Psalm 88:10-13

10. Wilt thou perform a miracle for the dead? shall the dead1 arise to praise thee? Selah. 11. Shall thy loving kindness be declared in the grave? thy truth in destruction?2 12. Shall thy wonders be known in darkness? and thy righteousness in the land of forgetfulness? 13. But to thee have I cried, O Jehovah! and in the morning my prayer shall come before thee.3


10. Wilt thou perform a miracle for the dead? By these words the prophet intimates, that God, if he did not make haste to succor him, would be too late, there being scarce anything betwixt him and death; and that therefore this was the critical juncture, if God was inclined to help him, for should the present opportunity not be embraced another would not occur. He asks how long God meant to delay, -- if he meant to do so till death intervened, that he might raise the dead by a miracle? He does not speak of the resurrection at the last day, which will surpass all other miracles, as if he called it in question; yet he cannot be vindicated from the charge of going to excess, for it does not belong to us to prescribe to God the season of succouring us. We impeach his power if we believe not that it is as easy for him to restore life to the dead as to prevent, in proper season, the extreme danger which may threaten us from actually lighting upon us. Great as has been the constancy of the saints, it has always had some mixture of the infirmity of the flesh, which has rendered it necessary for God, in the exercise of his fatherly clemency, to bear with the sin with which even their very virtues have been to a degree contaminated. When the Psalmist asks, Shall thy loving-kindness be declared in the grave? he does not mean that the dead are devoid of consciousness; but he pursues the same sentiment which he had previously stated, That it is a more seasonable time to succor men, whilst in the midst of danger they are as yet crying, than to raise them up from their graves when they are dead. He reasons from what ordinarily happens; it not being God's usual way to bring the dead out of their graves to be witnesses and publishers of his goodness. To God's loving-kindness or mercy he annexes his truth or faithfulness; for when God delivers his servants he gives a confirmation of his faithfulness to his promises. And, on the other hand, he is influenced to make his promises by nothing but his own pure goodness. When the prophet affirms, that the divine faithfulness as well as the divine goodness, power, and righteousness, are not known in the land of forgetfulness, some deluded persons foolishly wrest the statement to support a gross error, as if it taught that men were annihilated by death. He speaks only of the ordinary manner in which help is extended by God, who has designed this world to be as a stage on which to display his goodness towards mankind.

13. But to thee have I cried, O Jehovah! There may have been a degree of intemperateness in the language of the prophet, which, as I have granted, cannot be altogether vindicated; but still it was a sign of rare faith and piety to persevere as he did with never-failing earnestness in prayer. This is what is meant when he says, that he made haste in the morning; by which he would have us not to imagine that he slowly and coldly lingered till he was constrained by dire necessity. At the same time, he modestly intimates by these words, that his pining away in long continued miseries was not owing to his own sluggishness, as if he had not sought God. This is an example particularly worthy of notice, that we may not become discouraged if it happen sometimes that our prayers are for a time unsuccessful, although they may proceed from the heart, and may be assiduously persevered in.

1 According to Cresswell, the meaning of this clause is, "That the Psalmist confined himself to his house from the fear of encountering, if he were abroad, the revilings of his former friends." Walford explains it as follows -- "Either his state of feeling was such as induced him to withdraw himself altogether from society, or he was so environed by hopeless misery, that he regarded himself as a wretch confined in a dungeon, whence he could not escape." Horsley reads, "I am shut up apart, and am not permitted to come out." He observes, that shut up apart is the proper sense of alk, and adds, that "when it denotes confinement, it always implies solitary confinement."

2 The Hebrew word for the dead, in the first clause of the verse, is Mytm, methim; here it is Myapr, rephaim. This last "Hebrew word," says Parkhurst, "means 'dead bodies reduced,' or 'resolved into their original dust.' I know not (he adds) of any one English word that will express it: remains, or relics, come as near to it as any that I can recollect. It is several times put after Mytm, 'the dead,' as of more intense signification." (See Parkhurst's Lexicon,apr, 2.) "Mortui, qui vivere desierunt, manes, proprie flaccidi." -- Simonis. According to Dr Adam Clarke, Myapr, rephaim, means "the manes or departed spirits." The Chaldee paraphrases this word "the carcases that are putrefied in the dust."

3 "C'est, la mort." -- Fr. marg. "That is, death."