How Long, Lord?
by Jack Wald | November 26th, 2019

Psalm 89

“How long, Lord? How long must I wait?”

Have you ever asked that question?

We began waiting before we knew what we were waiting for. We waited in a dark, moist room which grew increasingly cramped. There was a constant, rhythmic pounding, swishing noises. Then we began our first big journey as the walls pushed in on us and we moved through the birth canal, into the world.

In the womb, we did not have to wait to be fed, did not have to wait to have our diaper changed, but now that began to be part of our waiting. When we did not get what we wanted, we cried until we got it. We were not very good at waiting.

As we aged, we were more aware of what was happening around us and were able to look into the future and anticipate. “How long is it until my birthday?” “When will it be Christmas?”

In the car, heading off on a trip to see grandma and grandpa, or heading off to a vacation spot, what do the parents in the front seat hear? “Mommy, are we there yet?” “Daddy, how much longer til we get there?”

Waiting does not get easier as we age. How many cycles of a light do we have to wait before we get through the intersection. (After five weeks traveling around the US, just be glad you are not driving in Washington, D.C. or in Los Angeles.)

When we are on hold on an automated telephone service, waiting for a person we can talk with, we are tempted to say – and sometimes do say – rude things to the automated voice that keeps telling us, “Thank you for your patience. Please continue to hold.” When we go to a bureaucratic office and are told to come back tomorrow, and then next week, and then next week again, it is time to incite a revolution.

No one likes to wait and yet waiting is a significant and important part of our following of Jesus. For some reason, God takes a long time to answer our prayers. God makes promises to us that take a long, long time to be fulfilled.

Abraham and Sarah waited twenty-five years for the fulfillment of God’s promise to them to have a child. Hannah waited for years to have a child while her rival wife had child after child after child. Joseph waited two years in prison before he was remembered by Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer. Israel waited in Egypt two or three hundred years for God’s deliverance. The exiles from Judah, the southern kingdom of Israel, waited for seventy years before they were able to return to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon. Israel waited four hundred years for the promised messiah. The man born lame, the man born blind, the man laying by the side of the pool, the woman who was unclean because of her bleeding, lepers who lived as outcasts – all these and more lived with their suffering for years, praying for healing, pleading with God for help.

And for almost 2,000 years we have been waiting for Jesus to return as he promised he would. The disciples of Jesus expected his return within their lifetime, but they died without his return. Their children waited and they died. Their children waited and died. There have been sixty-six generations since the resurrection of Jesus and we are still waiting. That is a lot of waiting.

We don’t like waiting. We are impatient in our waiting and our impatience is not new. In the Bible the phrase “How long, Lord” appears throughout the psalms.

Psalm 6 is a psalm of David, written during one of the dark moments of his life. (Psalm 6:3)
My soul is in deep anguish.
How long, Lord, how long?

Psalm 35 is another psalm of David and written when he was feeling attacked by those plotting to take over his kingdom. (Psalm 35:17)
How long, Lord, will you look on?
Rescue me from their ravages,
my precious life from these lions.

Psalm 79 was written after the unthinkable happened. Many had tried over the centuries to conquer Jerusalem but had been unsuccessful. Time after time God had intervened and delivered them from their attackers. But this time Nebuchadnezzar had been successful and Jerusalem was taken. In their despair this psalm was written. (Psalm 79:5)
How long, Lord? Will you be angry forever?
How long will your jealousy burn like fire?

Psalm 80 was written about a century and a half earlier when Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, was conquered by the Assyrians. (Psalm 80:4)
How long, Lord God Almighty,
will your anger smolder
against the prayers of your people?

Psalm 94 looks forward to a time when the Lord will be king and laments the rule of brutish and unjust tyrants. (Psalm 94:3)
How long, Lord, will the wicked,
how long will the wicked be jubilant?

The prophet Habakkuk looked out at a world of injustice, wrongdoing, destruction, violence, strife, conflict and called out, (Habakkuk 1:2)
How long, Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?

