[ABOUT THE AUTHOR: As to work, Stan is a pastor, preacher, teacher, researcher, and writer; as to love, Stan is husband to Pat, father to Rachel, and friend to God’s people; as to passion, Stan seeks first God’s kingdom. Though perfect in none of these, he aspires to be all of them.]
A Maskil of Ethan the Ezrahite.
1 I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever;
with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.
2 I declare that your steadfast love is established forever;
your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.
3 You said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one,
I have sworn to my servant David:
4 ‘I will establish your descendants forever,
and build your throne for all generations.’ Selah
When it comes to the Psalms, there’s a lot we don’t know. Take the first four verses of Psalm 89, for example. We aren’t sure what a maskil is exactly but apparently it’s the kind of Psalm this one is. We don’t know who Ethan was nor much about what an Ezrahite was. A follower of Ezra? A scribe in the school of Ezra? Who knows? And finally, we still aren’t quite certain what “Selah” means, but I go with most interpreters that see it as a rest or pause in the poem/song.
However, there is a lot we do know. For example, the power of Hebrew poetry comes from its ability to reframe ideas by repeating those ideas. The fancy word for this is parallelism. These four verses are a stellar example of such. For example, in the first line of v. 1 and the first line of v. 2 you have essentially the same idea:
I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever
I declare that your steadfast love is established forever
You can see the same thing in the first lines of v. 3 and v. 4.
You said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one,
‘I will establish your descendants forever …’
Sometimes whole stanzas can be set against one another. In these verses, for example, the first two verses captures the certainty of God’s intent, while the last two verses express the impact God’s intent on King David and his descendants. Of course, those of us who know the story know that the future for David and his family is really about Jesus and will ultimately include us. But Ethan did not know that.
The beauty of the Psalms (and most poetry for that matter) is that poetry has a timeless quality, the ability to help us imagine implausible, if not impossible, things. For a moment we are Ethan.
And like Ethan, we stand between the times, between the promise and the fulfillment. Ethan believes that God has kept his promise to restore his people to Holy Land following their seventy years in Exile. Ethan, standing at the beginning of that fulfillment, celebrates God’s everlasting love (chesed; covenant love; loyalty), a love and faithfulness as firm as the heavens themselves. How does Ethan know that God is faithful? Because God kept his promise to David’s descendants.
Like Ethan, we, too, live between the times, between promise and fulfillment. God has promised that a descendent of David would be on the throne of an everlasting kingdom (Luke 1:32–33). That kingdom, though here, is yet to be seen fully. And though the times now can be turbulent, the one who made the promise is faithful. God will once again bring his people home. God’s steadfast love is everlasting. Our confidence, as was Ethan’s, is in the fact that God said it. Selah.