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God’s Word for You

Psalm 88:10-13 Do the ghosts of the dead rise up

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, August 1, 2019

10 Do you perform a miracle for the dead?
  Do the ghosts of the dead rise up and praise you?    Selah
11 Is your mercy declared in the grave,
  your faithfulness in Destruction?
12 Are your wonders known in the darkness?
  Is your righteousness known in the land of oblivion?

Here Heman asks simple but direct questions: Do you do anything for the dead? Is the silent place filled with anything more than the long silence of death? The word raphaim, “ghosts” or “weak things,” is a reference to the dead, perhaps to their (complete) weakness. Dr. Brug writes that “in heathen usage the term may refer to the ancestral spirits who are expected to help the living” (Psalms Volume II p. 126). It is doubtful that the name of the giant Canaanites, the Rephaim (NIV Rephaites, Genesis 14:5; Deuteronomy 2:11,20; Joshua 17:15), is the same word. We find the word used here in a few other places, such as Proverbs 2:18, “Her house leads down to death and her paths to the spirits of the dead.” See also Isaiah 14:9, “It rouses the spirits of the departed to greet you,” and Isaiah 26:14, “Those departed spirits do not rise.”

With these questions, Heman is not denying the resurrection, which is preached from the story of Abraham onward (Genesis 22:5; Job 19:25). Isaiah clearly says, “Your dead will live; their bodies will rise” (Isaiah 26:19). What Heman means is that the gospel is preached to the living, the miracles are done for the living; etc. The time of grace we have is during our lifetime. Once dead, we simply await the resurrection. It is a time of rest and of a dormancy like that of winter. Spring will come, which is the day of our resurrection.

Another interesting word Heman calls up is “Destruction,” perhaps a proper name, Abaddon. It is a parallel term to Sheol, the grave (see also Proverbs 15:11, 27:20; Job 28:22 and Revelation 9:11).

The phrase “land of oblivion” is unique to his passage in the Bible, but in a related thought, David astutely points out that no one can praise God from the grave (Psalm 6:5). The resting body, secure in the grave yet silent, cannot do the things that the soul does while it awaits the resurrection.

13 But I cry to you, O Lord,
  and in the morning my prayer comes before you.

Notice that “prayer” here is not “prayers.” The afflicted man prays the same prayer day after day, morning after morning. He is praying for relief from his suffering, for forgiveness; for salvation.

“Morning” shows us that Heman prayed by day as well as by night. He didn’t wear out the Lord with constant babbling (Matthew 6:7) but he was both constant and consistent with his prayer, not varying from his request; not backing down from his plea for forgiveness and help.

Do not underestimate the value of your prayers. Many Christians enter into their final years with little to contribute to the work of the church apart from their prayers, but what prayers they have to offer! Make it your habit to pray daily, thanking God and praising him, and asking him to bless the work of the gospel in hearts, in churches, in nations, and in the world.

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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