What Habakkuk wrote was not just in response to a bad day, a bad week, or even a bad month. Day after day, month after month, year after year he cried out to God for help. And what was the result? The law was paralyzed, justice never prevailed, the wicked hemmed in the righteous so that justice was perverted. (Habakkuk 1:3-4)

This morning we are looking at Psalm 89 which was written in remembrance of the covenant God made with David to establish his kingdom forever. But now, with Jerusalem destroyed and no more kings, what had happened to this covenant? (Psalm 89:46)
How long, Lord? Will you hide yourself forever?
How long will your wrath burn like fire?

2 Samuel 7 is at the heart of this psalm. David had built his palace and was enjoying what he had built. He had been successful in battles against the enemies of Israel and there was peace. So David spoke to Nathan the prophet and asked if he thought it was a good idea to build a temple for God. Why should the king of Israel live in a splendid palace while the ark of God remained in a tent?

Nathan told the king this was a good idea. He should go ahead and build a temple for God. But that night God spoke to Nathan and made a covenant with David that stands in the Old Testament right next to the covenant God made with Moses and the people of Israel at Mt. Sinai.

2 Samuel 7:5
“Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? 6 I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. 7 Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” ’
8 “Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. 9 I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth. 10 And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning 11 and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies.

And now comes the heart of the covenant.
“ ‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: 12 When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. 15 But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’ ”

We hear this and say, “Oh, I see. God is promising that Jesus, a descendant of David, will be the king forever.” But this is not how Nathan heard this covenant. It is not how David heard it and it is not how Israel heard it. What they all heard is that the sons of David would be kings of Israel forever. Israel would be a kingdom forever.

So Psalm 89 begins with this:
I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever;
with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known
through all generations.
2 I will declare that your love stands firm forever,
that you have established your faithfulness in heaven itself.
3 You said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one,
I have sworn to David my servant,
4 ‘I will establish your line forever
and make your throne firm through all generations.’

The problem with this, which we will get to at the end of the psalm, is that a descendant of David was no longer on the throne and, in fact, there was no more throne. There was not a king of Israel. Jerusalem had been conquered by Babylon.

The writer of Psalm 89 is perplexed by this, puzzled by this. What did it mean that the covenant God made with David had been broken? Was the problem that God was not powerful enough to keep the covenant? His answer is no. God is all powerful and verses 5-18 speak of the majesty of God, the mastery of God, and the moral grandeur of God.

The heavens praise your wonders, Lord, 
your faithfulness too, in the assembly of the holy ones. 
6 For who in the skies above can compare with the Lord? 
Who is like the Lord among the heavenly beings? 
7 In the council of the holy ones God is greatly feared; 
he is more awesome than all who surround him. 
8 Who is like you, Lord God Almighty? 
You, Lord, are mighty, and your faithfulness surrounds you. 

The psalmist goes on to say that God is master over the sea, master over Egypt (Rahab – a poetic name for Egypt), and master over the mountains. This is to say that God is master over all the natural world and all the nations of the earth.

The psalmist continues with the character of God.
Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne;
love and faithfulness go before you.
15 Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you,
who walk in the light of your presence, Lord.

Having established the majesty, mastery, and moral grandeur of God, making it possible for God to do whatever he wanted to do, the psalmist moves to the man God appointed to be king of Israel.

Once you spoke in a vision, 
to your faithful people you said: 
“I have bestowed strength on a warrior; 
I have raised up a young man from among the people. 
20 I have found David my servant; 
with my sacred oil I have anointed him. 
21 My hand will sustain him; 
surely my arm will strengthen him. 
22 The enemy will not get the better of him; 
the wicked will not oppress him. 
23 I will crush his foes before him 
and strike down his adversaries. 
24 My faithful love will be with him, 
and through my name his horn will be exalted. 

And now we get to the covenant God made with David.

I will set his hand over the sea, 
his right hand over the rivers. 
26 He will call out to me, ‘You are my Father, 
my God, the Rock my Savior.’ 
27 And I will appoint him to be my firstborn, 
the most exalted of the kings of the earth. 
28 I will maintain my love to him forever, 
and my covenant with him will never fail. 
29 I will establish his line forever, 
his throne as long as the heavens endure. 

