If I had to name the one person in the Bible I was most like, Heman the Ezrahite would be on the short list of names. Heman is one of the most obscure people of the Bible, and is obscure even among the Sons of Korah, but is a person whose qualities deserve to be much better known. Despite Heman’s obscurity, let us focus on three elements of Heman that the Bible makes plain so that we may understand him and his role in the Bible better. The Bible gives us useful insight into three parts of his life: his background, his wisdom, and his lengthy struggle with depression, and each deserves attention.
1 Chronicles 6:31-38 gives the first indication of the duties and ancestry of Heman, saying: “Now these are the men whom David appointed over the service of song in the house of the Lord, after the ark came to rest. They were ministering with music before the dwelling place of the tabernacle of meeting, until Solomon had built the house of the Lord in Jerusalem, and they served in their office according to their order. And these are the ones who ministered with their sons: Of the sons of the Kohathites were Heman the singer, the son of Joel, the son of Samuel, the son of Elkanah, the son of Jeroham, the son of Eliel, the son of Toah, the son of Zuph, the son of Elkanah, the son of Mahath, the son of Amasai, the son of Elkanah, the son of Joel, the son of Azariah, the son of Zephaniah, the son of Tahath, the son of Assir, the son of Ebiasaph, the son of Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, the son of Israel.”
What we learn from this ancestry is that Heman was one of the men chosen by David to be over the music service of the Temple, along with other names (like the notable Psalmist Aspah, who was from the line of Gershon in Levi), and that Heman was the grandson of the prophet and judge Samuel. It was, in part, the mistakes and sins of his father Joel that led Israel to request a king rather than let the rule of the judges continue. Though information about his family history is somewhat sketchy to nonexistent, it is clear that though Heman was a faithful servant of God, some of his deep struggles with depression, which find their way into Psalm 88 (which he wrote) seem related to a difficult childhood. Despite the sinful example of his father, though, Heman’s own contribution to the Bible is positive, if largely unrecognized.
Heman’s faithful service to God is shown in 1 Chronicles 15:16-17, which records the following: “Then David spoke to the leaders of the Levites to appoint their brethren to be the singers accompanied by instruments of music, stringed instruments, harps, and cymbals, by raising the voice with resounding joy. So the Levites appointed Heman the son of Joel; and of his brethren, Asaph the son of Berechiah; and of their brethren, the sons of Merari, Ethan the son of Kushaiah.” These three men–Heman, Asaph, and Ethan, were the top rank Levites when it came to their skill in composing music as well as performing music with joy, and Heman was chief of these, despite his recognized struggles with depression. Here was a man with a known background among the Sons of Korah, a known struggle, but also known and recognized godliness, abilities, and a heart of service to his people.
In fact, this Heman was recognized as one of the wisest men in Israel during the time of Solomon, though he may not be recognized as such today. In 1 Kings 4:29-31 Heman is mentioned along with Ethan the Ezrahite as being a man of notable wisdom, though Solomon’s God-given wisdom exceeded it. Nonetheless, to be found as being almost as wise as Solomon is a notable achievement for any man, especially given the fact that his wisdom was notable enough to be listed among the wisest men of Israel.
Heman’s wisdom is recorded even where his family life is mentioned in the scriptures, in 1 Chronicles 25:4-5: “Of Heman, the sons of Heman: Bukkiah, Mattaniah, Uzziel, Shebuel, Jerimoth, Hananiah, Hanani, Eliathah, Giddalti, Romanti-Ezer, Joshbekashah, Mallothi, Hothir, and Mahazioth. All of these were the sons of Heman, the king’s seer in the words of God, to exalt his horn. For God gave Heman fourteen sons and three daughters.” Here we see that Heman was the seer for King David, which brings to attention that this man had a large family as well as a reputation for wisdom.
Though a full examination of the evidence of Heman’s depression will require a full explanation of Psalm 88, which is beyond the scope of this biographical sketch, it is notable that the aspect of Heman’s life which has left the most recognizable trace on scriptures (as his extensive mention within 1 Chronicles is obscure as a result of that book’s relative neglect) is his lengthy struggle with depression.
Let us therefore briefly note two notable aspects of his depression that are worthy of study. For one, his struggle with depression was a lengthy one, one that he suffered from his youth. As Heman laments in Psalm 88:14-15: “Lord, why do You cast off my soul? Why do you hide Your face from me? I have been afflicted and ready to die from my youth; I suffer Your terrors; I am distraught.” While we do not have enough evidence from the scriptures to understand exactly what Heman’s sufferings in his youth sprang from, or what terrors he suffered from God (perhaps they were frequent nightmares, a terror I understand well), his struggles were long lasting, and he may be termed as one of the notable biblical figures to be afflicted with chronic depression.
