5. The Saddest Of The Sad Songs


Chapter Five
The Saddest Of The Sad Songs

 “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 have afflicted me with all thy waves.  Selah.”  (Ps. 88:1-7).

 In almost every history detailed in the Scriptures with regard to the children of God there is victory in the end.  With rare exception indeed every Psalm, even the darkest of them is intermingled throughout with bursts of faithful hope and expectation.  The lives that display the most blighted hopes eventually find deliverance from the afflictions which make the hardships endured well worth all of the sufferings.  Yea! even more could have been accepted with thanksgiving when viewed from the victorious mountain peaks of God’s ultimate purpose.

 Joseph, ripped from his parents by the envy of his brothers, went from the pit, to the prison, to the most highly honored position in all of the then-known world.  We rejoice in this great wonder, but often fail to remember that Joseph spent at least thirteen years in the dungeon with no recorded manifestations of God’s presence. Twenty-two years elapsed in all from the time he was sold until that day he fell on his father’s neck and kissed him, weeping a good while. (Gen. 46:29).

 Daniel, Job, and many others also had deep and miserable valleys of despair, but the record describes awesome and glorious returns of favor and increases of greater blessings than they had before the afflictions came.  However, Psalm 88 is darkness from beginning to end with no help advanced and no hopes of circumstances ever changing or becoming less severe.  Verse one is the only bright spot in an otherwise continual flow of remorseful agonizing dejection.

 It has been well said that “The Saddest Of The Sad Songs” is left on record to encourage saints of all ages.  To teach struggling believers that even the most noble and saintly of the Lord’s children underwent sufferings and afflictions that most can only contemplate from a bystander’s or reader’s point of view.  These men were wise in God’s wisdom, orderly in their functions, and consecrated in the service of Jehovah.  We must never judge God’s will in one’s life on the basis of our earthly understanding of their agony.  God might just be preparing a strong and faithful soldier, a compassionate friend, a comforting servant, or maybe even a great spiritual leader and deliverer.  (Gen. 45:4-15; Job 42:12-17; Dan. 6; Not to mention the life of Christ).

 Each one of the elect has a divine purpose attached to him in this life and God in His infinite wisdom will cause it to prosper.  It may be to give only a cup of water to a thirsty passerby, but when done in God’s service, it has great recompense.  (Matt. 10:40-42).

 “Some must suffer and some must serve, but each one is necessary to the other, “the whole body is fitly framed together by that which every joint supplieth,” “the eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.  (Eph. 4:16; 1 Cor. 12:21).  Your feet may be set fast; they may have run with great activity and you sorrow now because they can run no more.  But do not sorrow thus, do not envy those who are running; you have a work to do; it may be the work of the head, or of the eye, it surely is whatever work God gives to you. It may be the work of lying still, or not stirring hand or foot, of scarcely speaking, scarcely showing life.  Fear not: if He your heavenly Master has given it to you to do, it is His work, and He will bless it.  Do not repine.  Do not say, This is work, and, this is not; how do you know”  (Sickness, its Trials and Blessings, author unknown).

 Extensive suffering was the purpose of God for Herman the penman of Psalm 88.  Beware and be careful how you speak concerning saints in great and fiery afflictions.  God may one day humble you greatly when He exalts the one whom you have chided for years as doing nothing in the service of the Lord.  “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth.  Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.”  (Rom. 14:4).

 We now look at this dark and somber wailing of a faithful servant in his sad song.  A song which was commanded to be sung by believers.

 “This is the darkest, saddest Psalm in all the Psalter.  It is one wail of sorrow from beginning to end.  It is the only Psalm in which the expression of feeling, the pouring out of the burdened heart before God, fails to bring relief and consolation.  In every other instance, however heavy the gloom, however oppressed and dejected the spirit of the sufferer, prayer and supplications are mingled with thanksgiving, the accents of lamentation are changed into the notes of triumph, the darkness of midnight gives way to the brightness of faith’s morning-dawn.  The deeper the sorrow at the opening, the greater the joy at the close.  But here the darkness continues to the end.  There is no confidence expressed that prayer will be heard no hope uttered, much less any triumph.  The Psalm ends with complaint, as it began.  Its last word is “darkness.”  One ray of light only struggles through the gloom, one star pierces that thick midnight blackness; it is the name by which the Psalmist addresses God: “O God of my salvation.”  That he can address God by that name is a proof that faith and hope are not dead within him: it is the pledge of his deliverance, though he cannot yet taste its comfort.”  (The Book of Psalms by J. J. Stewart Perowne).

