Scripture: Psalm 89
With reflective music for each Selah, this opportunity to experience Psalm 89 allows us to consider the nature of God and his faithfulness to us…pain or shine.
Good morning and welcome to the next installment of our Summer Psalm series here at Calvary. Before we get started, let’s pray one more time. Papa, we thank you again for the opportunity to dig into your word, to dig into what you have for us today. Lord, I just pray that you’d be with us in the process, that you would plant your word into our hearts, that you would have our hearts be open and receptive, have our minds have our ears open to you. Lord, I pray that you would be able to speak through these words, through all of the elements of what’s used today. Thank you for Andrew being here again to share his gifts and his talents and pray that what happens here today would be something that is glorifying to you and ultimately points to you. I pray all of us in Jesus name, Amen.
Well, hey, our psalm for today is Psalm 89, so feel free to follow along with us in your Bible of choice. If you didn’t bring a Bible today, just grab one from the seat back pocket, in which case you’ll find Psalm 89 on page 495. Some other passages are tied in as well, and I’ll work to get the references to those on the screens here for you. Now, Psalm 89 was actually written by a guy named Ethan the Ezrahite. So let’s start with a quick introduction to him. Starting in 1 Kings:429, Solomon’s wisdom from God is described. Since he was thought to be the wisest man who ever lived. Of course you have to compare him against the wise guys of the day. In verse 31, Ethan the Ezrahite is the first person Solomon’s wisdom is said to surpass. And when you hear this, you’re supposed to think, wow, that’s wise. So this is the guy who wrote our Psalm for this morning, Psalm 89. If you’re already there, you may notice it’s a bit longer than other psalms, not Psalm 119 long, but there’s still a whopping 52 verses here. And Lord willing, I’m going to read them all. Well, I’d hope to do with you all today is walk through this psalm together, pausing from time to time as necessary and really seek to experience what Ethan has prepared for us. So let’s get started.
[Psalms 89:1-4] 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.
The Psalms were written as songs. And sometimes when I read about the music meant to be associated with a particular psalm like Lilies or Do not Destroy, I find myself wishing I knew what those songs sounded like. Music can communicate in a deeper way than just reading lyric pages. Just imagine your favorite song and try removing the music from it to see if you agree. We’re using the selahs this morning to resonate with the passage we’ve covered and set the stage for this section ahead. So during these selahs, these musical interludes, I’d like us to use these times to reflect on what we’ve just heard.
[Psalms 89:5-10] 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 heavenly beings 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? You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them. You crushed Rahab like a carcass; you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm.
Now, in case you’re thinking crushed Rahab like a carcass, that seems a bit harsh. Wasn’t Rahab a good guy? Just know that the name Rahab was often used to personify Egypt. Maybe kind of the way we call our country, Uncle Sam. And that may be what Ethan meant to communicate here. God obliterating the military powerhouse of the day to show his superiority over all. Another possible interpretation to note, though, is that in Canaanite mythology, when the world was created, the sea God Yam was conquered and the sea serpent Rahab was killed, which would line up with this psalm nicely in verses nine and ten. I will say this second interpretation works with other parts of the Psalm, and drawing parallels back to the story of Job, but we’ll get to that later. For now, back to our Psalm.
[Psalm 89:11-37]] The heavens are yours. The earth also is yours. The world and all that is in it. You have founded them. The North and the South. You have created them. Tabor and Hermon joyously praise your name. You have a mighty arm; strong is your hand, high your right hand. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you. Blessed are the people who know the festal shout, who walk O Lord, in the light of your face, who exalt in your name all the day and in your righteousness are exalted. For you are the glory of their strength; by your favor our horn is exalted. For our shield belongs to the Lord, our king to the Holy one of Israel. 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 first born, 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.
Whew. That was a long section. Ethan goes to great lengths to proclaim God’s greatness and recount his covenant promises. Sometimes God’s goodness just comes and sweeps away any doubt or denial of him we may have hidden in our hearts. Sometimes we see God working mightily in our lives, and it feels like we can hardly keep from shouting it from the rooftops. And sometimes.
