As one of the lament psalms, this one is truly written by one whose condition is most pitiable. In a vote for the saddest psalm of the book, Psalm 88 could easily win. Opinions vary as to the origin of the psalm. Some believe it was written by one of the exiles to Babylon during the worst of his times. Others have postulated that it is the song of a dying leper. I read a first-hand account of a visit to a leper colony that occurred over 50 years ago, and I shall spare you the details of that account. Suffice to say that I find it very plausible that such indeed could be the source of the psalm.
One thing to note is that although the psalm begins and ends with the deepest despair and no real hope that things will get any better, the cries made by the psalmist to the Lord are accompanied by faith nevertheless. And the psalmist makes it clear that he will continue in his faith to the bitter end, fully expecting to begin each new day with his prayers to the Lord.
2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…” So why is this psalm in the Bible? What teaching or training could such bleak words hold for us today? I believe Derek Kidner offers as good an explanation as I have heard (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Book 16),IVP Academic; Reprint edition (April 17, 2009)). Burton Coffman aptly summarizes Kidner’s words (which I will leave you with) as follows:
“(1) This psalm reveals the truth that Christians may sometimes be subjected to the most unrelenting and terrible misfortunes in passing through this earthly life. It happened to Job; it happened to this psalmist; and it can happen to any child of God.
What a joyful thing it is that… the Christian today has the advantage of the blessed hope of the resurrection ‘in Christ’ and the hope of eternal glory in heaven.
(2) There is the lesson of this psalm that no matter how discouraging and terrible one’s lot in life may be, he should not fail to lay the matter before the Lord in prayer. God always answers the prayers of his saints, even if their specific requests must be denied, as in the case of Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh.’
(3) Our lives upon earth are only a moment compared to the ceaseless ages of eternity; and our attitude during the very worst of experiences should be the same as that of Job, who cried, ‘Though he slay me, yet will I trust him’ (Job 13:15)”
some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers
Please note: I did not design the reading plan that I am following in my blog. All of my comments in this blog, however, are solely my responsibility. When reading ANY commentary, you should ALWAYS refer first to the scripture, which is God’s unchanging and unfailing word. Reading schedules, as well as a link to the site where you can get the reading plan that I’m currently following for yourself can be found on the “Bible Reading Schedules” page of my website at http://graceofourlord.com.