I have waited for thy salvation, O LORD.
~ Genesis 49:18
The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
~ Psalm 27:1
Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the LORD JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation.
~ Isaiah 12:2
O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent. Be merciful unto me, O Lord: for I cry unto thee daily. I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, which shall never hold their peace day nor night: ye that make mention of the LORD, keep not silence,
~ Psalm 22:2, Psalm 86:3, Isaiah 62:6
Let the sighing of the prisoner come before thee; according to the greatness of thy power preserve thou those that are appointed to die;
~ Psalm 79:11
LORD, I cry unto thee: make haste unto me; give ear unto my voice, when I cry unto thee. Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.
~ Psalm 141:1-2
Also when I cry and shout, he shutteth out my prayer.
~ Lamentations 3:8
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?
~ Psalm 22:1
He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
~ Isaiah 53:3
I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O LORD my God. Let not the waterflood overflow me, neither let the deep swallow me up, and let not the pit shut her mouth upon me.
~ Jonah 2:6, Psalm 69:15
Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.
~ 1 Peter 2:24
My friends scorn me: but mine eye poureth out tears unto God. My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up. Wherefore hidest thou thy face, and forgettest our affliction and our oppression?
~ Job 16:20, Psalm 5:3, Psalm 44:24
And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads, And saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross. Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God. The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.
~ Matthew 27:39-44
My lovers and my friends stand aloof from my sore; and my kinsmen stand afar off.
~ Psalm 38:11
And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.
~ Luke 22:44
A Commentary on Psalm 88;1-18, by Charles H. Spurgeon. The following is an excerpt from his work, “Treasury of David”.
O LORD God of my salvation, I have cried day and night before thee: Let my prayer come before thee: incline thine ear unto my cry; For my soul is full of troubles: and my life draweth nigh unto the grave. I am counted with them that go down into the pit: I am as a man that hath no strength: Free among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, whom thou rememberest no more: and they are cut off from thy hand. Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps. Thy wrath lieth hard upon me, and thou hast afflicted me with all thy waves. Selah. Thou hast put away mine acquaintance far from me; thou hast made me an abomination unto them: I am shut up, and I cannot come forth.
~ Psalm 88:1-8
Verse 1. O Lord God of my salvation. This is a hopeful title by which to address the Lord, and it has about it the only ray of comfortable light which shines throughout the Psalm. The writer has salvation, he is sure of that, and God is the sole author of it. While a man can see God as his Saviour, it is not altogether midnight with him. While the living God can be spoken of as the life of our salvation, our hope will not quite expire. It is one of the characteristics of true faith that she turns to Jehovah, the saving God, when all other confidences have proved liars unto her. I have cried day and night before thee. His distress had not blown out the sparks of his prayer, but thickened them into a greater ardency, till they burned perpetually like a furnace at full blast. His prayer was personal–whoever had not prayed, he had done so; it was intensely earnest, so that it was correctly described as a cry, such as children utter to move the pity of their parents; and it was unceasing, neither the business of the day nor the weariness of the night had silenced it: surely such entreaties could not be in vain. Perhaps, if Heman’s pain had not been incessant his supplications might have been intermittent; it is a good thing that sickness will not let us rest if we spend our restlessness in prayer. Day and night are both suitable to prayer; it is no work of darkness, therefore let us go with Daniel and pray when men can see us, yet, since supplication needs no light, let us accompany Jacob and wrestle at Jabbok till the day breaketh. Evil is transformed to good when it drives us to prayer. One expression of the text is worthy of special note; “before thee” is a remarkable intimation that the Psalmist’s cries had an aim and a direction towards the Lord, and were not the mere clamours of nature, but the groanings of a gracious heart towards Jehovah, the God of salvation. Of what use are arrows shot into the air? The archer’s business is to look well at the mark he drives at. Prayers must be directed to heaven with earnest care. So thought Heman –his cries were all meant for the heart of his God. He had no eye to onlookers as Pharisees have, but all his prayers were before his God.
Verse 2. Let my prayer come before thee. Admit it to an audience; let it speak with thee. Though it be my prayer, and therefore very imperfect, yet deny it not thy gracious consideration. Incline thine ear unto my cry. It is not music save to the ear of mercy, yet be not vexed with its discord, though it be but a cry, for it is the most natural expression of my soul’s anguish. When my heart speaks, let thine ear hear. There may be obstacles which impede the upward flight of our prayers–let us entreat the Lord to remove them; and as there may also be offences which prevent the Lord from giving favourable regard to our requests–let us implore him to put these out of the way. He who has prayed day and night cannot bear to lose all his labour. Only those who are indifferent in prayer will be indifferent about the issue of prayer.
