October 8th, 2023 . . .“Bible prayers: Heman the Ezrahite prays” Psalm 88:1-2

October 8th, 2023 . . .“Bible prayers: Heman the Ezrahite prays” Psalm 88:1-2

October 08, 2023

“Bible prayers: Heman the Ezrahite prays”

Psalm 88:1-2

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

A little over thirty years ago, back in January of 1992, Christian author and poet Joe Bayly published a book he called The Last Thing We Talk About: Help and Hope for Those Who Grieve. Originally called The View from a Hearse, it’s a book he wrote for those who are facing the death of a loved one, who are still in the midst of grief, or are preparing to die.

He said, “While God has not promised His children an easy death or deathbed visions of glory, what He has promised is an open door beyond.”

And in that book, he tells of how he and his wife, Mary Lou, worked in a Christian organization with college students and wrote for Christian magazines. And their family was a happy one, with three sons and a daughter…

Until, all of a sudden, tragedy struck. Their young son, Danny, was diagnosed with leukemia. He would die at the age of five.

And as he lay dying in his bed, with his mother and father beside him, comforting him, loving him, and telling him about the love of Jesus, he said he didn’t want to go to heaven. He said he wanted to stay, to be with his mom and dad, his brothers and sister, and in his own home. He didn’t want to leave all that he loved and knew.

But he did. He did leave. He died that day.

Then God gave the Baylys the hope of new life again. They were expecting another baby. And they were thrilled!

But when the day came, the baby was born with a severe handicap--Cystic Fibrosis. They named him John. On the eighteenth day of his life, he also died.

It’s been said that the most severe trauma that a parent can suffer is the death of a child. Statistics show that divorce rates skyrocket in families in which a child dies, when neither parent can reach out to the other beyond his or her own grief. And now the Baylys had lost two sons.

But God wasn’t finished with them yet for, just a few years later, another son, their eighteen-year-old son, had a sledding accident, and since he was a hemophiliac, he bled to death.

Seven years. Three sons. Three deaths.

Later, he wrote a poem called This Cardboard Box. This is what he said: “Lord, see it says ‘Bursting Limit 100 lbs. per square inch.’ The box maker knew how much strain the box would take, what weight would crush it. You are wiser than the box maker, Maker of my spirit, my mind, my body. Does the box know when pressure increases close to the limit? No. It knows nothing. But I know when my breaking point is near. And so I pray, Maker of my soul, Determiner of the pressure within, upon me. Stop it, lest I be broken. Or else change the pressure rating of this fragile container of Your grace, so that I may bear more.”

So it is in the words of Psalm 88.

It’s easy to say that the book of Psalms is one of the Bible’s most beautiful books of all. It’s here that we find words like these--Psalm 27: “For in the day of trouble, He will keep me safe in His dwelling; He will hide me in the shelter of His sacred tent and set me high upon a rock” (Psalm 27:5)...Psalm 46: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling” (Psalm 46:1-3)...Psalm 121: “I lift up my eyes to the hills--where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2)...and, of course, Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1).

And while there are so many psalms that teach us how to praise God and to give thanks to God in the good times, there are just as many psalms that lead us through the bad times, what commentators call “Lament psalms,” like Psalm 3: “O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; many are saying of my soul, there is no salvation for him in God” (Psalm 3:1-2), and Psalm 42: “My soul thirsts for God…my tears have been my food, day and night” (Psalm 42:1, 3).

And our psalm, our prayer, for today, Psalm 88, is what commentators call the “lament of all laments.” It’s the coldest, darkest, saddest, and most depressing psalm of all. And while so many other psalms speak of joy and praise and hope in God, this psalm is a bundle of grief and complete and utter despair.

Let’s step back to see what’s going on.

It begins with this: “A Psalm of the sons of Korah. To the Choirmaster: According to Mahalath Leannoth. A Maskil of Heman the Ezrahite.”

So what does all that tell us? Actually it tells us quite a lot! You see, David didn’t write all of the psalms. As far as we know, out of the 150 psalms, he wrote only 73. Which means that quite a lot of others wrote psalms too, men like Moses and Abraham and Solomon. Some say that even the first man, Adam, wrote one of the psalms too (Psalm 92).

And among all those who wrote the psalms, there’s also a group called the “Sons of Korah,” men who cared for the temple, its music, and its worship. And among those sons of Korah, there was one whose name was Heman the Ezrahite.

Now if he’s the same Heman we find in other places in the Bible, then we know a few things about him, as in he not only had seventeen children(!), (that’s fourteen sons and three daughters (I Chronicles 25:5-6)), he was also a very gifted (I Kings 4:31) and talented musician who helped to lead Israel in songs of praise and worship (I Chronicles 16:41-42).

Which takes us to the words of his psalm, the only one the Bible says he wrote--Psalm 88.

