Psalm 88

June 10, 2021

1 O LORD God of my salvation, I have cried day and night before thee:

2 Let my prayer come before thee: incline thine ear unto my cry;

3 For my soul is full of troubles: and my life draweth nigh unto the grave.

4 I am counted with them that go down into the pit: I am as a man that hath no strength:

5 Free among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, whom thou rememberest no more: and they are cut off from thy hand.

6 Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps.

7 Thy wrath lieth hard upon me, and thou hast afflicted me with all thy waves. Selah.

8 Thou hast put away mine acquaintance far from me; thou hast made me an abomination unto them: I am shut up, and I cannot come forth.

9 Mine eye mourneth by reason of affliction: LORD, I have called daily upon thee, I have stretched out my hands unto thee.

10 Wilt thou shew wonders to the dead? shall the dead arise and praise thee? Selah.  

11 Shall thy lovingkindness be declared in the grave? or thy faithfulness in destruction?

12 Shall thy wonders be known in the dark? and thy righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?

13 But unto thee have I cried, O LORD; and in the morning shall my prayer prevent thee.

14 LORD, why castest thou off my soul? why hidest thou thy face from me?

15 I am afflicted and ready to die from my youth up: while I suffer thy terrors I am distracted.

16 Thy fierce wrath goeth over me; thy terrors have cut me off.

17 They came round about me daily like water; they compassed me about together.

18 Lover and friend hast thou put far from me, and mine acquaintance into darkness.

The Point:

The believer cries out day and night to God, even when he is emptied of all strength, tangible hope, comfort, and support from loved ones.

How do you feel in the recitation of this psalm? 

There are times when your trials become so heavy that you are left without strength to carry on. Perhaps you have been abandoned by your friends, or you have been adjusting to the death of a loved one. Each day is one long, weary, uphill struggle. You are completely overwhelmed. The bitter gall of the trial lingers long and hard on the tongue. You can feel the sand grinding between your teeth as you drag yourself across the hard, dry desert floor. At this point, death appears to offer the only possible relief to your predicament. Even prayer does little or nothing to lessen the blow of the trial, but you pray anyway. This psalm presents the worst possible condition for the believer, who is in almost constant throes of depression. This psalm is unusual in that, by the end of it, there is no perceptible change in the mood. If the psalm is of any comfort at all, it is merely from the fact that you are still in communication—although in limited communion—with the God of all comfort.

What does this psalm teach us?

Verses 1–2. The only indication that the psalmist has not given up all hope is found in his willingness to continue crying out to God. He may be on the very threshold of death, but even in this state he will continue mumbling his prayers to God as best as he can. In fact, nearly all he does is cry out for God’s salvation. Day and night, he continues this prayer. All comfort, strength, and encouragement have vanished. But he still continues his prayers to the only One Who can possibly save him. This psalm is not the absence of faith; it is the ultimate display of faith! When the props are removed and all other comforts are taken away, the man of faith will turn to God, in Whom alone there is still the possibility of salvation. Even though that salvation may seem remote, true faith will not let go of the distant possibility that God may still intervene and save.

Verses 3–8. In these verses the discouraged psalmist describes his condition in weary word after weary word. Seven times he refers to death, the grave, the pit, and the darkness to which he draws near. He professes to have no strength. When discouragement has gotten the upper hand, one typically loses the motivation and strength to continue on with life. Such is the case with the poor soul here. Through it all he can sense the strong displeasure of God with him. He suggests that God is as far from him as He is from the poor soul who is in the lowest hell. Such confessions remind us of the pitiable cry of the Son of David and the Son of God at the cross, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Of all the horrible suffering that visits the children of God, none can possibly supersede that which Christ suffered on the cross. No separation from God will ever be so sharp, so painful, or so real as that which the Son of David suffered there. Therefore, any believer cast down to the lowest point of his life can still look down even lower and see the Author and Finisher of his faith in the midst of His passion, Who was “at all points tempted as we are” (Heb. 4:15).