Verse 3. For my soul is full of troubles. I am satiated and nauseated with them. Like a vessel full to the brim with vinegar, my heart is filled up with adversity till it can hold no more. He had his house full and his hands full of sorrow; but, worse than that, he had his heart full of it. Trouble in the soul is the soul of trouble. A little soul trouble is pitiful; what must it be to be sated with it? And how much worse still to have your prayers return empty when your soul remains full of grief. And my life draweth nigh unto the grave. He felt as if he must die, indeed he thought himself half dead already. All his life was going, his spiritual life declined, his mental life decayed, his bodily life flickered; he was nearer dead than alive. Some of us can enter into this experience, for many a time have we traversed this valley of death shade, aye and dwelt in it by the month together. Really to die and be with Christ will be a gala day’s enjoyment compared with our misery when a worse than physical death has cast its dreadful shadow over us. Death would be welcomed as a relief by those whose depressed spirits make their existence a living death. Are good men ever permitted to suffer thus? Indeed they are; and some of them are even all their life time subject to bondage. O Lord, Be pleased to set free thy prisoners of hope! Let, none of thy mourners imagine that a strange thing has happened unto him, but rather rejoice as he sees the footprints of brethren who have trodden this desert before.
Verse 4. I am counted with them that go down into the pit. My weakness is so great that both by myself and others I am considered as good as dead. If those about me have not ordered my coffin they have at least conversed about my sepulchre, discussed my estate, and reckoned their share of it. Many a man has been buried before he was dead, and the only mourning over him has been because he refused to fulfil the greedy expectations of his hypocritical relatives by going down to the pit at once. It has come to this with some afflicted believers, that their hungry heirs think they have lived too long. I am as a mat, that hath no strength. I have but the name to live; my constitution is broken up; I can scarce crawl about my sick room, my mind is even weaker than my body, and my faith weakest of all. The sons and daughters of sorrow will need but little explanation of these sentences, they are to such tried ones as household words.
Verse 5. Free among the dead. Unbound from all that links a man with life, familiar with death’s door, a freeman of the city of the sepulchre, I seem no more one of earth’s drudges, but begin to anticipate the rest of the tomb. It is a sad case when our only hope lies in the direction of death, our only liberty of spirit amid the congenial horrors of corruption. Like the slain that lie in the grave, whom you remember no more. He felt as if he were as utterly forgotten as those whose carcasses are left to rot on the battle field. As when a soldier, mortally wounded, bleeds unheeded amid the heaps of slain, and remains to his last expiring groan unpitied and unsuccoured, so did Heman sigh out his soul in loneliest sorrow, feeling as if even God himself had quite forgotten him. How low the spirits of good and brave men will sometimes sink. Under the influence of certain disorders everything will wear a sombre aspect, and the heart will dive into the profoundest deeps of misery. It is all very well for those who are in robust health and full of spirits to blame those whose lives are sicklied over with the pale cast of melancholy, but the evil is as real as a gaping wound, and all the more hard to bear because it lies so much in the region of the soul that to the inexperienced it appears to be a mere matter of fancy and diseased imagination. Reader, never ridicule the nervous and hypochondriacal, their pain is real; though much of the evil lies in the imagination, it is not imaginary. And they are cut off from thy hand. Poor Heman felt as if God himself had put him away, smitten him and laid him among the corpses of those executed by divine justice. He mourned that the hand of the Lord had gone out against him, and that lie was divided from the great author of his life. This is the essence of wormwood. Man’s blows are trifles, but God’s smitings are terrible to a gracious heart. To feel utterly forsaken of the Lord and cast away as though hopelessly corrupt is the very climax of heart desolation.
Verse 6. Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps. What a collection of forcible metaphors, each one expressive of the utmost grief. Heman compared his forlorn condition to an imprisonment in a subterranean dungeon, to confinement in the realms of the dead, and to a plunge into the abyss. None of the similes are strained. The mind can descend far lower than the body, for it there are bottomless pits. The flesh can bear only a certain number of wounds and no more, but the soul can bleed in ten thousand ways, and die over and over again each hour. It is grievous to the good man to see the Lord whom he loves laying him in the sepulchre of despondency; piling nightshade upon him, putting out all his candles, and heaping over him solid masses of sorrow; evil from so good a hand seems evil indeed, and yet if faith could but be allowed to speak she would remind the depressed spirit that it is better to fall into the hand of the Lord than into the hands of man, and moreover she would tell the despondent heart that God never placed a Joseph in a pit without drawing him up again to fill a throne; that he never caused a horror of great darkness to fall upon an Abraham without revealing his covenant to him; and never cast even a Jonah into the deeps without preparing the means to land him safely on dry land. Alas, when under deep depression the mind forgets all this, and is only conscious of its unutterable misery; the man sees the lion but not the honey in its carcass, he feels the thorns but he cannot smell the roses which adorn them. He who now feebly expounds these words knows within himself more than he would care or dare to tell of the abysses of inward anguish. He has sailed round the Cape of Storms, and has drifted along by the dreary headlands of despair. He has groaned out with one of old–“My bones are pierced in me in the night season; and my sinews take no rest. I go morning without the sun. Terrors are turned upon me, they pursue my soul as the wind.” Those who know this bitterness by experience will sympathise, but from others it would be idle to expect pity, nor would their pity be worth the having if it could be obtained. It is an unspeakable consolation that our Lord Jesus knows this experience, right well, having, with the exception of the sin of it, felt it all and more than all in Gethsemane when he was exceeding sorrowful even unto death.
