PSALM 88 TALK: FACING THE DARKNESS OF DEATH

PSALM 88 TALK: FACING THE DARKNESS OF DEATH

 (A psalm that explores the darkness of death and how our only hope in this great darkness is to look to God in faith and prayer for the God of the bible is God who saves us even from the darkness of death. As Christians we have a much clearer message of light in the face of deaths darkness as we have the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ which offers us eternal life with God if we put our faith and trust in Christ.)

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INTRODUCTION

I like the old saying, “There is nothing certain in life but death and taxes”. Taxes people are willing to talk about but death seems to be a taboo subject. In fact we rarely speak of a person dying and use terms like they have passed on or they are no longer with us.

Early this week I attended the funeral of a long time catholic friend of my wife and I who was a man in his early 70’s who died of blood cancer after a long and painful 13-year battle with that illness. His funeral coincided with my first serious reading of Psalm 88 and its main topic of death and facing the darkness of death. So I’m afraid I am going to break cultural taboos and talk about death and dying in this study.

This funeral which was a full on Roman Catholic funeral service with a mass and many catholic prayers concerning death and the Christian promise of life after death with God in heaven. Because Roman Catholics mix their beliefs between God’s word and centuries of church tradition some of the New Testament clear and simple hope of the resurrection for those who put their faith in Christ was lost or at least muddled but their was enough bible message in that service to say my long term friend was now in God’s presence.

My reason for raising this funeral was to illustrate the very real darkness death raises that I and all present at that funeral realised. Psalm 88 graphically portrays this great dark reality of life we know as death. All the commentators I consulted described psalm 88 as a very dark and gloomy psalm, Leupold describes it as,

“The gloomiest psalm in the scriptures”

 Allan Harman writes,

“Probably the saddest song in the whole of the Psalter even sadder in the Hebrew text than the English because it ends with the word darkness (machshak)”.

 Death and what followed it for a ancient Hebrew was a much darker reality for them than it is for us who know the wonderful teaching of the New Testament like Jesus words in John 11: 25,

“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

 The Gospel message Jesus proclaimed is summed up by the apostle John in his famous verse, John 3: 16,

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”.

Even though the Old Testament believer like the writer of Psalm 88 did not have as clear a picture and message from God about the afterlife it is not true to say they did not believe in an afterlife. As Billy Graham writes,

“It’s not true, people in the Old Testament did not believe in life after death – although their understanding was not as full as ours, because God has revealed more about heaven to us”.

Many examples of Old Testament belief in an afterlife can be sited but I will just refer to three:

  1. Abraham was told by God when he died he would “go to his fathers” Genesis 15: 15 and 28: 8.
  1. Moses was told by God that when he died on the mountain over looking the promised land he would be, “gathered to your people”, 32: 50
  1. Finally David spoke of a hope in the afterlife in many of his Psalms and says this in Psalm 23: 6,

“Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever”.

 Even a veiled reference or two can be found in the book of Job and Isaiah to the resurrection, Job 19: 25 – 27,

“I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth.26 And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; 27 I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!”

And Isaiah 26: 19,

“But your dead will live, Lord; their bodies will rise—let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy— your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead”.

Even though our writer of Psalm 88 would have known his death was not the end he like all of us, if we are honest find the prospect of our own deaths a dark and difficult subject as it is only by faith that we can believe that a dead person is alive with God especially when we see their coffins lying in the grave.

However even this writer of Psalm 88, who paints a very dark picture of his coming death offers us light at the end of the tunnel in a number of statements and phrases he makes in this Psalm. We will look closely at not only the darkness of death but these traces of light in the darkness of death and the far greater light the New Testament offers us concerning the certain hope of life after death as well.

Who was the writer of Psalm 88?

The Hebrew heading tells us two clues to the answer to this question. Namely he was a Son of Kohah and his name was Heman the Ezrahite. Most commentators point to the identity of this man as the Heman, a leader of Temple music in the time of David’s later reign and the early reign of Solomon spoken of in passages like 1 Chronicles 6: 33, 15: 17 and 25: 4 – 6.

What was he suffering from that was bringing him to his coming death?

The answer to this question is not clear at all and many commentators offer only speculation. A few of the possibilities include leprosy, some form of cancer and even mental illness like depression which is advocated very strongly by people like Nathan Albright in his internet article called, “For My Soul is full of Troubles”.

Nathan says this in this article,

“For anyone who has struggled with chronic depression, this psalm is almost clinical in its description of the symptoms of that terrible disease”.

As fascinating as his arguments are I personally cannot say for sure that this was the Psalmist sickness. Another commentator argues that the Psalmist problem was sin but even though I believe the writer of Psalm 88 acknowledges sin as a problem I don’t personally believe that is what the Psalmist is talking about in verse 15,

“From my youth I have been afflicted and close to death; I have suffered your terrors and am in despair”.

No, for me I think the answer is we cannot say for sure what the writer of Psalm 88 suffered from for most of his life. This is not a problem because not knowing the actual sickness means that this Psalm can relate to a variety of people approaching their death because of any form of sickness that will take our lives, even sadly the mental disease of depression.

So with the concept of facing the darkness of death and the fact that three times the writer of Psalm 88 cry’s or calls on God directly in this Psalm helped me make my breakdown for this Psalm, which is:

  1. 1 – 9a PRAY TO THE GOD WHO SAVES
  1. 1 – 2 Pray to the God who saves
  2. 3 – 6 Six ways of describing the darkness of death
  3. 7 – 9a Sin separates us from God
  1. 9b – 12   PRAY TO THE GOD WHO GIVES LIFE
  1. 9b –   Prayer is the best thing we can do as we face death’s darkness
  2. 10 – 12 Four questions about the darkness of death and the grave
  1. 13 – 18 PRAY TO THE GOD WHO GIVES LIGHT IN THE FACE OF

             DEATHS DARKNESS

  1. 13 –   Prayer in the light of the morning
  2. 14 – 18a The despair of sickness and death
  3. 18b –   Death without God is darkness

 Lets now look at this gloomy dark Psalm that hints at the light we can have as we face the darkness of death.

