For the music director, Jeduthun; a psalm of Asaph.
77:1 I will cry out to God and call for help!
I will cry out to God and he will pay attention to me.
This psalm is one of a series of 11 attributed to Asaph (73-83).
It contains reflections at a time of personal distress, and divides into two sections: (a) the complaint, vv1-9; (b) the consolation, vv10-20.
There are many similarities with the 3rd chapter of Habakkuk.
77:2 In my time of trouble I sought the Lord.
I kept my hand raised in prayer throughout the night.
I refused to be comforted.
As inconsolable as when a loved one is absent. See Gen 37:34-35.
At night – indicates both the severity of his distress, and the persistence of his praying.
My soul refused to be comforted –
When answers do not seem to be forthcoming, do we pray less, or more; does praying become weaker, or stronger?
When in distress, we should not seek relief in the diversions of work, or leisure, but rather seek God, and his favour and grace.
‘Those that are under trouble of mind, must not think to drink it away, or laugh it away, but pray it away’ (Henry).
77:3 I said, “I will remember God while I groan;
I will think about him while my strength leaves me.”
I groaned – There are times when God and his ways become unintelligible to us, and all that is left is a despairing sigh. But Paul teaches us that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us at such times, Rom 8:26.
77:4 You held my eyelids open;
I was troubled and could not speak.
The symptoms of this distress are sleeplessness and confusion.
Too troubled to speak – small troubles are verbose; great troubles are dumb.
And yet, groaning (v3) can be as effectual as speaking, for, ‘words are but the body, the garment, the outside of prayer; sighs are nearer the heart work…Tears have a tongue, and grammar, and language, that our Father knoweth. Babes have no prayer for the breast, but weeping: the mother can read hunger in weeping’ (Rutherford).
77:5 I thought about the days of old,
about ancient times.
77:6 I said, “During the night I will remember the song I once sang;
I will think very carefully.”
I tried to make sense of what was happening.
See here the importance of self-scrutiny in discerning the cause and meaning of spiritual afflictions.
‘…being glad in this scarcity of comfort, to live upon the old store, as bees do in winter’ (John Trapp).
‘This duty requires diligence. External acts of religion are facile…but to examine a man’s self, to take the heart all in pieces as a watch, and see what is defective, this is not easy. It is easy to spy the faults of others, but hard to find out our own’ (Thomas Watson).
When in spiritual distress, search, not only your own heart, but God’s word, in order to see your true condition described and diagnosed therein.
77:7 I asked, “Will the Lord reject me forever?
Will he never again show me his favor?
In his spiritual autobiography, ‘Grace Abounding’, John Bunyan records that at one time he was sin-stricken, and anxious to know whether there was any hope for him. The words of this psalm, vv7-9 came to his mind, and then, the sentence, ‘Thy righteousness is in heaven’. It was then that he found the deliverance that he sought for his conscience.
77:8 Has his loyal love disappeared forever?
Has his promise failed forever?
77:9 Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has his anger stifled his compassion?”
What a desperate thought! What would be left, if this were true?
77:10 Then I said, “I am sickened by the thought
that the sovereign One might become inactive.
cf v5 – ‘I thought about the former days, the years of long ago’. There are two ways of viewing the past, one depressing, the other invigorating.
‘History and prophecy are the two great sources of comfort to the saints. The former tells of what God has done; the latter, what he will do. To faith they both reveal wondrous things’ (Plumer).
77:11 I will remember the works of the LORD.
Yes, I will remember the amazing things you did long ago!
‘The hound, when he hath lost his scent, hunts backward and so recovers it, and pursues his game with a louder cry than ever. Thus, Christian, when thy hope is at a loss, and thou questionnest thy salvation in another world, then look backward and see what God hath already done for thee. Some promises have their day of payment here, and others we must stay to receive in heaven. Now the payment God makes of some promises here, is an earnest given to our faith that the others also shall be faithfully discharged when their date expires; as every judgement inflicted here on the wicked is sent as a pledge of that wrath the full sum of whereof God will make up in hell’ (Gurnall).
