David
- 37-44 Lamentation for the fall of David
- 45-50 Reproaches
- v 51 Benediction
So there’s a logical, or even sort of chronological, order to the main body of the psalm: from verse 5 through 44 we have a movement from God’s lordship over creation, God’s covenant-making, and God’s withdrawal of the blessings of that covenant. The “Reproaches” at the end are similar to the Lamentations, bewailing the loss Israel has suffered, beseeching God for mercy, and expressing glimmers of hope that His faithfulness will pull them through.
Plus, if you take the promises seriously in the celebratory part of the psalm, the language of “forever” is pretty strong – even if curse and calamity should befall God’s people, it must only be for a season – God’s covenant promises carry eternal weight. This is especially true from the New Covenant perspective we have as Christians, since the Davidic Covenant is fulfilled in the kingship of Christ Jesus. It is unsurprising, therefore, that Psalm 89 is featured on holy days like St. Joseph‘s and Christmas Day. This reality transforms the lament and reproaches even more for us: now when we see the Church suffering on earth, we know all the more undeterred that our Lord and King stands firm, victorious even over death and the grave.
So, as usual, keep the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in mind as you’re praying through this long psalm. Perhaps the verse groupings listed above can give you places to pause for breathe and recollect your attentions, too.