George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 3

Psalm 77

1. Title

Like the other Asaph psalms, this also belongs to the time of Hezekiah. Besides David’s Asaph, there was an Asaph contemporary with Isaiah; see notes on Psalm 73.

2. Structure

The psalm is concerned with the problem of suffering. Thus:

The problem created

The problem considered

The problem solved

The historical evidence: We have a God who delivers.

On this theme, compare also Job 38-41; 41:3.

The first half of the psalm teaches that occupation with self results surely in misery. The last half teaches that occupation with God results surely in happiness.

3. Links with other psalms

Psalm 77

Psalm 78
Thy/my people
Of old
God’s doings
He did wonders
The Most High

Note also:         Psalm 76:8 (“the earth feared”) = 77:18, and Psalm 76:3 (“arrows”) = 77:17.

A number of similarities are discernible with Habakkuk 3 (a contemporary psalm), and Isaiah 63:7-19; 64.

4. Passover

Verses 14-20 are all about the great deliverance of Israel from Egypt, after a bondage stamped with hopelessness. So this psalm, with the same two features of bondage and deliverance, was also appropriate for Passover celebration.

5. The Names of God

Few psalms contain as many different divine names as does 77:

vv. 1,1,3,13,13,16

vv. 2,7

vv. 9,13,14

v. 10

v. 11 (cp. also Psa. 118 and Exod. 15)

Yahweh/Jehovah does not appear even once (unless the Companion Bible concerning the changes of the Sopherim is to be believed: see notes on vv. 2,7 there). But even so this Covenant Name is plainly implied throughout, for covenant words like “mercy”, “promise”, and especially “remember” are prominent. This holy Name is God’s memorial, and consequently (in the psalms especially) it mostly occurs in a context of “memorial” or “remember” (vv. 3,6,10,11).

6. Historical setting

The “I” of vv. 1-11 is Hezekiah overwhelmed with the double problem of his own incurable disease and the irresistible Assyrian invasion.

I cried unto God. Hezekiah had no other solution for all the troubles that beset him.
By day and by night!

My sore ran in the night. It is difficult to tell how this translation is justified — even though it fits the king’s disease aptly enough. In fact the reading should probably be: My hand (Hebrew yod) was stretched out (in prayer) in the night (cp. AV mg., RSV).

My soul refused to be comforted (as also Jacob at the loss of Joseph: Gen. 37:35; cp. v. 15 here). So also Hezekiah found no comfort (Isa. 38:10-18) until the prophet returned with his amazing message.
Selah. Is God really the Rock of his Salvation? And so also in v. 9. But in v. 15 the problem is a problem no longer. Passover sacrifice had meant redemption for Israel in ancient days. And so also, surely, in the Passover Hezekiah had reinstituted.
I call to remembrance my song in the night. Another allusion to Passover, the only feast celebrated at nighttime! Link with v. 5b, thus: I call to remembrance the years of ancient times: they are my song in the night.
His mercy... his promise... his tender mercies. With hardly an exception, these words refer to God’s covenants of promise. (Among other passages, consider Gen. 32:10; Psa. 98:3; 89:14; Mic. 7:20; Luke 1:54,55,72.) In Hezekiah’s time they had apparently come to nought: Assyrian invasion had almost destroyed the people as a nation; and with the king himself sick unto death, how was the great Promise to David (2 Samuel 7) to be maintained?
And I said, This is my infirmity. Hezekiah’s real infirmity was a (temporary) loss of faith — and he knew it. But of course God — such a God! — would see him through! Verses 12-20 supply all the necessary reassurance.
Thy way is (made known) in the sanctuary. Psalm 73:17 again! All was darkness and uncertainty, until Hezekiah went into the house of the Lord, and forthwith his problem was solved (Isa. 37:14-35).

Who is so great a God as our God? Here is the right and proper answer to the scorn and blasphemy of Rabshakeh and his royal master (Isa. 36:14,15,18-20; 37:10-14).
The voice of thy thunder was in the heavens; the lightnings lightened the world: the earth trembled and shook. The remembrance of God at Sinai prepares the way for another great Theophany, in the devastation of Sennacherib’s host: Isa. 37:36.
Thou leddest thy people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron, and now, centuries later, again... this time by the hand of Isaiah and Eliakim.

7. Messianic reference

Verses 1-9 are to be read with reference to the bitter spiritual struggle of our Lord in Gethsemane. Again it was a Passover, and nighttime, and it seemed — as with Hezekiah, and as with Israel at the Red Sea (Exod. 14:10-12) — that God’s purpose with His people and His King had come to nought. For Jesus, it seemed that his life and ministry had been a total failure (see esp. Isa. 49:4). Hence:

I cried unto God with my voice. The “strong crying” (and the words really mean this) in Gethsemane (Heb. 5:7). Then v. 10 (and its ensuing conviction) came about when there appeared “an angel from heaven strengthening him” (Luke 22:43).
Thy way was in the sea. Is this Jesus walking on the water (Matt. 14:22-36; Mark 6:45-56; John 6:15-21)?
By the hand of Moses and Aaron quotes Num. 33:1 and thus suggests that, as Israel had 42 stages of journey to the Land of Promise, so also Israel was to have 42 generations to the Messiah (Matt. 1:1-17).

8. Other details

Note how the pronoun “I” dominates vv. 1-12. Thereafter there is a dramatic change. What a difference a new perspective makes!
In the day of trouble is the same as “Jacob’s trouble”: v. 15; cp. Psa. 50:15; Hab. 3:16; Jer. 30:7; Isa. 63:9.

