I guess one could get the impression from the conventional marriage vows quoted in my last post that they are unconditional, but in reality, that is not the case. Sadly, what happens too often in marriages is that at least one party fails to “have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part”. In fact, they opt to go their own selfish way, forsaking their spouse in the “worse” times, during times of economic crisis or during times of ill health. Eventually they fail to love and cherish as they had promised and may even commit some infidelity, resulting in separation and/or divorce with all its disastrous consequences.
In the same way, God’s covenant with David and his forbears had conditions as the psalmist spells out below (as per 2 Samuel 7)
30 “If his sons forsake my law
and do not follow my statutes,
31 if they violate my decrees
and fail to keep my commands,
32 I will punish their sin with the rod,
their iniquity with flogging;
As Longman says:
The psalmist “has reminded God of his commitment to David. Now he is going to show his awareness of the conditional nature of God’s relationship with David and his sons. They do not have carte blanche [i.e., complete freedom] to behave as they wish. He will discipline them if they wander from God.” (# 30)
But, fortunately, that’s not the end of the story, for just as one spouse can remain faithful even in the midst of the failure of the other, so God promises to keep his vow to David, as follows:
33 but I will not take my love from him,
nor will I ever betray my faithfulness.
34 I will not violate my covenant
or alter what my lips have uttered.
35 Once for all, I have sworn by my holiness—
and I will not lie to David—
36 that his line will continue forever
and his throne endure before me like the sun;
37 it will be established forever like the moon,
the faithful witness in the sky.”
Having spelt out the conditions, God then says that “he would never remove the kingship from David’s line. It would be eternal. To remove the kingship from David’s line would be to violate the covenant (v 34a). Like the moon, David’s line will last forever.” (# 30)
If the psalm finished there, we might conclude that “they had all lived happily ever after”. But, if you have read the history of David and his sons over the centuries as described in the OT (2 Samuel, I and 2 Kings), then you would know that too often exactly the opposite happened. Despite the faithfulness of God, his representatives on earth indulged in blatant unfaithfulness to God, resulting in disaster for the people of Israel.
Although aware of these conditions of the covenant, the psalmist is struggling with just how bad things have turned out for him and his people. He just can’t reconcile God’s promises with the reality around him and so he complains to God:
38 But you have rejected, you have spurned,
you have been very angry with your anointed one.
39 You have renounced the covenant with your servant
and have defiled his crown in the dust.
40 You have broken through all his walls
and reduced his strongholds to ruins.
41 All who pass by have plundered him;
he has become the scorn of his neighbors.
42 You have exalted the right hand of his foes;
you have made all his enemies rejoice.
43 Indeed, you have turned back the edge of his sword
and have not supported him in battle.
44 You have put an end to his splendor
and cast his throne to the ground.
45 You have cut short the days of his youth;
you have covered him with a mantle of shame.
Basically, the psalmist is accusing God of violating the covenant he made with David, even though he had said I will not violate my covenant. “While God promised to exalt the king, he has defiled his crown in the dust. The evidence is obvious. Israel’s enemies have the upper hand. They have broken down the defensive walls of the cities and have destroyed Israel’s strongholds. Israel’s armies are on the retreat. Rather than exalting the king, he has shamed him.” (# 30)
Have you ever felt like the psalmist? Felt somehow let down by all those you trusted around you? Maybe even felt let down by God? Hopefully this psalm can help. Hang in there as, next time we look at the bigger picture as the psalmist continues his lament to God, How long, Lord?