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This is a “throwback” article I wrote ten years ago. It was published December 11, 2010 on a website which is no longer available. I haven’t edited it significantly.
Psalm 88 — The Sorrows of Our Lord Jesus Christ
One of the greatest recent blessings of my Christian life was a spiritual crisis I experienced over an extended period of time a few years back. The crisis brought about an intense dying of self infrequently experienced by me as a Christian. But it was what happened during the recovery from the crisis that brought me such great blessing.
Because my self-image had been so thoroughly slaughtered, I was in a state of extreme daily dependence upon God and His good comfort in my heart. One harsh word from Him would have shattered me completely, but He was very gentle and very kind. ( “Your hands are steady, Your knives and needles sharp and clean, Your poultices soaked in soothing balm. You are amazing, Lord. There is none like You. You inflict the deepest wounds with steady, compassionate hand. When morning comes, I see Your work is perfect, even from the beginning. I look but cannot find at all where the festered splinter had been.” — from a piece of my own writing about Psalm 119, not yet posted on users.bible.org)
It was during this exact period, during my spiritual recovery, that I came upon a small copy of just Psalms and Proverbs, NIV, written with extremely few notes, and no references. Just text. As the title of the book is “31 Days of Wisdom and Praise” (1), and the point of the book is to read through it all in one month, that’s just what I did, repeatedly, many times over, in the course of a single year.
During the third straight through reading, a great blessing came. The Psalms began to open up in my heart. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that God is good; He loves His people; and He loves me.
But during this time and since, I began to hear the voice of my Lord within the Psalms. I hear the voice of Christ, prophetically spoken through the psalmists, to the extent that I would agree with Robert Hawker, “the whole of the Psalms are of him, and concerning him, more or less, and he is the great object and subject of all”. (2) I pray that the Holy Spirit would open the Psalms this way in the hearts of all believers.
This brings me now to the actual subject of Psalm 88. This is what Robert Hawker says of Psalm 88, “The Psalm hath this striking peculiarity in it, namely, that it not only hath reference to the Lord Jesus Christ, and him alone; but that he himself is the sole speaker from the beginning to the end.” (3)
The above statement by Hawker is enormous, but it’s one that we so very seldom, if ever, hear today. Just by way of encouraging other readers of the Psalms, and hopefully not of vainglory (forgive me, Lord, for I know my eye is not yet single), I did not need Robert Hawker to tell me his above statement in order to enlarge for me this identical
apprehension of Psalm 88, for I understood the same simply by reading the Psalm itself, well before I ever encountered the statement by Robert Hawker. I do so truly believe that the Holy Spirit in our days wants to recover for us what has been lost in the years since Robert Hawker. Hawker was a well known and dearly beloved vicar of an Anglican church in England, at the the turning of the 18th century. (4)
If you are like I am, we tend to read the Psalms, as we also read other parts of scripture, from our study Bible editions, frequently glancing to the bottom of the page to see what the famous theologian has to say about this verse and that verse, and so often we miss the very plain and simple prophetic meaning of the text.
The study notes have been written, sometimes, with the theologian’s peculiar doctrines in his heart, to which he must be faithful and consistent. We all of us have our own editorial biases through which we view scripture. But the famous theologian who writes the study notes doesn’t blatantly say, “This is my overarching doctrinal bias, and all my notes must be consistent with that.”
I say this with all humility, as a nobody–we need to read the Psalms in particular not with our study notes, but in a quiet space of our own heart, with just the text before us, the Holy Spirit within us, and our hearts and minds fixed on Christ. “How does this
relate to Christ?” should be the question we are ever asking the Lord to answer in us as we read. We can always look at our study notes at some other time, for verification, correction if applicable, or further observation.
But what happens when we see Christ in the Psalms in a way not verified by our study notes? Do we toss out as “incorrect interpretation” or “private interpretation” what we so blessedly received of Christ through what we thought was the hand of the Holy Spirit upon the understanding of our heart? Do we believe the word of scripture as opened by the Holy Spirit upon our heart, or do we believe the bias of our famous theologian, who perhaps believes that the Holy Spirit no longer interacts with believers as He did in the days the scriptures were written?
Do we believe the experiencing of the Holy Spirit blessedly opening scripture in our heart, or do we mistrust our intimate perception of Him whom we think is the Holy Spirit in favor of the highly educated, famous theologian with his authoritative voice in the notes of the well-known study Bible opened before us?
Yes, many people make many mistakes, especially nowadays, “The Lord told me such and such…”, and “I heard the Lord tell me…”. But, are we guilty of throwing out the proverbial baby with the proverbial bath-water?
The two sets of verses below show us that one of Satan’s greatest tactics is to try to drown the truth in a torrent of lies.
Revelation 12:15 Then the serpent spouted water like a river out of his mouth after the woman in an attempt to sweep her away by a flood,
Matthew 13:24 He presented them with another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a person who sowed good seed in his field.
13:25 But while everyone was sleeping, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.
13:26 When the plants sprouted and bore grain, then the weeds also appeared.
13:27 So the slaves of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Then where did the weeds come from?’
13:28 He said, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the slaves replied, ‘Do you want us to go and gather them?’
13:29 But he said, ‘No, since in gathering the weeds you may uproot the wheat with them.
13:30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At harvest time I will tell the reapers, “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned, but then gather the wheat into my barn.”’”ares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.”‘”
Yet God Himself is ever faithful to Himself and to His people.
I am so extremely delighted with God as I mull over Jesus the Christ’s conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well. She was ever so sinful, ever so foolish, ever such a no-count, ever such a woman rather than a man. You could not find a more unlikely candidate as she for a great theological revelation from God Himself. And yet our precious Savior directly revealed more of Himself to her in a single conversation than He did to Nicodemus the erudite teacher in the previous chapter of John’s gospel, or perhaps to anyone else in all the gospels.
When we approach God’s word in prayer, with a beggar’s heart, not pompously, but in simple, repentant submission to Him and to His word, we can expect that God the Holy Spirit will reveal Jesus Christ to us in just the way He did to the Samaritan woman at the well.
NAU 1 John 2:27 As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.
NAU Psalm 81:16 “But I would feed you with the finest of the wheat, And with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”
Psalm 88:1 O Lord God who delivers me!
By day I cry out and at night I pray before you.
88:2 Listen to my prayer! Pay attention to my cry for help!
88:3 For my life is filled with troubles and I am ready to enter Sheol.
88:4 They treat me like those who descend into the grave. I am like a helpless man,
88:5 adrift among the dead, like corpses lying in the grave,
whom you remember no more, and who are cut off from your power.
88:6 You place me in the lowest regions of the pit,
in the dark places, in the watery depths.
88:7 Your anger bears down on me,
and you overwhelm me with all your waves. (Selah)
88:8 You cause those who know me to keep their distance;
you make me an appalling sight to them.
