Lectionary Year B
December 22, 2002
Fourth Sunday in Advent
Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26

Step II: Disposition


      The portion of the Psalm in the R.C.L. has an air of firm faith, and of promises fulfilled. The Psalm as a whole is a bitter wail: "What happened to your covenant with David?!"

      The first verses are like a hymn. The key verses seem to be 3 and 4, on Yahweh's Covenant with David.

      vv. 5-18 are full of praise for Yahweh the Creator.

      vv. 19-37 cover Yahweh's covenant with David.
           19-20 is an introduction to this section.
           22-29 are Yahweh's promises to David.
           30-34 set the moral conditions for the covenant.
           35-37 point to the permanence of the covenant.

      vv. 38--52 are a lament about the sad contemporary (for the Psalmist) condition of the House of David. James Luther Mays (Psalms, Interpretation Commentary Series, p. 286) identifies v. 49 as the climax: "Where is your former steadfast love...?" This section ends with a cry for Yahweh to end the misery and remember the covenant, ending with an affirmation of faith: "Blessed be the LORD..!"


1. The Psalm in its entirety ties the remembrance of Yahweh's past promises with puzzlement at the sad reality of the present with a plea for Yahweh to restore the covenant promises in the future. Within the R.C.L. readings, in its shortened form (1-4, 19-26) it's set in the context of our awareness that God did indeed "remember" the covenant.

2. That tone of pleading, of confusion and even anger about the contrast between Yahweh's promises in the past and what must have been a terribly distressing panorama in the present, could provide some powerful bases for preaching to a contemporary congregation. There are plenty of promises, and/or understandings of promises, that Christians today read in (or into?) Scripture that are in marked contrast to the reality many live out. Psalm 89 as a whole is a song of sadness and of pleading; for the Fourth Sunday of Advent this year, it's read with the Annunciation to Mary. The covenant was kept-- though again, probably not as many expected.

3. 19-26 seems to offer the image of a superb warrior king, whose enemies Yahweh will crush. Jesus did indeed defeat "the enemies", principalities, and power...by obedience "even to death, and death on a cross." What a contrast.

4. T.W. Currie (1941) cites the case of a wise man (Jewish or Christian? He doesn't say) in Spain who is said to have scrupulously avoided listening to the reading of this Psalm, because of its daring and accusatory tone of complaint (p. 61).

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