Old Testament Israel

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In reading Severe Compassion: The Gospel According to Nahum I absolutely agree with what Gregory Cook said. “Christians often make a grave error in their interpretation of Old Testament history. When we read about Israel’s sins, we tend to judge Israel harshly. We are right to see these sins as grievous, because the Bible makes this plain. What we in the church have not rightly considered is that we have sinned even more grievously” (p. 24).

I often hear people say, “Israel got what they deserved.” This is true. Israel repeatedly broke covenant with Yahweh and suffered the consequences. While Christ has paid believers’s sin debt on the Cross, our sin no less grieves God. Moses and the Prophets were Israel’s intercessor, while believers today have Jesus, their Great High Priest making intercession on their behalf.

“Israel had only the promise of a Messiah, we have a glorious gospel. We need to repent of how we have viewed the Israelites. They sinned greatly against God, but our sin is much greater” (Cook, p. 25). When we love the world more than Christ, we are much worse than Israel. Israel did not have the completed, inspired, infallible Word, nor did they have Jesus as their Mediator.

“Is there anything in your life that excites your passion more than Jesus? If so, you need to consider that the sins listed in the Old Testament are specks, while yours is a log” (p. 25). I am SO thankful that Jesus satisfied God’s wrath on the Cross! God cannot and will not excuse sin. “Every sin must be paid for” (p. 25); however, through Christ’s work and belief in Him “grace is freely extended to the worst of sinners” (p. 26). When we confess our sins, Jesus is faithful and just to forgive us (1 John 1:9).

A warning for all of us today is that “[t]he Bible does not allow us to use grace as a license for sin. We have no right to judge the sins of Old Testament Israel and then to presume upon God’s grace to cover our own love for the gods of our culture” (p. 26).

I do not ever want to take advantage of the grace of God extend in Christ Jesus our Lord. I do not want the Lord to discipline/rebuke me for harshly judging the sins of others while refusing to look at the sins in my own life.

When we are quick to judge Old Testament Israel’s sins, we need to be as equally quick to judge our own sins. Now more than ever we need to cling to our Savior and not to this world. We need to remember: “When we enter into covenant with God, receive the blessings of that covenant and then worship what the world worships, we sin deeply. Israel committed this sin in Exodus 32. Israel again committed this sin in Numbers 13. Judah committed this sin when it chose Assyrian protection instead of faithfulness to God. We commit this same sin when we find God boring and the world fascinating” (p. 18 see 1 John 2:15-16).

May we strip off every sin that trips us up, so that we may run with endurance the race that we have been given with our eyes fixed on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith (Heb 12:1-2).

Father God, may we NEVER become bored with You. May we NEVER forget that You hate sin. May we NEVER get tired of looking to You. Lord God, may we not gloss over our sin. Lord God, may we be reminded that as You left a remnant in Israel, so You leave a remnant of believers in each generation. Lord God, may we judge/hold others accountable with pure hearts and motives. Lord, may we seek to grow in holiness and Christlikeness. May we take comfort in Your provision and care for Israel. Lord God, I know there are MANY debates and theological differences to national, political Israel today. In all things Lord may we be reminded that You are seeking and saving men, women and children from every tribe, nation and tongue. Lord God, may Your Spirit stir mouths and hearts to confess Jesus as their Lord and Savior while there is still time. Thank You Lord for this reader. In Jesus’s Name I pray. Amen.

God’s Sovereignty

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For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 

a time to be born, and a time to die; 

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 

a time to kill, and a time to heal; 

a time to break down, and a time to build up; 

a time to weep, and a time to laugh; 

a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 

a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; 

a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 

a time to seek, and a time to lose; 

a time to keep, and a time to cast away; 

a time to tear, and a time to sew; 

a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 

a time to love, and a time to hate; 

a time for war, and a time for peace (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 ESV). 

Are you singing this in your head?! I know I did! I am SO glad my Bible reading plan had me read Ecclesiastes 3 today!

