Jesus – The Faithful Witness in the Skies
God’s Covenant with King David
The Holy Scriptures, in many places, refer to the covenant God made with David that he would never fail from having one of his descendants sitting on Yahweh’s throne as Yahweh’s representative:
“Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the LORD Almighty says: I took you from the pasture and from following the flock, to be ruler over my people Israel. 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 like the names of the greatest men of the earth. 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 and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also subdue all your enemies. I declare to you that the LORD will build a house for you: When your days are over and you go to be with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. I will never take my love away from him, as I took it away from your predecessor. I will set him over my house and my kingdom forever; his throne will be established forever.’” 1 Chronicles 17:10-14
Yahweh further swore that this promise is irrevocable and that there is a faithful witness in the sky that insures that God keeps his word:
“Of old you spoke in a vision to your godly one, and said: ‘I have granted help to one who is mighty; I have exalted one chosen from the people. I have found David, my servant; with my holy oil I have anointed him, so that my hand shall be established with him; my arm also shall strengthen him. The enemy shall not outwit him; the wicked shall not humble him. I will crush his foes before him and strike down those who hate him. My faithfulness and my steadfast love shall be with him, and in my name shall his horn be exalted. I will set his hand on the sea and his right hand on the rivers. He shall cry to me, “You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation.” And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth. My steadfast love I will keep for him forever, and my covenant will stand firm for him. I will establish his offspring forever and his throne as the days of the heavens. If his children forsake my law and do not walk according to my rules, if they violate my statutes and do not keep my commandments, then I will punish their transgression with the rod and their iniquity with stripes, but I will not remove from him my steadfast love or be false to my faithfulness. I will not violate my covenant or alter the word that went forth from my lips. Once for all I have sworn by my holiness; I will not lie to David. His offspring shall endure forever, his throne as long as the sun before me. Like the moon it shall be established forever, a faithful witness in the skies (weed bassaḥaq neeman). Selah’” Psalm 89:19-37
The translation that best captures the Hebrew syntax of Psalm 89:37, i.e. weed bassaḥaq neeman, is “and a witness in the clouds shall be faithful,” which is similar to how the following versions translate it:
“It shall be established forever like the moon, And the witness in the sky is faithful. Selah.” New American Standard Bible (NASB)
“As the moon it is established -- to the age, And the witness in the sky is stedfast. Selah.” Young’s Literal Translation (YLT)
Now this faithful witness who acts as guarantor to the Davidic covenant, insuring that God’s promise that David will never fail from having a descendant sit on his throne will never be revoked, can either be a reference to the sun and moon, or to the moon specifically, just as the immediate context seems to suggest.
There is additional evidence that supports this particular interpretation since there is one specific text where Yahweh appeals to the durability and certainty of the day and night as a witness to his faithfulness to the Davidic covenant:
“‘The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David's line; he will do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness.’ For this is what the LORD says: ‘David will never fail to have a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, nor will the priests, who are Levites, ever fail to have a man to stand before me continually to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings and to present sacrifices.’ The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: ‘This is what the LORD says: “If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night no longer come at their appointed time, then my covenant with David my servant—and my covenant with the Levites who are priests ministering before me—can be broken and David will no longer have a descendant to reign on his throne. I will make the descendants of David my servant and the Levites who minister before me as countless as the stars of the sky and as measureless as the sand on the seashore.”’” Jeremiah 33:14-22
Moreover, in another Psalm the Davidic King is said to reign for as long as the sun and moon endures:
“Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness. He will judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice. The mountains will bring prosperity to the people, the hills the fruit of righteousness. He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; he will crush the oppressor. He will endure as long as the sun, as long as the moon, through all generations. He will be like rain falling on a mown field, like showers watering the earth. In his days the righteous will flourish; prosperity will abound till the moon is no more. He will rule from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. The desert tribes will bow before him and his enemies will lick the dust. The kings of Tarshish and of distant shores will bring tribute to him; the kings of Sheba and Seba will present him gifts. All kings will bow down to him and all nations will serve him. For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight… May his name endure forever; may it continue as long as the sun. All nations will be blessed through him, and they will call him blessed.” Psalm 72:1-14, 17
Yet this explanation seems unlikely on structural grounds, just as the following Bible commentator explains:
“The identity of the ‘witness’ … in v 38b is a matter of debate. In the translation above, I have chosen to separate the witness from the moon in 38a, rejecting a translation such as that in NJV: ‘as the moon, established forever, / an enduring witness in the sky.’ As pointed out in note 38a, the reading ‘faithful witness’ or ‘enduring witness’ is grammatically suspect. Veijola (JBL 107  413-17) appeals also to the colometrical and syntactical structure of vv 37-38, arguing that 37a, 37b, and 38a make up a tricolon followed by a separate colon in 38b (see also Veijola, Verheissung in der Krise, 33-34):
37a His offspring shall endure forever,
37b his throne as the sun before me,
38a as the moon it shall be established forever
38b And a witness in the clouds shall be faithful.
