THE most mournful of all the psalms. After one almost formal "word of trust" (Psalms 88:1), the remainder is a continuous bitter cry of complaint, rising at times into expostulation (Psalms 88:10-12), and almost into reproach (Psalms 88:14). The tone is that of the earlier complaints of Job; and Job has been supposed by some to be the writer. But this is highly improbable. We may accept the statement of the title, that the monody was written by Heman the Ezrahite, who was a contemporary of. Solomon (1 Kings 4:31). It has no appearance of being composed at a time of national affliction. All the complaints are personal, and indicate long continued personal suffering. The writer seems to be without hope. Still, he does not fall away from God, but continues to call upon him and pray to him (verses l, 2, 9, 13).
Metrically, the psalm is almost without divisions—"a slow, unbroken wail," expressive of "the monotony of woe."
O Lord God of my salvation. This is the one "word of trust," which some get rid of by an emendation. But the Septuagint supports the existing Hebrew text; and it is in harmony with the rest of Scripture. The saints of God never despair. I have cried day and night before thee; literally, by day have I cried—by night before thee; a trembling, gasping utterance (Kay).
Let my prayer come before thee: incline thine ear unto my cry (comp. Psalms 86:1, Psalms 86:6).
For my soul is full of troubles (see Job 10:15). And my life draweth nigh unto the grave; literally, unto Sheol—the place of departed spirits (comp. Job 10:21, Job 10:22).
I am counted with them that go down into the pit; i.e. "to the grave." I am reckoned as one just about to die. I am as a man that hath no strength. All my strength is departed from me; I am utterly feeble and weak—a mere shadow of my former self. Physical weakness, something like paralysis, seems to be meant.
Free among the dead; or, "east out among the dead." Placed with corpses, as one that needs burial. Like the slain that lie in the grave. Like those who are thrown into a pit dug on a battlefield, among whom there are often some who have not breathed their last (see the Prayerbook Version). Whom thou rememberest no more. We have already beard the complaint that in death there is no remembrance of God on the part of man (Psalms 6:5); now we have the converse statement, that neither is there then any remembrance of man on the part of God. The psalmist speaks, not absolute truth, but the belief of his day—a belief which vanished when life and immortality were brought to light by the gospel. And they are out off from thy hand; i.e. severed from thee, shut up in a place where thou dwell eat not (see Job 10:21, Job 10:22).
Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit. The affliction whereof the psalmist complains has come direct from the hand of Cod. It is some severe stroke of illness which has brought him to his last gasp. The "lowest pit" is here metaphorical—the deepest depth of calamity. In darkness; literally, in darknesses, where no ray of thy favour shines upon me. In the deeps (comp. Psalms 69:2, "deep waters, where the floods overflow him").
Thy wrath lieth hard upon me. Here the cause of all the psalmist's sufferings is touched; God was angry with him (comp. Psalms 88:16). And thou hast afflicted me with all thy waves (comp. Psalms 42:7, "All thy waves and thy billows have gone over me").
Thou hast put away mine acquaintance far from me. Compare the similar complaint of Job (Job 19:13, Job 19:14); and see also Psalms 31:11; and infra, Psalms 31:18. Thou hast made me an abomination unto them. So Job (Job 9:31; Job 19:19; Job 30:10). It may be suspected that the psalmist's affliction was of a kind which made him "unclean." I am shut up. Not in prison, as Jeremiah (Jeremiah 32:2; Jeremiah 33:1; Jeremiah 36:5), but probably as unclean, or as suspected of Being unclean (see Le Jeremiah 13:4 -33). And I cannot come forth. I am not allowed to quit my chamber.
Mine eye mourneth by reason of affliction; or, "mine eye hath grown feeble" (comp. Job 17:7). Lord, I have called daily upon thee; or, "all day." I have stretched out my hands unto thee. The attitude of earnest prayer (comp. Job 11:13; Psalms 68:31, etc.).
Wilt thou show wonders to the dead? Am I to receive no mercy till I am dead? and then wilt thou work a miracle for my restoration and deliverance? Shall the dead arise and praise thee? rather, the shades (rephaim); comp. Job 26:5. The word rephaim designates the wan, shadowy ghosts that have gone down to Hades (Sheol), and are resting there. Shall these suddenly rise up and engage in the worship and praise of God? The psalmist does not, any more than Job (xiv. 14), expect such a resurrection.