My soul refused to be comforted. Compare Jacob (Gen. 37:35) and Rachel (Jer. 31:15). And the apostle-fishermen: “We have toiled all night, and taken nothing!” (Luke 5:5)
Thou holdest mine eyes waking. Remarkably, Luke 24:16 has the same phrase, about the two disciples who met the risen Jesus on the way to Emmaus.
I have considered the days of old, the years of ancient times. This verse is quoting Deut. 32:7. That chapter is a prophecy of (a) Israel apostate, (b) Israel forsaken, and finally (c) Israel restored.
My song in the night: (1) The angels in the fields of Bethlehem (Luke 2); (2) Paul and Silas in the Philippian jail (Acts 16).
Will the Lord cast off for ever? and will he be favourable no more? Is his mercy clean gone for ever? doth his promise fail for evermore? Hath God forgotten to be gracious? hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies? Here is another “torrent of questions”, like those in Psa. 74. All of them are to be answered by appeal to the character of God:

“And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth. Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Exod. 34:6,7).
Hath he... shut up his tender mercies? Can it be that God is breaking one of His own commandments?

“If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of the gates in thy land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother; but thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth” (Deut. 15:7,8).
But I will remember the years... of the most High (Elyon), which are without end (Psa. 102:24,27).
Thy wonders of old. That is, vv. 15-20 (s.w. Exod. 15:11; Psa. 78:12; Isa. 25:1).

The Lord (Yah) occurs frequently in Exod. 15 and Psa. 118.
Thy way, O God, is in the sanctuary. That is, it may be seen by those who (literally, and in spirit) enter God’s sanctuary. God leaves no footprints for worldly men to follow, but those who enter into His holy place may discern His hidden steps (cp. v. 19c).
Joseph is a reference to the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh (Psa. 80:1; 81:4,5).
The waters saw thee — in contrast to the worldly Egyptians, who could not “see”!

They were afraid, literally: in travail. The crossing of the Red Sea brought a new nation to birth (1 Cor. 10:2)!
Thy thunder is galgal: literally, thy rolling, or thy wheels. The primary reference is to the piling up of cumulus clouds, and thence to the rumbling of thunder, as of chariot wheels — i.e., the chariot of the cherubim (Ezek. 1; cp. Psa. 18:7-15; 68:16,17) when the Lord of glory goes into violent action.

The earth trembled and shook. At the crossing of the Red Sea there was evidently an earthquake.
RSV: Thy way was through the sea, thy path through the great waters, yet thy footprints were unseen. There were no tracks when the Glory of the Lord crossed through the waters of the Red Sea. After the waters returned, not even the locality of the crossing was known. (Job 9:11 and 23:8,9 express a similar idea. Likewise, Prov. 30:18-20 — although the subjects are drastically different!) Compare Hab. 3:15 — a chapter with several close resemblances to the psalm. On a different plane also, “His ways are past finding out”; see the context of Rom. 11:33.
Thou leddest thy people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron. This last verse suggests that Psalm 77 is a kind of introduction to Psalm 78. See esp. 78:70-72; also cp. 23:1,2; 95:7; 100:3; Isa. 63:11; Mic. 5:5.

9. Postscript

“The voice of Thy thunder” (verse 18)

How may I tell my wonder at the pageant in the skies?
        Cohorts of angels pure in whiteness, radiantly clad
As those who spoke on Olivet when, from uplifted eyes
        Of wondering disciples, cloud their risen Master hid?

Swift messengers they seemed, who were from place to vivid place
        Directed by such shining, ever-turning swords of light
As wielded by the Cherubim when Adam fell from grace,
        And way to life’s forbidden tree was kept with heavenly might.

And once, as in a Form, such concentrated whiteness stood
        That I remembered with humility the grand record
Of Christ’s transfiguration, when the prophet brotherhood
        Strengthened for shame and death him whom they knew as future Lord.

Instant upon the vision, the Creator’s uttered voice;
        And, at the mighty sound, the earth was trembling ’neath my feet.
My spirit, awed, responsive, leaped, and could not but rejoice,
        Knowing that in unfading light above His throne is set.

After a blinding light, raptured, I saw a softer shine,
        And all the vast and opening heavens a bright effulgence filled.
To see the glory of His dwelling cannot now be mine,
        Yet of His presence my glad being with awareness thrilled.

As the storm passed, from further heaven rolled the swelling sound
        Of many waters, like the glorious voice of One who spake
Of future days, attesting that the earth’s remotest bound
        Shall see his Coming, and his own to promised joy shall wake.

Still swiftly moving far, the sword’s ever-directing gleam
        Reflected in clear splendour in the expectant skies:
And I was filled with hope, brighter than any earthly dream,
        That some day, I shall see His glory with unblinded eyes.

At last the opening heavens their all-embracing radiance poured —
        All conscious movement ceased in fearful, palpitating pause,
And in a vibrant stillness waited, to hear the Sovereign Lord
        Proclaim, as once from Sinai’s height, His unchanging laws.

Oh God, if I such rapture in these Thy works can feel,
        Thy greatness manifest in sound, and glorious light,
How praise, when Christ returned in triumph shall reveal
        The fulness of thy glory to our adoring sight?

Shine on me, Light of Life, that I may in my life reflect
        Clearly, as in a mirror, to a lost and darkened world
The shining of his presence, whom we longingly expect,
        When our King’s righteous standard shall forever be unfurled.

A.E. Bijoux
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