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