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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Psalms 88

Verses 1-18

Psalms 88:1-18

O Lord God of my salvation, I have cried day and night before Thee.

A portrait of a suffering man

Depicting his wretched state. He speaks of himself as “full of troubles,” satiated with sufferings.

1. He represents himself as tottering on the grave and without power (Psalms 88:2-5).

2. Crushed by agonies and conscious of the Divine displeasure (Psalms 88:6-7).

3. Bereft of friends, and the subject of social contempt (Psalms 88:8).

4. Deprived of liberty and exhausted with grief. “I am shut up,” etc. (Psalms 88:8).

Supplicating his afflicting God. This he did--

1. With unremitting earnestness (Psalms 88:1). To whom can human sufferers look for help, but to the God of “salvation”? And to look to Him with earnest constancy is at once our duty and our interest.

2. With profound inquiries (Psalms 88:10-12). The living have a profound interest in the dead.

3. With pious determination (Psalms 88:13).

4. With painful apprehension (Psalms 88:14-18). (Homilist.)

Heman’s sorrowful psalm

From this psalm--

Learn how to pray.

1. Tell the Lord your case.

2. Pray naturally.

3. Pray with this belief fixed in your mind, that your help must come from God, and pray expecting salvation from the Lord.

4. Pray often.

5. With weeping and mourning.

6. Pleadingly.

Resolve to pray in your very worst case. When you are full of troubles, go to God with them, that is the very time when you most need to pray. “But,” say you, “Mr. Spurgeon, you do not know all that I have to think of.” No, but I do know that, the more you have to think of, the more reason you have to go to God in prayer about it. The more loads you have to drag, the more horses you need; and the more work there is to be done, the more reason is there for crying to God to help you to do it. Do not, I pray you, stay away from the outward means Of grace when you are in trouble; but especially do not stay away from God Himself when you are tried and perplexed. When you are as full of trouble as ever you can be, then is the time to pray most. “But I have nobody to speak to,” says another. Never mind if you have not; that is all the more reason why you should pray to God, and plead with God, who will not leave you. “But I am distracted,” says another. Yes, and you will be distracted, unless you will go to God as you are, and implore Him to look at your distractions, and to lay His gentle hand upon you, and to restore you to yourself, and then to restore you to Himself.

Reasons why you should keep on praying.

1. You cannot lose anything by prayer.

2. It is not so great a thing, after all, to have to continue to ask. As a sinner I kept God waiting for me long enough, aye, far too long.

3. Cease not to pray, for He to whom thou prayest is a gracious God. Take good heart; thou wilt not plead in vain, for He loves to hear thy prayers. He must, He will, answer thee, for He is a God of grace.

4. He has heard others.

5. He has promised to hear thee. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

No trouble too great for God to lift

The tide was out. A great ocean steamer lay at the wharf, loaded to the line; by its side was a little boat that danced on top of the waves. The big iron ship grew worried, and said to the dancing, happy boat: “I fear, when the tide comes in, I’m so heavy it can’t lift me, and I’ll go to the bottom.” “Never fear,” said the smaller one, “it can lift thee as well as me.” “Oh but you are so light, while I’m so heavy. It’s easy enough to lift you, but me--oh, dear! Worry not, worry not, old ironsides. It’s lifted the likes o’ you many a time, and will soon lift thee as well as me.” And the tide came in; up and up they both rose on the bosom of the sea; one lifted as high and as easy as the other. Great heart, loaded to the line with thine own sorrows and others’ burdens, filled with fears and worried with doubt, thou wilt not go down. (The Advertiser.)

Verse 3

Psalms 88:3

For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draweth nigh unto the grave.

Heman: a child of light walking in darkness

(with 1 Chronicles 25:5):--A seer is just a man who sees. Other men also have eyes indeed, but, then, they do not see with their eyes as a seer sees. Now, Heman was a seer. Heman saw constantly a sight that to most men even in Israel was absolutely invisible. Heman saw, and saw nothing else, but his own soul.

1. “My soul is full of troubles,” says this great seer, speaking about himself. What led Heman to speak and to publish abroad this most melancholy of all the psalms we are not told. It was not Heman’s actual sin, like David’s. Neither was this terrible trouble, like David’s, among his large family of sons and daughters. Heman had brought up his sons and daughters more successfully than David had done. For all Heman’s children assisted their father in sacred song in the house of the Lord. At the same time Heman cannot take a happy father’s full joy cut of his talented and dutiful children because of the overwhelming trouble of his own soul. It is a terrible baptism into the matters of God to have a soul from his youth up so full of inconsolable troubles as that.

2. “My soul is full of troubles,” says Heman, “till I am driven distracted.” Every day we hear of men and women being driven distracted through love, and through fear, and through poverty, and through pain, and sometimes through ever-joy, and sometimes, it is said, through religion. It was thought by some that the Apostle Paul was quite distracted in his day through his too much thought and occupation about Divine things. But be not too much cast down. Comfort My people. Say to them, and assure them, that this is the beginning in them of the wisdom, and the truth, and the love, and the salvation of their God and Saviour Jesus Christ.

