Psalm 88

The Word Made Fresh

(A song. A psalm of the Korahites. To the leader, according to Mahalath Leannoth. A hymn of Heman the Ezrahite.)

1O LORD, God of my salvation,
when I cry out to you at night
2hear my prayer and listen to my plea,
3for I am very troubled and fear that I am nearing the grave.
4I am counted among those headed toward the place of the dead.
I am thought to be among those who can’t be rescued,
5like those long dead and forgotten, slain and buried
and remembered no more, removed from your hand.
6You have put me in the bottom of a deep grave
where it is always completely dark.
7Your anger is a heavy weight on me
and I am overcome by your assaults.
8You have made my friends turn away from me.
I am a scary sight to them and feel trapped with no escape.
9My eyes are weakened because of my grief.
I call on you every day, LORD. I beg you with hands outstretched.
10Do you do wonderful things for those who are dead?
Can the shadows of the dead praise you?
11Is your steadfast love felt in the grave?
Is your faithfulness declared to those who have died?
12Are your wonderful deeds known in the darkness,
or your salvation in the land of the forgotten?
13But still I cry out to you, LORD.
I raise my prayers to you in the morning.
14Why do you shun me, LORD?
Why do you hide your face from me?
15I have been miserable and close to death all my life.
I have suffered the terrors you send me, and I am in despair.
16Your anger has stalked me, and I am assaulted by the dread of you.
17Your attacks surround me like a flood all day long.
They close in all around me.
18You have caused my friends and neighbors to turn away from me.
Darkness is my closest companion.


Superscription: This psalm bears a complicated heading. It is the last of the “psalms of the Korahites.” In 1 Kings 4:31 we are told that Solomon was wiser than someone named Heman and several others, but the appellation “Heman the Ezrahite” does not appear elsewhere. I suspect he is the same Heman who is mentioned along with Asaph and Ethan and Jeduthun in several places. He was a Korahite (1 Chronicles 6:33) who held a special position among the musicians in the temple. On “Maskil” see the note at Psalm 32.

“Mahalath Leannoth” may be a musical designation but is a puzzle as well. Mahalath was the name of one of David’s granddaughters and is mentioned in the superscription of Psalm 53 (see the note there). “Leannoth” occurs nowhere else in scripture.

1-7: The psalmist’s condition appears to be that of a life-threatening illness. He is bedridden and in despair.

8-12: His illness has caused his friends to stay away. He wonders if death is final or whether God might still respond after he has died.

13-18: These verses repeat the lament of the first 12 verses with the added complaint that he has apparently never been completely healthy, and he feels abandoned.


This is the saddest psalm of all. There is no hope expressed but only despair. Sometimes people feel that way, of course. Sometimes we wonder if God has abandoned us, and Psalm 88 speaks to that condition. Even Jesus expressed such abandonment when he cried out on the cross, “Why have you forsaken me?” God does allow us to suffer because that is the kind of world we mortals have made. But, when this earthly life is trouble-filled we can still anticipate the life to come.