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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Psalms 77


Psalms 77

THE congregation of the Lord cries to him in deep pain for help, and the recollection of what the Lord has done in times past, does not tend to ameliorate this pain, but rather tends to increase it, Psalms 77:1-3, and Psalms 77:4-6, leads to doubt as to whether Israel still holds the place of God’s chosen people, Psalms 77:7-9. But faith soon rises in its strength, and leads on to resignation, while it makes use of those events, as sure pledges of deliverance, in which, at first, doubt had sought its nourishment, particularly the deliverance from Egypt, and the passage through the Red Sea, Psalms 77:10-12, Psalms 77:13-15, Psalms 77:16-18, Psalms 77:19 and Psalms 77:20.

As to its formal arrangement, the Psalm is ruled by the numbers three and seven. It has seven strophes, each of three verses, With the exception of the last, in which the incompleteness of the sense is represented by the absence of the third verse. This defect in the conclusion, is compensated at the beginning, by the title,—so that the whole number Isaiah 21. The thrice repeated Selah, which stands each time at the end of a strophe, corresponds to the number three of the verses. The seven in the strophes is, as usual, divided into a three and a four: the great turning point, the transition from trembling despondency, to the joy of faith, is in Psalms 77:10.

That the Psalmist speaks in name of the people, is evident, particularly in Psalms 77:5 and Psalms 77:6, (compare the exposition): still the national reference is designedly brought forward with very little prominence, in order that individuals may find here a fountain of consolation in their particular troubles.

As regards the occasion on which the Psalm was composed, the strong prominence given to the deliverance from Egypt, leads to the conclusion, that the people at the time, were in a condition similar to that in which they were, at the commencement of their existence as a nation, that a second Egyptian bondage was either at the time in actual existence, or was at the very door. Several expositors have adopted the period of the Babylonish captivity. But there are decisive reasons against this. Our Psalm is related in such a striking manner to the (Habakkuk 3) 3d chapter of Habakkuk, that the agreement can only be explained by the supposition that the one writer made use of the expressions of the other. Delitzsch on Hab. p. 119, et seq. has endeavoured at great length, to show that our Psalm is the original composition. Among his reasons, there are at least two, the validity of which cannot be denied; 1st. The (Habakkuk 3) 3d chapter of Hab. is throughout formed after the model of the Psalm- poetry. The supposition that the prophet made use of this Psalm in writing that chapter, accounts for this. 2nd. Habakkuk describes a future deliverance in figures borrowed from a past one. It is very unlikely that the Psalmist, who is occupied with the deliverance that was past, would have described that deliverance in language borrowed from the prophetic description of a deliverance yet to come.

Now, as Habakkuk undoubtedly prophesied under Josiah, the Psalm before us could not be composed at a later period than that of this king. The contents do not authorize us to adopt a later date, as it appears clearly, that the lamentations of Habakkuk are equally deep and painful. The ten tribes had, by that time, been carried into captivity, a fact which, according to the indications of Psalms 77:2 and Psalms 77:15, formed the most aggravating cause of the Psalmist’s pain; and the single remaining tribe of Judah seemed to be continually threatened with a storm from the north. Jeremiah, who appeared first under Josiah, proclaimed from the very commencement of his undertaking, that this tribe would presently be removed in a frightful manner, and the eyes of Habakkuk were continually directed towards this dark cloud. The comparison with Psalms 74, shows how very different would have been the tone of lamentation, had the author already witnessed the destruction of the city and temple, to which there is not, throughout the Psalm, the least reference. Kiel’s idea that the Psalm was composed in the time of David could at the most be admitted only if external grounds were in its favour.

The object of the Psalm is to instruct us, how we may obtain consolation and peace in the severest distresses, by plunging into the earlier manifestations of the grace of God.

In reference to the Title: to the Chief Musician on Jeduthun, a Psalm of Asaph, compare at Psalms 62.

Verses 1-3

Ver. 1. I will call upon God and cry, I will call upon God, and, do thou attend to me. Ver. 2. In the time of my trouble, I seek the Lord, my hand during the night hangs open without ceasing, my soul will not be comforted. Ver. 3. I will think upon God, and cry, I will meditate, and any spirit is sunk, Selah.