Shall thy loving kindness be declared in the grave? Wilt thou wait till I am in my grave before thou showest any mercy upon me? or, Will not that be too late? Can thy faithfulness to thy promises be shown in destruction? literally, in Abaddon; i.e. "perdition"—a name of Sheol (of. Job 26:6; Job 28:22).
Shall thy wonders be known in the dark? (compare above, Psalms 88:10). And thy righteousness in the land of forgetfulness? "The land of forgetfulness," or "of oblivion," is another name for Hades, or Sheol—not that there are supposed to be no memories of the past in it (Isaiah 14:16, Isaiah 14:17), but that all is faint and shadowy there, consciousness but a half-consciousness, remembrance but a half-remembrance.
But unto thee have I cried, O Lord; literally, but as for me, to thee have I cried. The psalmist returns from the somewhat vague speculations of Psalms 88:10-12 to fact and to himself. He is not yet a mere shade, an inhabitant of Sheol; he is in the flesh, upon the earth; he can still cry, and does still cry, to Jehovah. There is thus still a faint gleam of hope for him. And in the morning shall my prayer prevent thee. The psalmist will draw out God's mercy, as it were, before its time, by importuning him with early and continual prayer (comp. Psalms 88:1, Psalms 88:9).
Lord, why cutest thou off my soul? The psalmist speaks here, like Job, as one aggrieved. What has he done to be "cast off"? He is evidently not aware of having sinned any grievous sin, and does not understand why he is visited with such grievous sufferings. Why hidest thou thy face from me? Perhaps it is his insensibility, his unconsciousness of real sins and shortcomings, that has drawn down upon the psalmist his chastisement.
I am afflicted and ready to die from my youth up. This is a new point. The psalmist's afflictions have not come upon him recently. He does not merely mean, as some have supposed, that, like other men, as soon as he was born he began to die, but speaks of something, if not absolutely peculiar to himself, yet at any rate rare and abnormal—a long continuance in a dying state, such as could only have been brought about by some terribly severe malady. While I suffer thy terrors I am distracted; literally, I have endured thy terrors; I am exhausted. (On the endurance of God's "terrors," see Job 6:4; Job 9:34; Job 13:21.) The natural result would be a state, not of distraction, but of exhaustion. (So Kay, and substantially Professor Cheyne.)
Thy fierce wrath goeth over me. "Overwhelms me;" i.e. "like a fiery flood" (see above, Psalms 88:7). Thy terrors have cut me off. A different word is used for "terrors" from that which occurs in Psalms 88:15, and one elsewhere occurring only in Job 6:4. The verb also is one characteristic of Job (Job 6:17; Job 23:17), and means "extinguish," or "exterminate."
They came round about me daily like water. God's terrors encompass the psalmist "daily," or "all day long," like water; i.e. like an overwhelming flood (compare the first clause of Psalms 88:16). They compassed me about together; or, "they compass me about in a mass."
Lover and friend hast thou put far from me (comp. Psalms 88:8 and Job 19:13). And mine acquaintance into darkness; literally, and my intimates [are] darkness; i.e. "when I look for a friend or an acquaintance, my eye meets nothing but darkness," or "dark space."
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
The saddest psalm in the Psalter.
For in well nigh all others, though there may be darkness of soul, a very night of darkness, yet we see the light arise; though we see "weeping endure for the night," yet we see also that "joy cometh in the morning." But in this psalm we do not see such coming of joy. The believer who wrote it was one who was called to "walk in darkness, and bad no light." But he is holding on; he prays, and perseveres in prayer; he recognizes the hand of God in his trouble. "Thou hast laid me," etc. (Psalms 88:6-8). He confesses that God is the Lord God of his salvation (Psalms 88:1); he attributes to God loving kindness, faithfulness, power, and righteousness (Psalms 88:11, Psalms 88:12); and he declares his purpose (Psalms 88:13) to continue in prayer. No doubt the light did come, though the psalm ends first. "The believer in his worst time still continues to pray; God's rod flogs his child not from him, but to him. Our griefs are waves which wash us on to the rock. But nevertheless, the best child of God may be the greatest sufferer, and his sufferings may be, as those told of here, utterly crushing, killing, and overwhelming." Now let us inquire—
I. WHY DOES GOD ALLOW SUCH SUFFERING TO COME TO HIS PEOPLE? We may reply:
1. Suffering is the lot of an. The men of this world do not escape it more than the servant of God, and, all things considered, probably they suffer more, because the alleviations and consolations which belong to the child of God they know nothing of. But if suffering, which is the lot of all, did not come to the child of God; if faith were the passport to immunity from those varied ills which flesh is heir to, what a crowd of mere loaves and fishes seekers we should have!