I am trapped and cannot get free.
88:9 My eyes grow weak because of oppression.
I call out to you, O Lord, all day long;
I spread out my hands in prayer to you.
88:10 Do you accomplish amazing things for the dead?
Do the departed spirits rise up and give you thanks? (Selah)
88:11 Is your loyal love proclaimed in the grave,
or your faithfulness in the place of the dead?
88:12 Are your amazing deeds experienced in the dark region,
or your deliverance in the land of oblivion?
88:13 As for me, I cry out to you, O Lord;
in the morning my prayer confronts you.
88:14 O Lord, why do you reject me,
and pay no attention to me?
88:15 I am oppressed and have been on the verge of death since my youth.
I have been subjected to your horrors and am numb with pain.
88:16 Your anger overwhelms me;
your terrors destroy me.
88:17 They surround me like water all day long;
they join forces and encircle me.
88:18 You cause my friends and neighbors to keep their distance;
Thoughts on the Text
A possible application of Psalm 88 is that it is prophetic of our Lord Jesus Christ. Objectively, it is prophetic of the Messiah’s death and burial in the grave; subjectively, it is prophetic of His suffering as a “man”.
Hebrews 2:17 For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Hebrews 13:12 And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.
(See also Hebrews 5:8, 1 Peter 2:21 and 1 Peter 4:1-2)
NIV 1a…O LORD, the God who saves me…
Verses 1 and 2
Verse 1 opens with a blessing, “O LORD, the God who saves me,”. The phrase identifies very specifically to whom the psalmist is speaking. He’s speaking to God, but such a wonderful God! He’s speaking to God, but such a personal God! Again, he’s speaking to God, but to a God he knows so very well from all His interactions with himself, that he is filled with hope just by crying out to that blessed name–“O LORD, the God who saves me.”
Other translations say, “O LORD, God of my salvation”. I prefer the sense of the NIV for my own daily meditation, because of the verb nature of the psalmist’s relationship with His God. “God of my salvation” is a cumbersome phrase to my ear. As a noun, it’s abstract–I’m not sure at what moment in time the word “salvation” refers to–the past, when God first made Himself known in the psalmist’s life? the future, when God will save again? or might it be the entire process of salvation from start to finish, like something of a theological concept? Most likely all of these are true.
But, “O LORD, the God who saves me,” includes all of the above with the immediacy of the present strongly emphasized. There’s action involved. God is active, neither idle nor passive. He’s personal, as the subject of a strong verb, and He is now. The verb is present tense. God is He who saves me–right now! Now is when I need Him. In the past, at all those specific moments when God saved me, it was always “right now”, though those moments are memory in my current present.
God is also the do-er of “my salvation”. He is the actor, the perpetrator. One could say that He is the psalmist’s friend. He is the God who saves the psalmist. There is a strong relationship of trust implied.
This is the God to whom the psalmist addresses his prayer–his cry. By addressing God as the one who saves, the psalmist implicitly excludes all others. God is his only hope, his only help. There is no one but God who can save him. All his hope is placed in God and God alone.
1b…day and night I cry out before you.
But something appears to be wrong as the psalmist continues his plea. Where is God now? “Day and night I cry out before you.” The psalmist’s suffering has continued for some time; he has been crying out for some time, constantly. But where is God? He hasn’t answered.
2 May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry.
Hebrews 5:7a During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death…
Verse 2 of Psalm 88 above continues by telling us that it is as though God is not hearing. It’s as though the psalmist’s prayers have not reached the ear of God, or that God’s ear, his attention, his caring, is metaphorically turned away from the
psalmist. We sometimes say that so-and-so turned a deaf ear to someone’s pleading. So it seems here. But God is omniscient and sovereign. Any deafness of ear on God’s part would be by choice. It’s as though the psalmist were outside the presence of his LORD, His God, pounding on the door, screaming to get in. But God would not hear him. God would seem to be ignoring him.
NAU Psalm 22:1 …My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning.
2 O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer; And by night, but I have no rest.
How like the first two verses of Psalm 88 are the above two verses from Psalm 22. Psalm 22:1 is quoted in the New Testament, Matthew and Mark, as coming from the lips of Jesus Himself, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34)
So, here in the first two verses of Psalm 88 we see the suffering Messiah, in His Passion (the rest of the psalm identifies the time frame for us), crying out to God in His manhood. But God appears to not be listening. How terribly awesome this is.
How needful of silent meditation on all the nuances of Christ’s suffering, in particular on the differences between myself and Christ–He, the Son of God, son of man, suffering such rejection by God His Savior, His Father, His one true love–I, in my sinfulness, being the object of His suffering. He being willing, I receiving the blessing of His pain.
Verses 3 through 6
88:3 For my life is filled with troubles and I am ready to enter Sheol.
88:4 They treat me like those who descend into the grave. I am like a helpless man,
88:5 adrift among the dead,like corpses lying in the grave,whom you remember no more, and who are cut off from your power.
88:6 You place me in the lowest regions of the pit, in the dark places, in the watery depths.
These verses define the time frame in the life of Jesus to which the entirety of Psalm 88 points. It has been said by commentators that of all the psalms, this psalm is unique in the unmitigated intensity and duration of its lament–that is, from beginning to end–without hope, without light at the proverbial end of the tunnel. (5)
Once again, we are reminded of Christ’s cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)
Verse 3 would appear to be from the cross itself, just before death.
In verse 4a, the soldiers and bystanders have totally given up on Him as coming through this alive. They count, or reckon Him, as being dead. There was indeed counting, or reckoning, at Skull Hill that day, since there were three being crucified.
In verse 4b, there is nothing the man Jesus can do. He has no strength to save Himself from death. Indeed, hecklers molested Him with their jeers, recorded for us in the gospels–
Matthew 27:39-40 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”
But the psalmist in 88:4b says, “I am like a man without strength.” No, Jesus did not come down from the cross.
In verse 5a-b, we see Jesus being set apart with the dead, removed from the cross, wrapped in grave clothes.
5a-b I am set apart with the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave,…
5c…who are cut off from your care.
Verse 5c is very typical of the Old Testament attitude towards the dead. An immediate afterlife is not a strong theme in the Old Testament. Job’s glorious statement below is in part made so glorious because it is a quick, extremely direct and unusual parting of the clouds for an ever-so-brief look at what lies beyond the grave in heaven.
Job 19:26 And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God;
But generally, in the Old Testament, the dead are dead. They are in a category all by themselves, separated and apart from those who are still alive, just as Psalm 88:5 says.
5 I am set apart with the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom you remember no more, who are cut off from your care.
