A maskil of Heman the Ezrahite.
1O LORD, the God who saves me, day and night I cry out before you.
2 May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry.
3 For my soul is full of trouble and my life draws near the grave.
4 I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am like a man without strength.
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.
6 You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths.
7 Your wrath lies heavily upon me; you have overwhelmed me with all your waves. Selah
8 You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them. I am confined and cannot escape;
9 my eyes are dim with grief. I call to you, O LORD, every day; I spread out my hands to you.
10 Do you show your wonders to the dead? Do those who are dead rise up and praise you? Selah
11 Is your love declared in the grave, your faithfulness in Destruction?
12 Are your wonders known in the place of darkness, or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?
13 But I cry to you for help, O LORD; in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14 Why, O LORD, do you reject me and hide your face from me?
15 From my youth I have been afflicted and close to death; I have suffered your terrors and am in despair.
16 Your wrath has swept over me; your terrors have destroyed me.
17 All day long they surround me like a flood; they have completely engulfed me.
18 You have taken my companions and loved ones from me; the darkness is my closest friend.
This is probably one of the hardest psalms to understand. Marshall H. Lewis wrote about this psalm “Psalm 88 is like no other psalm. There is nothing like it in the Psalter, nothing like it in the rest of the Bible, nothing like it among Israelite and Judean non-canonical psalms, nothing like it among Babylonian and Egyptian psalms. It is unique in its utter hopelessness, its complete lack of praise, its unmitigated blame of God. Brueggemann goes so far as to call it “an embarrassment to conventional faith.” Not even the Book of Job is as dark. At least God responds to Job; here, the cry of the psalmist disappears into the void. God is invoked, but remains absent. This is the challenge in interpreting Psalm 88.” I believe that this psalm can be understood best as a psalm for those that rejects God’s provisional way of salvation. Read this psalm after you have read Luke 16:19-27. Put the rich man of Luke 16 in the subject role of this psalm. Notice that this psalm does not mention anything about repentance. Now read Romans chapter one, then reread Luke 16:19-27 and then reread this psalm. Unless you seek God and the righteousness found in the work of His son this will become your psalm after your death.
As I was reading this psalm I realized how much this gift of salvation really means to me. Now for the hard question, does my life reflect how important it is in my life to share God’s Word and his message of salvation from the pit, the grave, the place of darkness, the land of oblivion with others? In Luke 16:26 where Abraham tells the rich man that there is a great gulf fixed between us and that none can pass either way makes me realize how important God’s Word is in this world. When the rich man ask Abraham to send Lazarus back to warn his brothers Abraham stated “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if one rise from the dead”. It is not my lifestyle that leads other to Christ, but my lifestyle that can leads them to the source of my salvation which is Christ. Christ became the living Word. The song Let the Lower Lights Be Burning by Philip P Bless was written to encourage believers of their responsibilities to be the light on this earth to point others to the greater light so that they to might make it safely into the harbor.
Let the lower lights be burning!
Send a gleam across the wave!
Some poor fainting, struggling seaman
You may rescue, you may save.
As you read verse eighteen “You have taken my companions and loved ones from me; the darkness is my closest friend” remember David’s words from Psalm 51:10-13:
- Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you.
Remember it is your relationship with God that makes you shine, not the relationship you have with others. Strive to renew your relationship with God and he will make your light shine and hopefully your light will point them to the greater light.
I was presented another view of this psalm the other day that I believe opens up another side of looking at these verses that I have not considered. As I study the ministry of Christ I realize that during his ministry he knew it would end not only with his death on the cross, but also a separation from God. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:8-16:
Wherefore he said, When he ascended on high, he led captivity captive, And gave gifts unto men. (Now this, He ascended, what is it but that he also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ: till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a full-grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: that we may be no longer children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error; but speaking truth in love, we may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, even Christ; from whom all the body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplies, according to the working in due measure of each several part, make the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love.
The portion of these verses “Now this, He ascended, what is it but that he also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.” refers to Christ fulfilling all things. So could this Psalm represent a prayer that the Lord prayed during his earthly ministry? If so we may never truly realized the price that Christ had to pay for our salvation. If your do a quick search of the word suffer in the Bible you will find one hundred and fifty reference the the word suffer in the New International Version: http://www.biblegateway.com/keyword/?search=suffer&searchtype=all&version1=31&spanbegin=1&spanend=73
and one hundred and nineteen reference to the word suffer in the New American Standard Version: http://www.biblegateway.com/keyword/?search=suffer&searchtype=all&version1=49&spanbegin=1&spanend=73
I Peter alone has nineteen references to the word suffer or suffering:
- 1 Peter 1:6
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.
- 1 Peter 1:11
trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.
- 1 Peter 2:19
For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God.
- 1 Peter 2:20
But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.
- 1 Peter 2:21
To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
- 1 Peter 2:23
When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.
- 1 Peter 3:14
But even if you shouldsuffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear ; do not be frightened.”
- 1 Peter 3:17
It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
- 1 Peter 4:1
Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin.
- 1 Peter 4:12
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.
- 1 Peter 4:13
But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
- 1 Peter 4:15
If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.
- 1 Peter 4:16
However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.
- 1 Peter 4:19
So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.
- 1 Peter 5:1
To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed:
- 1 Peter 5:9
Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
- 1 Peter 5:10
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
Committing yourself to suffering according to God’s will (as Christ suffered for our sins) is a difficult task for the believer. It is only by dying daily to His will and not ours that we can live the life that is found in the writings of Peter and the other apostles.