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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Psalms 88

Verse 1

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

Psalms 88:1-18.-Invocation (Psalms 88:1-2); ground of the prayer, the suppliant's misery even unto death (Psalms 88:3-9); God's honour involved in his deliverance from death, because the grave is no scene for declaring God's praises (Psalms 88:10-12); his sufferings unrelieved as yet by any dawn of light (Psalms 88:13-18). Except the ray of hope (Psalms 88:1), "O Lord God of my salvation," the whole breathes gloom throughout. Since this is without parallel in the psalms, it seems likely that this psalm is but the first part of the whole, consisting of Psalms 88:1-18; Psalms 89:1-52.

The Title, in its first part, belongs to both. "A Song or Psalm for the sons of Korah, to the chief Musician upon Mahalath Leannoth". Its second part, "Maschil of Heman the Ezrahite", answers to Maschil of Ethan the Ezrahite, the short title of Psalms 89:1-52. "A song" ( shiyr (H7892)) is always used of joy, and here can only refer to Psalms 89:1-52, not 88. Psalms 89:1 alludes to the title, Psalms 88:1-18, "I will SING of the mercies of the Lord," which joyous vein runs through the first thirty-seven verses, which praise God's grace for the promised perpetuity of David's kingdom. The closing lament over the fallen state of David's throne answers to Psalms 88:1-18 throughout. In Psalms 88:1-18 Messiah, the antitypical Israel (Isaiah 49:1-3; Hosea 11:1: cf. Matthew 2:15), complains, in his day of agony, as in Ps

22. In Psalms 89:1-52 Israel gives thanks for God's covenant, once for all, with David and his seed Messiah, and urges that, having punished her sins, He would now remember His covenant of love. The time was when the "anointed" of David's throne (probably Josiah) had his 'crown profaned on the ground' (Ps. 88:39 ), not being able to "stand in the battle" (Ps. 88:43 ); and his son Jehoahaz, after reigning three months, in his twenty-third year, was carried to Egypt by Pharaoh-Necho (2 Chronicles 35:20-25; 2 Chronicles 36:1-4: cf. Psalms 89:45). Still the temple was standing, as the title entrusting it "to the chief Musician" for public use in the liturgy implies; Josiah had just before caused a religious revival.

A Song or Psalm for the sons of Korah - rather, as usual; i:e., composed by the sons of Korah.

To the chief Musician upon Mahalath Leannoth - an enigmatical intimation of the subject, 'concerning the sickness of affliction'-namely, the nation's disorganization (Isaiah 1:5) - from the Hebrew, `aanah (H6041), to afflict (cf. Psalms 88:15; Psalms 90:15; Psalms 102:23; Psalms 119:75). Praise-songs are the comfort of the afflicted. The "Maschil," or instruction designed, is that mourners should pour out their griefs before God. Compare Psalms 14:1-7; Psalms 53:1-6, titles. "Heman the Ezrahite" (the special title of Psalms 88:1-18), and "Ethan the Ezrahite" (the special title of Psalms 89:1-52), cannot be the authors; because Heman and Ethan are not termed "sons of Korah;" but Heman, a Levite, was of "the sons of the Kohathites," and was the grandchild of Samuel (1 Chronicles 6:33), whose spirit of prophecy he, as being "the king's seer in the words of God" (1 Chronicles 25:5), inherited by God's gift. Ethan was a Levite, of the sons of Merari (1 Chronicles 6:44). These two, with Asaph, a Levite of the sons of Gershom, son of Levi (1 Chronicles 6:39-43), were set by David "over the service of song in the house of the Lord, after that the ark had rest" (1 Chronicles 6:31-33; 1 Chronicles 6:44). The Hebrew lª-, "of" before the names of "Heman" and "Ethan" in the titles express, as usual, authorship; but in this case authorship attributed to them by way of honour-that is to say, the real authors, the sons of Korah, put their compositions into the mouths of those two musicians of the time of David, whose names are so often mentioned next after that of Asaph. Ethan is Jeduthun - i:e., the praiseman (1 Chronicles 16:41; 1 Chronicles 25:1-7). "Ezrahite" - i:e., son of Zerah (1 Chronicles 2:6). Though a Levite by birth, he was reckoned in the family of Zerah, of Judah, as dwelling among them.