The second aspect of his depression that is particularly notable is something he mentions twice, in Psalm 88:8 and Psalm 88:18. Psalm 88:8 reads: “You have put away my acquaintances far from me; You have made me an abomination to them.” Psalm 88:18 reads: “Loved one and friend you have put far away from me; and my acquaintances into darkness.” This lament about the loneliness that results from depression (and the fact that most people do not want to be around those who are intensely gloomy) mirrors the insight of Job about the same state in Job 19:13, 19, which reads: “He has removed my brothers far from me, and my acquaintances are completely estranged from me…all my close friends abhor me, and those whom I have loved have turned against me.” Here we see that the lament of Job and the lament of Heman echo the same language and reflect a deep truth about depression and its effects on one’s sociability.
The Biblical Verdict on Heman
Despite the fact that Psalm 88 itself shows no resolution, the notable, lengthy and public struggle of Heman with his depression does not mar the fact that Heman is given an exemplary record within scriptures. His exemplary record, regardless of whether God healed him of his depression, is due to his record for godliness, the honor provided to him by his fellow Levites and by David as a leader of the Levites in the worship of God, and his well-earned reputation as a seer as well as his place among the most prominent wise men in all of Israel during the time of David and Solomon , all combine to make Heman among the most notable heroes of faith during the golden age of Israel. Despite his obscurity, Heman’s wisdom, service, and faithfulness to God were not forgotten either by his brethren among the Levites or the people and God whom he served. Let us therefore remember the faithful example of Heman and recognize that we are not forgotten by God, though we may be best remembered for our struggles in a wicked and corrupt world, as Heman is.
Depression is a label that the world has attached to a spiritual state they know nothing off.
That’s certainly the truth. Depression is used as a medical label, which creates a sense of distance between those who suffer from melancholy and others, a sense of distance that helps to convince them that it can’t happen to them.
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Depression usually follows behind anxiety, stress and fear. It is emotional exhaustion. It can be induced through spiritual torment and oppression.
That’s certainly the truth, and that is at least part of what I was getting at in referring to his life and family history.
Even though Heman suffered from depression that did not prevent him from being faithful to God
a wise man, an excellent steward in the service of the Lord.
Indeed, and that was precisely my point :).
Being a “seer” could part of the depression be the torment of the actual sight of his ancestor (Korah) being swallowed alive by the earth? If Korah were the author of Psalm 88 through his ancestor (Heman), using Heman to describe where he is and his associated sufferings, it puts things in a different light. It sounds wild I know, but when you consider other Psalms that depict the suffering of Jesus and describe it in Prophetic detail – maybe it’s not so wild after all.
Well, there is certainly the possibility that the rebellion of Korah provides some context as to the metaphorical heaviness of being swallowed by the seas of depression just as Heman’s ancestor was swallowed by the earth for rebellion.
I am seeing this late, but better late than never. Seeing into one’s ancestral past by the Spirit of God does not constitute channelling one’s ancestors. It is just a revelation for change or warning. Also as as a believer in the Christ one must be careful not to allow sentiments to cause utterances that would promote anti-biblical and/or pagan doctrines
e.g. reincarnation or spirit channelling.
It is also inaccurate to assume Heman was a depressed man throughout his ministry because the record also says he was a blessed and wise man. Prov. 1;33
Thank you for your comments. Psalm 88 certainly reveals a prolonged period of depression/illness, but it is certainly true that he was a blessed and wise man, with a large family and a long period of service to God’s people in the musical service of the temple.
Heman reminds me of a song called, I will sing, since he was a leader of song, and praise in the temple of David. It goes like this:
Lord you seem so far away, A million miles or more it feels today. And though I haven’t lost my faith, I must confess right now that it’s hard for me to pray. But I don’t know what to say and I don’t know where to start But as You give the grace with all that’s in my heart….. I will sing, I will praise. Even in my darkest hour through the sorrow and the pain I will sing, I will praise. Lift my hands to honor You Because Your Word is true I will sing.
Lord it’s hard for me to see All the thoughts and plans You have for me. But I will put my trust in You knowing that You died and set me free… But I don’t know what to say, And I don’t know where to start but as You give the grace with all that’s in my heart…..
I will sing, I will praise. Even in my darkest hour Through the sorrow and the pain I will sing, I will praise.Lift my hands to honor You because Your Word is true…I will sing….
