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Ethan, Abraham and Us: The Wisdom of Psalm 89

Sep 4, 2023

Saar waterfall in the Golan Heights (

בָּר֖וּךְ יְהֹוָ֥ה לְ֝עוֹלָ֗ם אָ֘מֵ֥ן ׀ וְאָמֵֽן׃

Blessed is Hashem forever; Amen and Amen.

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Psalms 89:53

Imagine being stuck in traffic on a hot summer day, bumper-to-bumper, no way out. The AC is barely keeping up, and you’re gripped by frustration. Suddenly, you remember the beautiful beach that awaits you at the end of this ordeal. Your mood shifts. Just like that, a change in perspective turns your discontent into hope. This transition from complaint to hope is the essence of Psalm 89, a poem credited to Ethan the Ezrahite. But who exactly was Ethan?

Ethan may not be a household name like Moses or David, but don’t let that fool you. In I Chronicles 2:6, he’s listed as one of the sons of Zerah. However, the sages offer a deeper layer to this character. The medieval commentator Rashi quotes the position that Ethan was none other than Abraham himself! This poetic association comes from the word “Ezrahite,” which paints Abraham as “the one who brings enlightenment from the East (Mizrach).”

So why is it significant that this psalm could be tied back to Abraham? Rabbi Moshe Alshich, a prominent 16th-century scholar, highlights that the twin themes of the psalm are kindness and faith. And who better to speak on these virtues than Abraham, the man who inculcated these ideas into the Jewish people?

According to the sages, Ethan was highly esteemed for his intelligence. In fact, the Bible itself tells us in I Kings 5:11 that King Solomon’s wisdom surpassed even that of Ethan the Ezrahite, implying that Ethan was extremely intelligent!

Psalm 89 itself is a rollercoaster of emotions. It starts on a high note, singing praises to God’s unfailing love and faithfulness. But by the end, Ethan—ever the insightful poet—voices a heart-wrenching question: “O Hashem, where is Your steadfast love of old which You swore to David in Your faithfulness?” (Psalm 89:50). Yet, just when we think the psalmist has given in to despair he concludes with an affirmation: “Blessed is Hashem forever; Amen and Amen” (verse 53).

Radak, another renowned biblical commentator, explains that despite the complaints and protests against the bitter experience of exile, the psalmist ends on a hopeful note, promising that Israel’s trials will not last forever.

So, what does this all mean for us—and for Israel—today?

If even a man as wise as Ethan can question God and His faithfulness, then surely we too can have our moments of doubt, especially in challenging times. But just like Ethan, we must also remember to conclude with faith and hope, understanding that even the darkest night is followed by dawn.

And what about Israel? The very fact that after centuries of exile, the Jewish people have returned to their homeland proves Ethan’s final words: “Blessed is Hashem forever; Amen and Amen.” It may have taken a while—about 2,000 years!—but God’s love indeed proved to be steadfast.

Whether we’re stuck in traffic, grappling with doubt, or pondering the broader destiny of a nation, Psalm 89 offers timeless wisdom. It teaches us that even when faced with uncertainty, our faith should remain unshakable, reminding us that the end of the road often holds promises that make the journey worth it.

Related Names and Places:

Related Bible basics: Abraham

Relate Bible Verses: Chapter 89

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