  1. 1 – 9a PRAY TO THE GOD WHO SAVES

I have broken this first section into two parts which are:

  1. 1 – 2 Pray to the God who saves
  2. 3 – 6 Six ways of describing the darkness of death
  3. 7 – 9a Sin separates us from God

 Lets then have a close look at the first part of this first secction of the Psalm:

  1. 1 – 2 Pray to the God who saves

 I have said that this Psalm is a very gloomy dark song but it actually starts with a word of light,

“O Lord, the God who saves me”.

 This very sick, dying man calls out to God to save him or deliver him from death and his sickness but the God he believes in, the God of the bible is “the God who saves”. He knew his bible that taught from Genesis to possibly to the time of David, in his time saved or delivered his people, Israel from many seemingly hopeless situations.

He knew that the very nation he was part of only existed because God saves as this God saved the nation out of the impossible grip of slavery in Egypt. They were saved from far more superior military nations in their wilderness wanderings and they were saved or had victory over all the nations in the Promised Land.

This God of the bible is a God of national and awesome deeds of salvation as David wrote of in Psalm 65: 5 – 8,

“You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds, God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas,who formed the mountains by your power, having armed yourself with strength,who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the turmoil of the nations.The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy”

 As David says in Psalm 65 God does awesome deeds of salvation to those who pray to him and our writer of Psalm 88 is certainly doing that as he goes on to say,

”Day and night I cry our before you”.

 Many times in the Psalms we have seen men like David and now this man Heman, a Son of Korah calling out to God for salvation. Warren E. Berkley writes,

“What has been called ‘the saddest of all the psalms’, begins with this word of trust and hope, even if it be the only statement in the chapter, “The God of my salvation”.

The writer might have been looking into the darkness of death but he saw in God the light of his salvation so in this darkness he calls out to God day and night or as most commentators say, he calls out continually. As he might have known from his Godly King and leader who wrote in Psalm 27: 1,

The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?”

 Then this writer of Psalm 88 adds these words to his God, his savior,

“May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry”.

 The concept of God turning his ear to our prayers is a common expression in the Psalms as we see in Psalms 17: 6, 31:2, 71: 2 and 116: 2. Alan Harmar refers to the term from the famous hymn with the same name, “Abide with me”, to explain what the writer of Psalm 88 means by using this term. “Abide with Me” is a hymn which was written by an English minister known as Francis Lyte who was close to his death from Tuberculosis when he wrote it. The first verse of that hymn simply says,

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;

The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.

When other helper’s fail and comforts flee,

Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

I will quote other verses of this very appropriate hymn in further parts of this Psalm talk.

So as this writer faces the darkness of death he looks to the God who saves, the God who listens to our prayers, the God who abides with us.

  1. 3 – 6 Six ways of describing the darkness of death

Then this writer opens up to God and lets rip a brutally honest description of how he feels through what he is facing. He commences this brutally honest to God prayer by simply saying,

“For my soul is full of trouble”

 This man is in a deep dark place a dark, scary and painful place and his pain or trouble is not just physical pain but deep spiritual pain as it is his soul that is in trouble. His soul is actually full of trouble. Scholars tell us that the “soul’ probably represented the “living or whole being” of a person and therefore the writer is saying he is in both physically and spiritually in trouble and pain.

Then the writer uses 6 images to say he is dying and is facing the gloom and darkness of death. They are:

  1. “My life draws near the grave”, vs. 3b
  2. “I am counted among those who go down to the pit”, vs. 4a
  3. “I am like a man without strength”. vs. 4b
  4. “I am set apart with the dead like the slain who lie in the grave”, 5a
  5. “Who are cut off from your care”, 5b
  6. “You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths”, 6.

So let me make some comments on each of these 6 images of the writer’s feelings of facing the darkness of death.

  1. “My life draws near the grave”, vs. 3b

 This expression is easy to understand; as I’m sure all dying people think about the end their physical bodies will take. I have already written down for my wife, if I die before her, what I want done with my body. I have requested I be cremated and my ashes are to be scattered in a special place near my house.

At this weeks funeral where my long time catholic friend was buried, the grave reminded us all of where we all are heading. The bible says in Genesis 3: 19,

“By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

 Whether we are buried like my long time catholic friend or cremated, a s others prefer, the end is the same, we will all return to dust in the ground. This is God’s dark judgment for our sin or rebellion to him.

However we know from the Christian message that the grave is not the end and Paul makes this amazing statement in 1 Corinthians 15: 54b – 55 about death and the grave,

“Death has be swallowed up in victory, ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting”.

 Paul is actually quoting a Old Testament prophet here, Hosea 13: 14 and the full quote from that prophet is,

“I will deliver this people from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death.
Where, O death, are your plagues? Where, O grave, is your destruction?”

Henry Lyte puts this way in his fourth verse of his hymn, “Abide with Me”,

“I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;

Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness;

Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?

I triumph still, If Thou abide with me”.

  1. “I am counted among those who go down to the pit”, vs. 4a

 The pit of death sometimes called “Sheol” is an example of the Old Testament believers having a shadowy view of death and the afterlife. They seemed to have thought in some places in the Old Testament that when a person died they were put in the grave and descended into a dark shadowy place called, “The pit” or “Sheol”.

Some bible believing commentators however think that “The pit” or “Sheol” could simply be referring to the grave, as Isaiah clearly states in Isaiah 14: 15,

“But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit”

 Yet the shadowy teaching of the afterlife made this pit or place called sheol a very frightening dark place like we see in Ecclesiastes 9: 10,

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom”.

 It is again only in the New Testament that this veil or shadowy view of the grave for the true believer is made clearer as we saw in the teaching of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15.

Jesus makes it clear to the thief on the cross that this very day, the day of their deaths they would be in paradise or heaven with him, Luke 23: 43,

“I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise”.