But as I said before, it’s a sad psalm, a really, really sad psalm. Let’s take a walk through it together. Verse 1: “O Lord, God of my salvation; I cry out day and night before You.” Verse 3: “For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. I am counted among those who go down to the pit. I am a man who has no strength, like one set loose among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave.” Verse 7: “Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and You overwhelm me with all Your waves.” Verse 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; my eye grows dim through sorrow.” Verse 14: “O Lord, why do You cast my soul away? Why do You hide Your face from me?” Verse 15: “I suffer Your terrors; I am helpless. Your wrath has swept over me; Your dreadful assaults destroy me.” And verse 18: “You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness.”

What a sad, sad, horribly depressing, completely miserable psalm! Not only is it filled with every kind of grief and pain and trouble imaginable, its very last word is “darkness.” As one translation puts it, “Because of You, friend and neighbor shun me. My closest friend, my only friend, is darkness” (Psalm 88:18).

Now I don’t know about you, but I have to wonder, why is Psalm 88 even in the Bible?! I mean, can’t we be a little more upbeat and positive here?! Aren’t our Christian lives supposed to go, like the hymn says, “From victory unto victory, His army shall He lead,” and be full of hope and joy and glory?

Actually, no, no, they’re not. Not at all. In fact, even though we’re Christian, things don’t always go as well as we had planned. We don’t always get the job we wanted. Marriages end. People get sick and die. The sun doesn’t always come out tomorrow.

So why is Psalm 88 even here? Because it tells us that, even though we’re Christian, it’s okay to feel depressed, so depressed as to have nothing at all good to say to God. Yet even though we have nothing good to say, it’s still possible to talk to God, to open your heart to God, and to pour out your heart to God. It tells us that, as another hymn says, “When all things seem against us, to drive us to despair, we know one gate is open, one ear will hear our prayer.”

As one author wrote, “Thank God Psalm 88 is in the Bible! It acknowledges that being a believer is not all happiness and ‘Yay God!’ Bad stuff happens in our lives just like it does in the lives of unbelievers.” And he wrote, “There are times when God feels very far away, very hard to see through the haze of my own weaknesses and limitations, through the sometimes dim realities of life in an imperfect, fallen world, where even God may feel like darkness.”

If you think about it, our Savior Jesus had His own Psalm 88 experience.

On the night before He died, He went to pray in a garden, knowing full well the horror and despair He would face tomorrow. As He said to His disciples in Gethsemane: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with Me” (Mark 14:34).

Then when men came to arrest Him, instead of standing by Him, His friends, His closest companions, the ones He had cared for and taught, to whom He had explained His parables, whose feet He had washed, shunned Him. Judas betrayed Him, Peter denied even knowing who He was, and all the rest ran away.

On Good Friday, He became a horror to the watching crowds as He was crucified like a common criminal. Forsaken, He bore the cup of God’s heavy, overwhelming, dreadful wrath for the sin of God’s redeemed. And when He died, when all was finished, He was counted among those who went down to the pit.

Though it would have completely and utterly ruined every one of us, He drank every last bitter drop.

And because He did all this, because He was completely and utterly forsaken by God, we know God will never leave nor forsake us.

To put it another way, not only can we trust God when the lights are on, we can trust Him when the lights are out.

It was April of 1942, as a group of eighty volunteers from the Army Air Corps signed on to a top secret and dangerous mission. Under the command of Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle, they trained day and night for a secret bombing raid on Tokyo. One of the men was Sergeant Joe Manske, a mechanic and gunner on aircraft #5.

And on the day of the raid, April 18th, after the bombers flew their mission and were returning home, they faced stiff headwinds that slowed their progress and used up their fuel. And the crew on aircraft #5 knew that, without a miracle, they’d crash and be lost at sea.

So in the back of his B-25 bomber, Sergeant Manske unbuckled his harness and got down on his knees and prayed.

And as he prayed, something miraculous began to happen. The winds began to change direction and, instead of being headwinds, they turned into tailwinds of about twenty-five miles per hour, pushing the plane toward their landing site. And though he couldn’t change his circumstances or lift his spirits, he could pray.

We encounter quite a lot of headwinds in life. I don’t have to tell you that. But what I can tell you is that even in the most difficult times, whatever they might be, we can unbuckle our harnesses, get down on our knees, and pray. And then we can sing not just the words of Psalm 88, but the words of the very next psalm, Psalm 89: “I will sing of the mercies of the Lord, forever; with my mouth will I make known Your faithfulness to all generations…Blessed be the Lord forever! Amen and Amen” (Psalm 89:1, 52).

We thank You, Father, for the hope and the strength You give, even in our most desperate times. Help us to rest on You, for You alone are our help and our salvation, for Jesus’ sake. Amen