Psalm 88:1–18. This psalm is a heart cry of a righteous person who is weary of the struggles that life in this mortal existence throws him.
Assuredly, the author of this psalm is a righteous person. This is evident because he knows that Elohim is his salvation (v. 1), and attests to the fact that he is in a faithful, prayerful and faith-driven spiritual relationship with his Creator, even as he cries out to heaven night and day (vv. 1–2, 9, 13), and even while complaining about his plight as a human who is struggle with his faith. To the super-spiritual saint, the writer of this psalm may seem like a spiritual wimp—a melting snowflake or a pansy wilting under the noonday sun. Yet the transparent and honest saint will humbly admit that from time to time they find themselves in a similar place of weariness, or even in a waste-howling wilderness of doubts and despair, in a miry pit of self-pity. David records being in this psycho-emotional state himself several times in various psalms. Even Elijah, the mighty prophet of Elohim, depressed and somewhat despondent, found himself fleeing for his life from the murderous claws of the demonic Jezebel. He finally escaped to the mountain of Elohim weary, discouraged and alone complaining to his Maker about his seemingly hapless plight.
As weary warriors traversing this life, passing our time as a pilgrim en route to the spiritual Promised Land of the eternal kingdom of Elohim, often we feel adrift in our flimsy dinghies on the seas of humanity struggling to row against the countervailing tides and currents of the surrounding hordes of heathen, who are, in reality, in their unsaved state as good as physically dead (v. 5). This earth is a dark and lonely place for the saint. How can he relate to the walking damned around him, who are like zombies in a catatonic stupor refusing to wake up to reality, and to see, hear or consider the deeper issues of life and to acknowledge the Creator and his Messiah Savior (v. 1)? To them, the saints are a mere fools (1 Cor 4:10), and the Bible is a collection of pointless and foolish fairy tales and legends (1 Cor 1:18, 27).
Yes, the saint sometime feels as if he has been condemned to spend his or her life in the foreign land of this world as a sojourner or pilgrim merely passing through en route to something better out there somewhere that never seems to arrive at their doorstep. Although we’re en route to a better place, nonetheless, along the way we find ourselves passing much time in the Valley of Baca or weeping (Ps 84:6), which is a place that is rife with trouble and discouragement, for many times we feel as if the resting place of the grave would be an improvement to our present lot (vv. 3–4). However, consider this: What would our life be like without Elohim who is our salvation (v. 1) and who, along with his Word and Spirit, guides and walks besides us en route to the better place that is beyond this present life? His help and guidance and what lies beyond is our light and hope in the present darkness of this world. This is the substance of the saint’s faith (see Heb 11:1) is it not?
As pilgrims, we often find ourselves traversing many deep valley in this physical life. We often find ourselves even weeping (Ps 84:6) and feeling adrift among the walking spiritual dead. Sometimes our strength fails us, and we feel as if we have one foot in the pit or the grave as well (Ps 88:4–5). But we have to constantly remind our selves that although the outlook may be bleak, the uplook remains steadfastly and perpetually glorious, that the just shall walk by faith in their Elohim and the Savior (v. 1), and that in due time, if we overcome the world, the flesh and the devil and do not faint along the way, there awaits us a river of life, a spring or pool of water in the wilderness to quench our nagging and searing thirst (Ps 84:6), for we will reap in due time an unspeakably rich heavenly reward of which our feeble minds cannot comprehend.
For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O Elohim, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him. (Isa 64:4)
But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which Elohim hath prepared for them that love him. (1 Cor 2:9)
Armed and buoyed with this Truth, the weary traveller treks ever onward and upward climbing Jacob’s ladder, who is, in actuality, is Yeshua. Hand over hand we climb, a rung at a time, to Yeshua, who is the gateway to heaven (Gen 28:12, 17; John 1:51).
Often because of the wearying trials that we must go through in this physical life, we feel as if we’re in an inescapable pit or prison (Ps 88:6, 8). Moreover because of this “prison” called life, we feel as if YHVH has subjected us to even the deepest pit (in Hebrew, literally hole or dungeon) or to a hell on this earth, and that he is somehow angry with us as he afflicts us with wave after wave of sorrows and difficulties, even though we exhaust ourselves seemingly in vain crying out to him daily with hands stretched out like a child reaching out to his savior-parent for help (Ps 88:9). Trapped, we feel as if we’re as good as dead (v. 10), and in this state of discouragement, we attempt to reason (or negotiate our way out of this plight?) with Elohim (vv. 10–12). This is not a bad thing, for elsewhere, Elohim indeed encourages humans to reason with him, that is, to consider the deeper issues of life by asking him the hard questions:
“Come now, and let us reason together,” Says YHVH… (Isa 1:18a)
Again, why does he invite us to reason with him? For this reason: He wants us to stop and to ponder the deeper issues of life: Why am I here? Who made me? What is the meaning of life and my purpose for living? What happens to me after I die? Is there a Creator? What does he want from me? Why is there misery and suffering in this life? By pushing through the gray fog of unanswered questions and doubts that enshrouds our existence, if we persist, we will discover the answers to these seemingly unanswerable and enigmatic inquiries. On the other side of this veil of our lack of understranding, we will discover that our life in fact does has meaning and purpose simply because there is an Elohim, who wants to save us from our sins and the ultimate penalty or results thereof, so that he can shower us with blessing in this life and the next life. He wants to work out something special and transformative in our lives the end results of which will end up transporting us to his level of existence, for in Isaiah 1:18b–19 he continues,
“Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land…”
Despite the nagging questions about the meaning and purpose of life, and the feeling that the Creator seems to be ignoring him, the psalmist continues to cry out daily to YHVH (Ps 88:13). With the eyes of faith, he sees past his physical circumstances and into the spirit realm and knows that there is an Elohim “up there,” so he persists as an overcomer refusing to be conquered by the persistent and intrinsic human fears, doubts, unbelief, unanswered questions and the seeming lack of circumstantial evidence attempting to convince him that the Creator not only has cast him off, but is hiding his face from him (v. 14).
