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Psalms 88-89 – My Companions Are in Darkness...I Will Sing of Your Steadfast Love

Summary

A time of bleak lament (Psalm 88) is followed by a great hymn of praise for God's mighty acts in creation and history (Psalm 89).

Analysis

Psalms 88 and 89 seem to be a deliberate psalm pair. According to their titles, they are the only two Ezrahite psalms in the Psalter. They are the final two psalms of Book III, a book still characterized largely by laments. The darkest of these is Psalm 88, but Psalm 89 closes the book with praise of God, who sustains the creation and who elects David to be the messianic king.

Whereas the lament psalms typically turn at the end to an experience of hope and a vow of praise, Psalm 88 does not. It begins "at night," crying out to God (v. 1), and it ends "in darkness," the psalmist shunned by friends and neighbors (v. 18). There is no bright moment in the psalm other than the psalmist's morning prayer that continues, even if as yet unanswered (v. 13).

One value of Psalm 88 is its brutal honesty. Not all prayer is quickly answered; not all distress has a happy outcome. If all the psalms ended "happily ever after," the Psalter would be a less believable book. All those who remain in darkness despite faith and prayer find their voice in Psalm 88.

Yet the community of God's people knows more about God than any one of God's people, and this is represented by the editor of the book putting Psalms 88 and 89 back to back. The problems of Psalm 88 are not "fixed"; its vision remains bleak. But the community sings Psalm 89 in response, reminding the pray-er of 88 that God's "steadfast love is established forever" (89:2), that God's covenant with David remains in effect (vv. 3-4), that the chaotic threats to God's creation remain at bay (vv. 8-14). True, even David's kingdom knows distress (vv. 38-48)--perhaps reflecting Book III's remembrance of the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.E.--but finally the psalm and the book close with a call to God also to remember and to act on Israel's behalf (vv. 49-51).

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.
1Lord, God of my salvation,
   when, at night, I cry out in your presence,
2 let my prayer come before you;
   incline your ear to my cry.


3 For my soul is full of troubles,
   and my life draws near to Sheol.
4 I am counted among those who go down to the Pit;
   I am like those who have no help,
5 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.
6 You have put me in the depths of the Pit,
   in the regions dark and deep.
7 Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
   and you overwhelm me with all your waves.
          Selah


8 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;
9   my eye grows dim through sorrow.
Every day I call on you, O Lord;
   I spread out my hands to you.
10 Do you work wonders for the dead?
   Do the shades rise up to praise you?
          Selah
11 Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
   or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
12 Are your wonders known in the darkness,
   or your saving help in the land of forgetfulness?


13 But I, O Lord, cry out to you;
   in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14Lord, why do you cast me off?
   Why do you hide your face from me?
15 Wretched and close to death from my youth up,
   I suffer your terrors; I am desperate.*
16 Your wrath has swept over me;
   your dread assaults destroy me.
17 They surround me like a flood all day long;
   from all sides they close in on me.
18 You have caused friend and neighbour to shun me;
   my companions are in darkness.

Psalm 89

God’s Covenant with David

A Maskil of Ethan the Ezrahite.
1 I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord,* for ever;
   with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.
2 I declare that your steadfast love is established for ever;
   your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.


3 You said, ‘I have made a covenant with my chosen one,
   I have sworn to my servant David:
4 “I will establish your descendants for ever,
   and build your throne for all generations.”
          Selah


5 Let the heavens praise your wonders, O Lord,
   your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones.
6 For who in the skies can be compared to the Lord?
   Who among the heavenly beings is like the Lord,
7 a God feared in the council of the holy ones,
   great and awesome* above all that are around him?
8Lord God of hosts,
   who is as mighty as you, O Lord?
   Your faithfulness surrounds you.
9 You rule the raging of the sea;
   when its waves rise, you still them.
10 You crushed Rahab like a carcass;
   you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm.
11 The heavens are yours, the earth also is yours;
   the world and all that is in it—you have founded them.
12 The north and the south*—you created them;
   Tabor and Hermon joyously praise your name.
13 You have a mighty arm;
   strong is your hand, high your right hand.
14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne;
   steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.
15 Happy are the people who know the festal shout,
   who walk, O Lord, in the light of your countenance;
16 they exult in your name all day long,
   and extol* your righteousness.
17 For you are the glory of their strength;
   by your favour our horn is exalted.
18 For our shield belongs to the Lord,
   our king to the Holy One of Israel.


19 Then you spoke in a vision to your faithful one, and said:
   ‘I have set the crown* on one who is mighty,
   I have exalted one chosen from the people.
20 I have found my servant David;
   with my holy oil I have anointed him;
21 my hand shall always remain with him;
   my arm also shall strengthen him.
22 The enemy shall not outwit him,
   the wicked shall not humble him.
23 I will crush his foes before him
   and strike down those who hate him.
24 My faithfulness and steadfast love shall be with him;
   and in my name his horn shall be exalted.
25 I will set his hand on the sea
   and his right hand on the rivers.
26 He shall cry to me, “You are my Father,
   my God, and the Rock of my salvation!”
27 I will make him the firstborn,
   the highest of the kings of the earth.
28 For-ever I will keep my steadfast love for him,
   and my covenant with him will stand firm.
29 I will establish his line for ever,
   and his throne as long as the heavens endure.
30 If his children forsake my law
   and do not walk according to my ordinances,
31 if they violate my statutes
   and do not keep my commandments,
32 then I will punish their transgression with the rod
   and their iniquity with scourges;
33 but I will not remove from him my steadfast love,
   or be false to my faithfulness.
34 I will not violate my covenant,
   or alter the word that went forth from my lips.
35 Once and for all I have sworn by my holiness;
   I will not lie to David.
36 His line shall continue for ever,
   and his throne endure before me like the sun.
37 It shall be established for ever like the moon,
   an enduring witness in the skies.’
          Selah


38 But now you have spurned and rejected him;
   you are full of wrath against your anointed.
39 You have renounced the covenant with your servant;
   you have defiled his crown in the dust.
40 You have broken through all his walls;
   you have laid his strongholds in ruins.
41 All who pass by plunder him;
   he has become the scorn of his neighbours.
42 You have exalted the right hand of his foes;
   you have made all his enemies rejoice.
43 Moreover, you have turned back the edge of his sword,
   and you have not supported him in battle.
44 You have removed the sceptre from his hand,*
   and hurled his throne to the ground.
45 You have cut short the days of his youth;
   you have covered him with shame.
          Selah


46 How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself for ever?
   How long will your wrath burn like fire?
47 Remember how short my time is—*
   for what vanity you have created all mortals!
48 Who can live and never see death?
   Who can escape the power of Sheol?
          Selah


49 Lord, where is your steadfast love of old,
   which by your faithfulness you swore to David?
50 Remember, O Lord, how your servant is taunted;
   how I bear in my bosom the insults of the peoples,*
51 with which your enemies taunt, O Lord,
   with which they taunted the footsteps of your anointed.


52 Blessed be the Lord for ever.Amen and Amen.

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v 2.2.7
10 February 2011

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