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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical
Psalms 77

 

 

Verses 1-20

Psalm 77

To the chief Musician, to Jeduthun A Psalm of Asaph

2 I cried unto God with my voice,

Even unto God with my voice; and he gave ear unto me.

3 In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord:

My sore ran in the night and ceased not:

My soul refused to be comforted.

4 I remembered God, and was troubled:

I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed. Selah.

5 Thou holdest mine eyes waking:

I am so troubled that I cannot speak.

6 I have considered the days of old,

The years of ancient times.

7 I call to remembrance my song in the night:

I commune with mine own heart: and my spirit made diligent search.

8 Will the Lord cast off forever?

And will he be favorable no more?

9 Is his mercy clean gone forever?

Doth his promise fail for evermore?

10 Hath God forgotten to be gracious?

Hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies? Selah.

11 And I said, This is my infirmity:

But I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High.

12 I will remember the works of the Lord:

Surely I will remember thy wonders of old.

13 I will meditate also of all thy work,

And talk of thy doings.

14 Thy way, O God, is in the sanctuary:

Who is so great a God as our God?

15 Thou art the God that doest wonders:

Thou hast declared thy strength among the people.

16 Thou hast with thine arm redeemed thy people,

The sons of Jacob and Joseph. Selah.

17 The waters saw thee, O God,

The waters saw thee; they were afraid:

The depths also were troubled.

18 The clouds poured out water:

The skies sent out a sound:

Thine arrows also went abroad.

19 The voice of thy thunder was in the heaven:

The lightnings lightened the world:

The earth trembled and shook.

20 Thy way is in the sea,

And thy path in the great waters,

And thy footsteps are not known.

21 Thou leddest thy people like a flock

By the hand of Moses and Aaron.

EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL

Contents and Composition.—On the superscription compare Introd, § 12, No6 In three strophes, of which the first and third end with Selah, we hare presented to us a prayer of one in deep distress. It begins with the earnest declaration that he is sighing and crying to God unceasingly ( Psalm 77:2-4), and, after recounting his sad reminiscences of happy days that were past ( Psalm 77:5-7) it lets us hear his anxious question ( Psalm 77:8-10), whether God’s mercy had forever forsaken him. In three strophes, of which the second ends with Selah, a growing calmness is exhibited. The Psalmist first finds consolation in reflecting upon God’s controlling hand in this affliction as well as in His former deeds ( Psalm 77:11-13) and then extols ( Psalm 77:14-16) God the Holy and Almighty One, as the Deliverer of His people even until now, and finally gives a poetical picture of the deliverance from Egypt, ( Psalm 77:17-20). A concluding verse (21) represents this Divine guidance of the people under an image frequent in the Asaph- Psalm, in such a manner that it excites an expectation of its continuance, and yet the thought which is presented is here developed no further. There is no sufficient ground, however, for the conjecture that the Psalm is incomplete (Tholuck), or that we have it in a mutilated form (Rosenmueller, Olshausen) or that it forms a part of Psalm 80. (Pareau, Instit. interpr, Vet. Test, p. 330). Such an abrupt termination can be explained on the ground of a poetical purpose (De Wette), nor is it without other example in the Bible (Hupfeld). The attaching of the verse to the lyrical strophe, Psalm 77:17 ff, which itself varies from the regular rhythmical structure, is unexpected. The contents of the passage resemble Psalm 97:4, but especially Psalm 114, and Habakkuk 3:10 f. It is doubtful which of these passages should be regarded as the earliest. With reference to Psalm 97:4, at all events, the resemblances are quite general, and therefore only casual (Philippson), but in the case of the other two passages the whole manner of expression declares the opposite. According to Hupfeld, a comparison favors the supposition that the one before us is the latest. We need not however assume that a later addition was made to the Psalm (Köster) perhaps by the Psalmist himself (Hupfeld). Neither have we sufficient reason to refer the whole Psalm to the age of the Syrian oppression (Venema, Olshausen) and to bring it into special connection with 1 Maccabees 3:38 (Hitzig). The period of the Babylonian exile might be thought of (Ewald and most). Since, however, the destruction of the temple is not mentioned, and strong evidence can be adduced to show that the prophecy of Habakkuk presupposes this Psalm (Delitzsch, Hengst, Caspari); it appears also admissible to bring the latter into connection with the destruction of the Ten Tribes. More definite indications fail us. Even the mention of Joseph along with Jacob, Psalm 77:16 b, might be due to the recollection of the deliverance of the people in Egypt (Targ, Calvin, Geier, and others). But it is still more natural to assume that Ephraim, the tribe second in importance ( Psalm 78:67) and the kingdom of Israel ( Psalm 80:2; Psalm 81:6) are alluded to. Nothing more definite aids us to discover the affliction which is here bewailed, which, though experienced personally, and expressed as that of an individual, clearly represents a national calamity. [Dr. Moll seems undecided as to which of the passages above discussed has the priority in composition. If the Psalm can be shown to have been prior to the prophecy, we have a limit on one side, for it is generally acknowledged that Habakkuk wrote in the days of Josiah. For a full presentation of this side of the question, see Delitzsch’s Comm. on Habakkuk, pp118–125, or the extracts made therefrom in his Comm. on Psalm, and in that of Hengstenberg. He uses two arguments which appear to most to be satisfactory1. That the acknowledged principle of Hab. in the structure of the 3 d chapter was to imitate the Psalm, and that the presumption is therefore in favor of his being here the imitator and not the originator2. That it is improbable that the Psalmist “would have described a past deliverance in language borrowed from the prophetic description of a deliverance yet to come.” The arguments of Hupfeld on the other side are mainly based on his own subjective taste, and proceed chiefly upon the assumption that those of the corresponding expressions which are more natural and correct as to conception and diction are the earlier. This, therefore, assumes that the Psalmist in copying changed for the worse. Is it not at least as likely that the prophet, in imitating, altered for the better? Alexander favors the position of Delitzsch. Perowne feels that there is some force in Hupfeld’s arguments, and is therefore undecided. If the Psalm is the earlier it is therefore not later than the reign of Josiah. It is naturally brought into connection with the perplexing and harassing thoughts that filled the minds of the pious at that time in the contemplation both of the present and of the future.—Perowne and Barnes regard the speaker as recording his own personal experience. Alexander regards the Church as speaking through the Psalmist. The view of Dr. Moll, as above, mediates between these, and is most probably the correct one. For the feelings are all personal, while the recollections of the past, which are contrasted with the present, are all of national blessings.—J. F. M.]

Psalm 77:3-4. My hand is stretched out in the night. [E. V, My sore ran in the night]. This expression [Heb. נִגְּרָה] usually employed of water ( 2 Samuel 14:14) and of tears ( Lamentations 3:49) is here transferred to the hand. [German hingegossen. The two ideas cannot be rendered into English by one word, as is done here by Dr. Moll.—J. F. M.] But this mode of expression is not chosen because the hand is bedewed by tears (old expositors in Geier), or because it lies exhausted and powerless, and as an image of the decay that consumes the whole body (Hengst.); but, as the sequel shows, to describe the constant turning to God as an unchangeable inclination of the soul amid the ebb and flow of the tides of feeling. [The Rabbins understood יַד to mean the stroke of the hand, and therefore the wound, but did not connect it immediately with the verb. Our translators obtained the meaning “sore” from this, and construed directly with נגרה. Hence, “My sore ran in the night.” The next verb primarily means to be cold, next to be Numbers, stiff, still, to cease. The true rendering is: My hand was stretched forth in the night and was not still. Delitzsch: “The Psalmist toils in the time of his trouble to force his way to God, who has withdrawn Himself as though wishing to know nothing of him; his hand is stretched forth in the night time, without being relaxed, it is unbent, does not fall back while directed heavenward.”—J. F. M.] The præterites also in Psalm 77:3, which many of the old translators have transferred to the whole strophe, express what is long since begun and still continues. The translation: eye, instead of: hand (Targ.) is not due to another text, but to a false effort at explanation. [ Psalm 77:4, should be translated, not as in our version, but: I remember God and groan. I think and my spirit is overwhelmed.—J. F. M.]

