(The following texts highlighted in this color of blue is taken from

The Treasury of David by Charles Haddon Spurgeon)  "Excerpted text

Copyright AGES Library, LLC. All rights reserved.  Materials are reproduced

by permission."


                                                Psalm 88


TITLE. A Song or Psalm for the sons of Korah. This sad complaint

reads very little like a Song, nor can we conceive how it could be called by

a name which denotes a song of praise or triumph; yet perhaps it was

intentionally so called to show how faith "glories in tribulations also."

Assuredly, if ever there was a song of sorrow and a Psalm of sadness, this

is one. The sons of Korah, who had often united in chanting jubilant odes,

are now bidden to take charge of this mournful dirge like hymn. Servants

and singers must not be choosers. To the chief Musician. He must

superintend the singers and see that they do their duty well, for holy

sorrow ought to be expressed with quite as much care as the most joyful

praise; nothing should be slovenly in the Lord's house. It is more difficult

to express sorrow fitly than it is to pour forth notes of gladness. Upon

Mahalath Leannoth. This is translated by Alexander, "concerning afflictive

sickness", and if this be correct, it indicates the mental malady which

occasioned this plaintive song. Maschil. This term has occurred many times

before, and the reader will remember that it indicates an instructive or

didactic Psalm: —the sorrows of one saint are lessons to others;

experimental teaching is exceedingly valuable. Of Heman the Ezrahite.

This, probably, informs us as to its authorship; it was written by Heman,

but which Heman it would not be easy to determine, though it will not be a

very serious mistake if we suppose it to be the man alluded to in 1 Kings

4:31, as the brother of Ethan, and one of the five sons of Zerah

(1 Chronicles 2:6), the son of Judah, and hence called "the Ezrahite": if this be

the man, he was famous for his wisdom, and his being in Egypt during the

time of Pharaoh's oppression may help to account for the deep bass of his

song, and for the antique form of many of the expressions, which are more

after the manner of Job than David. There was, however, a Heman in

David's day who was one of the grand trio of chief musicians, "Heman,

Asaph, and Ethan" (1 Chronicles 15:19), and no one can prove that this

was not the composer. The point is of no consequence; whoever wrote the

Psalm most have been a man of deep experience, who had done business

on the great waters of soul trouble.


SUBJECT AND DIVISIONS. —This Psalm is fragmentary, and the only

division of any service to us would be that suggested by Albert Barnes, viz.

—A description of the sick man's sufferings (vs. 1-9), and a prayer

for mercy and deliverance (vs. 10-18). We shall, however, consider

each verse separately, and so exhibit the better the incoherence of the

author's grief. The reader had better first peruse the Psalm as a whole.


1   “O Lord God of my salvation,” -  This is a hopeful title by which to

address the Lord, and it has about it the only ray of comfortable light

which shines throughout the Psalm. The writer has salvation, he is sure of

that, and God is the sole author of it. While a man can see God as his

Saviour, it is not altogether midnight with him. While the living God can be

spoken of as the life of our salvation, our hope will not quite expire. It is

one of the characteristics of true faith that she turns to Jehovah, the saving

God, when all other confidences have proved liars unto her - “I have cried day

and night before thee.”  His distress had not blown out the sparks of his prayer,

but thickened them into a greater ardency, till they burned perpetually like a furnace

at full blast. His prayer was personal— whoever had not prayed, he had done so;

it was intensely earnest, so that it was correctly described as a cry, such as children

utter to move the pity of their parents; and it was unceasing, neither the business of the

day nor the weariness of the night had silenced it: surely such entreaties could not

be in vain. Perhaps, if Heman's pain had not been incessant his supplications

might have been intermittent; it is a good thing that sickness will not let us

rest if we spend our restlessness in prayer. Day and night are both suitable

to prayer; it is no work of darkness, therefore let us go with Daniel and

pray when men can see us, yet, since supplication needs no light, let us

accompany Jacob and wrestle at Jabbok till the day breaketh. Evil is

transformed to good when it drives us to prayer. One expression of the text

is worthy of special note; "before thee" is a remarkable intimation that the

Psalmist's cries had an aim and a direction towards the Lord, and were not

the mere clamors of nature, but the groanings of a gracious heart towards

Jehovah, the God of salvation. Of what use are arrows shot into the air?

