Psalm 88:12
Shall thy wonders be known in the dark? and thy righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?
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88:10-18 Departed souls may declare God's faithfulness, justice, and lovingkindness; but deceased bodies can neither receive God's favours in comfort, nor return them in praise. The psalmist resolved to continue in prayer, and the more so, because deliverance did not come speedily. Though our prayers are not soon answered, yet we must not give over praying. The greater our troubles, the more earnest and serious we should be in prayer. Nothing grieves a child of God so much as losing sight of 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 leave the earth, what a dungeon would it be! Even those designed for God's favours, may for a time suffer his terrors. See how deep those terrors wounded the psalmist. If friends are put far from us by providences, or death, we have reason to look upon it as affliction. Such was the calamitous state of a good man. But the pleas here used were peculiarly suited to Christ. And we are not to think that the holy Jesus suffered for us only at Gethsemane and on Calvary. His whole life was labour and sorrow; he was afflicted as never man was, from his youth up. He was prepared for that death of which he tasted through life. No man could share in the sufferings by which other men were to be redeemed. All forsook him, and fled. Oftentimes, blessed Jesus, do we forsake thee; but do not forsake us, O take not thy Holy Spirit from us.Shall thy wonders be known in the dark? - In the dark world; in "the land of darkness and the shadow of death; a land of darkness, as darkness itself, and where the light is as darkness." Job 10:21-22. "And thy righteousness." The justice of thy character; or, the ways in which thou dost maintain and manifest thy righteous character.

In the land of forgetfulness - Of oblivion; where the memory has decayed, and where the remembrance of former things is blotted out. This is a part of the general description, illustrating the ideas then entertained of the state of the dead; that they would be weak and feeble; that they could see nothing; that even the memory would fail, and the recollection of former things pass from the mind. All these are images of the grave as it appears to man when he has not the clear and full light of revelation; and the grave is all this - a dark and cheerless abode - all abode of fearfulness and gloom - when the light of the great truths of the Gospel is not suffered to fall upon it. That the psalmist dreaded this is clear, for he had not yet the full light of revealed truth in regard to the grave, and it seemed to him to be a gloomy abode. That people without the Gospel ought to dread it, is clear, for when the grave is not illuminated with Christian truth and hope, it is a place from which man by nature shrinks back, and it is not wonderful that a wicked man dreads to die.

11, 12. amplify the foregoing, the whole purport (as Ps 6:5) being to contrast death and life as seasons for praising God. In the dark; in the grave, which is called the land of darkness, Job 10:21,22.

In the land of forgetfulness; in the grave; so called, either, first, Actively, because there men forget and neglect all the concerns of this life, being indeed but dead carcasses without any sense or remembrance. Or rather, secondly, Passively, because there men are forgotten not only by men, as is noted, Job 24:20 Psalm 31:12, but by God himself, as he complained, Psalm 88:5.

Shall thy wonders be known in the dark?.... A description of the grave again; see Job 10:21, The sense may be, should he continue in the dark and silent grave, how would the wonders of the grace of God, of electing, redeeming, justifying, pardoning, and adopting grace, be made known; the wonders of Christ's person and offices, and the wondrous things, and doctrines of the Gospel, relating thereunto? as the glory of these would be eclipsed, there would be none to publish them:

and thy righteousness in the land of forgetfulness? the grave, where the dead lie, who, having lost all sense of things, forget what were done in this world, and they themselves are quickly forgotten by the living; and had Christ continued in this state, and had not risen again to our justification, how would his justifying righteousness have been revealed, as it is from faith to faith in the Gospel, which is therefore called the word and ministration of righteousness?

Shall thy wonders be known in the dark? and thy righteousness in the land {k} of forgetfulness?

(k) That is, in the grave, where only the body lies without all sense and remembrance.

12. Nay, God’s wonders will not even be known in Darkness, nor His righteousness, His faithfulness to His covenant (Psalm 71:2, and often), in the land of Oblivion: where men neither remember God (Psalm 6:5) nor are remembered by Him (Psalm 88:5); where thought feeling and action are at an end. See Ecclesiastes 9:5-6; Ecclesiastes 9:10; and even in Sir 17:27-28, Bar 2:17, we hear the echo of Isaiah 38:18 f.

Verse 12. - Shall thy wonders be known in the dark? (compare above, ver. 10). And thy righteousness in the land of forgetfulness? "The land of forgetfulness," or "of oblivion," is another name for Hades, or Sheol - not that there are supposed to be no memories of the past in it (Isaiah 14:16, 17), but that all is faint and shadowy there, consciousness but a half-consciousness, remembrance but a half-remembrance. Psalm 88:12The octastichs are now followed by hexastichs which belong together in pairs. The complaint concerning the alienation of his nearest relations sounds like Job 19:13., but the same strain is also frequently heard in the earlier Psalms written in times of suffering, e.g., Psalm 31:9. He is forsaken by all his familiar friends (not: acquaintances, for מידּע signifies more than that), he is alone in the dungeon of wretchedness, where no one comes near him, and whence he cannot make his escape. This sounds, according to Leviticus 13, very much like the complaint of a leper. The Book of Leviticus there passes over from the uncleanness attending the beginning of human life to the uncleanness of the most terrible disease. Disease is the middle stage between birth and death, and, according to the Eastern notion, leprosy is the worst of all diseases, it is death itself clinging to the still living man (Numbers 12:12), and more than all other evils a stroke of the chastening hand of God (נגע), a scourge of God (צרעת). The man suspected of having leprosy was to be subjected to a seven days' quarantine until the determination of the priest's diagnosis; and if the leprosy was confirmed, he was to dwell apart outside the camp (Leviticus 13:46), where, though not imprisoned, he was nevertheless separated from his dwelling and his family (cf. Job, at Job 19:19), and if a man of position, would feel himself condemned to a state of involuntary retirement. It is natural to refer the כּלא, which is closely connected with שׁתּני, to this separation. עיני, Psalm 88:10, instead of עיני, as in Psalm 6:8; Psalm 31:10 : his eye has languished, vanished away (דּאב of the same root as tābescere, cognate with the root of דּונג, Psalm 68:3), in consequence of (his) affliction. He calls and calls upon Jahve, stretches out (שׁטּח, expandere, according to the Arabic, more especially after the manner of a roof) his hands (palmas) towards Him, in order to shield himself from His wrath and to lead Him compassionately to give ear to him. In Psalm 88:11-13 he bases his cry for help upon a twofold wish, viz., to become an object of the miraculous help of God, and to be able to praise Him for it. Neither of these wishes would be realized if he were to die; for that which lies beyond this life is uniform darkness, devoid of any progressive history. With מתים alternates רפאים (sing. רפא), the relaxed ones, i.e., shades (σκιαὶ) of the nether world. With reference to יודוּ instead of להודות, vid., Ewald, 337, b. Beside חשׁך (Job 10:21.) stands ארץ נשׁיּה, the land of forgetfulness (λήθη), where there is an end of all thinking, feeling, and acting (Ecclesiastes 9:5-6, Ecclesiastes 9:10), and where the monotony of death, devoid of thought and recollection, reigns. Such is the representation given in the Old Testament of the state beyond the present, even in Ecclesiastes, and in the Apocrypha (Sir. 17:27f. after Isaiah 38:18.; Baruch 2:17f.); and it was obliged to be thus represented, for in the New Testament not merely the conception of the state after death, but this state itself, is become a different one.
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