Today’s 'psalm' is the Song of King Hezekiah, who was told by the prophet Isaiah that he was about to die.
At first he resisted the message out of pride (2 Chron 32: 24). But then he repented, and prayed desperately to God for more time. His prayer was granted, a miracle confirmed by the sign of the sundial winding backwards (Is 38:7-8; 2 Kings 20). The story of Hezekiah’s miraculous restoration to health appears three times in the Old Testament, signaling its importance: as well as Isaiah 38, the story appears in 2 Kings 20 and 2 Chron 32.
In the context of the Office of Holy Saturday, Hezekiah's story functions as typology: for Christ did indeed go down to the gates of hell; yet his death is but temporary, until he rises again in glory.
Isaiah 38: 10-20
Ego dixi in dimidio dierum meorum : Vadam ad portas inferi; quæsivi residuum annorum meorum. Dixi : Non videbo Dominum Deum in terra viventium;
non aspiciam hominem ultra, et habitatorem quietis.
Generatio mea ablata est, et convoluta est a me, quasi tabernaculum pastorum.
Præcisa est velut a texente vita mea; dum adhuc ordirer, succidit me : de mane usque ad vesperam finies me.
Sperabam usque ad mane; quasi leo, sic contrivit omnia ossa mea :
de mane usque ad vesperam finies me. Sicut pullus hirundinis, sic clamabo; meditabor ut columba. Attenuati sunt oculi mei, suspicientes in excelsum.
Domine, vim patior : responde pro me. Quid dicam, aut quid respondebit mihi, cum ipse fecerit? Recogitabo tibi omnes annos meos in amaritudine animæ meæ.
Domine, si sic vivitur, et in talibus vita spiritus mei, corripies me, et vivificabis me. Ecce in pace amaritudo mea amarissima.
Tu autem eruisti animam meam ut non periret; projecisti post tergum tuum omnia peccata mea.
Quia non infernus confitebitur tibi, neque mors laudabit te : non exspectabunt qui descendunt in lacum veritatem tuam.
Vivens, vivens ipse confitebitur tibi, sicut et ego hodie; pater filiis notam faciet veritatem tuam. Domine, salvum me fac! et psalmos nostros cantabimus cunctis diebus vitæ nostræ in domo Domini.
I said: In the midst of my days I shall go to the gates of hell:
I sought for the residue of my years. I said: I shall not see the Lord God in the land of the living.
I shall behold man no more, nor the inhabitant of rest.
My generation is at an end, and it is rolled away from me, as a shepherd's tent.
My life is cut off, as by a weaver: whilst I was yet but beginning, he cut me off: from morning even to night you will make an end of me.
I hoped till morning, as a lion so has he broken all my bones:
from morning even to night you will make an end of me. I will cry like a young swallow, I will meditate like a dove:
my eyes are weakened looking upward: Lord, I suffer violence; answer for me.
What shall I say, or what shall he answer for me, whereas he himself has done it?
I will recount to you all my years in the bitterness of my soul.
O Lord, if man's life be such, and the life of my spirit be in such things as these, you shall correct me, and make me to live. Behold in peace is my bitterness most bitter:
but you have delivered my soul that it should not perish, you have cast all my sins behind your back. For hell shall not confess to you, neither shall death praise you: nor shall they that go down into the pit, look for your truth.
The living, the living, he shall give praise to you, as I do this day: the father shall make the truth known to the children.
O Lord, save me, and we will sing our psalms all the days of our life in the house of the Lord.
Tenebrae of Holy Saturday
Nocturn I: Psalms 4, 14, 15
Nocturn II: Psalms 23, 26, 29
Nocturn III: Psalms 53*, 75*, 87*
Lauds: 50*, 91, 63, [Is 38], 150