Psalm 88:1


Title. -- A Song or Psalm for the sons of Korah. This sad complaint reads very little like a Song, nor can we conceive how it could be called by a name which denotes a song of praise or triumph; yet perhaps it was intentionally so called to show how faith "glories in tribulations also." Assuredly, if ever there was a song of sorrow and a Psalm of sadness, this is one. The sons of Korah, who had often united in chanting jubilant odes, are now bidden to take charge of this mournful dirge like hymn. Servants and singers must not be choosers. To the chief Musician. He must superintend the singers and see that they do their duty well, for holy sorrow ought to be expressed with quite as much care as the most joyful praise; nothing should be slovenly in the Lord's house. It is more difficult to express sorrow fitly than it is to pour forth notes of gladness. Upon Mahalath Leannoth. This is translated by Alexander, "concerning afflictive sickness", and if this be correct, it indicates the mental malady which occasioned this plaintive song. Maschil. This term has occurred many times before, and the reader will remember that it indicates an instructive or didactic Psalm: -- the sorrows of one saint are lessons to others; experimental teaching is exceedingly valuable. Of Heman the Ezrahite. This, probably, informs us as to its authorship; it was written by Heman, but which Heman it would not be easy to determine, though it will not be a very serious mistake if we suppose it to be the man alluded to in 1 Kings 4:31 , as the brother of Ethan, and one of the five sons of Zerah ( 1 Chronicles 2:6 ), the son of Judah, and hence called "the Ezrahite": if this be the man, he was famous for his wisdom, and his being in Egypt during the time of Pharaoh's oppression may help to account for the deep bass of his song, and for the antique form of many of the expressions, which are more after the manner of Job than David. There was, however, a Heman in David's day who was one of the grand trio of chief musicians, "Heman, Asaph, and Ethan" (1Ch 15:19), and no one can prove that this was not the composer. The point is of no consequence; whoever wrote the Psalm most have been a man of deep experience, who had done business on the great waters of soul trouble.

SUBJECT AND DIVISIONS. -- This Psalm is fragmentary, and the only division of any service to us would be that suggested by Albert Barnes, viz. -- A description of the sick man's sufferings ( Psalms 88:1-9 ), and a prayer for mercy and deliverance ( Psalms 88:10-18 ). We shall, however, consider each verse separately, and so exhibit the better the incoherence of the author's grief. The reader had better first peruse the Psalm as a whole.


Verse 1. O Lord God of my salvation. This is a hopeful title by which to address the Lord, and it has about it the only ray of comfortable light which shines throughout the Psalm. The writer has salvation, he is sure of that, and God is the sole author of it. While a man can see God as his Saviour, it is not altogether midnight with him. While the living God can be spoken of as the life of our salvation, our hope will not quite expire. It is one of the characteristics of true faith that she turns to Jehovah, the saving God, when all other confidences have proved liars unto her.

I have cried day and night before thee. His distress had not blown out the sparks of his prayer, but thickened them into a greater ardency, till they burned perpetually like a furnace at full blast. His prayer was personal -- whoever had not prayed, he had done so; it was intensely earnest, so that it was correctly described as a cry, such as children utter to move the pity of their parents; and it was unceasing, neither the business of the day nor the weariness of the night had silenced it: surely such entreaties could not be in vain. Perhaps, if Heman's pain had not been incessant his supplications might have been intermittent; it is a good thing that sickness will not let us rest if we spend our restlessness in prayer. Day and night are both suitable to prayer; it is no work of darkness, therefore let us go with Daniel and pray when men can see us, yet, since supplication needs no light, let us accompany Jacob and wrestle at Jabbok till the day breaketh. Evil is transformed to good when it drives us to prayer. One expression of the text is worthy of special note; "before thee" is a remarkable intimation that the Psalmist's cries had an aim and a direction towards the Lord, and were not the mere clamours of nature, but the groanings of a gracious heart towards Jehovah, the God of salvation. Of what use are arrows shot into the air? The archer's business is to look well at the mark he drives at. Prayers must be directed to heaven with earnest care. So thought Heman -- his cries were all meant for the heart of his God. He had no eye to onlookers as Pharisees have, but all his prayers were before his God.


Title. -- Mahalath Leannoth I lean to the idea, that the words Mahalath Leannoth, are intended to denote some musical instrument of the plaintive order, and in this opinion Kimchi and other Jewish writers perfectly agree. They assert that it was a wind instrument, answering very much to the flute, and employed mainly in giving utterance to sentiments of grief, upon occasions of great sorrow and lamentation. With this view of the title, I should look for no new translation, but should just read it substantially as our translators here: "A Song or Psalm for the sons of Korah", to the giver of victory, upon Mahalath Leannoth, an instruction for Heman, the Ezrahite. -- John Morison.

