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Psalm 88:1-2 God of my salvation

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, July 29, 2019

Psalm 88
Darkness Is My Friend

A song. A psalm. By the Sons of Korah.
For the choir director. According to mahalath leannoth.
A maskil of Heman the Ezrahite.

This strange heading is unique in all of the Psalms. It seems to be a double heading, and in his Hebrew commentary, Dr. Brug refers to this section as “The Headings,” in the plural. The first three phrases (the top line above) match the words of the heading of Psalm 87, although not in the same order. Is it possible that a scribe, having finished Psalm 87, left his work for the evening or for a break, and came back only to begin copying Psalm 87’s heading once again, but after yet another distraction, returned and began to copy out Psalm 88?

Another possibility seems more likely. The Levite composer Heman was a member of the family known as the Sons of Korah (1 Chronicles 15:17,19). While this solution has a few complications, they are not insurmountable. It seems likely that this Heman was in fact part of the family group / music guild known as the Sons of Korah. So after mentioning the group, “Sons of Korah,” which is usually a way of remaining anonymous as a Psalmist, our author also included his name, since he was one of David’s chief musicians who also served in the early years of Solomon’s reign (2 Chronicles 5:12).

“Ezrahite” might be a location rather than a family reference. In Archaeology and the Religion of Israel, Albright shows that “Ezrahite” (ezrahi) means “aborigine,” that is, a member of a pre-Israelite family from the land of Canaan.

“Mahalath leannoth” means something like “One who suffers affliction.” The full phrase only occurs in this Psalm, but “According to Mahalath” is also part of the heading of Psalm 53. The word Mahalath eludes defining. The root word, mahal, could mean “Soothing” (if a piel participle) or “ring.” The former could be a musical term reflecting a quiet, reflective style of music or performance. The latter might suggest a more lively dance. The meaning “Soothing” might possibly fit the contexts of both this Psalm and Psalm 53, which are otherwise quite dissimilar. In this case, the phrase mahalath leannoth would mean “To Sooth the Afflicted.”

1 O LORD, God of my salvation,
  by day I cry out.
  by night I cry before you.
2 May my prayer come before you.
  Turn your ear to my cry.

The gloomiest Psalm in the Bible begins with a confession of faith. The LORD, the unique and only true God, is the God who saves us. Heman, the author, knows that God is his Savior. The word translated “of my salvation” is Yeshuati, and comes from the same root as Jesus, whose name means “The LORD Saves.”

How are we saved by our Lord Jesus? First, it is by his grace that we are saved; his undeserved love (Acts 15:11; Ephesians 2:8). But more specifically, we are saved because the blood of Jesus paid the price of our sinfulness and of all our sins. “Since we have been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him” (Romans 5:9).

Heman says that his prayers are constant. He hasn’t hidden his suffering from God. A day of trouble, whether it is really just a day or a long time in one’s life, is a time to involve God and not turn away from him. The Lord promises to be with us in such difficult times (Psalm 27:5, 59:16; Jeremiah 30:7; Nahum 1:7). Also, “Those who suffer he delivers in their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction” (Job 36:15). We will discuss affinities between this Psalm, the Psalms of Asaph, and the book of Job later on.

The writer wants God to turn his ear to him. This, I think, is more than a poetic way to say “Listen to me.” It always occurs early in a Psalm or when a new subject begins, when the writer is deeply in trouble, and might think that his prayers are too weak to ascend to heaven. God must lean down to hear. This is not a theological statement about the quality, strength or weakness of prayers, but a reminder that when we are deeply troubled we ask God to come down to help us, to hear us; to save us. Compare Psalm 31:2, 71:2, 102:2, and 2 Kings 19:16.

God promises to hear our prayers. This is one of the benefits of faith, and Jesus invites to pray to our heavenly Father as a true Father who loves us and who considers us his dear children. He tells us that we don’t need to babble like the pagans who “think they will be heard because of their many words” (Matthew 6:8). He assures us: “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:9). Even in a time of trouble, our Father in heaven hears our prayers, knows our troubles, and wants what is best for us and for his kingdom. Pray with confidence. Your Savior Jesus has opened your Father’s ears to everything you say. Confess, ask, praise, and give him thanks. A new day is coming when you will no longer ask with eyes closed and hands clasped, but you will ask him, praise him and thank him in person.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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