[Interlinear Hebrew] 5 free among the dead, as pierced ones lying in the grave, whom You remember no more; yea, by Your hand they are cut off. (6)
Note: The verb “pierced” in the verse above is in large quantities of Old Testament scripture translated as “slain”, as in our text here in Psalm 88. But, when we think about it, we can see why the Hebrew verb for “slain” is actually “pierced”–use of spears and swords were the most common means of fighting in Old Testament days. Enemies were slain by piercing them with a sword or spear. Jesus, however, was crucified on a cross, not killed with a spear (although His dead body was later pierced through by a Roman soldier to verify that He was already dead). The hands and feet of our Lord were pierced, however, by the nails of the cross. Indirectly, it was these piercings that led to His death.
The word “free” in the interlinear version above doesn’t signify what we today think of as the positive value “freedom”. Rather, it signifies the concept of not having any ties, neither to friends and relatives among the living, nor to God Himself. The very next clause, “…whom You remember no more…” (5b) confirms this sense of the verb “free”.
6 You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths.
Verse 6 seems to speak both of the metaphorical pit, the land of the dead, from which men do not return, and the actual pit, the hewn out cave in the rock in which Joseph of Arimathea placed the dead body of Jesus–
Mark 15:46 So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.
Jesus the man was very, very dead.
Sidebar Note Concerning Applications of the Psalms
[Please bear in mind as we go through this psalm that we are making an application of the first person voice of the psalmist to a prophetic rendering of the voice of Jesus Christ Himself. My reasons for feeling that it is scriptural to do so are written below.
I. First, this is the precedent established by many of the New Testament writers. For example, In Acts 2:25-35, the Apostle Peter explains in great detail the prophetic role of David in Psalm 16.
NAU Acts 2:25 “For David says of Him, ‘I SAW THE LORD ALWAYS IN MY PRESENCE; FOR HE IS AT MY RIGHT HAND, SO THAT I WILL NOT BE SHAKEN.
26 ‘THEREFORE MY HEART WAS GLAD AND MY TONGUE EXULTED; MOREOVER MY FLESH ALSO WILL LIVE IN HOPE;
27 BECAUSE YOU WILL NOT ABANDON MY SOUL TO HADES, NOR ALLOW YOUR HOLY ONE TO UNDERGO DECAY.
28 ‘YOU HAVE MADE KNOWN TO ME THE WAYS OF LIFE; YOU WILL MAKE ME FULL OF GLADNESS WITH YOUR PRESENCE.’
29 “Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.
30 “And so, because he was a prophet and knew that GOD HAD SWORN TO HIM WITH AN OATH TO SEAT one OF HIS DESCENDANTS ON HIS THRONE,
31 he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that HE WAS NEITHER ABANDONED TO HADES, NOR DID His flesh SUFFER DECAY.
32 “This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses.
33 “Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear.
34 “For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says: ‘THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, “SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND,
35 UNTIL I MAKE YOUR ENEMIES A FOOTSTOOL FOR YOUR FEET.”‘
36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ– this Jesus whom you crucified.”
All of the capital letters above are quotations from the Septuagint version of the Old Testament. (This was a very common Greek version at the time the apostles lived. Our own versions sound very similar, just not word for word.)
Verses 25 through 28 are a quotation from Psalm 16:8-11b. Then in verse 29 above, the Apostle Peter begins to explain why the quotation from Psalm 16, even though written in first person, does not refer to David, the immediate author of the psalm. He gives the very simple reason that the prophecy in it did not come true with regard to David. Therefore, since biblical prophecy always comes true, this prophecy cannot be about David. This is how he proves it.
First, the verses prophesy that the soul, or life, of the speaker will not be left in Hades, the place of death, the grave, nor will the body of the first person speaker rot, or see decay. Next, Peter continues his argument with confidence by saying that very clearly David, the immediate author of the psalm, died (that’s well-attested in scripture); furthermore, he was buried, and, if anyone wants to check up on the condition of his body–whether rotted or not–the answer would not be hard to find, because David’s tomb was still with them in a well-known location. Therefore–this conclusion is implied rather than directly stated–the prophecy, being the word of God, which never fails–was not about David.
In verse 30, Peter tells his audience that David was in fact a prophet. As a prophet, he knew that God was speaking of one of David’s descendants, whom God had sworn to seat on David’s throne. Peter, in verse 30 of Acts 2 above, is drawing from a combination of Psalm 132:11, 2 Samuel 7:12f, and Psalm 89:3f. (Note: “f” means “forward”; that is, just keep on reading starting with and continuing from the verse preceding the “f”.)
In Acts 2:31 above, Peter reveals that the prophet David, even though using his own first person voice, was in fact looking ahead to one of his descendants, who is Jesus Christ. David had been speaking of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, not his own. Peter in this verse from Acts, repeats Psalm 16:10, which he had quoted previously in Acts 2:27, at the same time proclaiming the fact of Christ’s spiritual and physical resurrection. That is, Christ in His entire being had been resurrected from the grave.
Peter’s great and tremendously wonderful point is that David had never been talking about himself, not even in his own historical context. As a prophet he had always been speaking in these verses from Psalm 16 about one of his own descendants in the flesh. This prophecy, Peter declares, has now been fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ, who died, was buried, and resurrected. He says in verse 32, “we are all witnesses” of this.
Verse 33 continues the narrative of Jesus Christ in His exaltation and subsequent fulfilling of the promise of God to send forth the Holy Spirit. The phenomena which accompanied the sending of the Holy Spirit, described in Acts 2:1-13, forms the context of Peter’s gospel declaration.
But Peter is not yet finished. He continues in verses 34-35 of Acts 2 above, with a quotation from Psalm 110:1–
NAU Psalm 110:1 A Psalm of David. The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”
Peter declares in verse 34 that it was not David who ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father, but that the verse from Psalm 110 refers to Jesus Christ.
Second in Acts 2:36, Peter sums up the whole point of his argument–it’s all about Christ! The entire point of Peter’s talking to the crowd was to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, yet he used the Old Testament to do so. “…God has made Him both Lord and Christ– this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Jesus Himself applied Psalm 110:1 to Himself well before Peter understood the argument.
NAU Matthew 22:41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question:
42 “What do you think about the Christ, whose son is He?” They said to Him, “The son of David.”
43 He said to them, “Then how does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying,
44 ‘THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, “SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, UNTIL I PUT YOUR ENEMIES BENEATH YOUR FEET “‘?
45 “If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his son?”
Jesus’ reasoning runs like this: David is the author of Psalm 110, and the first verse is written in first person. The first LORD is Yahweh, the God of Israel. The second Lord, Adonai, refers to David’s personal Lord–his Adonai. Adonai, however, is another word for God Almighty. One God, two different words for Him. Clearly, however, there are two beings referred to. The first one is readily understood as being Israel’s national God–Yahweh. But who is the second?