 The grave then, Jesus is implying is just the place our earthly bodies are placed into to return to dust. Note also it is through what Jesus did on the cross and through his resurrection that the clearer message of how we are going to be with Christ when we die is possible as Paul teaches in many places like 1 Thessalonians 4: 14,

“We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him”.

 Henry Lyte puts it beautifully in the last verse of his hymn “Abide with Me”,

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;

Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;

Heavens morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee:

In life, in death, O Lord abide with me”.

  1. “I am like a man without strength”. vs. 4b

As we saw the writer of Ecclesiastes pointed out death and the grave is a place were no more earthly activity can and will take place and it is, to him, only in life can we be productive for God. The writer of Psalm 88 looks into the darkness of death and sees something similar in the second part of verse 4, he writes,

“I am like a man without strength”

 Before he died he was obviously weak with sickness but in the dark place of his grave he is totally without strength as he now lies still and lifeless. I witnessed the sad passing of my own dear father and once he breathed his last his body was still and lifeless. This is an image that will last with me unto my day comes when all my physical strength and life will be gone.

It is said that death is the great leveler of all people as all people great and small die and in death they have no more power to influence anyone in this life. This has been true for all history and again this dark and gloomy picture of death is broken only by the coming of Christ, God’s son to earth when he speaks of the new life in God he has given anyone who puts their faith in him. As Jesus declares in John 10: 28 – 30,

“I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

  1. “I am set apart with the dead like the slain who lie in the grave”, 5a

Here the writer has the vision of the darkness of death he is facing being like a dead soldier lying on the battle field, Spurgeon writes,

“He felt as if he were as utterly forgotten as those carcasses are left to rot on the battle field. As when a soldier, mortally wounded, bleeds unheeded amid the heaps of slain, and remains to his last expiring groan unpitied and unsuccoured”.

 Recently on a trip through Europe I visited the World War 1 battlefields in a place called Ypres close to the French border in Belgium. There every evening since 1928 they conduct a small ceremony where the last post is played in memory of all those who lost their lives the battles of the first world war near Ypres and particularly they remember the 50,000 soldiers on the allied side whose remains have never be found and or identified.

The darkness of death hung over the world during those long four years of the first world war in a much greater way as so many men and women were killed or wounded in what I believe was such a unnecessarily senseless war.

Yet the New Testament and the teaching of Christ would have given many believing soldiers in that First World War light in the face of the darkness of death during that horrible conflict. As we read in passages like 1 Thessalonians 5: 9 – 10,

“For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him”.

  1. “Who are cut off from your care”, 5b

This second expression goes with the first about slain soldiers on the battlefield the writer of Psalm 88 believes are lying dead on a battlefield seemingly cut off from the care of the Lord. Of course I don’t think he actually is saying this is what actually happens when those who trust in God are killed on a battlefield but rather to him the darkness of death he faces is like God does not care for him anymore.

God cares and many Psalms have already made this clear as David does in Psalm 55: 22,

“Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall”.

 The writer of Psalm 88 might not have had a clear understanding of how God cares for us as we face the darkness of death but through Jesus and what he has achieved for us n his death and resurrection the apostle Paul did have a clear idea of God’s care for him. This is seen in what he declares close to the end of his earthly life in 2 Timothy 4: 6 – 8,

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing”.

  1. “You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths”, 6.

Finally in the last image of the writers coming death sums up what he has been trying to say in all the other 5 images of the darkness of death. He speaks of that pit again, which we believe is his grave and he also speaks of how dark and full of despair it seems to be to him with the words, “The darkest depths”.

 The darkest depths of death and the grave have been conquered by Christ and we know that he has done this by what he claimed about that backed up by what he was able to do while still in his earthly ministry.

Let me explain in John chapter 11 we have the story of Jesus raising his good friend Lazarus from the dead. In John 11: 38 – 40 we read this,

“Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odour, for he has been there four days.”

40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

 We might say Lazarus was dead and stinking and yet we read what Jesus was able to do in the next 3 verses, John 11: 41 – 44,

“So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

 Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

 Jesus looked into the dark pit or grave of Lazarus and through his power and might called out into that darkness, “Lazarus, come out!” and right on cue Lazarus walked out covered in the clothes of death but alive because Jesus is as he said in John 11: 25,

“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

 As Henry Lyte put it in the second verse of his hymn “Abide with Me”,

“Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;

Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away,

Change and decay in all around I see-

O thou who changes not, abide with me”.

  1. 7 – 9a Sin separates us from God

 In this third part of this first section the writer pin – points, I believe why he is facing the darkness of death and the reason can be summed up in one word, “Sin”.

I believe he knew his bible and as I have already stated Genesis 3: 19, says,

“By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

This verse in Genesis 3 is part of God’s condemnation of Adam and Eve’s sin which is God’s condemnation on all peoples sin as Paul sums up Romans 6: 23a,

“The wages of sin is death”.

And Paul makes it clear in a earlier chapter of Romans 3: 10 – 12,

“As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one”.

The writer of Psalm 88 expresses this condemnation of God falling on him in verse 7a,

“Your wrath lies heavily upon me”.

All sickness we suffer both physically and spiritually ultimately is a result of sin, sometimes a direct result of our own sin, sometimes a result of another persons sin and sometimes a result of the fact we are living in a sinful fallen world with bodies that age and eventually die.

I remember many years ago an old faithful Christian missionary told me and my fellow bible college students he praised God for every new grey hair because it told him he was getting daily closer to his ultimate death and the glory of heaven that awaited him from it.

The writer of Psalm 88 felt God’s wrath or divine anger coming on him in the form of first serious illness but worse from death itself. The pain this wrath of God against sin caused him he describes this way, 7b,

“You have overwhelmed me with all your waves”.

Spurgeon so eloquently fleshes out the meaning of these words this way,

‘He pictures God’s wrath as breaking over him like those waves of the sea which swell, and rage, and dash with fury upon the shore. How could his frail barque (type of sailing ship) hope to survive those cruel breakers while like hungry teeth of death Seas of affliction seemed to rush in upon him all the force of omnipotence”.

