15 million Ukrainian are displaced by Russia's war.
Millions miss a meal or two each day.
Help us change that! Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries

Scott's Explanatory Notes, Practical Observations on the book Psalms

Psalms 88

Verses 1-18

Psalms 88:1-18. Title. Heman the Ezrahite, so distinguished, according to the general opinion of learned men, as a descendant of Zerah, the son of Judah, was a different person from Heman the chief singer, in the days of David, who was a Levite. (Notes, 1 Kings 4:30-34. 1 Chronicles 2:5-6; 1 Chronicles 25:1-6.) But it is not at all certain, at what time, or on what occasion, the psalm was composed. Some think the word Leannath signifies, " for dejection," as almost the whole psalm is the emphatick language of the deepest despondency : but others suppose the word to mean no more, than that the psalm was to be sung responsively, and that it is merely a musical term.

V. 1,2. Probably the Psalmist wrote this psalm under heavy afflictions and great distress of soul, and meant to describe his own case : yet the language unavoidably leads the thoughts of the attentive reader to the Redeemer, who was doubtless intended by the Holy Spirit ; and the history of his closing scene forms the best comment upon it. It is called by many ’ a penitential psalm : ’ but there is not one confession of sin, or prayer for pardon, contained in it; nor one comfortable word, except the address, "O " LORD God of my salvation," which may be applied to Christ with reference to his deliverance from his sufferings and enemies. (Marg. Ref.) ’ The Ixxxviii Psalm agrees ’ in all things with the xxii and the Ixix Psalms, which is ’ an argument, that it ought to be explained by us in the ’ same manner. It contains therefore equally a prayer of ’ Christ to the Father, poured out from the cross.’ Vitringa in Bp. Home. It is with this view of it, that it is appointed by our church, as one of the proper Psalms on Good Friday.

V. 3. (Notes, Psalms 22:1-21; Psalms 69:1-21. Matthew 26:36-39.) ’ " Full " indeed " of troubles," was thy soul, ’ blessed Jesus, in that dreadful hour, when, under the ’ united weight of our sins and sorrows, thou wert sinking ’ into the grave. . . . Let us judge of thy love by thy sufferings, and of both by the impossibility of our fully comprehending them.’ Bp. Home. (Marg. Ref. Note,

Eph. in. 14-19.)

V. 4. Christ ’ died to all appearance, like the rest of ’ mankind ; nay, he was forcibly put to death as a male factor, and seemed in the hands of his executioners " as ’ "a man that had no strength." ... The people shook ’ their heads at him, saying, " He saved others, himself ’ " he cannot save." Bp. Home. (Notes, Matthew 27:39-44. 2 Corinthians 13:1-4.)

V. 5. A dead man has done with, and is free from, the concerns of this world. (Note, Job 3:11-19.) So long as he lived, he was the object of God’s providential care : but when he is laid in the grave, he seems forgotten and cut off from his hand; that is, until the resurrection. (Notes, Job 14:7-15.) Thus the Psalmist thought, that he had done with life, and all its interests, employments, comforts, and cares; (Notes, Is. 38: 9- 13,17- 20;) and should be no more regarded by Providence, than the dead corpses of men slain in battle, and thrown into one common grave, appear to be. Thus Christ, when expiring on the cross, seemed to be deserted and forgotten by God ; and when he was laid in the sepulchre, the Jewish rulers concluded that by sealing and guarding his body, they should cause his name and doctrine to be speedily forgotten. (Notes, Matthew 27:62-66.)

V. 6- 9. (Marg. Ref.) Many of the emphatical expressions, here employed, are nearly similar to those, which more evidently relate to the sufferings of Christ, (especially in the Psalms above referred to,) at the awful season in which his enemies, urged on by the powers of darkness, nailed him to the cross, insulted him when expiring, and rejoiced when they had shut his body up in the dark and gloomy sepulchre : but, in accession to all that they could do, " it pleased the Lord to bruise him," and " to make his soul an offering for sin : " yea, he " was " made a curse for us." (Notes, Is. 53: 9, 10. Galatians 3:10-14.) Thus he was laid, by the Lord himself, "in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps :" because " the " wrath of God lay hard on him, and he was afflicted with " all his waves." In the mean while, his disciples forsook him, Judas betrayed him, Peter denied him, all were afraid or ashamed to own him ; and he was left bound and in confinement without redress; though he just before " had " offered up prayers and supplications, with strong crying " and tears, unto him that was able to save him from " death ; and was heard, in that he feared." (Marg. Ref. Notes, 18. Psalms 31:10-18. Job 19:5-22. John 16:31-33.)

V. 10- 12. It was not to be expected, that the dead should arise from the grave, or the soul return from the place of departed spirits, to praise God in his congregations on earth, and celebrate among them his power, truth, and mercy : and therefore the Psalmist may seem to plead for present deliverance, as Hezekiah and others did. (Marg. Ref. Notes, Psalms 6:5. Psalms 30:9-10. Is. Psalms 38:17-20.) But, considering the psalm as the language of our suffering Redeemer, these verses may be explained as his earnest prayer to be carried through his arduous work ; that " his soul " might not be left in hell, nor his flesh see corruption : " but that he might make known to men the way of salvation, to the praise of the Lord’s power, mercy, and truth ; and, as the first-fruits of the resurrection, not only preserve their souls from destruction, but also raise their bodies from the grave, that land of darkness and forgetfulness. (Notes, Psalms 22:22-31; Psalms 69:29-36.) The word rendered " destruction " is Abaddon, which St. John gives as a name of the devil, that great destroyer, or of one of his principal ministers in the work of destruction. It seems therefore to denote the pit of destruction, as the other words do the grave. (Note, Revelation 9:11.) Without the mercy of God in Christ, the bodies of all sinners must have finally been left in the grave, and their souls in hell : for " he " is the Resurrection and the Life." (Note, John 11:20-27.)

