This is the final psalm in Book 3; the last verse is more likely a benediction to the collection than for this psalm. The author here is Ethan, brother of Heman who gave us the previous hymn, and equally famous for his wisdom and as a Temple musician during David’s reign.
At least a couple of modern English songs take their words from the first few lines here. No other starting place would make sense than to praise the name of the Lord. Whatever else may follow, these declarations are true. Never mind what it looks like or what it feels like, Our God never fails. This is followed by a recitation of the divine call and promise to David as King of Israel.
Unless you are foolish enough to reject the Lord’s anointed ruler, this is very good news to anyone who resides in the Land of Israel. Thus, the next few verses celebrate what a marvel this promise represents in terms of revealing God’s character. Given how He has been so incredibly faithful before making such a promise, including smashing Egypt to set His people free, how could this grand promise go wrong? Who is like Our God? No one compares favorably with Jehovah.
The Ethan lavishes rich praise on God for demonstrating unquestionable mastery over the whole earth. He rattles off the names of landmarks visible for many miles around, as if God had simply pinched them up with His fingers. It’s hard to summarize all the symbolism. People who serve God can walk with confidence and pride that the world itself is their ally. If God favors you, nothing else matters in this world. So God’s promised favor on David is very good news for the rest of the kingdom.
Indeed, Ethan paints a glowing image of God’s choice and ritual anointing of David. It was virtually the same as adopting David as His own Son. For a moment he says things scholars have long insisted were Messianic prophecies, if for no other reason than that they could not be literally true of David the man. Even while his memory lives fresh in the psalmist’s mind, David has become the symbol of a promised deliverer. While David eventually dies, the promise he symbolized will eventually walk the earth again.
As part of this commitment to mercy, God declares that He will show exceptional restraint in correcting the people over whom David rules. They won’t get away with murder, but He will punish them with an eye to driving them back to His throne. God has no intention of tossing this covenant aside out of mere impatience with them. Again, the symbolic meaning is hard to miss.
So how sad it is that Israel must surely have driven hard against God’s patience, because things aren’t that happy right now. To all appearances there is no longer any covenant at all. Nothing protects them and shalom has departed utterly — no prosperity, no safety from human or natural enemies, no protection from plagues. If anything, the enemies around them have more favor from God than He grants to Israel.
In accordance with the courtly protocols of his day, Ethan asks rhetorically how long God will hide His face from them. Should the current generation who remember His divine mercy die before it returns, who would be left to teach His ways? Ethan wonders if he’ll die before God relents. So he cries out for the Lord to remember that not everyone in Israel has turned away from Him. How much longer must he hide in shame as God’s enemies parade and celebrate while insulting His people? Don’t forget us forever, O Lord!
Then comes the benediction we are sure belongs to this third division of Psalms.