3. Now, with all that, this is not to be wondered at that Heman says next (Psalms 88:18). Anything else but this is not to be expected from Heman. Heman makes it an additional complaint, but it is a simple and a necessary consequence of his troubled and distracted soul. Friends and lovers, the oldest, and the warmest, and the bests--they all have their several limits. Most men are made with little heart themselves, and they are not at home where there is much heart, and much exercise of heart. They flee in a fright from the heights and the depths of the high and deep heart. It needs a friend that sticketh closer than a brother to keep true to a man who has much heart, and who sees and feels with all his heart. Heman, besides being the King’s seer, was also an eminent type of Christ, both in the distracting troubles of his soul, and in the fewness and in the infidelity of his friends.

4. Now, all that, bad as it is, would have been easily borne had it been a sudden stroke and then for ever over. Had it been a great temptation, a great fall, a great repentance, a great forgiveness, and then the light of God’s countenance brighter than ever all Heman’s after days. But Heman’s yoke from his youth up has been of that terrible kind that it has eaten into his soul deeper and deeper with every advancing year. Had Heman lived after Paul’s day he would have described himself in Paul’s way. He would have said that the two-edged sword had become every year more and more spiritual, till it entered more and more deep every year into his soul.

5. There are these four uses out of all that.

(1) The first is to justify such a proceeding as to take a text like this for a Communion evening. What could be more comely in a worthy” communicant, who has been stayed with flagons and comforted with apples all day than to say to the outcasts of Israel ere this day closes (Isaiah 43:1; Isaiah 43:25).

(2) And then for the use of all Heman-like, all distracted communicants--do not despair. Do not give way to distraction.

(3) Are you quite sure that this deep darkness of yours is quite unaccountable to you short of God’s sovereignty--short of His deep, hidden, Divine will? I doubt it, and I would have you doubt it. I would have you make sure that there is no other possible explanation of this darkness of His face. All the chances are that it is not God’s ways that are so distractingly dark, but your own.

(4) There is a singular use in Heman for ministers. When God is to make a very sinful man into a very able, and skilful, and experimental minister, He sends that man to the same school to which He sent Heman. Now, who can tell what God has laid up for you to do for Him and for men’s souls when you are out of your probationer-ship of trouble and distraction, and are promoted to be a comforter of God’s troubled and distracted saints? He may have a second David, and far more, to comfort and to sanctify in the generation to come; and you may be ordained to be the King’s seer in the matters of God. Who can tell? Only, be you ready, for the stone that is fit for the wall is not left to lie in the ditch. (A. Whyte, D. D.)

Heman’s elegy

Two Hemans attained eminence in Israel. One was a singer, the other was a sage (1 Chronicles 15:16-22; 1 Chronicles 25:5; 1 Kings 4:31). The two facts which filled Heman’s soul with trouble were by no means unusual facts. They were--

1. The growing infirmities, the frailties and Sicknesses, of age (verse7); and--

2. The loss of friends, or the supposed alienation of friends, which often accompanies age, especially when it is sick and weary of the world (Psalms 88:8-18). These are common facts, but they are none the more welcome for being common when they come home to us personally. Our sage broods over them, resents them, as we all do at times, and laments his feebleness and isolation. Nay, as he traces all the facts and events of human life to the hand of God, he charges God with all the responsibility, all the pains and bitterness of them, and concludes that even this great Friend has forgotten him; or has turned against him. With all his wisdom he has been, as he confesses (Psalms 88:5). Of a sceptical and misgiving temperament from his youth up. Two ways in which we may view the contents of the psalm--either making the best of them, or making the worst of them, in so far at least as they bear on the character and aim of the author of the psalm. We are not bound to adopt Heman’s views, or even to sympathize with them. Much in the Bible was written for our warning and admonition. If we bring a generous spirit to the interpretation of this song, or elegy, we may recall the familiar maxim: “In much wisdom is much sorrow.” A thoughtful mind is a pensive mind. The more a man sees of human life, the more he feels how much there is in it which is wrong, foolish, base, disappointing, if not hopelessly corrupt and bad. So we shall begin to make excuse for Heman. Let us remember also that in much sorrow there is much discipline, and discipline by which a wise man should profit. Do you, do all men, resent the wrongs of time? Remember that resentment, then, as well as the wrongs which provoke it; and consider what a happy omen lies in the fact that men do hate and resent that which is wrong, and both love and demand that which is just and right. Those who decry “mere human wisdom” are very likely to conclude that Heman the sage was punished for his largeness and freedom of thought, that he was abandoned to the guidance of his own wisdom in order that he might learn how little it could do for him in the greatest emergencies of life, how little, therefore, it was worth. I see no reason to judge him thus harshly. I find much in this psalm to lead us to a more kindly judgment. But, doubtless, there are many among us to whom such a description would apply. (Samuel Cox, D. D.)

