George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 4

Psalm 92

1. Title

A Psalm or Song for the sabbath day. This was, according to Edersheim, the official Temple psalm for the sabbath day, “because” — quoting Maimonides — “the sabbath was symbolic of the millennial kingdom... when the Lord would reign over all, and His glory and service would fill the earth with thanksgiving.” The Talmud says this is “a song for the future age of the Messiah, all of which will be sabbath.”

The aptness of this psalm to the Sabbath Day is emphasized by:

a seven-fold use of the Covenant Name: Jehovah/Yahweh, i.e., “the Lord” (vv. 1,4,5,8,9,13,15).
repeated mention of God’s “work” and “works”, after which God (i.e., the angels: Exod. 31:17) “rests”, i.e., desists from special and open activity.

But the character of the psalm suggests that it was originally framed for one particular Sabbath (“the Sabbath day”), not just for use on any and every Sabbath Day (see Par. 4 on this).

Considering its placement in the Psalter, William Kay suggests that Psalm 92 describes the “sabbath rest” of God’s Israel when they finally enter the Land of Promise (Psalm 91) after the struggles of a wilderness pilgrimage (Psalm 90).

2. Structure

Praise of God and His works
The wicked
The blessing of the righteous in God and His sanctuary

3. Links with Psalms 90 and 91

Psalm 92
Psalms 90, 91

Most High
Thy name
Thy mercy in the morning
Thy work
Works of his hands
Workers of iniquity flourish
The house of the Lord
90:1; 91:1,9
Old age
contrast 90:10; compare 91:16

4. Historical background        

The more specific references in the psalm all seem to converge on the personal experiences of Hezekiah. Note also that after the time of Moses there is very little Old Testament emphasis on the Sabbath until Isaiah 56:4; 58:13.

Compare Hezekiah’s enthusiasm: Isa. 38:20. The mention of an instrument of ten strings together with psaltery and harp (two other instruments) might be a symbolic allusion to Hezekiah’s great effort to gather the ten tribes and the two tribes into a godly harmony.
Gladness and triumph in the works of thy hands suggest the great rejoicing at the revival of Passover observance (2 Chron. 30:21,26), and also triumphant deliverance from the Assyrian invasion (v. 11 here).
O Lord, how great are thy works! and thy thoughts are very deep. God moves in a mysterious way. Consider the remarkable extremes of blessing and affliction which were concentrated into that critical period of Hezekiah’s reign, especially his sickness and recovery, the devastation of the Land, and the destruction of the invaders.
A brutish man (that is, “dull” — like a beast)... a fool... the wicked... the workers of iniquity. Special reference first of all to Rabshakeh, a renegade Jew (notes, Psalms Studies, Psa. 66, Par. 4) and the spearhead of Sennacherib’s propaganda onslaught on Jerusalem. Then secondly, to all of his fellow-workers of iniquity in the Assyrian encampment. Rabshakeh was, in the worldly sense, ever so wise — but in the divine sense he was as stupid and senseless as the beasts that perish (Psa. 49:10,12,20; 73:22; 94:8).
For, lo, thine enemies, O Lord, for, lo, thine enemies shall perish; all the workers of iniquity shall be scattered. The repetition is very effective, for there was an utterly complete fulfillment in Isa. 37:36. The Assyrians were Jehovah’s enemies, coveting His Land, and making confident and persistent attempts to break Israel’s confidence in their God (Isa. 36:7,15,18; 37:10,16-20).
Like the horn (Psa. 75:10; 89:17,24) of a unicorn (wild ox: RSV, NEB, NIV). All such references are allusions to the ox-figures of the cherubim in the sanctuary; reference to the cherubim is prominent in Hezekiah’s prayer on the occasion of Sennacherib’s invasion (Isa. 37:16).