The eyelids, [Hengst. and Hupf. assume that שְׁמֻרֹות is for אַשְׁמֻרֹות. Alexander differs from both views, and retains the view that it is a participle, giving it the passive sense: “my eyes kept,” that Isaiah, kept fast. But to take it in the active sense, as is done in E. V, and thought possible by Perowne, is incorrect.—J. F. M.]

Psalm 77:11; Psalm 77:17. This is my infirmity.—Others translate (with the Targ.): my entreaty is this. But the meaning: suffering, or more strictly: disease, wound, is rendered certain by Jeremiah 10:19. In the next sentence expositors differ very greatly. But there should really only be hesitation between the translation: changing, or: years. In favor of the latter it may be urged that already in Psalm 77:6 this explanation is indisputably to be given to the same word-form, and that the following thought is a more natural sequel to it. Then the assurance that God’s hand, and not the wickedness and power of men, had brought this season of humiliation ( 1 Peter 5:6), inflicts, indeed, a wound in the heart. Yet it suggests also the comforting thought that everything is ordered duly and rightly, and therefore the sufferer, though still unrelieved, can win hope from the recollection of God’s former acts of help and deeds of mercy. And he gains it the more fully, the more willingly he humbles himself under the hand of such a God, and resigns himself to His holy will. If the translation: changing (Sept. and most of the ancient versions) is preferred, then it must be observed that the active sense: the hand of God can change everything (Luther) is linguistically not admissible, but only the passive, that the hand of God has been changed (Maurer, Hupfeld, Hitzig). But even then it is difficult to connect with what follows: and the thought itself is unintelligible and ambiguous. Then, the explanation that the supposition of a change in God’s actions and government is only a delusion, and that the Psalmist acknowledges this fancy to have been his former infirmity, is only gained by importing it into the words of the text. [Perowne translates: This is my sorrow, that the right hand of the Highest hath changed. Hengstenberg, with whom Alexander mainly agrees, explains by saying that the years are years of suffering inflicted by the hand of God, and so agrees with the explanation given above. The words in italics in E. V. are to be omitted. In Psalm 77:17 instead of: “they were afraid,” render: they trembled.—J. F. M.]

Psalm 77:19. In the whirlwind.—[E. V, In the heavens]. The rendering: wheel (the ancient versions and Isaaki) is here so much the less applicable, as galgal does not denote the form of the wheel when at rest, but its whirling motion. The rendering: sphæra, arch of heaven (most of the older translators after Kimchi) is therefore unsuitable. We must consequently understand either the whirlwind accompanying the under-storm (most of the moderns since J. D. Michaelis) or the rolling of the thunder (Aben Ezra, Maurer), and not introduce the idea of the wheels of Jehovah’s chariot (Rosenmueller, Hupfeld), but that of the rapid succession of thunder peals (Hengst, Böttcher). [Perowne translates: in the rolling, and explains it of God’s chariot, or of the whirlwind, though in his critical note he denies that the latter meaning can be supported. Alexander approves of the rendering whirlwind, and, in opposition to Hengstenberg, refers to Isaiah 17:13 as showing that that idea may be deduced from it.—J. F. M.]

DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL

1. There are times when the recollection of God’s former help, does not alleviate the pangs of present suffering, but only increases them. We experience, then, not only deep anguish, sleepless nights, disquieting thoughts, which toss us to and fro, but among the blows and shocks, which make us at one time shriek out, at another lose our breath, so that we cannot speak, scruples will arise, which grow into temptations, and, by the contrast of former and present circumstances, experiences, and feelings, doubt is excited as to our state of grace, and we hesitate as to the attitude of God towards us. Deliverance from such anxieties and dangers is effected by an unceasing wrestling or struggling on our way to God through all barriers, by prayer, and even with sighs and groans. Then we must not merely call to mind the hand of God, which rules in all events, but also resign ourselves truly to it in humble self-surrender, and ground our hope anew also upon the actual deeds of His might and grace, which have established and preserved the Church.

