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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Psalms 88

Verses 1-18

Dr. Lightfoot affirms that this, and the eighty ninth psalm, were written by Heman and Ethan, sons of Zerah, or the Ezrahites mentioned in 1 Chronicles 2:6. Consequently, they lived about the time when the male infants were slain in Egypt. But, though this be true of the former psalm, it cannot be true of the latter, because David is mentioned in the fourth verse; and not as a Cyrus who should be born, but as being then alive. Others think that the authors of these psalms were two levites of the above names. 1 Kings 4:31. Vitringa classes this, and the twenty second, and the sixty ninth in one, and applies them to our Saviour’s passion. But I think, if these sorrows had a reference to Christ, the psalm, like the other two, would have closed with a bright aspect. Hence the judicious Claude and others do not take that liberty with this remarkable psalm.

Title. Leannoth, a wind instrument proper for pensive tones. Heman, the Ezrahite. See 1 Kings 4:31, where it is said that Solomon was wiser than this man and three others, illustrious for literature.

Psalms 88:5 . Free among the dead, like the slain. I dwell in solitude, immured, and exempt from the duties of life. So the word is used in 2 Chronicles 26:21, respecting the secluded state of a leper. It had been more consoling, if like St. Paul, he had cheered the prison-house with the bright hope that the Lord had laid up a crown of righteousness for him, and for all them that love his appearing.

Psalms 88:6 . Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit. The grave of trouble, darkness, and depression.

Psalms 88:11 . Shall thy lovingkindness be declared in the grave? David uses the same argument in Psalms 30:0., to excite the divine compassion. He repeats his pathetic addresses. “In the morning shall my prayer prevent thee,” as when, in time of great need, we gain a benefactor’s ear before he has entered on the business of the day. Morning prayer, like a morning fire, burns clear.


After the bright view of Zion, and the glorious hope of her children, so richly painted in the preseding psalm, we find here one of her sons suffering solitude, covered with a cloud, and crying day and night to the Lord; for his people in this world are not exempt from anguish and affliction. The psalmist however was most afflicted with an apprehension that God was angry with him, and consequently, that he suffered all his waves to go over his head. How natural is it for a desponding mind to feast itself in drawing dark and gloomy conclusions.

Because this pious and devout man conceived himself to be an object of divine displeasure, he thought that God had inclined the heart of his acquaintance, his friends and lovers, to stay away from him. Yea, to abandon him as an abomination, as a carcase in the grave, free among the dead. We should learn to show compassion to christians afflicted with nervous and desponding fears, that Satan may not take occasion to tempt them. It is however a painful task; for they reject comfort, and make ingenious replies to all the promises. As a bird has ranged his cage a thousand times, and found no avenue of escape, so they have already reviewed the promises, and drawn the awful conclusion, that help and hope for the present are fled away. But what can we do? God spares them, and friends must have patience. We must still repeat the same things, and divert them from the object of their gloom by cheering subjects. We must pray for them, for God can restore both body and soul in answer to prayer.

Persons so afflicted, on every subject but that under which they groan, are often distinguished by strength of intellect, and are possessed of the finest imagination. Of this we have proof in this psalm. The whole style of pleading with God is sublimely grand; the arguments are just, and penetrating beyond all that comment can convey. Now if God, the gracious God, shall please for a while to afflict us, let us be assured it is for some good. Perhaps our proud and assuming heart needs abasing. Perhaps it might hurry us into dissipation; and therefore it is better for us to be mourning at home, than rioting in gay life. Or should it prove a hopeless case of melancholy, let families be comforted by our Saviour’s word. This man hath not sinned, nor yet have his parents, so as to occasion the calamity; but one man is born blind, that all the country may be thankful for their eyesight; and another is caused to despond, that others may be thankful for reason.

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Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Psalms 88". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. 1835.