I mentioned the reference in Romans 6: 23a earlier, which said,

“The wages of sin is death”.

However the second part of that same verse offers the light in the darkness of death relating to sin and its payment – death with the wonderful words,

“But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”.

Then the writer speaks for the first of two times in this Psalm about how his illness has effected his relationship with his friends, verse 8 (also spoken of in verse 18 as well),

“You have taken from me my closet friends and have made me repulsive to them. I am confined and cannot escape.”

This verse has caused some to conclude that his serious illness was leprosy as it brought with it the consequence of being separated from not only ones friends but from everyone else in your world at that time except those other sufferers of leprosy. However verse 15 the writer speaks of suffering from this illness from the time of his youth and if he had leprosy as a youth he would have been separated from his friends long before he faced the darkness of death.

Equally Nathan Albright speaks of this expression of being overwhelmed by the waves of the sea as a very apt description of a person suffering from chronic depression, he writes,

“The comparison of the waves of sadness to the waves of the ocean, as well as comparing his state to darkness is another aspect of chronic depression in its cyclical aspects”.

 Another back up of this idea is words from Psalm 42, which I believe describe a Son of Korah suffering from what I call circumstantial depression in verse 7 of that Psalm,

“Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me”.

 Maybe a compromise to this is that the writer of Psalm 88 is also suffering circumstantial depression owing to his illness causing him to be close to what he sees as the darkness of death and who knows maybe that illness is now confirmed to be leprosy, we can only speculate.

For what ever reason the writer has lost the support of his friends which reminds me of the story of Job as we read in Job 19: 13 – 19,

“He has alienated my family from me; my acquaintances are completely estranged from me.14 My relatives have gone away; my closest friends have forgotten me.15 My guests and my female servants count me a foreigner; they look on me as on a stranger.16 I summon my servant, but he does not answer, though I beg him with my own mouth.17 My breath is offensive to my wife; I am loathsome to my own family.
18 Even the little boys scorn me; when I appear, they ridicule me.19 All my intimate friends detest me; those I love have turned against me”.

Both Job and the writer of Psalm 88 lived in a society that connected a persons sin with their illness and misfortune as we see in the story of Job when four of his close friends return to torment him with this idea. The supposed Illness caused by sin led Job to loose his friends and even his wife and family but in the case of Job there was another reason that caused his suffering, which was being tested by God.

If the writer of Psalm 88 refused to admit that his actual recent sinful activity caused his illness then maybe like Job be too lost their support.

However the writer of Psalm 88 did acknowledge that the darkness of his death was a result of God’s wrath sweeping over him, which we have seen is the fate of every person eventually because of our rebellion and sin against God.

This only serves to highlight the wonderful message of the Gospel which I referred to in quoting Romans 6: 23,

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”.

Note eternal life or life forever with God after we die, is not something we deserve or can earn but is a gift of God. It is a gift that comes from the love of God, or as Paul liked to call it, God’s Grace or undeserved love.

I refer here to only verse of Henry Lyte hymn, “Abide with Me”, I have not quoted, verse three,

“I need Thy presence every passing hour;

What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?

Who, like thyself, my guide and stay can be?

Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me”.

 The writer concludes this first section with the words,

“My eyes are dim with grief”

 Which could mean all his suffering that has led him to look at the darkness of his death has caused much tears and weeping which led to his eyes being made dim as David speaks of in Psalm 38 verse 10,

“My heart pounds, my strength fails me even the light has gone from my eyes”.

This first part of verse 9, reminds me again of that Son of Korah who we think suffered from circumstantial depression brought on by his seemingly hopeless situation when trapped out in the desert with King David when on the run from Absalom and his army, when he wrote in Psalm 42 verse 3,

“My tears have been my food day and night, while men say all day long, ‘Where is your God’”.

  1. 9b – 12   PRAY TO THE GOD WHO GIVES LIFE

 We come then to the second and middle section of this Psalm and we know it is a new section for yet again the writer calls on his God, the God of the bible.

This second section of the Psalm starts half way through what is called verse 9 and this means the original placing of the start of verse 9 seems to be wrong but this does not surprise me as Don Stewart points out that the forming of chapters and verses was a artificial contraption to aid study and memorization of the bible started by a man named Charles Stephen Langton in 1227 AD. It was completed for the first time, Stewart tells us in,

“Stephen’s edition of the Latin Vulgate (1555). The first English New Testament to have both chapter and verse divisions was the Geneva Bible (1560)”.

 Why those who added the verse divisions put the start of Psalm 88 verse 9 where they did is a mystery but it seems much more logical to leave verse 9a as part of verse 8 and start verse 9 with the words in 9b.

I have broken this second section into two parts, which are:

  1. 9b –   Prayer is the best thing we can do as we face death’s darkness
  2. 10 – 12 Four questions about the darkness of death and the grave

 Lets have a look then at the first part:

  1. 9b –   Prayer is the best thing we can do as we face death’s darkness

After such a terrible description of how this writer feels about what seems his suffering from a terrible illness that looks like it will end in his death he continues to call on his God, the God of the bible, he writes,

“I call to you, O Lord every day; I spread out my hands to you”.

 This man might be looking at the darkness of his own death but this only causes him to look to what he believes is his only hope, his God, the God of the bible. This he does three times in this Psalm, which I have used as the way of breaking down this Psalm into three sections.

This, to me, demonstrates what we should do when we all one day will look at the darkness of our own deaths. Even this week the death of my long time Roman Catholic friend has caused me to pray about death for myself and my family and friends. After the funeral service of my long time Roman Catholic friend I spoke briefly to his wife, giving her a hug and telling her I was praying for her. She responded with a very sincere heart felt thank you.

The bible urges us to pray and to pray in all circumstances especially when we face the problems life will bring us. The Psalms over and over again demonstrate the place and power of prayer, like David shows us in Psalm 30: 2 – 3,

“O Lord my God, I called to you for help and you healed me. O Lord you brought me up from the grave, you spared me from going down into the pit”.