Verse 5

Psalms 88:5

Free among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave.

A true and a false idea of the grave

A true idea of the grave: “Free”--

1. From all physical sufferings.

2. From all secular anxieties.

3. From all social tumults.

4. From all human tyrannies.

A false idea of the grave. That the dead are--

1. Forgotten by God.

2. Separated from God. They are not “cut off” from Him in any sense. (Homilist.)

“Free among the dead”

This remarkable expression is to he interpreted in the light of Job 3:19, which counts it as one blessing of the grave, that “there the servant is free from his master.” But the psalmist thinks that that “freedom” is loathsome, not desirable, for it means removal from the stir of a life, the heaviest duties and cares of which are better than the torpid immunity from these, which makes the state of the dead a dreary monotony. In some strange fashion they are and yet are not. Their death has a simulacrum of life. Their shadowy life is death. The psalmist speaks in riddles; and the contradictions in his speech reflect his dim knowledge of that place of darkness, He looks into its gloomy depths, and he sees little but gloom. It needed the resurrection of Jesus to flood these depths with light, and to show that the life beyond may be fuller of bright activity than life here--a state in which vital strength is increased beyond all earthly experience, and wherein God’s all-quickening hand grasps more closely, and communicates richer gifts than are attainable in that death which sense calls life. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Verse 7

Psalms 88:7

Thy wrath lieth hard upon me, and Thou hast afflicted me with all Thy waves.

For the troubled

As men, the people of God share the common lot of men, and what is that but trouble? Yea, there are some sorrows which are peculiar to Christians, some extra griefs of which they partake because they are believers, though these are something more than balanced by those peculiar and bitter troubles which belong to the ungodly, and are engendered by their transgressions, from which the Christian is delivered.

Expound the text.

1. Tried saints are very prone to overrate their afflictions.

2. Saints do well to trace all their trials to their God.

3. Afflicted children of God do well to have a keen eye to the wrath that mingles with their troubles. God will visit His children’s transgressions. He will frequently let common sinners go on throughout life unrebuked; but not so His children. If you were going home to-day, and saw a number of boys throwing stones and breaking windows, you might not interfere with them-, but if you saw your own lad among them, I will be bound you would fetch him out, and make him repent of it. Perhaps the reason of your trouble may not be a sin committed, but a duty neglected. Search and look, and see wherein you have been guilty of omission. When you have so done let me give one word of caution. Do not expect when in the trouble to perceive any immediate benefit resulting from it. Remember that word, “Nevertheless, afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness.” The gardener takes his knife and prunes the fruit trees to make them bring forth more fruit; his little child comes trudging at his heels and cries, “Father, I do not see that the fruit comes on the trees after you have cut them.” No, dear child, it is not likely you would, but come round in a few months when the season of fruit has come, and then shall you see the golden apples which thank the knife. Graces which are meant to endure require time for their production, and are not thrust forth and ripened in a night. Were they so soon ripe they might be as speedily rotten.

The benefits of trouble.

1. Severe trouble in a true believer has the effect of loosening the roots of his soul earthward and tightening the anchor-hold of his heart heavenward. How can he love the world which has become so drear to him? Why should he seek after grapes so bitter to his taste?

2. Affliction frequently opens truths to us, and opens us to the truth. Blessed is that man who receives the truth of God into his inmost self; he shall never lose it, but it shall be the life of his spirit.

3. Affliction, when sanctified by the Holy Spirit, brings much glory to God out of Christians, through their experience of the Lord’s faithfulness to them.

4. Affliction gives us through grace the inestimable privilege of conformity to the Lord Jesus. We pray to be like Christ, but how can we be if we are not men of sorrows at all, and never become the acquaintance of grief?

5. Our sufferings are of great service to us when God blesses them, for they help us to be useful to others. Luther was right, when he said affliction was the best book in the minister’s library. How can the man of God sympathize with the afflicted ones, if he knows nothing at all about their troubles? (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Verse 8

Psalms 88:8

I am shut up, and I cannot come forth.

The imprisoning power of suffering

Suffering always shuts us up to ourselves. It does this in two ways, it destroys both the disposition and the capacity to go out into society. Suffering isolates, it throws us back upon Ourselves, and makes us feel our absolute lonelihood. This is often--

1. Spiritually necessary.

2. Spiritually beneficent.

Suffering sometimes shuts us up to God. When “shut up “to ourselves, we are often urged into the conscious presence of God. God is better seen and heard in solitude than in society. I am not alone, “the Father is with me.” “Enter into your closet, and shut your door,” etc.

Suffering must shut us up to the grave. Elsewhere the writer says, “My life draweth nigh unto the grave.” (Homilist.)