Verse 7. Thy wrath lieth hard upon me. Dreadful plight this, the worst in which a man can be found. Wrath is heavy in itself; God’s wrath is crushing beyond conception, and when that presses hard the soul is oppressed indeed. The wrath of God is the very hell of hell, and when it weighs upon the conscience a man feels a torment such as only that of damned spirits can exceed. Joy or peace, or even numbness of indifference, there can be none to one who is loaded with this most tremendous of burdens. And thou hast afflicted me with all thy waves, or all thy breakers. He pictures God’s wrath as breaking over him like those waves of the sea which swell, and rage, and dash with fury upon the shore. How could his frail barque hope to survive those cruel breakers, white like the hungry teeth of death. Seas of affliction seemed to rush in upon him with all the force of omnipotence; he felt himself to be oppressed and afflicted like Israel in Egypt, when they cried by reason of their afflictions. It appeared impossible for him to suffer more, he had exhausted the methods of adversity and endured all its waves. So have we imagined, and yet it is not really quite so bad. The worst case might be worse, there are alleviations to every woe; God has other and more terrible waves which, if he chose to let them forth, would sweep us into the infernal abyss, whence hope has long since been banished. Selah. There was need to rest. Above the breakers the swimmer lifts his head and looks around him, breathing for a moment, until the next wave comes. Even lamentation must have its pauses. Nights are broken up into watches, and even so mourning has its intervals. Such sorrowful music is a great strain both on voices and instruments, and it is well to give the singers the relief of silence for a while.
Verse 8. Thou hast put away mine acquaintance far from me. If ever we need friends it is in the dreary hour of despondency and the weary time of bodily sickness; therefore does the sufferer complain because divine providence had removed his friends. Perhaps his disease was infectious or defiling, so that he was legally separated from his fellow men, perhaps their fears kept them away from his plague stricken house, or else his good name had become so injured that they naturally avoided him. Lost friends require but small excuse for turning their backs on the afflicted. The swallows offer no apology for leaving us to winter by ourselves. Yet it is a piercing pain which arises from the desertion of dear associates; it is a wound which festers and refuses to be healed. Thou hast made me an abomination unto them. They turned from him as though he had become loathsome and contaminating, and this because of something which the Lord had done to him; therefore, he brings his complaint to the prime mover in his trouble. He who is still flattered by the companions of his pleasure can little guess the wretchedness which will be his portion should he become poor, or slanderously accused, for then one by one the parasites of his prosperity will go their way and leave him to his fate, not without cutting remarks on their part to increase his misery. Men have not so much power to bless by friendship as to curse by treachery. Earth’s poisons are more deadly than her medicines are healing. The mass of men who gather around a man and flatter him are like tame leopards; when they lick his hand it is well for him to remember that with equal gusto they would drink his blood. “Cursed is he that trusteth in man.” I am shut up, and I cannot come forth. He was a prisoner in his room, and felt like a leper in the lazaretto, or a condemned criminal in his cell. His mind, too, was bound as with fetters of iron; he felt no liberty of hope, he could take no flights of joy. When God shuts friends out, and shuts us in to pine away alone, it is no wonder if we water our couch with tears.
Verse 9. Mine eye mourneth by reason of affliction. He wept his eyes out. He exhausted the lachrymal glands, he wore away the sight itself. Tears in showers are a blessing, and work our good; but in floods they become destructive and injurious. Lord, I have called daily upon thee. His tears wetted his prayers, but did not damp then fervour. He prayed still, though no answer came to dry his eyes. Nothing can make a true believer cease praying; it is a part of his nature, and pray he must. I have stretched out my hands unto thee. He used the appropriate posture of a supplicant, of his own accord; men need no posture maker, or master of the ceremonies, when they are eagerly pleading for mercy, nature suggests to them attitudes both natural and correct. As a little child stretches out its hands to its mother while it cries, so did this afflicted child of God. He prayed all over, his eyes wept, his voice cried, his hands were outstretched, and his heart broke. This was prayer indeed.
