Tags: commentary on Psalms, desperate prayer, Heman, intimacy with God, obstetrics, prayer, prayer in suffering, Psalm 88, Sunday School lessons on Psalms, wrestling with God
“Obstetrician” is from the Latin term for a midwife, obstetrix, which has the same root from which we get words like “obstacle.” It has the literal sense of “standing in opposition to,” and you can picture a midwife’s position, “standing against” (literally, of course, not figuratively) a woman in the process of giving birth.
Heman was not afraid – as bizarre as this sounds, in a sense – to stand “in opposition to” God. However, as is the case with a midwife, he was not actually opposing God with his prayer. He was trying to “bring forth” – to bring forth from pain a “delivery/deliverance.”
Heman wrestled with God for healing, deliverance, or at least understanding.
Wilt thou shew wonders to the dead? shall the dead arise [and] praise thee? Selah.
Heman rhetorically asked God, “How will I praise you if I die?”
Shall thy lovingkindness be declared in the grave? [or] thy faithfulness in destruction?
This kind of praying sounds foreign to our ears, but it is not all that uncommon in the Bible, where the petitioner in extreme circumstances sounds as if he’s trying to bargain with God. Abraham did this for Lot as he tried to persuade God to spare Sodom. Moses did this for the people after their idolatry with the golden calf. Here Heman seeks to do it for himself, but he frames it as an opportunity for God to get glory.
Shall thy wonders be known in the dark? and thy righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?
Heman also prayed obstetrically not just in bargaining with God for his life, but in the sense of wrestling with God. This kind of praying does not displease God if we are sincere, and if our heart still retains a reverence for Him and a desire to truly know Him, to know His will, and to receive His blessing. Jacob did it. Job did it. Asaph did it in Psalm 73. Habakkuk did it.
Questioning God’s judgment, wisdom, knowledge, or faithfulness can be a dangerous thing, but He may allow it if, through it, we have a true desire to draw closer to Him.
I [am] afflicted and ready to die from [my] youth up: [while] I suffer thy terrors I am distracted. Thy fierce wrath goeth over me; thy terrors have cut me off. They came round about me daily like water; they compassed me about together. Lover and friend hast thou put far from me, [and] mine acquaintance into darkness.
In the darkness we are driven to root out the sins that may have caused our suffering, and this brings us to an intentional spending of time with Him in the awareness of His presence. Even if our suffering is not being caused by specific sins, the Lord’s painful, but gracious, isolation of us from the presence and succor of our friends and loved ones can force us (or free us) to seek Him as the only Light that can shine into, and light our way out of, the deepest midnight darkness of our circumstances or our souls.
Tags: Biblical chastening, chastening, chastisement, God's wrath, Heman, prayer, prayer in suffering, propitiation, Psalm 88, wrath of God
In Psalm 88 Heman prayed openly. He prayed obstinately. And he prayed obnoxiously. Note some of the broad generalizations he used, and the self-centered assumption that God was doing His absolute worst to Heman:
For my soul is full of troubles: and my life draweth nigh unto the grave.
“Full?” We often feel this way when we are in extreme distress, but this is an exaggeration that attempts to disguise the fact that God truly sees to the very depths of our soul.
Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps.
“The lowest?” No matter how low we may feel, the pit of anguish in which we languish is far shallower, by God’s grace, than the one we deserve, apart from Him.
Thy wrath lieth hard upon me, and thou hast afflicted [me] with all thy waves.
“All Thy waves?” No, not a one of us, from the strongest to the most faithful to the most affliction-hardened, could withstand one instant under the full tide of God’s wrathful surf. We would be obliterated. Only Christ could, and has, experienced this type of wrath in our place.
Thy fierce wrath goeth over me; thy terrors have cut me off.
What Heman was truly experiencing was not the “fierce wrath” of God. What he was actually experiencing was the chastisement of His loving God, which, although no doubt severe, is done out of kindness, with the goal of correction, the way a good father disciplines his son, not out of petty anger, frustration, or perverse joy, but with the intention that the son may benefit, grow, and learn – not be “cut off.”
