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Psalm 89 — Staying Positive With God During Troubled Times

Andy Yung

Psalm 89 is composed by Ethan and it closes out Book III of Psalms with great confidence in God.

The title of this psalm is “A Contemplation of Ethan the Ezrahite”. There are a few men named Ethan in the Bible, but this Ethan was mentioned in 1 Kings 4:31 where he was used as a benchmark for wisdom, when Solomon was described as even wiser than him.

The psalmist’s focus on God’s love and promises helped him to overcome his burdens. He encouraged everyone to sing praises to God despite troubled times. Although he longed for the crisis to end (verse 46), which we’ll all do under similar circumstances, we do not sense his struggle in the first half of the psalm, but only confidence in God

To make sense of our sufferings and keep faith in God through troubled times, we can learn from a wise man, who inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote this psalm.

Vs. 1-2

I will sing of the Lord's great love forever; with my mouth I will make Your faithfulness known through all generations.

I will declare that Your love stands firm forever, that You established Your faithfulness in heaven itself.

Ethan wanted to sing of God’s great love forever, and it isn’t just singing to God alone, but to make His greatness known through all generations. How often do we sing God’s praise to our children and everyone around us?

There won’t be objections when we sing praises to God in good times. But this psalm was written in troubled times, so how do we make sense of it then? We either complain during our troubles or we stay focused on the promises of God.

Vs. 3-4

You said, “I have made a covenant with My chosen one, I have sworn to David My servant,

‘I will establish your line forever and make your throne firm through all generations.’” Selah

Ethan was clear in his belief that God had made a covenant with David, that He would establish his line and make his throne firm forever. This is the promise that the Jews (then and now) hold firmly to — that the Messiah will come from David’s line and deliver them.

How firm is our belief in Jesus? Jesus came through David’s lineage. Will we stay firm until we see our Lord Jesus?

Vs. 5-14

The heavens praise Your wonders, O Lord, Your faithfulness too, in the assembly of the holy ones.

For who in the skies above can compare with the Lord? Who is like the Lord among the heavenly beings

In the council of the holy ones God is greatly feared; He is more awesome than all who surround Him.

O Lord God Almighty, who is like You? You are mighty, O Lord, and Your faithfulness surrounds You.

You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, You still them.

You crushed Rahab like one of the slain; with Your strong arm You scattered Your enemies.

The heavens are Yours, and Yours also the earth; You founded the world and all that is in it.

You created the north and the south; Tabor and Hermon sing for joy at Your name.

Your arm is endued with power; Your hand is strong, Your right hand exalted.

Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; love and faithfulness go before You.

Ethan admired the wonders of God. We gain a better perspective when we meditate on the God whom we are worshiping.

Compared to Ethan, we have the added advantage of being able to look at the Messiah, Jesus. No one is like Jesus. Can we find a friend like Jesus who looks beyond our weaknesses? Remember Jesus calmed the storms when he was with the apostles? Remember his resilience and determination when he was dying on the cross so that justice for our crimes are made through his blood?

Vs. 15-18

Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim You, who walk in the light of Your presence, O Lord.

They rejoice in Your name all day long; they exult in Your righteousness.

For You are their glory and strength, and by Your favor You exalt our horn.

Indeed, our shield belongs to the Lord, our king to the Holy One of Israel.

Do we acclaim God? Those who have learned to acclaim God will be blessed (happy). It is not easy to acclaim God when there is so much to distract us. We acclaim people who have been kind to us. We acclaim movies we have recently enjoyed.

During troubled times, it is contradictory in the humanistic sense to acclaim God. Most people will question where is God when we need Him.

It is hard to praise God when we do not see Him with spiritual eyes and know His names (His nature and characteristics). Which characteristics of God are we not familiar with? When we understand God’s nature, we will trust that God has a better plan for us and He has reasons for allowing us to go through difficult times. Let us focus on God’s ultimate goal, because the time will come when we will see His convenient fulfilled.

God is our shield and He will protect us. Nothing can harm our souls as we are protected by Him. Ethan declared that King David belonged to God. Likewise, we have Jesus and he belongs to God. God will exalt “our horn”, giving us victory. He looks at us with favour because of Jesus. Jesus is our glory and strength. Let us persevere through any crisis by remembering Jesus at the cross.

Vs. 19-24

Once You spoke in a vision, to your faithful people You said: “I have bestowed strength on a warrior; I have exalted a young man from among the people.

I have found David My servant; with My sacred oil I have anointed him.

My hand will sustain him; surely My arm will strengthen him.

No enemy will subject him to tribute; no wicked man will oppress him.

I will crush his foes before him and strike down his adversaries.

My faithful love will be with him, and through My name his horn will be exalted.

I will set his hand over the sea, his right hand over the rivers.

He will call out to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, the Rock my Savior.’

I will also appoint him My firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth.

I will maintain My love to him forever, and My covenant with him will never fail.

I will establish his line forever, his throne as long as the heavens endure.

If his sons forsake My law and do not follow My statutes,

if they violate My decrees and fail to keep My commands,

I will punish their sin with the rod, their iniquity with flogging;

but I will not take My love from him, nor will I ever betray My faithfulness.

I will not violate My covenant or alter what My lips have uttered.

Once for all, I have sworn by My holiness — and I will not lie to David —

that his line will continue forever and his throne endure before Me like the sun;

it will be established forever like the moon, the faithful witness in the sky.” Selah

Ethan focused on God’s promise to David from verses 19-37. Read through these verses, reflect on how Jesus fulfilled the covenant, and be amazed by God’s faithfulness.

We have the advantage of looking back in history to see this amazing fulfilment. The next big promise we should look forward to is the return of Jesus.

Through the Holy Spirit, Ethan prophesied the coming of Jesus. God’s love for Jesus is maintained forever and His covenant will never fail.

How would troubled times make sense to people before Christ came? What should we learn from them when we go through difficult times? We won’t find peaceful times when God is not the peace of our lives. We will always struggle for a “better life through prosperity unless we understand what is a better life by God’s definition.

Ethan also prophesied that God will punish our sins, “with the rod” and “with flogging”, but on Jesus. God promised that He will not take His love from Jesus or betray His faithfulness.

When Ethan prayed, he held on to the promises of God. How do we hold on to God’s promises and stay joyful? Athletes train hard for a victory they hope for but may never achieve; we know that victory is in God’s hands and we shall surely get it.

Vs. 38-45

But You have rejected, You have spurned, You have been very angry with Your anointed one.

You have renounced the covenant with Your servant and have defiled his crown in the dust.

You have broken through all his walls and reduced his strongholds to ruins.

All who pass by have plundered 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 turned back the edge of his sword and have not supported him in battle.

You have put an end to his splendor and cast his throne to the ground.

You have cut short the days of his youth; You have covered him with a mantle of shame. Selah

The tone of the psalm takes a sudden 180 degrees turn from verse 38 onwards. While the first half of the psalm soared with confidence, Ethan reflected on his present crisis in this half.

This is a really tough psalm! It does not really make sense how we can praise God when we are beset with troubles. Israel enjoyed only a prolonged period of peace during Solomon’s reign. Following that, Israel went through a series of ups and downs, and was eventually conquered by foreign rulers.

The crisis that Ethan referred to was likely to be Absalom’s rebellion (2 Samuel 15-18) or the spiritual decline of Solomon’s rule (1 Kings 11). Ethan lived during David and Solomon’s times. He could be one of the leading musicians appointed by the Levites (1 Chronicles 15:16).

Ethan had a godly perspective on the crisis they faced. How do we view our current crisis? Is there a spiritual reason for the bad things that's happening? Would that understanding help us to stand in awe of God’s righteousness and inspire us to stand on God’s side?

Vs. 46-51

How long, O Lord? Will You hide Yourself forever? How long will Your wrath burn like fire?

Remember how fleeting is my life. For what futility You have created all men!

What man can live and not see death, or save himself from the power of the grave? Selah

O Lord, where is Your former great love, which in Your faithfulness You swore to David?

Remember, Lord, how Your servant has been mocked, how I bear in my heart the taunts of all the nations,

the taunts with which Your enemies have mocked, O Lord, with which they have mocked every step of Your anointed one.

Ethan asked God how long it’ll take for God to save him, considering how short life is. Our lives are fleeting and futile too. Like Ethan, we need to call on God.

Ethan reminded God of the love He had sworn to David. Can we see the struggle that Ethan went through, bearing all the enemies’ taunts in his heart? It must be humiliating to the Israelites who claimed to have God on their side but suffered at the hands of their enemies. How are we enduring the ‘humiliation’ when our lives are not going well? Do we give up our faith in Jesus?

Vs. 52

Praise be to the Lord forever! Amen and Amen.

Th psalm did not end with sadness despite the crisis (though some scholars think that this last verse was added as an exclamation at the end of Book III of Psalms). It is entirely possible for Ethan to feel the pain of trouble and still end the psalm praising God forever.

What do we learn from this psalm in the way we look at crisis? Remain positive and confident that God knows what He is doing and praise God in all circumstances. It is tough hanging on but God has a great plan for us. It is a tough battle to stay faithful to God and praise Him no matter what happens in life. But Ethan requested those who sing this psalm to join him in his confidence with God.

How do we generate positive vibes to our friends and fellow Christians as spiritual leaders? It is more than just comforting one another. Like Ethan, we should lead one another to see what God is planning to do and help one another praise God. Amen and Amen!

Ethan did not start with sorrows in his psalm, he started with praise to God’s great love even when things were not well around him. Let’s give praises to God in our prayer even when our heart is in pain.

Andy Yung

Andy is the head of compliance for an international bank and is happily married, with three daughters. He became a disciple of Christ three decades ago, and studies God's Word passionately. He desires to be constantly led by the Spirit. Andy joined the Central Christian Church in 1990.

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