The kingship belongs to God

Sunday Evening

Psalm 89

white rose.charlie18For our shield belongs to the Lord,
our king to the Holy One of Israel.

The poet’s opening themes are God’s faithfulness and covenant promise to David that his royal line shall never fail. Then the poet sings of the host of heaven praising God’s faithfulness and might. He uses as his poetic image God victorious over Rahab, the primeval chaos monster of Canaanite myth. All creation, heaven and earth, the divine and the mundane, is the LORD’s.

But we, the listeners, know that the Davidic kingship has fallen; the poem will end with lament and plea for God to remember and act. Still, the poet sings that all heaven and earth belong to the LORD, that God’s “arm” is “endowed with might.” It is why the people who know the festal shout are happy.

And then this little verse peeps in:

18Our shield belongs to the Lord,
our king to the Holy One of Israel.

The king belongs to God. The kingship belongs to God. God made a promise, but the kingship belongs to God. The line of David shall continue as the sun and moon “established forever”, but the kingship belongs to God. If kings forsake God’s commands, God will punish, yet he will not take away his steadfast love – so God has spoken – but the kingship belongs to God.

There is a remarkable humility in the text. The promise is ever allowed to be a promise; the poet does not take it as a possession: the kingship belongs to God. God has promised it to them, but it belongs to God. It is gift. It is a sure and certain promise by the one whose faithfulness and might are sung by all creation. But the kingship belongs to God; it is not Judah’s possession. It is not something that can be clenched in their fists. It comes only as promise. It must be trusted.

God binds himself with a promise, yet God is free. We can trust the gift, but we don’t own it. The kingship is not ours; it is God’s.

Jerusalem got in trouble when they thought the city could never fall because they possessed God’s temple. They imagined God’s presence and protection as their possession. It disconnected them from trust. It no longer mattered what they did – or didn’t do. They became a city that didn’t follow in faith, didn’t live the life they had been given, didn’t abide in God’s teaching. And the city fell – with the temple and kingship.

God binds himself with a promise, yet God is free. We can trust the gift, but we don’t own it. The kingship, the city, the promise is not ours; it is God’s.

Salvation is gift. Grace is gift. The Holy Spirit is gift. The presence of Christ in the bread and wine is a sure and certain promise, but it remains a promise, not a possession. A promise must be trusted; a possession I own. A possession I control. A possession asks nothing of me.

Christ is gift, not possession. Grace is gift not possession. Salvation is gift, not possession. They come to us as promise and we receive them with trust. We are confident, we are bold, we build on rock not sand, but we are not in control. We are not the masters. The kingship is God’s.

In this great psalm of praise and lament, hope and plea, confidence and yet confusion, the genius of the poet weaves together in a deep and abiding trust all these various threads: the faithfulness of God, the surpassing might of God, the certainty of his promise, and yet the knowledge that God is free. God is still God. God is not bound by us; we are bound to him. Our right and proper response to God is humble trust in his promise. To the invitation to God’s holy table, to the gift of bread and wine, to the promise of forgiveness, to the participation in the body, we can only say thank you. It is and always remains gift and promise, not our possession.

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