The Encouraging Aftermath (Psalms 88-92)
Throughout the previous articles on Psalm 88 we have considered how light can be found in the midst of darkness. Yet, in this concluding article, we will return to the well-known phrase of the Reformation, “after darkness light.” All throughout book three of the Psalter (Psalms 73-89), we find themes of darkness as the psalmists continue to cry out. Then, two exclamation marks of darkness are given in the final two Psalms, 88 and 89. We reach the apex of individual darkness in Psalm 88 and the climax of corporate darkness at the end of Psalm 89. However, the very last words of Psalm 89 (and really book three) give a similar doxology that is found at the conclusion of other books in the Psalter.1 The Psalmist declares, “Blessed be the Lord forever! Amen and Amen.” While Psalms 88 and 89 signify an ending in isolation, sadness, death, defeat, and darkness, the final words are still a triumphant call to the eternal light of the Lord. Likewise, the opening of book four continues to show us light in the Lord. Psalms 90-92 reveal a light that points back (Psalm 90), a light that points forward (Psalm 91), and a light for the present (Psalm 92).
A Light Looking Back (Psalm 90)
Throughout book three of the Psalter, we considered a crisis of kingship.2 The darkness in book three greatly involved the lack of kingship and the falling of a kingdom. David was practically absent in book three. Only in Psalm 86 was he credited as the author. Compared to books one and two, we saw a sharp decline in David’s presence.3 Furthermore, book two gave preparation for kingly sorrow with the final words of Psalm 72, “the prayers of David, the son of Jesse are ended.” Then, after a remarkable absence of David throughout book three, we hear a bit of a rally cry in Psalm 89. In verse 3, the Psalmist cites the Lord’s covenantal promise, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn to David my servant.” In verse 20, he refers to David’s anointment as king. In verses 35 and 36, the Psalmist cites promises of offspring and a throne that shall endure. However, the Psalmist’s rally cry fails in his final mention of David. A corporate question of sorrow comes in Psalm 89:49, “Lord, where is your steadfast love of old, which by your faithfulness you swore to David?” The Davidic sorrow at the end of book three helps to highlight the Mosaic comfort that introduces book four.
Psalm 90 (and by extension book four) gives a splendid answer to book three’s final question. The answer is: “go back further!” God’s love and faithfulness were found not only in David’s kingship. Light in the Lord goes back to His covenant promises and in the very act of creation. As Psalm 90 is the only Psalm of Moses, and therefore considered the oldest psalm, we are prepared to look back throughout book four. The opening words of Psalm 90 call us to look back, “Lord you have been our dwelling place in all generations.” Then we are called to look back even further in verse 2, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world.” The Lord of the covenant is also the Lord of creation. Furthermore, we are called to see the big picture as verse 2 ends, “from everlasting to everlasting You are God.” These opening two verses really answer all the problems we considered in Psalms 88 and 89. However great our personal darkness may be, God is still our refuge. No matter how terrible the church’s struggles may be, He is the same God who has been with us throughout all generations. He was with His people before David’s time, and He will be with us long after our own time. From everlasting to everlasting, He is our God! The opening of Psalm 90 shows us how the light of the Lord is still looking back. Furthermore, Psalm 91 shows us how the light of the Lord is also pointing forward.
A Light that Points Forward (Psalm 91)
Psalm 91 opens with a forward-looking promise. We are told that “he who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.” The Psalmist continues to look forward throughout the opening 5 verses. He looks forward to a future dwelling (v.1), future words of prayer (v.2), future deliverance (v.3), future protection (v.4), and future confidence (v.5). Furthermore, the psalm ends with a glimpse of future triumph. An army of angels will be appointed to guard us and bear us up (vv.11-12). Triumph over the lion and serpent will be given (v.13). Then, the psalm ends in a similar manner to how it began. Once more, we are pointed to future deliverance, protection, and prayer (vv.14-15). The final words of the psalm give us hope in a future satisfaction in salvation. The Psalmist gives such a wonderful glimpse of glory in these words. Satisfaction in salvation is a great description of glory, is it not? Along with this Psalmist, we may always look forward as those who have been saved in Christ. We trust that the Lord’s promises shall be seen in full. We may be confident that darkness shall be no more. In life that is everlasting, we shall be satisfied. The brightness of the Lamb, the brightness of our God will leave no need for any other light (Rev 21:23–24; 22:5).4 Therefore, when we face the darkness of Psalms 88 and 89, we can look back at the light found in Psalm 90 and forward to the light found in Psalm 91. But what about the here and now? Psalm 92 also gives us the comfort of light in the present.