Verse 10. Wilt thou shew wonders to the dead? Wherefore then suffer me to die? While I live thou canst in me display the glories of thy grace, but when I have passed into the unknown land, how canst thou illustrate in me thy love? If I perish thou wilt lose a worshipper who both reverenced, and in his own experience illustrated, the wonders of thy character and acts. This is good pleading, and therefore he repeats it. Shall the dead arise and praise thee? He is thinking only of the present, and not of the last great day, and he urges that the Lord would have one the less to praise him among the sons of men. Shades take no part in the quires of the Sabbath, ghosts sing no joyous Psalms, sepulchres and vaults send forth no notes of thanksgiving. True the souls of departed saints render glory to God, but the dejected Psalmist’s thoughts do not mount to heaven but survey the gloomy grave: he stays on this side of eternity, where in the grave he sees no wonders and hears no songs. Selah. At the mouth of the tomb he sits down to meditate, and then returns to his theme.
Verse 11. Shall thy lovingkindness be declared in the grave? Thy tender goodness–who shall testify concerning it in that cold abode where the worm and corruption hold their riot? The living may indite “meditations among the Tombs”, but the dead know nothing, and therefore can declare nothing. Or thy faithfulness in destruction? If the Lord suffered his servant to die before the divine promise was fulfilled, it would be quite impossible for his faithfulness to be proclaimed. The poet is dealing with this life only, and looking at the matter from the point of view afforded by time and the present race of men; if a believer were deserted and permitted to die in despair, there could come no voice from his grave to inform mankind that the Lord had rectified his wrongs and relieved him of his trials, no songs would leap up from the cold sod to hymn the truth and goodness of the Lord; but as far as men are concerned, a voice which loved to magnify the grace of God would be silenced, and a loving witness for the Lord removed from the sphere of testimony.
Verse 12. Shall thy wonders be known in the dark? If not here permitted to prove their goodness of Jehovah, how could the singer do so in the land of darkness and death shade? Could his tongue, when turned into a clod, alarm the dull cold ear of death? Is not a living dog better than a dead lion, and a living believer of more value to the cause of God on earth than all the departed put together? And thy righteousness in the land of forgetfulness? What shall be told concerning thee in the regions of oblivion? Where memory and love are lost, and men are alike unknowing and unknown, forgetful and forgotten, what witness to the divine holiness can be borne? The whole argument amounts to this–if the believer dies unblessed, how will God’s honour be preserved? Who will bear witness to his truth and righteousness?
Verse 13. But unto thee have I cried, O LORD; I have continued to pray for help to thee, O Jehovah, the living God, even though thou hast so long delayed to answer. A true born child of God may be known by his continuing to cry; a hypocrite is great at a spurt, but the genuine believer holds on till he wins his suit. And in the morning shall my prayer prevent thee. He meant to plead on yet, and to increase his earnestness. He intended to be up betimes, to anticipate the day light, and begin to pray before the sun was up. If the Lord is pleased to delay, he has a right to do as he wills, but we must not therefore become tardy in supplication. If we count the Lord slack concerning his promise we must only be the more eager to outrun him, lest sinful sloth on our part should hinder the blessing.
“Let prayer and holy hymn
Perfume the morning air;Before the world with smoke is dim
Bestir thy soul to prayer.”
“While flowers are wet with dew
Lament thy sins with tears,
And ere the sun shines forth anew
Tell to thy Lord thy fears.”
Verse 14. LORD, why castest thou oft my soul? Hast thou not aforetime chosen me, wilt thou now reject me? Shall thine elect ones become thy reprobates? Dost thou, like changeable men, give a writing of divorcement to those whom thy love has espoused? Can thy beloveds become thy cast offs? Why hidest thou thy face from me? Wilt thou not so much as look upon me? Canst thou not afford me a solitary smile? Why this severity to one who has in brighter days basked in the light of thy favour? We may put these questions to the Lord, nay, we ought to do so. It is not undue familiarity, but holy boldness. It may help us to remove the evil which provokes the Lord to jealousy, if we seriously beg him to shew us wherefore he contends with us. He cannot act towards us in other than a right and gracious manner, therefore for every stroke of his rod there is a sufficient reason in the judgment of his loving heart; let us try to learn that reason and profit by it.
Verse 15. I am afflicted and ready to die from my youth up. His affliction had now lasted so long that he could hardly remember when it commenced; it seemed to him as if he had been at death’s door ever since he was a child. This was no doubt an exaggeration of a depressed spirit, and yet perhaps Heman may have been born under the cypress, and have been all his days afflicted with some chronic disease or bodily infirmity; there are holy men and women whose lives are a long apprenticeship to patience, and these deserve both our sympathy and our reverence, –our reverence we have ventured to say, for since the Saviour became the acquaintance of grief, sorrow has become honourable in believers’ eyes. A life long sickness may by divine grace prove to be a life long blessing. Better suffer from childhood to old age than to be let alone to find pleasure in sin. While I suffer thy terrors I am distracted. Long use had not blunted the edge of sorrow, God’s terrors had not lost their terror; rather had they become more overwhelming and had driven the man to despair. He was unable to collect his thoughts, he was so tossed about that he could not judge and weigh his own condition in a calm and rational manner. Sickness alone will thus distract the mind; and when a sense of divine anger is added thereto, it is not to be wondered at if reason finds it hard to hold the reins. How near akin to madness soul depression sometimes may be, it is not our province to decide; but we speak what we do know when we say that a feather weight might be sufficient to turn the scale at times. Thank God O ye tempted ones who yet retain your reason! Thank him that the devil himself cannot add that feather while the Lord stands by to adjust all things. Even though we have grazed upon the rock of utter distraction, we bless the infinitely gracious Steersman that the vessel is seaworthy yet, and answers to her helm: tempest tossed from the hour of her launch even to this hour, yet she mounts the waves and defies the hurricane.
