Christmas in Psalm 89: The King has Arrived

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The king has arrived and has already begun his reign forever and ever.

Psalm 89 begins as a psalm of praise. “I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, forever; with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations” (Ps. 89:1). More specifically, we read that he is to be praised for his covenant with David where God promised: “I will establish your offspring forever, and build your throne for all generations” (Ps. 89:4). 

It continues by declaring God’s incomprehensible greatness (vers. 5-18). “For who in the skies can be compared to the Lord?…. The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it, you have founded them” (6, 11). It then focuses again (in verses 19-37) on his promises to David. “Once for all I have sworn by my holiness; I will not lie to David. His offspring shall endure forever” (35-36). 

Then the mood changes. Following verse 37, this psalm of praise quickly becomes one of lament. God’s promise has somehow been interrupted. “But now,” verse 37 begins, “you have cast off and rejected; you are full of wrath against your anointed. You have renounced the covenant with your servant….You have breached all his walls; you have laid his strongholds in ruins…. You have made his splendor to cease and cast his throne to the ground” (38-39, 40, 44). 

This continues until verse 46 when the hymn begins a series of pleas. “How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever?... Lord, where is your steadfast love of old, which by your faithfulness you swore to David?” (46, 49). 

The lament of verses 38-51 helps clarify the context in which this psalm was written. It must come from, scholars argue, the end of the House of David, which had lasted over 400 years—from around 1000 BC to 586 BC, when the Babylonians destroyed the Kingdom of Judah. This psalm is a reflection or response to that shock. God’s covenant with David was supposed to last forever, but it now seemed broken. 

Its apparent end, however, was merely a pause. “Behold,” wrote the prophet Jeremiah (in the wake of the Babylonian conquest), “the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David” (Jer. 33:14-15). 

It would take another half a millennium or so, but “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his son” (Gal. 4:4). He was also the son of Mary and adopted—and therefore legal—son of Joseph. 

While Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus, in the eyes of his contemporaries, he was his legitimate father. So Jesus was born and raised in the household of Joseph. Joseph, though a humble carpenter, was of royal blood. He was a descendant of David of Bethlehem, the second king of Israel, and recipient of God’s promise to establish his kingdom into perpetuity through his offspring (2 Samuel 7:11-13). It was in the small town of Bethlehem, where Joseph and Mary would venture for Caesar’s census, that the promise would be made manifest. But not in a way that was expected. 

Those who hung on to God’s promise to David expected some sort of political messiah. They even believed he would come from Bethlehem (see Matt. 2:4-4), for this was what the Scriptures predicted. What they got was entirely different—a baby born in a grotto to an unassuming and anonymous couple from Nazareth. And while some shepherds and wise men knew something was special about this newborn, he would live a quiet, if not obscure, life for thirty years before he made his mark on history. 

What they got was entirely different—a baby born in a grotto to an unassuming and anonymous couple from Nazareth.

You probably know how those three years went. You certainly know how they ended. While he preached and demonstrated that, with him, the kingdom of God was at hand, he was rejected until the very end. In a way, Pontius Pilate had it right when, despite the protests of the chief priests of Israel, he had a sign identifying him as “King of the Jews” put over his head as he was hung upon the cross, for he was the one from the house of David who would “endure forever.”

And yet, like David, he died. Like the House of David, his time ended. Or so it seemed. Easter morning proved otherwise. As David himself predicted, God would not let his “Holy One”—his Messiah—decay or “see corruption” in the grave (Ps. 16:10; Acts 2:27). Moreover, with reference to Psalm 89, at Pentecost, Peter proclaimed:

Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up (Acts 2:29-32).  

He was from and would live unto eternity. The Davidic covenant would find its fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus. It began at Bethlehem on that first Christmas, was finished just outside Jerusalem on Easter, and is realized wherever the gospel is preached. 

God’s eternal kingdom has come. It is present in but not of this world. It will continue when this world comes to its end and continue to exist unto eternity. 

This is what we celebrate at Christmas. The prophecies of old and the promises of God have been fulfilled. The king has arrived and has already begun his reign forever and ever.