עֵ֥ת (time) is repeated 29 times in verses 1:8. Estes states, “The principle that lies behind the list of illustrations in 3:2–8 is that God has a plan that embraces all humans and all their actions at all times” (Handbook on the Wisdom Books and Psalms, 2005, p. 309).

No book of the Bible is more applicable to our world today than Ecclesiastes. God’s sovereignty is being missed in the midst of all the chaos that is occurring in our world. To this point Estes states, “…despite appearances, God’s activity in the world is not arbitrary or haphazard; closer inspection reveals that there is divine order within the apparent chaos of life under the sun” (p. 309).

God’s plan encompasses the most mundane areas and activities of our lives; as well as the whole gamut of human emotions. Believers need to be confident that all of life is under God’s Sovereign and Providential control, not our human control. Our response is to obey God, trusting that He will equip us and see us through.

When I take my eyes off of God and His Sovereignty, I can have a very negative outlook. When Solomon (author) says, “everything is vanity/meaningless” (Ecc 1:2) and there is “nothing under the sun” (Ecc 1:9) he is saying that without God “everything is vanity/meaningless” with “nothing new under the sun.”

Now more than ever do we need to remind ourselves that God is in control. That He knows individuals and He knows and rules over this world. We know that God’s Word brings life and yet we consistently seem to be feeding ourselves with the things of this world. I am NOT suggesting that we should not be informed! God does not call us to bury our heads in the sand! He calls us to be in this world but not of this world.

May we take time today and this weekend to mediate on how God’s Presence has worked in the mundane times of our lives. May we start reading autobiographies or biographies of godly saints who went before us and how they endured persecution or stood for Jesus when it was costly.

Only in Jesus do we find value and meaning. Only in Jesus do we have peace and hope in a world gone mad. Only in Jesus do we know that regardless of what happens in this life, we will be with Him in the end. There is indeed a time and season for everything “under heaven” and the Lord Jesus Christ is in control of it all.

Father God, thank You that You are Sovereign over all. Thank You that there is NO moment this world has ever seen where You were not in control! Lord God, may we focus on You and the meaning and purpose You have for us. Lord God, may we preach Your Word to ourselves when we are discouraged and in despair and fearful. Now more than ever Lord is it essential for believers to be in community with other believers. What that looks like Lord for each person only You know, but may this reader know they have a friend in me! Lord God, thank You for all the times that You do not give us new insight but rather remind us of the insight You have already given us. Lord God, may we obey You. May we trust You walking by faith and not by sight or feeling. Lord God, thank You for this reader. Please Lord, fill this reader with the Peace of Your Presence. In Jesus’s Name I pray. Amen.

 

Jealous and Avenging God

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The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies (Nahum 1:2 ESV).

In my last post Burning Coals believers are not to take vengeance, we are to leave this to God. Here in Nahum, three times he uses נֹקֵ֤ם to mean avenging or vengeance. These are qal, participles describing God’s character. Keeps is also a qal participle with the root word meaning watch over or guard.

God’s jealousy, vengeance and wrath cannot be separated from His love, mercy and grace. “If God did not care when our hearts are far from him (Isa 29:13) or when we adulterously give our hearts to the world (James 4:4), he would not love us…The notion of a love without jealousy and vengeance cannot survive a thorough biblical examination. It is a concept lacking passion or power. It is apathy masquerading as virtue” (G. Cook, Severe Compassion: The Gospel According to Nahum, 2016, p. 11).

The Lord has really put His jealousy, vengeance and wrath heavy on my heart lately. This world is changing rapidly and as believers we absolutely cannot love God and this world. It is impossible.

It grieves me at how easily I can be distracted and sidetracked from spending time with the Lord. I hate it! I genuinely believe that covid has and is revealing people’s hearts (my own included) in a way in which we have never seen before.

God hates idolatry and anything that competes for His people’s love, attention and affection! As this world becomes more hostile to Christians we have two choices: look like the world which brings death or look like Christ and live. While not in the same way, God will judge both the believer and nonbeliever.