Verse 16. Thy fierce wrath goeth over me. What an expression, “fierce wrath”, and it is a man of God who feels it! Do we seek an explanation? It seemed so to him, but “tidings are not what they seem.” No punitive anger ever falls upon the saved one, for Jesus shields him from it all; but a father’s anger may fall upon his dearest child, none the less but all the more, because he loves it. Since Jesus bore my guilt as my substitute, my Judge cannot punish me, but my Father can and will correct me. In this sense the Father may even manifest “fierce wrath” to his erring child, and under a sense of it that dear broken down one may be laid in the dust and covered with wretchedness, and yet for all that he may be accepted and beloved of the Lord all the while. Heman represents God’s wrath as breaking over him as waves over a wreck. Thy terrors have cut me off. They have made me a marked man, they have made me feel like a leper separated from the congregation of thy people, and they have caused others to look upon me as no better than dead. Blessed be God this is the sufferer’s idea and not the very truth, for the Lord will neither cast off nor cut off his people, but will visit his mourners with choice refreshments.
Verse 17. They came round about me daily like water. My troubles, and thy chastisement poured in upon me, penetrating everywhere, and drowning all. Such is the permeating and pervading power of spiritual distress, there is no shutting it out; it soaks into the soul like the dew into Gideon’s fleece; it sucks the spirit down as the quicksand swallows the ship; it overwhelms it as the deluge submerged the green earth. They compassed me about together. Griefs hemmed him in. He was like the deer in the hunt, when the dogs are all around and at his throat. Poor soul! and yet he was a man greatly beloved of heaven!
Verse 18. Lover and friend: hast thou put far from me. Even when they are near me bodily, they are so unable to swim with me in such deep waters, that they stand like men far away on the shore while I am buffeted with the billows; but, alas, they shun me, the dearest lover of all is afraid of such a distracted one, and those who took counsel with me avoid me now! The Lord Jesus knew the meaning of this in all its wormwood and gall when in his passion. In dreadful loneliness he trod the wine press, and all his garments were distained with the red blood of those sour grapes. Lonely sorrow falls to the lot of not a few; let them not repine, but enter herein into close communion with that dearest lover and friend who is never far from his tried ones. And mine acquaintance into darkness, or better still, my acquaintance is darkness. I am familiar only with sadness, all else has vanished. I am a child crying alone in the dark. Will the heavenly Father leave his child there? Here he breaks off, and anything more from us would only spoil the abruptness of the unexpected FINIS.
(We have not attempted to interpret this Psalm concerning our Lord, but we fully believe that where the members are, the Head is to be seen preeminently. To have given a double exposition under each verse would have been difficult and confusing; we have therefore left the Messianic references to be pointed out in the Notes, where, if God the Holy Ghost be pleased to illustrate the page, we have gathered up more than enough to lead each devout reader to behold Jesus, the man of sorrows and the acquaintance of grief.)
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Title. Mahalath Leannoth I lean to the idea, that the words Mahalath Leannoth, are intended to denote some musical instrument of the plaintive order, and in this opinion Kimchi and other Jewish writers perfectly agree. They assert that it was a wind instrument, answering very much to the flute, and employed mainly in giving utterance to sentiments of grief, upon occasions of great sorrow and lamentation. With this view of the title, I should look for no new translation, but should just read it substantially as our translators here: “A Song or Psalm for the sons of Korah”, to the giver of victory, upon Mahalath Leannoth, an instruction for Heman, the Ezrahite. –John Morison.
Title. Leannoth is variously rendered, according as it is derived from hne, anah, to suffer, be afflicted, or from hne anah, to chant, sing. Gesenius, De Wette, Dr. Davies, and others take the latter view; while Mudge, Hengtenberg, Alexander, and others take the former. Mudge translates, to create dejection; Alexander renders, mahalath leannoth, concerning afflictive sickness; Hengstenberg reads, upon the distress of oppression. The Septuagint (apokriyhnai) and the Vulgate (respondendum) indicate a responsive song, and Houbigant translates the words in question, for the choirs, that they may answer. Many etymologists consider the primary idea of hne, anah, to sing, that of answering. The tone of the Psalm in question, however, being decidedly that of sadness and dejection, it appears more probable that leannoth denotes the strictly elegiac character of the performance, and the whole title may read therefore, “A Song or Psalm, for the sons of Korah, to the chief musician, upon the flutes (or the hollow instruments,)to afflict (or cause dejection,)a didactic Psalm of Heman, the Ezrahite.” –F.G. Hibbard, in “The Psalms chronologically arranged, with Historical Introductions.” New York, 1856.