Verse 9

Psalms 88:9

Mine eye mourneth by reason of affliction.

The godly man in trouble

1. Godliness doth not make men senseless of grief, nor doth it hinder tears or mourning, or any other effects of sorrow to be seen in their body.

2. Sorrow should neither hinder the godly to seek God, nor move them to seek their consolation elsewhere.

3. It is possible that a godly man may be instant daily with God, praying with tears for comfort, and yet not obtain for a long time, as this example doth teach.

4. As in serious prayer, specially in secret, the affections of the heart do utter themselves in the answerable gestures of the body, as well as in the voice and words of the mouth; so those gestures have their own speech unto God, no less than the words of the mouth have; as here, “I have stretched out my hands unto Thee,” is brought forth to express his submissive rendering up of himself unto God, and his dependence upon Him. (D. Dickson.)

I have called daily upon Thee.

The necessity for daily prayer

appears when we consider the consequences of neglecting it. Experience proves that a regular habit, at some fixed hour or hours, becomes a safeguard against forgetfulness, as well as an invaluable help to the constant “practice of the presence of God,” whereas those who say that they can pray at any time, end in praying very seldom, or never. And Mrs. Besant has testified that “God fades out of the life of the man who forgets to pray.” On the other hand, you may lose hold of many a Christian doctrine, but you have not lost your faith so long as the angels can say of you, “Behold, he still prayeth.” Distress teaches us to pray, and prayer dispels distress. One wedge displaces the other.

Verses 10-12

Psalms 88:10-12

Wilt Thou show wonders to the dead?

shall the dead arise and praise Thee?

The great problem

Here is a problem common to humanity. Lived there ever a man who has not asked this question in some form or other?

Here is a problem that unaided reason cannot answer.

1. Ancient philosophy tried and failed. Witness Socrates.

2. Modern philosophy has nothing but speculations.

Here is a problem on which the gospel throws light. What saith the Gospel? (1 Corinthians 15:51). (Homilist.)

Wonders shown to the dead

In these verses we find mention made of four things on the part of God: “wonders,” “lovingkindness, . . . faithfulness,” and “righteousness”--four attributes of the blessed Jehovah, which the eyes of Heman had been opened to see, and which the heart of Heman had been wrought upon to feel. But he comes, by Divine teaching, into a spot where these attributes seem to be completely lost to him;and yet (so mysterious are the ways of God!) the very place where those attributes were to be more powerfully displayed, and made more deeply and experimentally known to his soul.

1. “Wilt Thou show wonders to the dead?” He is speaking here of his own experience; he is that “dead” person, to whom those “wonders” are to be shown. And being in that state of experience, he considered that every act of mercy shown to him where he then was must be a “wonder.” All God’s people are brought by the Spirit’s operations upon their souls, sooner or later, to be in that spot where Heman was. Paul was there, when he said (Romans 7:9). Then, surely, he was “dead”; that is, he had been killed in his feelings by the spirituality of God’s law made known in his conscience--killed, as to all hopes of creature-righteousness, and killed as to any way of salvation which the creature could devise. But the word “dead” carries with it a still further meaning than this. It expresses a feeling of utter helplessness; not merely a feeling of guilt and condemnation, so as to be slain to all hopes of salvation in self, but also to feel perfectly helpless to deliver himself from the lowest hell. But if We look at the expression as it simply stands, it seems to be uttered by one who is passing under the sentence of death before the wonder is displayed. It does not run in the past tense, “Hast Thou shown wonders to the dead?” It is not couched in the present tense, “Art Thou showing wonders to the dead?” The language is not the language of praise for the past; nor of admiration for the present; but that of anxious inquiry for the future” “Wilt Thou show wonders to the dead?” Is it possible? Am I not too great a sinner? Is not my case too desperate?

2. “Shall Thy lovingkindness be declared in the grave?” We have come a step lower now. We had been communing with “the dead”; but now we must go a step lower. We must go to the sepulchre; we must accompany the corpse to the grave. Now, what is “the grave” but the place where corruption riots, where putrefaction reigns? Here, then, is a striking figure of what a living soul feels under the manifestations of the deep corruptions of his heart. All his good words, once so esteemed, and all his good works, once so prized, and all his prayers, and all his faith, and hope, and love, and all the imaginations of his heart, not merely paralyzed and dead, not merely reduced to a state of utter helplessness, but also in soul feeling turned into rottenness and corruption. Now, were you ever there? Did your prayers ever stink in your nostrils? And are all your good words, and all your good works, and all your good thoughts, once so esteemed, now nothing in your sight but filthy, polluted and unclean?