A Light for the Present (Psalm 92)
In the heading of Psalm 92 we find the only direct reference to ‘the Sabbath’ in the Psalter. Then, the opening words reflect on worship in the here and now saying, “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praise to your name, O Most high; To declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night.” In the opening words we are shown the fullness of the Lord’s Day. Throughout Psalm 89, a similar call is given referencing the Lord’s steadfast love and faithfulness (Psalm 89:1–2, 24, 33). Yet, remember how the Psalmist used these words in the end to cry out with a question of sorrow in Psalm 89:49. Now, in the opening of Psalm 92, the Sabbath is giving a present answer for the sorrow of Psalm 89. Where are His steadfast love and faithfulness found? Where is His light found when we are facing darkness? The Lord gives us light in His worship. We gather together to hear His Word, to see His promises, to fellowship with His body, to declare His love in the morning, to proclaim His faithfulness by night. After a week where darkness may be surrounding us, we are given a special day to turn to the light of Christ our Savior. Christ would declare, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). As those who are alive in Him, we come together to worship and to be renewed. Furthermore, the Psalmist emphasizes how the present light in worship is a life-long endeavor. In verses 12-15 we are told,
The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the LORD is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.
The Psalmist gives such a glorious picture of a life filled with worship! We do not merely come each week to have an empty gas tank filled for another week, but we come to continue growing. The spiritual growth in a lifetime of worship helps us to understand the theme of light as well. For we do not come to worship to get a new light bulb each week. We come to keep shining brighter! Perhaps, a better illustration of a Christian life is a dimmer switch that goes both up and down but gradually continues rising in the long term. We started in the off position, but now we are on, and we will continue steadily to shine brighter. Paul would use this very illustration for the Christian life in Ephesians 5:8-9 when he stated, “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true.” In the conclusion of Psalm 92, the Psalmist reminds us how the best source of this light, throughout our whole lives, is found in the worship of our God.
As a people who may look backwards and forwards to see the light of the Lord, let us not miss the present light He has given us. When we look back on this week, we may think to ourselves, “What a mess of a week I’ve had! So many temptations I have failed to turn away from! Multiple times I have opened my mouth with anger, lies, and gossip spilling out! Even a multitude of wicked thoughts have wasted hours of my week! In addition, I have been sick for most of the week, overstressed, overworked, and not a single friend has reached out to me. The last thing I want to do is go to a roomful of people and put a fake smile on my face. I’d rather just lay in bed, binge watch my favorite show, scroll through social media, watch a game or two, and get ready to face another week. I just need some hibernation and recoup time before the next week starts.” These words sadly are not mere conjecture. Many Christians have faced a rough week, and many have these very thoughts. But any gameplan that evades worship is answering darkness with a different form of darkness to get ready for another week of darkness. Rather than remembering the light we find in worship in the here and now, we become tempted to continually cling to the dark side of Psalm 88. Therefore, if anyone happens to be reading this article late on a Saturday evening, after a rough week of work, and is preparing to dive into the worldwide web’s abyss, cease now. Close your laptop, turn off your screen, or pretend you are Martin Luther and throw your smartphone across the room, and go to bed. Start preparation now, so you may truly enjoy the Lord’s Day of rest and worship. Then, when we all wake up tomorrow morning, we may realize what a light is truly shining on the Christian Sabbath. His steadfast love will be with us tomorrow morning. His faithfulness will stay with us tomorrow evening. The Lord will make us glad by the works of His hands. For the Lord has called us out darkness into His marvelous light. Praise be to God!
©Robert Godfrey. All Rights Reserved.
1. Conclusions similar to Psalm 89:52 are found in Psalms 41:13; 106:48; 150:6.
2. Godfrey, W. Robert. Learning to Love the Psalms: Study Guide, Ligonier Ministries, Sanford, FL, 2017, pp. 123–127.
3. 37 Psalms were attributed to David in book one (Psalms 1-41). 18 Psalms were attributed to David in book two (Psalms 42-72).
4. Imagine a light so great that there is no need for the sun! Absolutely mind-blowing!
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- Saturday Psalm Series: Psalm 88 (Part 1)—Light in the Midst of Darkness
- Saturday Psalm Series: Psalm 88 (Part 2)—Light in the Midst of Darkness
- Saturday Psalm Series: Psalm 88 (Part 3)—Light in the Midst of Darkness
- Saturday Psalm Series: Psalm 88 (Part 4): Light in the Midst of Darkness
- Saturday Psalm Series: Psalm 88 (Part 5): Light in the Midst of Darkness
- Saturday Psalm Series: Psalm 88 (Part 6): Light in the Midst of Darkness
- Saturday Psalm Series: Psalm 88 (Part 7): Light in the Midst of Darkness
Thank you for this series. Really outstanding and edifying!
The Lord gives and He takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. (I think He really just gives).