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Today’s Reading

Devotional

What is most striking about Psalm 88 is that there is no relief. Heman begins the psalm by crying to the Lord, disclosing his discouragement in various ways, and he ends in gloom and despair. Most psalms that deal with discouragement and despair begin in gloom and end in light. This one begins in gloom and ends in deeper gloom.

When Heman begins, although he cries to the Lord, “the God who saves me” (the only note of hope in the entire poem), he plaintively observes that he cries out before God “day and night” (Ps. 88:1). He frankly feels he is not being heard (Ps. 88:2, 14). He is not only in difficulty but feels he is near death: “For my soul is full of trouble and my life draws near the grave” (88:3). Indeed, Heman insists that others treat him as if he is doomed (Ps. 88:4-5). The only explanation is that he is under divine wrath: “Your wrath lies heavily upon me; you have overwhelmed me with all your waves” (Ps. 88:7; cf. Ps. 88:16). Not the least of his miseries is the loss of all his friends (Ps. 88:8).

Worse yet, Heman is convinced his whole life has been lived under the shadow of death: “From my youth I have been afflicted and close to death,” he writes (Ps. 88:15). Did he, perhaps, suffer from one of the many ugly, chronic, progressive diseases? “I have suffered your terrors and am in despair. Your wrath has swept over me; your terrors have destroyed me. All day long they surround me like a flood; they have completely engulfed me” (Ps. 88:15-17).

But what makes the psalm utterly grim is the closing line. Not only does Heman charge God with taking away his companions and loved ones, but in the last analysis, “the darkness is my closest friend” (Ps. 88:18). Not God; the darkness.

One of the few attractive features of this psalm is its sheer honesty. It is never wise to be dishonest with God, of course; he knows exactly what we think anyway, and would rather hear our honest cries of hurt, outrage, and accusation than false cries of praise. Of course, better yet that we learn to understand, reflect, and sympathize with his own perspective. But in any case it is always the course of wisdom to be honest with God.

That brings up the most important element in this psalm. The cries and hurts penned here are not the cheap and thoughtless rage of people who use their darker moments to denounce God from afar, the smug critique of supercilious agnosticism or arrogant atheism. These cries actively engage with God, fully aware of the only real source of help.

Deuteronomy 5

The Ten Commandments

5:1 And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them, “Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the rules that I speak in your hearing today, and you shall learn them and be careful to do them. The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. Not with our fathers did the LORD make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today. The LORD spoke with you face to face at the mountain, out of the midst of the fire, while I stood between the LORD and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the LORD. For you were afraid because of the fire, and you did not go up into the mountain. He said:

“‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

“‘You shall have no other gods before1 me.

“‘You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 10 but showing steadfast love to thousands2 of those who love me and keep my commandments.

11 “‘You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

12 “‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. 15 You shall remember that you were a slave3 in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.

16 “‘Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

17 “‘You shall not murder.4

18 “‘And you shall not commit adultery.

19 “‘And you shall not steal.

20 “‘And you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

21 “‘And you shall not covet your neighbor's wife. And you shall not desire your neighbor's house, his field, or his male servant, or his female servant, his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's.’

22 “These words the LORD spoke to all your assembly at the mountain out of the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, with a loud voice; and he added no more. And he wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave them to me. 23 And as soon as you heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you came near to me, all the heads of your tribes, and your elders. 24 And you said, ‘Behold, the LORD our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire. This day we have seen God speak with man, and man still live. 25 Now therefore why should we die? For this great fire will consume us. If we hear the voice of the LORD our God any more, we shall die. 26 For who is there of all flesh, that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of fire as we have, and has still lived? 27 Go near and hear all that the LORD our God will say, and speak to us all that the LORD our God will speak to you, and we will hear and do it.’

28 “And the LORD heard your words, when you spoke to me. And the LORD said to me, ‘I have heard the words of this people, which they have spoken to you. They are right in all that they have spoken. 29 Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants5 forever! 30 Go and say to them, “Return to your tents.” 31 But you, stand here by me, and I will tell you the whole commandment and the statutes and the rules that you shall teach them, that they may do them in the land that I am giving them to possess.’ 32 You shall be careful therefore to do as the LORD your God has commanded you. You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. 33 You shall walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess.

Footnotes

[1] 5:7 Or besides
[2] 5:10 Or to the thousandth generation
[3] 5:15 Or servant
[4] 5:17 The Hebrew word also covers causing human death through carelessness or negligence
[5] 5:29 Or sons

(ESV)

Psalm 88

I Cry Out Day and Night Before You

A Song. A Psalm of the Sons of Korah. To the choirmaster: according to Mahalath Leannoth. A Maskil1 of Heman the Ezrahite.

88:1   O LORD, God of my salvation,
    I cry out day and night before you.
  Let my prayer come before you;
    incline your ear to my cry!
  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,
  like those whom you remember no more,
    for they are cut off from your hand.
  You have put me in the depths of the pit,
    in the regions dark and deep.
  Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
    and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah
  You have caused my companions to shun me;
    you have made me a horror2 to them.
  I am shut in so that I cannot escape;
    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.3
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.4

Footnotes

[1] 88:1 Probably musical or liturgical terms
[2] 88:8 Or an abomination
[3] 88:15 The meaning of the Hebrew word is uncertain
[4] 88:18 Or darkness has become my only companion

(ESV)

Isaiah 33

O Lord, Be Gracious to Us

33:1   Ah, you destroyer,
    who yourself have not been destroyed,
  you traitor,
    whom none has betrayed!
  When you have ceased to destroy,
    you will be destroyed;
  and when you have finished betraying,
    they will betray you.
  O LORD, be gracious to us; we wait for you.
    Be our arm every morning,
    our salvation in the time of trouble.
  At the tumultuous noise peoples flee;
    when you lift yourself up, nations are scattered,
  and your spoil is gathered as the caterpillar gathers;
    as locusts leap, it is leapt upon.
  The LORD is exalted, for he dwells on high;
    he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness,
  and he will be the stability of your times,
    abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge;
    the fear of the LORD is Zion's1 treasure.
  Behold, their heroes cry in the streets;
    the envoys of peace weep bitterly.
  The highways lie waste;
    the traveler ceases.
  Covenants are broken;
    cities2 are despised;
    there is no regard for man.
  The land mourns and languishes;
    Lebanon is confounded and withers away;
  Sharon is like a desert,
    and Bashan and Carmel shake off their leaves.
10   “Now I will arise,” says the LORD,
    “now I will lift myself up;
    now I will be exalted.
11   You conceive chaff; you give birth to stubble;
    your breath is a fire that will consume you.
12   And the peoples will be as if burned to lime,
    like thorns cut down, that are burned in the fire.”
13   Hear, you who are far off, what I have done;
    and you who are near, acknowledge my might.
14   The sinners in Zion are afraid;
    trembling has seized the godless:
  “Who among us can dwell with the consuming fire?
    Who among us can dwell with everlasting burnings?”
15   He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly,
    who despises the gain of oppressions,
  who shakes his hands, lest they hold a bribe,
    who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed
    and shuts his eyes from looking on evil,
16   he will dwell on the heights;
    his place of defense will be the fortresses of rocks;
    his bread will be given him; his water will be sure.
17   Your eyes will behold the king in his beauty;
    they will see a land that stretches afar.
18   Your heart will muse on the terror:
    “Where is he who counted, where is he who weighed the tribute?
    Where is he who counted the towers?”
19   You will see no more the insolent people,
    the people of an obscure speech that you cannot comprehend,
    stammering in a tongue that you cannot understand.
20   Behold Zion, the city of our appointed feasts!
    Your eyes will see Jerusalem,
    an untroubled habitation, an immovable tent,
  whose stakes will never be plucked up,
    nor will any of its cords be broken.
21   But there the LORD in majesty will be for us
    a place of broad rivers and streams,
  where no galley with oars can go,
    nor majestic ship can pass.
22   For the LORD is our judge; the LORD is our lawgiver;
    the LORD is our king; he will save us.
23   Your cords hang loose;
    they cannot hold the mast firm in its place
    or keep the sail spread out.
  Then prey and spoil in abundance will be divided;
    even the lame will take the prey.
24   And no inhabitant will say, “I am sick”;
    the people who dwell there will be forgiven their iniquity.

Footnotes

[1] 33:6 Hebrew his
[2] 33:8 Masoretic Text; Dead Sea Scroll witnesses

(ESV)

Revelation 3

To the Church in Sardis

3:1 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.

“‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

To the Church in Philadelphia

“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.

“‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. 10 Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. 11 I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. 12 The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. 13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

To the Church in Laodicea

14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God's creation.

15 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”

(ESV)

Resources

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The Saddest Psalm in Scripture

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