2. And thus lamentation is soon exchanged for a song of praise. The pious soul thinks no longer of itself and of its transient suffering, but of God’s eternal glory. The evidences of that shine out before him with comforting power from the history of revelation and redemption, even if God’s footsteps are not presented visibly to him as He marches through the world. And God Isaiah, and remains, even when through the instrumentality of human servants, the safe and trustworthy Leader of His people to the promised goal. Yes! He not only leads them through the sea and the desert, He tends them, too, as the Shepherd of His flock.

HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL

Those who are under suffering like to think about themselves, and brood over their situation. It were better for them to meditate upon God’s doings.—The events of history not only awaken recollections, they excite also hopes.—God’s ruling in the affairs of the world we should not merely recognize and admit, we should also be willing to be subject to it ourselves.—Remain thou with the flock of God, and then He will never fail thee in need.—God is and remains Comforter, Leader, and Provider for His Church and each of her members.—God’s ways conduct surely to the goal, but all do not recognize them, nor all walk in them.—We must toil after God until we find Him, and after we have found Him we must not leave Him.—To surrender ourselves into God’s hands is the surest means of being lifted above even the deepest sorrows.—God has means and ways enough to help His people, but they are usually other than men expect.—By praising and extolling the glory of God, we soonest forget our earthly suffering and personal affliction.

Luther: If God were to be present with His help just when we think He should, all would be wrong. Let us learn that. well. And therefore this Psalm will show God to us, and teach us His way of helping, namely, that we are not to despair of God when it goes ill with us, but just then expect help most certainly, and not trust our own thoughts.

Starke: It is a glorious attribute of faith that it does not cease in prayer and supplication till God at last causes His gracious countenance to shine, and appears with His comfort and help.—Gather for thyself in good days a treasure of the comforting words of Scripture; times of drought are coming when no comfort holds.—Trust nothing but God’s mercy, and thou wilt certainly never be betrayed by false consolation.—It is better for the heart to pray without the mouth than the mouth without the heart.—In tribulation much is learned, and more in an hour than at other times in many years, for then is experienced in deed and in truth all that God’s word says.—God is Lord of nature; therefore can He create help when the help of nature fails.—Those who fill ecclesiastical and civil positions should cultivate brotherly unity after the example of Moses and Aaron, and then the discharge of their duties will be so much the more blessed.—Frisch: Let God’s word and the glorious and marvellous redemption of His children therein recorded be precious to thee, and then thou wilt be better contented with what He ordains for thee. Thou wilt ever discover more of God, how wonderful He is in His ways, holy in His works, unsearchable in His Wisdom of Solomon, immovable in His righteousness, and inexhaustible in His mercy.—Rieger: It is the crowning excellence of all God’s ways that He so unites the revealed and the concealed together as at once to strengthen and to exercise our faith.—Richter (Hausbibel): Here learn how the thought of faith, that Jehovah Isaiah, in all changes, the same unchangeable God to-day as He was in the most remote ages and events, when He proved Himself to be the inscrutable Saviour of His people, can calm and bless a soul which grieves over Israel’s troubles, and is tempted in utter darkness.—Tholuck: Shall God, to whose nature it belongs to be gracious, and faithfully to keep His promises, make an exception in my case? Impossible.—Diedrich: Our God must ever remain our support, even if we had only His deeds in the past to contemplate with delight. He will, however, again manifest His glory when He beholds us seeking consolation in Him.—Taube: Sleepless, helpless, speechless, comfortless, this is a clear and true picture of the condition of our poor hearts, when God closes the veil, and we are left alone abandoned to ourselves.—The obscurity and darkness are not in God’s heart, words, and ways, but upon our eyes and hearts.

[Barnes: Even in shallow waters, when one wades through them, the path closes at once, and the way cannot be traced, but God’s ways are like those of one who should move over a great ocean—over a boundless sea—where none could hope to follow Him.—J. F. M.]

 


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Bibliography Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 77:4". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lcc/psalms-77.html. 1857-84.

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Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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