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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 38–52
Verses 38–52

In these verses we have,

I. A very melancholy complaint of the present deplorable state of David’s family, which the psalmist thinks hard to be reconciled to the covenant God made with David. “Thou saidst thou wouldst not take away thy lovingkindness, but thou hast cast off.” Sometimes, it is no easy thing to reconcile God’s providences with his promises, and yet we are sure they are reconcilable; for God’s works fulfil his word and never contradict it. 1. David’s house seemed to have lost its interest in God, which was the greatest strength and beauty of it. God had been pleased with his anointed, but now he was wroth with him (Ps. 89:38), had entered into covenant with the family, but now, for aught he could perceive, he had made void the covenant, not broken some of the articles of it, but cancelled it, Ps. 89:39. We misconstrue the rebukes of Providence if we think they make void the covenant. When the great anointed one, Christ himself, was upon the cross, God seemed to have cast him off, and was wroth with him, and yet did not make void his covenant with him, for that was established for ever. 2. The honour of the house of David was lost and laid in the dust: Thou hast profaned his crown (which was always looked upon as sacred) by casting it to the ground, to be trampled on, Ps. 89:39. Thou hast made his glory to cease (so uncertain is all earthly glory, and so soon does it wither) and thou hast cast his throne down to the ground, not only dethroned the king, but put a period to the kingdom, Ps. 89:44. If it was penned in Rehoboam’s time, it was true as to the greatest part of the kingdom, five parts of six; if in Zedekiah’s time, it was more remarkably true of the poor remainder. Note, Thrones and crowns are tottering things, and are often laid in the dust; but there is a crown of glory reserved for Christ’s spiritual seed which fadeth not away. 3. It was exposed and made a prey to all the neighbours, who insulted over that ancient and honourable family (Ps. 89:40): Thou hast broken down all his hedges (all those things that were a defence to them, and particularly that hedge of protection which they thought God’s covenant and promise had made about them) and thou hast made even his strong-holds a ruin, so that they were rather a reproach to them than any shelter; and then, All that pass by the way spoil him (Ps. 89:41) and make an easy prey of him; see Ps. 80:12, 13. The enemies talk insolently: He is a reproach to his neighbours, who triumph in his fall from so great a degree of honour. Nay, every one helps forward the calamity (Ps. 89:42): “Thou hast set up the right hand of his adversaries, not only given them power, but inclined them to turn their power this way.” If the enemies of the church lift up their hand against it, we must see God setting up their hand; for they could have no power unless it were given them from above. But, when God does permit them to do mischief to his church, it pleases them: “Thou hast made all his enemies to rejoice; and this is for thy glory, that those who hate thee should have the pleasure to see the tears and troubles of those that love thee.” 4. It was disabled to help itself (Ps. 89:43): “Thou hast turned the edge of his sword, and made it blunt, that it cannot do execution as it has done; and (which is worse) thou hast turned the edge of his spirit, and taken off his courage, and hast not made him to stand as he used to do in the battle.” The spirit of men is what the Father and former of spirits makes them; nor can we stand with any strength or resolution further than God is pleased to uphold us. If men’s hearts fail them, it is God that dispirits them; but it is sad with the church when those cannot stand who should stand up for it. 5. It was upon the brink of an inglorious exit (Ps. 89:45): The days of his youth hast thou shortened; it is ready to be cut off, like a young man in the flower of his age. This seems to intimate that the psalm was penned in Rehoboam’s time, when the house of David was but in the days of its youth, and yet waxed old and began to decay already. Thus it was covered with shame, and it was turned very much to its reproach that a family which, in the first and second reign, looked so great, and made such a figure, should, in the third, dwindle and look so little as the house of David did in Rehoboam’s time. But it may be applied to the captivity in Babylon, which, in comparison with what was expected, was but the day of the youth of that kingdom. However, the kings then had remarkably the days of their youth shortened, for it was in the days of their youth, when they were about thirty years old, that Jehoiachin and Zedekiah were carried captives to Babylon.

From all this complaint let us learn, 1. What work sin makes with families, noble royal families, with families in which religion has been uppermost; when posterity degenerates, it falls into disgrace, and iniquity stains their glory. 2. How apt we are to place the promised honour and happiness of the church in something external, and to think the promise fails, and the covenant is made void, if we be disappointed of that, a mistake which we now are inexcusable if we fall into, since our Master has so expressly told us that his kingdom is not of this world.

II. A very pathetic expostulation with God upon this. Four things they plead with God for mercy:—

1. The long continuance of the trouble (Ps. 89:46): How long, O Lord! wilt thou hide thyself? For ever? That which grieved them most was that God himself, as one displeased, did not appear to them by his prophets to comfort them, did not appear for them by his providences to deliver them, and that he had kept them long in the dark; it seemed an eternal night, when God had withdrawn: Thou hidest thyself for ever. Nay, God not only hid himself from them, but seemed to set himself against them: “Shall thy wrath burn like fire? How long shall it burn? Shall it never be put out? What is hell, but the wrath of God, burning for ever? And is that the lot of thy anointed?”

2. The shortness of life, and the certainty of death: “Lord, let thy anger cease, and return thou, in mercy to us, remembering how short my time is and how sure the period of my time. Lord, since my life is so transitory, and will, ere long, be at an end, let it not be always so miserable that I should rather choose no being at all than such a being.” Job pleads thus, . And probably the psalmist here urges it in the name of the house of David, and the present prince of that house, the days of whose youth were shortened, Ps. 89:45.