2. For spiritual discipline. The soul needs training, exercise, and development as much as the body, and how but by trial can this be secured? There is not one fruit of the Spirit that can be fully perfected save in this way.
3. In self-revelation. Many men live continually in a perfect mist of mistake about themselves. How strong Peter thought himself! But his trial and his sad fall revealed him to himself as nothing else could.
4. For driving us nearer God. We do not wrench ourselves away from God, but we are perpetually in peril of drifting, and this unconsciously. Hence we need to be from time to time roused to this fact—that we have got away from God, and that we must come back.
5. That we may give testimony. The world marks how the Christian bears trial; if meekly, patiently, both towards God and towards men, the world notes it, and confesses the grace of God.
6. And that we may learn to sympathize. How could we if we knew nothing of suffering?
II. HOW ARE SUCH CONDITIONS BROUGHT ABOUT? Through:
1. Circumstances. The troubles of life, personal or relative—losses, bereavements, sickness, etc.
2. Wrong thoughts of God. How many such there are in this psalm! A great deal that the psalmist has said is exaggerated and untrue. What he says existed not in reality, but in his own bewildered imagination.
3. Failure of hope for the future. What terrible things he says about death I To him the grave is all dark and dreadful. It is "the pit," a mere charnel house, blow, the Old Testament writers, though they had not our fulness of hope, yet had hope. But in this psalm the writer seems to have lost it. Perhaps there had been:
4. Neglect of communion with God. If we fail here, farewell to all joy in God, and when trouble comes it finds us all unprepared, and we go down before it into the depths.
5. Love. For that which touches the beloved touches the heart that loves. Christ loved us intensely, and became of necessity "the Man of sorrows;" for he saw and pitied our misery so much that it led him straight to Gethsemane and the cross. And all love links itself to pain.
III. WHAT TO DO UNDER SUCH CONDITIONS.
1. Inquire of God as to the, cause of your trouble, if you do not know what it is.
2. Humble yourself beneath his hand. Say over and over again, until your heart assents, "Thy will be done."
3. Get nearer God than ever. This is what he desires to see you do.
4. Be careful to obey his every command.
5. Go and try to comfort other troubled ones.
6. Meditate much upon Christ's Sufferings. Along such channels as these help, peace, rest, relict, will come.—S.C.
Mournful views of death.
These verses are by no means the only ones which set forth similar views. Their melancholy is very profound. See this in—
I. THE DESCRIPTION OF THE HABITATION OF THE DEAD. The terms they use are all sad. As:
1. "The pit." (Psalms 88:4.) "The lowest pit" (Psalms 88:6). The idea is of a vast profound subterranean cavern, into which no ray of light entered. Infernal regions indeed:
2. "Destruction." (Psalms 88:11.) A place where all living powers came to an end, and death only reigned.
3. "The dark." (Psalms 88:12.) And "darkness" (Psalms 88:6).
4. "The land of forgetfulness" and silence. God had been their Light, their Joy, their Life; hut now they should know him no more. What wonder that they so shrank from death!
II. THE BLESSINGS OF WHICH THEY WERE DEPRIVED. The living might rejoice in them, hut never the dead. These blessings were:
1. Knowledge of God's wonders. The memory and experience of these were to the living their perpetual gladness; but the dead know and can know nothing of them. They are unhappy beings who know not anything, clean forgotten, out of mind—beings whom God himself remembers not.
2. God's loving kindness. (Psalms 88:11.) They had been wont to exclaim, "How excellent is thy loving kindness!" to pray that God would "continue" it; to declare that they would "not conceal" it from all men, that they continually "thought of" it, that it was "good," that it was "life," yea, "better than life." But now they were shut off from it altogether.