 Verse 1:  As dark as things were, and getting darker with each breath, this much he knew: the Lord God was his salvation.  He was encompassed with no hope, but still he did not forsake The Very God for the false and hollow hopes found in man.  Faith can be seen in the fact that God’s nothing would be accepted by Herman before he would grasp onto the vanities of man’s so called plenty.  Can we not learn much from a faith so honorable that it would go to the grave, if need be, seemingly unrewarded.  This conviction, to be sure, could only be ascribed to the Almighty God.  That The Lord will never leave or forsake His children is true, but there are times when precious saints have concluded that He has, Herman was one of them.

 Verse 2:  The saintly sufferer cried and prayed day and night for a merciful hearing, baffled no doubt by what must have seemed a hardened display of unwillingness on the part of God to comfort him in any way.  When the Lord strips everything a man has and takes with it all of his hopes, that is terrible.  But when He seems to attack with breach upon breach, the soul is stunned and perplexed.

 Verse 3:  The Psalmist was so full of troubles that the next event, as far as he could ascertain, would be the grave.  “I once thought, said a suffering saint, that after God had revealed His Son in me, that my troubles would be like my sins, gone forever, but I am now so full of them that they run over the top and flood my existence with hopeless misery.” (Ps. 107:18).

 Verse 4:  The man had no strength of his own and God gave none.  Therefore, he was counted as one that might just as well “give it up.”  “. . . he shutteth up a man, and there can be no opening.”  (Job 12:14).  God gave no strength and no hearing to the tormented seeker.  When God is silent and gives no answer to the terrified pleadings of His children, what can keep them from drawing hopeless conclusions?  “Unto thee will I cry, O Lord my rock; be not silent to me: lest, if thou be silent to me, I become like them that go down into the pit.”  (Ps. 28:1).

Verse 5:  “Free among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave.”   Free from what?  Free from suffering, free from weary desperation, and free from what is now judged as an unchanging and destroying providence.  The Psalmist considered the dead were the ones whom God no longer remembered in a providential manner as for care and subsistence in this life, where His hand of protection and guidance are no longer needed.  This seems to be my portion, grieved Herman, why not just let me embrace death and be done with it.  To what purpose is my life in this wrathful affliction.  If to serve God is the highest privilege and honor for the redeemed, then free from that service is to be miserable.  (Paraphrased from J. A. Alexander: The Psalms Translated and Explained).

Cut off from thy hand – the life giving flow of mercy and grace no more to be received.  God had stopped them by cutting off their passageway.  Such was the position Jesus willingly took when He became sin for the elect of God.  “He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation?  for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.”  (Is. 53:8).

Verse 6:  I am where I am because God hath laid me in the lowest, darkest, and deepest place this side of death.  “When a saint is under terrible impressions of Jehovah’s infinite wrath, he cannot but be under great horror of conscience, and in perplexing depths of mental trouble . . . When his troubled conscience is inflamed, by a sense of the fiery indignation of God almighty, the more he thinks of him as his infinite enemy, the more he is dismayed: every thought of him, brings doleful tidings, and pours oil upon the raging flame … He finds himself entangled, as in the midst of a thicket of thorns; so that, which way soever he turns himself, he is pierced and grieved afresh … The bodily torture even of crucifixion, could not extort from the holy Jesus the smallest sigh or complaint; but the sense of his Father’s wrath in his soul, wrung from him that doleful outcry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!”  (A Treatise on Spiritual Comfort by John Colquhoun).

Verse 7:  “Thou hast afflicted me with all thy waves.”  You have spared not one, but all have been slammed against me.  One tidal wave of grief after another.  So powerful and towering I cannot get my breath.  Billows rage and cease not as I am tossed around and dashed against the rocky shores.  Then you quickly take me back, and slam me forth once again.  “All thy waves and thy billows are gone over me.”  (Ps. 42:7).  Deep calleth unto deep as if God could not find satisfaction until the poor soul was completely broken by the relentless breakers, and finally drown in the sea of misery.

Selah.  The poor Psalmist needed just a little bit of rest and time to contemplate his misery – to meditate on the cruel, on the destructive portion that God had called him to suffer.  Still, he must go on because he had not declared all of the anguish that filled his being.  He would plead until he was finished with his complaint.  Then God could either deliver or destroy, the choice was God’s.

“Thou hast put away mine acquaintance far from me; thou has made me an abomination unto them:  I am shut up, and I cannot come forth.  Mine eye mourneth by reason of affliction:  Lord, I have called daily upon thee, I have stretched out my hands unto thee.  Wilt thou shew wonders to the dead?  shall the dead arise and praise thee?  Selah.”  (Ps. 88:8-10).