This is the wonderful mystery of Old Testament prophecy that Peter speaks of in 1Peter 1:9-12 and Paul in Colossians 1:26-27. If the second “Lord” of whom David spoke was merely his son according to the flesh, then why would David be calling him Adonai–God? Clearly, he is so much more than David’s genealogical son. In other words, Jesus is saying that David’s prophecy goes way beyond both David and his “son”, if, as the Pharisees apparently had been thinking, this son were thought of as a mere man. In other words, the point of David’s prophecy is Christ, not humanity.
Paul gives another example of how the New Testament writers extended the strictly literal interpretation of Old Testament prophecy.
NAU 1 Corinthians 9:9 For it is written in the Law of Moses, “YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING.” God is not concerned about oxen, is He?
10 Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops.
Although the example I just gave is not about Christ, it illustrates the general principle we are discussing–it is entirely scriptural , when considering Old Testament prophecy, to take the highest ground conceivable.
II. Why am I hammering this point? To answer that, I will give my second reason for giving an application of Psalm 88 as the first person voice of its author, Heman the Ezrahite, speaking prophetically about Jesus Christ. By way of summary, reason one, which has consumed all the writing in this particular blog post so far, is that it is in keeping with scripture to do so. Reason two is that the spiritual benefits are so much greater than a merely literal, historically bound application, as we saw with Paul’s example about oxen above.
I am also seeking to hammer the point, because my daily study Bible which I use at home makes not one single reference to the Christ, my Lord, in all the notes it contains on Psalm 88. Not one. The study notes in this Bible of mine were written by a very famous, well-respected preacher and pastor. I am saying that many of us are taught to be too tight in how we allow the Holy Spirit to minister to our hearts as we read certain passages of scripture.
Yes, there is value in considering the trials of the psalmist from the point of view of his enduring faith in God. Yes, there is value in applying some of the psalms to the nation of Israel and to the church today. Yes, there is value in applying many of the psalms to our own lives. But for me, the greatest blessings of all have come as the Holy Spirit has been pleased to open to my heart an application of a psalm such as Psalm 88 to the very person of God’s own beloved Son Himself.
Peter and Paul in the verses cited above (Peter speaks of in 1Peter 1:9-12 and Paul in Colossians 1:26-27), express their own wonder and amazement at the revealed mystery of the identity of the person of whom so many prophecies they cite were speaking!
NAU 1 Peter 1:10 As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries,
11 seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow.
12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven– things into which angels long to look.
They were excited to meet this person of whom the prophets had spoken! Do you think God, the author of communication Himself, wants to keep from us this same excitement of first hand discovery?
We today have available to us the learning and wisdom of so many wise and intelligent scholars. By a long shot, I most definitely am not saying that we should ignore these gifts of God to His church. But, I do fear that by relying upon them as extensively as we so often seem to do, that we may be robbing ourselves of the joy of fellowship that is available to us by our spending quiet time alone with just the word of God and His Holy Spirit to apply that word Himself directly to our hearts, that is, without the immediate help/interference of study aids. Study aids are great! But most especially, after the Holy Spirit has had opportunity to fellowship alone with our hearts.
Put it this way, if given the opportunity, would you rather have a conversation with Jesus Christ? Or, would you rather have a conversation with a gifted scholar telling you all about Jesus Christ?
III. Briefly, there is yet a third reason why I have the personal freedom to apply Psalm 88 as a prophecy of Jesus Christ. Here it is. My Bible study notes have a chart by Thomas Nelson, Inc., which lists 20 messianic prophecies in the psalms. Neither the chart nor my Bible study notes’ author claim that this list is exhaustive, so why should I?
Further, New Testament scripture does not explicitly state that its writers have exhaustively cited all Old Testament passages that may refer to Jesus Christ. However, the New Testament does give indications that its citations may not be exhaustive.
NAU Luke 24:25 And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! 26 “Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.
NAU Luke 24:44 Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”
The two passages above contain the words of Jesus. The context of both are after His resurrection–the first, on the road to Emmaus, and the second, His appearance to the disciples when they had gathered together and were hiding out in the upper room. From Jesus’ words in both passages, we can gather that both these conversations took some time, especially since eating a meal followed the conversation in the first passage and preceded the conversation in the second passage. Yet, neither passage tells us a single detail as to the content of the specific Old Testament passages Jesus used in opening His followers’ understanding.
Then, there is the following statement by Jesus to His disciples before His death.
NAU John 16:12 “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.
13 “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.
Was the Holy Spirit poured out just upon the disciples and apostles? No. Was He poured out just upon the theologians? No.
NAU 1 Corinthians 12:13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
I strongly feel that in centuries past, pilgrims of the Way, such as the famous pilgrim Christian, created by John Bunyan in The Pilgrim’s Progress–that Christians generally received more of their discipling and teaching straight from the hand of God by means of the Holy Spirit using the written word of God, the Bible, than by intermediaries claiming authoritarian dictatorship over accurate interpretation and application of God’s word. The Roman Catholic Church before the Reformation claimed authority over scripture, and along came Luther to restore biblical freedom to us.
I know my words are very strong, so please take them with a healthy dose of salt. I am exaggerating somewhat for emphasis. However, in some circles of the church and in some scholarly circles, often overlapping, there is such a fear today of Christians misusing the word of God, of Christians falsely claiming to have received a word from God by the Spirit of God, that I fear the proverbial baby is being thrown out with the bath water.
If Jesus had shared this current fear of the misuse of His Holy Spirit, the promise of the Father upon all believers, upon all children of God in Christ, then why would He have given this gift to the church in the first place? Further, I cannot believe that God intended the many blessings of spiritual fellowship with Himself through the Spirit and the word to be applicable to only highly educated scholars and apostles.
I am NOT saying that God gives new scripture today to anyone. That would indeed be heresy. But I am saying that God by His Spirit does reveal afresh, over and over again, the heart of His marvelous Son Jesus Christ, by means of His Spirit directly applying the written word of God, today, to the hearts potentially of all believers.
So, if my heart tells me, prayerfully, gratefully, humbly, that Psalm 88 refers to my most precious Lord and Savior Jesus Christ at the time of His death upon the cross and burial in the tomb, and if that application is in keeping with all of scripture, not violating any specific passage of scripture anywhere, nor adding to it, then I will most gladly believe and trust what my heart is telling me. An alternative belief would be that the absence of any mention of Jesus Christ in my Bible study notes under Psalm 88, does in fact mean that a correlation between Psalm 88 and Jesus Christ would be incorrect.
Blessedly, there is at least one saint, now deceased, Robert Hawker, who left writings to show me that the Holy Spirit shed light in his heart concerning Psalm 88 the same way He is shedding light in mine. So, I prefer the Christ-centered application of Psalm 88, rather than any which might leave Him completely out.
Summary of my reasons for being confident in the Lord that Psalm 88 can be understood as a prophecy in first person voice of Jesus Christ:
1. This reading is entirely in keeping with many New Testament examples which apply certain passages of Psalms to Christ.
