Today’s Scripture Lesson: Psalm 88
I want to give you fair warning, this Psalm is not an easy read. It is not a Psalm that will be a “go to” Psalm for an uplifting start to your day. Quite the contrary, it is challenging and it holds up a relatively high definition mirror before our very souls. Be encouraged, though. Just as our muscles grow through resistance training, we grow spiritually when we encounter challenges in our time of Bible study.
With that said, I want to encourage you to open your Bible or Bible App and read the 88th Psalm in its entirety, allowing the Holy Spirit to minister to you directly through His Word.
Did you finish it?
Depending on your level of Bible knowledge, after reading this Psalm you are probably experiencing one of two responses, maybe 3: 1) Hopelessness, 2) Hopefulness because you already know the Good News, or 3) Hopefulness because this passage is relatable.
Let’s look at those responses.
A State of Hopelessness
Probably the most challenging response is that of hopelessness. On its surface, the 88th Psalm offers very little by way of hope. The Psalm is attributed to an Ezrahite named, Heman. (OK, for those of you in my generation, let’s get back to the Bible and leave our flashback to the 80’s cartoon where it belongs…the 80’s.)
Heman spends roughly 80% of this Psalm pleading his case and lamenting his situation before God. And as we can see, there is no resolution offered at the end.
What happened? Did God fail Heman? For that matter, things in our lives aren’t so perfect – is God failing us? Isn’t this the question of those without hope, “is God failing me?”
I’m just going to let that question hang there for a while. Chances are good that you may have asked this question at one time or another – maybe even now.
Are You Still Hopeful?
The central passages from this Psalm occur in verses 10 through 12. Let’s read those.
Will You perform wonders for the dead? Will the departed spirits rise and praise You? Will Your lovingkindness be declared in the grave, Your faithfulness in Abaddon? Will Your wonders be made known in the darkness? And Your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?
Let me shed a little light on just how dark this passage is. There is a word in verse 11 with which you may not be so familiar, “Abaddon.” Revelation 9:11 tells about this “Abaddon.” It states, “They have as king over them, the angel of the abyss; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in the Greek, he has the name Apollyon.” I’ll not engage with the modern eschatological arguments in reference to this passage from Revelation, but if you want to know more about this Abaddon, read Revelation 9:1-11. What I want you to understand is that Abaddon is not simply a passing word with little meaning. Abaddon is the king and the angel of the abyss. He is solely purposed for the destruction of men (mankind, humanity). Heman is questioning, is God’s “faithfulness” to be declared “in Abaddon?” (In the realm of Abaddon, which is the abyss.)
Heman asks this in addition to the following questions?
- Will You perform wonders for the dead?
- Will spirits rise and praise You?
- Will Your lovingkindness be declared in the grave?
- Will Your wonders be known in the darkness?
- Will Your righteousness be made know in the land of forgetfulness?
Heman doesn’t know it, but in Jesus, the answer to each is an emphatic, “YES!” That is, in part, why some of you have responded to this Psalm with hopefulness.
1 Peter 3:18-20 tells us, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water.”
Additionally, and to clarify, Peter tells us in 1 Peter 4:6 “For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God.”
I’m fully aware that there are several people who want to argue and explain exactly how and when the gospel has been preached to the dead. I’m not worried about explaining the mystery of these passages. I want to simply declare and trumpet the truth of these passages. Praise our wonderful Savior who isn’t limited by the grave or by death that the Good News has been preached to the lost! This gives me so much hope.
The Reason for Our Hope
And to that point, I want to direct your attention to the hope that is fully present in this Psalm and in Heman. In the opening verse, Heman declares his hope, “O Lord, the God of my salvation…” In the second verse, “Let my prayer come before You…” In verse 13, “…in the morning my prayer comes before You.”
You don’t cry out in desperation to God and ask “why” if you don’t have the slightest seed of hope in you that He has an answer. What good would it do Heman to cry out to God if God Himself isn’t the source of his hope? Heman’s questions in verses 10-12 are truly saying, “God, it’s almost unimaginable to me that You are more powerful than death, but as the God of my salvation, if I don’t experience your salvation here, I pray Your salvation extends into the dark abyss and You’ll remember me. For it is in You, Whom I place my trust.”
Heman’s Psalm reveals something else, which we tend to brush over in the American church, and some ignore it entirely. In introducing people to Christ, we often leave out the not so pleasant side of discipleship… suffering. It isn’t an attractive part of the gospel. Jesus suffered, and His disciples suffered, and we should expect suffering will be a part of our walk as well. By and large, we are insulated from suffering in the American church in terms of persecution, physical harm, and even death. But, that isn’t the case globally, and also, suffering isn’t limited to these forms alone. Suffering can be pain, depression, divorce, financial ruin, loss, and many other things.
John 9 has a beautiful story about suffering and perceived sinfulness. In it, a blind man was brought before Jesus, and His disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” Jesus gives them an answer none of them expected to hear, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents, but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Sin is in the world, and thus, suffering is in the world. But God is sovereign, and in suffering, God is glorified and His works are displayed.
Did Heman’s suffering end before he died? We don’t know. What we do know is that Christ proclaimed the Good News to not only the living but the dead, and God’s lovingkindness was extended beyond the grave and into the depths of the abyss. We also know that Heman had persistent hope in the God of his salvation.
So, What’s the Play Call?
Confess your hopelessness before God. Go to Him in prayer with the persistence of Heman. If you are in a time of suffering, pray that God would reveal His work in your suffering and that He will be glorified and magnified in you.
Also, you may not be in a season of suffering, but God can be just as glorified in you as you reach out to those who are suffering and in desperation around you, representing the love, mercy, compassion, and grace of the Father.