3. “Or Thy faithfulness in destruction?” What is this “faithfulness” of which Heman speaks? It is, I believe, in two different branches; faithfulness to the promises that God has made in His word of truth--and faithfulness to His own witness and His own work upon the souls of His children. The Lord has destroyed your false religion, your natural hopes, your imaginary piety, your mock holiness, and those things in you which were not of Himself, but which were of the earth earthy, and were drawing you aside from Him; and has made you poor, naked, empty before His eyes. But it is in these very acts of destruction that He has shown His faithfulness--His faithfulness to His covenant, His faithfulness to His written word, His faithfulness to those promises which He has dropped with power into your heart.

4. “Shall Thy wonders be known in the dark? and Thy righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?” Here is another attribute of God about which Heman was exercised. His “righteousness,” God’s righteousness, I believe, here and elsewhere does not mean only Christ’s righteousness, but also the righteous acts of God in dealing with the soul in a way consistent with His own equitable character. This land of forgetfulness seems to imply two things--our forgetfulness of God, and God’s apparent forgetfulness of us.

(1) We often get into this sleepy land of forgetfulness toward God; we forget His universal presence, forget His heart-searching eyes, forget His former benefits, forget His past testimonies, forget the reverence which belongs to His holy name; which, above all things, we have desired most earnestly to remember. It is, then, in this land of forgetfulness, in this dull and heavy country, when, like the disciples in the garden, we sleep instead of watching, that God is still pleased to show forth His righteousness. God’s righteousness runs parallel with Christ’s atonement, for therein is His intrinsic righteousness manifested, that is, His strict compliance with equity and justice, because equity and justice have been strictly fulfilled by the propitiation of the Son of God.

(2) But the land of forgetfulness often means forgetfulness on God’s part--God seems to forget His people (Isaiah 49:13). “Hath God forgotten to be gracious? Hath He in anger shut up His tender mercies?” Does it not seem, at times, as though the Lord had utterly forgotten us, would take no more notice of us, slights us, rejects us, and would not cast one look, or bestow one word upon us? (J. C. Philpot.)

Marvels amidst the tombs

What a sad day in the history of a great country was that when over the gateway of the chief cemetery of Paris was inscribed the sentence, “Death is an eternal sleep”! This hopeless statement was the product of a highly civilized age, that chose to live without God; but the primitive races of men had not sunk so low in religious matters. When the chieftain of prehistoric days was placed in his tomb, before they raised his tumulus they placed with his bones his weapons of stone, or bronze, that he might in “the spirit world” pursue his avocations which he had followed on earth. But when men became philosophers, and studied the grounds of evidence, a cold withering frost of doubt seemed to freeze up their cheering convictions. Even the great Socrates, with his last breath, speaks with a kind of faltering utterance to his judges, “And now we part, and whether it will be best for you, or for me, is known to God only.” Then came the dawn of a nobler day. Christ Jesus walked on earth. In the death-chamber of the little Jewish maiden He recalled the vanished spirit. Thus the Christian answers to the despairing, wailing cry of Scepticism--“Does God show signs amongst the dead?” by pointing to the empty sepulchre; to the white-robed angels, that announce--“He is not dead, He is risen”; to the testimony of the pious women, who found the spices might be reserved for incense to burn in the worship of their Ascended Lord; and to the multitude of sober and sufficient witnesses, who both on the first Easter Day, and afterwards in Galilee, by many infallible proofs, perceived that He was alive, and alive for evermore! And now He holds the keys of death and of Hades--that is, the unseen world--and adoring Christendom bows before His name, who has “shown wonders amongst the dead.” In this faith our dear ones close their eyes, in His peace they rest; “in sure and certain hope “of His resurrection power we lay their earthly tabernacles beneath the green sod. (J. W. Hardman, LL. D.)

The land of forgetfulness.

The land of forgetfulness

There is a fabled river in ancient mythology called Lethe,--simply meaning forgetfulness. The idea of the fabulist was that whoever drank water out of that river instantly forgot everything that had happened; all the past was a forgotten dream. Nay, more than this, consciousness itself was not left after the Lethal water was taken. The man who drank one draught of the water of Lethe, oblivion, was not aware of his own existence; that draught had utterly extinguished him. Men have often longed for a draught of that water; men have sighed for the land of forgetfulness; souls, harps on which music was meant to be played, have desired with unspeakable earnestness to be allowed to die, to forget, to be forgotten.

In some aspects the land of forgetfulness is a desirable land. There are moments when we want to enter it and be enfranchised in it for ever. There are things that other people have done to us that we long to forget; if we could wholly forget them life would be sweeter, friendship would be dearer, the outlook would be altogether more inviting. What is it that makes the land of forgetfulness a land in poetry, a land inaccessible? Is there no potion that the soul may take? there are potions that the body may drink, but we do not want to drink our bodies into some lower level and some baser consciousness; we are inquiring now about soul-potions, drinks that affect the mind, draughts that lull the soul.

There are other aspects in which the land of forgetfulness is an attainable land. We can so live as to be forgotten. Men can live backwards. Men can be dead whilst they are alive, and forgotten while they are present to the very eyes. What is there to remember about them? Beginning as ciphers they have continued as ciphers; they have never done anything for the world, or for any individual in the world. Where are the parts of character on which we can lay hold and say, By these we shall remember you evermore?

