As a special psalm for the sabbath day it is no surprise that Psalm 92 contains a number of echoes of the creation account:
- Its opening word is the word ‘good’ – the watchword of Genesis 1 which defined everything that God had made. Just as God’s creation was ‘good’ in all its aspects, so it is ‘good’ for human beings to respond in thanks and praise (v1): it is a part of our purpose. (Perhaps the singing of v1 also parallels the song of the angels when ‘all the sons of God shouted for joy’ at creation?.
- The second verse contains the pair ‘morning’ and ‘night’. Not quite the ‘evening and morning’ of Genesis 1, but pretty close.
- The second stanza celebrates the works of God, using the phrases ‘thy work, the works of thy hands, thy works, thy thoughts’ – an easy link to God’s creative activity in the beginning and a worthy reminder of the sabbath principle that we should rest from our own works and celebrate God’s.
- The two main stanzas of the poem, v6-11 and v12-15 constitute a division between the wicked (v6-11) and the righteous (v12-15). This moral ‘division’ parallels the many acts of dividing in Genesis 1 – the process by which God made the physical world.
- The final stanza is all about fruitfulness, using the imagery of horticulture and plant growth to describe the prospering of the righteous. The insistent repetition of this imagery is about the closest allusion to Eden and early Genesis one could ask for.
Good all round
The psalm is also bound together at beginning and end: ‘It is good to give thanks to the Lord’ it says at the start, and at the end ‘there is no unrighteousness (i.e. nothing ‘bad’) in Him’: the Lord is good, and it is good for us to take up our place acknowledging Him. Furthermore, the psalm opens not only with giving thanks and singing, but also with ‘shewing forth’ (declaring, proclaiming) His lovingkindness and faithfulness. At the end of the psalm the fruitful growth of the righteous has a purpose in view, and it is the same as it is at the beginning: ‘to shew that the Lord is upright; His is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.’
There is no particular complexity or puzzle in the psalm; it is simply a beautiful call to praise and proclamation. The structure is simple, and worth noting at the outset:
Call to praise God (v1-3)
Reason why; exclamation about God’s greatness (v4-5)
Ignorance and fate of the wicked (v6-11)
Flourishing of the righteous (v12-15)
So, then, to the psalm itself (words for the wicked enemies are underlined; those to do with plants are italicised):
- [A Psalm [or] Song for the sabbath day.][It is a] good [thing] to give thanks unto the LORD,
And to sing praises unto thy name, O most High:
- To shew forth thy lovingkindness in the morning,
And thy faithfulness every night,
- Upon an instrument of ten strings, and upon the psaltery;
Upon the harp with a solemn sound.
- For thou, LORD, hast made me glad through thy work:
I will triumph in the works of thy hands.
- O LORD, how great are thy works![And] thy thoughts are very deep.
- A brutish man knoweth not; neither doth a fool understand this.
- When the wicked spring as the grass,
And when all the workers of iniquity do flourish;[It is] that they shall be destroyed for ever:
- But thou, LORD, [art most] high for evermore.
- For, lo, thine enemies, O LORD,
For, lo, thine enemies shall perish;
All the workers of iniquity shall be scattered.
- But my horn shalt thou exalt like [the horn of] an unicorn:
I shall be anointed with fresh oil.
- Mine eye also shall see [my desire] on mine enemies,[And] mine ears shall hear [my desire] of the wicked that rise up against me.
- The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree:
He shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
- Those that be planted in the house of the LORD
Shall flourish in the courts of our God.
- They shall still bring forth fruit in old age;
They shall be fat and flourishing;
- To shew that the LORD [is] upright:[He is] my rock, and [there is] no unrighteousness in him.
A God to be praised
It is good and right (note the simple yet definitive language of v1) for God to be praised. It is His due and our duty; it completes the cycle as His goodness comes down to us and our praise rises up to Him. His attributes of lovingkindness and faithfulness are the key to everything, and they appropriately appear in the central two lines of the six lines of v1-3. We are to vocalise His praise through thanks and singing (v1, the first two lines), and we can support it through our music (v3, the last two lines; note the three references to instruments). Night and day God is to be praised – with the consistency of God’s own fundamental ordinances of time.
In the second stanza the idea of the ‘works’ of God is repeated three times (two different Hebrew roots are used, although perhaps synonymously) and the thoughts of God are also referred to. These references, one for every line of the stanza, give more than adequate reason why He should be praised. Reflection on God’s works brings a gladness and a sense of triumph to the psalmist: it is not just a matter of intellectually assenting to God’s creative ability; rather it has a deep personal impact upon him.
The division: wicked and righteous
In the third stanza we turn to consider the wicked (note the eight phrases used to single them out, underlined in the text of the psalm). These people are simply not on the same wavelength; they don’t appreciate the greatness and creativity of God expressed in the previous stanza; they just don’t ‘get it’. They appear to be getting along just fine as they grow and flourish (v7), but the language used is ominous: they ‘spring as the grass’, and we know what happens to the grass from other Scriptures – one day it is, and the next it is cast into the oven (Mt 6:30; cf Ps 37:2; 90:5; 103:15; Is 40:6-8; Jas 1:10,11). The wicked will not ‘stand’ or ‘remain’, therefore; God will endure (v8) and He will exalt and anoint His servant (v10), but His enemies will perish and be scattered (v8-9,11).
Why this shift from celebrating the works of God and the importance of sabbath praise to a consideration of the wicked? Perhaps because God’s work of physical creation which was accomplished by a process of division follow by rest is accompanied by a work of spiritual creation which will also be accomplished by a process of division followed by rest. Stanzas three and four literally divide between righteous and wicked, and ultimately one will flourish and the other will perish. There will be a sabbath rest when this great spiritual work of God is done – the great spiritual sabbath rest that God’s purpose all through history has been driving towards – so this topic of righteous and wicked is much more relevant to a sabbath psalm than it might first appear.
V10-11 are difficult in the KJV (as in the original to some degree), and it is worth quoting them in a modern version:
But you have exalted my horn like that of the wild ox;
You have poured over me fresh oil.
My eyes have seen the downfall of my enemies;
My ears have heard the doom of my evil assailants.
The KJV’s ‘unicorn’ is the wild ox, able to push aggressively and overcome anything in its path. This speaks of the king’s glory and ability to conquer which God has endowed him with. God has anointed His servant and singled him out for victory (perhaps the reference to fresh oil suggests a ‘re-anointing’ or a re-dedication of the king?). The second two lines (v11) are literally ‘my eyes have looked upon my enemies’ and ‘heard my evil assailants’ (there is no word for ESV’s ‘downfall’ or ‘doom’ in the original), but the sense is likely as both KJV and ESV have it: he has seen his desire on them; he has seen and heard them brought to nothing.
Finally we come to the righteous in the last stanza of the psalm. The wicked had seemed to be prospering and flourishing (v7 – note the terminology of growth), but it was phantom growth with no real fruit. Now no less than six different phrases are used to describe the verdant progress of those who fear God. Counterintuitively they are planted in ‘the house of God’ and in ‘the courts of our God’ (v13) rather than in a garden or a field, but this suggests that His house is like a garden. This might be a spiritual garden just now – an environment where true spiritual growth and accomplishment is possible. Or it might be a future garden, the garden of Eden restored, perhaps? – a place where He can ultimately be amongst us once again. There they will:
- flourish like the palm tree
- grow like a cedar in Lebanon
- be planted
- bring forth fruit in old age
- be fat and flourishing
This is the language of luxuriant growth, of permanence, and of fruitfulness. At last men and women will be able to fulfil and to receive the original blessing of God that was given to them way back in Genesis 1.