Theme: “How Long, O LORD?”
In this week’s lessons we learn that although at times it can seem as if there is a gap between God’s promises and reality, God is unchanging in his faithfulness.
Scripture: Psalm 89:38-52
In case we have any question about the tone in which the psalmist is making the statements in verses 39-45, we find ourselves pointed in the right direction in the eighth and final stanza (vv. 46–51). Here we have his appeal, focused on the question: “How long, O LORD” (v. 46)? It is a common question of the saints, arising out of what seems to be a breaking of the covenant. In Revelation the saints ask God, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood” (Rev. 6:10)? Believers ask this when they feel abandoned and when God does not seem to act. But the cry is not unbelief. On the contrary, it is the cry of faith, for it is to God, and it is looking for an answer.
In other words, in the final analysis the saints know that the problem they are dealing with is not God’s faithlessness, but rather his timing or delays, or their own limited and mistaken impressions. So what Marvin Tate says, based on the earlier verses, is not quite the case. Tate says, “Yahweh is charged with having broken his covenant-obligations to David by his rejection of the Davidic kingship and by giving victory to the foes of the king.”1 It is true that the language reads this way, for the psalmist is not afraid to describe the king and the people’s circumstances to God, as he sees them. Yet when all is said and done, he knows that God is faithful to his covenant, he will not break his promises, and the problem becomes one merely of timing. That is, when are you going to show that you are faithful?
There is something here that is more than a mere asking of the question “How long?” however. For this is not a passive man who is writing. He is not interested in a theoretical answer, as if he would be satisfied if God were to say, “I will act to restore the fallen throne of David in ten years’ time (or a hundred years’ time).” Or “I will rebuild the city in the days of Nehemiah.” No. The psalmist wants God to act now, while he is still alive. Therefore, the last stanza of the psalm is an appeal to God to act in the psalmist’s lifetime.
There are two appeals, each containing three verses.
1. The shortness of human life (vv. 46-48). The psalmist knows that God’s timing is his own. He can take a thousand years to work out his promises to David, if he wants to. But the writer is only a human being, and human beings don’t live long. Human life is “fleeting” (v. 47), and the writer of the psalm cannot keep himself from the grave long enough to see and enjoy God’s blessing, if God does not hurry (v. 48). That is true for us too. We may not be here long enough to see everything God has in mind for his people, but if we are going to see anything, it has to be now.
2. The dishonoring of God by his enemies (vv. 49-51). This is the same argument Moses used when God was threatening to destroy the people in the wilderness after they had rejected him by making the golden calf: “Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’” (Exod. 32:12)? In these verses the writer seems to combine mockery against God, mockery of the king, and mockery directed at himself: “Remember, Lord, how your servant has been mocked, how I bear in my heart the taunts of all the nations, the taunts with which your enemies have mocked, O LORD, with which they have mocked every step of your anointed one (vv. 50, 51).”
If we are praying selfishly, our pleas have little force with God. But we are on firm ground when we can say, as Paul did in Romans, “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me” (Rom. 15:3; Ps. 69:9).
1Marvin E. Tate, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 20, Psalms 51-100 (Dallas: Word, 1990), p. 427.
How did the saints call out to God in Revelation 6:10? Why is it, like Psalm 89:46, not a mark of unbelief?
List and explain the meaning of the two appeals seen in verses 46-51.
Reflection: How does the psalmist’s honesty help you in your prayers for God to act in a certain way? Pray that your prayers and questions will be rooted in firm ground rather than shallow selfishness.