2. Jesus claims in Luke 24:44 that He is written about in the Psalms.
3. Reading Psalm 88 as the words of Christ leads us to the highest ground of contemplation.
4. Nowhere in the New Testament is it claimed that the Old Testament citations in it, those which are prophetically speaking of Christ, are exhaustive.
5. God said the He would pour out of His Spirit upon all flesh.
NAU Acts 2:17 ‘AND IT SHALL BE IN THE LAST DAYS,’ God says, ‘THAT I WILL POUR FORTH OF MY SPIRIT ON ALL MANKIND; AND YOUR SONS AND YOUR DAUGHTERS SHALL PROPHESY, AND YOUR YOUNG MEN SHALL SEE VISIONS, AND YOUR OLD MEN SHALL DREAM DREAMS;
The Holy Spirit has freedom to reveal the Lord Jesus Christ in scripture to the least of all His saints as well as to the greatest.]
End of Author’s Sidebar Note
7a Your wrath lies heavily upon me; …
Have you ever wondered how we as Christians know that it was God’s wrath which Jesus Our Lord suffered on the cross? I have wondered that. The gospels tell us of the mighty compassion and awesome deeds of our Savior, His zeal for all things that belonged to His Father. But in the gospels, doesn’t it appear to be the Jewish authorities and Roman soldiers who crucified Him? How do we know that God was pouring out His wrath for our sins upon the Lamb of God? Could it be we have this knowledge, at least in part, because this and other psalms tell us?
“Wrath” is not an unusual word in the Old Testament, nor in the whole Bible. It is present many times over from Genesis to Revelation. Once in a while, human wrath is spoken of in the multitude of verses containing the word “wrath”, but far and away the largest number of uses of this word refer to the intense anger of God in a judgmental sense against those who have offended Him. Here the psalmist is experiencing the judgmental wrath of God against sinners.
7b you have overwhelmed me with all your waves. Selah
The imagery of the words in this portion compare the wrath of God with strong billows of the sea breaking upon the psalmist in full force, weighing him down and keeping him low, afflicting him, repeatedly, again and again. This imagery of God’s wrath being expressed as mighty billows of the sea is not unique to this psalm.
Psalm 42:7 Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.
Why would the speaker of Psalm 88 say that the wrath of God and the waves of God were against him? Isn’t the speaker a righteous man, a man who loves and worships God? He refers to God as, “O LORD, the God who saves me” in verse 1. In verse 9, he says, “O LORD, every day; I spread out my hands to you.” Verse 13–“But I cry to you for help, O LORD; in the morning my prayer comes before you.” We know from all the psalms that the wicked do not cry out to God for help; in their pride of heart they always reject God, no matter what their circumstances. Only the righteous humble themselves in turning to God to seek His help and mercy.
Clearly, this man speaks as the righteous in the Psalms do; yet, he has an extremely clear knowledge that it is God whose wrath is being poured out upon him. Why is God’s wrath against him? The psalm does not say, nor even hint at any wrongdoing on the speaker’s part. Contrast this with Psalm 51. Psalm 51 is the heart-cry of a righteous man (according to the portrait of such a one in all the Psalms–see footnote), who has grievously sinned and now knows it. He repeatedly confesses and asks for God’s cleansing mercies.
This, however, is not the portrait of the man in Psalm 88, which gives us no hint of sin. So why was he suffering God’s wrath? The Apostle Paul gives us the answer–
NAU 2 Corinthians 5:21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
Isaiah likens this “man of sorrows” to a sacrificial lamb–
NAU Isaiah 53:7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth.
Lambs chosen for sacrifice were innocent, clean, spotless, without blemish, and without fault. Yet they are sacrificed for the wrath of God, in place of people, whose sins are placed upon them.
NAU Numbers 6:14 ‘He shall present his offering to the LORD: one male lamb a year old without defect for a burnt offering and one ewe-lamb a year old without defect for a sin offering and one ram without defect for a peace offering,
NAU Leviticus 9:7 Moses then said to Aaron, “Come near to the altar and offer your sin offering and your burnt offering, that you may make atonement for yourself and for the people; then make the offering for the people, that you may make atonement for them, just as the LORD has commanded.”
NAU 1 Peter 1:19 but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.
And concerning the breakers of the sea, we find the answer in Jonah and in Christ’s own commentary upon that prophecy–
Jonah 2:1 From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God. 2 He said: “In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry. 3 You hurled me into the deep, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me. 4 I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’ 5 The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. 6 To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you brought my life up from the pit, O LORD my God.
Jonah in the verses above was being punished by God for his refusal to obey Him. And Jesus Himself likens His death and burial to the time Jonah spent in the belly of the whale–
Matthew 12:39 He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
But Jesus, as we just saw in Corinthians, had no sin. Therefore, as a sacrificial lamb, He was being punished for the sins of others.
In summary, the speaker in Psalm 88:7 was being overwhelmed and beaten down by the judgmental wrath of God against sinners. He experienced God’s wrath as the crushing weight of myriads of waves beating him down, drowning him.
Verse 7 ends with the word, “Selah”. Let us all stop, catch our breaths, pause, and prayerfully consider what it must have been like for our Savior, Jesus Christ, to experience God’s wrath as He hung upon the cross for our sins.
By way of review, our thesis as we proceed is that this Psalm, written by Heman the Ezrahite, has a major application that is prophetic of the lamentation of our Lord Jesus Christ during His Passion. The voice of the psalmist can be understood as being prophetically the voice of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was fully man and fully God. The voice in this Psalm is the voice of a man; I propose it is the voice of “the man”.
NIV 8a You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them. (1)
NAU Psalm 88:8 You have removed my acquaintances far from me; You have made me an object of loathing to them; (1)
Which of us can be content to live without friends and acquaintances? We sometimes grieve greatly over the loss of dear friends, and interacting with companions and acquaintances frequently serves to cheer us on our daily paths. Our triune God Himself is a God of fellowship, and having been created in His image, we also were created for friendships.
[The following verses are all from the NIV.]
Genesis 2:18 The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
Genesis 3:8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.
1 Samuel 18:1 After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself.
Proverbs 27:10 Do not forsake your friend and the friend of your father, and do not go to your brother’s house when disaster strikes you– better a neighbor nearby than a brother far away.
Ecclesiastes 4:7 Again I saw something meaningless under the sun: 8 There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. “For whom am I toiling,” he asked, “and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?” This too is meaningless– a miserable business! 9 Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: 10 If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! 11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? 12 Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
Luke 5:18 Some men came carrying a paralytic on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. 19 When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.
John 19:26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son”.
John 15:9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love…13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.
Acts 10:24 The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends.
Acts 27:3 The next day we landed at Sidon; and Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs.
Philemon 1:1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker,
James 2:23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend.
