In this week’s Bible study, we look at the book of Psalms, and a powerful lament poem found in Psalm 88. Though different from other biblical books, the book of Psalms still tells a complete story, and the individual poems follow a common narrative structure.
But Psalm 88 is a bit different, seemingly breaking from this structure and laying bare the depths of the psalmist’s hopelessness. The psalmist’s only prayer here is “help.” And sometimes, when the darkness around us feels more than we can handle, that is all we can muster to say to God.
This Psalm is an important reminder that there is no need to sugarcoat or make our pain presentable before God. He hears the cries of his children even when we hardly have the words to communicate. As you meditate on this passage this week, think of this psalm as an invitation to bring your suffering before God, knowing that he cares deeply for his people.
Written to join the Hebrew Torah, or the first five books of the Old Testament, the book of Psalms is a remarkable collection of poems from David, Moses, and other Jewish writers.
Psalms is much more than enlightening literature. It is a divine word with a key place in the story of the Bible, and it has no less importance or weight than the Torah. To fully understand the book of Psalms, we must consider the specific order and design of the book. It is separated into five main books, each one containing specific themes, key points, and endnotes.
Through the Psalms, we learn about the importance of prayer and the acknowledgment of pain, as well as the power of praise and fulfillment of prophecy. Note how Psalms corresponds particularly well with Isaiah, Zechariah, and God’s covenant with David in 2 Samuel 7.
Focusing on the Hebrew Bible, Book 1 in Psalms reminds readers to remain faithful to God’s covenant and look forward to the Messiah’s first and second coming.
Book 2 continues the momentum of prophecy and prayer, encouraging the Jewish people to look towards a future king and a new Jerusalem for all believers.
Book 3 harkens back to Israel’s exile, teaching readers the dangers of rebellion and benefits of obedience. God’s judgment and mercy are also key themes.
Book 4 recaps Israel’s history with Moses and presents a picture of creation worshiping God as King. These bookends reveal our past and future.
Salvation and triumph resound in Book 5, detailing the Messiah’s victory over evil, praise from God’s people, and the Torah’s key role in Psalm 119.
The book of Psalms communicates a story that follows the rise and fall of the Davidic kingdom, a renewed hope in Yahweh the king, and a righteous king to come. Psalm 88 comes at the darkest moment of the plot and expresses that despair tangibly.
As you read through Psalm 88, notice what griefs and pains the psalmist expresses. What stands out to you?
The psalmist does not hold back his grief or anger when he talks to God. How does that sit with you? Do you give yourself the freedom to express all your deepest emotions and thoughts to God. If not, what holds you back?
Have you ever found yourself in a place where the only prayer you can muster is “help?” Have you ever felt that deep loneliness that the psalmist expresses? What are your deepest pain points at the present moment? Write or pray out loud to God, even if your only prayer is “help.”
Have you ever read through the Psalter, or a group of psalms, looking for how they connect to one another? How does this idea sit with you? If you are interested, we’d suggest reading through some psalms and looking for repeated words and themes that link them. Starting with Psalms 1-2 is a great idea, or you could look at 88-90, the psalms brought up in our study today.