Song of Ethan

Song of Ethan

Song of Ethan.

Please read Psalm 89.

AUTHOR. Ethan the Ezrahite. Not much is known about Ethan. We do know from I Kings 4:31 that he was a contemporary of Solomon, and was in Solomon’s court. Ethan was evidently known for his wisdom, and he was a benchmark of wisdom, for it was said that Solomon was even wiser than Ethan! We also know that he was from the tribe of Judah, and was in the family of Ezra. Ethan probably wrote this psalm after the “glory days” of David, during the great fall of the Davidic throne, since Ethan wonders in this psalm if God’s eternal promise to David was perhaps less than eternal after all.

There is some debate about authorship. Some scholars believe it was a different Ethan who composed this psalm. For there was a Levite named Ethan, one of David’s appointed musicians for Tabernacle worship (I Chronicles 15:17). Most study Bibles, though, report that the Ethan in Solomon’s court was the most likely author.

MERCY and FAITHFULNESS. This is the dynamic duo of Psalm 89. Ethan constantly refers to these two character qualities of Yahweh. Mercy is noted seven times and faithfulness eight times, and they are usually referenced together. In focusing on these two attributes, Ethan, like most God-fearing Jews of that era, knew about the definitive self-revelation of God in Exodus 34. For those two qualities are front and center when Yahweh describes His character in that Exodus passage. God’s revelation to Moses forms every believing Jew’s perspective on God’s nature, His essence. And chief among His qualities is His lovingkindness and his faithfulness. The Hebrew word for faithfulness is often translated as truth. In other words, God stays true to His word. He is faithful to His promises. He is trustworthy in His very nature, and stays true to His character. God’s integrity is immovable and eternally reliable. The Lord guarantees mercy and lovingkindness, and He is faithful to preserve that guarantee. So, His love is a sure foundation that will remain unchangeable. In this psalm, Ethan is betting his life on God’s mercy and faithfulness, despite his present realities. As Ethan says in verse 14, “Righteousness and justice are the base of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness stand before you.” (Tanakh, JPS). Or, as Eugene Peterson puts it in the Message, “The Right and justice are the roots of your rule; Love and Truth are its fruits.”

OUTLINE OF SONG. The overall theme of Psalm 89 is God’s covenant with David, the messianic promise of the Lord. Since the psalm discusses the messianic covenant in detail, much of what is applied to David and his throne can also be applied 1,000 years later to Jesus Christ in his status of Messiah. In verses 1-18, Ethan praises God’s character and His greatness in heaven and creation. Verses 19-37 rehearses the details of God’s promise to David, the divine covenant with the Davidic crown, forever. Verses 38-51 reveals Ethan to be wondering at the contrast he sees between what appears to be reality and what God promised. The present situation in Ethan’s eyes, the breakdown of the Davidic line, is in conflict with the eternal covenant. Ethan asks God where His mercy is. He is wondering if God looks so faithful now, despite His promises. Ethan was unafraid to ask the hard questions. He asked if God’s unconditional love has conditions after all. In the midst of Ethan’s intense questioning, God assures him that, even though Israel is being punished for their sins, God will never break His promise. “I will not break my covenant; I will not take back a single word I said.”(verse 34). The psalm closes with the liturgical conclusion for that section of the Psalms, “Praise the Lord forever! Amen and Amen.” Thus, the psalm closes with an important affirmation of God’s character, His mercy and faithfulness.

“Now, as Christians, we know that God’s solemn promise to David, with respect to the everlasting stability of his throne, is fulfilled in the kingship of Christ, for the Son of David now sits forever enthroned at God’s right hand, executing both prophecy and promise.” Patrick Henry Reardon.

PICTURES OF CHRIST. Biblical scholars have seen many images of Jesus in Psalm 89. Jesus of course revealed to the disciples on the road to Emmaus how He was present in the Psalms (Luke 24:44-45). Perhaps we can use the “mind of Christ” now as we seek to broaden and deepen our perception of Christ in this psalm.

Storm. Verse 9 is a prophecy of Jesus calming the stormy sea. “You rule over oceans and the swelling seas; when the stormy waves rise, you speak, and they lie still.” (TPT).

Messiah. Verses 24-30 contain direct references to Jesus, and the Father’s love for Him. “My faithfulness and unfailing love will be with him, and by my authority he will grow in power. I will extend his rule over the sea, his dominion over the rivers. He will call out to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation.’ I will make him my firstborn son, the mightiest king on earth.”

Passion. Verses 38-45 foretell the Passion of Christ. “You have strengthened his enemies and made them all rejoice. You have ended his splendor, and overturned his throne. You have made him old before his time and publically disgraced him.”

Ethan begins Psalm 89 with praise and gratitude. He worships God for His greatness in heaven, surrounded by His angels, and for His mighty power in creation and throughout the earth. But Ethan closes with a question found so often in the Psalms, “How long, Lord?” Ethan starts with a bang, but ends with the whimper of lament. Ethan is a man of faith who declares God’s mercy and faithfulness, and then is perfectly comfortable holding God’s feet to the fire to prove His trustworthiness. Praise and lament can indeed come simultaneously ¬†from the same person.