But the land of forgetfulness is in fact an impossible land. Effects follow causes: deeds grow consequences. The Lord forgets nothing: but after a process known to us by the sweet name “forgiveness” there comes the state in the Divine mind which is known by the human word “forgotten.” Sometimes we say we can forgive but never forget. Then we cannot forgive; and if we cannot forgive we cannot pray; if we cannot forgive we cannot believe. Forgiveness is the true orthodoxy. Largeness, sensitiveness, responsiveness of heart, slavery to love, that is orthodoxy. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Things that should be forgotten

Let us forget all unkindness, incivility, discourtesy. Let us forget our good deeds. That will be one great step towards the land of heaven. There are some who remember every good deed they ever did, and therefore they never did anything worth doing. No man has ever done anything for God if he has kept account of it. It may be difficult to teach this lesson, and to drive it home; but so long as a man can tell you when he gave pounds and shillings, and when he rendered service, and to what inconvenience he put himself, all that he did is blotted out. The value of our greatest deeds is in their unconsciousness. The rose does not say, I emitted so much fragrance yesterday and so much the day before. The rose knows nothing about it; it lives to make the air around it fragrant. Thus ought souls to live, not knowing how long they have preached, how much they have done, what the extent of their good deeds has boon. They know nothing about it; they are absorbed in love; they are borne away by the Divine inspiration, and whilst anything remains they suppose that nothing has been given. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Verse 13

Psalms 88:13

In the morning shall my prayer prevent Thee.

Morning devotion

As the Oriental traveller sets out for the sultry journey over burning sands by loading up his camel under the palm-trees’ shade, and fills his water flagons from the crystal fountain which sparkles at its roots, so does Christ’s pilgrim draw his morning supplies from the exhaustless spring. Morning is the golden hour for prayer and praise. The mind is fresh; the mercies of the night and the new resurrection of the dawn both prompt a devout soul to thankfulness. The buoyant heart takes its earliest flight, like the lark, towards the gates of heaven. One of the finest touches in Bunyan’s immortal allegory is his description of Christian in the chamber of Peace, “who awoke and sang while his window looked out to the sun rising.” “In the morning will I direct my prayer unto Thee.” (T. L. Cuyler, D. D.)

Verse 14

Psalms 88:14

Why hidest Thou Thy face from me?

Divine hiding

God sometimes hides Himself in nature that He may reveal Himself in providence; He sometimes hides Himself in providence that He may reveal Himself in grace; and He sometimes hides Himself in grace that He may reveal Himself in glory.

Verse 15

Psalms 88:15

I am afflicted and ready to die from my youth up: while I suffer Thy terrors, I am distracted.

Religious terrors

As the comforts which true religion affords are the only sure support against the evils and calamities to which every condition of life is more or less exposed, so the terrors of religion, being very grievous in themselves, exclusive of these comforts, add weight to all our miseries, and are a burden too heavy for the spirit of a man to sustain. These terrors arise from--

Uncertainty in religion. The religious man fears God because he knows Him; and therefore he fears Him, as a wise, just, good, and merciful Father and Judge ought to be feared: his fear is full of love and reverence, and has nothing dreadful in it, unless guilt and a wounded conscience arm it with unnatural terrors; but the superstitious man fears God, just as children and weak men fear spirits and apparitions; he trembles at the thought of Him, he flies from he knows not what, seeks refuge he knows not where; and this hurry and confusion of mind he calls religion; but the psalmist has given it a better name, it is distraction.

False notions of God, and of the honour and worship due to Him. We ought never to expect more from God than He has expressly promised, or than He may grant consistently with the measures by which His providence rules and governs the world. If we exceed these bounds, religion, instead of being our comfort, will soon become our torment; but we, and not religion, will be to blame. If we consider that this world is a state of trial, and that afflictions are trials, we can never lay it down to ourselves, that God will relieve us at our request from all afflictions; for this would be owning ourselves in a state of trial, and, at the same time, expecting that no trial should come near us: It is supposing that God has shown us a way to defeat the great end of His providence in sending us into this world; He sent us here to be proved, and yet we think to prevail on Him not to prove us.

A conscience wounded under the sense of guilt. Natural religion has no cure for this; because the title by obedience being forfeited, there are no certain principles of reason from which we can conclude how far, and to what instances, the mercy of God will extend; because we can have no assurance of ourselves that our sorrow is such, and our resolutions of amendment such as may deserve mercy; and lastly, because this whole matter is founded upon reasons and speculations too exact, and too refined, to be of common use to mankind. This last reason alone will sufficiently justify the wisdom and goodness of God, in proposing to the world a safe and general method for the salvation of sinners; for what if you have penetration enough to see a way for sinners to escape under natural religion; must your great parts be a measure for God’s dealing with the world? Shall thousands and thousands live and die without comfort because they cannot reason as you do? This consideration should make those who have the highest opinion of themselves, and therefore of natural religion, adore the goodness of God in condescending to the infirmities of men, and showing them the way to mercy, which they were unable to find out. This He has done by the revelation of the Gospel of Christ, which is the sinner’s great charter of pardon, a certain remedy against all the terrors and fears of guilt.

