Sermons from Moorpark Presbyterian Church
Ethan the Ezrahite Takes on God
by Dave Wilkinson
December 19, 1999
Pulitzer Prize winning author Frederick Beuchner writes: "The lovely old carols played and replayed till their effect is like a dentist's drill or a jack hammer, the banalities of the pulpit and the chilling commercialism of almost everything else --"Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer," the plastic tree, the Hallmark Virgin. Yet for all our efforts we've never quite managed to ruin it.
"Christmas itself is by grace. It could never have survived our own blindness and depredations otherwise. It could never have happened otherwise. Perhaps it is the very wildness and strangeness of the grace that has led us to try to tame it. We have tried to make it habitable. We have roofed it in and furnished it. We have reduced it to an occasion we feel at home with. But if the Christmas event in itself is indeed -- as a matter of cold, hard fact -- all it's cracked up to be, then even at best our efforts are misleading.
"The Word become flesh. Ultimate mystery born with a skull you could crush one-handed. Incarnation. It is not tame. It is not touching. It is not beautiful. It is uninhabitable terror. It is unthinkable darkness riven with unbearable light. Agonized laboring led to it, vast upheavals of intergalactic space. You can only cover your eyes and shudder before it, before this: "God of God, light of light, very God of very God--who for us and for our salvation," as the Nicene creed puts it, "came down from heaven."
"Came down." Only then do we dare uncover our eyes and see what we can see. It is the resurrection and the life she holds in her arms."
"Mary, Did You Know?" Solo
Brothers and sisters, we, like Mary, have the joy of knowing Christmas. We have the proof that God keeps His promises. But this morning I want to introduce you to a man who lived a thousand years before Christmas but who needed Christmas very badly. His name is Ethan the Ezrahite. That's not one of our household Bible names. But Ethan was well known a thousand years before Jesus was born. And you have to admire Ethan. He's not afraid to go one on one with God himself. He is called a wise man (although 1 Kings 4 assures tells us that he wasn't as wise as Solomon.) Ethan lived in the time of Solomon and then, after Solomon died, under Solomon's son Rehoboam.
Heres Ethans issue with God: In the fifth year of Rehoboam's reign, the Pharaoh of Egypt, marched against Jerusalem with a large army, conquered the fortified cities, and stole the gold out of the Temple. Everything has gone wrong for king and nation. And Ethan looks around, sees what is going on, and asks "why?" This doesn't fit with what God promised David and his descendants!" The place is a mess. So Ethan writes a psalm where he calls God on the carpet. I don't think God's offended either. After all, he put it in his Bible. It starts: "I will sing of the loving kindness of the Lord forever; to all generations I will make known thy faithfulness with my mouth." Ethan isnt saying this to butter God up. One thing we quickly learn about Ethan is that he is too direct to play games. Ethan is simply reminding God that He has a reputation for faithfulness -- for keeping His word -- and that reputation is now on the line.
Ethan uses the word faithfulness eight times in the Psalm. Faithfulness is the big issue for Ethan -- God's faithfulness to the promises He has made -- particularly the promises God made to David. Ethan reminds God of what He has promised. Verses 3-4: "I have made a covenant with my chosen; I have sworn to David my servant, I will establish your seed forever, and build up your throne to all generations." "That's your promise God. You said it."
In verses 5-18 Ethan reminds God of who God is. Then, in verses 19-29 he jogs God's memory about the promise He has made -- His words to David as recorded in 2 Samuel 7. Ethan knows that the Lord had made a covenant of grace with David and his decedents. Ethan quotes God's very words back at him. And he accuses God of violating his oath. Here are the charges. They begin in verse 38.
"You have spurned your covenant, God. You have profaned the king's crown by casting it to the ground. It wasn't the Egyptians who did this. You did this, God. You have set up the right hand of his adversaries. You swore to give the king help and victory. But instead You have sided with his enemies, and given them Your strength. They are boasting over him, and are glorying in his defeat, and this is done by You, O God! Why? Where is the covenant? Have you forgotten your promises?
You have "also turned the edge of his sword." When the king goes to war, he is as unsuccessful as though his sword refused to cut. His heart fails him as well as his sword -- he wavers, he falls. "And You have not made him to stand in the battle. You have cast his throne down to the ground." He has lost his power to govern at home or to conquer abroad.
"The days of his youth you have shortened." The time of the king's energy is brief, he grows feeble before his time. You have covered him with shame. You, you, you, you, you!! God, this is what you have done to the king -- after what you promised David. I want an explanation, God. I think of this Psalm as the Desi Arnez Psalm. Ethan sounds like Desi saying to Lucy: "Youve got a lot of splanin to do." He also sounds like me these last couple of weeks with all weve gone through as a church family. Id like a few answers.
