Psalm 88 I Cry Out Day and Night Before You A Song. A Psalm of the Sons of Korah. To the choirmaster: according to Mahalath Leannoth. A Maskil of Heman the Ezrahite. (1) O LORD, God of my salvation, I cry out day and night before you. (2) Let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry! (3) For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. (4) I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength, (5) like one set loose among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom you remember no more, for they are cut off from your hand. (6) You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep. (7) Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah (8) You have caused my companions to shun me; you have made me a horror to them. I am shut in so that I cannot escape; (9) my eye grows dim through sorrow. Every day I call upon you, O LORD; I spread out my hands to you. (10) Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the departed rise up to praise you? Selah (11) Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon? (12) Are your wonders known in the darkness, or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness? (13) But I, O LORD, cry to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you. (14) O LORD, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me? (15) Afflicted and close to death from my youth up, I suffer your terrors; I am helpless. (16) Your wrath has swept over me; your dreadful assaults destroy me. (17) They surround me like a flood all day long; they close in on me together. (18) You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness. ESV
The NASB 1995 titles Psalm 88: A Petition to Be Saved from Death. The NKJV titles it: A Prayer for Help in Despondency. The NLT adds: A song to be sung to the tune “The Suffering of Affliction.”
A Maskil or Maschil is a Hebrew term not completely understood, but probably some sort of musical or literary term. Most Bible scholars believe a psalm with this heading is a meditative or contemplative song intent upon imparting or teaching a piece of wisdom.
Heman the Ezrahite, a son of Korah, probably lived during the time of King David and King Solomon. He was noted for being wise and a devout servant of the Lord, however, there is no proof that this is same man. There are other men named Heman spoken of in the Old Testament, but Bible scholars lean toward the author being one of the three “sons of Korah” (Heman, Asaph, and Ethan) during David’s time. Read 1 Chronicles 6:31-48. I found the New Living Translation to be the most straight forward and easy to read here. Note: Heman’s grandfather was the prophet, Samuel. Interesting.
The point is of no consequence; whoever wrote the Psalm must have been a man of deep experience, who had done business on the great waters of soul trouble.Charles Spurgeon, English preacher, 1834-1894
The song is sad, but it’s a beautiful song of a man pouring his heart out before the Lord.
O LORD, God of my salvation, I cry out to you by day. I come to you at night. Now hear my prayer; listen to my cry. For my life is full of troubles, and death draws near. I am as good as dead, like a strong man with no strength left. They have left me among the dead, and I lie like a corpse in a grave. I am forgotten, cut off from your care. You have thrown me into the lowest pit, into the darkest depths. Your anger weighs me down; with wave after wave you have engulfed me. Interlude Psalm 88:1-7 NLT
The psalmist here clings to his salvation. That is the only good thing left for him. He is lost and completely alone in his suffering. His loved ones have written him off as dead already; he feels far away from God, but he never renounces his faith nor the goodness of God. Neither does he claim any sin he is being reproached for like in other psalms we have seen from David. Heman is in pain, lost and alone.
Or maybe this is a collection or story of the times in his life when he felt this way.
The opening line calls out to Yahweh (LORD, in all caps), the covenant name of the Great I Am of the Old Testament.
God replied to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM. Say this to the people of Israel: I AM has sent me to you." God also said to Moses, "Say this to the people of Israel: Yahweh, the God of your ancestors- the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob- has sent me to you. This is my eternal name, my name to remember for all generations. Exodus 3:14-15 NLT
Heman calls upon the the LORD, Jehovah, the Great I Am, to save him from his suffering, but he also understands that the God of all creation controls all, sees all, and sets all in motion. He was suffering because God allowed him to suffer. Some commentators link this author to Job in style and manner of writing and the way that he calls out to God.
