/ Psalm 88 - Death / Andrew Kerr

Psalm 88 - Deadly Depression


1A Song. A Psalm of the Sons of Korah. To the choirmaster: according to Mahalath Leannoth. A Maskil of Heman the Ezrahite. O LORD, God of my salvation, I cry out day and night before you. 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 a man who has no strength, 5 like one set loose 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. 7Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah 8You have caused my companions to shun me; you have made me a horror to them. I am shut in so that I cannot escape; 9 my eye grows dim through sorrow. Every day I call upon you, O LORD; I spread out my hands to you. 10Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the departed rise up to praise you? Selah 11Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon? 12Are your wonders known in the darkness, or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness? 13 But I, O LORD, cry to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you. 14 O LORD, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me? 15 Afflicted and close to death from my youth up, I suffer your terrors; I am helpless. 16 Your wrath has swept over me; your dreadful assaults destroy me. 17 They surround me like a flood all day long; they close in on me together. 18You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness.


In the last 4 years I’ve had to care for dying parents. It has been taxing to read and pray as they both had terminal diagnoses. They both knew and I knew they hadn’t long to live. Is there a Psalm of hope for ourselves, relatives or friends, which we can sing in faith as we stare death in the face?


This is another Korah song (in the sequence) that suggests it came from their pen. We know Heman as a singer who played on lyres & cymbals. Perhaps it was a prayer of one stalked by death from youth? It would be of great use for the carnage and prison of exile - both individuals and Israel could use it for hopeful lament. And since all will die, and indeed we don't know when, all can store it up for use in approaching immanent death?

Hopelessly Devoted 1-8

His non-stop pray vigil is sparked by a terminal diagnosis: propelled by woes to Sheol, already dead and buried by others, grave bound and cut-off he calls (actually shouts) for His LORD to “save”! Note upon whom this dying man pins hopes - in gloom he seeks Covenant God of my Salvation!

Abide with me fast falls the eventide, the darkness deepens LORD with me abide. When other helpers fail and comforts flee, Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Grimly Undaunted 9-13

An abomination to friends (who recoil and feel sick), and past the point of no-return, misery dims his eyes but he continues to pray on. He cannot see how death will praise God’s grace so much - he reasons he must be saved to live on for God’s sake, lest His covenant oath or character be left open to skeptic doubt.

Faithfully Abandoned 14-19

Prayer retains its hope that God will finally save despite lifelong absent light. Scorched by flames of wrath and surrounded by divine judgment floods, darkness is the companion of one without love or neighbour.

When darkness seems to veil his face, I rest on His unchanging grace. In every high and stormy gale, my Anchor holds within the veil. His oath, His covenant and blood, support me in the whelming flood. When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay.


It’s easy to hear Christ pray this on the Cross or, indeed, much earlier in life. His goal in taking our flesh was to drown in judgment floods and thereby exhaust our wrath on the Cross. Hung in the dark, waiting on the pledge, He knows He will rise up to the glory & praise of God.


What an appropriate psalm for the Covid-19 crisis! With a possible second wave breaking out in a Beijing market, all of us, surely, must be realistic - stare death in the face and ask do you have concrete hope! Perhaps, however, for your yourself, tonight the threat of death is near - or, even more heartbreakingly, a loved one is sickened unto death? Is Christ your King and Savior? Men may have you buried, but God will raise you up. You can pray in the Spirit with confidence:

"If I die tonight, my soul will be with Christ, my body will remain, still united to Him, until the brightened morn. At that time, I know that you my God, to the praise of your glorious grace, will raise me up by the power vested in the appointed only Mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ - Through Him, I believe, You have defeated Hell and death! He, my Father, is your child's confident hope!"

Andrew Kerr

Andrew Kerr

Pastor of Ridgefield Park NJ (NYC Metro Area) - Husband of Hazel, Dad to Rebekah, Paul & Andrew, Father-in-Law to Matt, Loves Skiing, Dog Walking. Passionate for Old Testament - in Deep Need of Grace

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