Despondent. No other word better describes the tone of the psalm written by Heman the Ezrahite. I don’t think this song went to the “top of the charts” . . . thinkin’ that it wasn’t played incessantly on NT Radio . . . wasn’t gonna be on anyone’s workout playlist. But these desperate lyrics of spiritual depression were taken and added to the Psalter . . . the sons of Korah engaged the choirmaster and thus this tune of apparent abandonment was added to the songs of God’s people. That it is part of the canon of Scripture indicates that, though the reality was Heman’s, the words were breathed of God Himself as the Spirit of God moved the anguished songwriter to put emotion to paper. And, as such, Psalm 88 was written for me.
So what do I glean from a song birthed from a soul full of troubles? What’s the purpose of entering the darkened world of a man who has no strength . . . who feels as though the wrath of God lies heavy on him . . . who is overwhelmed by the waves of trouble he experiences? Where’s the “building up” in the dirge of a man shunned by his friend . . . and preyed upon by those who were once his companions? Why meditate on the story of one who feels as though the LORD has cast away his soul . . . as though God has hid His face from this guy in such desperate need? What are the lessons from this sad song?
Well, I guess a couple of things.
First, I notice that in this short song, if nothing else, the songwriter is determined to pray . . . to cry out to God 24/7.
O LORD, God of my salvation; I cry out day and night before You. Let my prayer come before You; incline Your ear to my cry! . . . Every day I call upon You, O LORD; I spread out my hands to You. . . . But I, O LORD, cry to You; in the morning my prayer comes before You. (Psalm 88:1-2, 9, 13 ESV)
Though feeling like a man with one foot already in the grave, with whatever breath he has left, he will use it to cry out to His God. Day and night he seeks the LORD’s ear . . . a day not passing where, like a small child stretching out his hands to his mother as he cries, the songwriter so lifts his hands towards his heavenly Father in earnest desire of heaven’s embrace. Though his world is dark, by God’s grace he never stops seeking the light . . . though he feels near death, the life of faith remains strong as he continues to prevail upon the God of His salvation.
God’s people pray. Prayer is the evidence of Spirit generated faith . . . and “without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him” (Heb. 11:6).
And second, though you know that Heman is looking for reprieve from his enemies and for relief from his deteriorating condition, there’s a sense that, when all is said and done, it’s because he wants God to be glorified.
Do You work wonders for the dead? Do the departed rise up to praise you? Selah
Is Your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
Are Your wonders known in the darkness, or Your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?
(Psalm 88:10-12 ESV)
How the psalmist desires that his mourning would turn to dancing so that the God of deliverance might be praised for His wondrous works. It is the voice of those who have come through the storm which declares the steadfast love of an unfailing God. It is the testimony of the weak which attests to the power of sustaining grace . . . and of a faithful and righteous God. The songwriter prayed so that he might praise.
Yeah . . . not exactly a pick-me-up tune, this eighty-eighth psalm. But a song of encouragement nonetheless. My God hears the prayer of the afflicted (Ps. 10:17). My Savior entered our world of despondency . . . in the garden (Matt. 26:39) . . . and on the cross (Matt. 27:46) . . . that He might sympathize with our weakness (Heb. 4:15) . . . and mercifully and graciously intercede on our behalf (Heb. 7:25).
That in all things, He might receive the glory . . .