[Psalm 89:38-45] 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.
All of Ethan’s statements up to this point are heard in a different light when you consider his context. God, your faithful and all powerful. You promise, David, you would establish the throne of his offspring forever. That it would be as constant and reliable as the sun shining over the day or the moon over the night. Well, the sun and moon are still here, but David’s crown is tarnished. God, you’re good. But I don’t get it. I don’t see it. Why do you seem to stand in denial of your own people? Everything right in the world seems to have gone wrong. And it’s all a contradiction of what I’d expect from a faithful, loving God. Sometimes we’re tempted to express a denial of God’s greatness or even to question his justice, as Job does. And Job 9:13-18, saying God will not turn back his anger. Beneath him bow to the helpers of Rahab. How, then, can I answer him, choosing my words with him? Though I am in the right, I cannot answer him. I must appeal for mercy to my accuser. If I summoned him and he answered me, I would not believe that he was listening to my voice. For he crushes me with a tempest and multiplies my wounds without cause. He will not let me get my breath but fills me with bitterness. Despite being in this place of brokenness and sorrow, Ethan in his wisdom, perhaps purposely sidesteps the errors of Job with his statements. Job had to be reminded by God: who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb. When I made clouds its garment and thick darkness that swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors and said: thus far you shall come and no farther. And here shall your proud waves be stayed. Where Ethan says in verse nine of our psalm, You rule the raging of the sea. When its waves rise, you still them. Job had to be asked, Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements, surely you know, or who stretched the line upon it. And Ethan is quick to say: the world and all that is in it. You have founded them. God challenged Job saying: Adorn yourself with majesty and dignity, Clothe yourself with glory and splendor. Pour out the overflowings of your anger and look on everyone who is proud and abase him. Look on everyone who is proud and bring him low and tread down the wicked where they stand. Hide them all in the dust together. Bind their faces in the world below. Then will I also acknowledge to you that your own right hand can save you. And Ethan includes: You have a mighty arm. Strong is your hand. High, your right hand. Job cried out, saying, Even if I had my day in court before God, he wouldn’t listen. I’m at his mercy, suffering injustice at his hand. Ethan is mindful to say, God, I know you’re just. You just are. I know nobody can correct or overcome you. But despite my wisdom, I cannot make sense of what I’m experiencing. And I want to trust you. But I’m broken.
Now, don’t be too quick to paper over Ethan’s words here, with our 2000 plus years of hindsight. Our study of Christ’s fulfillment of God’s covenant to David and Israel. It would still be around 980 years until that silent night in the little town of Bethlehem. Ethan would eventually go to his grave without seeing that fulfillment, and he didn’t have the benefit of that hindsight. We need to recognize some seasons of life don’t come wrapped with a bow.
[Psalm 89:46-48] How long, o Lord, will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire? Remember how short my time is! For what vanity you have created all the children of man! What man can live and never see death? Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol?
Ethan is really wrestling here, and maybe we would be struggling too. Josh Locke last week shared about looking to the Lord for help. But what happens when it doesn’t look like help is coming? We’ve heard this theme of how long O Lord and some of the other Psalms so far this summer. Ethan sees the brevity of life, and he recognizes how hopeless things are without God. There comes a point after trusting the Lord that we realize there is nothing else worth trusting in. Without him, we can agree with Solomon in Ecclesiastes that everything is just vanity. A chasing after the wind.
[Psalm 89:49-52] Lord, where is your steadfast love of old, which by your faithfulness you swore to David. Remember, O Lord, how your servants are mocked, and how I bear in my heart the insults of all the many nations, with which your enemies mock. O Lord, with which they mock the footsteps of your anointed. Blessed be the Lord forever. Amen and amen.
