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Deeper Commentary

Psa 77:1

For the Chief Musician. To Jeduthun. A Psalm by Asaph-

This "Asaph" could be the Asaph of Hezekiah's time (Is. 36:3) who used the Psalms in the context of the events of the Assyrian invasion. The Asaph Psalms all have parts in them relevant to that context (Ps. 50, 73-83). Or the "Asaph" may have been the singers who were relatives of Asaph, prominent at the restoration (Neh. 7:44; 11:17,22). It could mean that the psalms were a part of a collection from the Asaphites, and the name "Asaph" was therefore simply used to identify the temple singers. And again, parts of the Asaph psalms also have relevance to the restoration. The fact the Asaph Psalms speak of elohim rather than Yahweh would support the idea that they were used in the exilic / restoration period. But Asaph was the "chief" of the Levites to whom David assigned the ministry of praise before the ark (1 Chron. 16:4,5). It seems he did compose his own Psalms, which were used by Hezekiah at his time (2 Chron. 29:30). So I would again suggest that all the Asaph Psalms were composed originally by David "for" [not necessarily "by"] Asaph, but were rewritten and edited for later occasions.

My cry goes to God! Indeed, I cry to God for help, and for Him to listen to me-
This Psalm is similar to Hab. 3, which is a lament of God's apparent inaction at the time of the Babylonian devastation of Judah, and the context may be the same here. And there was the same sense that God wasn't hearing prayer.

Psa 77:2

In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord. My hand was stretched out in the night, and didn’t retract. My soul refused to be comforted-
The intention of David's Psalms were to share his experience of God's grace and salvation with others. The idea is 'May this be true for you as it was for me'. And this is really the basis of all our witness. It was David who had been answered in his 'days of trouble', and set on high (Ps. 20:1). His desire was fulfilled- for this verse of the Psalm clearly was reapplied to the "day of trouble" of the Assyrian invasion (s.w. Is. 37:3) and also to the Babylonian traumas of the exiles (s.w. Jer. 16:19; 30:7; Nah. 1:7; Hab. 3:16). See on Ex. 25:8.

 "Troubles" is the word used of Jacob's time of trouble (Gen. 35:3; Jer. 30:7; Dan. 12:1). David's experience of trouble was representative of how the exiles and all God's people could ultimately follow the path of Jacob to deliverance out of exile and from his strong enemies. But in Ps. 71:20 David sees his deliverance from the day of trouble as ultimately being in the resurrection of the body, being 'brought up again from the depths of the earth'.

Psa 77:3

I remember God, and I groan-
This is the word used of the exiles groaning and apparently getting no relief (Is. 59:11). The Psalm may have begun with David expressing his groaning to God (s.w. Ps. 42:11; 43:5). But the truth was that God likewise groaned for the suffering of His people (s.w. Jer. 31:20).

I complain, and my spirit is overwhelmed. Selah-
As noted above, this may have begun as a Psalm recording how David complained (s.w. Ps. 55:17) and felt overwhelmed (s.w. Ps. 61:2; 142:3; 143:4). It becomes the basis for how Habakkuk likewise 'complained' (see on :1) regarding the Babylonian dominance of Judah.

Psa 77:4

You hold my eyelids open. I am so troubled that I can’t speak-
In deep sickness or depression it can simply be that we find formal, verbalized prayer impossible. Ps. 77:4 speaks of this: "I am so troubled that I cannot speak" (formally, to God). It's in those moments that comfort can be taken from the fact that it is our spirit which is mediated as it were to God. Tribulation is read as prayer- hence even the Lord's suffering on the cross, "the affliction of the afflicted", was read by the Father as the Lord Jesus 'crying unto' the Father (Ps. 22:24). This is sure comfort to those so beset by illness and physical pain that they lack the clarity of mind to formally pray- their very affliction is read by the Father as their prayer.

We must enquire why the Psalmist felt so troubled and overwhelmed when thinking about God and meditating upon the present exile of His people. The answer may be in that he perceived that all this had come upon them for their sins, and restoration would only come from repentance; which seemed very far from the exiles. He comes to realize that they should cease bemoaning their lot, and accept what the prophetic explanation for their sufferings- they had grievously sinned. This would explain why upon thinking about these things, he feels unable to talk to God, just as Daniel felt when realizing the same things.

