“MUSINGS WHILE IN THE HOLD”
The Saddest Of The Sad Songs, Conclusion
“Shall thy lovingkindness be declared in the grave? or thy faithfulness in destruction? Shall thy wonders be known in the dark? and thy righteousness in the land of forgetfulness? But unto thee have I cried, O Lord; and in the morning shall my prayer prevent thee. Lord, why castest thou off my soul? why hidest thou thy face from me? I am afflicted and ready to die from my youth up: while I suffer thy terrors I am distracted. Thy fierce wrath goeth over me; thy terrors have cut me off. They came round about me daily like water; they compassed me about together. Lover and friend hast thou put far from me, and mine acquaintance into darkness.” (Ps. 88:11-18).
When praying to God it is always helpful to lay before Him His attributes. Herman, in the first ten verses labored over his multiple miseries, but here in verses eleven and twelve he discovers some appealing virtues of Jehovah, albeit mixed with his deplorable plight. He directed his supplications into the heart of the constant and faithful counsels of his merciful Father. The lovingkindness, faithfulness, wonders, and the righteousness of God are powerful comforts to a seeking soul. Should these fail there would be no hope for any believer. All would share the same condemnation and suffer the eternal vengeance of God’s holy wrath. Jesus Christ is the atonement and by His perfect obedience, believers are all partakers of a God-wrought righteousness which is superior to that of even the Angelic Host. It is the righteousness of God imputed to believers through Jesus Christ the perfect Saviour. In Him the redeemed have boldness in declaring to God His merciful attributes, and confidence that they will be received even as Christ was received, holy and without blame. Believers now can repeat the same prayer as David with the same confidence. “And now, O Lord God, the word that thou hast spoken concerning thy servant . . . established it for ever, and do as thou hast said. And let thy name be magnified forever.” (2 Sam. 7:25-26).
Verse 11. “Shall thy lovingkindness be declared in the grave?” Herman placed the promises of God’s lovingkindness over against the grave and asked, “shall your lovingkindness be declared,” or spoken of by me when this my flesh is covered with the cold, damp, and lifeless sod? Even if I could speak who would stand at my headstone and wait for my praises of thee. Those that saw how you shut me out while I lived would not be subject to join in with me now that I am in the grave.
There are forceful arguments from which to draw in the lovingkindness of God when we make our petitions to Him. (1) It is His lovingkindness which causes Him to save and deliver. “Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases; Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies.” (Ps. 103:3-4). Note also Ps. 17:7, 51:1. (2) The lovingkindness of the Lord produces confidence and trust. “How excellent is thy lovingkindness, O God! therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings.” (Ps. 36:7). (3) The duration of His lovingkindness is forever and ever. (Ps. 25:6, 40:1, 89:33, Jer. 31:3). (4) The lovingkindness of God secured by Jesus Christ is better than life. “Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee.” (Ps. 63:3). (5) His lovingkindness is an argument we should use when seeking His mercy and blessings. “Hear me, O Lord; for thy lovingkindness is good: turn unto me according to the multitude of thy tender mercies.” (Ps. 69:16). See also Ps. 119:149. (6) God delights in His lovingkindness and believers should glory in that attribute. “But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord.” (Jer. 9:24). It is in these promises that we can ascertain the power of Herman’s complaint. The grave is diametrically opposed to the life that is the theater in which all people can view God’s lovingkindness towards His elect.
Verse 11. “Or thy faithfulness in destruction?” The same reasoning can be offered with regard to God’s faithfulness, as well as to His lovingkindness. How can either be illustrated while the soul trusting in that faithfulness has his hopes as well as his existence destroyed. This, believed Herman, would fly in the face of His faithfulness by forsaking those that trust in Him. “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 Treasury of David by C. H. Spurgeon).
The Psalmist deemed it absolutely necessary for deliverance if God’s glory and faithfulness before men were to be maintained. The faithfulness of God is always an excellent portion of Prayer, and Herman rightly asked how it could magnify the Lord if the recipients of His faithfulness were shamefully deserted by the object of their trust. No where in his prayer do we find Herman hoping to be blessed because of his faithfulness to God, or his good works, but rather, he trusted in the Lord’s wondrous works and faithfulness in His promises to the redeemed. “A soul acquainted with God, hath no will to die, till the sense of wrath be removed, and the feeling of the sense of reconciliation be granted, . . for it is a fearful thing to have the terror both of temporal and eternal death to encounter at once.” (A Commentary on the Psalms by David Dickson).
Verse 12. “Shall thy wonders be known in the dark?” Herman’s despair was accentuated by a seeming contradiction. It is in this life that believers are to show forth the Lord’s salvation and declare His wonders. “Sing unto the Lord, bless his name; shew forth his salvation from day to day. Declare His glory among the heathen, his wonders among all people.” (Ps. 96:2-3). This the Psalmist was unable to do, or so he thought, with one foot in the grave, and God terrifying him with distractions. (verse 15). He considered himself as forgotten, a broken vessel, and a dead man. (Ps. 31:12).