O Lord God of my salvation, I have cried day (and) night before thee. So Messiah speaks also in Psalms 22:2. So also the Church, God's "own elect ... cry day and night unto Him" (Luke 18:7). Calvin remarks on the opening invocation, "O Lord God of my salvation," 'In thus addressing God He lays bridle and bit on the excess of his pain: He shuts the door of despair.' The words "before thee" are most significant. 'All men alike complain in their grief; but this is far from pouring out their groans in the presence of God; nay, they must seek some hiding-place where they may murmur against God. It is a rare virtue to place God before us, and to direct to Him our prayers.'

Verse 2

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

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 3

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

My life draweth nigh unto the grave - Hebrew, 'unto Sheol;' distinct from the Hebrew which is rendered "grave" [ qeber (H6913)] properly in Psalms 88:5; Psalms 88:11. Compare with this verse Psalms 107:18.

Verse 4

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

I am counted with them that go down into the pit - I am reckoned among them as one of them (Psalms 28:1).

I am as a man that hath no strength - i:e., as a dead man; because the dead 'have no strength' (Psalms 31:12).

Verse 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.

Free among the dead - i:e., severed from thy service. Compare as to the slave at death, Job 3:19, 'there the servant is free from his master.' As God's service is the highest happiness, so to be "free" from it is the worst of evils. A servant sometimes prefers to freedom the service of even an earthly master who is kind (Deuteronomy 15:16). Much more is liberty from God, our heavenly Master, to be deprecated (Psalms 86:16; Matthew 11:29-30; 1 John 5:3). When king Uzziah was stricken with leprosy for his presumption, he was by God, his Master, deprived of authority over his fellow-servants, and "was cut off from the house of the Lord," losing thereby his place in the house where all the servants of the Lord dwell. Thenceforth "he dwelt in a several house" as a leper (2 Chronicles 26:21), counted dead, and struck off from the number of God's servants. The Hebrew for "a several house" [ chaapªshiy (H2670), a cognate form to the Hebrew, here for "free"] is literally 'a house of freedom.' Thus, too, the following clauses are strictly parallel: "Whom thou rememberest no more, and they are cut off from thy hand;" with which cf. 2 Chronicles 26:21,

Like the slain - the suppliant is threatened with a violent death, which accords with "cut off from thy hand" - from thy saving hand (Psalms 31:22). Death, in Old Testament times, was not as yet so entirely robbed of its terrors as it now is under the Gospel (2 Timothy 1:10). The severance of the soul from the body seemed a severance from the active service of God, and an exile to a "land of the shadow of death, without any order, and where the light is as darkness (Job 10:22). Hence, though often clear hopes are expressed (Psalms 16:9-11; Psalms 17:15; Psalms 73:24), at other times gloom prevails. Messiah especially, inasmuch as He bore to the uttermost the penalty for our sin, felt for the time, as man, death in its darkest aspect of seeming severance from Cod and from his sustaining hand.

Verse 6

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

Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness - rather, "in dark places," as in Psalms 74:20; Psalms 143:3; Lamentations 3:6.

In the deeps - of Sheol or Hades, 'the lower parts of the earth' (Psalms 63:9; Psalms 86:13); "the lowest hell." Compare Ezekiel 26:20.

Verse 7

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

Thy wrath lieth hard upon me - as a heavy burden (Psalms 38:3-4).

Thou hast afflicted (me) with all thy waves. Selah - the tumultuous billows of trouble and pain (Psalms 42:7). The word "afflicted" in the Hebrew precedes the "Selah," which is appended in order to draw attention to the word "afflicted" ('Innitha), which explains the title "Le-annoth." See introductory remarks: hence, "me" also is left to be supplied.

