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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Psalms 77

Verses 1-3

Introduction

This psalm is a retrospective look at the past, at the struggles of the faithful remnant (Psalms 77:6). The people have been redeemed and are in the process (Psalms 77:5-2 Samuel :) of putting events in order (Psalms 77:12-2 Chronicles :) with the result that they are magnifying God with great amazement (Psalms 77:15-Proverbs :).

Cry Aloud and Despair

For “for the choir director” (Psalms 77:1) see at Psalm 4:1.

The name “Jeduthun” is also found in the heading of Psalm 39 and Psalm 62 (Psalms 39:1; Psalms 62:1). See further at Psalm 39:1 and Psalm 62:1.

For “a Psalm of Asaph” see at Psalm 50:1.

Asaph, and in him the faithful remnant, begins this psalm by rising his voice to God (Psalms 77:1). He cries aloud to Him. He lets his voice be heard in the certainty that God will hear him. The fact that he says this twice indicates the seriousness and depth of his need. At the same time he expresses the certainty that God will hear him. He trusts that his prayer will be heard by God.

Crying aloud to God with the voice is more than just wishing for something from Him. It is the expression of weakness and dependence on Him and the desire to resort to Him. Whoever does this proves that he has an upright heart. It is not a need that he can keep to himself, but a deep need to which he must give audible expression to everyone.

After his expression of confidence (Psalms 77:1) the path follows which the psalmist has gone to arrive at this confidence. He begins by saying that he has sought “the Lord”, Adonai, “in the day of my trouble” (Psalms 77:2). This corresponds to the situation in Psalm 74. Prophetically, it is the time of the great tribulation at the hands of the antichrist and followed by the disciplinary rod of God, Assyria, which destroyed Israel and the temple.

He has been in great trouble. That he has sought the Lord is a good thing. The only question is with what mind of his heart he has sought. The sequel shows that he had profound doubts about God’s involvement in his situation, and that this resulted in a deep crisis in his life of faith. It speaks of a time when the faith of the remnant is purified (cf. Malachi 3:2-Leviticus :).

Not only during the day did he stretch out his hand to God as a sign of helplessness asking for His help. He continued with it during the night. No slackening occurred. He continued to cry out for help. And it did not come. Therefore his “soul refused to be comforted”. It means that he was not able to accept the situation.

The Hebrew word for comfort means to sigh deeply, in this case of relief. It was impossible for him to feel relief. He continued to struggle day and night in prayer. A person who refuses comfort is deeply discouraged and severely disappointed in God. He sees no way out. Life has become dark and meaningless. All words of comfort are rejected by a heart that feels rejected by God.

He did think of God, but instead of the thought of God comforting him, he was disturbed (Psalms 77:3). It has only made his suffering worse. God is in his experience no Helper, but Someone Who does nothing about his misery, Someone Who leaves him to his fate. The psalmist speaks for the remnant when he remembers the time when he struggled because of the great trouble. He had forgotten what God had done in the past.

He pondered over it, but he could not get out of it. On the contrary, he had fallen into a vicious circle, which had caused his spirit to faint. He had fallen into a total depression. People can talk all they want about God and His goodness. But when God is silent, all the talking of people and all their own thinking only increases the inner pain.

Overwhelmed by the difficulties and problems, disappointed by the fact that God had not yet answered, his soul became exhausted and began to complain. The spirit too became exhausted by the difficulties. Perhaps the memory of past faults came to mind and the question arose: Does God still judge past but confessed transgressions (Psalms 77:9)? The thoughts went around in a circle. It was a downward spiral. It got darker and darker and the prospect of a solution disappeared.

Verses 4-9

Has God Forgotten to Be Gracious?

The anguish of the God-fearing man has been so great that he has not been able to sleep (Psalms 77:4). ‘You have done this’, he has said to God. It is not an expression of resignation, but more of an accusation. It was also a wrestling with the question: ‘How could God redeem before, when He now rejects us?’ Therefore, there was disquiet and no trust. Because of his shaken trust in God, his disappointment in Him, his sleeplessness had been further proof that God did not care about him.

Further on he will come to even stronger statements that indicate how much his trust in God had been shaken. He had kept his mouth shut about it. What should he say about his deep trouble, and to whom? After all, there was no one who understood him.

In reflecting on his circumstances he had gone back in his mind to “the days of old, the years of long ago” (Psalms 77:5). This was not to remember how God had helped then. Then his trust in God would have been restored and praise would have risen to Him. That was not the case here. He had not come to God as His refuge in need. It seems that he had thought back to the past with nostalgia because he had lived in prosperity and happiness.