Now, wait. Did things just end with Blessed be the Lord forever? Up till now, he seemed to give us a selah. Each time he shifted to a new section or a twist, as we saw earlier. But as you’ll see in your Bibles, there’s no selah between verses 51 and 52. So how does Ethan get to ‘Blessed be the Lord forever’ after everything he’s just brought up? Is it just a flowery sign off? Is it a beautiful, I know this is the right thing to say, kind of thing? Is Ethan in denial? Is he just smiling through the tears and saying, God is good? We know to say it, but how do we believe it in times like these? What happens when we don’t see it? Is it just denial or fake it till you make it? It may seem kind of good news, bad news, but Ethan’s struggle was nothing new when he wrote this psalm. Nor is it one that’s foreign to us today.
How many times after leaving Egypt did the Israelites worry God wasn’t going to take care of them? How many times after receiving their promised land, did they continue to lean on foreign nations or even foreign gods? God eventually carried out the consequences Ethan mentioned in verses 31 and 32. ‘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.’ And if you fast forward about 500 years from Ethan, you’ll land right around the time David’s throne is not only tarnished, but it was altogether removed by Babylon.
Do you remember those verses from Lamentations from before the sermon? Those were written by Jeremiah the prophet, as he processed the heartbreaking loss of seeing God’s holy nation ripped apart and left desolate. I would encourage you to read the whole chapter those few verses are nestled within, as an additional insight into how we might cope with pain and disillusionment. Ethan could and did look back on those early fulfillments of God’s promises, but he couldn’t see the fulfillment of this promise because he hadn’t experienced it yet. There are other promises made in the Bible that we are still waiting to see carried out. Maybe it’s been so long, we’ve learned to stop waiting. To stop expecting God to come through. Ethan’s cries in the last sections leading up to verse 52 seem to ask, God, are you just going to leave us hanging forever? Do you even care that I’m suffering? That I’m dying? I hear about your love but where is it? People seem to keep reassuring me about how faithful you are. But I’m here waiting desperately for your help. And it feels like my pain doesn’t really matter to you.
Does a late family friend of my in-laws, don’t be too thrown by his name, Dennis Kinlaw. What’s Father’s Day without a dad joke, right? He gave a sermon a while back which included the story from his daughter Sally, while she and her husband were living as missionaries in France. They needed a nanny for their own daughter and hired a young woman named Marie Cecile. Now, let me tell you a little bit about Marie Cecile’s background before becoming a nanny for Sallie. She’d been living in a hostel with 700 girls. She was Jewish but became a Christian at the encouragement of a friend. You see, early in Marie Cecile’s life, at 19 months old, she contracted polio, which meant from that time on, every single step for her would bring pain. And her friend said Marie Cecile, If you become a Christian, God would heal you. So she did. But God didn’t heal her. And she asked, What did I do wrong? Why doesn’t God love me? The small church she attended did things a little differently. One day the leadership pointed out a young man in the congregation and told Marie Cecile, there’s the boy you’re supposed to marry. And they told him, this is to be your wife. That simplifies the whole dating process, right? But hey, Marie Cecile still looked at him and saw a healthy, intelligent Christian gentleman. And him being a gentleman was especially meaningful to her because never in her life had she experienced a wholesome relationship with a male figure. You see, she’d had five fathers over the years, and every one of them had abused her in some way. Some even sexually. And she understood that her condition left her with very little to offer this young man. He would spend his life lovingly taking care of her, and she respected him. But as time went on after she had fallen for him, he decided he wasn’t so sure about the arrangement, and he broke it off. Marie Cecile was devastated. It was as she was reeling from this heartbreak that she came to nanny for Sally’s daughter. The two women would have conversations, and one day she said, Sally, you’re a Christian. Doesn’t God love me? Doesn’t God care? Is there a God? If there is a God, why does he do these things to me? Not an easy question to have to answer. Sally tried. She said, Marie Cecile, there is a god, and he cares. And I can’t answer all your questions, but I want to tell you something. I don’t know how it is, but I believe that the God who’s there is a real father, not the kind of father you’ve known, but the kind they ought