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Deeper Commentary

 

Psa 88:1

A Song. A Psalm by the sons of Korah. For the Chief Musician. To the tune of The Suffering of Affliction. A contemplation by Heman, the Ezrahite-
The Psalm is clearly by David, probably referring to his illness when suffering for his sin with Bathsheba; there are various parallels with Ps. 22 which is from this background. It is "by" or "for" Heman and the sons of Korah to perform, or perhaps musically arranged by Heman, who appears to have lived in Solomon's time (1 Kings 4:31).

Yahweh, the God of my salvation, I have cried day and night before You-
Prayer is part of the atmosphere of spiritual life, not something hived off and separate- it is an expression of our spirit. Thus there are verses which speak of many daily prayers as being just one prayer (Ps. 86:3,6; 88:1,2); prayer is a way / spirit of life, not something specific which occurs for a matter of minutes each day. The commands to "pray without ceasing" simply can't be literally obeyed (1 Thess. 5:17). "Watch and pray always" in the last days likewise connects prayer with watchfulness, which is an attitude of mind rather than something done on specific occasions. This is not to say that prayer in no sense refers to formal, specific prayer. Evidently it does, but it is only a verbal crystallization of our general spirit of life.

David's first waking moments were naturally of prayer to God. And this is our pattern. He often mentions his habit of regular prayer morning and evening (Ps. 5:3; 55:17; 59:16; 88:3; 119:147). This  should not have to be enforced upon us, but rather the natural outcome of a life lived in constant connection with God. David perceived that the Mosaic ritual of morning and evening sacrifice taught the sacrifice of prayer should be made in daily life, even though at the time of many of the Psalms, David was exiled from the sanctuary. This exile from organized religion led him to make this connection, as it can for us too.

Psa 88:2

Let my prayer enter into Your presence, turn Your ear to my cry-
David imagined the words of prayer as entering into the very presence of God in heaven. This is an awesome conception; that the words of a man at a bus stop in south London can enter to the very presence of God's throne room.

Psa 88:3

for my soul is full of troubles, my life draws near to Sheol-
See on :4. The Lord’s soul was likewise sorrowful unto death in Gethsemane, as if the stress alone nearly killed Him (Mk. 14:34). "My soul is full of troubles, and my life (therefore) draweth nigh unto the grave" (Ps. 88:3). Is. 53:10-12 speaks of the fact that the Lord's soul suffered as being the basis of our redemption; the mind contained within that spat upon head, as it hung on that tortured body; this was where our salvation was won. Death is the ultimately intense experience, and living a life dedicated to death would have had an intensifying effect upon the Lord's character and personality.

Psa 88:4

I am counted among those who go down into the pit. I am like a man who has no help-
David sees sheol (:3) as "the pit", the grave, not as a place of conscious existence. Like Job, he feels he is facing imminent death with no helper or comforter.


Psa 88:5

set apart among the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom You remember no more- they are cut off from Your hand-
Clearly, David sees death as unconsciousness, with no torment nor reward from God at that point. "Set apart" or "cast out" suggests David imagined his corpse amongst others, waiting to be thrown into a hastily dug pit (:5).


Psa 88:6

You have laid me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths-
David believed death was unconsciousness, as we have often noted in the Psalms. Yet here and in Ps. 86:13 he appears to use a common term, "the lowest sheol", meaning the worst kind of death. As with the language of demons, or our usage of English words like "Monday" [moon day], language of the day can be used without actually believing in it. These "depths" are those of Ps. 69:2, another Bathsheba psalm.


Psa 88:7

Your wrath lies heavily upon me; You have afflicted me with all Your waves. Selah-
This again is the language of the Bathsheba Psalm 69:2. He feels he is going to die because of God's wrath. And yet he had earlier rejoiced at the certainty of God's forgiveness and grace. But his faith in forgiveness seems to have wavered, as our does so easily. This was partly because he was so reluctant to accept the consequences of his sin; to endure consequence is not to say that God's wrath is upon us. But David had repeatedly badgered God to remove all consequences, but He was not willing to do so.


Psa 88:8

You have taken my friends from me, You have made me an abomination to them; I am shut in and I can’t escape-
Heb. 'far from me', as in :18. The plea for God not to "be far from me" is common (Ps. 22:11,19; 35:22; 38:21; 71:12). The emphasis perhaps is to be placed upon David not wanting God to be far from him, seeing that he felt others were 'far' from him (s.w. Ps. 88:8,18). He accepted his social and psychological isolation from others, but he didn't want God to be likewise far off from him. In the context of the exiles, God was willing to not be 'far off' from the exiles if they repented (Is. 46:13).