The archer's business is to look well at the mark he drives at. Prayers must

be directed to heaven with earnest care. So thought Heman —his cries

were all meant for the heart of his God. He had no eye to onlookers as

Pharisees have, but all his prayers were before his God.


2   “Let my prayer come before thee:” -  Admit it to an audience; let it

speak with thee. Though it be my prayer, and therefore very imperfect, yet

deny it not thy gracious consideration - “incline thine ear unto my cry.”

It is not music save to the ear of mercy, yet be not vexed with its discord,

though it be but a cry, for it is the most natural expression of my soul's anguish.

When my heart speaks, let thine ear hear. There may be obstacles which impede

the upward flight of our prayers—let us entreat the Lord to remove them; and as

there may also be offences which prevent the Lord from giving favorable regard to

our requests—let us implore Him to put these out of the way. He who has

prayed day and night cannot bear to lose all his labor. Only those who are

indifferent in prayer will be indifferent about the issue of prayer.


3   “For my soul is full of troubles:” -  I am satiated and nauseated with

them. Like a vessel full to the brim with vinegar, my heart is filled up with

adversity till it can hold no more. He had his house full and his hands full of

sorrow; but, worse than that, he had his heart full of it. Trouble in the soul

is the soul of trouble. A little soul trouble is pitiful; what must it be to be

sated with it? And how much worse still to have your prayers return empty

when your soul remains full of grief - “and my life draweth nigh unto the

grave.”  He felt as if he must die, indeed he thought himself half dead already.

All his life was going, his spiritual life declined, his mental life decayed, his

bodily life flickered; he was nearer dead than alive. Some of us can enter into

this experience, for many a time have we traversed this valley of death shade,

aye and dwelt in it by the month together. Really to die and be with Christ will

be a gala day's enjoyment compared with our misery when a worse than physical

death has cast its dreadful shadow over us. Death would be welcomed as a relief

by those whose depressed spirits make their existence a living death. Are

good men ever permitted to suffer thus? Indeed they are; and some of them are

even all their life time subject to bondage. O Lord, Be pleased to set free

thy prisoners of hope! Let, none of thy mourners imagine that a strange

thing has happened unto him, but rather rejoice as he sees the footprints of

brethren who have trodden this desert before.  (I Peter 4:12-13)


4   “I am counted with them that go down into the pit:” -  My weakness is

so great that both by myself and others I am considered as good as dead. If

those about me have not ordered my coffin they have at least conversed

about my sepulcher, discussed my estate, and reckoned their share of it.

Many a man has been buried before he was dead, and the only mourning

over him has been because he refused to fulfill the greedy expectations of

his hypocritical relatives by going down to the pit at once. It has come to

this with some afflicted believers, that their hungry heirs think they have

lived too long - “I am as a man, that hath no strength.”  I have but the

name to live; my constitution is broken up; I can scarce crawl about my sick

room, my mind is even weaker than my body, and my faith weakest of all.

The sons and daughters of sorrow will need but little explanation of these

sentences, they are to such tried ones as household words.


5   “Free among the dead,” -  Unbound from all that links a man with life,

familiar with death's door, a freeman of the city of the sepulcher, I seem no

more one of earth's drudges, but begin to anticipate the rest of the tomb. It

is a sad case when our only hope lies in the direction of death, our only

liberty of spirit amid the congenial horrors of corruption - “like the slain that

lie in the grave, whom you remember no more:” -  He felt as if he were as

utterly forgotten as those whose 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 unsuccored, so did Heman sigh out

his soul in loneliest sorrow, feeling as if even God Himself had quite forgotten him.

