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Psalm 88

Prayer for Help in Despondency

A Song. A Psalm of the Korahites. To the leader: according to Mahalath Leannoth. A Maskil of Heman the Ezrahite.


O L ord, God of my salvation,

when, at night, I cry out in your presence,


let my prayer come before you;

incline your ear to my cry.



For my soul is full of troubles,

and my life draws near to Sheol.


I am counted among those who go down to the Pit;

I am like those who have no help,


like those forsaken 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.


You have put me in the depths of the Pit,

in the regions dark and deep.


Your wrath lies heavy upon me,

and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah



You have caused my companions to shun me;

you have made me a thing of horror to them.

I am shut in so that I cannot escape;


my eye grows dim through sorrow.

Every day I call on you, O L ord;

I spread out my hands to you.


Do you work wonders for the dead?

Do the shades rise up to praise you? Selah


Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,

or your faithfulness in Abaddon?


Are your wonders known in the darkness,

or your saving help in the land of forgetfulness?



But I, O L ord, cry out to you;

in the morning my prayer comes before you.


O L ord, why do you cast me off?

Why do you hide your face from me?


Wretched and close to death from my youth up,

I suffer your terrors; I am desperate.


Your wrath has swept over me;

your dread assaults destroy me.


They surround me like a flood all day long;

from all sides they close in on me.


You have caused friend and neighbor to shun me;

my companions are in darkness.

1 O Jehovah! God of my salvation! Let me call upon you particularly to notice what I have just now stated, that although the prophet simply, and without hyperbole, recites the agony which he suffered from the greatness of his sorrows, yet his purpose was at the same time to supply the afflicted with a form of prayer that they might not faint under any adversities, however severe, which might befall them. We will hear him by and by bursting out into vehement complaints on account of the grievousness of his calamities; but he seasonably fortifies himself by this brief exordium, lest, carried away with the heat of his feelings, he might become chargeable with complaining and murmuring against God, instead of humbly supplicating Him for pardon. By applying to Him the appellation of the God of his salvation, casting, as it were, a bridle upon himself, he restrains the excess of his sorrow, shuts the door against despair, and strengthens and prepares himself for the endurance of the cross. When he speaks of his crying and importunity, he indicates the earnestness of soul with which he engaged in prayer. He may not, indeed, have given utterance to loud cries; but he uses the word cry, with much propriety’, to denote the great earnestness of his prayers. The same thing is implied when he tells us that he continued crying days and nights. Nor are the words before thee superfluous. It is common for all men to complain when under the pressure of grief; but they are far from pouring out their groanings before God. Instead of this, the majority of mankind court retirement, that they may murmur against him, and accuse him of undue severity; while others pour forth their cries into the air at random. Hence we gather that it is a rare virtue to set God before our eyes, that we may address our prayers to him.

3 For my soul is filled with troubles. These words contain the excuse which the prophet pleads for the excess of his grief. They imply that his continued crying did not proceed from softness or effeminacy of spirit, but that from a due consideration of his condition, it would be found that the immense accumulation of miseries with which he was oppressed was such as might justly extort from him these lamentations. Nor does he speak of one kind of calamity only; but of calamities so heaped one upon another that his heart was filled with sorrow, till it could contain no more. He next particularly affirms that his life was not far from the grave. This idea he pursues and expresses in terms more significant in the following verse, where he complains that he was, as it were, dead. Although he breathed still among the living, yet the many deaths with which he was threatened on all sides were to him so many graves by which he expected to be swallowed up in a moment. And he seems to use the word גבר, geber, which is derived from גבר, gabar, he prevailed, or was strong, 509509     See volume 2, page 320, note 2. Some consider the words מחלת לענות, Machalath Leannoth, which Calvin renders “Machalath, to make humble,” as together denoting an instrument of music. “For my part,” says Dr Morison, “I lean to the idea that these words 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.” in preference to the word which simply signifies man, — the more emphatically to show that his distresses were so great and crushing as to have been sufficient to bring down the strongest man.

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