The writer continues Psalm 89 with a hymn, listing reasons to praise God. The hymn is extensive; it runs 33 verses—which implies that we should expect a lot of reasons.
He begins, as many Palms do, with what the theologians call “general revelation,” so called because, unlike “special revelation” (the Scripture), it is given to all people. It’s as plain as the sun during the day, the stars at night, the air you breathe, and yes, the nose on your face.
The most obvious element of general revelation is God’s transcendence, his status as above and beyond his creatures. Most people have experienced that revelation when they have looked at the star-filled sky on a clear night and sensed something bigger, greater than they are—and perhaps they’ve even thought, “Whoever is out there, I want to know you.”
General revelation will do that.
The psalmist expresses this transcendence by asking, “Who in the heaven can be compared unto the LORD? who among the sons of the mighty can be likened unto the LORD?” (Ps 89.6). The question is of course rhetorical; the expected answer is “no one.” No one can be compared to him; he is unlike all his creatures.
The biblical name for that incomparability is holiness. It is God’s foundational attribute, for in all his other attributes he is incomparable to anyone or anything else.
The structure of vv 6-7 is chiastic, or X-shaped. Verse 6, the question, addresses first the heavenly beings and then humans (“sons of the mighty”), while verse 7, the response, works its way back out in reverse order by concluding that “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints,” and then “to be had in reverence [by] all them that are about him” (Ps 89.6-7). This structure reinforces the strength of the comparison and gives it a sense of roundness or completeness: the end addresses all the elements raised in the beginning.
The psalmist lists two specific attributes of God that set him apart as incomparable. First, he is faithful (Ps 89.5, 8). He has mentioned this attribute in the Psalm’s opening (Ps 89.1, 2), alongside hesed, which we noted in the previous post. The Hebrew word for “faithfulness” is emunah, which is where we get our word “Amen”; when we say the word, we’re saying, “May it be so!” or “That’s right! That’s true!”
God is like that. He keeps all his promises; he does not change; he is not frustrated by circumstances or other external forces. He is faithful.
The second attribute that the Psalmist specifies is might: “Who is a strong LORD like unto thee?” (Ps 89.8). This is the word for the kind of strength that impresses onlookers, that provokes awe. God never meets his match; his purpose is never delayed or diverted. If God is long in keeping his promises, it is because his purposes are best served by the length of time. There is no force that can affect his will or his accomplishment.
These verses call to mind Isaiah’s famous vision of the heavenly court (Is 6.1-4).God is “high and lifted up,” surrounded by flaming seraphs, with the doorposts shaking at their cries and the room “filled with smoke.”
The Psalmist specifies our appropriate response to these attributes of personal transcendence: we his saints (“holy ones,” because he is holy) should fear him, and those heavenly beings in Isaiah’s vision should hold him in reverence (Ps 89.7)—which, Isaiah shows us, they do.
I know that the “fear of the LORD” is not properly viewed as terror or dread; pretty much every Bible teacher makes that point when he’s defining the term. But you know, if we were to see the scene that Isaiah saw, we’d be scared. We’d know that we were in the presence of someone far greater than we are. I would hope that in that moment I would remember that this great God is my loving Father, but still, my eyes would be wide, my breath would be fast, and my pulse would be racing. I would fear him, and not just in a theoretical way.
The Psalmist starts here, because a vision of this great and incomparable God will profoundly affect the way we think about all the crises we face and all the evil we see.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The Psalmist has more points to make first.
Photo by Jeremy Perkins on Unsplash