77:12 I will think about all you have done;
I will reflect upon your deeds!”
77:13 O God, your deeds are extraordinary!
What god can compare to our great God?
Note how the insistent ‘I’ of vv1-12 is now transformed into ‘You’ and ‘Your’. Here is one great answer to spiritual depression: to shift one’s focus away from oneself and one’s troubles to God and his mighty deeds.
This verse, and the following, echo the victory son at the Red Sea, Ex 15:11.
‘”Holy” in such a context, is a formidable word, conveying the aspect of God who “dwells in unapproachable light”; fearful as an enemy but glorious as a friend’ (Kidner).
77:14 You are the God who does amazing things;
you have revealed your strength among the nations.
It is one thing to recollect past wonders, v11, and another to trust in God’s miracle-working power today. But the first strengthens the second.
‘The annals of false gods are filled with fables, and follies, and vagaries. The record of Jehovah’s doings is the true history of the universe, every part of which teems with wonder, marvels, wondrous works’ (Plumer).
This leaves the heathen without excuse, Rom 1:20.
77:15 You delivered your people by your strength—
the children of Jacob and Joseph.
77:16 The waters saw you, O God,
the waters saw you and trembled.
Yes, the depths of the sea shook with fear.
Verses 16-19 recollect the miraculous events at the Red Sea. Such recollection has the effect of putting present troubles into context. Moreover, it serves as a corrective to a world-view which sees blind forces at work in the world, with God as an absentee-landlord. God holds sway over the mighty forces of nature.
Reflect on the sheer obstinacy of unbelief. The world of nature testifies to the power of God, and yet men do not perceive the thunder of his judgement, the light of his truth, the flood-tide of his mercy. The earth trembles and shakes, but men’s hearts remain unmoved.
77:17 The clouds poured down rain;
the skies thundered.
Yes, your arrows flashed about.
vv17f These verses use the two most powerful known forces to express God’s power at work in the Exodus miracle.
77:18 Your thunderous voice was heard in the wind;
the lightning bolts lit up the world;
the earth trembled and shook.
77:19 You walked through the sea;
you passed through the surging waters,
but left no footprints.
But God may be trusted, where his ways cannot be discerned, and he himself is out of sight. Our desires, as someone has put it, may run ahead of providence, as a watch may run ahead of true time. Then we need to stand still, and wait, and reflect.
Colin Humphries comments: ‘The Psalmist writes: “You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples… Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind, your lightning lit up the world. [Note that the psalmist writes your thunder, your lightning] The earth trembled and quaked [here’s the earthquake]. Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron” (Psalm 77:14-20). This passage is clearly referring to the Exodus because it explicitly mentions Moses and Aaron. However, it seems to me that the Psalmist is regarding events like thunder, lightning, earthquakes, the crossing of rivers and seas as all being the handiwork of God. And he adds this wonderful phrase, “Though your footprints were not seen.” In other words God didn’t come down and leave his footprints in the mud of the Jordan riverbed, or leave behind a celestial visiting card saying “I was here”, he performed his miracles using natural events and the Israelites saw them as the handiwork of God.’
77:20 You led your people like a flock of sheep,
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
The drama of the previous verses resolves on this point: God care for his people by his chosen pastors.
‘When God has a work to accomplish, he will be at no loss for fit instruments to bring it about. He can raise up Moses from the bulrushes, and make Aaron his brother eloquent’ (Plumer).
‘Give us, O blessed Lord Jesus, those meek and lowly and teachable dispositions which become the sheep of thy pasture; set over us skilful and watchful shepherds, and be thou ever both with them and with us; until having surmounted all difficulties and dangers, led by thy grace, and supported by thy providence, we all come, in perfect safety, to the land of everlasting rest, there to live with thee, one fold under one Shepherd, world without end’ (Horne).