Psa 77:5

I have considered the days of old, the years of ancient times-
The psalmist has realized that the exile is due to the sin of his people, and the full enormity of it now dawns upon him (see on :4). But he considers God's saving hand in history, and takes comfort from the fact that God still acts for His people even when they are far from Him and impenitent. His purpose is not ultimately thwarted by human sin.

Psa 77:6

I remember my song in the night. I consider in my own heart; my spirit diligently inquires-
This may preface a quotation from one of his songs of the night, which we have in :7-9. And in that song he asks the questions we too have done at times: Will God's whole salvation project with humanity be declared a failure because of the persistent human propensity to sin and reject Him?

Psa 77:7

Will the Lord reject us forever? Will He no more be gracious?-
The questions of :7-9 are perhaps rhetorical questions, intentionally begging the answers "No!". His "song in the night" (see on :6) which we have in :7-9 was not therefore a song of doubt, but rather of praise, confident that God will not reject His people, and that His grace is eternal- as the Psalms elsewhere celebrate.

Psa 77:8

Has His grace vanished forever? Does His promise fail for generations?-
God's grace is eternal (s.w. Ps. 18:50; 52:8). His promises will not fail (Dt. 31:6,8; 1 Kings 8:25; Ps. 89:33). The answer was "of course not". Jeremiah finally came to accept, even in the ruins of Jerusalem, that His purpose would not fail (Lam. 3:22). And this "song in the night" of this psalmist is saying the same.

Psa 77:9

Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has He, in anger, withheld His compassion? Selah-
As explained on :6, the questions of :7-9 were not doubts, but rather rhetorical questions which were answered with a resounding "No!" each time. The connection with Hab. 3 (see on :1) is in the conclusion that in anger God remembers mercy (Hab. 3:2).

Psa 77:10

Then I thought, I will appeal to this: the years of the right hand of the Most High-
The Hebrew is difficult, but the sense seems to be that the appeal or prayer of the psalmist will result in as the LXX puts it "the change of the right hand of the Most High". God is open to change, He is highly responsive to human prayer and repentance; and that was exactly what was needed to bring about the restoration of Judah.

Psa 77:11

I will remember Yah’s deeds; for I will remember Your wonders of old-
Asaph lived at the time of the restoration (Ezra 2:41). All his Psalms draw on the past dealings of God with His people and encourage them on this basis to make the wilderness journey back  to the land, just as they had done at the Exodus. As explained earlier on this Psalm, God's wonders of old were in that He had worked with an impenitent and apostate people, towards their salvation. This is the wonder of His history with men, and it is this history which is developed in Ps. 78. I suggest that again we have a pairing of the Psalms, here of Psalms 77 and 78. The salvation history outlined in Ps. 78 is a development of this theme of Ps. 77. Hence Ps. 77:20 ends with Israel being led as a flock, and Ps. 78 continues this theme.

Psa 77:12

I will also meditate on all Your work, and consider Your doings-
As in Ps. 143:5, the Divine work and doings being considered are His historical grace to His people. For all His work for Israel was by grace, seeing that for the most part they didn't strongly believe in Him and were unfaithful to His covenant; and yet He had still worked for them so mightily, towards their salvation.

Psa 77:13

Your way, God, is in the sanctuary-
This is the same phrase as in Is. 35:8 "The way of holiness", the path back to Zion which God would create for those who wanted to travel it. So "in" could as well be "to". 

What god is great like God?-
The uniqueness of Yahweh, in the context, is that He continues to work for His sinful people by grace, doing great things for them; whereas pagan gods were thought to disown their people for any disloyalty.

Psa 77:14

You are the God who does wonders-
The wonders in the context are God's desire to continue working with His people even when they are grossly disloyal to Him. It is the wonder of His grace which is in view, and not just His material miracles.