I am grieved to think of my unsaved loved ones who will experience the vengeance and wrath of God. I really appreciate what Cook says, “The primary reason for missions and evangelism is not to save people from hell, as important as that is. The primary reason to abandon all to tell others about Christ is that he might receive glory” (p. 13).

May we seek ways to glorify our Triune God while there is still time.

Lord God, may we NEVER forget that You are a Jealous God, that You will take Vengeance and pour out Wrath on Your enemies. Lord God, may we not gloss over this or make light of this. Lord God, we are truly entertaining ourselves to death. May we remember our first love. May we remember You. Lord God, may we glorify You as that is the purpose that You have for us. Lord God, whenever Your people wonder what their purpose is or if they matter, remind us that it is to bring You glory! Lord God, thank You for this reader. May they carve out time to worship You today. May this reader seek You today while there is still time. In Jesus’s Name I pray. Amen.

Burning Coals

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If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you (Pr 25:21-22 ESV).

Love for one’s enemy is a biblical theme that runs from Genesis to Revelation. In this Proverb eat and drink are commands; enemy and heap are participles. It is a fact that we will deal with enemies in this life, but when we heed the command of giving our enemy bread to eat and water to drink we will continuously heap burning coals on the head of our enemy. The concept of heaping coal’s on an enemy’s head is one of pain and shame. The verb reward is related to shalom which is more than just peace, it is the state of being whole.

Paul confirms this when he says, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head” (Ro 12:20.) As in Proverbs 25:21-22 feed and drink are commands. But the motive of Paul is different: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord'” (Ro 12:19).

When we allow the Lord to deal with our enemies and we trust Him by loving our foes, He will take care of us. This is a mark of the true Christian. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Ro 12:21). Paul commands us to not be overcome by evil as well as to overcome evil with good. This is by no means easy! But we can rest assured that God is indeed a God who wages war on His enemies. While this is NOT popular today, it is true. From Genesis 3 to Revelation 20, there is a theology of holy war in the Bible.

Each day is one day closer to the return of Christ, as such believers need to start practicing what it looks like to love their enemies now. Hostility for Christians is growing by the day. As Philip Ryken says, “The law always reveals the character of the lawgiver” (P. Ryken, Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory,2005, p. 525). As to the character of the lawgiver, “It must also be noted that Jesus’ instruction on the love of enemies (Matt 5:43–47) be read in light of this proverb and that the love of enemy is originally an Old Testament idea that was both enacted and commanded by Jesus” (Duane A. Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiasties, Song of Songs, 1993, p 209). The more that we love our enemies and overcome evil with good the more we will be transformed into the image of Christ.

Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Proverbs, Matthew, Romans we are given commands to love God, be holy as God is holy, love our neighbor and to let the Lord take vengeance for His Name’s sake and for the sake of His people. Again, I do not claim this is easy; however, may we start obeying God and His commands. The more that we love our enemies, overcoming evil with good, the more we will be transformed into Christ’s image.

Lord God, it is not easy to love our enemies. I am thankful Lord that loving our enemy does not go hand and hand with reconciliation. Lord God, give us wisdom and discernment when it comes to handling difficult relationships and people. Lord God, help Your Church. Help us to be a people who live in Your strength and not our own. Lord God, may we NEVER forget that You are both a God of Wrath and a God of Love. May we NEVER forget that You are Just, Jealous and Compassionate. May we NEVER take Your mercy and grace for granted. Lord God, it is time for Your called out, set apart, holy people to live LESS like this world and MORE like citizens of Heaven. Lord Jesus, You know I get this wrong ALL the time, I am a sinner saved by grace and I praise You for the gift of salvation daily. Lord God, thank You for this reader. Lead them and guide them as they navigate living in a world that is rapidly changing. Keep this reader connected to You Lord and in all things may they seek You more than the things of this world. In Jesus’s Name I pray. Amen.

