Certainty in spite of circumstances

Psalm 89 is listed as a A Maskil of Ethan the Ezrahite. Curious, I thought I’d search online for what a Maskil is. I am not much wiser for the experience, as it seems the scholars are not certain either.

maskil (Mas´kil)

A Hebrew word of uncertain significance that appears in the headings of some thirteen psalms, (Ps 32, Ps 42, Ps 44, Ps 45, Ps 52, Ps 53, Ps 54, Ps 55, Ps 74, Ps 78, Ps 88, Ps 89, and Ps 142). Some current versions of the Bible leave the word untranslated, while others, in accordance with its apparent root meaning of “understand” or “ponder,” translate it as “instruction” or the like. Scholars have suggested that maskil is possibly a technical term relating to the manner of a psalm’s performance or a class of composition. The latter hypothesis is supported by the Psalter’s use of other apparent class names in parallel fashion as well as by the appearance of the word in (Amos 5:13), where it may designate such a class.

Of Ethan the Ezrahite we know only a little more. He was of the tribe of Levi, and reputed to be wise, and in fact used as a benchmark to describe how wise King Solomon was, (he was wiser than all other men, wiser than Ethan the Ezrahite –1 kings 4:31)

Whoever he was, this is the only Psalm directly attributed to him*

What can we learn from wise Ethan’s Psalm?

This Psalm begins with extolling the steadfast love of the Lord.

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 many verses Ethan talks about how unfailing God is, recounting God’s promises to David, as if to remind God that He made them, and declaring that God is faithful in keeping them.

Verse 30 is where we first begin to see that perhaps not everything is rosy for Ethan as he speaks of God’s blessing to David’s descendants in verse 29, but of consequences if they should stray from God.

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.


Then verses 33-37 affirm yet again God’s faithfulness and steadfastness and declaration to keep His promises.

So it is like a visceral blow when verse 38–45 cry out to God declaring God’s abandonment, perhaps of Ethan or perhaps of the current king or leader of Israel.

His grievance declared before God, he now pleads with the Lord in verses 46-48, reminding God that man’s days are short, and that he does not want to wait until he dies to feel the Lord’s steadfast love again.

Ethan’s plea goes right up to the second last verse and then in stark contrast or perhaps poignant climax, he abruptly concludes with Blessed be the Lord for ever! Amen and Amen.

As I read this Psalm I was struck by the contrast of Ethan’s certainty of how steadfast God’s love is, and yet the anguish of how distant God seems to Ethan the Ezrahite. But Ethan, in spite of his circumstances begins and ends this Psalm with bold, determined declarations. “I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, for ever” and “Blessed be the Lord for ever!”

Perhaps the events of the last few days have you identifying just a little with Ethan’s pain in verses 50-51:

50 Remember, O Lord, how your servants are mocked,
    and how I bear in my heart the insults of all the many nations,
51 with which your enemies mock, O Lord,
    with which they mock the footsteps of your anointed.


The enemies of God still mock his people today, as has been abundantly clear in the nastiness spewed forth even in victory of the “yes” campaign in the postal survey about changing what marriage means. Yet God’s love is just as steadfast today, and when we feel mockery and apparent triumph of a world that hates God, we would do well to remember to boldly follow Ethan’s example of absolute confidence and boldness:

I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, for ever;
    with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations.


How can I make God’s faithfulness known today?

*There is a possibility Ethan the Ezrahite might also be known as Jeduthun in which case there are two other psalms, 62 and 77.


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