 This is a prayer David prayed when he was ill or in some kind of life threatening incident that caused him to look into the darkness of death and God heard that prayer and saved him.

Then the New Testament continually exhorts us to pray and Paul in Philippians 4: 6 , speaks of turning our anxieties into prayers,

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God”.

 Nothing will make us more anxious than the looking at the darkness of our own death so Paul says turn that anxiety into prayer and then verse 7 gives us a wonderful promise if we do turn our anxieties into prayers,

“ And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus”.

The writer speaks of spreading out his hands in prayer which is a Old Testament way of praying to God and could be like the lifting up of hands in prayer David speaks of in Psalm 28: 2,

“Hear my cry for mercy as I call to you for help, as I lift up my hands toward your most Holy Place”.

  1. 10 – 12 Four questions about the darkness of death and the grave

The writer’s prayer now contains a strange twist as his prayer now contains four questions to God concerning the darkness of death and the physical grave. We all have questions about what happens to us when we die and it is only natural that those questions become more intense and clearer when we know we are going to die. Many people actually don’t seriously consider God and the fate of their eternity unto they actually find out that they are dying which I feel is a sad turn of events.

As I said in the introduction the people of the Old Testament and indeed even modern Jews do not have as clear a understanding and hope for life after death as those of us who accept the word of Jesus Christ and his followers (The New Testament) as the word of God.

I am not saying that the Old Testament does not indicate or even speak of life after death but I am saying it is not as clear in its teaching of the subject as we find in the New Testament owing to the full and hopeful word of Jesus who we as Christians believe is God’s word become flesh (John 1: 14).

In seeking to open up these four questions I will point you to what I believe would be Jesus answer to these questions as well as try and open up these four questions as the writer intended them to be.

The four questions are:

  1. “Do you show your wonders to the dead? (vs.10a)
  2. “Do those who are dead rise up and praise you? (vs.10b)
  3. “Is your love declared in the grave, your faithfulness in Destruction?” (vs.11)
  4. “Are your wonders known in the place of darkness or your deeds in the land of oblivion? (vs. 12)

 Let me now seek to answer these four questions in the context of this Psalm and the Old Testament and then refer us to what Jesus said in answer to these four questions.

  1. “Do you show your wonders to the dead? (vs.10a)

Joseph Barnes explains what this question is really asking for when he says,

“The question here is not whether they would rise to live again, or appear in this world, but whether in Sheol they would rise up from their resting places, and praise God as men in vigor and in health can on the earth. The question has no reference to the future resurrection. It relates to the supposed dark, dismal, gloomy, inactive state of the dead.”.

 As Isaiah says in Isaiah 38: 18,

“For the grave cannot praise you, death cannot sing your praise; those who go down to the pit cannot hope for your faithfulness”.

 Maybe the Psalmist saw how so many pagan nations built massive monuments to a dead person like the pyramids that try and make the dead king or person declare his majesty and wonders but the dead king or person cannot and will not ever see God’s wonders in their earthly graves.

 So this murky dark and shadowy Old Testament understanding of the place of the dead has led the writer of Psalm 88 to ask these questions as he faced the darkness of his own death.

When we see the light of what Jesus and the New Testament says about the place of the dead we get a different picture. As I said already, Jesus said to the thief being crucified next to him who turns in faith to Jesus, Luke 23: 43,

“I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise”.

Jesus does not speak of, today being in the shadowy place of sheol or the dark place of the grave but,

Today you will be with me in paradise”.

 Paul also believed what Jesus taught here and speaks of it in Philippians 1: 23 – 25,

“I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know I will remain and I will continue with you all of you for your progress and joy in the faith”.

 Of course we know from the New Testament that when we are in heaven we will be in God’s presence not only seeing his wonders but praising God because of them, Revelation 19: 6 -7,

“Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready”.

So many films and TV dramas portray people going to a person’s grave to speak to the dearly departed person as though they are lying there in the grave and able to be spoken to. If I had a grave, which I will not have as I want to be cremated and my ashes scattered, but if I had a grave, I would have written on the tombstone,

“He is not here he is in heaven praising God”.

  1. “Do those who are dead rise up and praise you? (vs.10b)

 So we have seen from what Joseph Barnes says about this verse that,

“The question has no reference to the future resurrection. It relates to the supposed dark, dismal, gloomy, inactive state of the dead.”.

As Isaiah said Isaiah 38: 18,

“For the grave cannot praise you, death cannot sing your praise; those who go down to the pit cannot hope for your faithfulness”.

Dead bodies don’t suddenly rise up from their graves and praise God and this writer of Psalm 88 knew this and therefore by asking this question seems to be asking God that he escape the darkness of death and be healed of his afflictions.

However even if that is what God would do this man would and did die and was buried and entered the darkness of death.

As Christians we have a far clearer picture of death and the afterlife we are promised by Jesus and the teaching of the New Testament. We have seen in answer to the first question when we die we immediately go to be with the Lord if we have put our faith in him. However Jesus speaks also of a great day when their will be a rising from the dead, which even the Old Testament hinted at like Isaiah 26: 19 but Jesus makes it very clear that when God’s final judgment will take place there will be a great rising from the dead, Matthew 25: 31 – 33,

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left”.

The book of Revelation 20: 12 – 13, give us an even more vivid picture of that great day to come,

And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done”.

There is much speculation and ideas on how we can understand the idea of dying and going straight to God in heaven and the idea of a future resurrection of the dead.

One idea is that when we die we pass from time and space and in our deaths our first conscious thought will be our resurrection from the dead.

Others argue that our soul’s or spiritual eternal being will be with God in heaven but at the resurrection we will also be given a new spiritual body.

I am not sure what is correct here but what I know is God’s word teaches us that both ideas are true, for true believers when we die we go straight to be with Jesus in heaven and we will also be present in the resurrection of the dead when Jesus comes again, a mystery but one that will be clear to all of us when we pass through the darkness of death.

