Christianity 201

August 26, 2016

A Psalm by Herman

NASB Ps. 88: 1 O Lord, the God of my salvation,
I have cried out by day and in the night before You.
Let my prayer come before You;
Incline Your ear to my cry!
3a For my soul has had enough troubles

Okay, it’s actually Heman, not Herman, but if he was around today he’d probably change it to avoid being called He-Man…

…This one needs an extended introduction.

The author of this devotional is frustrated, even to the point of calling Psalm 88, “This stupid Psalm.” (Not necessarily a recommended approach, but…) Artist and illustrator Jackson Ferrell writes a lighter devotion and is looking for an illustration to get things going and then realizes twice that some of the stories from his own life he thinks would be applicable, aren’t really what the Psalmist is saying.

Too many times we simply place the illustration too quickly, we think it fits and we don’t take the time to really slow down and read the passage. Perhaps sometimes our stories have nothing to do with the text.

Start by reading Psalm 88

…Today’s devotional is taken from the rather unusually named Chocolate Book. Each day the author has a chocolate flavor of the day and a reading for the day. (Seriously!) To read this at source, click the title below, and yes, the author of this Psalm is really named Herman…

Psalm 88 – Life in the Grave

This stupid psalm is resisting introduction. I’m about to ask “Have you ever thought you were going to die?” and recount the time I got stuck upside-down in a pool floatie as a toddler or the time the family Camry got hit by a semi truck when I was eleven, but then I realize: this psalm is about an extended period of being on the edge of the grave. It’s not about watching your life flash before your eyes in a moment. So then I’m about to ask “Have you ever wished you could die?” and talk about lying in the upstairs hallway overwhelmed by pain on the third day of having chicken pox when I was eight, but then I realize: the author of the psalm wants God to rescue him from his perpetually near-death state. He has no desire to die. So here’s the question: have you ever gone through a time in your life where, day after day, you felt like the living dead?

The psalm (which judging by the epigraph appears to have been penned by Heman the Ezrahite, one of the sons of Korah) is about being close to death in a particular way. The man compares himself to a corpse: “I have become like a man without strength…like the slain who lie in the grave, whom You remember no more” (4-5). He’s not even the walking dead; it’s like he’s going through his life just lying there. It’s like he’s gotten the Joseph treatment or even been buried alive: “You have put me in the lowest pit, in dark places, in the depths” (6). And who is it that’s put him six feet under? The psalmist contends that it’s God.

Chocolate Psalm 88Like David in Psalm 38, Heman the Ezrahite sees himself as an object of God’s wrath. He pleads to God, “You have afflicted me with all Your waves” (7) and “Your terrors have destroyed me” (16). Not only has God left him ostensibly drowning in judgment, it would seem he’s isolated him. “You have removed my acquaintances far from me” (8), the psalmist states. God has taken away the people he knew; moreover, God has made him an object of derision. It may be that Heman is being melodramatic, an unreliable narrator who cannot see God carrying him through this trial. I’ll entertain that possibility. But the fact remains: this is how it feels to Heman. To dismiss him as a histrionic drama queen would be a cruel disservice both to his inner state and the external pressures he’s suffering.

When he pleads his case to God in the middle of the psalm, it’s on grounds we’ve seen before. “Will You perform wonders for the dead? Will the departed spirits rise and praise You?” (10) he asks. How can God get any meaningful praise out of a corpse in the grave? His argument recalls one that David made in Psalm 30, one that might be construed as a bargain for rescue, offering to trade your praise for God’s salvation.

By the end of the psalm, nothing has changed, except that Heman has finished a song about his afflictions. He remains troubled to the last note of the last bar, and what happened afterward we can only imagine. But we know this much: even in the depths of the pit, he still called out to God. He still believed God might release him.

 


Curious to read more Psalms commentary like this one? Or maybe you just want to check out some other chocolate flavors! Either way, take a few minutes to read more at Chocolate Book.

3 Comments »

  1. Thanks for sharing my post, Paul. Fun fact: the first draft of the post referred to Psalm 88 as “this freaking psalm,” but I knew that if I went with that, I’d hear it from my mom.

    If nothing else, I have learned the valuable lesson that when you are a frusty blogger, there is no safe way to take it out on the psalm.

    Comment by Jackson Ferrell — August 26, 2016 @ 9:16 pm | Reply

    • Don’t know how I found you, but a Christianity 201 devotional has never been this much fun. Perhaps we can get you to write something for Thinking Out Loud sometime?

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — August 26, 2016 @ 9:34 pm | Reply

      • Maybe so! I’ll start by following Christianity 201 to get a better feel for what sort of posts you and the other writers write for it.

        Comment by Jackson Ferrell — August 28, 2016 @ 3:37 pm


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