to have been. And he cares for you. And when you hurt some way or other, he hurts worse than you hurt. And she just looked. One day she came in to see Sally. She said, Sally, I have something to share with you. You see, Marie Cecile had been with a group of girls at a café, and they were all having a good time talking and laughing. A French gentleman approached them and said, I notice you’re all quite happy and are having a good time. And a little surprise, the girl said yes. Man replied, I think it’s obscene. I have a daughter at home that’s five years old. She’s dying with an incurable disease. Medical science can do nothing for her. And while she sits and innocently dies, never having done anything to deserve that, you sit around and laugh and joke. How can you laugh in a world like this? I think it’s obscene. A couple of Christian girls were in the group. One of them looks up at the man and says, Sir, you ought to become a Christian. You ought to pray. If you could pray for your daughter, maybe God would heal her. And the man’s reply was bitter: I prayed more than any mortal you’ve ever seen, and if there is a God he hasn’t heard. Now, the girl in the group looked up and said, You know, I have problems, too. About God. My mother burned to death right in front of my eyes. If there is a God, how can that happen? If he cares? Marie Cecile said, You know, Sally, I knew somebody had to say something and I didn’t know what to say, but I tried. So I looked up at the man and said, Sir, I can’t answer your questions. I don’t know all the answers. But I’ll tell you one thing. I believe there is a God and he cares. And when your daughter hurts, he hurts more than you hurt. And he hurts more than she hurts. He looked at her and asked, What do you know about pain? She looked back and said, I know something about pain. Her friend said, Marie Cecile, have you ever had someone you loved rolled out in front of you dead? She responded. The first few years of my life I spent in the hospital. It seemed that every close attachment I made was with somebody who was terminal, and one after another I’d see them wheeled out of my room. Yes, she said. I’ve had the people I love, not just one, but more rolled out in front of me dead. Then she said, Sally, I had an inspiration. I looked up at the man and said, Sir, when you stand next to your daughter’s bed and look down on her and see her suffer, who hurts worse, you or she? I hurt worse, the man said without hesitation. She’s too young. She’s too innocent. She’s too naïve to know the tragedy of her own case. I hurt a lot worse than she hurts. She said, Sir, I believe there’s one up there that whenever you’re hurting, God looks down at you and hurts worse than you hurt.
You may see God as a distant figure who wouldn’t take an iota of concern for you personally. You may feel more like Job’s wife, seeing it best to just curse God and die in light of our suffering. Maybe you’ve taken on the victim role of Job: though he slay me, still will I hope in him. But on this Father’s Day, let me suggest to you that no matter your status, God looks upon you as a loving father. And if that sounds like sentimental nonsense or wishful thinking, consider this. After briefly reviewing Israel’s history earlier, we can see that God coming to earth in the person of Jesus is so much more than God merely filling an obligation. This is his mercy and grace on full display. What other God would take the steps described in John chapter one? And the word became flesh and dwelt among us. We have seen His glory. Glory as of the only son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
What other God would tolerate the scene in Luke. They also blindfolded him, speaking of Jesus and kept asking him Prophesy, Who is it that struck you? And if you don’t believe that God can relate to your pain in questions, ask yourself how Jesus can come to a place of crying out, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Even 2000 years after the cross, we can still find ourselves confused by our circumstances and wondering where God is in the midst of tragedy. Did you notice our psalm is labeled as a Maskil? That’s a song meant to deliver a teaching or wisdom. I think Ethan was trying to teach us to trust in God, even when the night seems darkest.
Now I understand a message like this lands in so many places this morning. If you’re hurting right now, please don’t take this as me trying to paper over your pain. If you’re full of the joy of the Lord today. I’m not trying to bring you down, but if there is a big take away from Psalm 89, I would say it’s that even when we don’t see it, we do serve a faithful God. I mean, do you really need more proof? And in this we can agree with Ethan the Ezrahite in saying sincerely. Blessed be the Lord forever. So does verse 52 mean the pain is over? Doesn’t mean we just forget our current struggles. No, In the midst of that. Amen and amen.