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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Psalms 88

Verses 1-2

These verses are an introduction to what follows. The psalmist announced that he prayed unceasingly to the God from whom he hoped to receive deliverance. He pleaded with God to entertain his request and act upon it by saving him.

"In the midst of tribulation, faith holds on to the God who has promised to deliver." [Note: Ibid., p. 565.]

Verses 1-9

1. The sufferer’s affliction 88:1-9a

Verses 1-18

Psalms 88

This is one of the saddest of the psalms. One writer called it the "darkest corner of the Psalter." [Note: R. E. O. White, "Psalms," in the Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, p. 388.] It is an individual lament. It relates the prayer of a person who suffered intensely over a long time yet continued to trust in the Lord.

"Psalms 88 is an embarrassment to conventional faith. It is the cry of a believer (who sounds like Job) whose life has gone awry, who desperately seeks contact with Yahweh, but who is unable to evoke a response from God. This is indeed ’the dark night of the soul,’ when the troubled person must be and must stay in the darkness of abandonment, utterly alone." [Note: Brueggemann, p. 78.]

Heman was a wise man who was a singer in David’s service and a contemporary of Asaph and Ethan (1 Kings 4:31; 1 Chronicles 15:19; 1 Chronicles 16:41-42; 1 Chronicles 25:1; 1 Chronicles 25:6). The sons of Korah arranged and or sang this psalm.

"The emotions and suffering expressed by the psalmist are close in spirit to those of Psalms 22. In the tradition of the church, these psalms were linked together in the Scripture reading on Good Friday." [Note: VanGemeren, p. 564.]

Verses 3-9


Evidently the psalmist’s suffering had resulted in his friends separating from him. God, too, had apparently abandoned him. Heman felt very close to death. He viewed his condition as coming directly from God. He felt alone and miserable.

"One of the first steps toward revival is to be completely transparent when we pray and not tell the Lord anything that is not true or that we do not really mean." [Note: Wiersbe, The . . . Wisdom . . ., p. 250.]

Verses 9-12

2. The sufferer’s prayer 88:9b-12

Even though Heman had prayed for relief and restoration every day, God had not delivered him. He asked for mercy by posing rhetorical questions, all of which expect a negative answer. If the writer died, he could no longer praise the Lord in the land of the living. What he said does not contradict revelation concerning conscious existence after death. It simply reflects Heman’s desire to praise God this side of the grave. [Note: See the discussion of Sheol, the grave, and death in the Psalms in VanGemeren, pp. 569-73.]

Verses 13-18

3. The sufferer’s faith 88:13-18

For the third time, Heman cried out to God for help (cf. Psalms 88:1-2; Psalms 88:13). He asked for an explanation of his suffering (Psalms 88:14). Then he described his sufferings further (Psalms 88:15-18). Still, he kept turning to God in prayer, waiting for an answer and some relief.

"With darkness as its final word, what is the role of this psalm in Scripture? For the beginning of an answer we may note, first, its witness to the possibility of unrelieved suffering as a believer’s earthly lot. The happy ending of most psalms of this kind is seen to be a bonus, not a due; its withholding is not a proof of either God’s displeasure or His defeat. Secondly, the psalm adds its voice to the ’groaning in travail’ which forbids us to accept the present order as final. It is a sharp reminder that ’we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies’ (Romans 8:22 f.). Thirdly, this author, like Job, does not give up. He completes his prayer, still in the dark and totally unrewarded. The taunt, ’Does Job fear God for naught?’, is answered yet again. Fourthly, the author’s name allows us, with hindsight, to see that his rejection was only apparent (see the opening comments on the psalm). His existence was no mistake; there was a divine plan bigger than he knew, and a place in it reserved most carefully for him." [Note: Kidner, Psalms 73-150, p. 319. See also Brueggemann, pp. 80-81.]

When God does not relieve affliction, the godly continue to pray, trusting that He will eventually grant their petition if this is His will.

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Psalms 88". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.