Joseph and Potiphar

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Meanwhile the Midianites had sold [Joseph] in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard (Gen 37:36 ESV).

 It is well known that Joseph goes from being the favored son of Jacob, to being sold by his brothers to the Ishmaelites and then being sold by the Ishmaelites Joseph to Potiphar (see Genesis 37:1-35).

What is not well known is the significance of Potiphar’s title the captain of the guard. In Hebrew the root word for guard here is associated with slaughter or butcher. Alter states, “The actual responsibilities of this high imperial post remain unclear” (The Five Books of Moses, 2019, p. 144); however, I think we can make a connection that Potiphar had some degree of involvement with Pharaoh’s kitchen (as we will see in later events).

Joseph was both trustworthy and handsome (39:6). As much as Potiphar trusted Joseph, Potiphar’s wife wanted to seduce Joseph. Joseph continues to resist her advances until she had enough and told Potiphar that Joseph tried to lie with her (see vv 7-18). When Potiphar heard her story his “anger was kindled” (or “he burned with anger” NIV) and he put Joseph in prison (vv 19-20).

There are some misconceptions here. First, Potiphar was NOT angry with Joseph; he was angry with his wife. Potiphar is angry that she lied about Joseph trying to seduce her. Walton states, “Given his wife’s slander of his own motives [Potiphar bringing a Hebrew into the house to laugh at them], the proven trustworthiness of Jospeh, the fact that he is going to lose the services of a competent slave, and his knowledge of his wife’s character or lack of it, his anger arguably burns at his wife, not at Joseph” (J. Walton, Genesis, NIVAC, 2001, p. 671).

The second way we know that Potiphar believes Jospeh is because he did not have Jospeh executed immediately. To this point Walton states, “Jails were not common in the ancient world since imprisonment was not a standard punishment for crimes. If Potiphar truly believed that Joseph, his slave, was guilty of sexually assaulting his wife, execution would have been the swift and normal response” (J. Walton, “Genesis,” ZIBBC, 2009, p. 127). Potiphar puts Joseph imprison to keep his family’s honor and to preserve Joseph’s life. “The actions he takes against Joseph are as minimal as they can be” (Walton, Genesis, p. 672).

Later on we learn that “Pharaoh was angry with his two officers, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, and he put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the prison where Joseph was confined” (Gen 40:2, emphasis mine). While Potiphar is not mentioned by name here, what is mentioned here is Potiphar’s title, captain of the guard.

Jospeh is not imprisoned in some other part of Egypt, he is “transferred to another part of Potiphar’s house” (“Genesis,” p. 127). This is why I think that guard has a connection to the kitchen. It only makes sense that Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer and chief baker would be imprisoned at the house of the captain of the guard. The chief cupbearer and chief baker are vital to the survival of Pharaoh. Walton states, “The potential for assassination attempts through the king’s food was real and constant, so these officials not only needed to be incorruptible themselves, but also had to be able to hire people above reproach and to identify attempts at infiltration of the staff by enemies of the king…it seems logical to speculate that the king may have gotten sick from a meal” (“Genesis,” p. 128).

If in fact the chief baker and chief cupbearer were enemies of Pharaoh, it makes perfect sense why Potiphar, “the captain of the guard appointed Joseph to be with them and attended them [because] they continued for some time in custody” (v 4, emphasis mine). Potiphar, as the captain of the guard would not want anything to happen to Pharaoh under his watch. Potiphar already knows the kind of man that Joseph is and again, it is no wonder that he “appoints” Joseph to watch over them!

No two people would be closer to Pharaoh than the chief cupbearer and chief baker and at some point each of these men had a dream (v 5). God gave Joseph the ability to interpret the dreams correctly. The chief baker was hanged and the chief cupbearer was restored to his position (vv 6-23).