Even while pondering all of this, let us not forget that we are mere mortal humans who are but dust and ashes, to quote Job (Job 30:19), or a worm, to quote David (Ps 22:6), or a pot in the hands of the Elohim, the Master Potter, to quote Isaiah (Isa 64:8). Therefore, who are we as the created to question the intentions of the Creator or Potter, who has made us and is shaping us into something useful? This is how it is, so we best get over it and power through submitting to the process to which the Almighty Creator has subjected us for our ultimate good.
But now, O YHVH, You are our Father; we are the clay, and You our potter; and all we are the work of Your hand. (Isa 64:8)
Surely you have things turned around! Shall the potter be esteemed as the clay; for shall the thing made say of him who made it, “He did not make me”? Or shall the thing formed say of him who formed it, “He has no understanding”? (Isa 29:16)
So in light of this, let us consider the following:
[W]e are His workmanship, created in Messiah Yeshua for good works, which Elohim prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:10)
[We can be] confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Yeshua the Messiah… (Phil 1:6)
The current state of doubt and discouragement in which the psalmist finds himself is not a recent condition. He has been agonizing over these issues since his youth (Ps 88:15). This is a lifelong thing! Yes, these nagging doubts and perennial questions about the meaning and purpose of life and the where the Creator fits into one’s life, or even if there is a Creator, have been perplexing humans from day one. They are part of the human experience. They are terrors that often haunt a person and make one feel cut off from his Creator (v. 16). Often, they overtake a person like floodwaters engulfing one all day long (v. 17) leaving one feeling lonely and friendless and in the foggy mist of dark confusion adrift in a plethora of unanswered questions (v. 18). Again, all of these things are part of the human condition, even for the saint who is seeking YHVH Elohim.
So where does this all leave us? In a place of hopeless and irrevocable despondence? No, this is not the only psalm that express the utter discouragement of a person stuck in a ostensibly hopeless situation. However it is one of the few psalms that does not end on a happy note; rather, it seems to leave the reader dangling over a cliff hanging on only by his fingernails. Other psalms of this genre usually end in a positive note that can be summarized by this adage: The outlook may not be good, but the uplook is always glorious (see Pss 6, 10, 69, 70, 79 and many more). We also find a similar theme in Habakkuk and Job.
Though the fig tree may not blossom, Nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, And the fields yield no food; Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, And there be no herd in the stalls—Yet I will rejoice in YHVH, I will joy in the Elohim of my salvation. YHVH Elohim is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, And He will make me walk on my high hills. (Hab 3:17–19)
Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him. (Job 13:15a)
But, again, Psalm 88 is different in that it seems to leave the reader hanging over an abyss and clinging precariously by his fingertips to the cliff. Or does it? Yes, it leaves one pondering the many unanswered questions of life. This is a good thing. From time to time, we all need to press the pause button, to get off the hectic and crazy merry-go-around of life, and to ponder the deeper issues of life. But in the case of Psalm 88, the writer doesn’t really leave us dangling hopelessly over the pit of Sheol as it might seem to the casual reader. In reality, the answer to the psalmist’s (and our) many questions is found in the very first verse of this psalm.
O YHVH, Elohim of my salvation, I have cried out day and night before You. (Ps 88:1)
Yes, the answer is right there in verse one. Did it elude you or did you catch it? It’s hiding in plain sight!
You see, in biblical Hebraic thought, the concept of salvation involves deliverance from anything and everything evil in life that comes our way that may attempt to destroy us physically, emotionally, psychologically or spiritually whether it be sickness, attacks from evil people, poverty, or our own internal demons of doubt and fear. In the largest sense, the Bible promises to deliver the saint from the ultimate and the greatest enemy of all: death. So who or what is the salvation that YHVH offers his people in Psalm 8:1, who call out to him day and night?
The word salvation in Psalm 88:1 is the Hebrew word Yeshua (Hebrew for Jesus). This one word is the answer to all of the hard questions of life. To the naive and uninformed, this may seem like an overly simplistic answer to any and every elusively complex question, but to those of us who know Yeshua the Messiah, this makes perfect sense. To those who do not know the Messiah and Savior and are perishing in the darkness and confusion of their sinful state and who are, in reality, the walking (spiritual) dead, this whole idea is either a scandalous stumbling stone or garbage truck load utter rubbish—a mere fantasy, a heap of hopeless and irrational foolishness (1 Cor 1:18). But to us who are being saved, Yeshua is the power of Elohim, who is at work in our lives (1 Cor 1:18), and we have faith that he is the Creator knows what he is doing as he works out his unique plan in each of our lives.
In conclusion, I leave you with the words of a popular song that many of us love and know by heart:
Turn you eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face
And the things of the earth
Will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace