The Lamentations Of The
Man Of So

a brief study of Psalm 88, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 7 Aug 2009

Psalm 88 is a very dark psalm. Someone suggests that the only bright spot in this psalm is the opening words “O LORD God of my salvation.” After that it contains line after line, wave after wave of heaviness and dismay. Well, I believe, if we know where to look, we will see a couple more bright spots. But it is true that overall this is a rather gloomy psalm as we shall see.

Nevertheless, this psalm is recognised by many ancient and not so ancient commentators as Messianic. Augustine says, “the Passion of our Lord is here prophesied… Let us therefore now hear the voice of Christ singing before us in prophecy.” Luther says: “This is a prayer, as in the person of Christ and of all the saints.” The Church of England appointed this Psalm to be sung on Good Friday. The learned bishop Samuel Horsley calls this Psalm, “the Lamentation of Messiah.” Bishop Horne says, “We hear in these words the voice of our suffering Redeemer.” We see “His unexampled sorrows both in body and soul; his desertion in the day of trouble; his bitter passion, and approaching death; with his frequent and fervent prayers for the accomplishment of the promises, for the salvation of the church through him, and for the manifestation of God’s glory.” Andrew Bonar entitled this Psalm, “The sorrowful days and nights of the Man of Sorrows.”

I am inclined to think on the basis of verses 6, 7 and 14, that this psalm contains prophetically the meditations of our Lord during the three hours of darkness when He experienced the intense wrath of God on our behalf. Of course, in so far as our Lord suffered for us not only on the cross, but also throughout his whole lifetime, this psalm refers to his suffering from youth upwards. And so this psalm is also very useful for us to give expression to our own sufferings as those united to Christ in our pilgrim journey.

This psalm has 2 selahs which means that it has 3 strophes when it was sung or chanted in Hebrew. But since this is a prayer of lamentation that wells up from a heart of sorrow it is not so helpful for the purpose of appreciating the psalm to break it up into divisions.

Rather, I think it will be helpful for us to enumerate and comment briefly on some of the sentiments expressed in it.

Let me highlight nine of them.

Consider first…

1. The Prayerful Constancy
of our Lord

1 O LORD God of my salvation [or deliverance], I have cried day and night before thee: 2 Let my prayer come before thee: incline thine ear unto my cry;


Our Lord was a man of sorrows and a man of prayer. Were He not a man of prayer, the intensity of the sorrow he had to endure would have overwhelmed him, for who else could understand His struggles more than His heavenly father.

If anyone would be Christ-like, let him first learn to be constant in prayer.

2. The Depth of our
Lord’s Sorrows

 3 For my soul is full of troubles: and my life draweth nigh unto the grave.

When sorrow attends our soul and grief would break our heart, it is difficult for us to see that we are not alone in suffering. But let us remember that our Lord suffered to a depth that none of us could fully appreciate: “my soul is full of troubles: and my life draweth nigh unto the grave” He says. “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death” he told his disciples as he entered into the Garden of Gethsemane to pray (Mt 26:38).

However painful our suffering may be, there is one who understands.

3. Our Lord’s Sense
of Helplessness

 4 I am counted with them that go down into the pit: I am as a man that hath no strength: 5 Free [or separated] among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, whom thou rememberest no more: and they are cut off from thy hand.

Our Lord was helpless. He was bound and tormented, helpless to deliver himself. Well, he was not really helpless in that he could have called upon “twelve legions of angels” at any time (Mt 26:53). But our Lord was suffering for us. He willingly laid down his life to suffer what we deserve to suffer.

Through it, He experienced being treated like one who is given up for dead—like a man who is buried alive and forgotten.

Has anyone of us ever felt such a sense of helplessness? But his experience went deeper.


4. His Experience of Hell

6 Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps. 7 Thy wrath lieth hard upon me, and thou hast afflicted me with all thy waves. 

Because we are creatures with a body and soul, Christ our representative must suffer not only physical torment, but spiritual torment as well.

Our Lord suffered in his soul throughout his earthly ministry. But his suffering was especially intense, I believer, during those three hours of darkness when the sun could not shine. During those three hours, our Lord was experiencing hell on our behalf. Hell is not merely darkness and fire. Hell is where the wrath of God burns. Our Lord was experiencing the wrath of God on our behalf.

It was the most intense suffering that any man could ever endure. And it was sweeping over his soul in waves.

5.  His Sense of

 8 Thou hast put away mine acquaintance far from me; thou hast made me an abomination unto them: I am shut up, and I cannot come forth.

Not only did our Lord experience hell, he experienced being abandoned by his disciples and friends. His disciples fled from Him when he was arrested. He could not communicate with them. He could not enjoy the company and comforts of his friends.

None of us can claim that no one understands our pain of loneliness, for our Lord felt it far more keenly than anyone of us would in our most lonely moments.

6. His Tears

 9 Mine eye mourneth by reason of affliction: LORD, I have called daily upon thee, I have stretched out my hands unto thee.

This hardly needs any comment. Our Lord was fully man. He cried. The writer of Hebrews tells us that our Lord “offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death” (Heb 5:7).

His prayers were not stoical and unemotional. He felt the grief and it manifested itself on his face and body.

7. Our Lord’s Yearning
for the Resurrection

10 Wilt thou shew wonders to the dead?  shall the dead arise and praise thee? 11 Shall thy lovingkindness be declared in the grave?  or thy faithfulness in destruction? 12 Shall thy wonders be known in the dark?  and thy righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?

I believe that this sentiment expresses our Lord’s yearning for the resurrection, for our Lord had perfect hope and perfect faith. So he could not think of the hopelessness of death without thinking about the resurrection.

But if our Lord was suffering the darkness of the pains of hell, we can understand why he spoke of the hope of resurrection by way of questions that sound almost despairing.

Yet if we look at these six questions and understand that our Lord was not looking to have them answered negatively, but positively, then we shall understand something of the hope in hopelessness that our Lord had.

10 Wilt thou shew wonders to the dead? 

Yes, I shall raise thee, and I shall raise those whom I have given to thee to save.

…shall the dead arise and praise thee?

Assuredly yes, for I have promised. I will keep my covenant.

11 Shall thy lovingkindness be declared in the grave?

No, but I will raise thee and thy elect and thou and thy church shall declare my lovingkindness for all eternity.

Or [shall] thy faithfulness [be declared] in destruction?

Not ordinarily, but in the punishment that my son will endure, I will declare my faithfulness by requiring no more from those who are his.

12 Shall thy wonders be known in the dark?

No, but the resurrection morning will soon dawn.

and [shall] thy righteousness [be known] in the land of forgetfulness?

No, but it is sin and sorrows that will be forgotten when death is swallowed up in victory!

These must have been some of the thoughts that encouraged the Lord and gave him confidence to look to the Father. And this explains, does it not…

8. The Lord’s Hopeful

13 But unto thee have I cried, O LORD; and in the morning shall my prayer prevent thee. 14 LORD, why castest thou off my soul? why hidest thou thy face from me?

In Psalm 22:1, our Lord asks, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Here he asks the same: “LORD, why castest thou off my soul?  why hidest thou thy face from me?

This is not a question of indignation. It is an expression of grief as well as confidence in the Father, for it is confidence that our Lord could say “in the morning shall my prayer prevent thee.” I know the morning will come; and you shall hear my prayer of thanksgiving.

But hope did not minimise…

9. The Reality of Our
Lord’s Suffering

 15 I am afflicted and ready to die from my youth up: while I suffer thy terrors I am distracted. 16 Thy fierce wrath goeth over me; thy terrors have cut me off. 17 They came round about me daily like water; they compassed me about together. 18 Lover and friend hast thou put far from me, and mine acquaintance into darkness [or literally as Hengstenberg puts it: “The dark kingdom of the dead is instead of all my companions”].

Suffering has a tendency to distract us. It turns our eyes away from God’s mercy and grace and tempts us to indulge in self-pity. This was no different for our Lord.

But in the midst of all the pain and sorrow, our Lord had hope. It is for this hope this psalm can be a source of encouragement to us in our darkest hours.


What is this psalm to you beloved brethren and children? This is not a psalm which we would normally turn to, is it? But can you see how this psalm can be a comfort in times of despair?

No one ever experienced the temptation to despair as much as our Lord did. No one suffered as deeply as he did. But no one triumphed over darkness as well as did our Lord.

Let us learn from this psalm, that nothing can be that bad as to be without hope. Christ has conquered the worst for us. There can be nothing worst remaining for those who are His. Trust Him. Believe in Him. Learn from Him. Cast your cares upon Him, when there appears to be no hope, remember our Lord’s hope: “in the morning shall my prayer prevent thee.” Amen.

—JJ Lim