In Psalms 77:1, according to “I will cry”, there is to be supplied, also at “my voice,” not “is”, but “may be.” According to several expositors, the fut., with the ה of effort, here and in the following clauses, stands in the sense of what is usual; but there is no foundation whatever for this, and the great heaping up of these futures, and the אזכרה Psalms 77:11, where manifestly this future has its original sense, are all against this assumption: compare the אזכרה in Psalms 77:4 and Psalms 77:12. The האזין , is the imperative: compare the האזינה , in Psalms 5:1, Psalms 17:1, Psalms 39:2. In the first part, God is, according to the rule, spoken of, and in the second clause, the address to him first preponderates, after the Psalmist has again come nearer to him. Still it occurs also in Psalms 77:4. The imperative has very generally the abbreviated form, הַ קְ טֵ ל ; still the form הקטיל does occur, Isaiah 43:8. Jeremiah 17:8. Psalms 94. According to the common view, האזין , should be either the infin. used instead of the future,—” he will hear”; or the Praeter. with the Vau relat.— and at that time he attends to me. But the Psalmist would be anticipating himself were he here expressing the confident assurance of being heard. The deepest complaint goes on to Psalms 77:9, and it is there that, for the first time, we meet the great turning point. This construction would be admissible, only if we consider the verse as an introduction, giving a view at one glance of the whole contents of the Psalm. But this will not do, as it forms an integral part of the first strophe.

In Psalms 77:2, the Psalmist, as is manifest from the last words, and indeed from the whole connection, is not praising his own zeal in prayer, but depicting the depth of his pain. The נגרה , does not signify simply, “it is stretched out”, but only “ it is open”: compare 2 Samuel 14:14, Lamentations 3:49. The stretched out, weak and powerless hand, conveys the picture of relaxation of the whole body. The פוג , to be stiff, to be dead, (compare at Psalms 38:8), is here to rest: compare Lamentations 2:18. The last clause alludes, as does also Jeremiah 31:15, to Genesis 37:35, where it is said of Jacob, when he got intelligence of the death of Joseph, “that he refused to be comforted.” On comparing Psalms 77:15, it is clear that the Psalmist had before his eyes, the second loss of his son Joseph which Jacob suffered, viz. the destruction of the kingdom of the ten tribes.

According to Psalms 77:3, the Psalmist has resolved to give himself up specially to thinking upon God and his salvation in times past, (compare Psalms 42:4, and here Psalms 77:6, Psalms 77:11, Psalms 77:5), though he knows that this must aggravate, still more severely the pain which he feels from his present trouble. On אהמיה and אשיחה , compare at Psalms 55:2, Psalms 55:16.

Verses 4-6

Ver. 4. Thou holdest firm through the night watches my eyes, I am terrified and cannot speak. Ver. 5. I think upon the days of old, the years of ancient times. Ver. 6. I will think of my song in the night, I will meditate in my heart, and my spirit must enquire.

The condition of the Psalmist, as described in the ( Psalms 77:4) 4th verse, is called forth by the consideration of the early conduct of God towards his people. Thou holdest firm, namely, by thoughts upon those things spoken of in Psalms 77:3, Psalms 77:5, and Psalms 77:6. The common interpretation is: thou holdest the watches of my eyes, i.e. my eye-lids. But שמרה , never occurs in this sense, and the form is clearly against it. We must rather consider the word, (which only occurs in this passage), as having the same sense as אשמרה , night watches, Psalms 63:6, which differs from it only by the א prosth. and therefore not essentially. The accus. is employed to mark a point of time, when the action runs through the whole period. The parallel passage confirms this exposition, Lamentations 2:19, “arise, cry out in the night, in the beginning of the watches, pour out thine heart like water before the face of the Lord”: comp. here Psalms 77:2. The apparent contradiction between “I cannot speak”, and the beginning, where the Psalmist announces his intention to pour out his complaint in loud lamentations, is explained by Calvin in the single remark, “that sufferers do not continue long like themselves, but at one time break out in sighs and lamentations, and at another time, are silent as if their throat were tied.”

Arnd: “In such troubles a man is often quite powerless, so that he cannot speak, but only thinks upon God and hopes in him; thus his thoughts and his hope are instead of words; and God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the spirit.”

In the ( Psalms 77:5) 5th verse, allusion is made to Deuteronomy 32:7.

