In C. S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, there is a moment when the ship is approaching the Dark Island and all aboard find themselves in fear and despair. As the darkness enfolds them, we are told that Lucy whispers, “Aslan, Aslan, if ever you loved us at all, send us help now.” After her call, there is no appearance of the great Lion in any way shape or form. We are, however, told that “the darkness did not grow any less, but she began to feel a little—a very, very little better. ‘After all, nothing has really happened to us yet,’ she thought.”1 Simply by calling out to the light of Aslan, the darkness does not seem quite as bad. Eventually, Aslan does indeed come as or send an albatross to bring a light in the midst of the darkness of the island.
We can reach same conclusion with the Psalmist’s opening in Psalm 88. Though we may be tempted to view this psalm as an airing of complaints, words of despair, or cries of defeat, we must not overlook the message in the opening verse. For whatever grumbling may come throughout vv. 2–18, the opening verse shows us the Psalmist’s important starting point of light. We shall consider three ways that Psalm 88’s opening shines a bright light from the start. First (before the Psalm even begins) we are shown light in the authorship. Second, the opening address to the Lord’s identity points us to our covenantal and saving God. Finally, when we hear the opening verse, we are reminded of the very power of prayer. In these three ways we can see how Psalm 88 begins with a bright light that is prepared to enter the darkness.
The authorship itself reminds us how often the Lord keeps the light of His good news going forth through a time of darkness, for Psalm 88 is a Psalm of the Sons of Korah. One of the most memorable sermons I have heard focused on this exact point.2 Rev. Ronald L. Scheuers began by reading the genealogy from Numbers 26:1–11 to point out how the Sons of Korah did not die out. Despite Korah, Dathan, and Abiram all being wiped out in judgement (and despite Dathan’s and Abiram’s families also being wiped out), we are still told that the sons of Korah did not die (Num 26:11). Then Rev. Scheuers turned to 1 Chronicles 6:31–38. In another genealogy, we are shown the line that was appointed by David for music. Furthermore, as the family line continues to go back, we are reminded how unfaithful Korah still comes from a line that goes all the way back to Levi. When we consider the Lord’s faithfulness to these Sons of Korah, all the way to the time of David, we are given an immense meaning from the very title or prologue of Psalm 88. The authorship itself reminds us that the light of God’s faithfulness continues even in the face of darkness. These sons of darkness continue to show the light of the Lord.
The genealogies of sinners make the good news of God’s grace shine even brighter. Already we see this good news from the Sons of Korah. Furthermore, when we come to the opening words of the New Testament, we find a similar point in Matthew’s Gospel. A genealogy of darkness leads to the light of Christ. When Christ would come in the flesh, he would come from the line of an adulterous king David, from Ruth the Moabite, from Rahab the prostitute, and from Judah’s son/grandson Perez. During all this darkness, the light would come. And we need this reminder when we look back to our own family line. As the sons of Adam, we can certainly focus on the darkness of total depravity. We see how sin has carried on from one generation to the next. Yet, despite our sinful inheritance, the Lord is faithful to us as His covenant people from one generation to the next. The authorship title of the “Sons of Korah” certainly gives us genealogical light from the outset, and we are given even more light in the Psalmist’s opening words.
The opening of Psalm 88 is unique. Certainly, many psalms begin with similar words of comfort that we find in Psalm 88:1. Most psalms, however, that open with comfort have that theme running throughout the psalm (e.g. Ps 62). There are also psalms of darkness and judgment that may have many similarities to Psalm 88, but they differ in that they usually end with words of hope (e.g. Ps 37:39–40). Psalm 88 begins with great words of comfort in verse 1 that we will never directly hear again throughout the final 17 verses. We should, therefore, reflect on the identity of light in the Psalmist’s opening address.
The Psalmist declares, “Oh Lord the God of my Salvation.” These opening words reveal both the light of the covenant and the light of redemption. The light of the covenant is heard in the very name used to address the Lord. The title, YHWH ELOHIM, should be considered a comprehensive title, using both the general word for God and the distinct covenantal name of YHWH. When we consider the Psalms that lead up to this moment (Pss 84–87), an opening covenantal address is very fitting. Psalm 84 took place in the Lord’s temple, Psalm 85 spoke of advancing His kingdom, and Psalm 86 came from the covenantal king David himself. Then Psalm 87 came from Zion, the covenantal city. These preceding psalms are full of covenantal promises that lead up to the opening of Psalm 88, which then calls out to the covenantal Lord God who had made and continued to uphold His promises. It is this same name that the Psalmist addresses, even in the depths of despair. After addressing the covenantal name, the Psalmist also focuses on the salvific identity of our Lord in his opening address. When the Psalmist calls out to “the God of my salvation,” we are reminded what the Lord does for His people. A similar opening address is given in the opening words of Psalm 27. The Psalmist calls out, “the Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear.” As the Psalmist addresses the Lord God of salvation, the light of the gospel shines forth before the impending darkness.