I shall be anointed with fresh oil. The king, healed of his leprosy, went up to the house of the Lord on the third day (2 Kings 20:5,8) (for priestly inspection: Lev. 14:2), and on the seventh day (14:9) was shaved and pronounced clean and anointed with oil (14:14-16).
They shall bring forth fruit in old age. Now childless Hezekiah could look forward to fathering a family: his only son Manasseh was born three years after these events (2 Kings 21:1; cp. the relevant psalms, 127:3-5; 128:3-6).
The Lord... is my rock (tsur). This alludes to the altar of burnt offering built round the Rock in the temple area. Consider the importance of the sacrifices offered there for Hezekiah’s cleansing.

5. A psalm of Messiah

Like Psalm 2, the personal details here are to be read concerning Christ both at the time of his resurrection and in the day of his glory.

A song of thanksgiving on emerging from the fetters of death (cp. 31:5; 59:16).
But my horn shalt thou exalt = Christ glorified.

I shall be anointed with fresh oil = Christ an anointed High Priest (Psa. 45:7; Heb. 1:9).
The palm tree... a cedar in Lebanon... shall flourish. The blessedness of those in Christ as they rejoice in their association with a new temple of the Lord. (In the first place, “he” — v. 12 — is Christ, and then — in v. 13 — “those” who are in him share the same blessings. The “he” contrasts with the plural “they” descriptive of the wicked in v. 7.) These do not have to wait for the Kingdom to experience Christ’s “sabbath rest”. Release from the burden of having to earn salvation through “justification by works” is in itself a great rest and relaxation, even now (Heb. 4:9-11).
The palm tree is a symbol of Gentile believers (Exod. 15:27; Num. 33:9), as is the cedar of those native to the Land.
Rejoicing in the efficacy of the sacrifice of Christ.

6. And a psalm of Messiah’s Kingdom

The intense joy of everything in God’s Kingdom.
Christ finally vindicated in the eyes of all the world.
Human willfullness finally exposed for what it truly is.
Thine enemies... the workers of iniquity. This verse is cited by Christ the Judge in the Last Day: “ye workers of iniquity” (Matt. 7:23); “But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me” (Luke 19:27).
Mine eyes also shall see my desire on mine enemies, and mine ears shall hear my desire of the wicked that rise up against me. Notice the italics in the AV: Jesus, like his Father, does not desire that any should perish; but in the absence of repentance and faith men will perish, and the Lord the Righteous Judge of all mankind will not shirk to carry out such judgments at the appointed time.
Here are to be seen saints in Christ flourishing as they have never flourished before.

7. Other details

In the morning... every night. The regular daily sacrifices, every morning and every evening (Exod. 29:38,39; 30:7,8).
A solemn sound is the Hebrew higgaion (Psa. 9:16; 19:14), a meditation which expresses itself in words spoken. It is not really “solemn” in the generally-understood sense, with long faces and somber demeanor. Rather, it is filled with joy and praise of God — albeit of the most serious sort. For so the harp and the other instruments are used elsewhere (Rev. 14:1-5; 1 Chron. 25:1-5; Psa. 71:22).
God’s works: appropriate to Genesis 1: Days 1-6. But especially appropriate to the ongoing work of God in fashioning men and women anew in Christ (Psa. 145:9,10). Contrast vv. 7,9: the workers of iniquity.
Thy thoughts. This is an important word, to be followed up in the concordance. It is variously translated, among others, as weave, devise, fashion, impute, imagine. Consider especially Jer. 29:11 and 1 Cor. 2:10.

Thy thoughts are very deep. And very high also (Isa. 55:8,9) — the two ideas are by no means exclusive of one another! Compare also Psa. 36:6; 40:5; 139:17; Rom. 11:33. And contrast Rev. 2:24: “the depths of Satan”: adversaries of the Truth taking pride in the profundity of their own wisdom (cp. the “wisdom” of all modern universities!) — which is the most utter foolishness with God (1 Cor. 1:18-29).
Neither does a fool understand this. “This” = v. 7: The fool does not understand that he will perish forever. (Accordingly, RSV and NEB insert “that” at the beginning of v. 7.)
Flourish is the s.w. as in vv. 12,13 — but with what a contrast! The wicked “flourish”, but only as the “grass” — notoriously short-lived; the righteous, on the other hand, “flourish” as the long-lived (almost “immortal”) cedars (cp. Psa. 1:3; Isa. 61:3; 65:22)! But even those who think they are flourishing as “trees” (Psa. 37:35,36; Luke 13:7-9) can be “marked out” for destruction (Matt. 3:10; 7:19).
This verse, with its cumulative force, is noticeably similar to certain lines discovered from Ugarit, written some centuries earlier. Baal, about to do battle with the personified seas and rivers, is told:

‘Behold, thine enemies, O Baal,
Behold, thine enemies shalt thou crush,
Behold, thou shalt crush thy foes!’ (from Kidner, p. 336).

These words could well have been quoted by Rabshakeh against Hezekiah and especially against his God. So the present verse could well be a pointed assertion that it is Yahweh, and not Baal, who will triumph, and that His victory will rid the world of evil.
Fresh oil is literally “green oil” — which either means simply that which is fresh, or that which is made from green or unripe olives. Olive oil was used for light in the sanctuary (Exod. 27:20). So, in Psalm 92, there are three trees alluded to: the olive (symbol of light: cp. Psa. 52:8, notes); the palm (symbol of fruit), and the cedar (of strength and permanence).
In Hebrew the word for palm is tamar, which denotes erectness; and in Greek it is phoenix, which connotes resurrection.
Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. There were no trees planted in the court of the temple, at least insofar as is known today. But palm trees and cedars (vv. 10,12) were probably present in earlier sanctuaries in Israel, and they were pictorially represented even in the temple of Solomon itself (1 Kings 6:18,35). For the idea, cp. Eph. 3:16,17.
They shall be fat and flourishing. In keeping with the tree imagery of vv. 10,12, they shall be “full of sap and green” (RSV).
There is no unrighteousness in him (that is, the Lord). So therefore there can be no complaining against the “evil” He brings into the life of man or nation.

8. The palm tree

“The palm grows slowly, but steadily, from century to century, uninfluenced by those alternations of the seasons which affect other trees. It does not rejoice overmuch in winter’s copious rain, nor does it droop under the drought and the burning sun of summer. Neither heavy weights which men place upon its head, nor the importunate urgency of the wind, can sway it aside from perfect uprightness. There it stands, looking calmly down upon the world below, and patiently yielding its large clusters of golden fruit from generation to generation. ‘They bring forth fruit in old age.’ The allusion to being planted in the house of the Lord is probably drawn from the custom of planting beautiful and long-lived trees in the courts of temples and palaces, and in ‘high places’ used for worship. This is still common; nearly every palace in the country has such trees in the courts, and, being well protected there, they flourish exceedingly. Solomon covered all the walls of the ‘Holy of Holies' (1 Kings 6:29) round about with palm trees. They were thus planted, as it were, within the very house of the Lord; and their presence there was not only ornamental, but appropriate and highly suggestive; the very best emblem, not only of patience in well-doing, but of the rewards of the righteous — a fat and flourishing old age — a peaceful end — a glorious immortality. The Jews used palm branches as emblems of victory in their seasons of rejoicing (Lev. 23:40); and the Christians do the same on Palm Sunday, in commemoration of our Savior’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem” (W.H. Thomson, The Land and the Book, pp. 49,50).

9. A sabbath hymn

Because it is not so catalogued in our hymn book, Hymn 75 may not be generally recognized as being based on this Psalm 92.

Sweet is the work, my God, my King,
To praise Thy name, give thanks, and sing:
To show Thy love by morning light,
And talk of all Thy truth at night.

Sweet is the day of sacred rest,
Let mortal care forsake my breast:
O may my heart in tune be found
Like David’s harp of solemn sound.

My heart shall triumph in the Lord,
And bless His works and bless His word:
Thy works of grace, how bright they shine!
How deep Thy counsels, how divine!

And I shall share a glorious part,
When grace has well refined my heart.
And fresh supplies of joy are shed,
Like holy oil, to cheer my head.

Isaac Watts
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