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Psalm 88


A Petition to Be Saved From Death
MT Intro
A Song. A Psalm of the Sons of Korah. For the choir director; according to Mahalath, Leannoth. A Maskil of Heman the Ezrahite
A Cry for Help Desperate Prayer for Healing in Sickness A Cry for Help Prayer in Great Distress
88:1-9 88:1-2 88:1-2 88:1-2 88:1-2
  88:3-7 88:3-7 88:3-7 88:3-5
  88:8-9 88:8-12 88:8-9 88:8-9
88:10-12 88:10-12   88:10-12 88:10-12
88:13-18 88:13-18 88:13-18 88:13-18 88:13-16

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Etc.



A. This Psalm is characterized by

1. a series of questions related to the author's sense of rejection by God, cf. Ps. 88:10-12,14. This Psalm ends with no hope or relief in sight! This is a "dark" Psalm!

2. a series of titles/names for the afterlife

a. Sheol, Ps. 88:3b - BDB 982, see Special Topic: Sheol

b. the pit, Ps. 88:4a - BDB 92 I

c. among the dead, Ps. 88:5a - BDB 559

d. who lie in the grave, Ps. 88:5b - BDB 868

e. whom You remember no more, Ps. 88:5c

f. cut off from Your hand, Ps. 88:5d, cf. Lam. 3:54

g. the lowest pit, Ps. 88:6a - BDB 1066

h. dark places, Ps. 88:6b - BDB 365

i. the depths, Ps. 88:6b - BDB 846 (g, h, i are parallel)

j. the dead, Ps. 88:10a - BDB 559

k. the departed spirits, Ps. 88:10b - BDB 952 I

l. the grave, Ps. 88:11a - BDB 868

m. the place of destruction, Ps. 88:11b - lit. abaddon - BDB 2

n. the darkness, Ps. 88:12a - BDB 365, cf. 1 Sam. 2:9; Job 10:21; 17:13; 18:18

o. the land of forgetfulness, Ps. 88:12b - BDB 75 construct BDB 674 (unique to this Psalm, cf. Ps. 6:5)

p. darkness, Ps. 88:18b - BDB 365

B. Notice the different words used to describe God's rejection.

1. Your wrath, Ps. 88:7a - BDB 404

2. Your waves, Ps. 88:7b - BDB 991, cf. Ps. 42:7; 69:1,14-15; Jonah 2:3

3. You reject, Ps. 88:14a - verb, BDB 276 I, KB 276, Qal imperfect

4. You hide Your face, Ps. 88:14b - verb, BDB 711, KB 771, Hiphil imperfect

5. Your terrors, Ps. 88:15b - BDB 33

6. Your burning anger, Ps. 88:16a - BDB 354

7. Your terrors, Ps. 88:16b - BDB 130 (only here and Job 6:4)

C. It is hard from this brief Psalm to know if the psalmist is

1. sick (possibly leprosy because of his abandonment by family and friends)

2. suffering from judgment

3. feeling a sense of being alone

4. fearful of life's circumstances



 1O Lord, the God of my salvation,
 I have cried out by day and in the night before You.
 2Let my prayer come before You;
 Incline Your ear to my cry!
 3For my soul has had enough troubles,
 And my life has drawn near to Sheol.
 4I am reckoned among those who go down to the pit;
 I have become like a man without strength,
 5Forsaken among the dead,
 Like the slain who lie in the grave,
 Whom You remember no more,
 And they are cut off from Your hand.
 6You have put me in the lowest pit,
 In dark places, in the depths.
 7Your wrath has rested upon me,
 And You have afflicted me with all Your waves.  Selah.
 8You have removed my acquaintances far from me;
 You have made me an object of loathing to them;
 I am shut up and cannot go out.
 9My eye has wasted away because of affliction;
 I have called upon You every day, O Lord;
 I have spread out my hands to You.

88:1 "O Lord" This Psalm uses the covenant name for Deity, YHWH, in a vocative sense three times. See SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY.

▣ "the God of my salvation" This title for Deity (cf. Ps. 24:5; 27:9) is descriptive of what the psalmist wants YHWH to do for him, "save," "deliver," "act on his behalf." This opening verse is the most "positive" line of the Psalm. YHWH is the Covenant God and the psalmist prays but senses no response. He even feels God has purposefully caused his plight!

▣ "I" Notice the number of first person singular pronouns and second person singular pronouns ("You"). This is a very personal cry from a believer to his God.

▣ "I have cried out" This verb (BDB 858, KB 1042) is the first of many perfect verbs. The psalmist is asserting his diligent seeking of God but God has not yet responded (cf. Ps. 88:13-18).

▣ "by day and in the night" This phrase is the psalmist's way of asserting his constant prayer (cf. Ps. 22:2; 25:5; 86:3).

88:2 This verse has two parallel requests.

1. let my prayer come before You - BDB 97, KB 112, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense (cf. Ps. 18:6); the psalmist felt his prayer was not being heard (cf. Ps. 88:9,13,14)

2. incline Your ear to my cry - BDB 639, KB 692, Hiphil imperative (cf. Ps. 17:6; 31:2; 71:2; 86:1; 102:2)


88:3-9 The psalmist lists the reasons why God should hear and respond (the perfect describes a settled condition). 

1. his soul (BDB 659) is full (another perfect) of troubles, Ps. 88:3a

2. his life (BDB 313) has arrived (another perfect) near to Sheol (see Special Topic: Where Are the Dead?), Ps. 88:3b

3. he is reckoned (another perfect) among those who go down to the pit (cf. Ps. 28:1; 143:7), Ps. 88:4a

4. he has become (another perfect) like a man without strength (i.e., helpless, BDB 33, only here in the OT; Aramaic loan word), Ps. 88:4b

5. he has been forsaken "among the dead"; the adjective translated "forsaken" is lit. "freed," BDB 344, Ps. 88:5a

NKJV "adrift"

TEV, JPSOA "abandoned"

NJB "left alone"

The MT has "freed" and seems to refer to the freedom from all the responsibilities of life (cf. USB Text Project, p. 350).

6. he whom You remember (another perfect) no more, Ps. 88:5c

7. he whom You cut off (another perfect) from Your hand, Ps. 88:5d

8. he whom You have put (another perfect) in the lowest pit, Ps. 88:6a

9. he whom You have put in dark places, in the depths, Ps. 88:6b

10. he on whom Your wrath has rested (lit. "lies heavy," another perfect) Ps. 88:7a (this verb BDB 701, KB 759 is mostly used of YHWH upporting someone but here, the antithesis)

11. he whom You have afflicted (lit. "overwhelmed," another perfect) with all Your waves, Ps. 88:7b

12. he whom You have removed his acquaintances far away (another perfect), Ps. 88:8a

13. he whom You have made an object of loathing (another perfect), Ps. 88:8b

14. he whom You have shut up, Ps. 88:8c

15. his eyes have wasted away (another perfect), Ps. 88:9a

16. he has called upon You every day (another perfect), cf. Ps. 88:1b, 9b

17. he has spread out his hands (i.e., prayer, another perfect) to You, Ps. 88:9c

Notice the combination of

1. the psalmist's acts

2. the things he asserts that God has done to him


88:7 "Selah" See notes at Psalm 3:2.

88:8 "acquaintances" This (BDB 393, KB 390) is a Pual participle from the verb "to know" (see Special Topic: Know). The same form is also in Ps. 88:18 along with

1. lover - BDB 12, KB 17 Qal participle

2. friend - BDB 945

This man felt totally alienated from God and other humans!

88:9 Psalm 88:9 is similar in content to Ps. 88:1 and may be an example of inclusio.

 10Will You perform wonders for the dead?
 Will the departed spirits rise and praise You?  Selah.
 11Will Your lovingkindness be declared in the grave,
 Your faithfulness in Abaddon?
 12Will Your wonders be made known in the darkness?
 And Your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?

88:10-12 This strophe describes the general OT view of the joyless, silent existence of the conscious soul/person/self in the afterlife.

1. God did not deliver ("save") from the dead

2. the dead do not praise God (cf. Ps. 6:5; 30:9; 115:17; Isa. 38:18)

3. God's faithfulness is not declared in the grave (cf. Isa. 38:18)

4. God's acts of deliverance (BDB 810, see Special Topic: Wonderful Things) are not declared in the darkness

5. God's righteousness (i.e., His acts of salvation) is not declared in the land of forgetfulness



NASB"the departed spirits"
NKJV, TEV"the dead"
REB"the shades"
NJB"the shadows"

This Hebrew root (BDB 952) has two connotations/usages.

1. race of giants (see Special Topic: Terms Used for Tall/Powerful Warriors or People Groups) - Gen. 14:5; 15:20; Deut. 2:20; 3:11; Jos. 17:15; 1 Chr. 20:4

2. the departed/the conscious dead - Job 26:5-6; Pro. 2:18; 9:18; 21:16; Isa. 14:9; 26:11-19; this usage is common in Wisdom Literature (see SPECIAL TOPIC: WISDOM LITERATURE)

Because of Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 it is possible to see these as departed kings and powerful humans, now in Sheol, their power and prestige gone. There is a detailed discussion of this term in NIDOTTE, vol. 3, pp. 1173-1180.

▣ "Selah" See notes at Psalm 3:2.

 13But I, O Lord, have cried out to You for help,
 And in the morning my prayer comes before You.
 14O Lord, why do You reject my soul?
 Why do You hide Your face from me? 
 15I was afflicted and about to die from my youth on;
 I suffer Your terrors; I am overcome.
 16Your burning anger has passed over me;
 Your terrors have destroyed me.
 17They have surrounded me like water all day long;
 They have encompassed me altogether.
 18You have removed lover and friend far from me;
 My acquaintances are in darkness.

88:13-18 This repeats the emphasis of the previous verses. The psalmist feels estranged from God and family and friends! He is alone! This Psalm ends in despair (cf. Ps. 88:14)! He does not understand what is happening to him, either physically or spiritually!

88:15 Does this verse imply that the psalmist has been sick from his youth and is near death or is this imagery of a prolonged sense of abandonment by God?

The verb in the MT (BDB 806, KB 918, Qal imperfect) can be from one of two roots.

1. אפונה - BDB 67, either (1) "to be helpless," (2) "to be confused," or (3) "very, very much"

2. פון - found only here and meaning uncertain

3. פוג - "to grow numb" (NET Bible)

This verse is difficult to translate because the MT is difficult (JPSOA footnote)

LXX "and after being exalted,

I was humbled and became perplexed"

Peshitta "I have been proud, but now I am humbled and crushed"

88:18 "in darkness" The same consonants can mean "withholding" (Peshitta). JPSOA takes the MT "darkness" and translates it as "cannot see."


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. As you read this Psalm what is your first impression?

2. What is the psalmist's problem?

3. Why does he feel God has abandoned him? Does he express any hope? How?

4. Describe the OT view of the afterlife.

5. Why is Ps. 88:4 so painful?

6. Does the psalmist express any hope that God will hear, come, help?

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