In true form with almost every other psalm that registers such severe troubles, the psalmist here assigns the cause for his condition to God. He is careful not to impugn Him with evil or injustice but only to acknowledge His absolute sovereignty. It is God who has laid him in the lowest pit. It is God who has distanced him from his friends. It is God who has seen fit to take his close friend. It is possible that this refers to the death of an intimate relation. If this be the case, then he must humbly submit to this bitter providence as well. It is God’s wrath that stands hard against him. The Psalmist recognizes that all the problems that a man experiences in his life must not be reduced to mere happenstance. Problems do not arise from an environment gone awry, and neither are they some evil to be subjectively recognized by man alone and solved by man alone. Rather, all of man’s problems (either corporately or individually) are linked in some way or another to a broken relationship with God Himself. This psalm therefore forces a man to face His Creator and his relationship with Him.

Verses 9–14. Now this section constitutes a plea for deliverance, a cry of faith, and a series of well-prepared arguments designed to secure the mercy of God. The psalmist, Heman, speaks of his incessant weeping and his constant petitions to God, day and night. It has not been for lack of importunity that this man fails to penetrate the heavens of brass. He presses the argument. If God has created him for His worship and praise, he argues, what does God profit by his death in the grave? What dead person has ever raised his hands in worship and lifted up his voice in a song of praise? Such arguments are persuasive indeed.

We must still insist that God is both just and wise in withholding His mercy from His people. Yet it is appropriate for the psalmist to continue his plea for mercy. It is appropriate to come on the basis of the mercy of God and the redemption of Christ, pleading the merits of His work. There is nothing essentially wrong with asking God why He withholds His mercy in spite of all the pleas of His saints. He may not answer the question. He doesn’t have to. Nevertheless, asking this sort of question is important for a son who appeals to his father’s love for him. These prayers are important because we are sons of the living God, and we know that when the deliverance finally comes, it is marvelous. It is eternally glorious.

Verses 15–18. The psalm ends with a return to the description of the terrible afflictions suffered by this saint. Evidently, the condition of the psalmist has not changed at this point. He is still overwhelmed. He is still abandoned by friends. He is still alone, afflicted, and wishing to die. He continues to suffer under the trying hand of an offended providence. But this in no way minimizes the importance of this prayer. The important thing is that he is still praying.

How do we apply this psalm?

1. There is never a time when a Christian should stop praying. Though our situation may have reached the depths described in this grim psalm, we must never stop praying. To stop praying is the final abandonment of all hope. Even as we walk through the final hours of our death, such prayers are of great value to us. The psalmist is right about this matter of death. Without the resurrection, we could never praise and worship God again as His creature as we have done many times in our worship, and that would be unacceptable for God who insists on that worship!

2. While it is true that the dead cannot praise God, we are still alive! As long as we are alive, we can declare the faithfulness and loving-kindness of God. On the other hand, if we were to spend a lifetime neglecting the worship of God, why should God raise us from the grave and hell to worship Him at the end? Let us worship him while we are alive. While we have breath, let us praise the Lord! (Psalm 146:2; 150:6).

How does this psalm teach us to worship God? 

1. Keeping in mind that this is an “individual” psalm intended primarily for personal worship, it would be appropriate to use it to that end. Psalms like this teach us how to suffer, but more importantly they teach us how to worship God in times of suffering. This may be the psalm to memorize when you are going through the most severe trial of your life. Pray this psalm to God in the midst of deep suffering.

2. While this psalm is more fitting for private worship, yet the church may choose to recite or sing it during times of great loss and trial within the body of the church. It is comforting to know that we are not the only ones who suffer intensely since the fall of man in the garden. Sharing in the sentiments and the faith of the psalmist can build our faith.

Questions: 

1. Who brought the suffering upon the psalmist?

2. In what ways could this psalm reflect the testimony of Jesus on the cross?

3. How do we know that the psalmist has not completely abandoned hope?

 4. What sort of pronouns does the psalmist use in the psalm? Is it a corporate or an individual psalm?

5. Give several examples of Deliverance Psalms.

Family Discussion Questions:

1. Have you ever lost a friend in death or separation? How did you feel when this happened?

2. Have you ever felt as if God were very distant from you? What was the lowest point in your life? Did you continue to pray during those times?