Title. -- Leannoth is variously rendered, according as it is derived from hn[, anah, to suffer, be afflicted, or from hn[ anah, to chant, sing. Gesenius, De Wette, Dr. Davies, and others take the latter view; while Mudge, Hengtenberg, Alexander, and others take the former. Mudge translates, to create dejection; Alexander renders, mahalath leannoth, concerning afflictive sickness; Hengstenberg reads, upon the distress of oppression. The Septuagint (apokriqhnai) and the Vulgate (respondendum) indicate a responsive song, and Houbigant translates the words in question, for the choirs, that they may answer. Many etymologists consider the primary idea of hn[, anah, to sing, that of answering. The tone of the Psalm in question, however, being decidedly that of sadness and dejection, it appears more probable that leannoth denotes the strictly elegiac character of the performance, and the whole title may read therefore, "A Song or Psalm, for the sons of Korah, to the chief musician, upon the flutes (or the hollow instruments,) to afflict (or cause dejection,) a didactic Psalm of Heman, the Ezrahite." --F.G. Hibbard, in "The Psalms chronologically arranged, with Historical Introductions." New York, 1856.

Title. -- The explanation: -- to be performed mournfully with subdued voice, agrees with the mournful contents, whose tone is even more gloomy than that of Psalms 77:1-20 . -- From "The Psalms, by C.B. Moll." (Lange's Series of Commentaries.)

Title. -- Heman.

  1. David was not the only man acquainted with sad exercise and affliction of spirit, for here is another, to wit, Heman the Ezrahite, as deep in trouble of spirit as he or any other beside.
  2. They are not all men of weak minds and shallow wit who are acquainted with trouble of spirit, and borne down with the sense of God's wrath; for here is Heman, one amongst the wisest of all Israel, (and inferior to none for wisdom, except to Solomon alone), under the heaviest exercise we can imagine possible for a saint.
  3. When it pleaseth God to exercise a man of parts, of great gifts and graces, he can make his burden proportionable to his strength, and give him as much to do with the difficulties he puts him to, as a weaker man shall find in his exercise, as appeareth in the experience of Heman.
  4. Wise men in their trouble must take the same course with the simpler sort of men; that is, they must run to God as others do, and seek relief only in his grace, who as he distributeth the measures of trouble, can also give comfort, ease, and deliverance from them, as the practice of Heman doth teach us.
  5. What trouble of wounded spirit some of God's children have felt in former times, others dear to God may find the like in after ages, and all men ought to prepare for the like, and should not think the exercise strange when it cometh, but must comfort themselves in this, that other saints whose refines are recorded in Scripture, have been under like affliction; for the Psalm is appointed "to give instruction"; it is Maschil of Heman.
  6. What is at one time matter of mourning to one of God's children, may become matter of joy and singing afterward, both to himself and to others, as this sad anguish of spirit in Heman is made a song of joy unto God's glory, and the comfort of all afflicted souls, labouring under the sense of sin and felt wrath of God, unto the world's end; it is A Song, a Psalm for the sons of Korah.
  7. Such as are most heartily afflicted in spirit, and do flee to God for reconciliation and consolation through Christ, have no reason to suspect themselves, that they are not esteemed of and loved as dear children, because they feel so much of God's wrath: for here is a saint who hath drunken of that cup (as deep as any who shall read this Psalm,) here is one so much loved and honoured of God, as to be a penman of Holy Scripture, and a pattern of faith and patience unto others; even Heman the Ezrahite.

--David Dickson.

Whole Psalm. -- "We have in this Psalm the voice of our suffering Redeemer", says Horne; and the contents may be thus briefly stated --