Verse 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.

Thou hast put away mine acquaintance far from me. So Job 19:13; Psalms 27:10; Psalms 31:11; Psalms 38:11; Psalms 69:8. Prophetical of Messiah disbelieved by His own brethren, and in His betrayal and crucifixion forsaken by all his disciples (John 1:11; John 7:5; John 16:32).

Thou hast made me an abomination unto them - literally, 'abominations,' as if I were one great mass of abominations (Genesis 46:34; Genesis 43:32). As Israel was an abomination to the Egyptians, so Messiah, the antitypical Israel, was to the world.

I am shut up, and I cannot come forth - (Lamentations 3:7.) Also cf. the words of Jeremiah, the type, "I am shut up; I cannot go into the house of the Lord." Messiah was God the Father's prisoner for man's imputed sins. He could not come forth, because for our sakes He would not. Hengstenberg makes it, I am shut up by public reproach, which keeps me in the house like a prisoner; I stir not from the door; as Job 31:34. I prefer understanding the reference more generally. Christ was so shut up to suffering, abandonment, and death that there was no escape for Him consistent with man's salvation.

Verse 9

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

Mine eye mourneth by reason of affliction - literally, faileth or pineth away (Psalms 6:7; Psalms 69:3).

Lord, I have called daily upon thee, I have stretched out my hands unto thee, with the eye, the mouth, and the hands, the suppliant pleads. The whole man must pray in order to be heard by God.

Verses 10-12

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

-Appeal to God's regard to His own honour as involved in delivering the suppliant; because it is to the living that God shows His wonders, and it is from the living that God receives praises with the perfect powers of the entire man, body and soul united.

Verse 10. Wilt thou show wonders to the dead? shall the dead arise and praise thee? 'Death is here contemplated as it is in itself apart from anything to mitigate or counteract its terrors-what it would be had redemption not been; what it was to the Redeemer's soul (DeBurgh). So far from this being an argument against the resurrection, it is Messiah's own most powerful plea for it-that otherwise man would be deprived of salvation, and God of the praise which the Redeemed shall give for it throughout eternity. Thou canst not show wonders to the dead, as such; because "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living" (Matthew 22:32). Or even if thou wert to show thy wonders, it is only by their rising to life again that they can duly praise thee for them. Our hopes of immortality in Scripture are not, as in pagan philosophy, made to depend on the indestructibility of the soul, but on the resurrection of the body, and the union of body and soul at the Lord's coming (Psalms 49:14-15; Psalms 16:10-11; Job 19:25).

Not until the light of the Gospel shone is the conscious blessedness of the intermediate state, except by hints, brought to light (Isaiah 57:2; Luke 16:22-31; Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:23). The Hebrew for "the dead" is Rephaim (Genesis 14:5) - literally, a giant race of Canaan, whose name was applied in poetry to the departed spirits, which fear and imagination invested with gigantic proportions. Compare 1 Samuel 28:13, where the witch of Endor says, "I saw gods ascending out of the earth," (Hengstenberg). Gesenius derives it from a root, 'powerless' [ raapaah (H7503)], which applies better here; the point is, the dead have not the requisite powers wherewith to praise thee. However, the former view is recommended by the consideration that it is unlikely the same word should have two derivations and two significations in no way connected. The traces of the aboriginal giants of Canaan, the Rephaim, Emim, Zuzim, and Zamzummim (Deuteronomy 2:11; Deuteronomy 2:20; Deuteronomy 3:11; Deuteronomy 3:13; Joshua 12:4), are still extant in the massive architecture found: solid walls four feet thick; squared stones, one on the other without cement; the roofs consisting of enormous slabs of black basaltic rock; the doors, eighteen inches thick, were secured by ponderous bars, the recesses for which are still to be seen.