He has thought of his “song in the night” (Psalms 77:6). He remembered the times when he joyfully praised God. But what did the thought of past joys help in seeking a solution to present woes if you don’t end up with God? If we keep digging into the past to deal with problems in the present, we sink deeper and deeper into depression. We must learn to look up and ahead. Then we will see that God, Who was there yesterday, is also there today and will be there tomorrow.

During the night he meditated with his heart the vexing questions that had brought him to his state of disillusionment. He meditated on those questions with his “heart”. Every stone should be turned over, as it were, to find the answers to his deep questions of life.

These are not theological questions, but questions of experience. They are about the experience of God’s presence in the life of the believer, while that believer doubts this very much because of the incomprehensible misery in which he finds himself. It is the struggle of the prophet Habakkuk, who had to learn not to look at the circumstances, but to trust in God despite all adversity.

He has asked six questions about God. These questions can be answered theologically correctly. If so, we do not take the need seriously, and we demonstrate an inability to suffer with the sufferer. We could even say that a believer who knows Who God is should not ask such questions. Then we are blaming the believer, while God does not. In both cases we show our lack of self-knowledge. Nor is there any realization that only the grace of God has kept us from such circumstances and such questions until now.

The six questions are:
1. “Will the Lord reject forever?” (Psalms 77:7).
2. “And will He never be favorable again?” (Psalms 77:7).
3. “Has His lovingkindness ceased forever?” (Psalms 77:8).
4. “Has [His] promise come to an end forever?” (Psalms 77:8).
5. “Has God forgotten to be gracious,”? (Psalms 77:9).
6. “Or has He in anger withdrawn His compassion?” (Psalms 77:9).

The first question of the troubled mind is whether “the Lord rejects forever” (Psalms 77:7). This question corresponds to two similar questions in Psalm 74 (Psalms 74:1; Psalms 74:10). The question is not so much the rejection itself, but the question is whether God has definitively rejected. Is it over and done with? Or is there still hope? Has the lovingkindness of God – literally chesed, His covenant faithfulness (Psalms 77:8) – now ceased?

This question expresses the deep lack of God’s nearness. It also indicates that he saw no solution. We can know that God will never reject anyone who has taken refuge in Him. We can remind a desperate believer of this time and again, without accusing him of unbelief. It is about a believer who, for whatever reason, feels rejected by God. He is desperately seeking God, but feels rejected by Him.

The second question, whether the Lord would “never be favorable again” (Psalms 77:7), is directly related to the first. Whoever has the feeling of being ‘rejected forever’, no longer experiences the favor of God. This is mainly about God’s inner Self, what is in His heart. Whoever thinks that God has written him off, has lost sight of what is in God’s heart.

The cause of this is to float on the miserable feelings he has and the disappointing experiences he has had with God. Then a believer thinks that God is not favorable to him when things are not going well for him. The important thing is that we continue to trust God, even when everything in our lives is going against us. If we think that God is only good to us when things are going well, the thought can quickly arise that God is no longer good to us when things are going badly. The same applies to God’s lovingkindness, grace and mercy, about which the psalmist also has his questions.

From doubting God’s favor toward the believer follows naturally the question whether “His lovingkindness ceased forever” (Psalms 77:8). That God is well-pleasing to the believer is evidenced by His lovingkindness. Lovingkindness is a feature of love (1 Corinthians 13:4). In Psalms it is often said that His lovingkindness is forever (Psalms 136:1-Ezekiel :), which refers to the realm of peace.

When everything is dark for the believer, he no longer thinks about that, but wonders if God’s lovingkindness – chesed, that is the faithfulness to the covenant – has ceased forever. This is exactly the opposite of what the covenant is about. This covenant is the basis of the people’s existence. If there would be an end to the covenant, it would mean the end of the existence of the people.

The question that connects to this is whether God’s “promise” has “come to an end forever” (Psalms 77:8). The psalmist wrestled with the promise of what God’s has said. Those who make their feelings the standard for their relationship to God also doubt God’s promises or pledges. There is no trust in the Word of God, which is unchanging for all generations. If we no longer find support in it, we become a plaything for our feelings.

In his fifth question, the desperate believer suggests that perhaps God has “forgotten to be gracious” (Psalms 77:9). This question indicates how far the believer is from a proper view of God. How could God possibly forget to be gracious? That the believer experiences it this way indicates the depth of his depression. If there is no gracious God, the believer is doomed to die in darkness and hopelessness.

His final question is whether God has “in anger withdrawn His compassion” (Psalms 77:9). Here He sees God as an angry God. But God is compassionate. Compassion means being moved by the suffering of another. However, God cannot show this because His anger is predominant.

Here the believer has reached the lowest point of his depression. He imagines that God is angry toward him and therefore cannot show him compassion. It sounds logical, but it is human logic. We cannot have two opposing feelings at the same time, but God can be angry and compassionate at the same time (cf. Habakkuk 3:2).

