Saturday Psalm Series: Psalm 88 (Part 6): Light in the Midst of Darkness

And the Darkness Has Not Overcome It—Our Savior’s Soliloquy

In the previous articles, we have considered the immensity of darkness. First, we saw the importance of prayer in the Psalm 88’s opening. No matter what darkness we face, we can always call upon our Lord. Then, we focused on the intensity of this darkness in articles three and four. We considered the physical effects, the spiritual effects, and the fog of isolation that accompany the darkness of sin. Subsequently, the fifth article began to show comfort in the midst of darkness. We reflected on the providential hand of God—even in our darkest hours, our sovereign Lord is at work. Yet, beyond sovereign comfort, we also find salvific comfort in the words of Psalm 88. These cries of sorrow not only apply to the Psalmist, but they also point us to our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Our Savior knew the Psalter well, and he fulfilled the Psalter’s promises.

Truly, the psalms were our Lord’s own songs at many different times. When Christ revealed Himself to the Pharisees, He quoted the words of Psalm 110.1 When our Savior told the disciples about His kingdom, He quoted Psalm 118.2 Even when Satan quoted Psalm 91, the King of Kings was able to correct his misuse of the Psalter.3 Moreover, when Jesus Christ hung upon the cross, he would cry out the very first words of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”4 Indeed, our Savior knew the Psalter well. As God, our Lord inspired the psalms. As man, Jesus sang the psalms. And as the God-man Christ fulfilled the promises of a mediator, prophet, priest, and king. Consequently, when we look at Psalm 88, we should ask (really the same question for any psalm), where is Jesus? In the suffering of Psalm 88 we find the Lamb of God. While the Psalmist’s words of suffering apply to us all, we must also consider how they uniquely apply to our Savior. These cries of lamentation also give us a picture of Christ’s unique form of suffering. Therefore, we will reflect on the final verses of Psalm 88 (vv.13–18) and consider how they uniquely apply to Christ in three ways. First, He was abandoned by the Lord in darkness. Second, He approached the darkness of the grave. Finally, He was alone in the darkness.

Abandoned by the Lord in Darkness

The Psalmist revisits the themes of forsakenness and God’s wrath in the closing of the psalm. In v.14 the Psalmist’s troubled soul cries out with the final questions, “O Lord, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me?” These questions sound very similar to the words we considered from Psalm 22:1, “My God, my God why have You forsaken me!?” The poetic language in both Psalms 22 and 88 unpack the immense suffering that Christ endured on Calvary. As Heidelberg Catechism Question and Answer 44 declares, “Christ my Lord, by suffering unspeakable anguish, pain, and terror of soul, on the cross but also earlier, has delivered me from hellish anguish and torment.”5 In Christ’s agony upon the cross we are reminded that we shall never be forsaken! Though we still may cry out the words of v.14 in times of great despair, nevertheless we must remember that this question of forsakenness has been answered once and for all upon the cross in Jesus Christ our Lord. Furthermore, the theme of abandonment is fulfilled in Christ, when the righteous anger of God was put upon our Savior.

The Psalmist calls out as one who is surrounded by God’s wrath in vv.16–17, “Your wrath has swept over me; your dreadful assaults destroy me. They surround me like a flood all day long; they close in on me together.” These are similar to vv.6–8, which we considered as the “fog” of darkness. For our Savior, however, these words were not some fog of deception—He truly endured the Lord’s righteous anger and was offered up as an atoning sacrifice. As Questions and Answers 39 and 40 from the Heidelberg Catechism state, “By this death I am convinced that he shouldered the curse which lay on me, since death by crucifixion was cursed by God…[and] because God’s justice and truth require it; nothing else could pay for our sins except the death of the Son of God.”6 He endured the wrath of God upon the cross, and He was forsaken that we might have life in Him. Furthermore, we must consider how the Psalmist approaches the darkness of the grave.

