Theme: Mercies Forever
This week’s lessons teach us about God’s faithfulness, promised in his Word and demonstrated in our own experience of his covenant love.
Scripture: Psalm 89:1-37
The theme of the psalm is established in the first stanza (vv. 1-4) by the repeated use of “faithfulness” and “forever” and by one use of the word “covenant.” These words occur throughout the psalm, as indicated, but they are particularly prominent here. “Forever” occurs three times, the word “faithfulness” twice, and “covenant” once.
The New International Version’s rendering of verse 1 loses something, at least for people who are familiar with the hymn beginning, “I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever.” For that is what the verse literally says. That is, the word translated “great love” is actually “mercies,” and it is plural. It may be a minor point, but it seems to me that “mercies” suggests two things that “great love” does not. First, it suggests specific tangible blessings, nor merely a favorable attitude. Second, it emphasizes that there are many of these mercies. The hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” claims, “Morning by morning new mercies I see.” And what are they?
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide,
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.
That is the way it is with Christians, and it is one thing that makes God’s faithfulness not merely an “attribute,” but a tangible reality. The mercies of God are innumerable and unending. It is why we sing about them joyfully.
In yesterday’s study we said that Psalm 89 is a poetic exposition of 2 Samuel 7, in which God established an everlasting covenant with David. There are echoes of that chapter throughout the psalm; indeed, there have been some already. But lest we miss what is happening, the author specifically cites the words of God from 2 Samuel 7 in verses 3 and 4: “You said, ‘I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to David my servant, “I will establish your line forever, and make your throne firm through all generations.”’”
We are going to see the problems of living with that assurance later on, but it is significant that the author begins with God’s words, and then ends by going back to them too (v. 49). For that is his foundation, the only possible foundation in troubled times. That should be our foundation. The one who builds on the Word of God is building on a rock.
The first four verses, ending with God’s words from 2 Samuel 7, have been a sort of introduction to the psalm, setting its theme. But starting with the second stanza (vv. 5-8) the exposition begins. The point at which it begins is at the highest peak, with God in heaven accompanied by the holy angels. The angels are called an “assembly” or congregation, because, like the church on earth, they live to worship and praise God.
For what do they praise him? It should be no surprise in view of the psalm’s theme that what the angels are said to be praising God for is his faithfulness. The word occurs at the beginning of the stanza (in v. 5) and again at the end (in v. 8). But it is a mighty faithfulness, which leads the angels to ask, “Who in the skies above can compare with the LORD? Who is like the LORD among the heavenly beings” (v. 6)? Again, “O LORD God Almighty, who is like you” (v. 8)? The answer is then given: “You alone are mighty, O LORD, and your faithfulness surrounds you” (v. 8). Isn’t it interesting to think that the angels are praising God in heaven for the very characteristic we are tempted to question him about below? Isn’t it a rebuke to our weak faith? If we thought as the angels, we would be praising God for his great faithfulness constantly.
Why does Dr. Boice prefer the translation “mercies”? What does the word suggest?
With what (and whose) words does the psalmist begin? Why?
What is our foundation in troubled times?
Why do the angels praise God?
Application: How will you praise God this week for his faithfulness to you?
For Further Study: God’s faithfulness is also seen in Israel’s consecration under Joshua when they arrived in the Promised Land. Download and listen for free to James Boice’s message, “The Covenant People and the Covenant Sign.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)