“I think that this is correct (note that it is also the arrangement adopted by Mullen, JBL 102 (1983) 209). Veijola leaves v 38b as an independent colon with no parallel. Perhaps we should enlarge the unit to include v 36 and find the parallel of 38b in 36a:
36a Once I swore by my holiness –
36b I do not lie to David,
37a his offspring shall endure forever,
37b his throne as the sun before me,
38a as the moon it shall be established forever
38b And a witness in the clouds shall be faithful.
“The counterpart of 38b is 36a; two colons which form a frame, or ‘envelope’ around vv 36b-38a (or alternatively) we have two tricolons; 36a, 36b, 38b and 37a, 37b, 38a, with 38b separated to enclose the second with 36a). The affirmation of a witness in the clouds is part of the oath which Yahweh takes in 36a.
“The further question of the identity of the witness remains, however…” (Marvin E. Tate, Word Biblical Commentary – Psalms 51-100 [Word Books, Publisher, Dallas, Texas 1990], Volume 20, pp. 424-426)
Some believe that this refers to God himself, that Yahweh is the faithful witness. There also seems to be some support from the immediate context for this view:
“I will sing of the steadfast love of the LORD, forever; with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations. For I said, ‘Steadfast love will be built up forever; in the heavens you will establish your faithfulness.’ You have said, ‘I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn to David my servant: “I will establish your offspring forever, and build your throne for all generations.”’ Selah Let the heavens praise your wonders, O LORD, your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones! For who in the skies can be compared to the LORD? Who among the sons of God is like the LORD, a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones, and awesome above all who are around him? O LORD God of hosts, who is mighty as you are, O LORD, with your faithfulness all around you?” Psalm 89:1-8
“But now you have cast off and rejected; you are full of wrath against your anointed. You have renounced the covenant with your servant; you have defiled his crown in the dust. You have breached all his walls; you have laid his strongholds in ruins. All who pass by plunder him; he has become the scorn of his neighbors. You have exalted the right hand of his foes; you have made all his enemies rejoice. You have also turned back the edge of his sword, and you have not made him stand in battle. You have made his splendor to cease and cast his throne to the ground. You have cut short the days of his youth; you have covered him with shame. Selah … Lord, where is your steadfast love of old, which by your faithfulness you swore to David?” Psalm 89:38-45, 49
In another prophetic book Yahweh is even called a true and faithful witness:
“Then they said to Jeremiah, ‘May the LORD be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act in accordance with everything the LORD your God sends you to tell us.’” Jeremiah 42:5
However, despite the fact that these points seem to strongly suggest that Yahweh is the faithful sky witness, Bible expositor Marvin E. Tate provides reasons for rejecting this explanation:
“Veijola (JBL 107  413-17) has followed some earlier commentators (notably, Kilpatrick, 540) in defending the thesis that God himself is the witness, after rejecting the theses of Mosca and Mullen. He appeals to the dwelling place of Yahweh ‘in the clouds’ in v 7 and to the role of Yahweh as witness in a number of OT texts (Gen 31:50; 1 Sam 12:5; 20:23, 42; Jer 29:23; 42:5; Mic 1:2; Mal 2:14; 3:5; Job 16:19) … None of the passages in which Yahweh acts as a witness involve him as a witness to his own oath; he is witness of covenant agreements and oaths taken by others. In Ps 89 Yahweh affirms that there is a witness to the commitments he has taken, and the witness can hardly be himself, unless he is playing word games. (Word Biblical Commentary – Psalms, pp. 425-426)
Others think that this is a reference to some other heavenly witness, One who acts as a Mediator and Advocate before God to make sure that the promises to David are fulfilled. As Tate writes:
“In my opinion, the thesis of Mullen (JBL 102  207-18) is essentially correct… Mullen argues that the language of vv 37-38 (which should be extended to v 36) is that of ancient royal-grant covenants, and the language includes vv 4-5 and 30 also. In these covenants a deity unilaterally establishes and empowers a king or other favored person. Gifts and privileges are bestowed on faithful servants by a divine suzerain (as with Abraham in Gen 15:17).
“A very important facet of Mullen’s case is the function of divine witnesses in covenant making of the royal-grant type and in ancient treaty texts… Veijola (JBL 107  414-15; ZAW 95  19-20) adds significantly to the brief documentation of Mullen regarding witnesses, noting the function of ‘clouds’ as witnesses in some texts, e.g., in the treaty between Mursilia II and Duppi-Teshub of Amurru, a list of gods are involved as witnesses and after the gods are named the list ends: ‘the mountains, the rivers, the springs, the great sea heaven and earth, the winds (and) the clouds – let these be witnesses to this treaty and to the oath’… In treaty-covenant texts from the ancient Near East, witnesses were invoked as guarantors of the terms of the treaty. In polytheistic cultures, gods were designated as witnesses, along with the mighty forces of nature see Deut 4:26; 30:19; 31:28; cf. Deut 32:1-2; Isa 1:2-10; Jer 2:12; Mic 6:1-12…
“In the case of Ps 89:38, the affirmation of a witness in the heavens is similar to that of Job 16:19 (RSV): ‘Even now, behold, my witness is in heaven, / and he that vouches for me is on high.’ The witness is defined in Job 16:20 as the interpreter of thoughts to God and the one to whom ‘my eye pours out tears (of complaint).’ The function of the witness will be to plead Job’s case before God and verify the truth of his complaints about God (Job 16:21; cf. Job 33:23-24). The force of the text in Ps 89 is that Yahweh’s promises and commitments to David are known by a reliable heavenly witness. The witness is unidentified, possibly not a definite figure (‘witness’ lacks the definite article in the text; Mullen, JBL 102  215, cf. Veijola, JBL 107  416, who notes the lack of the definite article may have been to avoid the word sequence… ‘forever and ever,’ see note 38a above)…” (Ibid., pp. 426-427; underline emphasis ours)
The Psalm itself provides evidence for this position as well since it mentions the heavenly beings or the holy ones who stand in God’s presence:
“The heavens praise your wonders, O LORD, your faithfulness too, in the assembly of the holy ones. For who in the skies above can compare with the LORD? Who is like the LORD among the heavenly beings? In the council of the holy ones God is greatly feared; he is more awesome than all who surround him.” Psalm 89:5-7(1)
Moreover, just as Biblical exegete Tate noted, the book of Job furnishes additional support that the faithful sky or cloud witness may be someone other than Yahweh (and yet also identical with Yahweh as we shall show later on):
“Even now, behold, my witness is in heaven, and my advocate is on high. My friends scorn me; my eye pours out tears to God, that he would argue the case of a man with God, as a son of man does with his neighbor. For when a few years have come I shall go the way from which I shall not return.” Job 16:19-22
Job desires that his heavenly witness would defend him and plead his cause before God. Job’s request is echoed and is similar to what is said elsewhere by Elihu:
“Indeed God speaks once, Or twice, yet no one notices it. In a dream, a vision of the night, When sound sleep falls on men, While they slumber in their beds, Then He opens the ears of men, And seals their instruction, That He may turn man aside from his conduct, And keep man from pride; He keeps back his soul from the pit, And his life from passing over into Sheol. Man is also chastened with pain on his bed, And with unceasing complaint in his bones; So that his life loathes bread, And his soul favorite food. His flesh wastes away from sight, And his bones which were not seen stick out. Then his soul draws near to the pit, And his life to those who bring death. If there is an angel as mediator for him, One out of a thousand, To remind a man what is right for him, Then let him be gracious to him, and say, ‘Deliver him from going down to the pit, I have found a ransom; Let his flesh become fresher than in youth, Let him return to the days of his youthful vigor’; Then he will pray to God, and He will accept him, That he may see His face with joy, And He may restore His righteousness to man. He will sing to men and say, ‘I have sinned and perverted what is right, And it is not proper for me. He has redeemed my soul from going to the pit, And my life shall see the light.’ Behold, God does all these oftentimes with men, To bring back his soul from the pit, That he may be enlightened with the light of life.” Job 33:14-30
Elihu’s statements are interesting since they not only highlight the importance of a mediator but also emphasize the necessity of offering a ransom to God in order for him to redeem man from sin and death. These points will be vitally important in our discussion concerning Jesus’ role as Mediator and Advocate of his people.
Now that we have seen that the faithful cloud witness is most probably a heavenly Being, a member of God’s divine council, it is crucial that we examine the Holy Bible to see whether it furnishes evidence concerning the precise identification of this supernatural figure.(2) That will be the focus of the second part of our analysis.
We have come to the conclusion of the first part our article. We now move on to the second part of our discussion.
(1) Some view this next text as a conversation between God and the faithful sky witness who will serve as guarantor for the throne of David:
“Then You spoke in a vision to Your holy one, And said: ‘I have given help to one who is mighty; I have exalted one chosen from the people.’” Psalm 89:19
However, there are major problems with this interpretation. First, there are many Hebrew manuscripts which have the plural here as opposed to the singular, i.e. holy ones. Thus, it is not at all certain that God was speaking to one specific person.
Second, it seems unlikely that God is addressing a heavenly being here, a member of his Divine council, since it says that God’s promise was revealed in a vision. There would be no need for God to reveal his promise concerning David in a vision to a member of his heavenly host since God could simply communicate this point directly seeing that the members of his council are right there before him, dwelling in the Divine presence.
It does make sense, however, that God would reveal his oath regarding David in a vision to someone on earth, particularly to a prophet or prophets so as to communicate this bit of information to his covenant people. This interpretation makes sense in light of the fact that God’s covenant with David was communicated through the prophet Nathan:
“After the king was settled in his palace and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies around him, he said to Nathan the prophet, ‘Here I am, living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.’ Nathan replied to the king, ‘Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the LORD is with you.’ That night the word of the LORD came to Nathan, saying: ‘Go and tell my servant David, “This is what the LORD says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? 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. 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?” Now then, tell my servant David, “This is what the LORD Almighty says: I took you from the pasture and from following the flock to be ruler over my people Israel. 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 of the earth. 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 and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies. The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.”’ In accordance with all these words, and in accordance with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.” 2 Samuel 7:1-17
“In accordance with all these words, and in accordance with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.” 1 Chronicles 17:15
(2) We do need to be careful not to press this point concerning the witness being a member of God’s council since it is evident from the Psalm that these heavenly beings are subordinate creatures who are in no way comparable to God. Yet this particular witness, however, is a Being who is fully Divine and therefore equal with God as we shall document in the next section of our discussion.