The world is built on kindness — Psalm 89

Psalms of the Sons of Korah?

Why am I writing about Psalm 89 as if it were a Psalm of the sons of Korah when it obviously is not. It is attributed to someone else, it is Ethan the Ezrahite’s only attributed psalm, and it is longer than anything that the sons of Korah wrote. But looking at the form of the psalm it belongs here. The psalms of the sons of Korah in the third book of the Bible have the form of two groups of two with a psalm by someone else following. Psalm 89 follows the second of these groups of psalms and also brings the third book of psalms to a conclusion, the third book consisting of psalms of Asaph followed by this grouping of psalms by the sons of Korah with the two additions. Structurally it belongs here.

The city of Jerusalem as she stands now.
Photo by Haley Black on

The books of Psalms are roughly themed like this:

Book 1: Psalms 1 – 41: God is beside us.
Book 2: Psalms 42 – 72: God goes before us
Book 3: Psalms 73 – 89: God is all around us.
Book 4: Psalms 90 – 106: God is above us.
Book 5: Psalms 107 – 150: God is among us.

Psalms 42, 44–49, 84, 85, 87 and 88 are attributed to the Sons of Korah. Korah, was a cousin of Moses and Arron who led a revolt against Moses: Korah died in the rebellion. His three sons were named as singers in the Tabernacle and their offspring in the Temple. The sons of Korah who wrote these psalms are descended from Korah’s sons, not necessarily the sons themselves.

A Maskil of Ethan the Ezrahite.

89 I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, for ever;
    with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations.
For I said, “Steadfast love will be built up for ever;
    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 for ever,
    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 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 round you?
You rule the raging of the sea;
    when its waves rise, you still them.
10 You crushed Rahab like a carcass;
    you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm.
11 The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours;
    the world and all that is in it, you have founded them.
12 The north and the south, you have created them;
    Tabor and Hermon joyously praise your name.
13 You have a mighty arm;
    strong is your hand, high your right hand.
14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne;
    steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.
15 Blessed are the people who know the festal shout,
    who walk, O Lord, in the light of your face,
16 who exult in your name all the day
    and in your righteousness are exalted.
17 For you are the glory of their strength;
    by your favour our horn is exalted.
18 For our shield belongs to the Lord,
    our king to the Holy One of Israel.

19 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.
20 I have found David, my servant;
    with my holy oil I have anointed him,
21 so that my hand shall be established with him;
    my arm also shall strengthen him.
22 The enemy shall not outwit him;
    the wicked shall not humble him.
23 I will crush his foes before him
    and strike down those who hate him.
24 My faithfulness and my steadfast love shall be with him,
    and in my name shall his horn be exalted.
25 I will set his hand on the sea
    and his right hand on the rivers.
26 He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father,
    my God, and the Rock of my salvation.’
27 And I will make him the firstborn,
    the highest of the kings of the earth.
28 My steadfast love I will keep for him for ever,
    and my covenant will stand firm for him.
29 I will establish his offspring for ever
    and his throne as the days of the heavens.
30 If his children forsake my law
    and do not walk according to my rules,
31 if they violate my statutes
    and do not keep my commandments,
32 then I will punish their transgression with the rod
    and their iniquity with stripes,
33 but I will not remove from him my steadfast love
    or be false to my faithfulness.
34 I will not violate my covenant
    or alter the word that went forth from my lips.
35 Once for all I have sworn by my holiness;
    I will not lie to David.
36 His offspring shall endure for ever,
    his throne as long as the sun before me.
37 Like the moon it shall be established for ever,
    a faithful witness in the skies.” Selah

38 But now you have cast off and rejected;
    you are full of wrath against your anointed.
39 You have renounced the covenant with your servant;
    you have defiled his crown in the dust.
40 You have breached all his walls;
    you have laid his strongholds in ruins.
41 All who pass by plunder him;
    he has become the scorn of his neighbours.
42 You have exalted the right hand of his foes;
    you have made all his enemies rejoice.
43 You have also turned back the edge of his sword,
    and you have not made him stand in battle.
44 You have made his splendour to cease
    and cast his throne to the ground.
45 You have cut short the days of his youth;
    you have covered him with shame. Selah

46 How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself for ever?
    How long will your wrath burn like fire?
47 Remember how short my time is!
    For what vanity you have created all the children of man!
48 What man can live and never see death?
    Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol? Selah

49 Lord, where is your steadfast love of old,
    which by your faithfulness you swore to David?
50 Remember, O Lord, how your servants are mocked,
    and how I bear in my heart the insults[f] of all the many nations,
51 with which your enemies mock, O Lord,
    with which they mock the footsteps of your anointed.

52 Blessed be the Lord for ever!
Amen and Amen.

Psalm 89 ESV UK

Who is Ethan?

It is said in 1 Kings 5 that God gave King Solomon wisdom greater than that of Ethan the Ezrahite. But is Psalm 89 written by this person? I think not, the picture of the country in ruins that this psalm paints is much later than Solomon. It is possible that Ethan was prophesying, but I think it is more likely a song from after the Babylonian exile. Verses 1 to 18 could be by Ethan, as they portray worship in an earlier time when the horn, the shofar is being blown and the people rejoice constantly in G-d and are raised by His righteousness. He is the glory of their strength and they will prosper through His grace.

This is a psalm of praise to the kindness of God. The world is built on the kindness of God and we praise his kindness forever. whilst the heavens run on the consistency of God.

The covenant isn’t working

If Psalm 89 ended at verse 18 it would be a great hymn of praise, but something went wrong. The covenant that God made with his people will last forever. God has promised his covenant with David will last forever, with David’s offspring ruling. Offspring is singular. This is about the Messiah.

The covenant does not seem to be working. If David’s descendants stray from the law of God and do not keep God’s laws, then God will punish them appropriately, but He will not break His word to David. The language talking of God’s wrath against his anointed, another way of saying the Messiah, is about how things look, this is a philosophical psalm, a Maskil, using the language of Wisdom literature which included a personification of the sea earlier in the psalm and of Egypt, personified as Rahab.

If we take the idea that God wrath against his anointed literally the psalm contradicts itself. Verse 38 asks why God has forgotten his anointed and verse 51 says that God’s anointed is macked in a way that asks God to send his anointed into the situation his people are in. Where are the kindnesses that God promised David? May God recall the disgrace of the nation at enemy hands and send redemption through his Messiah.

Christians have hindsight here. We know that God’s anointed was God himself becoming human for a short time in one place in the universe. Christ means anointed in Greek, just as Messiah is anointed in Hebrew. God’s anointed, Jesus Christ the Messiah came to deal with the stuff that cuts us off from God, and while we wait for him to appear a second time, God has poured out his Holy Spirit on those who will receive him robe our guide. The book of Revelation in the Bible talks about the future return of Christ using picture language. I will finish this post as Revelation ends:

20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.

< Psalm 88 | Psalm 89 | Psalm 90 >

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