How low the spirits of good and brave men will sometimes sink. Under the

influence of certain disorders everything will wear a somber aspect, and the heart

will dive into the profoundest deeps of misery. It is all very well for those who are

in robust health and full of spirits to blame those whose lives are sicklied over

with the pale cast of melancholy, but the evil is as real as a gaping wound,

and all the more hard to bear because it lies so much in the region of the

soul that to the inexperienced it appears to be a mere matter of fancy and

diseased imagination. Reader, never ridicule the nervous and

hypochondriacal, their pain is real; though much of the evil lies in the

imagination, it is not imaginary - “and they are cut off from thy hand.”

Poor Heman felt as if God Himself had put him away, smitten him and laid him

among the corpses of those executed by divine justice. He mourned that the hand

of the Lord had gone out against him, and that he was divided from the great

author of his life.  This is the essence of wormwood. Man's blows are trifles, but

God's smitings are terrible to a gracious heart. To feel utterly forsaken of the

Lord and cast away as though hopelessly corrupt is the very climax of

heart desolation.


6   “Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps.”

What a collection of forcible metaphors, each one expressive of the utmost

grief. Heman compared his forlorn condition to an imprisonment in a

subterranean dungeon, to confinement in the realms of the dead, and to a

plunge into the abyss. None of the similes are strained. The mind can

descend far lower than the body, for it there are bottomless pits. The flesh

can bear only a certain number of wounds and no more, but the soul can

bleed in ten thousand ways, and die over and over again each hour. It is

grievous to the good man to see the Lord whom he loves laying him in the

sepulcher of despondency; piling nightshade upon him, putting out all his

candles, and heaping over him solid masses of sorrow; evil from so good a

hand seems evil indeed, and yet if faith could but be allowed to speak she

would remind the depressed spirit that it is better to fall into the hand of

the Lord than into the hands of man, and moreover she would tell the

despondent heart that God never placed a Joseph in a pit without drawing

him up again to fill a throne; that He never caused a horror of great

darkness to fall upon an Abraham without revealing His covenant to him;

and never cast even a Jonah into the deeps without preparing the means to

land him safely on dry land. Alas, when under deep depression the mind

forgets all this, and is only conscious of its unutterable misery; the man

sees the lion but not the honey in its carcass, he feels the thorns but he

cannot smell the roses which adorn them. He who now feebly expounds

these words knows within himself more than he would care or dare to tell

of the abysses of inward anguish. He has sailed round the Cape of Storms,

and has drifted along by the dreary headlands of despair. He has groaned

out with one of old—"My bones are pierced in me in the night season; and

my sinews take no rest. I went mourning without the sun. Terrors are turned

upon me, they pursue my soul as the wind." (Job 30:17, 15, 28) - Those who

know this bitterness by experience will sympathize, but from others it would be

idle to expect pity, nor would their pity be worth the having if it could be

obtained. It is an unspeakable consolation that our Lord Jesus knows this

experience, right well, having, with the exception of the sin of it, felt it all

and more than all in Gethsemane when he was exceeding sorrowful even

unto death.  (He has been touched with “the feeling of our infirmities.”

[Hebrews 4-15] – CY – 2011)


7   “Thy wrath lieth hard upon me,” - Dreadful plight this, the worst in

which a man can be found. Wrath is heavy in itself; God's wrath is crushing

beyond conception, and when that presses hard the soul is oppressed

indeed. The wrath of God is the very hell of hell, and when it weighs upon

the conscience a man feels a torment such as only that of damned spirits

can exceed. Joy or peace, or even numbness of indifference, there can be

none to one who is loaded with this most tremendous of burdens - “and thou

hast afflicted me with all thy waves.”  or all thy breakers. 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 bark hope to survive those cruel breakers, white like the hungry

teeth of death. Seas of affliction seemed to rush in upon him with all the

force of omnipotence; he felt himself to be oppressed and afflicted like

Israel in Egypt, when they cried by reason of their afflictions. It appeared

impossible for him to suffer more, he had exhausted the methods of

adversity and endured all its waves. So have we imagined, and yet it is not

really quite so bad. The worst case might be worse, there are alleviations to

every woe; God has other and more terrible waves which, if He chose to let

them forth, would sweep us into the infernal abyss, whence hope has long

since been banished.  “Selah.” There was need to rest. Above the breakers

the swimmer lifts his head and looks around him, breathing for a moment, until

the next wave comes. Even lamentation must have its pauses. Nights are broken

up into watches, and even so mourning has its intervals. Such sorrowful music is a

great strain both on voices and instruments, and it is well to give the singers the

relief of silence for a while.


