Psalm 88 – “Complaint/Accusation”

Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
The psalmist laments his fate and accuses God of abandoning him.

II. Photo
The psalmist is haunted by death: “I am a helpless man abandoned among the dead, like bodies lying in the grave of whom you are mindful no more, and who are cut off from your care.” (vv. 5-6)

III. Select Verses    
7-9: You have put me at the bottom of the Pit, in the darkest places, in the depths. Your fury lies heavy upon me; You afflict me with all Your breakers. Selah.  You make my companions shun me; You make me abhorrent to them; I am shut in and do not go out.
11-13: Do You work wonders for the dead? Do the shades rise to praise You? Selah. Is Your faithful care recounted in the grave, Your constancy in the place of perdition? Are Your wonders made known in the netherworld, Your beneficent deeds in the land of oblivion?
14-19: As for me, I cry out to You, O LORD; each morning my prayer greets You. Why, O LORD, do You reject me, do You hide Your face from me? From my youth I have been afflicted and near death; I suffer Your terrors wherever I turn. Your fury overwhelms me; Your terrors destroy me. They swirl about me like water all day long; they encircle me on every side. You have put friend and neighbor far from me and my companions out of my sight.

IV. Outline
1. Superscription
2. Invocation, description of prayer
3. Initial petition
4-6. Complaint
7-10a. Accusation
10b. Description of prayer
11-13. Rhetorical accusation
14. Description of prayer
15-19. Accusation/complaint

V. Comment
Psalm 88, which is perhaps the most hostile psalm in the Psalter, is a complaint/accusation towards God. The psalmist is particularly bothered by the nothingness of death: “I am at the brink of Sheol… I am a helpless man abandoned among the dead, like bodies lying in the grave of whom You are mindful no more, and who are cut off from Your care…. Do You work wonders for the dead? Do the shades rise to praise You? … Is Your faithful care recounted in the grave, Your constancy in the place of perdition? Are Your wonders made known in the netherworld, Your beneficent deeds in the land of oblivion?”

As Gerstenberger notes, Psalm 88 is the only petition/complaint that lacks any elements of praise or hope: “The impression of ‘normality’ disappears when we look at the three successive and increasingly violent complaint segments, hardly interrupted by very short descriptions of praying. At the end, we are stunned by an abrupt and – so it seems – nonliturgical closing line that leaves no room whatsoever for affirmations of confidence, regular petitions and imprecations, vows, or well-wishes.”

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Gerstenberger, Erhard S. “Psalms Part 1 with an Introduction to Cultic Poetry” Forms of Old Testament Literature (Michigan: Eerdmans, 1988).
Tate, Marvin. “Psalms 51-100” Word Biblical Commentary vol. 20 (Waco, Texas: Wordbooks, 1990).
Photo copied from http://www.mierzejewski.net/site_media/picture/p1000355.jpg

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