“Forever” “as long as the heavens endure” How could it be said more strongly?

The psalmist goes on to say that even if the sons of David do not follow God, they will be punished, but even if that happens, the psalmist writes,
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.”

This seems to be an ironclad contract.
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— 

And now we come to verse 38. Either the first thirty-seven verses were a psalm by themselves and the psalmist took this psalm and added on to it, or amazingly, the psalmist was able to write this first part of the psalm to set up the problem he was struggling with. In either case we come to the problem. God is lord of all and God made a covenant with David that he promised would last forever, but now, with the walls of Jerusalem broken, with the people of Jerusalem taken into exile in Babylon, with no son of David on the throne of Israel, what does this say about God and the ironclad covenant he made with David?

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. 

This last line, “cut short the days of his youth,” is a reference to the last king in the line of David, Jehoiachin, who had been on the throne as king for only three months before he was deported to Babylon at the age of eighteen.

The all-powerful God made a promise, a specific promise.
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;

And now it was gone, smashed, decimated, obliterated, no more. In its absence, the psalmist sits in the ashes of total and utter defeat and asks,
How long, Lord? Will you hide yourself forever?
How long will your wrath burn like fire?

The psalmist is depressed.
Remember how fleeting is my life.
For what futility you have created all humanity!

He looks forward and sees no hope, only the inevitable grave.
Who can live and not see death,
or who can escape the power of the grave?

He stands before the grave that is his future and cries out,
Lord, where is your former great love,
which in your faithfulness you swore to David?

And then as he ends this psalm, the Spirit of God speaks through him and we see hints of the coming Messiah, the suffering servant combined with the triumphant king.
Remember, Lord, how your servant has been mocked,
how I bear in my heart the taunts of all the nations,
51 the taunts with which your enemies, Lord, have mocked,
with which they have mocked every step of your anointed one.

The blessing, “Praise be to the Lord forever!” and the double “Amen” at the end is not part of this psalm. It marks the end of the third section in the book of Psalms.

This is a beautifully constructed psalm, powerfully expressing the pain of a hope that was dashed. The psalmist thought his hope was standing on a solid rock, but wrote this psalm standing on what appeared to be sinking sand.

He doesn’t doubt the existence of God. He knows God exists. He doesn’t conclude that God will not keep the covenant he made with David. He just can’t figure out what is happening. He cannot reconcile the covenant God made with David and the reality of the destruction of Jerusalem. So he cries out,
How long, Lord? Will you hide yourself forever?
How long will your wrath burn like fire?

What are you waiting for? What prayer have you been praying for a long time without it being answered?

Are you tired of the pain of living in a world with so much suffering? When you walk down the street, how many people pass by who are carrying with them the pain of having been molested or abused? How many people are deprived of good jobs because they do not have the family connections to get jobs where they can use the skills they have acquired? In a world full of injustice, where is the justice that is promised? We pray in the prayer Jesus taught us to pray, “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” That is, perhaps, the most prayed prayer in the church. When will it be answered? When will people be treated with respect and dignity? When will corruption end?

How long, O Lord?

How about prayers you have prayed for your family, your friends? How long have you been waiting for an answer to prayer?

Psalm 89 ends with bewilderment, puzzlement. The psalmist is perplexed. How could God make such a great promise and then have it fail so spectacularly?

But did it fail? In his last words of the psalm, the psalmist did not know that he was writing about Jesus, a son of David who would come into the world to fulfill the covenant God made with David. It would be about four hundred years before he came, but God remembered his covenant. God did not break his covenant with David. He did not lie to David.

This tells me that in our frustration with unanswered prayers, we have to submit to God who knows what we do not know. We do not know what will happen tomorrow, let alone next year or the next four hundred years. So we put our trust in God who knows the past, present, and future.

Why do young children suffer from some disease or ailment for so many years? From our earthly perspective we think it is cruel and unjust to allow someone to suffer for years and perhaps even the rest of their life. If God is going to heal us, why doesn’t he do that now? Why do wicked people prosper and good people suffer? If God is going to bring justice to this earth, why doesn’t he bring justice now? We ask along with Jeremiah 12:1
You are always righteous, Lord,
when I bring a case before you.
Yet I would speak with you about your justice:
Why does the way of the wicked prosper?
Why do all the faithless live at ease?

