Psalm 88 Bible Commentary

John Darby’s Synopsis

(Read all of Psalm 88)
God's just wrath as to a broken law

Psalm 88 puts the remnant under the deep and dreadful sense of a broken law, and God's fierce wrath, which, in justice comes upon those who have done so. It is not now outward sorrows or oppression of enemies, but that which is far, far deeper between the soul and God. And though the judgments of God have brought him into lowliness, (and so it ever is morally with the soul when thus visited of God, for what can man then do, if he would help?) yet this was only a part of the trouble, viewing it as a full expression of God's wrath; but death and wrath are the true burden of the psalm—God's terrors on the soul. Nor is there, as a present thing, any comfort, or a prospect of deliverance as from human oppression however dark for faith. The psalm closes in distress; its dealings are wholly with God; and so God must he known, till grace is known. Israel under law must come under a sense of divine wrath for a broken law; it is right it should But remark further, it is still a God with whom they are in relationship. They have been delivered, brought back into the land, nearer to God, and hence into the sense of what their deserved position is in respect of this relationship. This is much to be observed, and observed for ourselves too; for a God of salvation may be really known in a general way, and truly, without the conscience being searched out, and divine wrath known in, and removed from, the conscience. "O Jehovah, God of my salvation!" is the address of this psalm. This gives it its weight and true character, and makes it much more terrible. The full blessing of liberty in grace may not be known, but the relationship with the God of salvation—He Himself—the consciousness of having to say to Him is sufficiently known to make the privation of His favour and the sense of His wrath dreadful beyond all—the one dreadful thing.

With the Jews, under the law, circumstances and government may more enter into this case, because their relationship with Jehovah is connected with them. Still Jehovah's fierce wrath is the great and terrible burden; and this terror of the Almighty, or more accurately, of Jehovah, drinking up the spirit, is the subject of this psalm—the sense the remnant will have of wrath, under a broken law, in that day. Sorrow had visited them before. They had been afflicted and ready to die from youth; for such indeed had been their portion as cast off but now restored, and so far brought into connection with Jehovah, the God of their salvation, they must feel the depths of their moral position between Himself and them alone—the wrath of Jehovah that was due to them. The real recovery, the righteous bringing into blessing, could not be without this. Not that, indeed, the wrath would abide on them. Hence there is faith, hope, though no comfort, in the psalm; for it is when mercy has been shewn and known, that this distress comes on them; when they have entered on the relationship by that mercy that its value, as has been said, may be felt; just like Job already blest, and then made to know himself—what man was, as between him and Jehovah, when the question of acceptance, of righteousness, was raised. The wrath will not abide upon them because the true cup of it has been drunk by Christ; but they must enter into the understanding of it, as under law, for they had been under law, and pretended to righteousness under it—at least, that question was not solved for them. How truly Christ entered into this in the closing epoch of His life, I need not say. It is the great fact of His history.

It is to be remarked that, even as to the direct subject of the psalm, the terrors have not been always on the sufferer. Afflicted and ready to die he had been; [1] such had been his life; but now he felt his soul cast off, and lover and friend even, whom he previously had had, put far from him by the hand of God. So, indeed, it was with Christ. His disciples could not then continue with Him in His temptations. He bore witness to them, that till then they had; but now, sifted as wheat, desertion or denial was the part of the best of them. Such was our Saviour's portion: only that, unspared and then undelivered, He indeed drank the cup which shall make the remnant escape the death they are fearing. It may press upon them as a lesson to know righteousness and deliverance, but the cup of wrath they will not drink. They are heard and set free on the earth. This psalm then is wrath under law; the next, mercy and favour in Christ, but as yet resting in promise. Actual deliverance is in the next book, by the full bringing in of Jehovah-Messiah for the world, and Israel's sabbath.

[1] Some, as Venema, translate, "because of my casting away or down" instead of "from my youth." Rosenmüller gives both. Compare Psalm 129.