The Psalmist’s opening address to the covenant-maker and redeemer serves as instruction for us when we prepare to approach the Lord in prayer. When we call to our Lord God, we can use the same title which has the same covenantal meaning for us today. He is the promise maker and the promise keeper. He is our heavenly Father who has promised to listen to the cries of His children. We can also call upon Him in the name of promise, Jesus Christ our Lord, the one who is the anointed savior our Lord. Every time we address our Lord God by the names He has revealed, we confirm the promises that have been made in His name. Just as the light of the gospel shines in the author’s identity, so too the light shines in the identity of the recipient, our Lord, the God of our salvation.
Finally, we shall consider how light shines with the very tool of prayer. The final words of the first verse tell us the timing of this prayer, “I cry out day and night before You.” The Psalmist’s continuity of prayer can certainly be taken as a note of despair (especially when we consider the following seventeen verses). Yet, the timeline of prayer also serves as a glorious reminder that the Lord has given us this unceasing tool and that the Lord ceaselessly listens. In the book of Psalms, we are given one hundred and fifty reminders that we can call to the Lord in prayer, and He listens. We can take comfort in this simple statement of fact, for the Psalmist did not wait for darkness to descend before taking up the tool of light. What a reminder we all need! We can be tempted to wait until we are in the midst of deep darkness before turning to the Lord. We can think that there is no need to approach Him when we seem healthy, wealthy, and wise. Then when sickness, poverty, and folly descend upon us, we turn to the Lord asking for help. We quickly forget the opening instruction we are given in Psalm 88, to cry out day and night.
Therefore, the gracious instrument of prayer that we have been given is also a call to be disciplined. As Sinclair Ferguson puts it, “we should not imagine that prayer is always easy…[U]nless we see prayer as a work, we may never get round to including it in our schedule as a basic discipline in our lives. It will be treated as an optional extra.”3 While Psalm 88 turns to darkness, the fact we are told this is one of the Psalmist’s many prayers shines a great light. Our Lord is always listening! As we are told in Psalm 34:15,17, “The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry…When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.”
I witnessed the power of this truth early in the ministry when I used to visit an elderly lady in an assisted care facility. She was not much of a talker, so my visits were somewhat brief and quiet. I would ask how she was doing and see if she had any prayer requests. Then I would read Scripture, offer a prayer, and leave. One day, as I was walking out of her room, she said, “Pastor.” I was quite struck, as she had never stopped me in such a way before. As I turned back to her, she continued, saying, “I pray for you every day.” I thanked her for the kind words and told her I looked forward to seeing her again soon. I exited the facility, got in my car, and shed tears as I sat and pondered. Here, a woman who had been struggling with severe health issues for decades, showed that the power of prayer could never be taken away, a light that remained undimmed.
The power of prayer should be no surprise to we who confess Christ. After all, our Lord and Savior displayed this power when he stood on the Mount of Olives and prepared to approach the cross by praying to His heavenly Father (Luke 22:39–46). Christ would exhibit the Psalmist’s words day and night like none other. While the disciples slept, Jesus continued to pray. Though He sweat like drops of blood, still the Son of Man continued to pray. The great intercessor brought His own requests to the Heavenly Father, even though He knew what the Father was calling Him to do. Christ certainly demonstrated the power of continual prayer, and He continues to do so. The Messiah stands at the Father’s right hand interceding for all his people day and night.
So, remember fellow Christians how powerful prayer truly is. Persecution can take God’s Word away from us. Blindness and deafness may take away our abilities to see and hear the Word of the Lord. Oppression may even take away our ability to proclaim God’s Word and prayers aloud. But there is no amount of darkness that can ever take the light of prayer away. Amidst all harassment or hardship, we can still close our eyes and call out to the Lord with a silent voice. The God of our salvation is always listening, and He will always answer us.
©Robert Godfrey. All Rights Reserved.
You can find the whole series on Psalm 88 here.
1. C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (New York: HarperCollins, 1994), 186.
2. Ronald L. Scheuers, “The Sons of Korah Did Not Die,” Escondido United Reformed Church, Escondido, California, Jan. 29, 2006.
3. Sinclair B. Ferguson. Devoted to God’s Church: Core Values for Christian Fellowship (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2020), 122–124.
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