Psalm 88

Psalm 88
Israel and Messiah Under a Sense of Divine Wrath for a Broken Law
Psalm 88. This Psalm is prophetic of Israel and also their Messiah. We get the terror of Israel when pressed with the issue of a broken law, and also the aspect of the Lord’s work on the cross in suffering under the curse of a broken law; “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Gal. 3:13; see Isa. 53:8). Psalm 88 is unique in that almost every other Psalm in the Psalter ends with some note of praise or ray of hope. But this Psalm begins with sorrow and ends with sorrow. What else can the law do for sinful people, but produce unmitigated sorrow? When a person is under law and really gets a sense of their having broken it, they will really feel the pain of these words. Perhaps the expressions of Psalm 88 are the sentiments of the weeping in the Valley of Baca (Psa. 84)? Nevertheless, Israel does address God as Jehovah, showing that they have a sense of His care for them, and willingness to save. But before the blessedness of that relationship can be enjoyed, there must be this deep exercise of soul. The inscription of Psalm 88 indicates that this is a psalm composed for the sons of Korah by “Heman the Ezrahite”, who was probably the son of Joel, and one of the chief singers of David, along with Asaph and Ethan (1 Chron. 15:17). This Psalm is the only one attributed to Heman. It was written to the tune of “Mahalath Leannoth”, meaning “sickness unto humiliation”. Leannoth may be similar to the word rendered Wormwood, which means bitterness; a deadly bitter disease. This Psalm describes the diseased state of the nation of Israel, and the remnant’s acknowledgement of it before God. It is an advance from Psalm 53. In Psalm 88 we have Israel under law, and in Psalm 89 we have Israel under grace.
A Song, a Psalm for the sons of Korah. To the chief Musician. Upon Mahalath Leannoth. An instruction. Of Heman the Ezrahite.
1 Jehovah, God of my salvation, I have cried by day and in the night before thee.
2 Let my prayer come before thee; incline thine ear unto my cry.
3 For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draweth nigh to Sheol.
4 I am reckoned with them that go down into the pit; I am as a man that hath no strength:
5 Prostrate among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave; whom thou rememberest no more, and who are cut off from thy hand.
6 Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in dark places, in the deeps.
7 Thy fury lieth hard upon me, and thou hast afflicted me with all thy waves. Selah.
vv.1-7 Crying out Under the Wrath of God. The remnant cry to Jehovah out of a sense of being under His wrath. Their soul is full of troubles, and they sense that death is near (vv.3-4), as the inevitable result of lying under the wrath of God. More horrible still, they anticipate being cut off in death, and forgotten by the Lord, as with a dead body (v.5). They know that this state is a result of the judgment of God; “Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in dark places, in the deeps. Thy fury lieth hard upon me, and thou hast afflicted me with all thy waves. Selah.” We find there that the extent of the judgment is only anticipated by the remnant; but they do not pass through it actually. Only Christ as a man on the cross really passed through what the remnant anticipate here; the curse of a broken law. Only Christ was afflicted with all the waves of Jehovah’s judgment, and it was “not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad” (John 11:52).
8 Thou hast put my familiar friends far from me; thou hast made me an abomination unto them: I am shut up, and I cannot come forth.
9 Mine eye consumeth by reason of affliction. Upon thee, Jehovah, have I called every day; I have stretched out my hands unto thee.
vv.8-9 Other Effects of Suffering Under the Wrath of God. There are other effects as well, which the remnant feel in part, as Christ did fully. The sense of being under the wrath of God tends to isolate the individual. The soul is under such pressure that it brings the person into a condition of loneliness. Yet they do not despair, because their hands are still stretched unto Jehovah for help.
10 Wilt thou do wonders to the dead? shall the shades arise and praise thee? Selah.
11 Shall thy loving-kindness be declared in the grave? thy faithfulness in Destruction?
12 Shall thy wonders be known in the dark? and thy righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?
vv.10-12 God’s Character Not Fully Declared in Judgment. The soul under a sense of Divine wrath cannot appeal to personal faithfulness. That ground or basis of appeal has vanished because of a broken law. The remnant speak instead to Jehovah about His glory; conscious that His full character cannot be displayed in death and destruction. Six questions are asked, and then the line is dropped. The other side of this is that God’s wonders indeed are seen in the dead, and His loving-kindness in the grave… in resurrection!
13 But as for me, Jehovah, I cry unto thee, and in the morning my prayer cometh before thee.
14 Why, O Jehovah, castest thou off my soul? why hidest thou thy face from me?
vv.13-14 No refuge. The remnant return to their own position; “But as for me, Jehovah, I cry unto thee, etc.”. There is no comfort from Jehovah to the soul under His wrath. The soul is cast off, and God’s face is turned away. The “why” is not an expression of ignorance, but of grief (as in Psalm 22:1). The remnant anticipate this, but they are not actually forsaken. This can only be true in its fullest sense of Christ on the cross.
15 I am afflicted and expiring from my youth up; I suffer thy terrors, and I am distracted.
16 Thy fierce anger hath gone over me; thy terrors have brought me to nought:
17 They have surrounded me all the day like water; they have compassed me about together.
18 Lover and associate hast thou put far from me: my familiar friends are darkness.
vv.15-18 Summary of the Consequences of a Broken Law. The remnant can speak of being afflicted and expiring as a result of God’s “fierce anger”. Clearly, this is the Spirit of Christ speaking in the remnant (Isa. 53:8). They speak of being surrounded by the terrors of Jehovah, like a drowning victim. They also speak of the loneliness produced in their soul; “Lover and associate hast thou put far from me: my familiar friends are darkness”. These are the consequences of a broken law. The remnant pass through the exercise of this Psalm, but the cup of judgment is not drunk by them. Their Messiah has suffered the judgment they deserved, and thus set them free from the curse (Gal. 3:13). But the Psalm ends without comfort. The law makes nothing perfect, and it is powerless to help the guilty sinner. The only resource is in Jehovah, and in His mercies (Psalm 89:1).