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Ethan's Worship

In verses 1-4, Ethan vows to sing eternally about the lovingkindness that the Lord provides through the Davidic Covenant. Lovingkindness is a technical expression in the Old Testament used for covenant based aid and deliverance. The lovingkindess is unconditionally guaranteed by the Lord's attribute of faithfulness. The major beneficiary of the Davidic Covenant is the promise that David would eternally have a descendant who will be qualified to be king.


The Worship of Heaven's Inhabitants

The two portions (verses 1-4 and 5-14) are not isolated records of worship. The reason for worship in both sections is the Lord's faithful lovingkindness expressed to the king through the Davidic Covenant (verses 1-3, 14b).

The second section demonstrates that the Lord can be faithful in His promised application of lovingkindness because of His omnipotence.

The sea is a metonymy where the sea is put for its inhabitant, Rahab (verses 9-10). Rahab thought to is a reptilian like creature living in the sea. He is Satan, the serpent of Genesis 3 and the dragon of Revelation 12 and 20. Perhaps this victory of the Lord over Satan may refer to his fall (Ezekiel 28:12-19; Isaiah 14:12-17). Satan's fellow angels would have been aware of the Lord's victory over this prideful being.

The qualities that inspire the heavenly audience to worship the Lord include His faithfulness (verses 5, 8a) and His strength as demonstrated by his victory over the only heavenly being prideful enough to challenge Him (verses 6-11a) and by His creation of the World (verses 11b-12). It is His strength that makes it possible for Him to be faithful. No outside influence can thwart His promise.

This is reason for Ethan and the inhabitants of heaven to worship the Lord.



The first part of the psalm records Ethan's worship without tagging it to a specific circumstance in his life. The second part provides a tag. Ethan is feeling the effects of a king subject to the David Covenant who is disobedient and he asks the Lord to resolve the problem.

This part is divided into three sections. The first section establishes the grounds for the petition (verses 15-37). The second reveals the circumstances of the nation that cause Ethan to make his petition (verses 39-45). The third section records the content of the petition (verses 46-51).


Grounds of the Petition

Ethan discloses how privileged his nation is to have a special relationship with the Lord (verses 15-16). As the citizens live in accordance to the righteous standards of the Lord (verse 15b), He provides the nation with His strength (verse 17) through the mediation of the king (verse 18).

The foundation of this special relationship with the Lord is provided in the vision of verses 19-37. The vision recorded by Ethan may be a summary of the ones received by Nathan the prophet in 2 Samuel 7:1-17 and by Solomon the king in 1 Kings 9:4-9 (the "pious [ones]). The content of the vision repeats important features of the Davidic Covenant. These features (in red) and others disclosed by additional passages are found the the following figure..

Davidic Covenant--This is a brief summary of the conditions and benefits of the Davidic Covenant. The summary is based on Biblical passages in which the covenant is specifically mentioned. The references are not exhaustive.
  • King David is usually the beneficiary of the covenant (2 Samuel 7:8 ff.). However, benefits are also included for Solomon 1 Kings 9:1 ff.), the nation (2 Samuel 7:10-11a), the Messiah (Isaiah 9:6-7), and the royal descendants (Psalm 132:11-12).
  • The promises of the covenant are eternal (2 Samuel 23:5; Psalm 89:28) and unconditional (Psalm 89:33-35).
  • The main promise of the covenant is that David will always have a descendant qualified to sit on his throne (Jeremiah 33:20-22; Psalm 89:4, 29, 36-37). Some of his qualified descendants may be removed from the throne or may never sit on the throne because of disobedience (Psalm 132:11-12; Psalm 89:30-32). The Historical books record how some of David's descendants who were enthroned were disobedient and were disciplined by the Lord. Finally the disobedience became so great that the Lord carried David's descendants into exile. Since that time, there have been qualified descendants (Matthew 1:1-17) who never became king. The promise is ultimately fulfilled with the Messiah (Jeremiah 23:5-6; Luke 1:69). Additional benefits include the following:
  • Lovingkindness (2 chronicles 6:14; Psalm 89:24). The concept of lovingkindness involves: (1) the covenant-based aid and salvation and (2) the stability that is achieved because the Lord cannot forsake His covenant without violating His deity (i.e., the attribute of faithfulness).
  • Strength (Psalm 89:17-18a, 24b).
  • Uncountable Descendants (Jeremiah 33:22). David will have so many descendants that they cannot be numbered.
  • Land (1 Chronicles 17:9a). This is the land Israel occupied during David's reign. There Solomon built the Temple in accordance with the covenant (1 Chronicles 17:11-12). They would be removed from the land and the temple would be destroyed if they disobeyed God (2 Chronicles 7:19-22). This occurred in 587BC. But ultimately the Lord will restore them (Jeremiah 33:26).
  • Success Over Enemies (Psalm 89:22-23, 26b).
  • David Becomes a Type of the Messiah (Psalm 89:25).
  • Become God's Son (Psalm 89:26).
  • Become Most Exalted King on Earth (Psalm 89:27).
  • Become One of the Greatest Men on Earth (2 Samuel 7:9).


