A devotion of Psalm 88
By dint of the frequency, intensity, or duration of suffering, one can easily speak as the sons of Korach did in Psalm 88. Heman was a talented and wise son known for his remarkable service to the king. He had a massive very musical family, active in Temple worship. Today I’ll parallel the Complete Jewish Bible (CJB) and the New International Version (NIV) to communicate Heman’s song, the saddest of all psalms.
If trouble knocks too often, or is too powerful, or lasts too long, our very souls become distorted by it. Our Will, Intellect, Desires, Emotions are then in danger of buying into lies because we want so badly to be relieved of the suffering. When you are oversupplied with troubles and your suffering is too frequent, too intense, or lasts too long, lean extra heavily on Holy Spirit, on the Word, and on your brothers and sisters in the faith. You need them desperately!
A song. A psalm of the sons of Korach. For the leader. Set to “Sickness that Causes Suffering.” A maskil of Heiman the Ezrachi.
CJB 1 ADONAI, God of my salvation, when I cry out to you in the night,
NIV 1 LORD, you are the God who saves me; day and night I cry out to you.
CJB 2 let my prayer come before you, turn your ear to my cry for help!
NIV 2 May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry.
CJB 3 For I am oversupplied with troubles, which have brought me to the brink of Sh’ol.
NIV 3 I am overwhelmed with troubles and my life draws near to death.
I believe that just about any trouble we encounter is meant to slay us; to lay us in the ground in death. We have a sworn enemy of our soul. This determined thief comes but to steal, kill, and destroy. Fortunately for us, Jesus comes that we may have life, and have it to the full, (Jn 10:10.) Sheol is the underworld, the grave, hell. It is the place of no return, a place without praise of God with all its accessories and inmates. It is also known as Hades. Isn’t it interesting to think that if we are not praising God we are “practicing hell?”
CJB 4 I am counted among those going down to the pit, like a man who is beyond help,
NIV 4 I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am like one without strength.
CJB 5 left by myself among the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave -you no longer remember them; they are cut off from your care.
NIV 5 I am set apart with the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom you remember no more, who are cut off from your care.
For the Record
One of the connotations of the word ‘remember’ has to do with records. In our last lesson we learned that God is a record-keeper and that he goes by his records. I’m constantly teaching my boys to keep records when it comes to matters of getting paid for tasks they do. It really simplifies things come pay day. God believes that too. While it may be that the Hebrews believed that those in Sheol were forgotten by God, we could also read that they were not on the records.
CJB 6 You plunged me into the bottom of the pit, into dark places, into the depths.
NIV 6 You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths.
CJB 7 Your wrath lies heavily on me; your waves crashing over me keep me down. (Selah)
NIV 7 Your wrath lies heavily on me; you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
CJB 8 You separated me from my close friends, made me repulsive to them; I am caged in, with no escape;
NIV 8 You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them. I am confined and cannot escape;
CJB 9 my eyes grow dim from suffering. I call on you, ADONAI, every day; I spread out my hands to you.
NIV 9 my eyes are dim with grief. I call to you, LORD, every day; I spread out my hands to you.
The dark depths of despair are a literal place of emotional despondency. There, God’s ire is a hefty weight immobilizing the chest. Pinned there, merciless waves batter the soul non-stop. As though that’s not enough, loved ones are nowhere in sight. This outlook is very different from our discussion of God as our mother when we studied Psalm 22 in February (Under the post titled You Lay Me in the Dust.) We are not mercilessly flung off to the side and abandoned. Even in horrific deaths, God gently lays us on the ground, as a mother lays her well-fed child, now sleeping, onto the crib.
CJB 10 Will you perform wonders for the dead? Can the ghosts of the dead rise up and praise you? (Selah)
NIV 10 Do you show your wonders to the dead? Do their spirits rise up and praise you?
CJB 11 Will your grace be declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
NIV 11 Is your love declared in the grave, your faithfulness in Destruction?
CJB 12 Will your wonders be known in the dark, or your righteousness in the land of oblivion?
NIV 12 Are your wonders known in the place of darkness, or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?
Heman knows how much God cherishes praise. He shifts gears and goes from complaint of his plight to a place of reasoning with God: Restore me and I will give you what you love! Deliver me and I will sing your praises and give you glory. Bible commentator Guzik describes Old Testament understanding of the afterlife as “shadowy” at best. He adds, “The book of Psalms expresses the agony, fear, and uncertainty of death’s doorstep. The singers in the psalms often know they can remember God and give Him thanks now, but don’t have the same certainty about the world beyond.” 2 Tim. 1:10 claims that by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, death is abolished and he brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. There couldn’t be a better teacher to shine the light (Zahar) upon our dim understanding of heaven.
CJB 13 But I cry out to you, ADONAI; my prayer comes before you in the morning.
NIV 13 But I cry to you for help, LORD; in the morning my prayer comes before you.
CJB 14 So why, ADONAI, do you reject me? Why do you hide your face from me?
NIV 14 Why, LORD, do you reject me and hide your face from me?
With abandon, Heman unleashes the ‘whys.’ Rare is the man who does not go there in times of abject trouble. It is natural to greet the morning with a cry when one has been up all night in tears.
CJB 15 Since my youth I have been miserable, close to death; I am numb from bearing these terrors of yours.
NIV 15 From my youth I have suffered and been close to death; I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
CJB 16 Your fierce anger has overwhelmed me, your terrors have shriveled me up.
NIV 16 Your wrath has swept over me; your terrors have destroyed me.
CJB 17 They surge around me all day like a flood, from all sides they close in on me.
NIV 17 All day long they surround me like a flood; they have completely engulfed me.
CJB 18 You have made friends and companions shun me; the people I know are hidden from me.
NIV 18 You have taken from me friend and neighbor— darkness is my closest friend.
This is the saddest psalm indeed. We have seen consistently that when people call out to God, he answers. We cry, he answers. That has been the pattern we’ve observed all year. In this dismal song the only answer is darkness. Yet even in this darkness, Heman consistently clings to God, even as he sees him as the source of his affliction. His trust is in Adonai. His hope in Jehovah as his sole salvation was anchor deep and rock solid.
If you think “this is a depressing psalm,’ that means that you are to be envied. That is so because the truths expressed in this psalm obviously do not apply to your life. Thank your God for that, and remember one who might be in such a plight. I pray you never experience such deep despondency. And if you do, may your deepest darkness only serve to drive you ever closer to Jesus, our true closest friend.