Accidental disorders of mind or body. Whatever the union of soul and body is, so united they are, that the disorders of one often derive themselves to the other. A melancholy mind will waste the strength and bring paleness and leanness upon the body; disorders in the body do often affect the mind; a stroke of the palsy will rob a man of the use of his understanding, and leave him disabled in mind as well as body. For this reason it is that I ascribe some religious fears to the disorders of the body, though they properly belong to the mind. These terrors cannot be imputed as a blemish to religion; not by him, at least, who acknowledges the providence of God, and whose principle of religion is reason; for all madness is destructive of reason, as much as these terrors are of religion: they are both destructive: they are evils to which we must submit; and if we cannot account for the reason of them, it becomes us to be dumb, and not open our mouths in His presence whose ways are past finding out. (Bp. Sherlock.)

Verse 18

Psalms 88:18

Lover and friend hast Thou put far from me, and mine acquaintance into darkness.

On sorrow for the death of friends

The sorrow which we naturally feel when we are bereaved of dear and worthy friends, and the bounds within which it ought to be restrained. If Christianity pronounces it the height of profligacy to be without natural affections, the tears which flow from such affections, Christianity cannot forbid. What nature hath implanted the religion of Jesus means not to extirpate, but to moderate and direct. Shall it not calm the soul tossed with tempests, and if not dry up, at least diminish, the flowing tears, that a voice from heaven, the voice of the spirit of truth, declares: “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord”? They see God as He is. They are satisfied with His likeness.

The practical lessons which we ought to receive from the death of our Christian friends.

1. It should impress on our minds a deep and lasting sense of our own mortality.

2. It should teach us the vanity and nothingness of this world.

3. It demonstrates the worth and excellency of religion.

4. It teaches us how important it is to discharge our duty to friends who yet survive.

5. It should kindle Within us a longing desire for a blessed eternity. We naturally wish to be with those whom we love. When Jacob hears that his son Joseph is yet alive, and advanced to great honour in Egypt, he cannot rest till he goes down there to see him. And when our friends have left that land in which we are yet strangers and pilgrims, our affections should be more weaned from it, and our desires inflamed to get to that better land, whither they have gone before us. (John Erskine, D. D.)

The hand of God in removing our friends and acquaintances far from us

The heavy affliction with which the psalmist was visited. In the removal of his friends and relatives he had lost--

1. Their company.

2. Their counsel and advice.

3. The sight of their good works and examples.

4. Their prayers.

The psalmist’s devout acknowledgment of the hand of God in this affliction.

1. He removeth our friends, who hath a right to do it.

(1) They were our friends, but they are His creatures; and may He not do what He will with His own?

(2) They were our friends; but do we not hope and believe that, by repentance, faith in Christ, and sanctifying grace, they were become His friends too? dear to Him by many indissoluble ties? Hath He not then a superior claim to them, and a greater interest in them? Is it not fit that He should be served first? His knowledge is perfect and unerring: His goodness boundless and never-failing. Application

1. The cause here described is a very pitiable one. Let us weep with them that weep, and pray for them.

2. Let us bless God for the friends we have had, and all the comfort we enjoyed in them.

3. Let us humbly submit to the will of God when He putteth our friends far from us.

4. Let us be careful and diligent to make a due improvement of such afflictions.

(1) Let our departed friends still live in our memory, honour and affection.

(2) Let us carefully recollect and consider what was excellent and praiseworthy in them, as every good man hath some peculiar, distinguishing excellencies, and let us imitate them.

(3) Let us follow them in the path of Christian duty, obedience and zeal; endeavour to supply their lack of service, and be quickened to do so much the more good, because their time and opportunity are ended.

(4) Let us particularly learn from their removal to be dead to this world.

5. Let us be thankful for our friends yet living, and faithfully perform our duty to them.

6. Let us make sure of a friend who will never leave us: even the almighty and everlasting God. (Job Orton, D. D.)

The loss of connections deplored and improved

The connections which give a charm to life.

1. “Lover.” As this is distinguished from friend and acquaintance, it stands for the tender relative. The husband, the wife, the father, the mother, the child, the brother, the sister, and other dear ties of flesh and blood.

2. “Friend.” This is a sacred name, which many usurp, and few deserve. It cannot be applied to the confederate in sin; or to the mercenary, selfish wretch, that loves you because he wants to make use of you, as a builder values a ladder, or a passenger a boat. Friendship is founded in a community of heart. It supposes some strong congeniality, yet admits of great diversity.

