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Bible Commentaries

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Psalms 88

A.M. 2981. B.C. 1023.

This is the most melancholy of all the Psalms: it is all lamentation, and mourning, and wo. Here we have the pressure of spirit which the psalmist was under, Psalms 88:1-9 . His humble pleading with God, Psalms 88:10-14 . A further declaration of his affliction, Psalms 88:15-18 .

Title. Upon Mahalath Leannoth Dr. Waterland renders this, The hollow instrument for answering; and Houbigant, For the choirs that they may answer. But Mudge renders the latter word, To create dejection; to raise a pensive gloom or melancholy in the mind; agreeably to the tenor of the Psalm; but probably the words are only the name of the tune to which it was set to music, or of the instrument on which it was played. Maschil of Heman Probably the same person who was famous in David’s time, both for his skill in music and for general wisdom: see 1 Kings 4:31; 1 Chronicles 6:33.

Verses 1-4

Psalms 88:1-4. O Lord God of my salvation Who hast so often saved me in former distresses; I have cried day and night before thee Thus God’s own elect are said, by Christ, to cry to him, Luke 18:7; and thus ought men always to pray and not to faint. Let my prayer come before thee To be accepted of thee. For my soul is full of troubles Troubles of mind, from a sense of God’s wrath and departure from him, as appears Psalms 88:14-16. I am counted with them that go down into the pit I am given up by my friends and acquaintance for a lost man.

Verse 5

Psalms 88:5. Free among the dead Well nigh discharged from the warfare of the present life, and entered, as a member, into the society of the dead; or, removed from all the affairs and conversation of men as if I were really dead. Like the slain, whom thou rememberest no more Whom thou seemest wholly to neglect and to bury in oblivion. He speaks of these matters, not as they are in truth, for he knew very well that forgetfulness was not incident to God, and that God did remember all the dead, and would call them to an account; but only as to appearance, and the opinion of the world, and the things of this life. And they are cut off from thy hand From the care and conduct of thy providence, which is to be understood as the former clause.

Verses 6-7

Psalms 88:6-7. Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, &c. In hopeless and remediless calamities. Thus greatly may good men be afflicted, and such dismal apprehensions may they have concerning their afflictions, and such dark conclusions may they sometimes be ready to make concerning the issue of them, through the power of melancholy, and the weakness of faith. Thy wrath lieth hard upon me The sense of thy wrath, or rather, the effects of it, as the next clause explains it. Thou hast afflicted me with all thy waves With thy judgments breaking in furiously upon me, like the waves of the sea.

Verses 8-9

Psalms 88:8-9. Thou hast put away mine acquaintance far from me I can have no more familiarity or intercourse with my friends than if I were in another world; for thy providence hath removed, or rendered them incapable, or disinclined, to be serviceable to me. Thou hast made me an abomination unto them They are not only shy, but weary of me; and I am looked upon by them, not only with contempt, but with abhorrence. Reader, do not think it strange if thou should be called to encounter such a trial as this, since Heman, who was so famed for wisdom, was thus neglected when the world frowned upon him, and despised as a broken vessel, in which is no pleasure. I am shut up A close prisoner under the arrest of the divine wrath; I cannot come forth There being no way of escape open. He therefore lies down and sinks under his troubles, because he sees not any probability of getting out of them. Mine eye mourneth by reason of affliction But though I thus give vent to my grief, my troubled spirit receives no relief thereby: nevertheless, I have called daily upon thee My weeping has not hindered my praying. I have stretched out my hands unto thee For help and deliverance, though hitherto without effect, for thou dost not hear nor answer me.

Verses 10-12

Psalms 88:10-12. Wilt thou show wonders to the dead? Namely, in raising them to life again in this world? No: I know thou wilt not. And therefore now hear and help me, or it will be too late. Shall the dead arise and praise thee? Namely, among mortal men in this world? Shall thy lovingkindness be declared in the grave? &c. I am not without hopes, that thou bearest a real good-will toward me, and wilt faithfully perform thy gracious promises made to me, and to all that love thee, and call upon thee in truth, but then this must be done speedily, or I shall be utterly incapable of receiving such a mercy. Shall thy wonders be known in the dark? In the grave, which is called the land of darkness, Job 10:21-22. Thy righteousness in the land of forgetfulness? The grave, so called, either, 1st, Because there men forget and neglect all the concerns of this life, being indeed but dead carcasses without any sense or remembrance. Or, rather, 2d, Because there men are forgotten even by their nearest relations.

Verses 13-18

Psalms 88:13-18. In the morning shall my prayer prevent thee That is, shall be offered to thee early, before the ordinary time of morning prayer, or before the dawning of the day, or the rising of the sun. The sense is, Though I have hitherto got no answer to my prayers, yet I will not give over praying and hoping for an answer. Why hidest thou thy face from me? This proceeding seems not to agree with the benignity of thy nature, nor with the manner of thy dealing with thy people. I am ready to die from my youth up My whole life hath been filled with a succession of deadly calamities. O Lord, take some pity upon me, and let me have a little breathing space before I die. While I suffer thy terrors Upon my mind and conscience, which accompany and aggravate my outward miseries, I am distracted I am so astonished, that I know not what to do with myself. They came about me like water As the waters of the sea encompass him who is in the midst, and at the bottom of it.

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Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Psalms 88". Benson's Commentary. 1857.