Title. The explanation: –to be performed mournfully with subdued voice, agrees with the mournful contents, whose tone is even more gloomy than that of Ps 77:1-20. –From “The Psalms, by C.B. Moll.” (Lange’s Series of Commentaries.)
1. David was not the only man acquainted with sad exercise and affliction of spirit, for here is another, to wit, Heman the Ezrahite, as deep in trouble of spirit as he or any other beside.
2. They are not all men of weak minds and shallow wit who are acquainted with trouble of spirit, and borne down with the sense of God’s wrath; for here is Heman, one amongst the wisest of all Israel, (and inferior to none for wisdom, except to Solomon alone), under the heaviest exercise we can imagine possible for a saint.
3. When it pleaseth God to exercise a man of parts, of great gifts and graces, he can make his burden proportionable to his strength, and give him as much to do with the difficulties he puts him to, as a weaker man shall find in his exercise, as appeareth in the experience of Heman.
4. Wise men in their trouble must take the same course with the simpler sort of men; that is, they must run to God as others do, and seek relief only in his grace, who as he distributeth the measures of trouble, can also give comfort, ease, and deliverance from them, as the practice of Heman doth teach us.
5. What trouble of wounded spirit some of God’s children have felt in former times, others dear to God may find the like in after ages, and all men ought to prepare for the like, and should not think the exercise strange when it cometh, but must comfort themselves in this, that other saints whose refines are recorded in Scripture, have been under like affliction; for the Psalm is appointed “to give instruction”; it is Maschil of Heman.
6. What is at one time matter of mourning to one of God’s children, may become matter of joy and singing afterward, both to himself and to others, as this sad anguish of spirit in Heman is made a song of joy unto God’s glory, and the comfort of all afflicted souls, labouring under the sense of sin and felt wrath of God, unto the world’s end; it is A Song, a Psalm for the sons of Korah.
7. Such as are most heartily afflicted in spirit, and do flee to God for reconciliation and consolation through Christ, have no reason to suspect themselves, that they are not esteemed of and loved as dear children, because they feel so much of God’s wrath: for here is a saint who hath drunken of that cup (as deep as any who shall read this Psalm,)here is one so much loved and honoured of God, as to be a penman of Holy Scripture, and a pattern of faith and patience unto others; even Heman the Ezrahite. –David Dickson.
Whole Psalm. “We have in this Psalm the voice of our suffering Redeemer”, says Horne; and the contents may be thus briefly stated–
1. The plaintive wailing of the suffering one, Ps 88:1-2. It strongly resembles Ps 22:1-2.
2. His soul exceeding sorrowful even unto death, Ps 88:3-5. The word “free” in our version, is vpx, properly denoting separation from others, and here rendered by Junius and Tremellius, “set aside from intercourse and communication with men, having nothing in common with them, like those who are afflicted with leprosy, and are sent away to separate dwellings.” They quote 2Ch 26:21.
3. His feelings of hell, Ps 88:6-7. For he feels God’s prison, and the gloom of God’s darkest wrath. And Selah gives time to ponder.
4. His feelings of shame and helplessness, Ps 88:8. “His own receive him not.”
5. The effects of soul agony upon his body, Ps 88:9.
6. His submission to the Lord, Ps 88:9. It is the very tone of Gethsemane, “Nevertheless, not my will!”
7. The sustaining hope of resurrection, Ps 88:10 (with a solemn pause, “Selah”), Ps 88:11-12. The “land of forgetfulness”, and “the dark”, express the unseen world, which, to those on this side of the vail, is so unknown, and where those who enter it are to us as if they had forever been forgotten by those they left behind. God’s wonders shall be made known there. There shall be victory gained over death and the grave: God’s “lovingkindness” to man, and his “faithfulness”, pledge him to do this new thing in the universe. Messiah must return from the abodes of the invisible state; and in due time, Heman, as well as all other members of the Messiah’s body, must return also. Yes, God’s wonders shall be known at the grave’s mouth. God’s righteousness, in giving what satisfied justice in behalf of Messiah’s members, has been manifested gloriously, so that resurrection must follow, and the land of forgetfulness must give up its dead. O morning of surpassing bliss, hasten on! Messiah has risen; when shall all that are his arise? Till that day dawn, they must take up their Head’s plaintive expostulations, and remind their God in Heman’s strains of what he has yet to accomplish. “Wilt thou show wonders to the dead”, etc.
8. His perseverance in vehement prayer, Ps 88:13-14.
9. His long continued and manifold woes, Ps 88:15-17.
10. His loneliness of soul, Ps 88:18.
Hengstenberg renders the last clause of this verse more literally– “The dark kingdom of the dead is instead of all my companions.” What unutterable gloom! completed by this last dark shade–all sympathy from every quarter totally withdrawn! Forlorn, indeed! Sinking from gloom to gloom, from one deep to another, and every billow sweeping over him, and wrath, like a tremendous mountain, “leaning” or resting its weight on the crushed worm. Not even Ps 22:1-31 is more awfully solemnising, there being in this deeply melancholy Psalm only one cheering glimpse through the intense gloom, namely, that of resurrection hoped for, but still at a distance. At such a price was salvation purchased by him who is the resurrection and the life. He himself wrestled for life and resurrection in our name–and that price so paid is the reason why to us salvation is free. And so we hear in solemn joy the harp of Judah struck by Heman, to overawe our souls not with his own sorrows, but with what Horsley calls “The lamentation of Messiah”, or yet more fully, The sorrowful days and nights of the Man of Sorrows. –Andrew A. Bonar.
Whole Psalm. This Psalm stands alone in all the Psalter for the unrelieved gloom, the hopeless sorrow of its tone. Even the very saddest of the others, and the Lamentations themselves, admit some variations of key, some strains of hopefulness; here only all is darkness to the close. –Neale and Littledale.
Whole Psalm. The prophecy in the foregoing Psalm of the conversion of all nations is followed by this Passion Psalm, in order that it may never be forgotten that God has purchased to himself an universal church, by the precious blood of his dear Son. –Christopher Wordsworth.
Whole Psalm. All the misery and sorrow which are described in this Psalm, says Brentius, have been the lot of Christ’s people. We may therefore take the Psalm, he adds, to be common to Christ and his church. –W. Wilson.
Verse 1. My That little word “my” opens for a moment a space between the clouds through which the Sun of righteousness casts one solitary beam. Generally speaking, you will find that when the Psalm begins with lamentation, it ends with praise; like the sun, which, rising in clouds and mist, sets brightly, and darts forth its parting rays just before it goes down. But here the first gleam shoots across the sky just as the sun rises, and no sooner has the ray appeared, than thick clouds and darkness gather over it; the sun continues its course throughout the whole day enveloped in clouds; and sets at last in a thicker bank of them than it ever had around it during the day. “Lover and friend hast thou put far from me, and mine acquaintance into darkness.” In what a dark cloud does the sun of Heman set! –J.C. Philpot.
Verse 1. Before thee. He had not recklessly poured forth his complaints, or cast them to the winds, as many are wont to do, who have no hope in their calamities; but he had always mingled with his complaining prayers for obtaining deliverance, and had directed them to God, where faith assured him his prayers would be seen again. This must be attentively noted, since herein is seen of what kind the complaints of the saints are. –Mollerus.
Verse 1. Before thee. Other men seek some hiding place where they may murmur against God, but the Psalmist comes into the Lord’s presence and states his grievances. When a man dares to pour out his complaint before the Lord’s own face, his woes are real, and not the result of petulence or a rebellious spirit. –C.H.S.
Verses 1-2. Before thee. Not seeking to be seen by human eye, but by God alone, therefore, let my prayer come before thee, that is, let it be acceptable before thee, after the similitude of ambassadors who are admitted to audience; and when my prayer has entered incline thine tar unto my cry, because thou hearest the desire of the afflicted. –Richardus Hampolus.
Verse 2. Incline thine ear, etc. It is necessary that God should incline his ear unto our prayer, else it would be in vain to come before Him. The prodigal did not venture to present his prayer before the father ran and fell upon his neck and kissed him. For then he said, Lu 15:21, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight”, etc…and so he obtained mercy. Esther did not present her prayer to Ahasuerus before he descended from his throne and inclined himself to her. Es 5:2, etc. –Le Blanc.
Verse 3. My soul is full of troubles. The Lord Jesus emptied himself of glory, that he might be full of trouble. His soul, which was free from human sin, was full of human troubles, that we who are full of sin might be free from trouble; his life drew nigh to the terrors of the unseen world, that we might not be its spoil and prey. –“Plain Commentary.”