  1. “Is your love declared in the grave, your faithfulness in Destruction?” (vs.11)

I think John Gill in his commentary on this verse opens up beautifully what this third question about the darkness of death and the grave is actually asking, he writes,

“The grave, so called from dead bodies being cast into it, and wasted, consumed, and destroyed in it:

the meaning may be, that should he be laid in the grave, and there putrefy and rot, and not be raised again, where would be the faithfulness of God to his purposes, to his covenant and promises, to him his Son, and to his people?”

 So it seems to writer wants God to save him from the grave so that he can declare God’s love and faithfulness. But the amazing message of Jesus and the New Testament is that because we have the assured gift of eternal life our deaths declare God’s love and faithfulness because of his amazing love in giving us this great gift, as John 3: 16,

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”.

This well known famous verse is teaching us that if we believe in Jesus and of course in what he has done for us our fate is not just what happens to our earthly bodies when we die, rot and perish but our souls or our real life will live forever with God.

The verses that follow John 3: 16 go on to teach us about this great love and light that is ours now in this life and the next that dispels the darkness of death. It also speaks how that the rejection of God’s love and light will lead to darkness rather than life and light as we read in John 3: 19 – 21,

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

  1. “Are your wonders known in the place of darkness or your deeds in the land of oblivion? (vs. 12)

 All through this Psalm I have noted how its central theme has been the writers perspective of his coming death as being like looking into darkness. Now in verse 12 he speaks directly of deaths darkness with the words,

“Are your wonders known in the place of darkness”.

 This is description of darkness is matched by the parallel phrase of the second half of verse 12, which speaks of oblivion, total nothingness, this is the description of death all atheists would give that at death all people face the darkness of oblivion.

Alfred Banes in his following quote explains vividly what this Psalmist is describing as he faces the darkness of death in verse 12,

“Oblivion; where the memory has decayed, and where the remembrance of former things is blotted out. This is a part of the general description, illustrating the ideas then entertained of the state of the dead; that they would be weak and feeble; that they could see nothing; that even the memory would fail, and the recollection of former things pass from the mind. All these are images of the grave as it appears to man when he has not the clear and full light of revelation; and the grave is all this – a dark and cheerless abode – all abode of fearfulness and gloom”.

Death is a dark place indeed for the non – believer and to think that people like Hitler, Gangues Khan and all other wicked tyrants can escape the judgment of God by passing into nothingness or oblivion goes against any sense of justice and indeed the very word of God itself.

As the writer to the Hebrews says in Hebrews 9: 27,

“Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment”.

 Death is not the end, it is not an escape from God and his judgment because according to the bible even the non – believer will rise but he or she will rise to be judged as the book of Revelation speaks clearly of in Revelation 20: 11 – 15,

“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire”.

As we have been seeing right through this Psalm talk for the true believer Jesus has changed everything through his death and resurrection and as a true believer in Jesus Christ we might feel that we too are looking into the darkness of death as we approach it but God’s light and love will shine through that darkness and give us amazingly bright and beautiful light.

There are many wonderful glimpse’s of heaven and the afterlife for all believers in the New Testament but the one I have chosen to share with you stands in total contrast to verse 12 of this Psalm, Psalm 88 and it is Revelation 21: 22 – 27,

“I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life”.

  1. 13 – 18 PRAY TO THE GOD WHO GIVES LIGHT IN THE FACE OF

             DEATHS DARKNESS

 We come then to the third and final section of this Psalm, which is signaled again by another call or cry to God, which is followed by another desperate prayer for God’s, help as the writer faces the darkness of death.

I have broken this final section into three parts:      

  1. 13 –   Prayer in the light of the morning
  2. 14 – 18a The despair of sickness and death
  3. 18b –   Death without God is darkness

Lets then have a close look at each of these three parts.

  1. 13 –   Prayer in the light of the morning

The first part is the third cry for help to God as the writer faces the darkness of death. He prays,

“But I cry to you for help, O Lord; in the morning my prayer comes before you”.

 I have seen in other Psalms the significance of the morning and how the change from the darkness of night and its obvious gloom is contrasted with the light of the morning and its obvious feeling of hope and new life.

A great example of this is Psalm 30: 5b,

“Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning”.

 The writer is saying with the morning and its message of a new day of light he cries to God for help in his battle with the darkness of death. The contrast between the dark night and the brilliant sun of the morning is no coincidence and the morning gives new life to his prayer for help in the face of the darkness of death.

He also could be saying that before he does anything in the day he is going to pray and seek God’s help, which he so sorely needs.

The writer of this Psalm is showing us a great example of what we should do as we face any of life’s difficulties, we should first pray and present to God a needs and the needs of others.

Paul encouraged followers of Jesus to pray on all occasions and often added his own request for prayer as he did it as we see in Ephesians 6: 18 – 20,

“ And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should”.

So as we approach the darkness of death, and we all will, we should remember to be in much prayer and as we minister to others facing the darkness of their deaths we should pray for them and with them as well.

  1. 14 – 18a The despair of sickness and death

The writer then presents in these last four and a half verses what I count as four common feelings or emotions people experience as they suffer great sickness and the prospect of death and all of these feeling can be summed up in one word – despair.

Those four feelings are:

  1. Rejection by God and friends (vs. 14 and 18a)
  2. Longtime suffering (vs. 15)
  3. Terror (vs. 16)
  4. A sense of drowning (vs. 17)

Lets have a closer look at these four

  1. Rejection by God and friends (vs. 14 and 18a)

As I said in the introduction, this week I went to the funeral of a long time Roman Catholic friend who died after a long and painful battle with blood cancer. His battle with this disease would have not only been physically painful but also spiritually and to some extent socially as well.

I personally have not had to suffer from sickness much in my life so far but as I age and my death approaches one day in the future this will probably change. I do remember a painful illness I had for three or four days when on a short -term mission trip to Myanmar a few years ago. Having got sick while in the middle of ministry for God had a big impact on me and I remember still to this day not only the physical pain I experienced but the spiritual pain as well.