When the soul is overwhelmed with misery and saturated with a sense of hopelessness, it is truly hard to give thanks unto the Lord. To make His deeds known among the people or to sing unto Him, or to talk of all His wondrous works. (Ps. 105:1-5). However, just a little token for good and Herman would burst forth with praises and thanksgiving and forget all of the grief that now ruled his heart and mind.
It has been said that to have no fear of the raging water when you are in over your head and you cannot swim is, to say the least, extraordinary and unusual. Herman felt this fear and concluded that the dead in verse ten would be oblivious to the wonders of God, and those described in verse twelve because of the darkness, could not behold them – so their discharge would be to no purpose.
Verse 12. “Thy righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?” The overall dilemma just kept becoming more obscure. The Psalmist could not reconcile his predicament in light of Jehovah’s compassions. The righteousness of God must be seen by those capable of receiving the same. When man is dead and buried he will soon be forgotten. “For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.” (Eccl. 9:5). Herman was eager to be delivered and was persuaded that unless some unforeseen miracle did not soon come to pass, it would be too late. “The plea of vv. 10-12, goes on the supposition that the fearful conflict in which the Psalmist is engaged has earth for its thereafter; and, if settled adversely to his interests, God’s honor will suffer among men. The sole object is to show that in the present conflict and trouble, if God would show himself on the side of the Psalmist, he must manifest his favor before death supervenes and leaves the point apparently settled against his servant.” (Psalms by William S. Plumer).
Verse 13. “But unto thee have I cried, O Lord; and in the morning shall my prayer prevent thee.” Even in the thickest darkness genuine faith cannot stop seeking God. This is the surest proof of the type of faith one possesses. If we can break off beseeching God, regardless of how sincere one may feel his petitions to be, it is the equivalent of conceding that they, at best, were suspect and not of the Lord. The desires of the righteous shall be granted. (Prov. 10:24). It is the purpose of the Lord to honor the faith of His saints. There is an appointed time for the fulfillment, thou you labor long and see no hope, He that shall come, will come, and that right early. “For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry … but the just shall live by his faith.” (Hab. 2:3-4). See also Heb. 10:37-38).
The Lord will not subvert the faithful soul that trusts only in Him. (Lam. 3:36). The saint may consider himself cast off, forgotten, distracted, and well nigh hopeless. He may suffer from shades of doubt and unbelief for awhile, and feel his faith fail, but the Lord is faithful, He cannot deny His own promises. (2 Tim. 2:13). The hungry child may suffer for years, deploring his temporal and spiritual miseries, which are his constant torment, but the purpose of God is to deliver him from all his troubles. (Ps. 34:6, 17, 19). So glorious will be the victory that even the ears of those round about will tingle. (1 Sam. 3:11).
The admirable Psalmist cried day and night. He went to bed with prayers on his lips and had determined he would awake praying and seeking the Lord. “In the morning my prayer shall prevent (come before) thee.” (Ps. 5:3, 119:147). While praying in the late night. Herman was contemplating and ordering his supplications for the morning. Yeah! first thing. Faith of this nature God will abundantly honor.
Verse 14. “Lord, why casteth thou off my soul? why hidest thou thy face from me?” Herman had not yet seen any deliverance, the waiting had been long, so long that he deemed himself cast off by the Lord. That there are depths of this extreme most have to believe because the Bible teaches such. There are those, however, who know it is true because they have experienced these crushing horrors. Should you be one who has never tasted the depressing absence, the hiding of the face of God (Job 13:24; Ps. 13:1), or had your prayers shut out and your existence little better than a seeming disaster, do not emulate the three friends of Job (Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar) whose cruelty is unmatched by professed servants of God. Those who you disdain may be modern day vessels, who for a time are in a fiery affliction, but will shortly shine as the illustrious example of the unsearchable riches of God’s grace. We mention a few of these grand sufferers who have trod the hard paths for proof of our reasoning — Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Job, David, Herman, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, all of the Apostles who died a martyr’s death, save one, and he was banished, and of course Jesus Christ, the captain of our salvation. Be not severe therefore with thy tongue against afflicted saints for whatever you deem the reason for their sufferings, least you speak that which is not pleasing to the Lord. (Job 42:7).
