God’s Word for You
Psalm 88:6-9 in dark places, in deep places
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, July 31, 2019
6 You have set me in the pit of the lowest places,
in dark places, in deep places.
7 Your hot wrath presses against me.
You have battered me with all your waves. Selah
Heman compares his suffering with someone who is in the grave. The “pit of the lowest places” might be a way of talking about hell, or simply the furthest place away from God one might be. “Deep places” is sometimes also used of the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19). The phrase “dark places” is synonymous with death in Psalm 143:3 and Lamentations 3:6. These things and other items in the Psalm reflect the ideas and some of the language of Job (cp. Job 9:31), although the author of Job usually uses another word for “pit,” but then much of the language and vocabulary of Job is not typical Hebrew.
Verse 7 anticipates Jonah’s prayer from the belly of the whale: “All your waves and breakers swept over me” (Jonah 2:3). Of course, Jonah was probably quoting Psalm 42:7, a Psalm by the Sons of Korah, so Heman might have had a hand in that Psalm’s language if not its actual authorship.
With “selah,” Heman invites us to contemplate what has been said so far, probably in the form of a musical interlude or some other device such as a refrain or coda. The significant line to recall is the last one: “You have battered me with all your waves.” This leaves us with the image of a drowning man pounded, pounded, pounded by the crashing waves of God’s wrath, relentlessly washing over him without relief.
8 You have removed me from my friends.
You have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and I cannot get out.
9 My eyes grow dim from affliction.
I call to you, O LORD, every day.
I spread out my hands to you.
With a new way of describing his pain, Heman now describes the way God has distanced him (hirḥaqtta is a causative hifil verb) from his friends. Recall Job’s words: “All my dearest friends recoil from me in horror; those I loved best have turned against me” (Job 19:19). And again, “My eyes grow dim from affliction” is very similar to Job 17:7.
To “spread the hands” is to assume a posture of prayer (Exodus 9:29, 33; Ezra 9:5; Psalm 143:5; Isaiah 1:15). It is especially a reference to prayer as an act of worship, whether to a foreign god (Psalm 44:20) or to the true God (1 Kings 8:22, 54).
In these four verses (6-9), Heman sets himself into a confessional, prayerful, and almost liturgical stance before God. The factual statements, “You have set, you have battered, you have removed, you have made me repulsive,” are followed by his own, “I am confined, I cannot get out, my eyes grow dim.” Then, with “I…you” prayers, he ends: “I call to you, I spread out my hands to you.” He knows that God has done more than simply permit this calamity to happen. God is the one who has “set, battered, removed,” etc. God is finally in control over all things: “When disaster comes to a city, has not the LORD caused it?” (Amos 3:6). Yet he is not the cause or author of evil in any form. Therefore, when bad things come into our lives, the root cause is either sin (ours or someone else’s), or else God lets disaster come because he wants to turn us back to him in repentance (Jeremiah 5:3; Revelation 2:5). In this (gloomy) Psalm, the point we should remember is that no matter how bad or difficult things got, no matter how painful and how lonely Heman’s life was, he still put his trust in God. Who else but the Lord can make a change in our lives? Who else but the Lord can give us comfort? Who else but the Lord can rescue us from all the shame, pain, loneliness, poverty, and trouble of our lives? “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him” (Nahum 1:7).
The specific reason for his pain, Heman says, is God’s “hot wrath” (verse 7). Sin brings on God’s wrath (Psalm 38:3). Man’s sin is no small thing. It is a debt; a charge against us, entered against each individual by God. The punishment for the debt of sin is eternal agony in hell “where the fire never goes out” (Mark 9:43). The horror of this prospect causes us to stop dead in our tracks and call out to God as Heman calls out. It is there that “we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling” (2 Corinthians 5:2). But then, with the preaching of the gospel, the Lord reaches down to the penitent sinner and wipes the judgment of damnation from our record. The payment was made in our place by God’s Son on the cross. “All this,” Paul explains, “is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:18). Knowing the salvation we have through Jesus, we still sing, “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.” “This,” said Prof. Stoeckhardt (of Concordia Lutheran Seminary, St. Louis), “is the plea of faith for an ever stronger faith in the forgiveness of sins” (Lectures on Select Psalms, p. 133). Treasure your forgiveness, won for you by Christ and sealed by your baptism. Live in peace, and share it with whomever you can.
Pastor Timothy Smith