Two years later, God caused the cupbearer to remember the “young Hebrew… a servant of the captain of the guard (41:12, emphasis mine) who interpreted correctly the dreams of himself and the chief baker. Pharaoh then sent for Joseph. God caused Joseph to interpret Pharaoh’s dream correctly, thus being elevated to the second most powerful person in Egypt (vv 14-45). In which Joseph is used by God to save Israel and sons from the famine in the land. Truly what Joseph’s brothers meant for evil God used for good.

By looking at the historical-cultural background we can see even more how God’s Hand, Favor and Protection were upon Joseph. Joseph was with Potiphar for 11 years (how the time is divided between house and prison is unknown; see Walton, Genesis, p. 672). God uses unbelieving people to accomplish His will in His people’s lives, both in blessing and in consequence/discipline. Potiphar is part of Joseph’s story more than we realize. Who are the unbelieving people that God has used in your life?

Father God, thank You that when we look deeper into Your Word we learn more about the time and place in which Your people who went before us lived. Lord God, may we be reminded that Your common grace rains on both the just and the unjust. Lord God, thank You for the life and story of both Joseph and Potiphar. Their lives are intertwined more than we usually realize. Lord God, help us to be a people of integrity regardless of who is watching. Lord God, while You may not elevate us to the palace in this life, may we be mindful that Your Kingdom that is coming is more glorious, more majestic and magnificent than any palace this world has to offer. May we be encouraged by Your past workings in our lives and in the lives of others, so that we may endure our current circumstances and to eagerly await Your second coming and the consummation of Your Kingdom. In Jesus’s Name I pray. Amen.

Hunger, Thirst and Psalm 1

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled (Matt 5:6 NIV).

Hunger and thirst are both present, active, participles in Greek, signifying continuous action. I do not know a better way to start 2021 then by hungering and thirsting for righteousness.

This is a deep longing like when you are famished and in need of food or “dying of thirst” so to speak. This righteousness is one that can only be filled or satisfied (ESV) by God. The righteousness that Jesus is speaking of here isn’t forensic, imputed righteousness, our right standing before God we receive at the time of salvation. The righteousness that Jesus is speaking about here is practical in that we are to want to do what God says is right and see what God says is right done on earth as it is in Heaven.

In light of Jesus’s call to upright living and correct conduct, I cannot help but to think of Psalm 1 which says:

1 Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
3 He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
4 The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6 for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish
(ESV).

In Psalm 1 the blessed person does NOT walk, stand nor sit with the wicked, sinners or scoffers. The blessed person is the one who delights and meditates on God’s law, applying what He says.

As God continuously knows (qal, participle) the way of the righteous believer in Psalm 1, so too does He know the heart and conduct of the believer that is continuously and longingly hungering and thirsting for righteousness. The person whose conduct delights in meditating on the Word, seeking His will and righteousness to be done on the earth is the one who will be filled and satisfied both now and in eternity.

May this New Year be one where we hunger and thirst to know God and His righteousness more than ever before!

Father God, thank You that You Word is alive and practical! Thank You that when we famished in our hunger and thirst for You and Your righteousness that You will fill us. Lord God, stir this reader to want to know You more! Lord God, when we meditate on You and Your attributes, we decrease thinking about ourselves. Lord God, forgive us for all the ways that we fall short and bring shame to Your Name rather than glory, honor and praise. Lord God, thank You that You will one day hold all false prophets and false teachers accountable for the way they confuse and mislead people. Lord God, draw us closer to You today. In Jesus’s Name I pray. Amen.

Psalm 51

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      7       Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;

      wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

            8       Let me hear joy and gladness;

      let the bones that you have broken rejoice.

            9       Hide your face from my sins,

      and blot out all my iniquities.

            10       Create in me a clean heart, O God,

      and renew a right spirit within me.

            11       Cast me not away from your presence,

      and take not your Holy Spirit from me.

            12       Restore to me the joy of your salvation,

      and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Psalm 51:7-12 ESV

This is David’s well-known psalm of repentance after Nathan confronted him with his sin of adultery with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12).