Verse 11. Shall thy loving-kindness be declared in the grave? or thy faithfulness in destruction? - i:e., in the place of destruction, the region of the dead. It is by delivering man, in the person of Christ, the first-fruits, from the grave, not by leaving him in the grave, the penalty of sin, that God means to "declare his loving-kindness" to man. It is not by leaving man in the "destruction" which sin and death produce, that God will declare His "faithfulness" to his promises which have flowed out of His "loving-kindness;" for instance, His promise that the woman's seed should bruise the serpent's head (Genesis 3:15; and Hosea 13:14).

Verse 12. Shall thy wonders be known in the dark? - Shall thy wonderful light, life, and salvation be known in the dark tomb? No; they can only be fully known by thy raising up thy people out of it.

And thy righteousness in the land of forgetfulness? Compare note on Isaiah 38:18-19. Messiah's plea for his own resurrection and for that of His members is, that as, in relation to the visible earth, man seems forgotten in the grave, so the "righteousness" of God requires Him to vindicate man's cause, now rendered a just one through His vicarious law-fulfiller, against Satan the usurper and oppressor, by manifestly rescuing man from the region where he seems to be forgotten. Compare Psalms 88:5, "whom thou rememberest no more;" Psalms 31:12; Ecclesiastes 8:10; Ecclesiastes 9:5.

Verse 13

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

But - notwithstanding these considerations, which would naturally create hope of relief, I cry in vain.

And in the morning shall my prayer prevent thee. "In the morning" implies the never-ceasing earnestness with which he prayed, even rising up early for the purpose (Psalms 5:3; Psalms 57:8; Mark 1:35). "Prevent" - i:e., surprise: a condescension to human conceptions; like a client knocking at his patron's door so early as to surprise or anticipate him before he is ready. It is God who really prevents or anticipates His people with prevenient grace (Psalms 21:3; Isaiah 65:1; Isaiah 65:24).

Verse 14

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

Lord, why castest thou off my soul? why hidest thou thy face from me? - Messiah's cry on the cross (Psalms 22:1). Our sins were the cause; the time of deliverance was not yet, because not yet had the penalty been fully paid. 'Although these lamentations at first sight express pain without consolation, they nevertheless contain tacit prayers. For he does not proudly contend with God, but mournfully desires some remedy to his calamities' (Calvin).

Verse 15

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

I am afflicted and ready to die from my youth up. So Israel from the days of her youth as a nation (Psalms 129:1; Hosea 2:15; Hosea 11:1). As Israel's existence in her youth in Egypt was threatened by Pharaoh, so the antitype, Messiah, born in a stable, was threatened by Herod's malice, and throughout life was "a man of sorrows and acquainted with griefs." When a great affliction befals us, we cannot regard it as standing alone; we look upon it as the last step of a ladder, which we begin to ascend as soon as we come into the world. So in the (German) funeral hymn-`In every year from tender youth, I have learned how hard's the road to heaven' (Hengstenberg).

While I suffer thy terrors - `horrors of stupefaction' (Gesenius).

Verse 16

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

Thy terrors have cut me off - the same Hebrew ( tsimtuwtuniy (H6789)) as in Leviticus 25:23, where God saith, "the land shall not be sold for cutting off (margin), because the land is mine. Yet thy terrors are so utterly cutting ME off, who am thy property, that there can be no redemption of it, unless thou dost, speedily interpose. The Hebrew form of 'cut off' is reduplicated here to intensify the force.

Verse 17

They came round about me daily like water; they compassed me about together. They came round about me daily like water. "They," i:e., "thy terrors" (Psalms 88:16).

They compassed me about together - all at one time.

Verse 18

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

Lover and friend hast thou put far from me, and mine acquaintances into darkness - literally, 'mine acquaintances ... darkness;' i:e., instead of acquaintances, there is only a gloomy blank, the darkness of Hades. The parallelism is thus better than in Hengstenberg's view, 'mine acquaintances (are) the place of darkness;' for which he quotes Job 17:14.

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Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Psalms 88". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.