Verse 15. “I am afflicted and ready to die from my youth up: while I suffer thy terrors I am distracted.” A lifetime of afflictions is no evidence that God is displeased or against His child. To the contrary, “whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” (Heb. 12:6; Rev. 3:19). It should also be remembered “that many are the afflictions of the righteous.” (Ps. 34:19). Man has always made judgments on the basis of what he thinks or sees. Even believers are often led to make the wrong assessments on this same condition. When we consider the actions of God, however, we must walk by faith and not by sight. We may not have any other proof of our positions other than the fact that God’s ways are not our ways. This does not lessen the cutting edge of the afflictions, but it is truly a great comfort to be aware that the Lord, when bringing His children into suffering, does it out of divine and eternal love.
The Psalmist had seen such long and exasperating afflictions that he felt death was the inevitable next event. If he had indeed suffered from his youth, the grave may very well be welcomed with joy, rather than to continue living in his present unhappiness. When afflictions are strong and relentless, and have increased for years, saints often find little delight in deliverances that happened years before. Herman’s lot, at least as far as he could ascertain, was one in which God had cast him off, shut out his prayers, and removed all means of comfort. He concluded, therefore, that he was ready to die, and why not?
Verse 15. “While I suffer thy terrors I am distracted.” None should have any problem understanding this announcement. The terrors of man may cause us some uneasiness, but the terrors of God, who can properly define them? Who would not in this be completely distracted? This suffering saint had no idea how to approach the God that turned all his former efforts into misery. There are just so many arguments and pleas one can offer before God. Herman had tried them all, and had exhausted his own understanding as to how to touch the heart of Jehovah. I will pray thus and so for mercy may have been his thought, but then he quickly remembered that he had prayed and cried that same way many times before and to no avail. Herman prayed in the mercies and grace of God, in all His holy virtues, still his supplications were shut out. What else could there possibly be that he would deem worthy of God’s hearing? Truly, this would cause the most crushing distraction.
It needs to be stressed that what we read is the conception of Herman and what he saw and felt. This is not the way things really were in the purpose of God. Things are very seldom the way we conceive them, nor are we God’s penman for our own history. God’s ways are exceedingly superior to man’s, and our conclusions are not necessarily the correct ones. The Lord will do all He has promised. That means that for the elect of God, there is nothing but undefined love and affection which yearns for the redeemed with holy and complete compassions. Herman, because of afflictions, may very well have felt that the arrows of God had pierced his soul, that the poison thereof drank up his spirit, and that God set His terrors against him. God on the other hand knows the thoughts He thinks toward His people, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give them an expected and glorious end. (Job 6:4; Jer. 29:11).
Verses 16-17. “Thy fierce wrath goeth over me; thy terrors have cut me off. They came round about me daily like water; they compassed me about together. Lover and friend hast thou put far from me, and mine acquaintance into darkness.” There is no wrath for the redeemed, even though in the low valleys we may think so and feel like it is so. God who is rich in mercy and filled to the fullest with love for His children has delivered us through Christ Jesus from present wrath and the wrath to come. “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.” (Rom. 5:8-9). See also Eph. 2:4; 1 Thess. 1:10. The wrath of God is reserved for His enemies and the children of disobedience. “God is jealous, and the Lord revengeth; the Lord revengeth, and is furious; the Lord will take vengeance on his adversaries, and he reserveth wrath for his enemies.” “That the wicked is reserved to the day of destruction? they shall be brought forth to the day of wrath.” (Nah. 1:2; Job 21:30). Note also Col. 3:6; 2 Pet. 2:9, 17, 3:7; Jude 6, 13).
Herman misunderstood the meaning of God’s chastisements and scourges. He considered his afflictions as vengeful terrors and the fierce wrath of God. Fiery trials often lead one to assume that the Lord is angry with them. This would be especially true when God seems to disregard their sufferings or their many cries for mercy and help. When a believer is driven to feel barren and destitute, all the waters of affliction flood his soul and cause him to have unsavory forebodings. The silence of God in this misery only seems to define His anger, and as a result, the suffering saint tastes the assumed wrath of God daily. Let us ever remember that it was after years of suffering, years of unanswered prayers, and increased afflictions that drove the Psalmist to draw the wrong conclusion. I doubt that there are any, even knowing the truths of God’s word, who would not under these same circumstances come to the exact self-same conviction as Herman.
Verse 18. “Lover and friend hast thou put far from me, and mine acquaintance into darkness.” This is repeated from verse 8 and seems to be especially irksome to Herman. That God not only refused to help him, but even caused the support of his closest associates to be set at naught. See the notes on verse 8 in the previous chapter. (Job 19:13-14; Ps. 31:11, 38;15).
The Psalm ends in darkness. If this were the end of Herman it would truly be a bitter wail. Such, however, is just not possible. All the promises of God in Christ Jesus are yea and in Him, Amen! Whatever God was pleased to do for Herman, we know that he has been rejoicing in the perfections of God for the last 3,000 years. Like all the saints of every generation, he now knows that his afflictions were but light and not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in the redeemed. “And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Rom. 8:17-18). See also 2 Cor. 4:16-17).