In verse 10 the word create (bara) is the same word used in Genesis 1 where God created (bara) the heavens and the earth. “Strictly used, this word describes what only God can do; to create ex nihilo, out of nothing” (Boice, Psalms 42–106: An Expositional Commentary, 2005, p. 432). David is commanding God to create a new heart in him. “Derek Kidner writes, ‘With the word create he asks for nothing less than a miracle.’ He desires what only God can provide” (Boice, p. 432).

Robert Altar translates the first half of verse 11 as “Do not fling me from Your presence” stating “this Hebrew verb has a connotation of violent action for which the conventional translation of it as “cast” is too tame” (Altar The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary vol 3, 2019, p. 134). Fling/cast is a hiphil in Hebrew which is a verb of causation. David is asking God not to cause him to be violently or forcefully flung/cast away from His presence.

I cannot help but to think that David had King Saul in mind when he says in the next half of verse 11, “and take not your Holy Spirit from me.” I want to be clear, David is not worried about losing his salvation; however, he is worried about losing God’s Presence, anointing and fellowship like King Saul did in 1 Samuel 16. James Boice states, “Today most commentators recognize that David is not talking about eternal security or the fear of losing his salvation at all. He is only acknowledging that he is unable to live a holy life without God. Therefore, he needs the help and power of the Holy Spirit every single moment if he is to be able to overcome temptation and follow after godliness” (p. 434).

In verse 12 David commands God to restore (hiphil, imperative) to him the joy of His salvation. David knew that his fellowship with God had been broken and needed God to cleanse and restore him. David, again, did not lose his eternal salvation, but he did lose the joy of it. What’s true of David is the same with us, there is NO joy when we are living in sin. There is no peace when our relationship with God is broken.

“Many think that the way to joy or a good time is by sinning. They think that godliness is dull. Actually the opposite is the case. Sin brings sorrow. Righteousness brings rejoicing. Allowed to continue, sin will remove every good thing from our lives—joy, health, wealth, and at last even life itself. Only righteousness will restore them” (Boice, p. 434).

“The fact that the psalmist prays for so many things [in vv. 7–12] indicates how many things he knew he had lost when he plunged into sin” (Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms, 1969, pp. 405-406).

Father God, thank You that Your saved and redeemed people never need to fear losing their salvation. Thank You for the gift of salvation by grace, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Holy Trinity, for those who have lost the joy of their salvation due to sin or looking at current events, I ask that You will lift their minds, hearts and hands to You. Lord God, thank You that when we confess our sins to You that You will forgive us. Lord God, forgive us for the times when we put the things of this world before You. Lord God, restore to Your Body the joy of Your salvation, whether we are gathering together in person or online. Lord God, in these ever changing, challenging and tumultuous times, I ask that we will desire to dwell in Your Presence, growing in Your character and serving You with passion, authenticity and boldness until You call us home. In Jesus’s Name I pray. Amen.

Thoughts on Psalm 88

lighted candle
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88 A SONG. A PSALM OF THE SONS OF KORAH. TO THE CHOIRMASTER: ACCORDING TO MAHALATH LEANNOTH. A MASKIL OF HEMAN THE EZRAHITE.

1  O LORD, God of my salvation,
I cry out day and night before you.
2  Let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my cry!

3  For my soul is full of troubles,
and my life draws near to Sheol.
4  I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am a man who has no strength,
5  like one set loose among the dead,
like the slain that lie in the grave,
like those whom you remember no more,
for they are cut off from your hand.
6  You have put me in the depths of the pit,
in the regions dark and deep.
7  Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah

8  You have caused my companions to shun me;
you have made me a horror to them.
I am shut in so that I cannot escape;
9  my eye grows dim through sorrow.
Every day I call upon you, O LORD;
I spread out my hands to you.
10  Do you work wonders for the dead?
Do the departed rise up to praise you? Selah
11  Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
12  Are your wonders known in the darkness,
or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?