3 John 1:14 I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face. Peace to you. The friends here send their greetings. Greet the friends there by name.
NIV 8a You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them.
The details of Jesus’ life are well known from scripture, how His friends failed Him in His greatest hour of need.
Mark 14:33 He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 34 “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” 35 Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. 36 “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” 37 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? 38 Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” 39 Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. 40 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him. 41 Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.
Matthew 26:47 While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48 Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” 49 Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. 50 Jesus replied, “Friend, do what you came for.” Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him.
Mark 14:49 Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” 50 Then everyone deserted him and fled. 51 A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, 52 he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.
Mark 14:66 While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came by. 67 When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him. “You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus,” she said. 68 But he denied it. “I don’t know or understand what you’re talking about,” he said, and went out into the entryway. 69 When the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, “This fellow is one of them.” 70 Again he denied it. After a little while, those standing near said to Peter, “Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” 71 He began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.” 72 Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept.
Psalm 88:8b I am confined and cannot escape;
From the moment of His arrest until the moment of His resurrection, Jesus’ body remained confined, imprisoned, shut up, without escape. First, He was arrested by the Roman guard; He was bound when taken to Pilot, he was flogged, handed over to be crucified, mocked, struck, and spat upon, nailed to the cross, crucified, dead, his body wrapped–confined in a linen cloth with spices, and placed in a tomb that had a great stone rolled against the opening, a seal placed upon it, and a Roman guard to keep the tomb secure. (Matthew 27) That’s pretty confined.
9 my eyes are dim with grief. I call to you, O LORD, every day; I spread out my hands to you.
Perhaps more than anything else, this verse characterizes the life of our Lord, the man of many sorrows.
Isaiah 53:3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Isaiah 53:4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.
Isaiah 53:10a Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering,…
Psalm 22: 6 But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. 7 All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads:
Isaiah 50:6 I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.
Hebrews 5:8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered
There are many, many more verses of scripture applicable to the sorrow and sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ, among them Psalm 69. When God the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to seeing Christ in the Old Testament, we find that there are references to Him everywhere! Isaiah is full of passages which refer to Christ, but in the Psalms themselves, a major theme is the theme of the suffering and sorrows of Messiah.
Verse 9 also characterizes the Lord Jesus in the second portion, that of constant prayer. As I think of Christ, so frequently I see Him praying. As a child, I once asked my pastor, “If Jesus is God, then who was He praying to?” Jesus the man on earth prayed heartily and often.
Mark 1:35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.
Luke 6:12 One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. 13 When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles:
Mark 9:28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” 29 He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”
Matthew 14:21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children. 22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. 25 During the fourth watch
of the night [3-6 a.m.] Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.
Mark 14:32 They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”
Hebrews 5:7 During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.
Verses 10 through 11
10 Do you show your wonders to the dead? Do those who are dead rise up and praise you? Selah
11 Is your love declared in the grave, your faithfulness in Destruction?
12 Are your wonders known in the place of darkness, or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?
Verses 10-12 are spoken by a person contemplating death. As applied to Jesus, these verses indicate that His death was real.
A real man was about to die a real death.
Clearly the speaker at this point did not wish to die. Death was repulsive to Him. Why? God would not be there, at least not as the living experience Him.
Verse 10a: “Do you show your wonders to the dead?” Implied answer, “No.” No miracles in the grave.
Verse 12a: “Are your wonders known in the place of darkness?” Again, no. No miracles by God. In fact, death is here considered a very dark place; God is not active there. He makes none of His righteous deeds known. The words “darkness” and “oblivion” (other translations say “forgetfulness”) signify that the mind, or what we experience as human understanding, has been turned off. This is the point of view of one who is now alive and contemplating what death must be like.
Secondly, not only would God not be there, but there would be no praise of God in death, either. Clearly, praise and worship are very precious and necessary to the Psalmist’s well-being. Verse 10b: “Do those who are dead rise up and praise you?”
Verse 11: “Is your love declared in the grave, your faithfulness in Destruction?” Again, the implied response to these questions is, “No.” The grave would destroy praise, worship, and all declarations of God’s love and faithfulness.
So clearly, the Psalmist expected to die a real death, a human death, and death would not be pleasant, due to its separation for those there from the knowledge and worship of God.
Verse 13 to the End, Verse 18
13 But I cry to you for help, O LORD; in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14 Why, O LORD, do you reject me and hide your face from me?
15 From my youth I have been afflicted and close to death; I have suffered your terrors and am in despair.
16 Your wrath has swept over me; your terrors have destroyed me.
17 All day long they surround me like a flood; they have completely engulfed me.
18 You have taken my companions and loved ones from me; the darkness is my closest friend.
Verse 13, as applied to the life of Christ, reminds us of Mark 1:35 — “Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed.” In fact, prayer characterized the life of Christ. Just by way of example, we see Him in the gospels always lifting His eyes to heaven and praying. We see Him praying all night before choosing His disciples; we see Him praying for His disciples and all believers in John 17; we seeing Him praying at Lazarus’ tomb; we see Him teaching prayer and fasting concerning the demon in the young man who would throw himself into the fire. And, we see Him praying in the garden.
Verse 14: “Why, O LORD, do you reject me and hide your face from me?” This verse is so reminiscent of both Psalm 22:1 and Matthew 27:46.
Psalm 22:1 “…My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning.”
Matthew 27:46 About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
Verse 15a: “From my youth I have been afflicted and close to death;”
This verse, as applied to Christ, reminds me of Isaiah 53:3 “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
15b …I have suffered your terrors and am in despair.
16 Your wrath has swept over me; your terrors have destroyed me.
17 All day long they surround me like a flood; they have completely engulfed me.
Verses 15b through verse 17 of Psalm 88 again speak of the wrath and terrors of God against the Psalmist. We saw similar statements in verses 6 and 7. As I mentioned at that time, as a lay person, I have had to dig and search to find places in the New Testament that tell me explicitly that Jesus died on the cross as punishment for my sins. Since earliest Sunday school days, we are taught this truth, but where in New Testament scripture does it directly say so? Indeed, Paul does spell it out in the letter to the Romans, but it’s a fairly lengthy treatise there.
I am thankful to the genre of gospel tracts, because they sum up in plain, concise speech the doctrine of substitutionary atonement. I myself cannot find a clear, simple expounding of such in the New Testament. (Am I stupid?) But as applied to Jesus Christ, this psalm explicitly teaches in verses 15b through 17 that it was the wrath of God that was poured out on Him.
Isaiah 53 does the same thing in far greater detail, very thoroughly. As a Christian, I am so very thankful for the Old Testament, because without it, so much that is in the New would remain sketchy and incomplete.