8   Thou hast put away mine acquaintance far from me;” -  If ever we

need friends it is in the dreary hour of despondency and the weary time of

bodily sickness; therefore does the sufferer complain because divine

providence had removed his friends. Perhaps his disease was infectious or

defiling, so that he was legally separated from his fellow men, perhaps their

fears kept them away from his plague stricken house, or else his good

name had become so injured that they naturally avoided him. Lost friends

require but small excuse for turning their backs on the afflicted. The

swallows offer no apology for leaving us to winter by ourselves. Yet it is a

piercing pain which arises from the desertion of dear associates; it is a

wound which festers and refuses to be healed - “thou hast made me an

abomination unto them:” - They turned from him as though he had become

loathsome and contaminating, and this because of something which the Lord

had done to him; therefore, he brings his complaint to the prime mover in his

trouble. He who is still flattered by the companions of his pleasure can little guess

the wretchedness which will be his portion should he become poor, or

slanderously accused, for then one by one the parasites of his prosperity will go

their way and leave him to his fate, not without cutting remarks on their part to

increase his misery. Men have not so much power to bless by friendship as to

curse by treachery.  Earth's poisons are more deadly than her medicines are

healing. The mass of men who gather around a man and flatter him are like tame

leopards; when they lick his hand it is well for him to remember that with equal

gusto they would drink his blood. "Cursed is he that trusteth in man."

(Jeremiah 17:5) - “I am shut up, and I cannot come forth.”  He was a prisoner

in his room, and felt like a leper in the lazaretto, or a condemned criminal in his cell.

His mind, too, was bound as with fetters of iron; he felt no liberty of hope, he

could take no flights of joy. When God shuts friends out, and shuts us in to

pine away alone, it is no wonder if we water our couch with tears.


9  “Mine eye mourneth by reason of affliction: -  He wept his eyes out.

He exhausted the lachrymal glands, he wore away the sight itself. Tears in

showers are a blessing, and work our good; but in floods they become

destructive and injurious - “Lord, I have called daily upon thee,” His tears

wetted his prayers, but did not damp their fervor. He prayed still, though no

answer came to dry his eyes. Nothing can make a true believer cease praying;

it is a part of his nature, and pray he must - “I have stretched out my hands

unto thee.”  He used the appropriate posture of a supplicant, of his own accord;

men need no posture maker, or master of the ceremonies, when they are eagerly

pleading for mercy, nature suggests to them attitudes both natural and correct.

As a little child stretches out its hands to its mother while it cries, so did this

afflicted child of God. He prayed all over, his eyes wept, his voice cried, his

hands were outstretched, and his heart broke. This was prayer indeed.


10   “Wilt thou shew wonders to the dead?” -  Wherefore then suffer me to

die? While I live thou canst in me display the glories of thy grace, but when

I have passed into the unknown land, how canst thou illustrate in me thy

love? If I perish thou wilt lose a worshipper who both reverenced, and in

his own experience illustrated, the wonders of thy character and acts. This

is good pleading, and therefore he repeats it. “Shall the dead arise and

praise thee?” -  He is thinking only of the present, and not of the last great

day, and he urges that the Lord would have one the less to praise him among

the sons of men. Shades take no part in the quires of the Sabbath, ghosts sing

no joyous Psalms, sepulchers and vaults send forth no notes of thanksgiving.

True the souls of departed saints render glory to God, but the dejected Psalmist's

thoughts do not mount to heaven but survey the gloomy grave: he stays on this

side of eternity, where in the grave he sees no wonders and hears no songs.

“Selah.”  At the mouth of the tomb he sits down to meditate, and then returns

to his theme.