V. 13. ’ Thus I cry in the anguish of my soul, which ’ keeps me awake, to present my prayers unto thee before ’ the morning light.’ Bp. Patrick.

Prevent thee.] ’ Come more early before thee, than is usual with men.’ (Mark 1:35.)

V. 14. Cosiest off.] " About the ninth hour Jesus " cried with a loud voice, . . . saying, . . . My God, my God, " why hast thou forsaken me ? " (Marg. Ref. Note, Matthew 27:46.)

V. 15. By a trivial change in the pointing, this verse may be rendered, " I am afflicted and expiring : from my " youth I suffer thy terrors ; I am distracted." ’ I am now in the greatest anguish, and about to expire.’ From my youth, I looked forward to this dreadful season ; knowing what I had to endure from thy wrath against the sins of men. Thus I have been " a man of sorrows" all my life. And I am now so distressed, that I am at a loss what to do. The original words in the Gospel of St. Mark, respecting our Lord’s agony in the garden, seem exactly to convey the meaning of the word (n:icij) here rendered distracted. (Note, Mark 14:32-36.) He was filled with amazement, horror, anguish, and dejection, beyond all utterance and conception.

V. 16, 17. "He was cut off from the land of the " living." " It pleased the LORD to bruise him." " He " spared not his own Son." (Note, Romans 8:28-32.) The terrors that pursued, and environed, and overwhelmed the suffering Redeemer, in that " hour and power of dark" ness," cannot be known, even by those who know most of " the terrors of the Lord." The original is peculiarly emphatical.

V. 18. ’ It is mentioned again, as a most affecting instance of Christ’s passion, that he was entirely forsaken, ’ and left all alone, in that dreadful day. . . . His " lovers ’ " and friends," his disciples and acquaintance " were put ’ "far from him ; " they all " forsook him and fled," to ’ hide themselves from the fury of the Jews, " in darkness," ’ in dark, that is, in secret places.’ Bp. Home. But the darkness and distress of the mind? of our Lord’s disciples, at this doleful crisis, seem likewise to have been predicted. (Note, 69.)


The sacred Scriptures, if carefully investigated, will continually remind us of the apostle’s words ; " Let us lay " aside every weight, ... and let us run with patience the " race that is set before us ; looking unto Jesus, . . . who " for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, " despising the shame." Hebrews 12:1-2. When his life drew nigh unto the grave, his soul was full of trouble ; and his gloom was as deep, as could possibly consist with the perfect exercise of faith, and hope, and love. The enmity and insult of those, who " counted him with them " that go down into the pit" of destruction, and despised him as one deprived of strength and help; his confinement, bonds, and stripes, and dying pains ; the treachery, cowardice, and neglect of his disciples, professed friends, and acquaintance ; who either stood aloof from his sufferings, or turned away from him as an abomination, while his enemies compassed him about like floods of water, and all the hosts of hell assaulted his soul ; all these things formed a vast aggregate of sufferings beyond what human language can express. But the wrath of God infused the greatest bitterness into his cup : this lay hard upon him, and weighed him down into " the lowest pit, in darkness, " in the deeps." The very prospect of this indignation afflicted him, and made him " ready to die," from his youth up : and when he actually suffered these terrors, he was as one distracted. Still, however, the Redeemer cried day and night unto his heavenly Father, and stretched out his hands unto him, as in the utmost extremity of distress " in his agony he prayed more earnestly," and his prayer was indeed heard and accepted; (Note, Hebrews 5:7-10;) though he seemed to be cast off, and no more remembered, than a dead man who is laid in the grave. But there was no reason for the Saviour’s unequalled sorrows, in any part of his own conduct : perfectly free from sin himself, and infinitely dear to his heavenly Father, " he was wounded " for our transgressions," and bare the heavy wrath of God due to our sins. While therefore we hear him plead to be delivered and exalted, that he might shew forth the lovingkindness, righteousness, faithfulness, and wonderful works of God, in the salvation of his people ; let us consider what our case would have been, if we had been left to bear this wrath of God for ourselves ; and what they will endure who " neglect so great salvation ; " that we may know the value of his love, and feel the immensity of our obligations. And should any of us, wretched sinners, be left to experience anguish of spirit, terrors of conscience, and horrible temptations ; should we suffer tribulation from the world, in such various forms, and with so many embittering circumstances, as to be constrained to appropriate some of the expressions of this most doleful psalm : still let us remember, that we are not in " the depths of hell," and may therefore yet hope in the Lord God of salvation. Let us persevere in earnest prayer, and plead the glory which will arise to him from saving us rather than from destroying us ; while we desire to be monuments of his mercy, that we may be employed in celebrating his praises Let us remember, that every affliction comes from his hand, from whom alone we expect relief; and that all creatures are his instruments. Let us also recollect the glory that followed our Redeemer’s extreme suffering. Let us not then yield to impatience, or to despair; but still expect a day of comfort, after the darkest and most tedious nights of temptation. And even if we should be forced to conclude one prayer after another, without a glimpse of encouragement ; let us begin again and again, and still hope against hope, and we shall at length prevail. But, if we are exempted from such dreadful trials, let us bless the Lord for it, and sympathize with, and pray for, our afflicted and tempted brethren.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Scott, Thomas. "Commentary on Psalms 88". Scott's Explanatory Notes, Practical Observations on the book Psalms. 1804.