3. God's "faithfulness." (Psalms 88:11.) This, too, they were wont lovingly to extol (cf. Psalms 36:5; Psalms 40:10; Psalms 89:1, Psalms 89:5, Psalms 89:8, Psalms 89:24, Psalms 89:33, etc.). But it was gone from them in the grave.
4. God's righteousness. (Psalms 88:12.) This had been all their trust and stay when living, but in the grave they knew it no more.
III. THEIR LOSS OF ALL POWER.
1. They cannot praise God. (Psalms 88:10.) This had been their joy on earth.
2. They cannot see. It would be in vain that God's wonders were displayed before them.
3. They cannot hear. Therefore it would be of no avail to declare God's loving kindness to them.
4. They cannot know either the wonders or the righteousness of God.
5. They have no power even to stand on their feet. Body, mind, and soul all stripped of their former powers. No wonder that Hezekiah cried, in his dread of death, "The living, the living, he shall praise thee!" And this was the belief of all the saints of the Old Testament.
IV. QUESTIONS THAT ARISE FROM THE FACT OF THESE VIEWS ABOUT DEATH.
1. Are they true? Certainly not. In no one single particular are they true. The believer does not after death abide in the grave, nor in any pit, nor in the land of destruction, of darkness, and of forgetfulness. He is "with Christ, which is far better" (see New Testament, passim).
2. Were they ever true? In part they were. Christ opened the kingdom of heaven to all believerses He was the Forerunner. None entered into the heavens until Christ, "the Way," first entered. Until then the spirits of the just were being safely guarded—the rendering (1 Peter 3:19) "in prison" is surely a misleading one, suggesting, as it does, the idea of punishment, whereas the word only signifies being "watched over," "guarded," "kept"—in the invisible world, in Hades, the place of departed spirits. They were in an inferior, but not in an unhappy, condition. It was called by the Jews "Abraham's besom," "Paradise" (Luke 16:23; Luke 23:43). And again and again in the Psalms we have utterances of bright though not definite hope as to the future (Psalms 11:7; Psalms 16:8-11; Psalms 17:15; Psalms 49:15, etc.). But they had their seasons of despondency, and then this hope fled away, and they could speak only as in these verses before us, which are so very far from the complete truth. Even then, blessed were the dead who died in the Lord!
3. Why was our better, brighter hope withheld from them, so that they could hold such sad views as these? The reply is to be found in God's method of educating the race. Step by step, here a little and there a little, progressively—such seems to have been the Divine plan. As we educate our children, so did God educate man (cf. Hebrews 1:1). Our Lord taught the people, when he was here on earth, "as they were able to bear it." And such seems ever to have been God's way. It has been suggested (J.A. Froude) that, seeing how Egypt had perverted the doctrine of a future life, making it the minister of all kinds of wrong, God kept any clear knowledge of this life from Israel, concentrating their attention upon the present life and its duties by means of present temporal rewards and punishments. It may have been so; but the question is one beyond our power to fully answer.
4. Why is the better hope given to us? To vindicate God (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:12-19). To sustain men's hope. "We are saved by hope." To quicken the love and pursuit of believers. To deliver from the fear of death. All this our hope does.—S.C.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
Personal relations with God made a plea.
"O Lord God of my salvation." This has been called "the saddest of all the psalms." But it represents mental rather than spiritual distress. It belongs to such an age as that of Solomon, and classes with the Psalms of Asaph, the Book of Ecclesiastes, and the Book of Job. It is a psalm of Heman the sage; but his wisdom is spoiled by the pessimistic view he takes of his circumstances and surroundings. The man who believes in God does not see clearly unless he sees hopefully. Things never can be "going to the bad" if God is in them. Dr. S. Cox calls this psalm, "Heman's Elegy," and he carefully marks its distinguishing feature, and this helpfully aids the pulpit treatment of it. "Its sadness is that of one who has wearied himself by much study of a large and varied experience, who has thought of all things till all things have grown doubtful to him, till he finds the trail of the serpent in all the fairest scenes of human life, till he doubts his very doubts. It is the intellectual sadness of one who, in long brooding over the wrongs and sorrows of time, the frailty of man, the limitations of human thought, the vanity of the ends which men commonly pursue, the cravings which importune a satisfaction which they never find, the mystery by which our being is encompassed, the impenetrability of a future which nevertheless we must try to penetrate, has lost touch with the warm and breathing activities of human life, and has sunk towards a pessimistic despair of the life which now is on the one hand, and, on the other, into a prying and credulous curiosity as to the conditions of the life which is to come. And that, happily, is a misery which is comparatively rare." The point proposed for illustration is the way in which a personal anchorage of the soul in God may keep it steady under all kinds of soul distress, and even the distress arising from mental perplexity.
