A Catalog of Consequences
(38) But you have rejected and spurned. You have been furious with your anointed one. (39) You have renounced the covenant with your servant. You have defiled his crown in the dust. (40) You have broken through all his walls. You have made his strongholds a ruin. (41) All who pass along the way plunder him. He has become a reproach to his neighbors. (42) You have exalted the right hand of his foes. You have made all his enemies rejoice. (43) You have also turned back the edge of his sword. You have not supported him in battle. (44) You made his splendor to cease and cast down his throne to the dust. (45) You have cut short the days of his youth. You have covered him with shame. (Selah)
The opening “but” serves as an abrupt transition, moving us from praise to lament, from adoration to accusation (vs. 38). It is vitally important that we clearly identify “your anointed one” and “your servant” (vss. 38 & 39). In this context, the psalmist is certainly not referring to Israel’s future Messiah but to the rebellious kings in David’s line, the succession of Israel’s offspring whose growing rebellion brought about the consequences spelled out in these verses.
In the eight verses of this segment, we find fourteen uses of the second person singular, “You have...you have...you have,” as the psalmist sets forth the consequences of Yahweh’s exasperation with his wayward nation. Immediately we encounter several important synonyms: “rejected...spurned...been furious with...renounced...defiled” (vss. 38 & 39). Twice the psalmist uses the expression, “in the dust.” First, it is the king’s crown that is defiled “in the dust” (vs. 39), and then it is his throne that is cast down “to the dust” (vs. 44). Ironically, it is the “right hand of his foes” that is exalted (vs. 42), not God’s hand (as in vss. 13 & 21) nor David’s hand (as in vs. 25).
God’s judgment on the Davidic rulers of Israel:
- Yahweh rejects and renounces his covenant. (38 & 39)
- The defenses of the city lie in ruins. (40 & 41)
- The nation’s enemies rejoice over her weakness. (42 & 43)
- Israel’s king is covered with shame. (44 & 45)
Due to God’s chastisement for sin, both Israel’s rulers and her people were reduced to ruin and shame.
For those who abandon God and his ways, the results can be shocking. In Leviticus God’s covenant nation had been offered a choice: “If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands...” (Lev. 26:3). What follows is a list of the blessings that God promised to supply for those who were faithful: peace, prosperity, and his abiding presence (Lev. 26:4-13). On the contrary, God warned, “But if you will not listen to me and carry out all these commands, and if you reject my decrees and abhor my laws and fail to carry out all my commands and so violate my covenant, then I will do this to you...” (Lev. 26:14-16). What follows is a much longer catalog of the consequences that would fall upon the unfaithful: rejection, ruin, and shame (Lev. 26:16-46).
Psalm 89 never spells out the specific reasons why God brought his chosen people to such a debased condition, but there was really no need. God had already made clear the terms of his covenant: “If you obey, you will be blessed, but if you disobey, you will be cursed.” This principle still holds true today. If we turn away from the Lord, he may remove his hand of blessing from us and chasten us with the expectation that we will eventually return to him with a renewed commitment to obedience.
At the end of Leviticus 26 we find an encouraging promise: “Yet, in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them or abhor them so as to destroy them completely, breaking my covenant with them. I am the Yahweh their God” (Lev. 26:44). Paul, in essence, made the very same promise to believers in his second epistle to Timothy: “If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself” (2 Tim. 2:13). God never abandons those on whom he has set his love. However, the consequences of rebellion can be severe. We need constant reminders like this segment of Psalm 89 to help us keep in mind what can happen if we fail to walk in fellowship with the Lord, not cleaving faithfully to the one whose love will never let us go.