3. “Acquaintances” are distinguished from friends. The former may be numerous; the latter must be limited. The one is for the parlour, the other is for the closet. We give the hand to the one, we reserve the bosom for the other.

Two ways by which we may be deprived of our connections.

1. By desertion. The highest degree of this crime is the want of natural affection. Perfidy is a vile thing, but not a very rare one. How many kiss in order to betray; and gain your confidence, to sting when you are lulled to sleep.

2. By bereavement. This is principally, if not exclusively here intended. Several things add poignancy to the loss.

(1) In some cases the bereaved are deprived of worldly support.

(2) We are deprived of their company.

(3) We can have no intercourse or correspondence with them.

(4) They cannot promote our welfare where they now are.

The agency of God in their removal. He has done it--

1. Who is almighty and irresistible (Job 9:12).

2. Who had a right to do it. If they were your friends, they were His creatures and servants; and was He obliged to ask your permission to do what He would with His own?

3. Who was too wise to err, and too kind to injure in doing it.

Application. Improve such dispensations in a way of--

1. Sympathy.

2. Gratitude.

3. Precaution.

4. Resignation. (W. Jay.)

A loss bewailed

It is an extreme distress that is portrayed in this psalm.

The threefold loss.

1. There are, or ought to be, three circles round every man like the belts or rings round a planet,--love, friendship, and acquaintanceship.

(1) Love is the nearest, while, at the same time, it lends its value to the other two. Friendship and acquaintanceship have no real pith, or substance, or value in them, except as they are permeated by the spirit of the nearest circle. It is love that receives and nurtures us; it is love that knits the closest and tenderest bonds; it is love that is the sunshine and the strength of life; it is love by which we do good, by which we get good. Men learn to love by loving intensely a few. The heart is not a vessel of quantity which has only a certain amount to give. The more it gives, the more it has to give. It is filled by the effort to empty itself.

(2) Friendship comes next, and implies certain sympathies. Happy is the man who has right true-hearted friends to sustain him in good principles, to reflect and stimulate noble feelings, and to cheer him in sorrow. Many are the blessings of friendship, but the chief is a genial brotherliness, a certain unexplained understanding, an undefined sympathy, an easy, unconstrained, general harmony.

(3) Outside the circle of friendship is the larger but vague circle of acquaintance shading and thinning gradually off into the general world of humanity. Acquaintanceship broadens a man. It is some sort of bond between those who can have no close relation. It tends to cement and sweeten human society.

2. There is a period in life when ties are formed, but there comes a time when the breaking of ties is more frequent. That is a great part of the sadness of life, that, as one wears on in his journey, the friends of his early days drop off. Oh, strange life! It is a contradiction to our nature and to right, an enigma insoluble but for the light of another world, that we should be encouraged and impelled to throw our affections round men only to have the ties rudely snapt. Oh, strange; if there is nothing beyond this, that it should be our duty, our elevation, and our noblest impulse, to love strongly, to love as if we were never to part, all the while that parting lies but a little way before us.


1. Thinking of departed friends will help us to realize our own death. We need to realize death in order to be sober, in order to intensify all that is good, and to drive off vain thoughts. Yea, we need to realize death in order to conquer death, and live while we live.

2. Thinking of our departed will help to take away the bitterness of death. Death gets identified with the thought of father, or mother, or sister, or brother, or husband, or wife, or child, or friend, and we feel that we dare not, and cannot, shrink from going to them.

3. Thinking of the departed will enable us to realize immortality. Can you think of that friend, knowing all that was in him; and entertain the thought, even for a moment, that he has ceased to be? Is it not treachery and insult to his memory?

4. Thinking of the departed cannot but fill us with regret and penitence. To remember angry words or selfishness towards the departed is a bitter thing. It is good to be ashamed and blush before God for hardness, meanness, or selfishness. It is good to be brought to this lowly, contrite mood, though it be over the grave of the departed. That place of death may be the birthplace of eternal life. (J. Leckie, D. D.)

Our threefold relationship to Christ

1. Acquaintance--knowing about Him only;--His birth, His life, His words familiar, but Himself unknown. Familiar with His circumstances, but ignorant of His true life--that heart of love.

2. Friend how much nearer is this! Here is trust; here is fellowship; here is love. His claim is admitted and is responded to, and His company is welcomed with delight.

3. But there is another relationship, infinitely more tender and more complete, which we may venture to claim as ours--lover: to love Him with a love that possesses us, that masters us, that subdues and compels all that we are and all that we have for His service and pleasure: a love which finds its highest heaven in His joy, its deepest hell in His grief: a love which has and holds Him for its own, for ever and for ever. This He seeks as His solace; this He offers to us as our high privilege and joy. (M. G. Pearse.)


Psalms 89:1-52

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 88". The Biblical Illustrator. 1905-1909. New York.