Verse 3. My soul is full of troubles. Hear into what a depth of spiritual distress three worthy servants of God in these later times were plunged and pressed down under the sense of God’s anger for sin. Blessed Mistress Brettergh upon her last bed was horribly hemmed in with the sorrows of death; the very grief of hell laid hold upon her soul; a roaring wilderness of woe was within her, as she confessed of herself. She said, her sin had made her a prey to Satan; and wished that she had never been born, or that she had been made any other creature rather than a woman. She cried out many times, woe, woe, woe, etc.; a weak, a woeful, a wretched, a forsaken woman; with tears continually trickling from her eyes. Master Peacock, that man of God, in that his dreadful visitation and desertion, recounting some smaller sins, burst out in these words: “And for these”, saith he, “I feel now a hell in my conscience.” Upon other occasions he cried out, groaning most pitifully, “Oh me, wretch! Oh mine heart is miserable! Oh, oh, miserable and woeful! The burden of my sin lieth so heavy upon me, I doubt it will break my heart. Oh how woeful and miserable is my state that I am hunted by hell hounds!” When bystanders asked if he would pray, he answered, “I cannot”. Suffer us, say they, to pray for you. “Take not”, replied he, “the name of God in vain, by praying for a reprobate.”
What grievous pangs, what sorrowful torments, what boiling heats of the fire of hell that blessed saint of God, John Glover, felt inwardly in his spirit, saith Foxe, no speech outwardly is able to express. Being young, saith he, I remember I was once or twice with him, whom partly by his talk I perceived, and partly by mine own eyes saw to be so worn and consumed by the space of five years, that neither almost any brooking of meat, quietness of sleep, pleasure of life, yea, and almost no kind of senses was left in him. Upon apprehension of some backsliding, he was so perplexed, that if he had been in the deepest pit of hell, he could almost have despaired no more of his salvation; in which intolerable griefs of mind, saith he, although he neither had, nor could have any joy of his meat, yet was he compelled to eat against his appetite, to the end to defer the time of his damnation so long as he might; thinking with himself, but that he must needs be thrown into hell, the breath being once out of his body. I dare not pass out of this point, lest some child of God should be here discouraged, before I tell you that every one of these three was at length blessedly recovered, and did rise most gloriously out of their several depths of most extreme spiritual misery, before their end.
Hear, therefore, Mistress Brettergh’s triumphant songs and ravishments of spirit, after the return of her well beloved: “O Lord Jesus, dost thou pray for me? O blessed and sweet Saviour, how wonderful! How wonderful are thy mercies! Oh thy love is unspeakable, thou hast dealt so graciously with me! O my Lord and my God, blessed be thy name for evermore, which hast showed me the path of life. Thou didst, O Lord, hide thy face from me for a little season, but with everlasting mercy thou hast had compassion on me. And now, blessed Lord, thy comfortable presence is come; yea, Lord, thou hast had respect unto thine handmaid, and art come with fulness of joy, and abundance of consolation. O blessed be thy name, my Lord and my God. O the joys that I feel in my soul! They be wonderful. O Father, how merciful and marvellously gracious art thou unto me! yea, Lord, I feel thy mercy and I am assured of thy love; and so certain am I thereof, as Thou art the God of truth, even so sure do I know myself to be thine, O Lord my God, and this my soul knoweth right well. Blessed be the Lord that hath thus comforted me, and hath brought me now to a place more sweet unto me than the garden of Eden. Oh the joy, the delightsome joy that I feel! O praise the Lord for his mercies, and for this joy which my soul feels full well; praise his name forever more.”
Hear with what heavenly calmness and sweet comforts Master Peacock’s heart was refreshed and ravished when the storm was over: “Truly, my heart and soul”, saith he, (when the tempest was something allayed) “have been far led and deeply troubled with temptations, and stings of conscience, but I thank God they are eased in good measure. Wherefore I desire that I be not branded with the note of a castaway or reprobate. Such questions, oppositions, and all tending thereto, I renounce. Concerning mine inconsiderate speeches in my temptation, I humbly and heartily ask mercy of God for them all.” Afterward by little, and little, more light did arise in his heart, and he brake out into such speeches as these: “I do, God be praised, feel such comfort from that, what shall I call it?” “Agony”, said one that stood by. “Nay”, quoth he, “that is too little; that had I five hundred worlds, I could not make satisfaction for such an issue. Oh, the sea is not more full of water, nor the sun of light, than the Lord of mercy; yea, his mercies are ten thousand times more. What great cause have I to magnify the great goodness of God, that hath humbled such a wretched miscreant, and of so base condition, to an estate so glorious and stately. The Lord hath honoured me with his goodness! I am sure he hath provided a glorious kingdom for me. The joy that I feel in mine heart is incredible.” For the third, (namely, John Glover) hear Mr. Foxe: “Though this good servant of God suffered many years so sharp temptations, and strong buffeting of Satan; yet the Lord, who graciously preserved him all the while, not only at last did rid him out of all discomfort, but also framed him thereby to such mortification of life, as the like lightly hath not been seen; in such sort, as he being like one placed in heaven already, and dead in this world both in word and meditation, led a life altogether celestial, abhorring in his mind all profane doings.” –Robert Bolton (1572-1631), in, “Instructions for a right Comforting afflicted Consciences.”