Daybreak: Psalms 87:1 through 88:18
“O Lord God of my salvation, I have cried day and night before thee: let my prayer come before thee: incline thine ear unto my cry.” (Psalm 88:1-2)
An Amish proverb states, “Sometimes God calms the storm, but sometimes God lets the storm rage and calms his child.” Some years ago, I saw that statement illustrated in the life of a friend of mine who had received a terrible personal blow.
After my friend had been married for many years and had devoted her life to her home and family, her husband told her one day that he was leaving. She was heartbroken. I recall many times seeing her weep before the Lord at an altar of prayer, reaching out to the God of her salvation. Life was not easy for her, and many people would have become embittered in this situation, but my friend did not. She simply continued to call upon God.
After a period of some months, I began to see a change in my friend’s demeanor. Her circumstances had not changed, but she did. Acceptance and peace began to pervade her spirit. She still prayed earnestly for her husband but the evidences of anguish over the betrayal and broken trust began to dissipate. In their place, a quiet serenity developed, even though many difficult adjustments had been necessary in her life. God did not answer my friend’s prayer in the way she had thought might happen. Yet He did answer it — He gave her peace in the midst of the storm.
If my friend had not chosen to seek the Lord during this time, she could have developed a bitter and unforgiving spirit. Then not only would she have suffered the initial blow, but she would have had a heavy weight to carry around with her. Years have gone by now, but my friend is at peace and has enjoyed a good and happy life — thanks to God and the peace He alone can give.
Today’s focus verses, which are the opening lines of the most sorrowful passage in the whole Book of Psalms, reveal that the author was in a time of deep distress. Still, his reference to the “God of my salvation” offers a ray of hope, teaching us that the saint of God is never in utter despair. When we are serving God, there is always a place of refuge and a reason to hope, no matter how alarming or heartbreaking our circumstances.
We may face times of trial or loss when it seems that God is ignoring our prayers. It is then that we have a choice. We can challenge and blame God, we can blame others and become bitter, or we can cry unto the God of our salvation and ultimately find a place of peace and joy.
Psalm 87 is an eloquent expression of praise and delight in Zion, the holy City of God. It was written for the sons of Korah, who administered a portion of the Temple music. It possibly was composed during the rule of Hezekiah. Alternatively, the reference to Gentile nations in verse 4 may be a historical indicator that the psalm was composed in a post-exilic period. Whatever the date of composition, it provides a prophetic view of nations coming to Jerusalem during Christ’s Millennial Reign, and the glories of the Messiah’s kingdom.
The psalm has a mixed form, with elements of a hymn of praise, an oracle, and a meditation. The reference in verse 7 to “singers” and “players on instruments” indicate that it may have been used in processions to the Temple or festival worship within it.
Verse 6 is a Messianic reference to the New Jerusalem, where the final census of all the names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life will be taken. The word translated “man” in this verse is not the Hebrew word “ ’adam,” which is the common designation for a human being, but is a different word (Hebrew “ ’ish”) used to designate a person of distinction and honor. All whose names are listed will have experienced the new birth that qualifies them as citizens of New Jerusalem. Verse 7 signifies the rejoicing that will be felt in this Heavenly city, where God will be the springs of life for every inhabitant.
Psalm 88 is considered the most mournful of all the psalms. “Mahalath Leannoth” in the superscription could be translated “concerning sickness, to be sung.” Maschil means “causing to understand” and relates to the teaching of wisdom or piety. The only hopeful expression in this psalm occurs at the beginning in the phrase “O Lord God of my salvation.” However, even the act of prayer is an indicator of lingering hope.
The identity of the author — likely Heman the Ezrahite, who is named in the superscription — is not absolutely certain. One possibility is that he was the wise man Heman mentioned in 1 Kings 4:31, who was a son of Zerah and grandson of Judah (1 Chronicles 2:6), and hence was called the Ezrahite. Another possibility is that he was one of the three chief musicians of David’s day, who is mentioned as a singer in 1 Chronicles 6:33 and other verses as well.
Verses 3-4 indicate that the author of the psalm was gravely ill, physically weak, and close to death. In verse 5, the phrase translated as “free among the dead” means “set apart” in the original Hebrew. In verses 10-12, the psalmist made a plea for healing by asking rhetorically if God could be appreciated by the dead. What makes this the most mournful of all the Psalms is that there is no answering response from God, no surge of renewed faith, nor any mitigation of the author’s despair: the last word of the psalm is “darkness.”
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines – Used by permission per WORDsearch)
I. Book I (1:1 — 41:13)
II. Book II (42:1 — 72:20)
III. Book III (73:1 — 89:52)
IV. Book IV (90:1 — 106:48)
V. Book V (107:1 — 150:6)
A Closer Look
- According to Psalm 87:1-2, where did God lay the foundations of Zion?
- What verses in Psalm 88 reveal that the author’s affliction had affected him emotionally as well as physically?
- What steps can we take to hold on to God in a time of trouble, even when it seems He is not answering our prayers?
Although we long for resolution to the trials that come our way, we can be anchored in the God of our salvation. Knowing that He is there and hears our prayers will provide comfort.