Still, most of us would not pray this way. Even if God isn't offended, it's still not our style. But do you see the question? It's an important question for Ethan and it's an important question for us. The God who dealt with Rehoboam is the same God who deals with us today. If He could break his word to David, what's to keep Him from breaking His word to us? The only valid foundation of our faith is God's faithfulness to His promises. We need to know that God is trustworthy.
But how can we know this? How can we find answers to the deep concern Ethan raises in this Psalm? Well, one answer is found in the Psalm itself. The answer in the Psalm is given in verses 30-34. God says:
Aha! We read the fine print and we discover that God's promise to David was not given without a warning. If David descendants don't behave, they will be disciplined. God says of David "If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgements" -- certain things are going to happen. "I will visit their transgressions with the rod." I won't use the sword. I won't use an executioner's axe. I won't end David's line. But I will discipline."
Now Ethan, in his pain, might say: "Rehoboam's been good." In verse 18 he claims, "Our king belongs to you, God." But the rest of the Bible disagrees. 1 Kings tells us that Rehoboam needed a spiritual trip to the woodshed in a big way. He caused civil war in Israel by his harshness and ended up dividing the nation. In 1 Kings 14, we read: "now Rehoboam the son of Solomon reigned in Judah. And Judah did evil in the sight of the Lord. For they built for themselves idols. And there were also male cult prostitutes in the land. They did according to all the abominations of the nations which the Lord dispossessed before the sons of Israel. So it came about in the fifth year of King Rehoboam, that Shishak the king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem."
Cause and effect. In other words, the Bible makes it clear that nothing has happened to Rehoboam that is outside of God's promise to David. Pharaoh Shishak was God's rod of discipline for Rehoboam.
We find that despite Ethan's many accusations, God has kept his promise -- His whole promise. God is faithful. Rehoboam is being visited with the rod of discipline -- discipline he both needs and deserves.
That's not much of a Christmas message is it? We like warmer messages at Christmas. As Beuchner writes: "We try to tame it." But there is another part to the psalm that is very much a Christmas message. The reason I chose to preach on this Psalm today is that the promise is fulfilled. And the second, greater answer to Ethan's and our pain is found in an event that is prophesied in the Psalm.
If you feel unsatisfied with the discipline answer, I'm not surprised. Somehow the discipline answer is not big enough for Ethan or for us. And I believe that Ethan somehow senses that there must be a greater fulfillment of the great promises God made to David than he sees being fulfilled in poor broken down Rehoboam. He wants more. Ethan wants God to show his hand. He says in verse 47, "remember the span of my life. If there's another answer, God, I don't have much time to wait for it." Well Ethan never saw the greater answer. I don't know if he had the faith to see past the present circumstances he faced. But we can see the greater answer to God's promise. Because Ethans cry impels us towards Christmas, where we find the great fulfillment of God's faithfulness to His promises -- a fulfillment that will far outstrip the greatest hopes Ethan or we might have had.
In the first chapter of Luke we read: "Now in the sixth month the Angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And coming in he said to her: 'Hail, favored one, the Lord is with you.' But she was greatly troubled at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father, David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end."
For it is in Jesus Christ -- the son of David -- that the promise to David is uniquely and finally fulfilled for us. Listen to verses 35-37.
This great promise is fulfilled in Jesus Christ -- and only in Jesus Christ. Verse 26 says: "He shall cry unto me, you are my father." When did David call God his father? He didn't. Only Jesus did. It is striking that we do not find anywhere in the Old Testament that the Patriarchs or Prophets called God their father. This verse is meaningless in regard to David. But it is filled with meaning for the one who is born the son of David and the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
In Jesus Christ, the promise to David receives the final and never-ending fulfillment. David's house must be royal: as long as there is a scepter in Judah, David's seed must be the only rightful dynasty. Jesus Christ, the great "King of the Jews" died with that title above his head in the three current languages of the then known world, and to this day he is owned as king by people of every tongue and race.
"Your descendants I will establish for ever," God said to David. David must always have descendants. And in Jesus this promise is fulfilled beyond David's hopes. For we here are also descendants of David by being united with Jesus Christ. So are millions of other believers all around the world. In Jesus Christ God fulfilled his promise to David in a way that was far beyond anything David, Ethan, or we could expect.
A woman from Elko, Nevada writes: "A few years back our children's Christmas program was all rehearsed and ready. When the announcer said, "What was it that led the Wise Men to the Baby Jesus?" the Kindergarten Class was to turn over their large cardboard cards, which would spell out "STAR." The only problem: the teacher had lined them up backwards.
Will this Christmas be a "star" for you. Or will it be "rats"? How will you read it? It doesnt have to be "rats." God is here to meet you. God is here to love you. God wants you to go through this Advent season filled with hope and joy. For God keeps his promises. He is absolutely faithful to David and He is absolutely faithful to you. Even when the immediate evidence points the opposite way, know that God will keep all his promises in greater ways than we can possibly imagine.