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The Scriptorium

Near to the Grave

We'll all be there some day. Psalm 88.3-5

Man of Sorrows (2)

Opening Prayer: Psalm 88.3-5
For my soul is full of troubles,
And my life draws near to the grave.
I am counted with those who go down to the pit;
I am like a man who has no strength,
Adrift among the dead,
Like the slain who lie in the grave,
Whom You remember no more,
And who are cut off from Your hand.

Sing Psalm 88.4, 5
(Picardy: Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence)
Like a person thought to be dying, like a man whose strength is gone;
like one with the slain now lying, like a dead and buried one:
For Your mercy I am sighing, cut off from Your hand and gone.

Read Psalm 88.3-5

Preparation
1. How is the psalmist feeling in these verses?

2. What is making him feel this way?

Meditation
We are assuming that this psalm was written for Heman, a wise man from the tribe of Judah and a contemporary of the sons of Korah, who was either dying or had already died. The psalmists intend to honor him by composing a song to be sung in his memory. The psalm is written to be put in his mouth, as though he were the composer, revealing his deepest feelings.

I find myself in disagreement with many of the commentators I have consulted, who chide Heman over what they consider a lapse of faith. Death is not a pretty thing. It’s not a happy thing. While believers may face death with confidence, hope, and perhaps even joy, still the fact of dying, and the experience of it are tragedies God never intended us to face.

So Heman is troubled in his soul (v. 3); he feels death breathing down his neck, and that he is descending to the world of the no longer living (v. 4). He feels that death is so final, so terrible, that it will cut him off even from God (v. 5). The psalmists want us to experience Heman’s agony, because they want us to hate death and the sin which is its cause (cf. Ps. 97.10).

At the same time, Heman is in prayer, resting his hope in God. He is agonizing over his imminent death, but trusting the Lord as he expresses his pain. To me, this sounds like Jesus in the garden. Would our commentators chide the Savior for agonizing over His impending death? Would they suggest He was experiencing a lapse in faith? Hardly. He was all trust and confidence, even as He sweat great drops of blood.

Jesus hated death so much that He went to the cross to kill it, once and for all. Death is not the way life is supposed to be. We should remember this as we anticipate our own deaths. And we should remember the agony Jesus endured so that death might die and we might live.

Treasure Old and New: Matthew 13.52; Psalm 119.162
Jesus experienced the horror of death. Sweating great drops of blood in anticipation of His physical pain and horrific separation from God. He experienced hell in all its aspects. For us.

We, too, will eventually experience death. And in the meantime, we might meander into some dark places from which only the Spirit can extricate us.

Many of the psalmists offer words to help us sort through the fear of death, but also the disappointments and depressions that frequently assail.

King David expressed these feelings beautifully as he dealt with things his enemies said, the oppression he felt from the wicked, much trouble, and folks who plainly hated him. He moaned noisily with his own complaint, and in the process, gave us perfect lyrics to express our own fears and sadness:
“My heart is severely pained within me, and the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
Fearfulness and trembling have come upon me, and horror has overwhelmed me.
So I said, ‘Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.
Indeed, I would wander far off, and remain in the wilderness.
I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest.’” (Ps. 55.4-8)

The apostle Paul shows and tells us how he dealt with physical and mental woes:
“…a thorn in the flesh was given me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.
Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12.7-10).

Because Paul’s affliction was not specified, we are free to apply his remedy to our own pain; but we must also seek to apply his positive overcomer’s attitude to our own hearts.

His remedy leads us to Jesus. “He, by the grace of God, tasted death for everyone.” “For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.” (Heb. 1.9, 18)

“No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1Cor. 10.13).

Whether near to the grave of death, or the grave of depression, God is faithful.

Jesus, David, Paul, and a great cloud of witnesses have gone before and proved this to be true! (Heb. 12.1-3)

Reflection
1. Is it wrong for Christians to be troubled and disturbed about death? Explain.

2. Why is it important that we keep looking to Jesus in the face of death?

3. What do we mean by saying that Jesus has put death to death? Why is this Good News?

The first words of the psalmist are the only words of comfort and support in this psalm. Thus greatly may good men be afflicted, and such dismal thoughts may they have about their afflictions, and such dark conclusions may they make about their end, through the power of melancholy and the weakness of faith. Matthew Henry (1662-1714), Commentary on Psalm 88.1-9

Closing Prayer: Psalm 88.1-3
Thank God for your salvation. Thank Him for hearing your prayers. Thank Him that you can be honest with Him in prayer about your fears, doubts, and concerns. Cry out to Him for mercy and grace to help you in all your times of need today.

Sing Psalm 88.1-3
(Picardy: Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence)
Lord of my salvation, hear me, as I cry by night and day.
Hear my plea, O Lord, bend near me; O, receive me when I pray!
For my soul is weak and weary, and my life draws near the grave.

T. M. and Susie Moore

You can listen to our summary of last week’s study by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, all Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. For sources of all quotations, see the weekly PDF of this study. All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (Williston: Waxed Tablet Publications, 2006), available by clicking here.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore

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