Reason for the Petition

Passages like 1 Kings 14:22-24 and 2 Chronicles 12:1. Ethan indicates that the Lord has rejected the current king and refused him the benefits that accompany an obedient king (verse 38a). This is no minor "slap on the wrists" but it is a full scale discipline because the Lord is furious with the king (verse 38b). However, "to abhor" the covenant is not the same as "to nullify" it. Under the present circumstances of an unruly king, the Lord hates the covenant that associates Himself with the Davidic dynasty--even though it is currently only a disciplinary relationship with the current king (verse 39a). The discipline that the Lord has instituted is designed to dishonor the king (verse 39b). See also 1 Kings 14:22-24.

The Lord has made the king's enemies successful and they were a torn in his flesh:

  • Jeroboam took the northern tribes and established his own kingdom (1 Kings 12:16, 19-20).
  • Rehoboam had to flee Jerusalem because his life was in danger (1 Kings 12:18).
  • Jeroboam set up worship centers in Bethel and Dan that competed with the true center in Jerusalem (1 Kings 12:26-33).
  • There was war between Rehoboam and Jeroboam (1 Kings 14:30).
  • Pharaoh Shishak bullied Rehoboam and took away the treasurers from his palace and from the Temple. The booty probably included the furniture of the Temple like the Ark of the Covenant. Shishak even took away the gold shields that Solomon had made. See Psalm 89:41. 2 Chronicles 12:2, 5 connects Shishak's invasion with King Rehoboam's unfaithfulness to the Lord.

Pharaoh Shishak--There exists in ancient Karnak, Egypt, an inscription listing the places conquered by Shishak.  It is located on the southern wall of the temple of Amon.  The inscription supports the Biblical account mentioned above.  A search for "Karnak" on an internet search engine will reward you with many pages of photographs of the ancient Egyptian religious center.  Furthermore, a Bible atlas like The Macmillan Bible Atlas or the Reader's Digest Atlas of the Bible will locate Karnak and provide a possible map of Shishak's invasion of Palestine.

Rehoboam's' enemies were successful in destroying his defenses. The wealth that was associated with Solomon was removed from Rehoboam (verse 41). Because the power and success of the king's enemies had been made superior by the Lord (verse 42), the king lacked success in battle (verse 43).

The Lord has also degraded the king personally. His glory has been removed and his royal authority has been depreciated (verse 44). His youthful vigor has been removed and shame has taken its place (verse 45).

While there was a degree of humility shown by the king and his sons (2 Chronicles 12:6), the Lord still caused Judah to become Shishak's slaves though He did not allow the Pharaoh to completely destroy the nation (2 chronicles 12:7-8).

Keep in mind that the condition of the king also effects the condition of his subjects (verse 18). If the king is insecure and demoted, the citizens will be similarly affected. Witnessing the division of Solomon's kingdom, seeing the northern and southern tribes war with each other, seeing the king have to flee, and watching Shishak remove the holy temple furniture mush have crushed his spirit.