18 You have taken my companions and loved ones from me; the darkness is my closest friend.
Finally, verse 18 ends on a quiet note of darkness. As commentators write, Psalm 88 has a single tone of lament throughout. The Psalmist does not, as in most or all of the other psalms, include thoughts of hope, encouragement, praise, and worship. In verse 18, we find the Psalmist alone. It’s not that he had never had had friends and loved ones. Worse than that, he had had them, but he ascribes to God Himself that God took them from him. As applied to Jesus Christ on the cross, we find this to be true.
First, His disciples were His friends. John 15:15 “…I have called you friends…”
His disciples were also His family, His loved ones. Matthew 12:49 “And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers!”
It was part of God’s plan to remove all these from Christ at the time of His crucifixion. Although some were standing there, they were not close to Him at that hour. There was an impassable gulf between Him and them.
The darkness described in Verse 18b is so thick and dark as to be palpable. This, too, is an accurate foretelling of Christ’s death. Luke 23:44 “It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour.” Eclipses of the sun never last three hours. This was a deep darkness of a supernatural sort.
Why would the Psalmist call this deep darkness His friend? May I venture that in His complete abandonment by humans; suffering the wrath and terrors of God, His God, His Father, there was nothing left Him. The darkness was all that remained. It covered His sorrows and sufferings, His deep pain, like a blanket. Conclusion: Making an application of Psalm 88 to the life of Jesus Christ opens to me His heart of love and the heart of the Father’s love towards His lost creation. I am able to identify with Christ as a man. He becomes concrete and real to me. In my own moments of loss and pain, I am able to get something of a fellow feeling of His. Even so, I am enabled by God to thank Him for my moments of loss and pain, simply because they help me to better appreciate the great gift of God in sending His Son.
When applied to Jesus Christ, Psalm 88 shows me that God is not far off. He is very close. Having given His Son in such a dramatic, real, and totally painful way, I believe Him when He says to lost sinners, such as I was and am, “Come!” Verses such as the following make great sense to me in light of Psalm 88 —
Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29 “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Romans 8:32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?
Hebrews 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. 16 Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Appeal to Unsaved Readers
Dear Reader, If you have never personally spoken to this great God of love concerning His dear Son, please do so today. It’s very simple. Just talk to Him in your own voice from your own point of view. Confess your sins to Him; tell Him you believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for those sins. Thank him for what he did on the cross, and ask if you can be his disciple. (If that’s too much for now, just tell him that you want to believe in Christ. If even that is too much for this moment, then just tell him that you are interested and you want to learn more. “God, will you show me?” Then obey whatever he gives you.) Continue to read your Bible; continue to pray (talk to God); and look for a body of like-minded believers. Meet with them regularly to live out with them all the aspects of your new-found faith!
Father, Please accept my offering today. Use it for Your glory. Thank-You, dear Creator-God, for the cross of Your love.
In Jesus name, Amen.
1 31 Days of Wisdom and Praise, Copyright C 1990 International Bible Society, Zondervan, “with Special Thanks to R. Dean Jones”
2 Treasury of David, Volume Two (Part 2) Psalm LXXXVIII to CX, page 18, Hendrickson
4 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Hawker , Wikipedia
5 Neale and Littledale, found in The Treasury of David, Volume Two, Part 2, Psalm the Eighty-Eighth, page 9, Hendrickson Publishers; “This Psalm stands alone in all the Psalter for the unrelieved gloom, the hopeless sorrow of its tone. Even the very saddest of the others, and the Lamentations themselves, admit some variations of key, some strains of hopefulness; here only all is darkness to the close.”
6The Interlinear Hebrew-Greek-English Bible, Second Edition, copyright 1985, by Jay P. Green, Sr.
Psalm 89 tells an interesting story of God’s promises to Israel concerning Messiah. The exalted expectations are then contrasted with the harsh realities of the Messiah’s life during his incarnation. The psalmist/Messiah points out the contradictions to the Lord, reminding him of his promises. He asks the Lord why his life compares so unfavorably with the promises. Nevertheless, he closes by blessing the Lord.
The reader needs to bear in mind that the psalm is prophecy, and this is Scripture’s way of announcing that the Messiah’s life would be one of suffering. The facts of his future incarnation of suffering do not seem to resemble the facts of God’s promises. No one understood this in the days when Jesus walked on earth, not even his own disciples. It was left to the Lord to explain the prophetic Scriptures concerning himself to his disciples after his resurrection. We, as readers today, have the great advantage of hindsight, although even today, many believers, if not most, do not perceive the messianic prophecies in this psalm. Psalm 89 is not listed as being messianic in most study Bibles.
In the first section concerning creation, verses 2 and 5-18, we see that God created all things, and his power is supreme. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before him. (v 14)
The second section describes God’s promises to Israel through Messiah from verses 3-4 and 19-37. God’s righteous, just, loving, and faithful nature, as established, manifested, and proven throughout all of creation, form the basis of his covenant with Israel, as represented by David his servant, and by the Greater David, Messiah. God’s people know and understand God’s nature and are blessed because they walk in it. In the long speech block from verse 19 thr0ugh 37, God describes in his own words the future messianic kingdom, Messiah’s loving response to him (verse 26), and the nature of his disciplinary yet covenantal interactions with Messiah’s progeny. Just as God proves himself to be righteous, just, loving, and faithful in all his created works, so the Israelites and Messiah can count on him to be the same in all his covenantal dealings with them.
Section three, verses 38-51, describes Messiah’s actual incarnated experience with statements such as:
38 But now you have cast off and rejected; you are full of wrath against your anointed.
39 You have renounced the covenant with your servant; you have defiled his crown in the dust.
… … … … …
42 You have exalted the right hand of his foes; you have made all his enemies rejoice.
… … … … …
45 You have cut short the days of his youth; you have covered him with shame. Selah
Using our reader’s hindsight and what we know of the gospel message about the life of Jesus of Nazareth, we can recognize that the words of prophecy in Psalm 89 describe well Messiah’s actual life during his incarnation.
Section 4 records Messiah’s prayerful protest to God. As we read these words, there can be no doubt that Messiah was fully man. These words are spoken from a human vantage, and a suffering human at that. Well may Paul have had Psalm 89 in mind when he wrote of Christ to the Philippians:
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phi 2:5-8 ESV)
Finally, the last verse concludes the psalm with a word of blessing for the Lord. In this, the psalmist/Messiah reminds us that even when the path is difficult and strewn with trials of all kinds, God is faithful to perform what he promises, notwithstanding all appearances to the contrary, and in that we worship and adore him.
Psalm 89 does not solve the mystery of a suffering Messiah–it simply announces the mystery. Nevertheless, by the time Jesus walked the earth, his entire people had lost sight of the full scope of this psalm’s message. They grasped well enough the exalted promises of God to Israel through a glorified Messiah, but they apparently had never connected or had forgotten the last portions of the psalm, which paint a portrait of a suffering Messiah. How like ourselves–don’t we so often want the glory without the pain?