The first clause of Psalms 77:6 th resumes, “I will think on God”, in Psalms 77:3 d. The comparison of this verse, and Psalms 77:11 th, shew the incorrectness of Koester’s rendering: I will take hold of the comforting harp. The Psalmist is resolved to call to recollection the early grace of God, for the purpose of aggravating thereby his pain: since, from a comparison of the better past, the whole misery of the comfortless present, came before his mind. That “in the night” is to be connected with “my song”, (not “I will think during the night”), is manifest from the parallel passages, Psalms 42:8. (compare at this passage), Psalms 92:2, and especially Job 35:10. In the stillness of night, those who feared God, thanked him for his favours. The Psalmist is resolved to recall to his recollection, this his thanksgiving, and with it, the gracious deeds by which it had been called forth. These gracious deeds are those which, in the second part, are described at length, as having been imparted to the whole people in former times. This retrospect of the past, gives occasion to the Psalmist to inquire and to ask the question, whether it be the case, that God has now completely rejected his people, whom, in former days, he had so richly favoured: he cannot think so,—the supposition seems incongruous,—yet facts are altogether in its favour. The object of the inquiry is, in this way, recorded in the third strophe, which should be preceded by a colon.

Verses 7-9

Ver. 7. Will then the Lord cast off for ever, and manifest his grace no more? Ver. 8. Is his compassion at an end for ever, and has his word disappeared for all generations? Ver. 9. Has God forgotten to be gracious, or shut up in wrath his compassion.

The expression in Psalms 77:8, “is his word at an end,” is equivalent to, “shall God never speak more, has he withdrawn his word altogether?” According to the connection, the matter referred to, is promises of assistance and deliverance, of which God had often, in times past, granted to his people by the prophets, as for example, at the time of the Assyrian oppression. The complaint is expressed also in Psalms 74:9, that there is no longer any prophet, that there is no one who can tell the people the end of their sufferings. Calvin: “The answer to the objection, that to those who are in possession of the law of God, his word can never be wanting, is that, from the weakness of the times special promises were necessary.”

On חנות in Psalms 77:9, the infinitive of חנן , compare Ew. § 354, e. Has he forgotten to be gracious, he who has so emphatically called himself in his word gracious and. compassionate, Exodus 34:6. compare Psalms 103:8. The באף in his anger,=being angry, compare Psalms 27:9, Psalms 56:7.

The matter takes now another turn. From the glorious manifestations of God in the past, which had hitherto tended to nourish doubt, as to whether Israel still held the place of God’s chosen people, there arises at once the firm belief that he does.

Verses 10-12

Ver. 10. Then I said: it is my sickness, the years of the right hand of the Most High. Ver. 11. I make known the deeds of God; for I will recall to my mind thy wonders of old. Ver. 12. And I think upon all thy doing, and will meditate upon thy works.

In Psalms 77:10 the Psalmist expresses his resolution of quiet resignation, which could be adopted only on the basis of trust in God and of hope, and in Psalms 77:11 and Psalms 77:12 he points out what it was that had led him to adopt this resolution. The two clauses of Psalms 77:10 are to be supplemented from each other. The חלה signifies always in Pi. to be weak, to be sick: compare at Psalms 45:12. My sickness, is the sickness laid upon me by the Lord, who is expressly named in the second clause as its author, and which therefore must be borne quietly and patiently: compare Jeremiah 10:19, “Woe to me because of my wounds, my stroke is painful, but I said, this is only sickness, and I will bear it”, and “thou hast done it”, in Psalms 39:9. The years of the right hand of the Most High, are in themselves only the years which the right hand of the Most High has brought in. Their more immediate limitation, as years of suffering, is got from the first clause: compare 1 Peter 5:6, where also “the mighty hand of God” is limited by the connection to be his punishing hand. The שנות is used in the ( Psalms 77:5) 5th verse in the sense of years. Those translations are to be rejected which take it as the infinitive of שנה : “a change of the right hand of the Most High”, or “the right hand of the Highest can change every thing,” (Luther), or “an alteration for the worse.”

The means by which the Psalmist reaches to this elevation, is the manifestation of the deeds of the Lord, Psalms 77:11, and he reaches to it by getting absorbed in his meditations on these deeds. The reading אזכיר , which has external evidence in its favour, is demanded by the sense. The reading in the margin destroys the sense of the “for.” The פלא stands very frequently in the singular, also where a series of wonders is spoken of, and points out the whole taken together as one great wonder.

