I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, for ever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations. I declare that your steadfast love is established for ever; your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.
You said, ‘I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to my servant David: “I will establish your descendants for ever, and build your throne for all generations.”’…
…Then you spoke in a vision to your faithful one, and said: ‘I have set the crown on one who is mighty, I have exalted one chosen from the people. I have found my servant David; with my holy oil I have anointed him; my hand shall always remain with him; my arm also shall strengthen him. The enemy shall not outwit him, the wicked shall not humble him. I will crush his foes before him and strike down those who hate him. My faithfulness and steadfast love shall be with him; and in my name his horn shall be exalted. I will set his hand on the sea and his right hand on the rivers. He shall cry to me, “You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation!” I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth. For-ever I will keep my steadfast love for him, and my covenant with him will stand firm. I will establish his line for ever, and his throne as long as the heavens endure. If his children forsake my law and do not walk according to my ordinances, if they violate my statutes and do not keep my commandments, then I will punish their transgression with the rod and their iniquity with scourges; but I will not remove from him my steadfast love, or be false to my faithfulness. I will not violate my covenant, or alter the word that went forth from my lips. Once and for all I have sworn by my holiness; I will not lie to David. His line shall continue for ever, and his throne endure before me like the sun. It shall be established for ever like the moon, an enduring witness in the skies.’
The Psalms are traditionally associated with David and this has led to the idea that he composed them. This is highly improbable; but here is not the place to go into a lengthy explanation of why. Although vv.1-2 could be read as words of David, the heading attributes this Psalm to a Second Temple era priest; and references to David are all expressed in the third person.
God’s covenant with the line of Davidic kings is made explicit in vv.3-4 and vv.19-37 share many of the ideas found in yesterday’s passage from 2 Samuel 7. These latter verses are categorical about the permanence of the divine covenant and the monarchy.
However the whole tone of the Psalm changes in v.38 and the Psalmist accuses God of breaking the covenant (v.39), bringing down the monarchy (vv.38, 39, 44) and giving victory to Israel’s enemies (vv.40-43). Scholars recognize that this section is responding to the devastating events of exile and that it is part of the theological rethinking of that time (to which I made mention yesterday).
As God’s people we can all fall into the theological trap of presuming that because God has acted in a particular way over generations (e.g. sustaining the Davidic monarchy), God will always behave in precisely the same way towards us. We confine God, not in an ark, or a temple, but in our doctrines; and deny God the freedom to demonstrate covenant love towards us in totally new ways.
The Psalmist cries out in lament. God seems to be hidden – there is a longing that God will act as of old – but the final words recognize God’s sovereignty.
I wonder whether our ideas about God need shaking up. God’s covenant’s love in Christ is assured; but how we experience it and where God leads, may yet surprise us!
Sovereign God, you have revealed yourself through your living word and we believe that we can know you well in Jesus; but remind us that your fullness exceeds all that human minds are capable of understanding.
Make us ready to let go of anything that constrains our thinking and denies your freedom to confound our theology; and expectant that your love and life-giving activity may need new ways of expression. Amen.
The Revd Dr Janet E Tollington A retired minister and member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge