Text: Psalm 89:3 & 20-52
Tremendous promises were made by God to David through Nathan the prophet, as we have seen in our former lesson, and the author of this Psalm, who was probably Ethan the Ezrahite, (1 Kings 4:31) zealously believed in those promises.1
This Psalmist also foresaw a time when it would appear that God had abolished his covenant with David, a time when the Dynasty of David would fall into shameful dishonor among the governments of the world.
Ethan prays to God, in this Psalm, that the days of Davidic humiliation would be shortened, and that God would absolve his Messiah.
The Messianic force of this great Psalm lies in the fact that no one but the Messiah could possibly fulfill all the promises that are made to David in this Psalm.
Of this Old Testament hymn, brother Hailey said, "This psalm seems to have been written at a time when the nation was cast down by its enemies and the rulers of David's house were in a state of deep humiliation (vv. 35-52). The psalmist was pleading with Jehovah to remember His covenant with David. He began with a burst of praise for Jehovah's lovingkindness, faithfulness, and mercy (vv. 1-2). As he proceeded he quoted Jehovah, saying, 'I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn unto David my servant: Thy seed will I establish for ever, And build up thy throne to all generations.' . . . The psalmist resumed his praise of Jehovah's greatness (vv. 5-18), but returned to God's exaltation of David and to his praise concerning him (vv. 19-28). The promises made to David would never end, but would continue in his seed: 'His seed also will make to endure forever, And his throne as the days of heaven' (v. 29). In spite of the fact that David's, fleshly descendants might forsake God's law, not walk in His ordinances, break His statutes, not keep His commandments and would suffer the consequences, yet God will be faithful. Ethan concluded this part of the psalm with an assurance that the oath of God's covenant would not fail; the seed and throne of David would be established and would continue as certainly as the moon and sun move in their God-ordained paths, for God established both: 'But my loving kindness will not utterly take from him, Nor suffer my faithfulness to fail. My covenant will I not break, Nor alter the thing that is gone out from my lips. Once have I sworn by my holiness: I will not lie unto David: His seed shall endure for ever, And his throne as the sun before me. It shall be established for ever as the moon, And as the faithful witness in the sky.' (vv.33-37) This would be fulfilled in the Messiah of the then distant future.2
Now that we have taken a bird's eye view of the Psalm, we need to point out that Messianic prophecy has progressed from the promise of the Seed of woman, by whom Satan's power would be crushed, down through the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in whose seed all families of the earth would be blessed. Then we advanced to the tribe of Judah in whom the scepter (right to rule) would be vested, to David in whom the ruling house would be established as an everlasting covenant.
The Old Testament reveals that the Descendant of David would not only be a ruling king over the Kingdom of God, but a prophet who would speak God's Word to the world. "However, in the immediate house of David, God 'maketh it not to grow,' not to be established or fulfilled; therefore we must look for the total fulfillment of the promises and covenant in one who would come in the distant future."3
This Psalm can be divided into five parts:
The theme in verses 1-4.
The praise in verses 5-18.
The confidence of the singer in verses 19-38.
The lament over their condition in verses 39-45.
The appeal of the poet, Ethan in verses 46-52.
Based upon this outline, we shall study this great Psalm.
The Theme of the Psalmist (verses 1-4).
Since Psalm 88 deals with dark and brooding lamentations, Ethan begins this Psalm with a statement of praise because of the mercies and faithfulness of Jehovah. (vv. l-2)
The term mercies here comes from the Hebrew chesed, and refers primarily to the special promises that had been made to David regarding the eternalness of his dynasty. (As evidence see: Isaiah 55:3.)
The Psalmist gives as his supreme illustration of the truth and faithfulness of God, the promise that God made to David.
David was God's servant, Jehovah's chosen one to execute God's divine plan, and with David Yahweh had confirmed a covenant.
David's royal descendants would be given permanent possession of the royal office in Israel because they were the descendants of Judah, and David's throne would be established forever.
Ethan now sets out his reasons for his believing in the fulfillment of the promises Jehovah made to David, and in so doing he cites ten of them. (vv. 5-18) (These points are taken from Dr. James Smith to whom we have alluded several times, but they may not be worded in the same way as they are worded in Dr. Smith's list. pp. 92-93.)
Ethan began in verse five to point out that the heavens are an evidence of God's power to keep his word, or his promises, and that he is faithful in doing that.
Ethan then points out that Jehovah is superior to any being in the heavenly realm, in verse six, and has therefore, abundant resources at his command for carrying out his promises.
God is held in reverence by his people because of his power and faithfulness, in verse seven and as a consequence of this Ethan has additional reasons to believe those things concerning David which God has promised.
Jehovah is Lord of Hosts (Master of Armies), he is incomparable in strength and faithfulness by which he is surrounded, as we see in verse eight. Consequently, men can believe the promise Yahweh has made concerning David.
In verse nine, Ethan tells us that Jehovah is Lord of the raging sea, and the God who can calm the raging sea can suppress any tumults or troubles which arise against his people (Israel), and so this is good reason to have trust in what he has promised regarding the kingdom.
Ethan points out in verse ten that Yahweh has already done very much for his people. For example he has crushed Rahab, an ancient name for Egypt, and he has scattered his enemies from time to time. (He has done so again and again.) What Jehovah has done in the past, he can and will do in the future with regard to the promises to David.
In verse eleven, he makes the case that the entire universe (both heaven and earth) and all which is contained therein (fullness) belongs to God, and even the beautiful mountains of Tabor and Hermon rejoice to fulfill their roles in God's creative scheme (v.12). Now he makes the same essential point that Jesus made in his Sermon on the Mount, and that is, if God cares for the kingdom of nature, how much more will he watch over the affairs of his own people.
It is God's character that emphasizes the certainty of his promise to David, because where God reigns there is perfect righteousness, mercy and truth, and these are forerunners preparing the way before him (v.14).
Going back to verse thirteen, Ethan pointed out there that God is omnipotent, and he will do even more for this people in the future than he has done in the past.
The blessedness of those who trust in God is another reason for continuing to keep their faith in him. Believers enjoy a number of blessings and privileges that are not enjoyed by other people. These are:
They walk in the light of God's countenance (v.15).
They can rejoice in God's name, that is, in his self revelation to us, all the day (v.16).
The people of God can take special delight in God's righteousness which punishes the evil ones and exalts the faithful (v.16).
God is for his people a beautiful adornment and mighty strength (v.17).
Because his people receive Jehovah's divine favor, his people can triumph over all their enemies.
God is the protector of his people (v.18).
The Holy One of Israel is a king which believers can follow anywhere (v.18).
The Confidence of the Psalmist (verses 19-38).
The Messianic implications of this portion of the Psalm are set forth by one author in the following words: "The psalmist expounds the covenant of grace made with Christ, who is represented typically by David because he must be looked upon as the shadow, but Christ as the chief party, and as such he is the one in whom the real substance is accomplished perfectly."
Through Nathan and other prophets of the Old Testament time, God revealed his purpose to send his Messiah into the world. This revelation from God came in the form of a vision. In describing the circumstances of this great revelation, Ethan makes the following points:
God had aided David in helping his people (v. 19b).
In his sovereign will, God chose David to be exalted among the people (v.19).
After God had made David his choice for king of Israel, from the tribe of Judah, God found David. This reference is probably to the mission of Samuel to Bethlehem when he found David tending is father's sheep (1 Samuel Chapter 16).
David was Jehovah's servant.
David had been sanctified to his office by the anointing of holy oil which was administered by Samuel the prophet (v. 20).
Then, in verses 21-33 there are enumerated no less than eleven promises that God made to David through the oracle spoken by Nathan. They are:
David and his great Son, would be given divine assistance in administering the kingdom of God (v. 21).
David's subjects would not be subdued by their enemies, nor would their wicked enemies cause David's people to become so miserable that they would renounce David as their rightful king (v. 22).
God would see that David's enemies both in and out of his kingdom would be destroyed, that is, beaten down suddenly, or subjected to plague (v. 23).
David would experience Jehovah's faithfulness and mercy for the benefit of all his subjects, and all obstructions to the growth of his kingdom would be removed (v. 24).
David s horn, that is to say his power, would be exalted because his wars would be fought in the name of God, that is, by the authority of God (v. 24).
David's kingdom would be enlarged over land and sea, that is, his kingdom must reach beyond the confines of Canaan (v. 25).
David would have a special relationship with God, in that, he would be able to cry out to him in times of difficulty, and call out to Jehovah using the term My Father (v. 26).
David would be exalted in rank over the kings of the earth, and he would be declared to be God's firstborn (v. 27). The New Testament goes beyond this promise to declare that the Messiah is the firstborn of all creation, that is, he is the One who holds the highest rank in the universe. (Colossians 1:15).
God's merciful covenant with David and his offspring would endure forever (v. 28).
The throne and the seed of David would endure as long as the world stands (v. 29). This promise could only find fulfillment in the kingdom of Christ.
God's promise to David would not be invalidated due to the unfaithfulness of any of David's offspring. Any of David's descendants who sinned against God would be severely punished, (vv. 30-32), yet even in the times of this disobedience, God would not turn his back on the promise he had made to David (v. 33).
God is steadfast to his Word even if, and when, men are not (v. 33).
To the list of covenant promises, God added verses 34-37 of this Psalm, which served as an additional confirmation that the covenant made with David was unchanging. In these verses we find the following:
Jehovah promises not to break, or in any way alter, the covenant he had made with David (v. 34).
Yahweh has sworn by his holiness, because there is nothing greater by which he could swear, and he cannot lie (v. 35).
The heavenly bodies of the sun and the moon maintain eloquent testimony to the faithfulness of God in keeping his covenants.
The endurance of David's kingdom is compared with the permanence of the sun and moon (vv. 36-37).
The Lamentation of the Psalmist (verses 38-45).
Now that Ethan has confidently expounded the great promise made to David, he next presents a situation that seems to contradict what he has just affirmed with so much confidence.
We must ask if Ethan is describing conditions as they existed in his day, or is he prophesying of the depressed state into which David's kingdom would fall?
If Ethan is the author of the Psalm, then verses 38-45 must be considered as a prophecy anticipating a time after the life of David when the kingdom would fall greatly. It was divided after the death of Solomon, and carried into captivity by the Assyrians and the Babylonians. This may well be what the author has reference to.
This portion of the Psalm has caused some authors, such as J.B. Coffman, to take the position that the Psalm was not written during the life-time of Solomon, but after the first invasion of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar.
"The verbs are 'prophetic prefect's in which the future is so vivid and certain to the prophet that he can describe it as though it had already transpired."4
With seven very brief statements, Ethan gives us a picture of the shabby condition into which the dynasty of David will fall.
The time would come when it would appear to the people of God that he had rejected his anointed (v.38).
It would then appear to the people of God that he had dissolved his covenant with David, and that the kingdom would be ruined (v. 39).
In the days when it appeared to the people that God has rejected the kingdom, Judah would be defenseless regarding her enemies (v. 40).
The nations surrounding Judah in those days would take their fill of the spoils of Judah, and in other ways they would show their utter contempt for Judah (v. 41).
The enemies of the dynasty of David would be assisted by God, and the king himself would be put on the run (vv. 42-43).
All the privileges and the freedoms of David's kingdom would appear to have been set aside (v. 44). (This would result from the work of Israel's enemies, and, no doubt refers to the Babylonian captivity.)
The days of the youth of one of the Davidic kings would be shortened, and God would cover him with shame.
This picture for the future of David's house is dark, gloomy, and depressing.
Now the Psalmist Makes an Appeal to God (verses 46-52).
The author of the Psalm is convinced that God could, and would give relief to Judah in her dark days, and so he offers seven arguments that God would do so. They are as follows:
God's anger against his people cannot last forever (v. 46).