Approaching the Darkness of the Grave

In v.15 the Psalmist calls out as one approaching death: “Afflicted and close to death from my youth up, I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.” He points both to the affliction in approaching death and the certainty of death. Once more, these words are an echo of the Psalmist’s sentiments earlier in vv.4–6. This sorrowful approach to the grave certainly applies to us all. When we face physical difficulties, chronic ailments, disabilities from birth, or recurring diseases, we can certainly understand the Psalmist’s cry. Yet, when we look upon our Savior, He understood the affliction of the grave like none other. Christ, who had accomplished what the first Adam failed to do, was penalized with the curse of death upon the cross. He endured physical suffering as He approached the grave. He was beaten, given thorns upon his head, crucified, thirsty, and pierced. As our Savior drew near the grave, He was afflicted. Furthermore, He was certain that the grave would come.

Different translations render the words in v.15 as “ready to die,” “about to die,” or “on the verge of death.” All these translations affirm the Psalmist’s certainty of death. Often, we are tempted to deny the reality of death, but in the end death is unavoidable. In Christ, therefore, the finality of the grave has even greater meaning. On the cross He proclaimed, “It is finished” (John 19:30). He also stated, “Father into your hands I commit my spirit…and breathed his last” (Luke 23:46). Christ’s declarations were cries of completion. He truly died and was truly buried that our sins might be paid for. He had to enter the grave, if He was going to defeat the grave! The approach of death in Psalm 88:15 should thus turn our eyes to Christ in John 19 and Luke 23. When we consider the affliction and finality of death, our eyes of faith should look to Christ on Calvary—He approached the darkness of the grave, and He was alone in the darkness.

Alone in the Darkness

In vv.3–6 and especially v.8 we considered the Psalmist’s cries of isolation. In v.18 the Psalmist concludes with the same theme of solitude, “You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness.” The last cry of Psalm 88 points us to Calvary more clearly than any other verse in the psalm for two simple reasons. First, Christ ends as the Psalmist ends, abandoned by all friends. Second, Christ ends as the psalm ends, dwelling in darkness.

Christ was abandoned by all His friends, and as He journeyed to the cross more friends turned away. After being betrayed by Judas, Christ was deserted by Peter, surrounded by enemies, and had only criminals at His side. Undoubtedly, we can remember Christ speaking to His mother and John while upon the cross in John 19, yet those words still highlight His isolation. As one who was being taken from His mother and disciple, He gave them instructions to care for one another, as mother and son (John 19:26–28). Upon the cross, He was all alone. His final friend was darkness.

Darkness and friend are two words that do not seem to go together. We have reflected throughout this series on the Psalmist’s battles with darkness—we have seen darkness in his internal enemies, his external enemies, the fog that has surrounded him, the physical battles, and the spiritual battles. All these preceding topics can be summed up in one word—darkness. Yet how can the Psalmist end by saying darkness is his friend? Perhaps the Psalmist is merely summarizing the vastness of his grief. All he has is darkness. Our Savior, however, finds much more meaning from this dark ending. In Luke 23:44–46 we are told, “It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last.” Christ, quite literally, had darkness as his closest and final friend.

May we always remember the darkness our Savior endured on Calvary (as well as earlier). No matter how great our own moments of darkness may be, our Savior suffered so much more. What comfort He gives to us! When we feel abandoned, isolated, or overwhelmed by death, we must remember that our Savior knows our suffering. Furthermore, He bore all the suffering of our sin and conquered it. Though the darkness came upon Him, the darkness did not overcome Him (John 1:5). With Paul we can now proclaim, “Oh death, where is your victory? O death where is your sting?” (I Corinthians 15:54). Furthermore, in the next article we will consider how our Savior transforms the very questions of sorrow (vv.10–12) into answers of joy.

You can find the whole series on Psalm 88 here.

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.


Part 1.

Part 2.

Part 3.

Part 4.

Part 5.


1. Christ quoted Psalm 110 to answer the question, “What do you think about the Christ?” in Matthew 22:43–44; Mark 12:35–37; Luke 20:40–44).

2. Christ quoted Psalm 118:22–23 in Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10–11; Luke 20:17.

3. Satan quoted Psalm 91:11–12 in Matthew 4:6, and Christ would correct him in 4:7 with the words of Deuteronomy 6:16.

4. Christ quoted Psalm 22:1 in Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34.

5. Heidelberg Catechism.

6. Ibid.


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