Psalm 88:10
Wilt thou shew wonders to the dead? shall the dead arise and praise thee? Selah.
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(10-12) These verses probably contain the prayer tittered with the “stretched-out hands.”

(10) Shall the dead arise? . . .—These words are not to be taken in the sense of a final resurrection as we understand it. The hope of this had hardly yet dawned on Israel. The underworld is imagined as a vast sepulchre in which the dead lie, each in his place, silent and motionless, and the poet asks how they can rise there to utter the praise of God who has forgotten them (Psalm 88:5). That this is meant, and not a coming forth again into a land of living interests, is shown in the next two verses. (See Notes.)

Dead.—Heb., rephaîm, a word applied also to the gigantic races of Palestine (Deuteronomy 2:11; Deuteronomy 2:20, &c.), but here evidently (as also in Proverbs 2:18; Proverbs 9:18; Proverbs 21:16; Isaiah 14:9; Isaiah 26:19) meaning the dead.

All the passages cited confirm the impression got from this psalm of the Hebrew conception of the state of the dead. They were languid, sickly shapes, lying supine, cut off from all the hopes and interests of the upper air, and even oblivious of them all, but retaining so much of sensation as to render them conscious of the gloomy monotony of death. (Comp. Isaiah 38:18; Ecclesiasticus 17:27-28; Baruch 2:17.)

Psalm 88:10-12. Wilt thou show wonders to the dead? — Namely, in raising them to life again in this world? No: I know thou wilt not. And therefore now hear and help me, or it will be too late. Shall the dead arise and praise thee? — Namely, among mortal men in this world? Shall thy lovingkindness be declared in the grave? &c. — I am not without hopes, that thou bearest a real good-will toward me, and wilt faithfully perform thy gracious promises made to me, and to all that love thee, and call upon thee in truth, but then this must be done speedily, or I shall be utterly incapable of receiving such a mercy. Shall thy wonders be known in the dark? — In the grave, which is called the land of darkness, Job 10:21-22. Thy righteousness in the land of forgetfulness? — The grave, so called, either, 1st, Because there men forget and neglect all the concerns of this life, being indeed but dead carcasses without any sense or remembrance. Or, rather, 2d, Because there men are forgotten even by their nearest relations.

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.Wilt thou show wonders to the dead? - The wonders - or the things suited to excite admiration - which the living behold. Shall the dead see those things which here tend to excite reverence for thee, and which lead people to worship thee? The idea is that the dead will be cut off from all the privileges which attend the living on earth; or, that those in the grave cannot contemplate the character and the greatness of God. He urges this as a reason why he should be rescued. The sentiment here is substantially the same as in Psalm 6:5. See the notes at that passage. Compare Isaiah 38:18.

Shall the dead arise and praise thee? - The original word, here rendered "the dead," is Rephaim - רפאים rephâ'iym. On its meaning, see the notes at Isaiah 14:9. It means, properly, relaxed, languid, feeble, weak; and is then applied to the dead - the shades - the Manes - dwelling in the under-world in Sheol, or Hades, and supposed to be as shades or shadows, weak and feeble. The question here is not whether they would rise to live again, or appear in this world, but whether in Sheol they would rise up from their resting places, and praise God as men in vigor and in health can on the earth. The question has no reference to the future resurrection. It relates to the supposed dark, dismal, gloomy, inactive state of the dead.

10. shall the dead—the remains of ghosts.

arise—literally, "rise up," that is, as dead persons.

Wilt thou show wonders to the dead, to wit, in raising them to live again in this world? as it is in the next clause. I know that thou wilt not. And therefore now hear and help me, or it will be too late.

Praise thee, to wit, amongst mortal men in this world.

Wilt thou show wonders to the dead?.... The Lord does show wonders to some that are spiritually dead, dead in Adam, dead in law, dead in trespasses and sins, by quickening them; whereby the wonders of his grace and love, and of his power, and the exceeding greatness of it, are displayed; for the conversion and quickening of a dead sinner is a marvellous event, like that of; raising Lazarus from the dead, and causing Ezekiel's dry bones to live: likewise the Lord will show wonders to those that are corporeally dead, by raising them from the dead; which work, though not incredible, yet is very wonderful, and can only be accounted for by the attributes of Divine Omniscience and Omnipotence: yea, he would, and he has shown wonders to Christ, when dead, by raising him up again, and giving him glory, and that before he saw corruption, and as the head and representative of his people; and by raising many of the saints also, after his resurrection:

shall the dead arise and praise thee? the spiritually dead, when they are made alive, and rise out of their graves of sin, praise the Lord for the exertion of his grace and power upon them; which is one end of their being formed anew, quickened, and converted; and those that are corporeally dead, such of them as shall rise again to everlasting life, their mouths will be filled with everlasting praise: but here the author of the psalm suggests, that in a little time he should be among the dead, unless he had speedy help and deliverance from his troubles; to whom wonders are not shown, but to the living; and who ordinarily do not rise again to this mortal state, to praise the Lord in it: or, considering them as the words of Christ, he suggests, that none of the above things would be done, unless he was a conqueror over death and the grave, and was raised from thence himself; and so these expostulations carry in them the nature of a prayer, even of the prayer of Christ, as man, to be assisted in overcoming all his enemies, and to be raised from the dead, as Cocceius and others think: the Greek and Vulgate Latin versions are,

"shall physicians rise again?''

of whom the Jews had a bad opinion; See Gill on 2 Chronicles 16:12.

Selah. See Gill on Psalm 3:2.

Wilt thou shew {i} wonders to the dead? shall the dead arise and praise thee? Selah.

(i) He shows that the time is more convenient for God to help when men call to him in their dangers, than to tarry till they are dead, and then raise them up again.

10. This and the two following verses can hardly be, as some commentators suppose, the prayer to which he refers in Psalm 88:9. The connexion of thought seems to be this. He has prayed that God will shew him His marvellous lovingkindness, but he will soon be beyond the reach of it, for of course from his point of view there can be but one answer to the questions of Psalm 88:10-12, and that a negative one. In despair he asks;

Wilt thou do wonders for the dead?

Shall the shades arise and praise thee?

To do ‘wonders’ is the prerogative of God (Exodus 15:11; Psalm 77:11; Psalm 77:14): to give thanks to Him for them is the duty of man: but the Psalmist cannot believe that even God will work such a miracle that the dead shall arise and praise Him. Rephâîm, the Heb. word for ‘shades,’ denotes the dead as weak and nerveless ghosts. Arise might mean no more than ‘stand up,’ referring to what takes place in the unseen world, but the parallel of Isaiah 26:14 suggests that it is a resurrection of which the poet speaks as inconceivable. Cp. Job 14:12.

Verse 10. - Wilt thou show wonders to the dead? Am I to receive no mercy till I am dead? and then wilt thou work a miracle for my restoration and deliverance? Shall the dead arise and praise thee? rather, the shades (rephaim); comp. Job 26:5. The word rephaim designates the wan, shadowy ghosts that have gone down to Hades (Sheol), and are resting there. Shall these suddenly rise up and engage in the worship and praise of God? The psalmist does not, any more than Job (Job 14:14), expect such a resurrection. Psalm 88:10The 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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