How to Hang on to What We Believe

A sermon based on Psalm 89

David H. Linden
Action International Ministries
Alberta Reformation Fellowship

Most people these days know verse 1 of Psalm 89. Most do not know the other 51 verses! The well-known chorus from this psalm is:

I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever,
I will sing; I will sing.
I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever;
I will sing of the mercies of the Lord.

With my mouth will I make known
Thy faithfulness, Thy faithfulness.
With my mouth will I make known
Thy faithfulness to all generations.

You would think from this chorus and its attractive tune that this is a "happy go lucky" psalm. This is only partly true; it has a lot of pain in it. Not everything in the Bible is an expression of cheerfulness.

Choruses often sing the very words of Scripture. This is, of course, a real plus. This way the very words of God are put into our mouths and minds. But choruses are often picky and choosy.[1] They tend to take a nice verse and ignore the rest. In a psalm like Psalm 89, that means we are likely to sing of the faithfulness of God without realizing why Ethan the Ezrahite even wrote it. You cannot tell from verse 1 what a painful struggle he was having.

The faithfulness of God was something he believed in and something he stewed about. Maybe he didn't have trouble hanging on to his faith, but I am sure he was tempted. He probably sinned in fretting, wondering why God would do some things He had chosen to do. It is very easy to sin that way.

Ethan the Ezrahite struggled with how to connect what he saw in life with what he read in God's Word. In a situation like that many lose their faith, while others show that they do have faith in the Lord. Some depart and the others pray. When we sing that chorus our brother is talking to us. But in his psalm, he also speaks to God. A Christian cannot face this kind of trouble without prayer

What Psalm 89 is all about

  1. A personal commitment to believe and communicate truth about God, 1,2.
  2. A brief review of the main issue: God's promise to King David, 3,4.
  3. In heaven everyone knows God is faithful, 5-8.
  4. On earth, too, God rules in power. He can do whatever He wants, 9-13.
  5. God is characterized by faithfulness. Those who acknowledge this are truly blessed, 14-18.
  6. God, You said these specific things about the line of David, 19-29.
  7. But You warned that sin would bring Your judgment and it has, 30-32.
  8. But You are still on record that You will preserve this dynasty, 33-37.
  9. It is a mess! The line of David is an absolute wreck still under Your judgment, 38-45.
  10. How long will this go on? Will I live to see your promise fulfilled? 46-48.
  11. What are You doing about this, Lord? Unbelievers ridicule us. They mock your King, the son of David. It hurts! 49-51.
  12. Praise the Lord, 52.

The Essence of Psalm 89

Ethan the Ezrahite was clear on the promise of God. The Scripture is not vague as to what God had promised David, and this was repeated in later Scriptures: The line of David would not be wiped out but would live under God's favor forever. This covenant would be kept even though any son of David sinning against God would be severely punished. (For God to keep His word, it soon became clear that He would need to supply a King to sit on David's throne who was godly.) Ethan the Ezrahite knew the promise and the warning. But he saw his nation and David's throne in corruption and disarray. He saw his king mocked by the nations, the very king God had promised to support and protect. Life is short, and Ethan wondered how long this would go on. He did more than wonder; he prayed. I do not know if this godly man realized that one day God would send His own Son to become the Son of David.

The Issue in Psalm 89 for us

What God has spoken is sure to happen. Often we do not know when. We may be very perplexed, unable to connect what God has promised with what we see around us. It can be very difficult to hang on to what we believe. But the Christian knows God cannot lie. He knows God is faithful and not confused. The Christian may hurt and express to God pain over God's decisions. He can tell how the situation affects him. Prayer is unavoidable and necessary. But the prayer and all the churning in the mind hang on in faith to God's Word. Without faith it is impossible to please God. When we trust Him we honor Him and then our hearts find a resting place.

A Little History

I do not know the precise time when Ezra the Ethanite wrote. Probably it was before the exile. If so, things only got worse, worse than what he wrote about.

The line of David was not snuffed out. When Jerusalem fell, the Babylonians killed the sons of the last king right in front of him and then gouged out the father's eyes. Ordinarily killing the king's sons would end the dynasty. But this king, Zedekiah, was just an uncle of Jehoiachin the descendent of David. Jehoiachin was safe back in Babylon. He had a son named Shealtiel, who had a son we know as Zerubbabel.

The nation was not destroyed. God promised to bring Judah back from captivity and that Jerusalem would be rebuilt. A new temple was built. Many years later it was enlarged by Herod and Jesus taught in that very Temple. Judah survived. The super powers of the Old Testament were brought down: Egypt, Assyria and Babylon. When they were great everyone would have said that they would last forever. When Israel was taken away by Assyria, and Judah by Babylon, every newspaper in the world would say that the Jews were done, extinguished, never to rise as a people again. Instead it was Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome that rose and fell. There was still a Jewish people in their own land till the time the Savior came.