I. OUR PERSONAL RELATIONS WITH GOD MAY BE RECOGNIZED AND FELT. Illustrate from the expression, "My God," in Psalms 22:1, as repeated by the Lord Jesus when on the cross. See experience of Bible saints.
II. THE PERSONAL RELATION BRINGS A SENSE OF SECURITY, BECAUSE IT IS BASED ON GOD'S RELATION TO US. We feel him to be our God only because he is graciously pleased to be our God. "We love him because he first loved us."
III. THE SENSE OF PERSONAL RELATION WITH GOD STEADIES US AMID THE CHARGING SCENES OF LIFE.
IV. THE SENSE OF PERSONAL RELATION WITH GOD KEEPS OUR MIND WHEN WRESTLING WITH DIFFICULTIES.
V. THE SENSE OF PERSONAL RELATION WITH GOD GIVES US AN UNFAILING PLEA IN SEEKING DIVINE HELP.—R.T.
The fear that prayer will not be answered.
With what historical conditions may we fairly associate and illustrate this psalm? Suggest—Uzziah smitten with leprosy. Jeremiah cast into the dungeon. Hezekiah humbled by sickness. Job crushed by accumulated sufferings. Probably the case of Job provides the most effective and varied illustration. When it pleases God to delay the answer, or to send the answer in unexpected forms, it is our common temptation to think that he does not mean to answer. The plaint of the psalmist is that he "had cried unto God day and night," and nothing seemed to have come of his crying. Happily this only drives him the more earnestly to seek an answer. "Oh let my prayer come into thy presence!" Spurgeon says, "His distress had not blown out the sparks of his prayer, but quickened them into a greater ardency, till they burned perpetually, like a furnace at full blast."
I. FEAR THAT PRAYER WILL NOT BE ANSWERED MAY BE REASONABLE. There may be good ground for the fear in the character of the prayer itself.
1. Its tone may indicate that we are not greatly interested in it ourselves. We cannot expect God to be if we are not.
2. The prayer may have in it no note of submission. God cannot heed prayer that does not express the cherished feeling, "Not as I will, but as thou wilt." Delay often means God's waiting until we are in right moods.
3. There may be in prayer a dictating to God the time and the way in which he shall answer. If so, and his delay excites fears, those fears are most reasonable.
II. FEAR THAT PRAYER WILL NOT BE ANSWERED MAY BE UNREASONABLE. That is God's ways with us, though somewhat strange, may really give no occasion for such fears.
1. Delay is not refusal. We know that our delay in responding to requests is not refusal, and we are grieved if it is so taken. But in our case, too often, delayed answer means neglect, which may be more cruel than refusal. It is full of gracious assurance that, with God, delay no more means neglect than it means refusal.
2. Delay may be answer. At least, it may be if we can see that the moral answers God sends are always more important than the material. Delay sets us upon thought, self-searching, clearing of ourselves, and makes us at once simpler minded and more earnest; and that is God's first soul answer to our prayer.
3. Delay prepares for answer. It may be God's time for looking round, so that the answer may be a better one than he could have sent at once.
III. FEAR THAT PRAYER WILL NOT BE ANSWERED MAY BE UNWORTHY. It will be if in it there is any cherished doubt of God's power, or wisdom, or willingness to bless us.—R.T.
A soul full of troubles.
These plaints are such as could only be uttered by a diseased man—diseased in body or diseased in mind. The man felt "satiated with evils." Hezekiah, suffering from his carbuncle, or Job, as he "scraped himself with his potsherd," might be expected to read life as drearily and despondingly as the psalmist did. "The psalm accumulates images to describe the pressure of trial upon the frailty of human nature." Look at some of the troubles.