The Petition

Ethan's petition rallies around two motivations: the duration of the Lord's displeasure (verses 46-48) and the reproach that results when the Lord penalizes the king (verses 49-51).

Ethan requests that the Lord's displeasure be terminated because Ethan has a limited span of time during which to enjoy the Lord's pleasure. Ethan questions the Lord about the duration of His discipline--but the purpose of this questioning is to request that the discipline be brought to an end (verse 46). The temporal span of a person's life during which a person may receive the temporal blessings of the Lord is usually limited by death (verses 47a, 48). Man's life is vanity unless during that life he has received the Lord's blessings (verse 47b).

Then Ethan requests that the Lord's faithful lovingkindness (associated with aid and deliverance), similar to that received by David, be experienced in his circumstances because the resultant reproach (i.e., censure, snubbing, chiding, railing) upon the nation and the king originates from the Lord's enemies. The "servants" and the "many people" in verse 50 are the citizens of Judah. By stating that he bears the reproach of all the citizens in his bosom, Ethan indicates that his circumstance represents the circumstances of the nation. Verse 51 draws the Lord's attention to the fact that those who reproach Ethan, the nation, and its king (verse 51b) are the Lord's enemies.



The three sections (verses 15-37; 38-45- 46-51) have been carefully orchestrated by Ethan to provide a sound basis for the petition that he brings before the Lord. Its grounds are found in the Davidic covenant, its cause is found in the destitute circumstances of a king under Divine discipline (verses 38-45), and its expression is formed around Ethan's desire to experience the Lord's blessing during his lifetime and the reproach applied to the king and his nation by the Lord's enemies (verses 46-51).


Did the Lord Answer the Petition by Removing King Rehoboam from His Punishment?

The answer is no. King Rehoboam and his nation remained slaves of Egypt.

The next king of Judah was Abijam. Though he showed some respect for the Lord (2 Chronicles 13:4-20), the Lord critiqued his overal reign as a failure (1 Kings 15:3) and punished him with continual warfare involving King Jeroboam and the northern kingdom (1 Kings 15:7). The Lord did not punish him more out of His respect for King David (1 Kings 15:4-5).


Ethan teaches us that one way to worship the Lord is to petition him. Although some react very strongly at the suggestion that petition may be a form of worship, Ethan so uses petition since the entire psalm is dedicated to worship (verse 1).

Furthermore, this psalm, like the rest of the Psalter, would have been set to music and used in Temple worship (see the superscription to Psalm 88 and to many other psalms) and in more private worship (Mark 14:26). Psalms were also used in the worship of the early church (1 Corinthians 14:15; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16).

When Ethan makes such a serious request of the Lord, Ethan shows by his request that he believes the Lord is able to fulfill the request. Thus worth is attributed to God. This is worship. In the case of Psalm 89, the fact that the request is closely associated with Ethan's well-being shows his sincerity and reinforces the quality of his previous thanksgiving and glorification.

Note that Biblical history indicates that Rehoboam did not repent and he was followed by another disciplined king, Abijam (see above). It is highly doubtful that Ethan's request was ever granted--yet the Holy Spirit preserved Ethan's petition in inspired Scripture! This would tend to indicate that the value of Ethan's petition is in its use and example as a mode of worship, not in Ethan's knowledge of the secret, sovereign workings of God.

The applications to Christians are these:

  • The Lord is worshiped when He is petitioned.

  • A moment of worship is appropriate before a time of petition.

  • The Lord wishes that He be petitioned even when the petitioner does not know if his seemingly morally positive request is in the will of the Lord.

  • The Lord considers a petition to be of great value even though He does not answer it in a way that is obvious to the petitioner.

These pages draw heavily upon Kenneth W. Bowles, An Exposition of Psalm 89, Th.M. Thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, May 1979.  However, Bowles' dates have not been used.
Copyright 2009 - Ken Bowles - 11/12/2009 Edition