Lessons from Psalm 88

1 O Jehovah, the God of my salvation,
I have cried day and night before thee.
2 Let my prayer enter into thy presence;
Incline thine ear unto my cry.
3 For my soul is full of troubles,
And my life draweth nigh unto Sheol.
4 I am reckoned with them that go down into the pit;
I am as a man that hath no help,
5 Cast off among the dead,
Like the slain that lie in the grave,
Whom thou rememberest no more,
And they are cut off from thy hand.

6 Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit,
In dark places, in the deeps.
7 Thy wrath lieth hard upon me,
And thou hast afflicted me with all thy waves. Selah
8 Thou hast put mine acquaintance far from me;
Thou hast made me an abomination unto them:
I am shut up, and I cannot come forth.
9 Mine eye wasteth away by reason of affliction:
I have called daily upon thee, O Jehovah;
I have spread forth my hands unto thee.
10 Wilt thou show wonders to the dead?
Shall they that are deceased arise and praise thee? Selah
11 Shall thy lovingkindness be declared in the grave?
Or thy faithfulness in Destruction?
12 Shall thy wonders be known in the dark?
And thy righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?
13 But unto thee, O Jehovah, have I cried;
And in the morning shall my prayer come before thee.
14 Jehovah, why castest thou off my soul?
Why hidest thou thy face from me?
15 I am afflicted and ready to die from my youth up:
While I suffer thy terrors I am distracted.
16 Thy fierce wrath is gone over me;
Thy terrors have cut me off.
17 They came round about me like water all the day long;
They compassed me about together.
18 Lover and friend hast thou put far from me,
And mine acquaintance into darkness.

Psalm 88 is a unique and notably sombre psalm in the Bible. It is referred to as “a Psalm of the sons of Kora.” The psalmist is in severe anguish and expresses this openly. His troubles are overwhelming, and he feels close to death. He expresses that he feels abandoned by God and by others. He describes his isolation, stating that God has made him an abomination to his friends, leaving him alone in his suffering.

Despite his feelings of abandonment and distress, the psalmist continues to cry out to Jehovah. He persistently prays, showing his unwavering hope that God will hear him. He questions why God has forsaken him and why his prayers seem unanswered. He asks if the dead can praise God or experience His wonders, highlighting his desperation and confusion.

Even though the psalm is filled with lament and ends without resolution, the psalmist’s continued prayer indicates a deep, albeit strained, faith in God. These verses starkly portray the reality of human suffering. It acknowledges that deep pain and despair are part of the human experience and can co-exist with faith.

In our reading today, we see a reminder that faith is not always about joy and triumph. It includes times of sorrow and doubt, reflecting a more comprehensive picture of the human relationship with Almighty God.

Psalm 88 stands out because it does not follow the typical structure of other psalms that end on a note of hope or praise. It ends in darkness, underlining that sometimes, believers may not see a resolution to our suffering but can still reach out to God in our darkest moments.

Questions

  1. What emotions does the psalmist express throughout the psalm?
  2. How does the psalmist describe his relationship with God in this moment of distress?
  3. What specific imagery does the psalmist use to describe his suffering and sense of abandonment?
  4. Why does the psalmist continue to cry out to God despite feeling abandoned?
  5. How does the psalmist’s questioning of God reflect his faith and doubt?
  6. What does the psalmist hope to achieve by asking if the dead can praise God or experience His wonders?
  7. In what ways does this psalm differ from other psalms of lament in the Bible?
  8. What can we learn about the nature of faith from the psalmist’s persistent prayers?
  9. How might this psalm provide comfort to someone experiencing deep sorrow or depression?
  10. What can this psalm teach us about the range of human emotions that can be brought before God in prayer?
  11. How does the lack of a resolution in this psalm affect your understanding of faith and suffering?
  12. What role do you think this psalm plays in the broader context of the Book of Psalms?
  13. How does the psalmist’s description of isolation resonate with modern experiences of loneliness and abandonment?
  14. What might be the significance of the psalmist’s use of phrases like “thy wrath lieth hard upon me” and “thy terrors have cut me off”?
  15. How does Psalm 88 challenge or support your understanding of God’s presence in times of suffering?