Verses 13-15

In Psalms 77:13-15, the Psalmist begins his announcement of the deeds of the Lord, and his meditation on them, and goes on in the same strain to the end of the Psalm. Ver. 13. O God, in holiness is thy way, where is there a God, who was great as God? Ver. 14. Thou art the God who dost wonders, thou hast made known thy power among the nations. Ver. 15. Thou hast redeemed with power thy people, the sons of Jacob and of Joseph. Selah. The way of God, in the ( Psalms 77:13) 13th verse, is his doing, his conduct. This is in holiness, rests upon it, i.e. it is sacred and glorious: compare at Psalms 22:3. Many translate: in the sanctuary, viz. the heavenly sanctuary, compare Habakkuk 2:20, “the Lord is in his holy temple, all flesh is still before him,” Psalms 11:4, Psalms 18:6, Psalms 29:9. But the fundamental passage is decisive against this, Exodus 15:11, “who is like thee among the gods, O Lord, who is like thee, glorious in holiness?” קדש : compare “glorious in power”, בכח in Psalms 77:5. On the second clause, besides the passage already quoted in Ex., Deuteronomy 3:24 must be compared. Calvin: “He does not, by the comparison, recognize in the least the existence of other gods, but he throws contempt upon the foolishness of the world for not being more careful to cultivate the friendship of the One God, whose glory is so manifest.” On “thou hast made known among the people thy power,” Psalms 77:14 th, compare Exodus 9:16, Exodus 15:14.

In Psalms 77:15 the deliverance out of Egypt is brought forward as the greatest and most wonderful of all the works of God, and hence as containing the strongest pledge of future deliverance. The Psalmist had this especially before his eyes in the ( Psalms 77:13) 13th and ( Psalms 77:14) 14th verses, but from this verse to the end of the Psalm he is occupied with it exclusively. With the arm, so that the arm thereby was brought into action, that is, with outstretched arm, Exodus 6:6. The naming of Joseph next to Jacob stands in reference to the ten tribes, whose head was Ephraim, descended from lone of the sons of Joseph, (compare Psalms 78:67, Psalms 80:1), and shows how much the loss went to the Psalmist’s heart, and how he saw in the history a pledge of its deliverance. On the “ Selah” the Berleb. Bible: “do thou at the same time sink into the quiet and stillness of souls which depends on God, and be baptized, at the end, into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”

Verses 16-18

The sea appears, in verse 16, as the enemy of the people of the covenant, and at the sight of God fighting on their behalf, it is afraid and gives up its feeble opposition: compare Hab. 10. The זרם , in Psalms 77:17, Po., is to cause to stream, to cause to flow. The arrows of God are the lightning: compare Psalms 77:18, Habakkuk 3:11, Psalms 18:14, Psalms 144:6. The description throughout is a poetical one. For the passage of Israel through the sea (and it is this only, and not the destruction of the Egyptians that is spoken of, so that Exodus 14:24 might be compared), did not take place during a storm. It was to them a source of encouragement when they heard the thunder above them, and saw the lightning around them. In Psalms 77:18, “in a whirl”=“whirling,” denotes the rapidity with which the peals of thunder followed each other: compare Ezekiel 10:13, where the wheels, on account of their rapid movements, are said גלגל . The word is never clearly used of a whirlwind: that it is not so used in Psalms 83:13, is manifest from the parallel passage Isaiah 17:13.

Verses 19-20

Ver. 19. In the sea was thy way, and thy paths in many waters, and thy footsteps were not known. Ver. 20. Thou didst lead like a flock thy people, by Moses and Aaron.

In Psalms 77:19, the Keri reading, שבילך , thy path, is merely a bad correction from the parallelism. The last words point to the wonderful circumstance, that the waters returned after the Lord had gone through with his people. Berleb: “were not known by the Egyptians, that they might walk in them. For the waters returned immediately to the place which they had formerly occupied as soon as the Israelites had crossed, and thus covered the Egyptians,” Exodus 14:26-28. Several maintain falsely that the words refer to the wonderful passage ever goes through the water leaves no trace behind. But the Israelites went through on dry land. Habakkuk 3:15 is an imitation of this verse. On Psalms 77:20 compare Micah 6:4. Arnd: “We have therefore here the consolation that God will lead us out of all our troubles, and that, though they be ever so great and deep, like the Red Sea, God will make a way through, contrary to all human reason and thoughts.”

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 77". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms.