Honestly . . . not quite sure what to make of Psalm 88. The Psalm’s title says it’s a song . . . but what a sad song. Written by Heman the Ezrahite, a son of Korah, it was given to the choirmaster. I can only imagine how much fun (not) it was to practice this dirge. I’m guessing the basses got a lot of work and that there was a lot of brushing up on minor chord harmonizing. But no matter how you carried the melody, no joy. Just a sad song.
Assuming that he’s writing out of firsthand experience, the songwriter says that his soul “is full of troubles” (v.3). That he was a man of “no strength,” like one who was nearing death (v.4-5). His companions shun him (v.8) . . . his eyes grow dim with sorrow (v. 9a). He feels the crushing hand of God’s displeasure and wrath upon himself (v.7), and feels that God has cast his soul way, hiding His eyes from looking upon His servant (v. 14).
Afflicted and close to death from my youth up, I suffer Your terrors; I am helpless. Your wrath has swept over me; Your dreadful assaults destroy me. (Psalm 88:15-16 ESV)
Heavy sigh! Whatever it is this composer was remembering or relating to, it was absolutely miserable. And you read all 18 verses and it doesn’t get better. No happy ending. So what’s the deal?
Here’s the deal, the lyrics are a prayer. A prayer to the living God. A prayer founded on the belief that this God hears and that He acts upon what He hears. This is not a lament intended to be sung into an empty room, the words echoing hopelessly off the walls, the sentiments expressed with no thought that they will go beyond the ceiling. Instead, it is written with the intent it will reach into heaven itself. Written for a choir, but directed to an Audience of One who is enthroned in Majestic glory and intimately aware of, and interested in, the affairs of His people. Sung to One who is able to deliver.
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! (Psalm 88:1-2 ESV)
Repeatedly this sad song comes back to the chorus of crying out.
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 88:9b, 13 ESV)
No resolution found in this sad song . . . no joy realized . . . no happy ending in sight. Just a faith driven determination to bring his situation, and his sadness, before the God in whom he trusts. And sometimes, I’m thinking, that’s all you can do with a circumstance that makes no sense and hurts so much. It brings to mind something I read years ago by Chuck Swindoll. When the landing gear won’t come down, and the plane has been readied for a crash landing, . . . when final descent begins, “If you believe in God you should commence prayer (click here to see the full article).
Prayer . . . it’s what the sad song demands . . . it’s the only response warranted by a desperate situation. Reminds us of a God who’s in control. A God who is love. A God, though His ways and thoughts are beyond our understanding, has determined to intricately weave Himself into our world through His Son. A God, who invites us to confidently draw near to His throne of grace that we might know the abundance of His mercy “and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).
Sometimes you just gotta keep on believing . . . and keep on singing . . . even when it’s a sad song.
Sung by His grace . . . sung for His glory.