It was spiritual in the way that the pain and sickness played on my mind from a spiritual perspective. I had thoughts of being abandoned by God which I counted with holding onto promises in God’s word of his love and commitment to me like, John 10: 27 – 30,

 “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

I also claimed in prayer another favorite passage I Jesus promise to help us when we are suffering in any kind of way in Mathew 11: 28 – 30,

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

 So I am not surprised to read in verse 14 of Psalm 88, these words,

“Why, O Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me”.

 Note how in the previous verse we read the writer doing what I did in my short but painful illness I experienced on my Myanmar mission trip,

“I cry to you for help, O Lord”.

 Prayer is the answer to what should we do when sickness or any problem attacks us and causes us to doubt God’s love and protection for us. David used prayer in the God of the bible on many occasions in his long life and Psalm 6 is a Psalm David wrote when he was suffering great physical sickness and in verses 2 – 4 he prays this way,

“Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint; heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.
My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?Turn, Lord, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love”.

Note how verse 2 indicates David is suffering some kind of physical illness that he says in verse 3 it gave his soul deep anguish. Also note how in verse 4 David appeals to God’s unfailing love during this physical and spiritual suffering. For a detailed look at why we suffer even as Christian believers look up my study on Psalm 6 as I included in that study my biblical understanding of why we might suffer in this life even as Christian believers.

We have seen already that the writer of Psalm 88 not only suffered physically and spiritually because of his illness but he suffered socially as well in verse 8,

“You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them”.

 Again the writer of this Psalm speaks of the social despair his illness and approach to his death had caused in the first part of the last verse of the Psalm, verse 18a,

“You have taken my companions and loved ones from me”.

 My experience of four days of painful physical illness on my Myanmar trip did not cause my friends to desert me. In fact my fellow mission team friends supported me in prayer and so did many people back home from my church and mission prayer supporters. Their prayers and mine were answered through a local medicine for my complaint been given to me, which quickly settled my bladder problems down and I was able to continue my mission work fairly quickly.

At the height of my painful illness I only allowed one of my mission team members to visit me because my physical complaint resulted in very embarrassing and repulsive bodily outcomes. My long time Roman Catholic friends illness caused him major disfigurement like horrible cancerous sores all over his body and he had to have one of his legs amputated which made seeing him towards the end very difficult. Maybe this was the problem the writer of Psalm 88 had that was so bad none of his friends could be in his presence any more.

Those who theorise that he had leprosy suggest that this disease alone would have caused him to become a social outcast which is even ordered to happen by Old Testament law, see Leviticus 13, which covers all kinds of skin diseases.

For whatever reason the writer of Psalm 88 felt socially cut off owing to his long running illness we will not know for sure but the New Testament answer to this problem is prayer and prayer particularly from the church represented by the elders of the church as James speaks of in James 5: 13 – 16,

“Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective”.

Also for those of us who are not sick we should not let the physical discomfort a person’s illness can give us stop us from visiting them to encourage them and pray for them and with them.

Jesus speaks of the importance of true believers doing things like visiting the sick and other acts of practical love as the mark of true faith in God and his kingdom in Matthew 25: 34 – 36,

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’”

So we should show this mercy and love to others who are suffering especially those who are suffering we would count as brothers and sisters in Christ.

  1. Longtime suffering (vs. 15)

As I said in my introduction my long time Roman Catholic friend who recently died and I attended his funeral service suffered greatly for 13 years of his life from a form of blood cancer that constantly poisoned his entire body. The writer of Psalm 88 suffered from his sickness for much longer than that as he wrote in verse 15,

“”From my youth I have been afflicted and close to death; I have suffered your terrors and am in despair”.

 Long- term suffering is something I have not had to endure and I can only imagine how it would lead a person to great despair. As I have already said we cannot say for sure what the writer of Psalm 88 actually suffered from. If it were leprosy he would not have been able to perform his duties as a Levite and lead the singing and playing of music, as he would have been considered unclean under Old Testament law to do this.

If he suffered from some form of mental illness like chronic depression then the words of the second half of the verse would make a lot of sense as he speaks of suffering from terrors leading to despair. However as appealing the concept of chronic depression is we cannot know for sure if it was that which the writer actually suffered from.

Long term suffering for true active believers is not unusual both in the bible and throughout history. The writer of Psalm 88 obviously is an example of this and besides still being able to lead the music and singing in Temple worship he was able to contribute to the writing of Psalm 88 and who knows other Psalms written by the Sons of Korah.

Even the apostle Paul spoke of a physical aliment, which we also don’t know what it was and how he asked God to take away but he tells us in 2 Corinthians 12: 7 – 8b,

“Or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me”.

 He goes on to tell us that God chose to say no, to his prayer for the removal of what he calls, “a thorn in my flesh” and he tells us why God did not take away and how it helped him in his ministry in verses 9 – 10,

 9 “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong”.

So this is a classical example of how God can and does use suffering sometimes for his good will to be done. Jesus himself prayed in the garden of Gethsemane for God to take his coming suffering (which he calls “this cup”) away from him and this is what he actually says in this prayer in Luke 22: 42,

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done”.

 Sickness even long -term sickness has not stopped many Christians throughout history to serve God faithfully. I would like to refer to just one example of this, the great hymn writer and poet of the 18th century, William Cowper, Wikipedia says this about him,

“After being institutionalised for insanity in the period 1763–65, Cowper found refuge in a fervent evangelical Christianity, the inspiration behind his much-loved hymns. He continued to suffer doubt and, after a dream in 1773, believed that he was doomed to eternal damnation. He recovered and wrote more religious hymns”.

 Cowper became great friends of another great 18th century hymn writer John Newton who encouraged him and ministered to him during both his hymn writing and bouts of mental illness. Cowper is also famous for coming up with the phrase,

“God moves in a mysterious way/ His wonders to perform.”

  1. Terror (vs. 16)

The writer of Psalm 88 again speaks of the consequences of sin, God’s wrath again in verse 16,

“Your wrath has swept over me; your terrors have destroyed me.”

 He spoke before in verse 7 of how God’s wrath lying heavy on him and overwhelming him like the waves of the sea and now he says that this wrath or anger of God terrifies him.

The bible teaches in many ways in many places what sin has done to mankind and the world we live in. We often do not fully grasp the terror and destruction sin has caused in this world. The first incident recorded after Adam and Eve fall to sin is the story of their son Cain killing his brother Abel out of spiritual jealousy.

The story goes on to worse and worse sin and comes to the point that many generations after Adam and Eve the whole world is so wicked and rebellious to God that God judges the world with a flood and only one family survives, the family of Noah.

Jesus spoke often about how we all have this problem of a sinful heart that produces out of us much wickedness, as Jesus speaks of in Matthew 15: 18 – 20,

But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”

For this great sin and wickedness God has said he would bring the consequences of death, as we read in Genesis 3: 19, says,

“By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

I believe the terror the writer of Psalm 88 is speaking of in verse 16 is the terror of the darkness of death this writer now sees coming.

When commenting on the reference to God’s to God’s wrath in verse 7 I quoted Romans 6: 23a,

“The wages of sin is death”.

However the second part of that same verse offers the light in the darkness of death relating to sin and how death is its payment with the wonderful words,

“But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”.

Jesus destroyed the terror of our death with his death for us and this is why Paul can say in 1 Corinthians 15: 54b – 57,

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”.

  1. A sense of drowning (vs. 17)

Already a sense of drowning has appeared in this Psalm and it’s was in verse 7 also, where the writer says,

“You have overwhelmed me with all your waves”.

 Here in verse 17 he says something similar,

“All day long they surround me like a flood; they have completely engulfed me”.

 The word, “they” refers to the terrors of God’s wrath that appears in the previous verse and this verse and the words in verse 7 are some of the strongest arguments for the concept that the writer suffered from a mental illness like depression.

I mentioned in my comments of verse 7, Nathan Albrights Internet ere Hesrearticle on Psalm 88 called “My soul is full of troubles” were he makes a strong case for the idea that the writer suffered from depression. Even though I am attracted to this explanation of the writers possible illness I do not think it is the illness itself the writer finds overwhelming but it is what the illness is leading to namely his death.

The terror of God’s wrath is his sentence of death for our sins, which ultimately is the cause either directly, or indirectly of our sicknesses that leads to the dark prospect of death. It is this I believe, is what the writer finds so overwhelming.

Many people actually suffer what is called circumstantial depression or depression brought on by circumstances and this could be part of what this writer is speaking about as he looks at the darkness of his death.

Again it is the wonderful light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that can minister to us as we face the darkness of death and the depression that it can cause us. Jesus gave his disciples and all who like them seek to follow Jesus these amazing comforting words about death and what it means for his followers in John 14: 1 – 4,

 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God]; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

 Thanks to one of the disciples, Thomas not understanding what Jesus was saying here, asks in verse 5,

“Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus then gives an even greater promise for us in this life and in the life to come after we pass through the darkness of death,

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

 Thomas goes on to ask Jesus to show us the father and Jesus speaks of how if we have seen him we have seen the father.

For Christians who are suffering a life threatening illness and suffering depression as a result of it I say, look to Jesus, read his word, meditate on it or think it through and let God’s light dispel the darkness of death as you come to him in prayer.

  1. 18b –   Death without God is darkness

 The final third part of this third section is the final words of this dark and gloomy Psalm that we have found, I hope, through the teaching of Jesus and the New Testament, much light, as we have contemplated the socially taboo subject of death. The final words of this Psalm then read this way,

“The darkness is my closest friend”

 Alfred Barnes picks up the concept of his companions deserting him and these final words in his explanation of what he is saying in this final verse of the Psalm,

“I see no friends; I see only darkness and gloom. All have gone, leaving me alone in this condition of unpitied sorrow! This completes the picture of the suffering man; a man to whom all was dark, and who could find no consolation anywhere”.

 This is what happens to anyone who faces the darkness of death without God and his great and final revelation in the New Testament, which only comes to us because God sent his son into our world to shed light into our darkness and particularly the darkness of death.

Jesus made yet another great claim about this in John 8: 12,

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life”.

 Jesus told us in John 14: 6, that he is the way, the truth and the life and through him we will go to be with God in heaven when we die.

At my fiends funeral early this week Isaiah 25: 6 – 9 was read which says,

“On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine— the best of meats and the finest of wines.On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nation he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken.in that day they will say,” Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”

So even in the Old Testament there was the hope of heaven after death and there is a clearer picture of this hope in the book of Revelation which should dispel deaths darkness for the true believer and offer those who have suffered great sickness in this life great hope, Revelation 21: 1 – 4,

 “Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

I close as usual with a poem and a prayer.

 THE LIGHT FOR DEATHS DARK GRAVE

(Based on Psalm 88)

 

Lord you are the one who saves

From deaths sure darkness night.

Lord I call on you each day

To bring to me you’re light.

 

May you hear my desperate cry

I have a troubled soul.

As I face the grave to come

I long to be made whole.

 

We are heading for the grave

That dark and terrible pit

That swallows up the life we live

How can deaths way be lit?

 

I feel your anger Lord above

For the sin we all have done.

It overwhelms me like the tide

As deaths dark sentence comes.

 

I sense that I am all-alone

As deaths dark shadow falls

I call out to someone to come

To light deaths darkened halls.

 

O can the dead praise you Lord?

Is your love in the grave?

Can your wonders be seen in death?

And will the dead be raised?

 

I cry to you a morning prayer

I long for you to heal.

The sickness that invades my soul

You’ve turned from me I feel.

 

But then I see your Son of Lord

Who came to die for me

He is the light for deaths dark grave

He surely sets me free.

By: Jim Wenman

PRAYER:

 Father in heaven I look to you as I face the certainty of my death and ask that I will focus on the many promises of your Son concerning the hope of eternal life with you. Help those who are facing the darkness of death to see that through faith in your Son they have your gift of eternal life. So even though we deserve death we thank you Lord that your death for us made a way through the darkness of death to the light of heaven above. In Jesus name I pray Amen.

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