Verses 10-13

God’s Way Is In the Sanctuary

In Psalms 77:10 comes the turning point. The God-fearing person has been so preoccupied with his affliction and problems that he has lost his faith in the goodness and grace of God. This has changed at the moment that he has got an eye for the real problem: he has only had an eye for himself and his circumstances. Look how often the psalmist uses the words ‘I’ and ‘me’ in this psalm. By doing so he had lost sight of God.

When he became aware of this, his view of his situation changed completely. Then he discovers the cause, what is his “grieve”, that is what wounds him inwardly, it cuts deep, namely the thought “that the right hand of the Most High has changed”. That He is the Most High means that He is above everything and everyone.

Asaph thus acknowledges that the problem does not lie with God, but with himself, with his view of God’s actions. God’s right hand speaks of His powerful actions through which His power becomes visible. God has done this in the past to redeem His people. Apparently, so he thought then, God does not do that anymore.

Asaph thought that God is a changeable God. Indeed, God does not always act in the same way. His actions with us cannot always be traced and understood by us. However, He always acts with the same goal: He wants to have us closer to Himself, to connect us more closely to Himself, that is, for our awareness.

Once Asaph has discovered that the problem is with himself, thinking about himself is over. From now on he “shall remember the deeds of the LORD” (Psalms 77:11). He speaks here about “the LORD”, the God of the covenant and the promises, with Whom he has a relationship and Whom he can trust. The light breaks through in the darkness of his thoughts and feelings.

In the midst of his wrestling with faith, the psalmist decides to turn his thoughts to what God has revealed in the past. For us, it is to focus our thoughts on what God has done in the past, that He “did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all” (Romans 8:32). This helps us to remember in the midst of our struggles of faith “that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:28).

God is reliable. All His deeds prove it. He wants to think about those deeds. With this he can mean God’s acts of creation, but he will especially think of His acts to redeem His people. He wants to think of His “wonders of old”, such as the redemption of His people from slavery in Egypt.

When the afflicted believer has risen above his distress and has God to his attention again, he is able to “meditate on all Your work” and to “muse on Your deeds” (Psalms 77:12). His thoughts no longer circle around himself, but go out to God. And thinking about God is thinking about His works. God reveals Himself in His works, which here especially refers to His works in the redemption of His own.

God takes care of His creation. In doing so, the value of His own far exceeds the value of creation (Matthew 6:26; Matthew 10:31Matthew 12:12). The believer can speak of God’s acts of care for him from his birth to his conversion and as long as he lives after that. He has gained an eye for the true character of life, that God governs everything. How He does that, he does not always understand, but he trusts God, that He will govern everything in a way that leads to wonder and worship. He testifies of this to others.

Asaph is at the point where he can say to God: “Your way, O God, is holy” (Psalms 77:13). That God’s way is a holy way, a way that works sanctification of His Name. Literally it is: ‘Your way is in holiness.” That means that the ways and actions of God are higher than our ways.

His ways are marked by wisdom, power and majesty. Therefore, this is followed with an exclamation of wonder: “What god is great like our God?” (Psalms 77:13) This section is about the way of God when He delivered Israel from Egypt (Psalms 77:13-Proverbs :). The same cry of wonder is uttered in the song of Moses (Exodus 15:11).

It’s God’s way. That is the best way. We may think differently about it if that way sometimes leads us into difficulties. When we come to the point that we agree with God’s way as the best way for us, there will be peace in our hearts.

We then ask the question in amazement: “What god is great like our God?” He governs everything in His holy sanctuary. No one can be compared to Him, not in His power and not in His government. Any attempt at comparison with anything or anyone is in fact folly. There is no other living God. God is infinitely superior to the dead idols from whom men expect their help and who are worshiped by them.

Verses 14-20

God’s Way Was In the Sea

God is “the God who works wonders” (Psalms 77:14). This refers to the wonders that are made known among the nations, in this case the wonders by which Israel was delivered from Egypt (Psalms 77:15-:). We also find this in the song of Moses (Exodus 15:14-Nehemiah :).

God does things that work amazement. They are things that man cannot do and cannot understand. His wonders show what He is capable of. This can only be seen in retrospect, when He has done a wonder. We see it in creation, in His government of the world, and especially in the redemption of His own. He keeps all things alive, He, “who is the Savior [i.e. Maintainer] of all men, especially of believers” (1 Timothy 4:10).

Well, in the deliverance of His people God made known His “strength among the peoples”. The peoples have heard of it (Joshua 2:9-2 Samuel :). God will make His strength known again in the future, when Christ will deliver His people from the power of their enemies by judging those enemies.

Asaph speaks to God about the redemption of His people (Psalms 77:15). He now looks back to the past as God wants the believer to look back to it. Then he remembers again that God redeemed His people by His strong arm – that is Christ (Exodus 6:5; Exodus 15:16). The believer, and we too, may say this to Him with a thankful heart. It is also an encouragement for the hopeless situation in which we may find ourselves.

The people of God are here called “the sons of Jacob and Joseph”. This is the only time in the Bible that God’s people are so called. The reason is that it is prophetically emphasized here that at its fulfillment in the future, not only Judah but also the ten tribes will be redeemed (Ezekiel 37:15-Song of Solomon :). Jacob is the patriarch from whom the twelve tribes originated. Joseph is mentioned because he is the most excellent among the twelve brothers. He is also the man through whom God sustained His people and who reigned in Egypt.

In Psalms 77:16-Job :, Asaph describes in an impressive and poetic way how God has paved the way of His people to deliverance. He speaks of “the waters” as hostile persons who wanted to block the way of God’s people to deliverance. But then they saw their Creator and “were in anguish” (Psalms 77:16; cf. Habakkuk 3:10). “The deeps also” responded to the power of their Creator: they “also trembled”. Asaph says twice that the waters saw God.

The ‘waters’ are also a picture of the nations (Isaiah 17:12-1 Chronicles :). With ‘the deep waters’ we can think of demonic powers that stir up the nations in their hatred of God’s people. Of the demons we read, as of the deep waters here, that they ‘shudder’ before God (James 2:19). Satan and his demons can only dispose of the elements of nature as far as God allows. We see this in Job (Job 1:12; Job 1:19). The supreme authority always rests with God or Christ, Who is God (Mark 4:39).

God’s appearance and its effect on the waters is followed by His action (Psalms 77:17-Job :). He rules the waters on earth and in the clouds. The clouds release the water at His command and pour it out on the earth. This is accompanied by a noise from heaven, or the sound of God’s thunder. In the process God’s arrows, that is lightning, “flashed here and there” and illuminate the world. Underneath them the earth trembles and shakes. The entire creation, waters and earth, will tremble and shake when God appears in majesty on behalf of His people. This happens when the Lord Jesus appears to redeem His people.

After the imposing action of God, His people have been brought into rest. The great distress and trials are behind them. Now they can look back and reflect on the manner God has delivered them. They say to Him: “Your way was in the sea” (Psalms 77:19). It’s “Your way”, it’s the way God has gone. He not only mapped out that way for them, but He went before them through the Red Sea. His paths were also “in the mighty waters”. They have been in the midst of great waters of distress and affliction. There, too, He has been with them (Isaiah 43:2).

We cannot know in advance the way and path of God for His people, for us. Even when we are on the way, we do not see His footprints, they are not known. Often we do not understand His way. God does not always explain to us why we get into difficulties. Just as there are no footprints at the bottom of the sea, we cannot see the way God is going with us. We may go in confidence that He does know and see the way and where that way ends up: with Him.

On the way He takes us by the hand and leads us. The psalmist reminds us of this in the last verse. The psalm ends with a retrospective glance at the wondrous dealings of God with Israel from the exodus from Egypt to the end of the wilderness journey (Psalms 77:20). He, Who led His people as a flock “by the hand of Moses and Aaron” (cf. Genesis 48:15), will do so again in the future.

It is one of those amazing facts that He carried and cared for a people of millions through the wilderness for forty years. Never did the people lack anything. Always there has been water and food, despite all the unbelief and failure of the people. God has remained faithful.

Both Moses and Aaron are mentioned here for the first time in Psalms. Moses is mentioned seven more times and Aaron eight more times after this. “Moses and Aaron” together are a beautiful picture of the Lord Jesus as the Apostle (Moses) and High Priest (Aaron) of our confession (Hebrews 3:1). Moses is a picture of the Lord Jesus as the Teacher of righteousness Who spoke the Word of God to the people. Aaron is a picture of the Lord Jesus as the High Priest Who has compassion on the weaknesses of His people (Hebrews 4:12-Nehemiah :).

“The hand” of the Lord Jesus indicates that He took His people by the hand with His hand. Thus He has led them and led them safely through the wilderness. This is elaborated and explained in the next psalm, Psalm 78.

The psalmist, and in him the remnant, has come from the despair that controlled him at the beginning of the psalm to hope. In the psalm he has described the feelings he has gone through to get to this point. So too may we tell our distress and hopelessness and our why questions to God. To whom can we better tell them than to Him? Then we will experience that He Himself is the answer to those questions and we will come to rest in His faithfulness and love (Romans 8:35-Malachi :).

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Psalms 77". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/psalms-77.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniƫl', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.