The Psalmist calls upon the Lord to remember that his people are of a short life, therefore, if any help is coming from God, it must come before they pass from the scene as a nation (vv. 47-48).
The mercies of God, that is, his gracious promises which were a part of his promise to David, and the oath that God had taken not to allow the house of David to be destroyed, constrain God to intervene on behalf of Judah (v. 49).
Zion should not be permitted by God to see humiliation, but of course, she did see it at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar.
Zion bears in her bosom the reproach of the nations of the world. This is another way of saying that Zion figures in the protracted plans of Jehovah for the while world (v. 50).
The enemies of Israel are really the enemies of God (v. 51).
The enemies of God, and of the house of David have reproached (condemned) the footsteps of Jehovah s Messiah. How had they done this? Notice:
Though they had been told that the Messiah was coming, they scoffed at that which they had been told because of what they thought of as a delay in his coming.
We are reminded of the scoffing done by the people in Malachi 2:17, when they said, "You have wearied the Lord with your words; yet you say, 'In what way have we wearied Him?' In that you say, 'Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and He delights in them,' or, 'Where is the God of justice?'" We are also reminded of the scoffers described by Peter in 2 Peter 3:4 who said, (3) ". . . knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, (4) and saying, 'Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.'"
Nevertheless, the faithful saints of God were to cling to the promise of the Messiah's coming, and at the same time they were to continue to praise (worship) Jehovah.
When the Prophecy Was Fulfilled.
On the day of Pentecost, the great Apostle Peter said to the Jews to whom he was speaking, (Acts 2:29-31, (29) "Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. (30) Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, (31) he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption."
By quoting this prophecy and making the application that he did, he was telling us that the Messiah had come, and his kingdom was about to be established as had been promised to David.
The author of the Book of Hebrews quotes Nathan's prophecy, which we studied earlier, and applies to Jesus the statement, "I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son." (Hebrews 1:5.)
"It was of Christ, the seed of David, and of His kingdom and throne that the prophet was speaking. It was of the church, 'the house of God' (1 Timothy 3:l5) that God was making this promise. It is true that the prophecy had an immediate fulfillment when Solomon, the Son of David, built the great and magnificent temple in Jerusalem (II Chron. 6:2-7); but it was of the 'temple not made with hands,' the church, that the prophet was speaking particularly."5
All of the New Testament passages that deal with the establishment of the kingdom of Christ, and of his redeeming us with his own blood are passages that can draw upon this prophecy.
Since we have looked at the marvelous Psalm, perhaps we have new light on it, and on the determination of God to bring his Messiah and his kingdom into the world.
There are people in the church today who do not have the slightest concept of what she is or how she should be treated.
We must always have nothing but a deep reverence and a high respect for that kingdom which was planned by God "before the foundation of the world," and purchased by the Christ when he shed his blood on the cross of Calvary two-thousand years ago.
We need to be careful how we treat the church for God will judge each one of us according to our works.
Ethan may have been the adopted son of Zerah, consequently his name Ezrahite, but the natural son of Korah. If this is true, then Ethan the Ezrahite would be the same Ethan who played a very important role in the organization of the music program in Solomon's Temple. Ethan's other name, or perhaps official title, was Jeduthun. Psalm 89 is closely related to Psalm 88 which was written by Heman who was the brother of Ethan. Psalm 88 contains lamentations and complaints, and to these rather pessimistic appraisals of his brother, Ethan added this Psalm which recalls the promises that God made to David in 2 Samuel 7. Ethan may have outlived Solomon and actually witnessed the destruction of the Davidic kingdom. On the other hand, he may be playing the part of a prophet as he described the difficult days ahead for David's kingdom in spite of the promises God had made to the great King. (Paraphrase of Dr. James E Smith's What the Bible Teaches About the Promised Messiah, Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, 1993, pp. 90-91.)
Hailey, The Messiah of Prophecy to the Messiah on the Throne, pp. 43-44.
Hailey, From Creation to the Day of Eternity, p.37.