Eventually what dear Ethan the Ezrahite did not live to see, happened. In the same little village King David was from, a man in the line of David had a virgin wife who bore him a son. Matthew traces the line from David to Joseph to Jesus. God had preserved the dynasty. Ethan's prayer was answered in a marvelous way. Here was the King to rule over us and to defeat our enemies and set us free. On the cross He defeated Satan, atoned for our sin, satisfied God concerning our sin and rose the third day. He ascended into heaven and sat down on His throne. From there the Son of David rules over His people. Our King has sent us the gospel by His messengers. He has given us ears to hear and a new heart so we can believe in Him and be saved. He has proven to be a mighty conqueror on the warpath to rescue us from our enemies and make us safe in His home.

No one will ever remove the Son of David from His exalted and safe position. I think Ethan the Ezrahite now knows how wonderfully God has answered his prayer. He is still singing of the mercies of the Lord and praising God for His faithfulness. After all he is now with the Son of David, for in his spirit he lives with Christ. Jesus is the great answer to Ethan's prayer. No longer does Ethan wonder about the splendour of David's dynasty. He has been living in it for centuries.

The King with God's Approval

David was a man after God's own heart. Yet we all know some of his sin. Near the end of his life he numbered Israel, to find out how strong he was. It was a terrible sin when he sought to know his own strength not God's, 2 Samuel 24.

Solomon was gifted by God with peace, strength, wisdom and wealth. The thanks God received for this was Solomon marrying many heathen women who brought their idols into Jerusalem. His seven hundred wives turned his heart away from the Lord to other gods, 1 Kings 11. The first two commandments are not very difficult to understand, yet this formerly wise and exalted man died a fool. God would tear his kingdom from him. The line of David did not look very promising.

His son Rehoboam was foolish and mistreated his people, 1 Kings 12. His high-handed ways fueled a rebellion. Ten of the twelve tribes left the rule of the son of David. Things were not going very well.

There were good kings like Hezekiah and Josiah, the very last one, but none without sin, not one who obeyed God with all his heart. God had promised to preserve the line but the line of David was not worth preserving. The Lord would fix that by sending Someone obedient.

The solution to all this is Jesus Christ. He is the Lord God Himself who, sent by His Father, entered the human race as the Son of David. Finally there was an obedient King that God could honor and bless without reservation. The Lord Jesus Christ is the only one of David's sons to keep the covenant. He is the only one of David's sons without sin, the only son of any man without sin! Those who trust in Him, have His righteousness credited to their account, and are declared by God to be righteous and as acceptable to God as Jesus is!

So now the line of David is secure in Christ. The promise is fulfilled. We have a King Who will never be replaced, and never needs to be. The honor and glory of God are His. And this is the great king who came not just to rule over His people, but like a Shepherd came to find us so we would be His flock.[2] For our salvation He gave Himself as a ransom. He has purchased us so we will be part of His kingdom. So He is our Redeemer. He is also the Prophet sent from God to give us the Word of His Father. He is our Great High Priest sent from God to offer Himself for us. He is more than king; He is our prophet, priest and king.

Poor Ethan the Ezrahite had good reason to be dismayed when he saw the kind of sons that came from David. But we know more now and see clearer. David finally has a good son. And we by faith have Him as our King, and Lord and Savior. We have far more reason to sing, "I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever," and to boast of His faithfulness to all generations. He wrote a song to declare God's faithfulness to us many generations removed. Let us, like him, with even more of God's plan now out in the open, declare that faithfulness to generations to come.

I think God kept certain things back, so people would see that there was no hope in David or any of His sons in keeping the covenant. Then when the centuries had made that plain, and the hostile powers made Israel's survival a miracle, God acted forcefully to show His Son as the Son of David, and His kingdom a kingdom that shall never end. If we believe in Jesus as our Lord, we are brothers and sisters to Ethan who also believed. Our citizenship, too, is in heaven[3] because our King is there.[4]

We cannot know all that God will do, or when, but like our old brother Ethan, we can be sure that all God says, He will do in a marvelous way. What confused the psalmist, in God's plan, has unfolded as wonderful and glorious. And that is the way it will be till that great day when the kingdom of the Son of David will be made visible in all the earth. And He shall reign forever and ever.

Lessons for us from Psalm 89: What do we do in a similar situation?


1. I observe that choruses frequently violate the rule that we must understand what Scripture is saying from its context. This is a bit like eating only dessert when other food is needed. One habit is an unhealthy diet and the other is an unhealthy handling of God's Word. Generalities are sung and the specifics of God's actions are often neglected. Choruses tend to omit subjects such as judgment and Biblical warnings. The Lord Jesus never did this! One severe consequence of this, is that when we neglect judgment, we will never understand what happened at the cross. Then we will loosen our grip on the gospel itself. Furthermore, tunes chosen for their "upbeat" and light flavor cannot fit a somber theme when they need to. The tune of the chorus on Psalm 89:1 does fit the words very well for that one verse of the psalm. That same tune could never express the pain that comes later in the psalm. The rest of the psalm is part of the Word of God too. Man lives "on every word that comes from the mouth of God," (Matthew 4:4) so we should sing of those things as well. Return

2. John 10:16 Return

3. Philippians 3:20 Return

4. Hebrews 12: 22-24 Return