(1.) He pleads the shortness and vanity of life (Ps. 89:47): Remember how short my time is, how transitory I am (say some), therefore unable to bear the power of thy wrath, and therefore a proper object of thy pity. Wherefore hast thou made all men in vain? or, Unto what vanity hast thou created all the sons of Adam! Now, this may be understood either, [1.] As declaring a great truth. If the ancient lovingkindnesses spoken of (Ps. 89:49) be forgotten (those relating to another life), man is indeed made in vain. Considering man as mortal, if there were not a future state on the other side of death, we might be ready to think that man was made in vain, and was in vain endued with the noble powers and faculties of reason and filled with such vast designs and desires; but God would not make man in vain; therefore, Lord, remember those lovingkindnesses. Or, [2.] As implying a strong temptation that the psalmist was in. It is certain God has not made all men, nor any man, in vain, Isa. 45:18. For, First, If we think that God has made men in vain because so many have short lives, and long afflictions, in this world, it is true that God has made them so, but it is not true that therefore they are made in vain. For those whose days are few and full of trouble may yet glorify God and do some good, may keep their communion with God and get to heaven, and then they are not made in vain. Secondly, If we think that God has made men in vain because the most of men neither serve him nor enjoy him, it is true that, as to themselves, they were made in vain, better for them had they not been born than not to be born again; but it was not owing to God that they were made in vain; it was owing to themselves; nor are they made in vain as to him, for he has made all things for himself, even the wicked for the day of evil, and those whom he is not glorified by he will be glorified upon.

(2.) He pleads the universality and unavoidableness of death (Ps. 89:48): “What man” (what strong man, so the word is) “is he that liveth and shall not see death? The king himself, of the house of David, is not exempted from the sentence, from the stroke. Lord, since he is under a fatal necessity of dying, let not his whole life be made thus miserable. Shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave? No, he shall not when his time has come. Let him not therefore be delivered into the hand of the grave by the miseries of a dying life, till his time shall come.” We must learn here that death is the end of all men; our eyes must shortly be closed to see death; there is no discharge from that war, nor will any bail be taken to save us from the prison of the grave. It concerns us therefore to make sure a happiness on the other side of death and the grave, that, when we fail, we may be received into everlasting habitations.

3. The next plea is taken from the kindness God had for and the covenant he made with his servant David (Ps. 89:49): “Lord, where are thy former lovingkindnesses, which thou showedst, nay, which thou swaredst, to David in thy truth? Wilt thou fail of doing what thou hast promised? Wilt thou undo what thou hast done? Art not thou still the same? Why then may not we have the benefit of the former sure mercies of David?” God’s unchangeableness and faithfulness assure us that God will not cast off those whom he has chosen and covenanted with.

4. The last plea is taken from the insolence of the enemies and the indignity done to God’s anointed (Ps. 89:50, 51): “Remember, Lord, the reproach, and let it be rolled away from us and returned upon our enemies.” (1.) They were God’s servants that were reproached, and the abuses done to them reflected upon their master, especially since it was for serving him that they were reproached. (2.) The reproach cast upon God’s servants was a very grievous burden to all that were concerned for the honour of God: “I bear in my bosom the reproach of all the mighty people, and am even overwhelmed with it; it is what I lay much to heart and can scarcely keep up my spirits under the weight of.” (3.) “They are thy enemies who do thus reproach us; and wilt thou not appear against them as such?” (4.) They have reproached the footsteps of thy anointed. They reflected upon all the steps which the king had taken in the course of his administration, tracked him in all his motions, that they might make invidious remarks upon every thing he had said and done. Or, if we may apply it to Christ, the Lord’s Messiah, they reproached the Jews with his footsteps, the slowness of his coming. They have reproached the delays of the Messiah; so Dr. Hammond. They called him, He that should come; but, because he had not yet come, because he did not now come to deliver them out of the hands of their enemies, when they had none to deliver them, they told them he would never come, they must give over looking for him. The scoffers of the latter days do, in like manner, reproach the footsteps of the Messiah when they ask, Where is the promise of his coming? 2 Pet. 3:3, 4. The reproaching of the footsteps of the anointed some refer to the serpent’s bruising the heel of the seed of the woman, or to the sufferings of Christ’s followers, who tread in his footsteps, and are reproached for his name’s sake.

III. The psalm concludes with praise, even after this sad complaint (Ps. 89:52): Blessed be the Lord for evermore, Amen, and amen. Thus he confronts the reproaches of his enemies. The more others blaspheme God the more we should bless him. Thus he corrects his own complaints, chiding himself for quarrelling with God’s providences and questioning his promises; let both these sinful passions be silenced with the praises of God. However it be, yet God is good, and we will never think hardly of him; God is true, and we will never distrust him. Though the glory of David’s house be stained and sullied, this shall be our comfort, that God is blessed for ever, and his glory cannot be eclipsed. If we would have the comfort of the stability of God’s promise, we must give him the praise of it; in blessing God, we encourage ourselves. Here is a double Amen, according to the double signification. Amen—so it is, God is blessed for ever. Amen—be it so, let God be blessed for ever. He began the psalm with thanksgiving, before he made his complaint (Ps. 89:1); and now he concludes it with a doxology. Those who give God thanks for what he has done may give him thanks also for what he will do; God will follow those with his mercies who, in a right manner, follow him with their praises.