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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 10–18
Verses 10–18

In these verses,

I. The psalmist expostulates with God concerning the present deplorable condition he was in (Ps. 88:10-12): “Wilt thou do a miraculous work to the dead, and raise them to life again? Shall those that are dead and buried rise up to praise thee? No; they leave it to their children to rise up in their room to praise God; none expects that they should do it; and wherefore should they rise, wherefore should they live, but to praise God? The life we are born to at first, and the life we hope to rise to at last, must thus be spent. But shall thy lovingkindness to thy people be declared in the grave, either by those or to those that lie buried there? And thy faithfulness to thy promise, shall that be told in destruction? shall thy wonders be wrought in the dark, or known there, and thy righteousness in the grave, which is the land of forgetfulness, where men remember nothing, nor are themselves remembered? Departed souls may indeed know God’s wonders and declare his faithfulness, justice, and lovingkindness; but deceased bodies cannot; they can neither receive God’s favours in comfort nor return them in praise.” Now we will not suppose these expostulations to be the language of despair, as if he thought God could not help him or would not, much less do they imply any disbelief of the resurrection of the dead at the last day; but he thus pleads with God for speedy relief: “Lord, thou art good, thou art faithful, thou art righteous; these attributes of thine will be made known in my deliverance, but, if it be not hastened, it will come too late; for I shall be dead and past relief, dead and not capable of receiving any comfort, very shortly.” Job often pleaded thus, Job 7:8; 10:21.

II. He resolves to continue instant in prayer, and the more so because the deliverance was deferred (Ps. 88:13): “Unto thee have I cried many a time, and found comfort in so doing, and therefore I will continue to do so; in the morning shall my prayer prevent thee.” Note, Though our prayers be not answered immediately, yet we must not therefore give over praying, because the vision is for an appointed time, and at the end it shall speak and not lie. God delays the answer in order that he may try our patience and perseverance in prayer. He resolves to seek God early, in the morning, when his spirits were lively, and before the business of the day began to crowd in—in the morning, after he had been tossed with cares, and sorrowful thoughts in the silence and solitude of the night; but how could he say, My prayer shall prevent thee? Not as if he could wake sooner to pray than God to hear and answer; for he neither slumbers nor sleeps; but it intimates that he would be up earlier than ordinary to pray, would prevent (that is, go before) his usual hour of prayer. The greater our afflictions are the more solicitous and serious we should be in prayer. “My prayer shall present itself before thee, and be betimes with thee, and shall not stay for the encouragement of the beginning of mercy, but reach towards it with faith and expectation even before the day dawns.” God often prevents our prayers and expectations with his mercies; let us prevent his mercies with our prayers and expectations.

III. He sets down what he will say to God in prayer. 1. He will humbly reason with God concerning the abject afflicted condition he was now in (Ps. 88:14): “Lord, why castest thou off my soul? What is it that provokes thee to treat me as one abandoned? Show me wherefore thou contendest with me.” He speaks it with wonder that God should cast off an old servant, should cast off one that was resolved not to cast him off: “No wonder men cast me off; but, Lord, why dost thou, whose gifts and callings are without repentance? Why hidest thou thy face, as one angry at me, that either hast no favour for me or wilt not let me know that thou hast?” Nothing grieves a child of God so much as God’s hiding his face from him, nor is there any thing he so much dreads as God’s casting off his soul. If the sun be clouded, that darkens the earth; but if the sun should abandon the earth, and quite cast it off, what a dungeon would it be! 2. He will humbly repeat the same complaints he had before made, until God have mercy on him. Two things he represents to God as his grievances:—(1.) That God was a terror to him: I suffer thy terrors, Ps. 88:15. He had continual frightful apprehensions of the wrath of God against him for his sins and the consequences of that wrath. It terrified him to think of God, of falling into his hands and appearing before him to receive his doom from him. He perspired and trembled at the apprehension of God’s displeasure against him, and the terror of his majesty. Note, Even those that are designed for God’s favours may yet, for a time, suffer his terrors. The spirit of adoption is first a spirit of bondage to fear. Poor Job complained of the terrors of God setting themselves in array against him, Job 6:4. The psalmist here explains himself, and tells us what he means by God’s terrors, even his fierce wrath. Let us see what dreadful impressions those terrors made upon him, and how deeply they wounded him. [1.] They had almost taken away his life: “I am so afflicted with them that I am ready to die, and” (as the word is) “to give up the ghost. Thy terrors have cut me off,” Ps. 88:16. What is hell, that eternal excision, by which damned sinners are for ever cut off from God and all happiness, but God’s terrors fastening and preying upon their guilty consciences? [2.] They had almost taken away the use of his reason: When I suffer thy terrors I am distracted. This sad effect the terrors of the Lord have had upon many, and upon some good men, who have thereby been put quite out of the possession of their own souls, a most piteous case, and which ought to be looked upon with great compassion. [3.] This had continued long: From my youth up I suffer thy terrors. He had been from his childhood afflicted with melancholy, and trained up in sorrow under the discipline of that school. If we begin our days with trouble, and the days of our mourning have been prolonged a great while, let us not think it strange, but let tribulation work patience. It is observable the Heman, who became eminently wise and good, was afflicted and ready to die, and suffered God’s terrors, from his youth up. Thus many have found it was good for them to bear the yoke in their youth, that sorrow has been much better for them than laughter would have been, and that being much afflicted, and often ready to die, when they were young, they have, by the grace of God, got such an habitual seriousness and weanedness from the world as have been of great use to them all their days. Sometimes those whom God designs for eminent services are prepared for them by exercises of this kind. [4.] His affliction was now extreme, and worse than ever. God’s terrors now came round about him, so that from all sides he was assaulted with variety of troubles, and he had no comfortable gale from any point of the compass. They broke in upon him together like an inundation of water; and this daily, and all the day; so that he had no rest, no respite, not the lest breathing-time, no lucid intervals, nor any gleam of hope. Such was the calamitous state of a very wise and good man; he was so surrounded with terrors that he could find no place of shelter, nor lie any where under the wind. (2.) That no friend he had in the world was a comfort to him (Ps. 88:18): Lover and friend hast thou put far from me; some are dead, others at a distance, and perhaps many unkind. Next to the comforts of religion are those of friendship and society; therefore to be friendless is (as to this life) almost to be comfortless; and to those who have had friends, but have lost them, the calamity is the more grievous. With this the psalmist here closes his complaint, as if this were that which completed his woe and gave the finishing stroke to the melancholy piece. If our friends are put far from us by scattering providences, nay, if by death our acquaintance are removed into darkness, we have reason to look upon it as a sore affliction, but must acknowledge and submit to the hand of God in it.