Verse 8:  “Thou hast put away mind acquaintance far from me.”  When God is silent and prayers are ineffectual and bring no comfort, friends and associates can be a wonderful stay.  Much despair can often be quelled by seasoned words from brethren who hurt when a fellow brother hurts.  To see someone exercise Christian principles by bearing another’s burdens is like the balm of Gilead – a medicinal ointment for spiritual pain.  By standing with one in suffering, believers fulfill the law of Christ.  (Gal. 6:2).  We can never over appreciate the value of support from one who serves the Lord by serving His people.

There are times, however, when God for infinite and unsearchable reasons puts friends and family far from the afflicted one.  They may be annoyed, or just tired of the misery that surrounds the suffering saint.  There are some that seem to take pleasure in the emptiness of another.  Whatever the human assessments or motives be for withdrawing, they are nonetheless the will and counsel of the Lord.  If it were but a little distance, there may still be hope for compassion, but when God removes them “far from the sufferer,” then all hope dissipates.

Many presumed friends may walk away because they lack concern.  Others are struck with fear at the sight of afflictions and flee with haste from the presence of suffering.  (Ps. 31:11).  Those leaving the side of the afflicted one may offer many excuses for the departure, but what stimulates and hastens the going is the sores of grief.  (Ps. 38:11).  They want no part of the torment.  Those who once stood by, now consider the afflicted as an alien and a stranger.  These heartless withdrawings seem to be infectious as each and every person stands aloof and afar off from those hovering over the grave.  “I looked on my right hand, and beheld, but there was no man that would know me: refuge failed me; no man cared for my soul.”  (Ps. 142:4).  See also Ps. 69:8.

When we fail to undergird suffering and tormented brethren, we fail in our duty to both the Lord and man.  Our feigned rationale is purely selfish and wicked.  These perverse reactions will bring a sharp and stern rebuke for their callousness, but even in this God is ordering the affairs of men.  Note the answer from the Lord with regard to such an unholy deportment. “Thou sittest and speakest against they brother; thou slanderest thine own mother’s son.  These things hast thou done, and I kept silence; thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself: but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes.”  (Ps. 50:20-21).

Even thou a cruel and shortsighted man may act in his own volition, he is still intricately doing the will of God for the advancement of His redeemed.  (Job 19:13-14; Acts 2:23, 4:26-28).  “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain.”  (Ps. 76:10).

Verse 8:  “Thou hast made me an abomination unto them.”  Job falsely thought that a man suffering could expect pity from his friends.  (Job 6:14).  Such was not the case for Job, and it has not changed over all the years.  Our cruel and vain assessment of suffering is still harsh and morbid.  You can almost hear the vicious denunciations from righteous overmuch Pharisees.  “He must not even be saved.”  “When you are brought down like he is, God has shown His disapproval.”  It is truly sad, but more often than not, these cold hearted observers think they do God great favor when they rail against another who is in great affliction.  (John 16:2).  “Well, it is his own fault” is their comment.  How cold and quite wrong.

The Psalmist became an abomination unto those that knew him because of the extensive torments.  To be viewed as shameful, horrid and disagreeable in things spiritual by one’s friends is more than mere man can endure.  This position, however, was the one allotted to those who we must conclude were the most marvelous men of God’s choosing — vessels of mercy set apart to glorify God in degrees seldom seen or understood by most of mankind.  Not only were these favored saints abandoned by friends, they were abhorred by them.  They were considered a reproach, a scorn and a derision as all turned against the suffering saint who deserved much better at their hands.  (Job 19:19; Ps. 44:13).  The enemies laugh and snicker at the miserable condition of the afflicted.  Were his life one of wealth and great prosperity, they would have stuck closer than a brother, but when the fortunes are spent, so is their kindness and fellowship.  (Ps. 80:6; Prov. 14:20).

Exasperated, Job declared that these fickle earthlings were not fit matter for a compost pile. They were, said he, children of fools, children of base men, more vile than the earth.  These were the people that benefited by his greatness in days gone by, but now they abhor him and spit in his face. (Job 30:8-10).  Because God hath loosed my cord, and afflicted me, said Job, they also let loose the bridle before me. They mar my path, and come upon me as wide breakers of water.  They pursue my soul like the wind, and in my desolations they rolled themselves upon me.  (Job 30:11-15).

Verse 8:  “I am shut up, and I cannot come forth.”  To be forsaken by friends and acquaintances in despair is an ache that in and of itself is a most bitter stroke.  But when the Lord of all is also withdrawn and shuts out all appeals for mercy, this renders the afflicted fit only for cutting remorse and frantic wonder.