I. THE BREVITY OF HUMAN LIFE. That does not impress us so much when the aged are taken away, because we have become familiar with seventy as man's allotted years; and the aged seem to have completed their time, and rounded off their lives. Nor does it impress us when young children die, because we have become familiar with the perils of infancy. We feel it most when men are taken away in the "midst of their days." Hezekiah, smitten in the prime of life, wails over the brevity of life, saying, "I said, in the cutting off of my day, I shall go to the gates of the grave; I am deprived of the residue of my years. Mine age is departed, and is removed from me as a shepherd's tent. I have cut off like a weaver my life." See the similar plaints of Job. The corrective of this trouble is to measure life by deeds, not by years. He lives long who does much.
II. LOSS OF BODILY AND MENTAL STRENGTH. "I am as a man that hath no strength." Perhaps there is nothing harder for active-minded, energetic men to endure than conscious weakness. To many persons mental depression, resulting simply from lowered vitality, is the supreme distress. Yet in these days the human trial often takes this form. It is a triumph of grace to hold fast integrity even when the very mind is clouded with weakness, and "like a mist our vigour flees away," until all that remains to us is "a fragile form, fast hasting to decay." The corrective is to see that even weakness is in the list of God's disciplinary agents.
III. SEPARATION FROM ORDINARY DUTIES AND RELATIONS. From verse 8 we gather that this was complicated by the fact that disease had taken offensive forms; and this brings to view the very marked and distressing features of Job's disease. No one can fail. to feel it hard to retire from loved scenes and associations, and to loose out of hand loved duties. We think that no one can do them but ourselves, and no one can be to our friends what we were. The corrective is to remember that God may provide rest times for his servants; but he never bids them put their tools down, once for all, until he knows that their work is done; and then no true-hearted man could wish to stay. It may come to be the form of our final struggle with self, that we are called to give up life's duties and life's relations at God's bidding. There is possible triumph even over soul troubles.—R.T.
Affliction conceived as Divine wrath.
"Thy wrath lieth hard upon me." The word "wrath" has now such meanings and suggestions for us, that it cannot be wisely applied to God. The Prayer book Version reads, "Thine indignation lieth hard upon me, and thou hast vexed me with all thy storms." The word "indignation" better suggests official feeling in response to wrong doing. "Wrath" suggests personal feeling. It would be well, however, if we could keep "wrath" as the Special term to indicate the response of God to man's sin. "He is angry with," wrathful towards, "the wicked every day." Perowne translates by a very unsuitable word, "Upon me thy fury lieth hard." In his moments of deepest depression the man of God ought not to associate fury with his God, because it indicates feeling that is beyond control, passion; and we may never think of God as having lost self-control. It must be borne in mind that we have in this psalm passionate utterances, not calm and sober judgments. These are not the quiet, settled opinions of the psalmist; they are only passing feelings, belonging to a time of strain. They are his "infirmity." Two things lead him to think and speak thus.
I. THE SENSE OF SIN MAKES AFFLICTION SEEM LIKE DIVINE WRATH. When the son of the widow of Zarephath died, she rushed into the presence of Elijah, saying, "O thou man of God, art thou come unto me to call my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son?" Her feeling is that which comes to us all in times of affliction. We ask what we can have done to need this visitation of Divine wrath. The Jews were sure that either the man born blind or his parents must have sinned. The friends of Job could find no explanation of Job's afflictions, save that he had come under the wrath of God for some special sin. The Book of Job is written to show that this may be the explanation of suffering, and it may not be. All through life, and often very painfully at the close of life, the sense of sin embitters trial and suffering. Our relief comes from feeling that all God's "wrath," shown in the afflictions of his people, is disciplinary and corrective (see Hebrews 12:5-11).
II. THE SPECIAL FORMS AFFLICTION SOMETIMES TAKES COMPEL US TO THINK THEY ARE SIGNS OF DIVINE WRATH. It is not so much their intensity as it is their special character. Some kinds of affliction are specially distressing; they are unsightly, or offensive, or disgraceful. This is hinted at in the psalm. Even relatives shrank from the sufferer. Take the case of Job. This was the bitterest feature of his trouble. Illustrate from such disease as leprosy, or from offensive forms of skin disease. Surely some special "wrath" in God must appoint us such a lot. And yet the truth may be that this is but a burden of love. We are only being shown "how great things we may be able to suffer for his Name's sake."—R.T.
