God-Soaked World Bible Guide – Day 16
March 21, 2017
Tuesday, March 21 – Psalm 88
A Song. A Psalm of the Korahites. To the leader: according to Mahalath Leannoth. A Maskil of Heman the Ezrahite.
1 O Lord, God of my salvation,
when, at night, I cry out in your presence,
2 let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my cry.
3 For my soul is full of troubles,
and my life draws near to Sheol.
4 I am counted among those who go down to the Pit;
I am like those who have no help,
5 like those forsaken among the dead,
like the slain that lie in the grave,
like those whom you remember no more,
for they are cut off from your hand.
6 You have put me in the depths of the Pit,
in the regions dark and deep.
7 Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah
8 You have caused my companions to shun me;
you have made me a thing of horror to them.
I am shut in so that I cannot escape;
9 my eye grows dim through sorrow.
Every day I call on you, O Lord;
I spread out my hands to you.
10 Do you work wonders for the dead?
Do the shades rise up to praise you? Selah
11 Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
12 Are your wonders known in the darkness,
or your saving help in the land of forgetfulness?
13 But I, O Lord, cry out to you;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14 O Lord, why do you cast me off?
Why do you hide your face from me?
15 Wretched and close to death from my youth up,
I suffer your terrors; I am desperate.
16 Your wrath has swept over me;
your dread assaults destroy me.
17 They surround me like a flood all day long;
from all sides they close in on me.
18 You have caused friend and neighbor to shun me;
my companions are in darkness.
Points of Interest:
- Many of the Psalms begin with short inscriptions regarding authorship, situation, or musical notation. Not all the meanings are known to us today. Here the author is Heman, who is mentioned briefly in a couple of other spots in the Bible for both his wisdom and his musical abilities. He also had many musician children. I just like his name, so we can say that one of the Bible’s prayer songs was written by He-man!
- This is a bleak prayer, you may have noticed. It begins in desperation and ends with darkness.
- Ancient Jews didn’t have a clear notion of an afterlife, but many believed the spirits of the dead lived in a Hades-like underworld named Sheol – not a happy place. This author’s life circumstances are so painful and hopeless they feel like death has arrived before its time.
- “Selah” is likely a word for a musical interlude or meditative pause. So the author lays out the basic circumstance of hopeless difficulty so menacing it’s like being overwhelmed by a wave. After a pause, he jumps right back into it, remembering that he also has no friends that empathize with him and want to be with him in his difficulty.
- After a second pause, the psalmist turns to God and wonders just where God is right now and what God is doing. The psalmist has no immediate answers to these questions. Best as he can tell, it feels like God is the source of his problems or is ignoring him entirely, abandoning him to his difficulty.
- A note on God’s role in suffering: this isn’t saying that God causes our problems and suffering. This is one person feeling that way and having the emotional and spiritual freedom to blame God. Whatever role God’s Spirit played in helping humans write and compile the Bible, sentiments like these weren’t cleaned up or edited out. We’re given permission to pray authentically, whatever we are going through and whatever we have to say to God on any given day.
- These psalms of complaint are formally known as psalms of lament – naming anger, frustration, and hardship to God and asking God to act. Many end with remembering or hoping for God’s goodness, but this one ends blaming God and saying, “All I’ve got right now is darkness.”
Prayer for your Six – Pray for any of your six who are going through hard times, whether those circumstances are known to you or not. Pray they would find friendship, hope, and connection to God in the midst of their difficulties.
Spiritual Exercise – This week, after each Psalm, we’re going to practice a simplified version of the Jesuit examen: examining our own life and thoughts and feelings, and connecting with God over what we find there. Today, examine three to five aspects of your life that discourage you. Make a short list. Choose one to talk with God about, saying whatever comes to mind. When you’re done, ask God if God has anything to reveal to you, and pause for a moment of silence while you listen.