Weds 18 January - Psalm 77
1 I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me.
2 When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands,
and I would not be comforted.
3 I remembered you, God, and I groaned;
I meditated, and my spirit grew faint.
4 You kept my eyes from closing;
I was too troubled to speak.
5 I thought about the former days,
the years of long ago;
6 I remembered my songs in the night.
My heart meditated and my spirit asked:
7 “Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his favour again?
8 Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?
9 Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”
10 Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:
the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.
11 I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
12 I will consider all your works
and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”
13 Your ways, God, are holy.
What god is as great as our God?
14 You are the God who performs miracles;
you display your power among the peoples.
15 With your mighty arm you redeemed your people,
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.
16 The waters saw you, God,
the waters saw you and writhed;
the very depths were convulsed.
17 The clouds poured down water,
the heavens resounded with thunder;
your arrows flashed back and forth.
18 Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind,
your lightning lit up the world;
the earth trembled and quaked.
19 Your path led through the sea,
your way through the mighty waters,
though your footprints were not seen.
20 You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
- - -
Meditation on Psalm 77
We are, once again, in the company of Asaph – fifty-five of the psalms refer to Asaph within their title. Here we are joining with Jeduthun as in Psalm 39, for example. Jeduthan is also known by the name Ethan as in Psalm 89. He was one of David’s musicians. In 1 Chronicles 16:41-42 we learn of Jeduthun that he was one of those chosen and designated by name to give thanks to the LORD for His love endures forever. Heman and Jeduthun were responsible for the sounding of the trumpets and cymbals and for the playing of the other instruments for sacred song. The sons of Jeduthun were stationed at the gate.’
As an aside, Jeduthun’s sons had a very important role as doorkeepers in the house of the LORD. The psalmist refers to that when, as recorded in Psalm 84:10, David says, ‘I’d rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.’ Here is a picture of serving. Jeduthun is also mentioned in 1 Chronicles 25:1. He was …’set apart for the ministry of prophesying, accompanied by harps, lyres and cymbals.’
It’s interesting when we put different translations alongside each other and certainly so in the opening of this psalm. The NIV says, ‘I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me.’
The NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) says, ‘I cry out to God… I cry out to God.’ Is it past tense or present tense. Not wanting to get into a discussion about the minutiae, it could be both. The psalmist is looking back to experiences he had which were clearly very painful but also thinking about the present situations, some of which continue to be painful.
These may be your experiences – past and present. This psalm speaks into both situations.
- ANGUISH AND PAIN Verses 1-6a
‘I am in distress’
‘I am not comforted.’
This is one of many ‘lament’ psalms where the psalmist pours out his whole being to God. He is hurting. He is desperate for answers. This is a matter of some urgency.
Again, it’s interesting to note different translations. The NIV says, I cried out to God to hear me.’
The NKJV (New King James Version) says, ‘And He gave ear to me.’
These may be a reality in your experiences, both in the past and in the present. Be assured that God does hear you.
Think, for a moment, about the various situations around the world – the wars, the famine, the floods, the natural disasters – and more. God is being bombarded with cries for help, cries to hear, cries of distress.
Not just in the day but ‘at night, I stretched out untiring hands.’
And, perhaps, you feel like the psalmist when he says, ‘I would not be comforted.’
The psalmist doesn’t hold back. He is being totally honest with God because he feels as if God doesn’t care, isn’t listening, won’t do anything about the present situation.
‘I remembered you, God and I groaned.’
‘I meditated and my spirit grew faint.’
Where is God when it hurts?
A lady came out of church after a morning service and the Minister asked her how she was. “I am all right under the circumstances,” she said.
“Under the circumstances,” the Minister replied, “Christians are never under the circumstances, always on top.”
An up-to-date version of Job’s comforters who did an OK job for 7 days because they sat with Job without saying anything. Then they opened their mouths and let rip and any genuine pastoral care went out of the window.
Back to the psalm. Asaph looked back and remembered past experiences for which he could give testimony. But he was so low emotionally and spiritually that he ‘just thought about them.’ He couldn’t speak.
He thought about songs he might have sung in the night when darkness was all around him and within him.