11   “Shall thy loving-kindness be declared in the grave?” Thy tender

goodness—who shall testify concerning it in that cold abode where the

worm and corruption hold their riot? The living may indict "meditations

among the Tombs", but the dead know nothing, and therefore can declare

nothing - “or thy faithfulness in destruction?”  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 poet is dealing with this life only, and

looking at the matter from the point of view afforded by time and the

present race of men; if a believer were deserted and permitted to die in

despair, there could come no voice from his grave to inform mankind that

the Lord had rectified his wrongs and relieved him of his trials, no songs

would leap up from the cold sod to hymn the truth and goodness of the

Lord; but as far as men are concerned, a voice which loved to magnify the

grace of God would be silenced, and a loving witness for the Lord

removed from the sphere of testimony.


12   “Shall thy wonders be known in the dark?” -  If not here permitted to

prove their goodness of Jehovah, how could the singer do so in the land of

darkness and death shade? Could his tongue, when turned into a clod,

alarm the dull cold ear of death? Is not a living dog better than a dead lion,

and a living believer of more value to the cause of God on earth than all the

departed put together - “and thy righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?”

What shall be told concerning thee in the regions of oblivion? Where memory

and love are lost, and men are alike unknowing and unknown, forgetful and

forgotten, what witness to the divine holiness can be borne? The whole argument

amounts to this—if the believer dies unblessed, how will God's honor be

preserved? Who will bear witness to His truth and righteousness?


13   “But unto thee have I cried, O LORD;” -  I have continued to pray for

help to thee, O Jehovah, the living God, even though thou hast so long

delayed to answer. A true born child of God may be known by his

continuing to cry; a hypocrite is great at a spurt, but the genuine believer

holds on till he wins his suit - “and in the morning shall my prayer prevent

thee.”  He meant to plead on yet, and to increase his earnestness. He intended

to be up betimes, to anticipate the day light, and begin to pray before the sun was

up. If the Lord is pleased to delay, He has a right to do as He wills, but we must

not therefore become tardy in supplication. If we count the Lord slack

concerning His promise we must only be the more eager to outrun Him, lest

sinful sloth on our part should hinder the blessing.


                        "Let prayer and holy hymn

                             Perfume the morning air;

                        Before the world with smoke is dim

                             Bestir thy soul to prayer."

                        "While flowers are wet with dew

                             Lament thy sins with tears,

                        And ere the sun shines forth anew

                             Tell to thy Lord thy fears."



14  “LORD, why castest thou oft my soul?”  Hast thou not aforetime

chosen me, wilt thou now reject me? Shall thine elect ones become thy

reprobates? Dost thou, like changeable men, give a writing of divorcement

to those whom thy love has espoused? Can thy beloveds become thy cast

offs?  “Why hidest thou thy face from me?” Wilt thou not so much as look

upon me? Canst thou not afford me a solitary smile? Why this severity to one

who has in brighter days basked in the light of thy favor? We may put

these questions to the Lord, nay, we ought to do so. It is not undue

familiarity, but holy boldness. It may help us to remove the evil which

provokes the Lord to jealousy, if we seriously beg Him to shew us

wherefore He contends with us. He cannot act towards us in other than a

right and gracious manner, therefore for every stroke of His rod there is a

sufficient reason in the judgment of His loving heart; let us try to learn that

reason and profit by it.


15  “I am afflicted and ready to die from my youth up:” -  His affliction

had now lasted so long that he could hardly remember when it commenced;

it seemed to him as if he had been at death's door ever since he was a child.