  1. The plaintive wailing of the suffering one, Psalms 88:1-2 . It strongly resembles Psalms 22:1-2 .
  2. His soul exceeding sorrowful even unto death, Psalms 88:3-5 . The word "free" in our version, is fpx, properly denoting separation from others, and here rendered by Junius and Tremellius, "set aside from intercourse and communication with men, having nothing in common with them, like those who are afflicted with leprosy, and are sent away to separate dwellings." They quote 2 Chronicles 26:21 .
  3. His feelings of hell, Psalms 88:6-7 . For he feels God's prison, and the gloom of God's darkest wrath. And Selah gives time to ponder.
  4. His feelings of shame and helplessness, Psalms 88:8 . "His own receive him not."
  5. The effects of soul agony upon his body, Psalms 88:9 .
  6. His submission to the Lord, Psalms 88:9 . It is the very tone of Gethsemane, "Nevertheless, not my will!"
  7. The sustaining hope of resurrection, Psalms 88:10 (with a solemn pause, "Selah"), Psalms 88:11-12 . The "land of forgetfulness", and "the dark", express the unseen world, which, to those on this side of the vail, is so unknown, and where those who enter it are to us as if they had forever been forgotten by those they left behind. God's wonders shall be made known there. There shall be victory gained over death and the grave: God's "lovingkindness" to man, and his "faithfulness", pledge him to do this new thing in the universe. Messiah must return from the abodes of the invisible state; and in due time, Heman, as well as all other members of the Messiah's body, must return also. Yes, God's wonders shall be known at the grave's mouth. God's righteousness, in giving what satisfied justice in behalf of Messiah's members, has been manifested gloriously, so that resurrection must follow, and the land of forgetfulness must give up its dead. O morning of surpassing bliss, hasten on! Messiah has risen; when shall all that are his arise? Till that day dawn, they must take up their Head's plaintive expostulations, and remind their God in Heman's strains of what he has yet to accomplish. "Wilt thou show wonders to the dead", etc.
  8. His perseverance in vehement prayer, Psalms 88:13-14 .
  9. His long continued and manifold woes, Psalms 88:15-17 .
  10. His loneliness of soul, Psalms 88:18 .

Hengstenberg renders the last clause of this verse more literally -- "The dark kingdom of the dead is instead of all my companions." What unutterable gloom! completed by this last dark shade -- all sympathy from every quarter totally withdrawn! Forlorn, indeed! Sinking from gloom to gloom, from one deep to another, and every billow sweeping over him, and wrath, like a tremendous mountain, "leaning" or resting its weight on the crushed worm. Not even Psalms 22:1-31 is more awfully solemnising, there being in this deeply melancholy Psalm only one cheering glimpse through the intense gloom, namely, that of resurrection hoped for, but still at a distance. At such a price was salvation purchased by him who is the resurrection and the life. He himself wrestled for life and resurrection in our name -- and that price so paid is the reason why to us salvation is free. And so we hear in solemn joy the harp of Judah struck by Heman, to overawe our souls not with his own sorrows, but with what Horsley calls "The lamentation of Messiah", or yet more fully, The sorrowful days and nights of the Man of Sorrows. --Andrew A. Bonar.

Whole Psalm. -- 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. --Neale and Littledale.

Whole Psalm. -- The prophecy in the foregoing Psalm of the conversion of all nations is followed by this Passion Psalm, in order that it may never be forgotten that God has purchased to himself an universal church, by the precious blood of his dear Son. -- Christopher Wordsworth.

Whole Psalm. -- All the misery and sorrow which are described in this Psalm, says Brentius, have been the lot of Christ's people. We may therefore take the Psalm, he adds, to be common to Christ and his church. --W. Wilson.

Verse 1. -- My That little word "my" opens for a moment a space between the clouds through which the Sun of righteousness casts one solitary beam. Generally speaking, you will find that when the Psalm begins with lamentation, it ends with praise; like the sun, which, rising in clouds and mist, sets brightly, and darts forth its parting rays just before it goes down. But here the first gleam shoots across the sky just as the sun rises, and no sooner has the ray appeared, than thick clouds and darkness gather over it; the sun continues its course throughout the whole day enveloped in clouds; and sets at last in a thicker bank of them than it ever had around it during the day. "Lover and friend hast thou put far from me, and mine acquaintance into darkness." In what a dark cloud does the sun of Heman set! --J.C. Philpot.

Verse 1. Before thee. He had not recklessly poured forth his complaints, or cast them to the winds, as many are wont to do, who have no hope in their calamities; but he had always mingled with his complaining prayers for obtaining deliverance, and had directed them to God, where faith assured him his prayers would be seen again. This must be attentively noted, since herein is seen of what kind the complaints of the saints are. -- Mollerus.

Verse 1. Before thee. Other men seek some hiding place where they may murmur against God, but the Psalmist comes into the Lord's presence and states his grievances. When a man dares to pour out his complaint before the Lord's own face, his woes are real, and not the result of petulence or a rebellious spirit. --C.H.S.

Verse 1-2. Before thee. Not seeking to be seen by human eye, but by God alone, therefore, let my prayer come before thee, that is, let it be acceptable before thee, after the similitude of ambassadors who are admitted to audience; and when my prayer has entered incline thine tar unto my cry, because thou hearest the desire of the afflicted. -- Richardus Hampolus.


Verse 1.

  1. Confidence in prayer, -- "God of my salvation."
  2. Earnestness in prayer, -- "I have cried."
  3. Perseverance in prayer, -- "Day and night." --G.R.