And Job 21:7
Why do the wicked live on,
growing old and increasing in power?

We believe, like the psalmist of Psalm 89, that God is good. God will keep his promises. We ask our questions. We express our puzzlement. And then we have no choice but to wait.

How is it best for us to wait?

The writer of Hebrews was writing to Jews who had become followers of Jesus but because of the great persecution they faced as followers of Jesus, wanted to return to being Jews. This way, they thought, they would still be worshiping the same God but have less suffering. In his encouragement to hold on to faith in Jesus he wrote: (Hebrews 6:12)
We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.

We wait with faith and patience. The writer of Psalm 89 waited with faith. He knew God is the all-powerful God. He knew God keeps his promises. He just couldn’t figure out what had happened and how the covenant with David would be kept if the Jews were living in exile in Babylon.

We don’t understand why it is taking Jesus so long to return and bring peace on earth. We don’t understand why there continues to be such great suffering for the people living on earth. In the words of the hymn,
But I know Whom I have believed,
And am persuaded that He is able
To keep that which I’ve committed
Unto Him against that day.

We wait with faith and patience.

Patience is the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, problems, or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious.

Israel wandered through the wilderness for forty years before crossing the Jordan into Canaan, the land God promised to them. Did they wait those forty years with faith and patience? Not really.

God powerfully rescued them from slavery in Egypt and then they repaid him by grumbling. The grumbled because they did not have enough water, did not have enough meat, did not have confidence they would be kept safe. They grumbled, grumbled, and grumbled some more.

We too grumble a lot. “Why me Lord?” we ask when anything difficult comes our way or when something does not go the way we want it to.

We wait with faith and patience but this does not mean we do not have questions. It is OK to ask questions. But waiting with patience comes to God and says, “I don’t know why I am waiting so long, but I know you love me and so I rest in your arms.” Patient waiting allows us to be at peace when all around us is in chaos.

“It’s OK Lord. I know this will not last forever and that you will make all things right.”

In the midst of the suffering of Job he declares: (Job 19:25–27)
I know that my redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
26 And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
27 I myself will see him
with my own eyes—I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!

Jeremiah sat in the ashes of the defeat of Jerusalem and lamented. His laments are written in the book of Lamentations. His grief is deep and intense. He writes graphically about how devastating his grief is and then, in the midst of his laments he writes this: (Lamentations 3:21–26)
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.

When we wait with faith and patience, our faith will outlast the world we live in.

We wait with faith and patience and we trust in God because we remember how he has been faithful to us in the past.

David wrote Psalm 13 after his son, Absalom, rose up in rebellion against him.
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
5 But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6 I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.

I will sing the Lord’s praise, 
for he has been good to me.

David writes this last line in the past tense. “He has been good to me.” David remembers how God has blessed him over the years of his life and so he presses on in faith even when his kingdom is threatened by rebellion. He presses on in faith even thought it is his own son, who he loves, who is leading the rebellion.

Because of all David remembered, he looks into the future and knows he will have a song to sing to God for his goodness.

Whatever you are facing, I want you to know, “It’s going to be OK.” God is present with you. You are safe in his arms. You may not see things work out the way you want them to, but it’s going to be alright.

This is not to say you will not suffer. This is not to say your future will be an easy one. There may be grief and sorrow in your future, but you can still sing the Lord’s praise because he has been good to you and he will be good to you in the future.

This is what feeds hope into the life of a follower of Christ. No matter how dark the situation, light is going to come. God will bring beauty out of the ashes. This is what God has been doing for the past two thousand years and he is not finished. He will bring beauty out of the darkness of any difficulty you face now or in the future.

Put your trust in God who loves you. Wait with faith and patience. It is going to be OK. It is going to be better than OK. You will sing the Lord’s praises with all your heart because of his abundant goodness.

(Philippians 4:7)
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.