In the previous psalm, Heman the Ezrahite poured out his complaint with seemingly no argument at all. In this psalm, another Ezrahite, a man named Ethan, has a strong complaint as well, but he mounts it on top of an unshakeable foundation of covenant promises. He comes before God with expectations and arguments.
“I will sing of the mercies of the Lord for ever: With my mouth will I make known thy faithfulness to all generations. For I have said, Mercy shall be built up for ever: Thy faithfulness shalt thou establish in the very heavens. I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn unto David my servant, Thy seed will I establish for ever, And build up thy throne to all generations. Selah . . .” (Ps. 89:1–52).
Summary of the Text:
Foundationally, we know that God will be absolutely faithful to His covenant with the house of David (vv. 1-4). Ethan then expands his vision, and spends some time praising the power, justice, and mercy of God (vv. 5-14). When a people have a God like this, then they are truly blessed (vv. 15-18). Covenants have terms, and Ethan delights to go over those terms in some detail (vv. 19-37). Having laid the groundwork for his petition, he then pours out his desire and petition (vv. 38-51). And with that, the psalm ends on a double amen.
The psalm begins with the mercies of God, and Ethan’s desire to sing of them forever (v. 1). Mercy and faithfulness go together, and so he will make God’s faithfulness known to all generation (v. 1). Ethan said, and said truly, that mercy shall be built up forever (v. 2), and faithfulness will be established in the very heavens (v. 2). What kind of mercies are we talking about? We are talking about covenant mercies (v. 3). God has sworn two things to David. One is that he will have a seed forever, and secondly that he will have a throne forever (v. 4).
God will not break His own covenant (v. 34). He will not alter or adjust it (v. 34). To anchor this beyond any possibility of doubt, God put His left hand on His own holiness, raised His right hand, and swore by that holiness (v. 35). And what did He swear? “I will not lie unto David.”
He Disciplines His Own . . .
God scourges every son that He receives (Heb. 12:5-7). Despite what we are about to argue, we begin by recognizing that when there is true fault, the fault lies with us. God’s mercy is constant, but our experience of it is not constant. This is because the psalmist recognizes that true covenant members can truly sin. When this happens, God chastises them, but does not forsake them.
“If they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments; Then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless my lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him” (vv. 31-33).
God will visit out transgressions with a rod, and will lay on many stripes. He may break the rod on us, but He will never break the covenant. We are receiving the chastisement because of the covenant. Look at what he says in the next breath—“my covenant will I not break” (v. 34).
Time is nothing to You, God, and so You can afford to postpone a deliverance. It is all one to You. But God, remember that we are only here for a couple more minutes. “Remember how short my time is: Wherefore has thou made all men in vain?” (v. 47). All men will die, and we who are now praying to You are going to die soon. You may have forever, but we don’t. If we are to see the great reformation, if we are to see the great deliverance, You will have to move quickly. Take care that you don’t define “God-fearing prayer” with an unbelieving prayer. God-fearing prayer is not prayer with no opinions on the matter.
The Former Days:
And why do previous generations get to see all the wonderful interventions? “Lord, where are thy former lovingkindnesses, which thou swarest unto David in thy truth?” (v. 49). I have taken what You did for them, and laid it out as part of my argument earlier. But now I take it back. Why do we have to read about these wonderful things in books? Why can’t we read about them in newspapers?
Greatly to Be Feared:
Absolute confidence that God will never alter or abolish His covenant is fully consistent with fearing Him as well. Absolute faith and profound fear go well together. “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him” (v. 7). At the same time, fearing the Lord greatly is also fully consistent with arguing with Him, like a trusted counselor in His heavenly council. Where did You go? What are You doing? “How long, Lord. Wilt thou hid thyself forever?” (v. 46). In short, the fear of the Lord is not craven. The fear of the Lord is not shy. The fear of the Lord is not ashamed. The fear of the Lord stands on the everlasting rock of the covenant, and there wrestles with the God of the covenant.
A Return to the Mercies:
We must return to the fortress. The fortress is the everlasting covenant, and the foundation of this everlasting covenant is the blood of the covenant (Heb. 13:20). If God has said He will not lie to David, and if God has sent the Son of David to writhe on a cross in fulfillment of that Word, what on earth makes us think He would walk away from His declared purposes now? Why, when the difficulty is all past, would He throw it in? He is not one who undertakes to build a tower without considering the cost. That cost was the blood of the God/man, and it is a cost that has already been paid. It has happened, once for all. Why would God purchase all the nations of men in this way and then not take home what He purchased?
The tower of your salvation, the tower of mercy, from which you may smile at all your foes, is a tower that was purchased, and fully built. You are not “saved” in a half-finished building.