Psalms 86-89 Do you work wonders for the dead?

From Psalms 86-89

19 Psalms Fragment

Have you ever felt so sick and abandoned that you have cried out to the LORD for help? In today’s psalm the speaker fears death. His friends have abandoned him. He has cried out the the LORD for days. He asks a series of questions about what people can do when they are dead. The authors of scripture are not ignorant of suffering and distress. Death may end the suffering of God’s people. But the death of God’s people is not their end.

This post is part of my bible in a year series.


Ps 86.1-17; Book Three; David; Great Is Your Steadfast Love

Ps 87.1-7; Book Three; Sons of Korah; Glorious Things of You Are Spoken

Ps 88.1-18; Book Three; Sons of Korah; I Cry Out Day and Night Before You

Ps 89.1-52; Book Three; Ethan the Ezrahite; I Will Sing of the Steadfast Love of the LORD

Passage and Comments

The psalm is a lament. The psalmist himself is in a bad place. He calls out to the LORD for help.

1 O LORD, God of my salvation; I cry out day and night before you.

2 Let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry! (Ps 88:1–2)

He recognises the LORD as his God of salvation. He has an existing relationship with God. He knows what the LORD has done for his people in the past. Because of these, he knows he can call out for help. He has been doing so for a while now.

When you’re in a dark place call out to the LORD for help.

The psalmist expects he will hear and answer.

3 For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol.

4 I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength,

5 like one set loose among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom you remember no more, for they are cut off from your hand.

6 You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep.

7 Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah (Ps 88:3-7)

The psalmist fears death. Sheol, otherwise known as the pit, is the place where the dead go. He believes the dead do not know God or remember him. They are eternally separated from God.

He is not God of the dead, but of the living.

He speaks about his current circumstances and attributes them to the action of God. ‘You have put me in the depths of the pit’, ‘Your wrath lies heavy upon me’, ‘You overwhelm me will all your waves’. His prayer is in part, a complaint.

8 You have caused my companions to shun me; you have made me a horror to them. I am shut in so that I cannot escape;

9 my eye grows dim through sorrow. Every day I call upon you, O LORD; I spread out my hands to you. (Ps 88:8–9)

His companions have shunned him. They dont want to look on him. So they have turned away and abandoned him. His eyes are dim because he has been crying. He has not been praying for a short time. His prayers have persisted for days.

He then asks a series of questions about people who are dead.

10 Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the departed rise up to praise you? Selah

11 Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon?

12 Are your wonders known in the darkness, or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness? (Ps 88:10–12)

How would you answer these questions?

“Both Sheol and Abaddon were probably originally names of gods of the netherworld, as was the Greek Hades” (R. Gordis, The Book of Job [New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1978] 278).

13 But I, O LORD, cry to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you.

14 O LORD, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me?

15 Afflicted and close to death from my youth up, I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.

16 Your wrath has swept over me; your dreadful assaults destroy me.

17 They surround me like a flood all day long; they close in on me together.

18 You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness. (Ps 88:13–18)

The psalmist questions why the LORD seems to be ignoring his prayers. He is keenly aware of the LORD’s power to help him, yet at the same time he believes his suffering is from the LORD. Once again – wrath. His former companions close in on him. They have become something altogether different.

The psalm ends on a bad note. Darkness.

Story of Jesus

The questions about people who are dead remind us of Jesus death. The psalm ends on a bad note. Jesus’ death however was not the end. He rose from the dead. He is alive. His resurrection marks the beginning of a new day, a new week, and a new age.

19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (Jn 20:19–23)

Sorrow and despair may afflict you. Remember the departed will rise up to praise him.

Copyright © Joshua Washington and thescripturesays, 2015. All Rights Reserved.