13  But I, O LORD, cry to you;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14  O LORD, why do you cast my soul away?
Why do you hide your face from me?
15  Afflicted and close to death from my youth up,
I suffer your terrors; I am helpless. 
16  Your wrath has swept over me;
your dreadful assaults destroy me.
17  They surround me like a flood all day long;
they close in on me together.
18  You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me;
my companions have become darkness (ESV).

This psalm is an individual lament. This psalm is also an anomaly in that it does not end in praise nor confession of confidence in the Lord. Verse 18 can also be translated darkness has become my only companion or darkness is my closest friend (NIV).

Robert Alter makes the observation that “the psalm deploys an unusual abundance of synonyms for the underworld” (The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary, 2019, pp. 210-211) such as: Sheol (v. 3), the pit (vv. 4, 6), the grave (v. 5), the land of forgetfulness (v. 12).  

In Old Testament thought “the Lord does not involve himself with the dead…so the psalmist feels cut off from divine care” (D. Estes, Psalms 73-150 NAC, 2019, p. 154). The Psalmist has been suffering pain and affliction, being close to death since his youth (v. 15). Even though the Psalmist is suffering and feels cut off from God, he still trusts the God of “[his] salvation” (v. 1).

It may be significant that the Psalmist states that he takes his prayers to the Lord in the morning, as this is when the Lord most often intervened on His people’s behalf (see Pss 30:5; 46:5; Isa 37:6). “The psalmist suggests that for him prayer is the first item on his daily schedule. Prayer is not his last resort but his first impulse” (Estes, p. 156).

The Psalmist is unapologetically raw, sincere and vulnerable in expressing how he feels about his circumstances and the Lord’s silence. However, the Psalmist “does not accept his pain with stoic apathy because, as VanGemeren notes, ‘True faith is not an apathetic acceptance of whatever comes to pass. True faith lies in wrestling with the Lord in prayer'” (Estes, p. 155). The Psalmist “just casts the problem into the hands of the Lord, in effect challenging him to rectify the situation by his faithfulness and righteousness” (Estes, pp. 157-158).

“Psalm 88 teaches that the life of faith at times includes experiences of raw pain and desperate loneliness, but even in the blackest of nights those who trust in the Lord can and should take their frustrations to the Father (cf. Ps 139:12)” (Estes, p. 159).

That quote is what strikes me the most about this psalm. The Psalmist does not complain to his family, friends or anyone else who is willing or in earshot to listen. The Psalmist takes his laments, rhetorical questions and grief directly to God; crying out to Him. The Psalmist still has faith in the Lord even though He is silent.

When I first started typing this my title was “The Darkest Psalm.” While this psalm is indeed dark and bleak, Psalm 88 reveals that it is all right to ask God why even when he does not choose to answer the questions that we bring before Him. Psalm 13 and Job “As both Psalm 13 and the book of Job manifest, the Lord’s silence does not mean his absence, and his silent presence is enough for those who trust in him” (Estes, p. 159).  

In this time of COVID-19 may we take our laments and personal grief before our Heavenly Father. May we trust Him when it comes to dealing with this new normal. Dear reader, please know that is okay to cry out to God, to ask Him questions. While your questions may be met with silence like this Psalmist, I pray that you will still trust Him. 

Father God, I ask for You to strengthen Your people. Help us process and reconcile things that we have never seen before. Thank You Father for those who have training in how to deal with infectious diseases and outbreaks. Thank You Father for those who are calm. Lord God, help us to discern truth from error in regards to the news that is being presented to us. Lord God, may we be reminded that You are NOT the Author of confusion and chaos. Lord God, make prayer our impulse and default mode rather than our last resort. May we take our grief to You and have You help us with our grief before broadcasting our fears, troubles and anxieties to an already dark and anxious world. Lord God, I ask for Your Hand of mercy to be upon all Your people with small children, new babies and babies in the womb as life has changed from what it once was. Thank You Jesus for allowing us to pray in Your Name. Amen.