This was no doubt an exaggeration of a depressed spirit, and yet perhaps

Heman may have been born under the cypress, and have been all his days

afflicted with some chronic disease or bodily infirmity; there are holy men

and women whose lives are a long apprenticeship to patience, and these

deserve both our sympathy and our reverence, —our reverence we have

ventured to say, for since the Saviour became the acquaintance of grief,

sorrow has become honorable in believers' eyes. A life long sickness may

by divine grace prove to be a life long blessing. Better suffer from

childhood to old age than to be let alone to find pleasure in sin - “while I suffer

thy terrors I am distracted.”  Long use had not blunted the edge of sorrow,

God's terrors had not lost their terror; rather had they become more overwhelming

and had driven the man to despair. He was unable to collect his thoughts, he was

so tossed about that he could not judge and weigh his own condition in a calm

and rational manner. Sickness alone will thus distract the mind; and when a sense

of divine anger is added thereto, it is not to be wondered at if reason finds it

hard to hold the reins.  How near akin to madness soul depression sometimes

may be, it is not our province to decide; but we speak what we do know when

we say that a feather weight might be sufficient to turn the scale at times. Thank

God O ye tempted ones who yet retain your reason! Thank Him that the devil

himself cannot add that feather while the Lord stands by to adjust all things. Even

though we have grazed upon the rock of utter distraction, we bless the infinitely

gracious Steersman that the vessel is seaworthy yet, and answers to her helm:

tempest tossed from the hour of her launch even to this hour, yet she mounts the

waves and defies the hurricane.


16  “Thy fierce wrath goeth over me;” - What an expression, "fierce

wrath", and it is a man of God who feels it! Do we seek an explanation? It

seemed so to him, but "tidings are not what they seem." No punitive anger

ever falls upon the saved one, for Jesus shields Him from it all; but a father's

anger may fall upon his dearest child, none the less but all the more,

because he loves it. Since Jesus bore my guilt as my substitute, my Judge

cannot punish me, but my Father can and will correct me. In this sense the

Father may even manifest "fierce wrath" to His erring child, and under a

sense of it that dear broken down one may be laid in the dust and covered

with wretchedness, and yet for all that he may be accepted and beloved of

the Lord all the while. Heman represents God's wrath as breaking over him

as waves over a wreck - “thy terrors have cut me off.”  They have made me

a marked man, they have made me feel like a leper separated from the

congregation of thy people, and they have caused others to look upon me as no

better than dead.  Blessed be God this is the sufferer's idea and not the very truth,

for the Lord will neither cast off nor cut off His people, but will visit His

mourners with choice refreshments.


17  “They came round about me daily like water;” -  My troubles, and thy

chastisement poured in upon me, penetrating everywhere, and drowning

all. Such is the permeating and pervading power of spiritual distress, there

is no shutting it out; it soaks into the soul like the dew into Gideon's fleece;

it sucks the spirit down as the quicksand swallows the ship; it overwhelms

it as the deluge submerged the green earth - “they compassed me about

together.”  Griefs hemmed him in. He was like the deer in the hunt, when the

dogs are all around and at his throat. Poor soul! and yet he was a man greatly

beloved of heaven!


18   “Lover and friend: hast thou put far from me,” -  Even when they are

near me bodily, they are so unable to swim with me in such deep waters,

that they stand like men far away on the shore while I am buffeted with the

billows; but, alas, they shun me, the dearest lover of all is afraid of such a

distracted one, and those who took counsel with me avoid me now! The

Lord Jesus knew the meaning of this in all its wormwood and gall

when in His passion. In dreadful loneliness He trod the wine press (alone),

and all His garments were distained with the red blood of those sour grapes.

Lonely sorrow falls to the lot of not a few; let them not repine, but enter herein

into close communion with that dearest lover and friend who is never far

from His tried ones - “and mine acquaintance into darkness.” -  or better

 still,  my acquaintance is darkness. I am familiar only with sadness, all else has

vanished. I am a child crying alone in the dark. Will the heavenly Father leave His

child there? Here he breaks off, and anything more from us would only spoil the

abruptness of the unexpected FINIS.


(We have not attempted to interpret this Psalm concerning our Lord, but we fully

believe that where the members are, the Head is to be seen preeminently. To have

given a double exposition under each verse would have been difficult and confusing;

we have therefore left the Messianic references to be pointed out in the notes, where,

[these are in the original Treasury of David but I have not included them here –

CY – 2011] - if God the Holy Ghost be pleased to illustrate the page, we have

gathered up more than enough to lead each devout reader to behold Jesus,

 the man of sorrows and the acquaintance of grief.)  (Isaiah 53:4)




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