From My Soul Waits
I will sing of thy steadfast love, O Lord, forever;
with my mouth I will proclaim thy faithfulness to all generations. (v. 1)
Misericordias Domini in aeternum cantabo – the opening words of Psalm 89, as they are sung in Latin (I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever) – appear on a banner issuing from the mouth of Teresa of Ávila in a famous portrait done of the saint in 1576, while she was still living. The painting portrays the elderly Teresa being visited by the Holy Spirit who descends in the form of a dove, a vision she had on the eve of Pentecost. With these words taken from the psalm, the artist expresses the theme of Saint Teresa’s life: her continued response of praise to God through all the varied experiences of her life. And praising God for his “steadfast love and faithfulness” in all circumstances – including the most chaotic – is precisely the message of Psalm 89.
The fifty-two-verse psalm can be divided into three parts. Part 1 (1–18) is a declaration of God’s sovereign rule over all creation, praising him for his faithfulness, which “is firm as the heavens,” (v. 2). The universe is marked with countless signs of God’s loving care. Its grandeur and order reflect the very nature of its Creator – great, awesome, strong, and wonderful.
Part 2 (19–37) applies that same focus on God’s steadfast love and faithfulness to his dealings with the people of Israel, especially in his choice of David and his lineage. Just as the sun and the moon endure in the heavens, so David’s throne shall endure on the Earth (36–37). Nothing can destroy God’s Earthly purposes any more than it can bring the stars down from the heavens.
Part 3 (38–51), however, calls all of this into question or, rather, the psalmist calls God into question. “But now,” begins the psalmist’s lament, (v. 38): Now everything I thought was true seems to be up for grabs. The kingdom is tottering. The throne is falling. The city is in ruins. Have you forgotten your promises? Have you forgotten me?
Perhaps the entire purpose of the first thirty-seven verses – the enthusiastic rehearsal of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness in the past – is to allow the psalmist to make his complaint about the present, much as a child can freely cry in pain so long as it is locked in its mother’s firm embrace. Put another way, even while he is lamenting the upheaval and disorder of his current circumstances, the psalmist is nevertheless doing so under this banner of praise: Misericordias Domini in aeternum cantabo. The final verse, (v. 52), even if it belongs less to the psalm itself than to an editor’s pen, concludes the whole of Book Three of the Psalter, making the final lines of Psalm 89 the declaration of an indisputable truth: “Blessed be the Lord forever! Amen and Amen.”
From The Fathers
Listen now how the prophet praises God at the very beginning of the psalm. He saw with his prophetic eyes the future iniquity of his people and the captivity that would be the consequence; yet he praised his own Lord for his unfailing promises. Through all this the prophet teaches that the promise was made by God on account of lovingkindness, and that the promise is faithful. (Theodoret of Cyr)
As many sign as there are that trouble is near me;
As many failures as there are that haunt me;
As many sufferings as there are that cause me pain;
This I know, O God:
That there are countless more signs of your enduring love.