Peerings into the future.
"Wilt thou show wonders unto the dead?" "It is both curious and instructive to mark how, throughout the psalm, whether it is his own infirmity which he bewails, or the loss of friends, the mind of this wise man is straining toward the great darkness in which so many of his lovers and companions have been swallowed up, and into which he is himself about to pass. He is forever speculating on the physical and moral conditions of the world which lies in or beyond that darkness. He cannot get away from the theme. He is forever fingering it, anal returning to it." "He was forever asking—Is the life beyond death a true life? is it a life worth living? Will it redress the wrongs of time, and vindicate the ways of God with men? Is the world to come a world of righteousness and charity and peace, in which Truth will lift her veil, and all alienations and enmities will be swallowed up in love?" Peerings into the future are natural; they may be healthy, they may be unhealthy; they depend very much on personal disposition, and quite as much on particular circumstances. Concerning the future, enough is known to prove a constant incentive to moral goodness; so much is unknown that faith may be kept in lively exercise. These points may be illustrated.
I. PEERINGS INTO THE FUTURE ARE NATURAL. Man has never been able to accept the idea that his life ends at death. Heathen and pagan religions meet the cry for light on the world beyond death. Our friends die, but we cannot think them lost. So many die young, just fitted for life; there must be life for them beyond. We must die, but we cannot admit the idea that our real life ends at death. We are consciously fitted, by our earth life, for something more.
II. PEERINGS INTO THE FUTURE MAY BE HEALTHY. They will be if they bring a vivid sense of the relation of the coming life to this life. If we see that the powers of that life are the powers gained in this.
III. PEERINGS INTO THE FUTURE MAY BE UNHEALTHY. They will be if they become time-consuming, vague, impractical speculations, which fritter away the powers of the soul, and make present duties seem dull. The sitting in a window seat and dreamily peering into the west may be all very well, supposing the dreamer has got no housework to do. She would be wise to do her duty and leave the future alone. Unhealthy speculation on the future is a modern religious epidemic, seriously injuring the vitality of our Churches.
IV. PEERINGS INTO THE FUTURE DEPEND ON DISPOSITION AND CIRCUMSTANCE. Some are speculative; they cannot live in the actual, they are always imagining the possible. They are always away yonder. No doubt they have their mission; but we are glad not to have too many of them, or the work of today would never get done. When men are in illness, or at gravesides, or set thinking by national calamities, then "peerings into the future" are befitting, and may be helpful things.—R.T.
Prayer getting in front of God.
"In the morning shall my prayer prevent thee." The idea is a singular one, based upon the older meaning of the word "prevent." Thinking of God under the figure of an earthly King, he conceives of himself as a petitioner who is so intense in his desire that he reaches the palace gate before the King is up. His prayer is there before the King is. To "prevent" now means to "hinder." In older days it simply meant to "go before," to "anticipate." The word is never used in the sense of "hinder," either in the Bible, as we have it, or in the books of the age in which it was translated. But it should further be observed that getting up very early in the morning to do a thing is a frequent Bible figure for doing a thing earnestly, doing it with all your heart. It is still true of us that if we are thoroughly in earnest about a matter, we can easily get up early in the morning to attend to it. So this figure of the psalmist does but express his intense earnestness in prayer, the fervency of his desire, his almost passionate waiting on God, that makes him feel as if he could get before God, as if he could be there to plead before God was there to hear. It can be but a figure of man's feeling. He never can be ready before God is; he cannot get before God. Man is always second in prayer; God is always first in waiting to receive prayer.
I. MAN THINKING HE CAN BE FIRST WITH GOD. He can get before his fellow man, and ask what his fellow has not thought about, and is not quite prepared to give. And so, in his intensity, man thinks he can even be first with God; he thinks he can ask what God has not thought about. He can tell God something. God does indeed gently and graciously deal with impetuous and impulsive souls, and let them freely speak out all their hearts, and even think they have informed him a great deal. He loves our confidences, even if they are intense; but he must often smile as the mother smiles on her impetuous boy, who tells her, as if it was something quite new, what she has suspected or known for a long time. But the earnestness that tries to be first with God cannot fail to be acceptable to him.
