“Forsaken among the dead, Like the slain who lie in the grave, Whom You remember no more, And they are cut off from Your hand” (Ps. 88:5).
The ESV renders “chaphshî” “forsaken,” although the Hebrew text literally means “freed one among the dead.” This verse expands upon the previous verse, v. 4, which emphatically states that the individual is counted as though a dead person, and is utterly without strength. It is hard to imagine with what more force the Psalmist could have emphasized his utter physical and mental helplessness and lack of vitality.
He is freed among the dead, as though he were killed, whom God has forgotten and who is beyond the reach of God. No one is quite beyond the reach of God, of course, even one who is dead, and so this is to be taken as hyperbole. But if the Psalmist mobilizes such hyperbole in the Holy Spirit, imagine the kind of agony it is to which he gives vent; the pious Heman regarding himself as beyond even the reach of God! Martin Luther renders “chaphshi” as “I lie forgotten among the dead.” Albert Barnes has these exegetical notes to add:
“The word rendered “free” – חפשׁי chophshı̂y – means properly, according to Gesenius (Lexicon),
(1) prostrate, weak, feeble;
(2) free, as opposed to a slave or a captive;
(3) free from public taxes or burdens.
The word is translated “free” in Exodus 21:2, Exodus 21:5,Exodus 21:26-27; Deuteronomy 15:12-13, Deuteronomy 15:18; 1 Samuel 17:25; Job 3:19; Job 39:5; Isaiah 58:6; Jeremiah 34:9-11, Jeremiah 34:14; and at liberty in Jeremiah 34:16. It occurs nowhere else except in this verse. In all these places (except in 1 Samuel 17:25, where it refers to a house or family made free, and Job 39:5, where it refers to the freedom of the wild ass), it denotes the freedom of one who had been a servant or slave. In Job 3:19, it has reference to the grave, and to the fact that the grave delivers a slave or servant from obligation to his master: “And the servant is free from his master.” This is the idea, I apprehend, here. It is not, as DeWette supposes, that he was weak and feeble, as the spirits of the departed are represented to be (compare the notes at Isaiah 14:9-11), but that the dead are made free from the burdens, the toils, the calamities, the servitudes of life; that they are like those who are emancipated from bondage (compare Job 7:1-2; Job 14:6); that death comes to discharge them, or to set them at liberty. So the psalmist applies the expression here to himself, as if he had already reached that point; as if it were so certain that he must die that he could speak of it as if it had occurred; as if he were actually in the condition of the dead. The idea is that he was to all appearance near the grave, and that there was no hope of his recovery. It is not here, however, the idea of release or emancipation which was mainly before his mind, or any idea of consolation as from that, but it is the idea of death – of hopeless disease that must end in death. This he expresses in the usual language; but it is evident that he did not admit any comfort into his mind from the idea of freedom in the grave.”