Also, Psalm 88 shows Christ and what he suffered. His friend and acquaitances left him, God hid his face from Christ while God the Father poured HIs wrath on Jesus while on the cross. This is how Christ was taken to the grave. Heman is experiencing a precrucifixion suffering as Christ suffere on the cross; yet his life as a Levite and a leader in song and praise plus a wise man demonstrates the victory a believer can have even in the darkest moments of life. MmMmM
That’s a very astute point you bring out. Psalm 88 is not traditionally seen as a psalm about Jesus Christ and His sufferings, but it is certainly true that the feeling of abandonment and crushing sorry would have been felt by our Messiah as He carried the sins of the world and felt cut off from the love of the Father who had to turn away so that He could bear our griefs and take our chastisement for us which we deserved. That adds yet another layer of meaning to the grief and suffering of Psalm 88, and shows how those believers in deep sorrow and suffering that they do not deserve serve as a type of Christ, just like righteous Heman did. Well said, and that is a good song to quote also.
I myself have been going through a tough situation recently and while not totally depressed, I definitely feel a deep sadness that I can relate to in this Psalm. Actually every Psalm if you read them closely, they all have a very human aspect to them. It is as if Jesus wrote a diary to Himself in the Psalms. Everything in them is about Christ’s time spent as a 100% human being on the Earth. Everything from depression to envy was felt by Christ at some point in his life and its on every page of the Book of Psalms. In saying that, it beings to mind that verse in Hebrews where He says “Lo, in the volume of the book it is written of me…”.
They are also about our own lives here on this earth, for as Paul said, what was written in the scriptures was written for our admonition and instruction as well. The Bible is rich enough to have several layers simultaneously :).
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Psalm 88 is quite a vivid depiction of Tartarus (2 Peter 2:4), more vivid than described in the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). I believe that Heman here is speaking for the Sons of Korah who have been swallowed by the earth (Numbers 26:10) and are in the ‘depths of Sheol’, which is Tartarus, an unpleasant place.
I don’t think that’s the case, since the Sons of Korah weren’t swallowed up in the first place, but thanks for commenting.
Thank u for sharing Heman’s life. I know nothing about him just until this morning when i read psalms 88 and wonder who is this guy?! 🙂 Your explanations helped me a lot.
You’re welcome. I’m glad you appreciated the blog.
I appreciate this insight into his life. Wonderful meditations and encouragement for those suffering from depression as well. Thanks for posting.
You’re very welcome 🙂
My name is Heman….
It’s amazing to find out so much about it in the Bible. No wonder my grandfather took his time to name me…
That is an amazing (and very rare) biblical name to have :D.
Hey, thank you for your reply. I became a father on February 23rd. It’s a boy. Unfortunately my grandfather is not with us anymore. I’m gonna name my child Ezekiel…. Comments? Love, Peace and Blessings…. Heman….
That’s a good name, and I would hope that he would appreciate the biblical reference :).
I apologize for the time difference. I’m an Indian and the time zones differ… And yes, it’s a very rare name. If I’m not mistaken, I’m the only one in Asia with this name…
No problem; it does not bother me whenever people send me messages; I reply to them when I see them and am able to respond.
here is it several years after your post [4/8/2020 and I must say that you have truly blessed me brother Nathan. This info has been life changing for me and i have sent it to several great men of God who also suffer from depression like me. It’s up lifted to know that there is biblical evidence of a great man like Heman who also suffered from depression still being honored as a wise man in the court of David. God Bless you and thanks
You’re very welcome; I wrote it while I was struggle with depression myself, so I’m glad it has been able to help bless others as well.
Hi brother Nathan. Here it is , over a year since I wrote you and this post continues to bless me over and over. I truly hope you are well and in your dark moments know that the Holy Spirit used your suffering to bless you with this word from HIS THRONE. Well done faithful brother.
Thanks 🙂 I’m still doing well and I appreciate the prayers and fond wishes :D.
Wonderful. My name is Heman.
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I was reading Psalm 88 this morning and pondering it; then I came across your illuminating post. I appreciate your references to chapters in 1 Chronicles and 1 Kings where Heman is mentioned, as well as your thoughts on his depression. You also made reference to Job 19, which I appreciate; I thought of Job as well because of the word “repulsive” in verse 8 of this Psalm. Maybe Heman had a physical deformity as well, which would affect the response of others to him, resulting in, or increasing, his loneliness and depression.
It is certainly quite possible that Heman had a physical deformity as well.
The Bible says that Heman is a seer not a man with depression. When he composed Psalm 88, our Lord probably allowed him to see some parts of what would happen to Jesus Christ, the future King and Messiah that the Lord talks about to King David. Heman could be so strucked the he drew the inspiration from there like any gifted songwriter inspired by the Holy Spirit.