II. MAN FINDING OUT THAT GOD IS ALWAYS FIRST WITH HIM. It comes to us occasionally as a great surprise, that what we have asked God about so intensely, he has been a long while attending to. He knew our need before we felt it, and let it take shape as prayer. And that is one of the most important blessings that follow prayer. Asking God's help in some things, we find out that God's help has all the while been in everything.—R.T.
God's hidden face.
"Why hidest thou thy face from me?" The shinings, or the hidings, of the face are frequently referred to in the Psalms. Masters and kings in the East show their dignity by speaking as little as possible. They convey their wishes, and express their feelings, by their looks, or by simple movements of their hands. So their servants and their courtiers anxiously watch their faces, to see in them signs of approval, acceptance, and favour. If the king does not look at them, turns his face away, hides his face from them, they know that they are out of his favour; they fear that some mischief will befall them. And so, if a man brings a petition to a king, it is enough answer if the king simply turns his face away, hides his face; that is a virtual refusal. Compare such poetical expressions as "Make thy face to shine upon thy servants;" "Lift up the light of thy countenance upon us;" "Why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble?" "Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself."
I. GOD'S HIDINGS ARE NEVER MERE ACTS OF SOVEREIGNTY. A thoughtful writer says, "I know that some have maintained that God sometimes forsakes his people in the exercise of his sovereignty. I confess I do not understand this. It appears to me that undue and unwarrantable liberties are often used with the sovereignty of God, and that many things are laid to its account with which it is not chargeable. We speak of the Divine sovereignty. But sovereignty is not an arbitrary, capricious thing; it is a righteous and holy thing; and God must ever act in conformity with the unalterable principles of his character. Believe it, there is no such mystery as some would make us think in those temporary desertions with which God sometimes visits his own people. The reason of them is to be found in themselves—in their sinfulness, in their unsteadfastness, in their unfaithfulness."
II. GOD'S HIDINGS ARE ALWAYS EXPRESSIONS OF DIVINE WISDOM. They are special modes of dealing, arranged in precise adaptation to particular persons, at particular times, and under particular circumstances. Comfort lies in clearly seeing that God's hidings are not common and usual dealings, and therefore if God deals thus with us, it must be in wise and gracious adaptation just to us.
III. GOD'S HIDINGS ARE THE BEGINNINGS OF HIS ANSWERS TO US. This may be effectively illustrated by our Lord's treatment of the Syro-phoenician woman. He began his answer by seeming indifference, and even seeming refusal, which drew forth her noble intensity.—R.T.
HOMILIES BY C. SHORT
Light in the darkness.
This is the darkest, saddest psalm of all the Psalms.
I. A PICTURE OF THE MOST DESPAIRING MISERY. Scarcely possible to think that such unalleviated misery ever existed.
1. Utter physical and mental weakness and prostration. (Verse 6.) As good as dead.
2. Utterly forsaken of all his friends. (Verses 8, 18.) And God had put them from him.
3. Cast off from God, by reason of is wrath. (Verses 7, 14, 15, 16.) He is abandoned utterly both of God and man; i.e. he thought so. But no one really is.
4. This misery had been nearly lifelong. (Verse 13.)
II. RESOLUTE PRAYER IS THE LAST RESOURCE OF THE PROFOUNDLY MISERABLE.
1. His prayer was persistent. (Verses 1, 13.) Day and night, morning and evening.
2. He makes the greatness of his affliction an argument for being heard. (Verses 2, 3.)
3. He prays to know the "why" of God's wrath towards him. (Verse 14.) The affliction is a mystery the reason of which he would have made clear. He makes no confession of sin as explaining the terrors of God from which he is suffering.
III. SOME GLEAMS OF FAITH AND HOPE BREAKING THROUGH THE DARKNESS OF HIS DESPAIR.
1. God is the God of his salvation. (Verse 1.) Notwithstanding all he says of his abandonment.
2. God is worthy of praise for his loving kindness and faithfulness. (Verses 10, 11.) He could still believe in these.
3. He prays for the righteousness of God to be manifested to him. (Verse 12.) He cannot help uttering these deep-grounded faiths that made him still cling to God in the most despairing moments. None can abandon themselves to utter despair who have seen God in Christ as the Father.—S.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 88". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany