When God’s Promises Don’t Seem to Be Coming True (Psalm 132)

sad woman

Big Idea: Trust in God’s promises even when God’s promises don’t seem to be coming true, because God keeps his promises even better than we could have expected.

This past week I went out for dinner with friends from another church in Toronto. We got talking about all the ways that God has provided for us in the past. Char and I began to talk about some of the ways that God provided for us as we started to plant this church: how God made up the $100,000 we needed to buy a condo in Liberty Village, how God provided a large donation for the church when we were flat broke. We have so many stories of God’s faithfulness in the time we’ve been here as a church.

Here’s the reason it’s good for us to tell stories like this. We don’t always see what God is doing. I see problems really well. I don’t always see God’s provision, but I’m really good at seeing the problems. Telling stories of God’s faithfulness in the past helps me trust God in the moment when circumstances don’t make sense, when I can’t really tell what God is up to — which is most of the time.

Trust in God’s promises even when God’s promises don’t seem to be coming true, because God keeps his promises even better than we could have expected.

Here’s my theory. Most of the time, your life is going to be hard. You’re going to have some fun, and God is going to give you lots of things to enjoy. But most of the time, we have lots of questions about life. Most of the time, we’re not going to see what God is up to in our lives. We’re going to have lots of questions, but not a lot of solid answers.

We’re going to need something to help us through those tough times, times when we really don’t know what’s going on, when it actually looks like God’s promises are in doubt. Confidence in God’s promises helps us even when God’s promises don’t seem to be coming true.

This summer we’ve been going through the Psalm of Ascent. They’re pilgrim songs sung by the pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem for the three annual feasts every year. I’ve really enjoyed these songs. Although they were written a long time ago, it’s not hard to see how most of them apply to today.

But then we get to Psalm 132. This one’s tough. It’s twice as long as any other Psalm of Ascent. It’s notoriously hard to understand. We don’t know who wrote it or when it was written. At first glance, it seems like it has nothing to say to us today. It’s about a temple and a king, and at first glance it doesn’t seem very relevant to us today.

But this psalm actually has a lot to teach us. Here are three lessons that this psalm teaches us that we need to know.

God has made promises to his people.

This psalm is really a meditation on 2 Samuel 6 and 7, when David brought the ark to Jerusalem and when God made an amazing promise to David, Israel’s greatest king.

God had made David king of Israel. David had finally achieved peace in his kingdom, and he began to think about building a house for God. God came along, though, and told David not to build him a house. Instead, God promised that David’s family would occupy the throne forever.

And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. (2 Samuel 7:9–11)

This is a pivotal moment in Scripture. Author and pastor David Platt says, “This is one of the most important texts, really, in all the Old Testament for understanding how God relates to His people.” God made a number of different covenants or agreements with his people: the covenant of creation with Adam, the covenant of preservation with Noah, the covenant of promise with Abraham, the covenant of law with Moses, and now this one: the covenant of kingdom with David. God promises that God’s people (specifically David’s descendants) would always reign in God’s place (Jerusalem) for God’s purpose. That’s the Davidic covenant, and it matters a lot.

God makes promises in Scripture. God says, “Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations” (Deuteronomy 7:9). You need to know God’s covenants. John Piper calls these covenants God’s self-written job descriptions. He says:

The reason God’s covenants with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David ought to increase the joy of our faith is that in all of them the main point is that God exerts all his omnipotence and all his omniscience to do good to his people, and we are that people if we follow Christ in the obedience of faith. The most practical truths any Christian can know are that God is all-powerful, all-wise, and all for you. Nothing will have a more important practical impact on the way you use your money, spend your leisure, pursue your vocation, rear children, deal with conflict, or handle anxiety. Heartfelt confidence that the sovereign God is working everything together for your good out of sheer grace affects every area of your life.

God has made promises to his people, and it’s crucial that we understand them.

Sometimes they don’t seem like his promises are becoming true.

Psalm 132 begins:

Remember, O LORD, in David’s favor,
all the hardships he endured…

In verses 2 to 7, he basically recounts David’s determination to build God a house, as well as his work to bring the ark of the covenant — a wooden chest that represented God’s presence on earth — to Jerusalem. And then he prays this in verses 8 to 9:

Arise, O LORD, and go to your resting place,
you and the ark of your might.
Let your priests be clothed with righteousness,
and let your saints shout for joy.
For the sake of your servant David,
do not turn away the face of your anointed one.

What’s interesting is that David’s son Solomon had prayed this exact prayer in 2 Chronicles 6:41–42 when he dedicated the temple to God.

What is going on here? God had made promises to his people, but it seems like the promises weren’t coming true. Remember: pilgrims sang this song as they traveled to Jerusalem three times each year. For a lot of Israel’s history, things weren’t that great. It really didn’t look like God’s promises were coming true. It seems this psalm was written in one of those dark periods when David’s line was threatened. There was a period after 586 BC that David’s throne sat empty after the Babylonians deposed King Zedekiah.

It seems like this song is written for pilgrims who aren’t experiencing God’s promises. They show up in Jerusalem, but instead of a joyful pilgrimage it’s a sad one. In the middle of this reality, the psalmist asks God to remember his promises.

Side note: this is one of many psalms where people cry out to God and ask him to keep his promises. God seems to be honored, not offended, when we do this.

God has made promises to his people, but sometimes they don’t seem to be coming true. But there’s one more thing this Psalm teaches us:

God keeps his promises better than we can understand them.

Even when it looks like God is not keeping his promises, God keeps them better than we can understand them.

Read verses 11 to 18:

The LORD swore to David a sure oath
from which he will not turn back:
“One of the sons of your body
I will set on your throne.
If your sons keep my covenant
and my testimonies that I shall teach them,
their sons also forever
shall sit on your throne.”

For the LORD has chosen Zion;
he has desired it for his dwelling place:
“This is my resting place forever;
here I will dwell, for I have desired it.
I will abundantly bless her provisions;
I will satisfy her poor with bread.
Her priests I will clothe with salvation,
and her saints will shout for joy.
There I will make a horn to sprout for David;
I have prepared a lamp for my anointed.
His enemies I will clothe with shame,
but on him his crown will shine.”

As the pilgrims come to Jerusalem, God reaffirms his promises. He hadn’t changed his mind. He more than kept his promise, even better than they thought.

God indeed sent one of David’s heirs to sit on David’s throne forever. His name was Jesus. His reign is far better than the psalmist could have imagined. And if you go to Jerusalem today, you will not see a temple. It’s even better than that. We lost God’s presence in Eden. I love how Dane Ortlund says it:

God was present in Eden yet withdrew his presence when mankind fell. Ever since then he has been working to restore his presence—an insurmountable task if left to us sinners. But God himself provided a tabernacle, and then a temple, and then his own Son. In each case he was working toward the restoration and expansion of Eden, bringing the light of his presence into this sad and dark world. And now we—you and I—are the very temple of God, in which he dwells. God’s presence means you have God. He is with you. He is, by virtue of your union with Christ and the indwelling Spirit, in you. You are never alone. You have an ever-present Friend.

And because God took it upon himself to fulfill the promise of a Davidic king, this abiding presence will never leave us … He sent Jesus to love you, to lead you. Who rules over your life? … Trust him, and be at peace.

Trust in God’s promises even when God’s promises don’t seem to be coming true, because God keeps his promises even better than we could have expected.

When God’s Promises Don’t Seem to Be Coming True (Psalm 132)
Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash

I'm a grateful husband, father, oupa, and pastor of Grace Fellowship Church Don Mills. I love learning, writing, and encouraging. I'm on a lifelong quest to become a humble, gracious old man.
Toronto, Canada