IS IT COINCIDENCE OR GOD’S PLAN that three psalms ending with the number 8 form a triplet detailing the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, God’s divine and human Son? Psalm 88 is a first person account of the crucifixion. Yes, that’s right–the Psalter gives us in Christ’s own words an account of what it was like for him to die. Foretelling in advance is called prophecy. Through the poet Christ prophetically speaks out his thoughts and deep feelings as he lies within his tomb. That God captured this moment in time and included it within his Scripture for us to find and read is precious beyond words.
Psalm 18 is a joyful account of Papa God rescuing his Son from death. For us who have seen so many movies, the word that comes to my mind is “playful.” This account of the resurrection frolics, and I mean no disrespect. A more modern word might be “rocks.” Psalm 18 rocks. Reading this psalm fills me with admiration for God, wonder, and respect. The drama of the psalm matches the drama of the most amazing event in all of human history–a man who had been dead for three days broke free from his grave alive and well. Psalm 18 tells how that happened. It later describes the exaltation of Christ to Kingship over all nations as he executes judgment upon his enemies, both spiritual and physical.
Finally, Psalm 118 continues the celebration of resurrection. It’s a glorious day!
Please take time to reread these three prior posts as they explain in detail what I have outlined above. The links are here:
After the dark Tenebrae chords of Psalm 88 and after the discordant realities of Messiah’s abased life while on earth as recorded in Psalm 89, Psalms 18 and 118 both ring out like joyful peals of Easter bells. Christ is alive! He did not die. Just as we heard from Messiah the God-man in his human form expressing in lament his petitions to his Father, in these psalms we also hear the voice of a man singing his carols of victory, salvation, and release from the grave. Below are a few highlights from each of these psalms. I encourage the reader to read both of these psalms with the vision provided by the apostolic kerygma, the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We rejoice as believers, because he rejoices as one of us. His triumph was a triumph of humanity over sin and the grave.
After the dark pleadings of Psalm 88–
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 (Psa 88:5-7 ESV)—
God replies. He was silent and absent in Psalm 88, but in Psalm 18, his response is nothing short of tremendous. And, just as Jesus pleaded his lament with great emotional overtones, God his Father replies with great emotional drama as well. Hear what the psalmist says.
4 The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of destruction assailed me;
5 the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me.
6 In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.
7 Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry.
8 Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him.
9 He bowed the heavens and came down; thick darkness was under his feet.
10 He rode on a cherub and flew; he came swiftly on the wings of the wind.
11 He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him, thick clouds dark with water.
12 Out of the brightness before him hailstones and coals of fire broke through his clouds.
13 The LORD also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered his voice, hailstones and coals of fire.
14 And he sent out his arrows and scattered them; he flashed forth lightnings and routed them.
15 Then the channels of the sea were seen, and the foundations of the world were laid bare at your rebuke, O LORD, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils.
16 He sent from on high, he took me; he drew me out of many waters.
17 He rescued me from my strong enemy and from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me.
18 They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the LORD was my support.
19 He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me (cf 22:8). (Psa 18:4-19 ESV)
In Psalm 118, the psalmist/resurrected Messiah sings with pure joy and loud celebration his victorious release from the grave and salvation to life. God heard and answered his prayers, and he is no longer confined alone and friendless in the dank darkness of the pit of death, as recorded in Psalm 88.
1 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!
… … … …
5 Out of my distress I called on the LORD; the LORD answered me and set me free.
6 The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?
7 The LORD is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.
… … … …
10 All nations surrounded me; in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
11 They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side; in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
12 They surrounded me like bees; they went out like a fire among thorns; in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
13 I was pushed hard, so that I was falling, but the LORD helped me.
14 The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.
15 Glad songs of salvation are in the tents of the righteous: “The right hand of the LORD does valiantly,
16 the right hand of the LORD exalts, the right hand of the LORD does valiantly!”
17 I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD.
18 The LORD has disciplined me severely, but he has not given me over to death.
19 Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD.
20 This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it.
21 I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.
22 The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.
23 This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
25 Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success!
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We bless you from the house of the LORD.
27 The LORD is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us. Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar!
28 You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you.
29 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! (Psa 118:1-29 ESV)
Christians celebrate Easter, which they often call Resurrection Sunday, because in Christ, his victory over sin and death is their victory over sin and death. Because Christ is resurrected, by faith in him, they are resurrected. Because he lives forever, they live forever.
The Bible’s promises are so majestic and broad in scope that words fail. There are no qualifications for anyone to receive all the benefits of God’s covenant of life made with Jesus Christ and through him to all believers. The one and only requirement is a lifelong TRUST in the life, death, and resurrection of the ascended Jesus Christ of Nazareth, as both Savior and Lord. The duration of the lifelong commitment might be no more than one minute, for those who choose to believe on their deathbeds, or an entire span of multiple decades in a hard labor camp. Eternal life is so great that no one merits it and not one more than another (Matthew 20:1-16).
If you have not already done so, won’t you give Christ your allegiance (1) today?
1 For an interesting approach to the word “allegiance” as it relates to “faith,” see Matthew W. Bates, Salvation by Allegiance Alone. Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, 2017.
A Tenebrae service in its current evangelical format is a dark service commonly observed on the Thursday evening before Good Friday. It is a church service in which the events of Christ’s Passion are acknowledged and honored. Scripture is read, music is sung, and lights or candles gradually dim or are extinguished, until the service room is very dark. Worshipers often exit in silence. Psalm 88 is highly suitable for a Tenebrae service. This psalm dramatically prophesies Christ’s final suffering and death in his own first person voice. The psalm foretells in this man’s own words what it felt like for him to die. Notice that the psalm has two characters–1) the speaker, and 2) the silent character, God. What a treasure this is for us to find in God’s Word.
Psalm 88 (ESV)
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.
In verses 1-3, we sense the events of Holy Week–our Lord’s deep, deep, constant prayers, his foreknowledge of his betrayal, his suffering in the Garden, his arrest and trial, his close friend’s three denials, and finally, his crucifixion. By verse 4, Jesus the man is dead, or nearly so. Verse 6 works very well as a description of a tomb.
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;
Verses 7 and 8 might be a repetition of the period Christ spent on the cross, resulting in his being placed in a small, dark cave, a tomb, from which he could not 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.
The last ten verses (9-18) are best read as a whole. They seem to repeat in different words the first eight verses with a deeper development of the prayers of pleading the psalmist prayed. We hear notes of what Christ may have spoken to his Father when he cried out to him those three times in the Garden, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.” (Luke 22:42; Matthew 26:36-44)
Jesus loved his friends; it grieved him that they shunned him as a horror (verses 8 and 18).
The words dark or darkness are mentioned three times in this prayer-poem: once in verse 6, once in verse 12, and once in verse 18.