You have made Your strength known among the peoples-
God's strength was declared at the exodus (s.w. Ex. 15:2,13) and the surrounding nations knew this, as witnessed by Rahab's words to the spies. The redemption from Babylon was intended to have the same effect, resulting in the surrounding nations 'knowing' Yahweh as their God. But this didn't happen, for Judah didn't repent, most of them remained in Babylon and refused their great redemption, and continued worshipping the local gods.

Psa 77:15

You have redeemed Your people with Your arm, the sons of Jacob and Joseph. Selah-
This reference to both Judah and the ten tribes, "Ephraim and Manasseh", reflects the prophetic intention for the regathering of both kingdoms from captivity. Tragically, the ten tribes didn't respond, and most of Judah preferred Babylon to Zion. God's "arm" redeemed them all from Egypt, despite their worshipping of idols and carrying of the tabernacle of their idols through the desert. And that arm was potentially outstretched to redeem them from Babylon. "Redemption" is a major theme of the prophecies of the restoration in later Isaiah.

Psa 77:16

The waters saw You, God, the waters saw You, and they writhed, the depths also convulsed-
The miraculous redemption of Israel from Egypt could have been the prototype for the restoration of the exiles from Babylon. This point is frequently made in later Isaiah. But the restoration wasn't accompanied by such miracles; because most of Judah didn't want to participate, and remained in Babylon. This is a frequent tragedy in God's dealing with us all; such huge Divine potentials are wasted by human indifference and shortsightedness. The waters of the Red Sea are spoken of as living entities, because those "waters" are intended to be understood as representing the nations who would have fled before God's saving purpose of restoring His people to their land.

It is also possible to understand the apparent "living" nature of the waters because there is an "Angel of the waters" (Rev. 16:5). That a specific Angel controls “the waters” in an area is also implied by the way flood waters are described as praising God (Ps. 42:8; 148:7), water trembling at God’s presence (Ps. 77:17; Hab. 3:10), and the deep waters mourning (Ez. 31:15). These figures of speech may in fact be based upon the real existence of a personal “Angel of the waters”.

Psa 77:17

The clouds poured out water. The skies resounded with thunder, Your arrows also flashed around-
This continues the description of what happened at the Red Sea, although the historical record doesn't much mention the thunder, lightning and theophany which was experienced, according to this and other later descriptions of what happened (e.g. Ps. 77:17,18; 97:4). The clouds pouring out water also recalls the flood; as if the judgment upon Egypt would likewise be seen upon Babylon. But Babylon fell only very slowly, and not in the dramatic, miraculous way envisaged in the prophecies of the fall of Babylon. This was again because the Divine potential wasn't realized because the exiles didn't repent and most actually chose to remain in Babylon.

Psa 77:18

The voice of Your thunder was in the whirlwind, the lightnings lit up the world, the earth trembled and shook-
The driving back of the Red Sea, and its return, is explained in Exodus by a "wind" (Ex. 14:21). But here we find that the wind was in fact a whirlwind, associated with an earthquake and lightnings- all language of a theophany.

Psa 77:19

Your way was through the sea, Your paths through the great waters; Your footsteps were not known-
The allusion is to the way that there are no footsteps seen in water. God's ways are known by their effect, but the process is often not discernible. "Footsteps" is literally "heels"; the reference is to Gen. 3:15. The seed of the serpent was being trodden underfoot in primary fulfilment of that prophecy. It was Israel who walked through the great waters, but the waters returned and there was no trace of their passage. This speaks of the apparent mystery of God's ways; Jn. 3:8 may even allude here.

Psa 77:20

You led Your people like a flock, by the hand of Moses and Aaron-
The flock of Israel were led by the hand of an Angel, but that Angel articulated its activity through men. And it is the same today. God's hand is manifest through our hand. As explained earlier on this Psalm, God's wonders of old were in that He had worked with an impenitent and apostate people, towards their salvation. This is the wonder of His history with men, and it is this history which is developed in Ps. 78. I suggest that again we have a pairing of the Psalms, here of Psalms 77 and 78. The salvation history outlined in Ps. 78 is a development of this theme of Ps. 77. Hence Ps. 77:20 ends with Israel being "led" as a flock, and Ps. 78 continues this theme (Ps. 78:14,53 s.w.).