That Heman’s feelings, although sincere, were not valid in their extremity, is evidenced by the fact that He was still given grace to pray, and that he had the consolation of knowing that the Master of the Universe was listening.
Next time we will see that Heman also prayed obstetrically.
Tags: Biblical prayer, Biblical prayers, commentary on Psalms, Heman, importunity, Luke 11, prayer, Psalm 88, purpose of prayer, Sunday School lessons on Psalms
In part one we saw that Heman, the psalmist of Psalm 88, prayed openly. Now we see that he also prayed obstinately.
O lord God of my salvation, I have cried day and night before thee:
Mine eye mourneth by reason of affliction: LORD, I have called daily upon thee, I have stretched out my hands unto thee.
But unto thee have I cried, O LORD; and in the morning shall my prayer prevent thee.
Praying day and night, praying with tears and grasping hands, praying first thing in the morning, as though the Lord would hear our prayers before He even (figuratively, of course) begins HIS day – this is what is called praying with importunity. And, while it may be an annoyance to us when someone pesters us this way, it does not bother the Lord.
And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth. And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
This asking and this seeking and this knocking is an insistent, faithful, and strenuous calling out to the Lord in prayer, which may very well incline Him to respond. Regardless of whether He grants our plea or not, though, it pleases Him because it teaches us dedication and persistence, and because it brings us to intentionally spend time with Him in the awareness of His presence.
Next time we will see that Heman even prayed obnoxiously!
Tags: Biblical prayers, commentary on Psalms, condescension, depression, depression in the Bible, lamentation, prayer, Psalm 88, Sunday School lessons on Psalms
[[A Song [or] Psalm for the sons of Korah, to the chief Musician upon Mahalath Leannoth, Maschil of Heman the Ezrahite.]] O lord God of my salvation, I have cried day and night before thee:
Heman was a musician and a Levite. He was an overseer of music (not lyrics) in the Temple. He was also a prophet, and was renowned for his wisdom.
For he [Solomon] was wiser than all men; than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, and Chalcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol: and his fame was in all nations round about.
I Kings 4:31
In Psalm 88 he was inspired to write a psalm for the sons of Korah, meaning it would be included on a regular basis as part of Temple worship. It is a song based explicitly on Heman’s life and personal experiences, but also inspired by the Holy Spirit. We get the true feelings of Heman, although the articulation of them is breathed through him by the Holy Spirit, and Heman’s feelings are grief, pain, terror, sorrow, frustration, and utter despair.
Psalm 88 is roundly considered by all its commentators to be the saddest Psalm, and perhaps the saddest chapter in the whole Bible. It is in some ways the least hopeful, the most discouraging, the least joyful. So why study it? So that we may prepare for our own coming distress or depression, or make some sense of – and glean some truths about – some period of suffering we may already be experiencing. Because, whatever your view of Heman’s reaction to his suffering, his complaining, his groaning, his self-pity, you will have to admit that he did the one thing the Lord would unquestionably have us to do if we ever find ourselves in this condition: He prayed.
I. Heman prayed openly.
O LORD God of my salvation…
This might be the one glimmer of brightness in the whole psalm – and it comes at the beginning. Heman knew God was his Savior. Therefore, he addresses the only One Who can help, and, as he views the entire universe to be against him, he addresses his pleas and petitions to the Master of the Universe. You and I, when we find ourselves in despair or danger, must openly seek help from the only One who can truly provide it.
Let my prayer come before thee: incline thine ear unto my cry;
Do not sit there sobbing, hoping that the Master will notice you. Address him specifically and boldly. Heman asks God to “incline” (in modern English we would probably say “recline”) His ear – to stoop down – to condescend. This may sound presumptuous, but it is an open statement of the obvious fact that, if the sovereign Lord of all creation is to deal with us, He must (and He has proven that He will) stoop down to our lowly and pitiable level.
Heman is honest about his mental condition:
For my soul is full of troubles…
He admits that he has become consumed with his fears and has trouble focusing in his prayers.
… while I suffer thy terrors I am distracted.
How easily are we distracted in prayer? Did you know you can actually ask the Lord to help you focus in prayer as part of your prayers?
Next time, we will see that Heman also prayed obstinately.