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Bible Commentaries

Smith's Writings

Psalms 88

Verses 1-18

PSALM 88

The soul exercises of a godly man, in learning the reality and horror of God's wrath against sin.

The unrelieved distress of soul, of which this psalm is the deep expression, arises neither from the opposition of enemies nor from trial of circumstances. The distress is not from the surrounding difficulties of the path, but from the inward exercises of the soul.

The psalm depicts the deep distress of a godly soul who is learning in his conscience the reality and horror of God's wrath against sin, and a broken law. God is known and appealed to as Jehovah. Thus there is the knowledge that there is loving-kindness with God, and the soul has confidence to look to God. Nevertheless, in order to have the full enjoyment of this loving-kindness, the horror of God's wrath against sin must be learned.

(vv. 1-7) The godly man realizes that salvation is alone found with God. Thus he addresses Jehovah as the God of his salvation. Nevertheless, the soul is in deep distress that leads it to cry to God day and night. In prayer he owns before God that this soul is full of troubles. He is made to feel that the effect of sin is to separate the soul from God; that it brings into death; that it leaves man without strength, and brings to the grave where the soul is utterly forsaken by God - remembered no more, and cast off from God, where there is only darkness, with God's wrath abiding on the soul.

What a terrible picture of the effect of sin! The soul filled with trouble (v. 3); the life forfeited, drawing near to the grave (v. 3); no strength against sin (v. 4); brought into death (v. 5); forsaken by God (v. 5); left in darkness (v. 6); and under judgment (v. 7).

(vv. 8-9) Moreover there is the consciousness that sin not only separates from God, but that sin makes the person an object of loathing to his acquaintance. That it shuts the soul up in an awful loneliness from which he cannot come forth. Nevertheless, in its misery, the soul is not allowed to be abandoned to despair: thus the hands are stretched out to God.

(vv. 10-12) However, turning to God only makes the distressed soul more conscious that, while there are wonders with God (v. 10), loving-kindness, faithfulness (v. 11), and righteousness, yet the effect of sin, if allowed to work out to its full result, is to bring the soul into death and the land of forgetfulness, where God in all these blessed attributes is unknown.

(vv. 13-14) Nevertheless, the soul in its distress, clings to Jehovah, even though it feels, by reason of its sin, God has cast off the soul and hidden His face.

(vv. 15-18) Thus, under the sense that God has hidden His face, the soul is afflicted and ready to die. Instead of enjoying God's wonders, and loving-kindness, and faithfulness, it is only conscious of God's terrors, God's wrath, and God's forsaking.

The psalm closes in distress with the godly man compassed about by terrors, forsaken by friends, and left in darkness. The relief can only be found in the mercies and faithfulness of God that form the theme of the succeeding psalm.

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Bibliographical Information
Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Psalms 88". "Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hsw/psalms-88.html. 1832.