Remember Paul and Silas when they were in prison? They started to sing ‘at midnight’.
Try singing in the night – perhaps in your thoughts in case you disturb the neighbours!
The psalmist couldn’t get much lower – so you may think.
He’s looked back to the past; he is thinking about the present and he’s afraid of the future.
- AWKWARD QUESTIONS Verses 6b-9
Two and a half verses which plumb the depths of the soul.
Oh, the depths of despair. The psalmist seems to be going downhill at break neck speed and each question raises so many issues about God.
- ‘will He reject forever?’
- ‘will He ever show His favour again?’
- ‘will He ever love me again?’
- ‘will He ever honour His promises?’
- ‘has He forgotten about mercy?’
- ‘is He angry?’
- ‘will He ever show any compassion again?’
In preparing this meditation I learned about Spurgeon – a great preacher, described by one fellow Christian as ‘one of Christianity’s immortals’ – that he suffered from serious ill health.
Boice comments - “Spurgeon’s studies of the psalms were produced between 1865 and 1885, and during those twenty years he experienced much ill health, which continued to deteriorate until his death in 1892. He had neuralgia and gout, which left him with swollen, red, painful limbs, so that he frequently could not walk or even write. He had debilitating headaches, and with these physical ills came frightful bouts of depression, leading almost to despair.”
Therefore, Spurgeon would write of this psalm: “Alas, my God, the writer of this exposition well knows what thy servant Asaph meant, for his soul is familiar with the way of grief. Deep glens and lonely caves of soul depressions, my spirit knows full well your awful glooms!”
Spurgeon added, “If you are a child of God, yet never had to ask these questions, you ought to be very grateful; but if you have to ask them, be very thankful that Asaph asked them before you; and believe that, as he had a comfortable answer to them, so shall you. It is always a comfort when you can see the footprints of another man in the mire and the slough, for if that man passed through unharmed, so may you, for his God shall also be your Helper.”
If you have asked these questions or are still asking them, come with me through the second half of this psalm.
- AWESOME GOD Verses 10-20
Having asked all these questions, Asaph stops – ‘Then I thought…’
He turns his attention away from himself and focuses on God – ‘the Most High’.
He recalls when God brought about the great rescue act of His people out from the slavery in Egypt.
He recalls when God parted the waters of the Red Sea so that His people could move along to the promised land.
There are a number of salvation-history psalms – for example Psalms 105 and 106.
Instead of looking inwards, Asaph is now looking upwards and outwards.
‘I will remember the deeds of the LORD’
‘I will remember your miracles of long ago’
‘I will consider your works’
‘I will meditate on all your mighty acts.’
His focus is on God, on the LORD.
The questions he asked were real questions.
The questions we may be asking are real questions but God wants us to move on with Him so that we can focus on who He is, what He has done in our lives and what He is yet to do.
Remember……Consider……Meditate as we focus on Him.
- is ‘holy’
- ‘performs miracles’
- ‘displays His power’
- ‘redeems His people’
These refer to the escape from Egypt – ‘the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.’
We come to a holy God. We come to a God of miracles. We come to a powerful God. We come to a redeeming God. And yet Jesus encourages us to pray ‘Our Father…’ What a wonderful relationship we have been brought into through the sacrifice of Jesus.
Then Asaph moves on to the parting of the Red Sea. Imagine the description that Asaph shares with us – ‘the waters saw you O God, the waters saw you and writhed, the very depths were convulsed.’
Exodus doesn’t refer to cloudbursts or thunder or lightning but, as one commentator says, ‘Hebrew poets often associated them with the Lord’s coming to effect redemption or judgment – no doubt because these are the most fearsome displays of power known to them.’
As the sea parted, Asaph reminds us that this is ‘your path…your way’. When you think that we are witnessing about 600,000+ men on foot, besides women and children and many other people going on His path – what a rescue and deliverance.
And he ends this psalm with a complete contrast from its beginning. He starts with ‘I cried to God…’
and ends it in confidence in God as shepherd – ‘you led your people like a shepherd.’
And He is our shepherd today.
Where are you in relation to this psalm?
Don’t give up. Help is at hand.