Like Jeremiah, Herman not only watched, but felt God hedge him in a spiritual prison so impregnable that he saw himself incased as in hewn stone.  The Lord shut him in and his prayers and cries He shut out.  Heavy with confusion, and each attempt for relief made crooked, Herman was entombed in dark misery. (Lam. 3:7-9).  He was in fact bound in fetters, and held fast in the cords of affliction.  (Job 36:8).  Why?  Lord, what have I done that makes you charge upon me with cruel vengeance?  Please! give me an answer, either yea or nay.  But his silence is bitterly frustrating.  “Why is light given to a man whose way is hid, and whom God hath hedged in?”  (Job 3:23).  “He hath fenced up my way that I cannot pass, and he hath set darkness in my paths.”  (Job 19:8).

Every saint of God has at sometime felt alone and forsaken. He has been made to feel the sting of man’s unsympathetic barbs and taste the vile flavor of God’s absence.  He has seen the floods of his own wickedness and outpouring of sinful desires.  Unanswered prayer and cries for help in the depths of exceeding great need are liken unto death that rejoices at your approach.  How to reconcile all the heartache with the promises of God is beyond even the most astute knowledge.  The best answer is that believers know the God of heaven will do right, and that all His ways are perfect.  (Gen. 18:25; Ps. 18:30).  Romans 8:28 is always a comforting haven for those who feel set aside, or even hounded by the very God who chose them unto salvation before the world began.  They also can take delight in this fact, the most celebrated of all Biblical characters suffered far greater sufferings than any who believe the truths they believed – Jesus Christ, Himself the uttermost definition of unsurpassed torture and afflictions.

Verse 9:  “Mine eye mourneth by reason of affliction.”  Indescribable sadness is now brought center stage.  Weeping over the absence of God is weeping that touches the heart of the compassionate Savior.  Many may weep, but never shed a tear because they miss the Lord’s presence in their life.  If we cry and sob, let it ever be because we are unhappy that Jesus is not as near and dear to us as the Bible teaches He can be.  Should this be the reason for sadness, it will soon triumph in intimacy and affection that only God can bring to pass.  This type of misery is great reason for rejoicing.  David confessed that without the Lord’s presence, his whole being was consumed with grief.  (Ps. 6:7, 31:9).  The crying eye becomes weary and the throat dried as all faculties fail while starving seekers wait for their God.  The sobbing after God and godliness are blessed roars which will be poured out like water in spiritual tears.  (Job 3:24).

Verse 9:  “Lord, I have called daily upon thee.”  “This continuance of sadness surprised him the more because he had not forsaken the throne of grace: Lord, I have called daily unto thee.”  (Psalms by William S. Plumer).  Mention has been made before that never do we read of these blessed saints blaming man or second causes for their afflictions.  They attributed all to the sovereignty of God.  The continual seeking of the Lord even in these dismal and damaging days is proof that their faith was divine and the product of God’s inspiration.  They knew of nothing, nor looked after any other help in their affliction except that which would come from Jehovah the Almighty. Now this is genuine faith, tried by fire, but magnifying its author. (Ps. 86:3).

Verse 9:  “I have stretched out my hands unto thee.”  Like a little babe reaching and grasping for its mother, it will not be content until it is picked up, changed, snuggled, comforted, and fed.  (Ps. 28:2).  This stretching out of the hands is a thirsting after God.  The context dictates that this daily exercise was no new practice, but had been going on for a long, long time.  “Understand, all without effect, for thou dost not hear nor answer me.”  (Matthew Poole).

Verse 10:  “Wilt thou shew wonders to the dead?  Shall the dead arise and praise thee?”  Now, thought Herman, would be the proper time to bless me.  Therein I might be at liberty to praise and glorify thee before men for your lovingkindness and wonderful delivering mercies.  In the grave I neither can speak of God’s faithfulness, nor ponder for myself His greatness.

All men in affliction wish for a happy deliverance.  There is so much he wants to experience in the joy and gladness of the Lord’s service.  David questioned to what profit was his blood when he would be in the pit?  Was the dust going to praise and declare God’s truth?  (Ps. 30:9).  The dead praise Him not.  (Ps. 15:17).  So why not bless me now?  Note Isaiah  as he advances the same position.  “For the grave can not praise thee, death can not celebrate thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth.”  (Is. 38:18).

Those that suggest these Old Testament saints did not understand the resurrection at the last day is a great deal questionable.  Their testimony would seem to embrace a bodily resurrection sometime future. (Job 19:25-26; Ps. 17:15).  Their questions were concerning living with God’s favor in this life.  Would not this life be the time for service, worship, and the magnifying of God’s innumerable attributes.

Selah.  Time to reflect once again, pause a minute and seek a little rest before resuming his complaint.  Much like the despondent Job before him.  “Are not my days few?  cease then, and let me alone, that I may take comfort a little, before I go whence I shall not return, even to the land of darkness and the shadow of death;  A land of darkness, as darkness itself; and of the shadow of death, without any order, and where the light is as darkness.”  (Job 10:20-22).

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