Selah. There was need to rest. Above the breakers the swimmer lifts his head and looks around him, breathing for a moment, until the next wave comes.Charles Spurgeon, English preacher, 1834-1892
You have driven my friends away by making me repulsive to them, I am in a trap with no way to escape. My eyes are blinded by my tears. Each day I beg for your help, O LORD; I lift my hands to you for mercy. Are your wonderful deeds of any use to the dead? Do the dead rise up and praise you? Interlude Psalm 88:8-10 NLT
Verses 8-10 reminds us of two others in the Bible. Job was abandoned, forsaken by his friends.
"One should be kind to a fainting friend, but you accuse me without any fear of the Almighty. My brothers, you have proved as unreliable as a seasonal brook that overflows its banks in the spring when it is swollen with ice and melting snow. But when the hot weather arrives, the water disappears. The brook vanishes in the heat. The caravans turn aside to be refreshed, but there is nothing to drink, so they die. The caravans from Tema search for this water; the travelers from Sheba hope to find it. They count on it but are disappointed. When they arrive, their hopes are dashed. You, too, have given no help. You have seen my calamity, and you are afraid. But why? Have I ever asked you for a gift? Have I begged for anything of yours for myself? Job 6:14-22 NLT
Job’s so called “friends” abandoned him in his hour of need. Heman, too, felt abandoned. Some commentators suggest that Heman was cast out with a terrible disease, like that of leprosy.
Someone else was abandoned and cast away.
My servant grew up in the LORD's presence like a tender green shoot, like a root in dry ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. He was despised and rejected- a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! But he was pierced for our rebellions, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God's path to follow our own. Yet the LORD laid on him the sins of us all. Isaiah 53:1-6 NLT "Am I leading a rebellion," said Jesus, "that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled." Then everyone deserted him and fled. Mark 14:48-50 NLT
There is nothing that we suffer, that Jesus did not also suffer. He understands. He walks with us. Heman did not have this reassurance as he lived long before the Messiah came to earth.
Can those in the grave declare your unfailing love? Can they proclaim your faithfulness in the place of destruction? Can the darkness speak of your wonderful deeds? Can anyone in the land of forgetfulness talk about your righteousness? O LORD, I cry out to you. I will keep on pleading day by day. O LORD, why do you reject me? Why do you turn your face from me? I have been sick and close to death since my youth. I stand helpless and desperate before your terrors. Your fierce anger has overwhelmed me. Your terrors have paralyzed me. They swirl around me like floodwaters all day long. They engulfed me completely. You have taken away my companions and loved ones. Darkness is my closest friend. Psalm 88:11-18 NLT
Heman feels that death is close and that death will only bring more desperation. He feels far away from God, but he never expresses anger or bitterness; he has just accepted that this is his life, his suffering. Doesn’t your heart go out to him? He has no hope.
But to You I have cried out, O LORD, and in the morning my prayer comes before You. Psalm 88:13 NKJV
In the morning: David often wrote words like these, that he would call for help from the Lord in the morning. That the morning would be word of His unfailing love. The night can be filled with fear and anxiety and the unknown, but with the morning comes renewed hope that God is present and all will be well.
Despite the grief and sadness of Heman’s life or present times, he still reaches out to God each morning.
The final words of this song are this: Darkness is my closest friend (NLT), my acquaintances are in darkness (NASB1995), my companions have become darkness (ESV).
What an awful way to end this psalm.
But I believe the message is two-fold. First of all, no matter the darkness, no matter the anxiety nor the fear, no matter the suffering, we are to call out to God, the Great I Am, the One and only who can save.
And two, we are privy to the Good News that Heman did not know, and here it is . . .
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NIV In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation. All power to him forever! Amen. 1 Peter 5:10-11 NLT
The Good News is that Jesus Christ is our hope and joy amidst struggles while in this life. He has conquered death and paved the way to new life with Him. All that He asks is that we believe and walk with Him.
Father in heaven, thank you for this psalm of great sadness and suffering. Thank you for the Good News and the promise of life everlasting in Your presence. Thank you for the gift of salvation and for the promise that we are never alone, that each day brings new hope and a reminder of Your love. Amen.