The "friends" may be a reference to his great friend, maybe Bathsheba, or Ahithophel. Perhaps it is a reference to a falling out with Bathsheba soon after their sin, and the way that on account of what he had done, David's own relatives ["friends"] turned against him, as did Ahithophel, who was Bathsheba's grandfather. David loved his parents, especially caring for their safe keeping in his wilderness years; only to be forsaken by them (the Hebrew means just that), and to be rejected by his brothers and sisters ("friend"; Ps. 27:10; 38:11; 69:8; 88:18). And yet despite these breakdowns of relationship being totally David's fault, he appears to blame God for it, and doesn't conclude the Psalm with any ascription of praise or contrition.


Psa 88:9

My eyes are dim from grief; I have called on You daily, Yahweh. I have spread out my hands to You-
The dimness of eyesight may refer to a result of a stroke or illness he suffered after the sin with Bathsheba. But it appears to have been brought on by his desperation at not having his prayers answered. Yet those prayers were for the removal of the consequences of his sin, and much of his distress was because he simply could not accept Nathan's prophetic word about the consequences of his sin. And therefore he was not praying according to God's will and word.


Psa 88:10

Do You show wonders to the dead? Do the dead rise up and praise You? Selah-
Did David's faith in the resurrection collapse in Ps. 88:10? Job's did likewise at some points. David asks to be preserved from death so that he can continue praising God. He saw this as the purpose of life and existence. He clearly did not imagine death as meaning going to heaven and singing praises. God does indeed show wonders to the dead believers in resurrection, yet it seems David's faith and understanding in this collapsed temporarily.


Psa 88:11

Is Your grace declared in the grave? Or Your faithfulness in Destruction?-
The praise David wanted to live in order to offer (:10) was praise of God's grace, righteousness and faithfulness to him (:12). God's forgiveness of his sins of adultery and murder was by grace, seeing he was condemned for these things under the law; but yet God's righteousness was not impugned by that. Paul labours this point throughout Rom. 1-8.


Psa 88:12

Are Your wonders made known in the dark? Or Your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?-
See on :11. Death was the place of forgetfulness in that God has no conscious intercourse with the dead, He does not in that sense remember them (:5). But as noted on :10, it appears that David is overlooking completely the resurrection of the body, in a form which reflects that God has not at all forgotten our essential spirit and personality.


Psa 88:13

But to You, Yahweh, I have cried. In the morning, my prayer comes before You-
As noted on :1, David still prays to God even in depression and collapse of faith in resurrection (:10,12). He still has a strong faith that his words actually enter the very presence of God in heaven.


Psa 88:14

Yahweh, why do You reject my soul? Why do You hide Your face from me?-

The prototype of Christ feeling forsaken was in David feeling forsaken by God when he fled from Absalom (Ps. 42:9; 43:2; 88:14); but clearly he was not actually forsaken. In David's case, as discussed on :7, the apparent silence of God was because David was praying for the wrong things- David had repeatedly badgered God to remove all consequences of his sin, but He was not willing to do so. Nathan had spoken to him from God about this, and David just would not accept it.


Psa 88:15

I am afflicted and ready to die from my youth up; while I suffer Your terrors, I am distracted-
David seems to consider that his life had been one of continual risk of death; from wild animals as a shepherd, from Goliath and the Philistines, from Saul, from Gentile armies, and now from Absalom. He appears to consider God is unfair to him. His complaint about God terrifying him is taken from Job (Job 6:4; 9:34; 13:21). But although clearly knowing the book of Job well (for David so often alludes to it), he fails to factor in that Job finally realizes that he has not spoken rightly about God. David failed to see the end of the Lord with Job, that He is very pitiful and of tender mercy (James 5:11). 


Psa 88:16

Your fierce wrath has gone over me. Your terrors have cut me off-
As explained on :16, David was wrong to consider that God was using terrors against him. The words of Job came to mind and he hastily quotes them (see on :16), but without reflection upon the context and final conclusion of Job. 


Psa 88:17

They came around me like water all day long, they completely engulfed me-
This is another connection with Ps. 22, this time to Ps. 22:16 where the same word for "engulfed" is used (see on :1). But the idea of being engulfed by God's terrors is again alluding to the book of Job (s.w. Job 19:6). But again he fails to factor in that Job finally realizes that he has not spoken rightly about God. David failed to see the end of the Lord with Job, that He is very pitiful and of tender mercy (James 5:11). 

Psa 88:18

You have put lover and friend far from me, and my friends into darkness- Perhaps a reference to a falling out with Bathsheba soon after their sin, and the way that on account of what he had done, David's own relatives ["friends"] turned against him, as did Ahithophel, who was Bathsheba's grandfather. David loved his parents, especially caring for their safe keeping in his wilderness years; only to be forsaken by them (the Hebrew means just that), and to be rejected by his brothers and sisters ("friend"; Ps. 27:10; 38:11; 69:8; 88:18). And yet despite these breakdowns of relationship being totally David's fault, he appears to blame God for it, and doesn't conclude the Psalm with any ascription of praise or contrition.