Psalms 77

PSALM LXXVII

The psalmist's ardent prayer to God in the tine of distress,

1-4.

The means he used to excite his confidence, 5-12.

God's wonderful works in behalf of his people, 13-20.

NOTES ON PSALM LXXVII

The title, "To the chief Musician, (or conqueror,) to Jeduthun,

A Psalm of Asaph." On this title we may observe that both Asaph

and Jeduthun were celebrated singers in the time of David, and no

doubt were masters or leaders of bands which long after their

times were called by their names. Hence Psalms composed during and

after the captivity have these names prefixed to them. But there

is reason to believe also, that there was a person of the name of

Asaph in the captivity at Babylon. The author must be considered

as speaking in the persons of the captive Israelites, It may

however be adapted to the case of any individual in spiritual

distress through strong temptation, or from a sense of the Divine

displeasure in consequence of backsliding.

Verse 1. I cried unto God] The repetition here marks the

earnestness of the psalmist's soul; and the word voice shows that

the Psalm was not the issue of private meditation, but of deep

mental trouble, which forced him to speak his griefs aloud.

Verse 2. My sore ran in the night, and ceased not] This is a

most unaccountable translation; the literal meaning of

yadi niggerah, which we translate my sore ran, is, my hand was

stretched out, i.e., in prayer. He continued during the whole

night with his voice and hands lifted up to God, and ceased not,

even in the midst of great discouragements.

Verse 3. My spirit was overwhelmed.] As the verb is in the

hithpael conjugation, the word must mean my spirit was

overpowered in itself. It purposed to involve itself in this

calamity. I felt exquisitely for my poor suffering countrymen.

"The generous mind is not confined at home;

It spreads itself abroad through all the public,

And feels for every member of the land."

Verse 4. Thou holdest mine eyes waking] Literally, thou keepest

the watches of mine eyes-my grief is so great that I cannot sleep.

I am so troubled that I cannot speak.] This shows an increase of

sorrow and anguish. At first he felt his misery, and called aloud.

He receives more light, sees and feels his deep wretchedness, and

then his words are swallowed by excessive distress. His woes are

too big for utterance. "Small troubles are loquacious; the great

are dumb." Curae leves loquuntur; ingentes stupent.

Verse 5. I have considered the days of old] chishshabti, I

have counted up; I have reckoned up the various dispensations of

thy mercy in behalf of the distressed, marked down in the history

of our fathers.

Verse 6. I call to remembrance my song in the night] I do not

think that neginathi means my song. We know that

neginath signifies some stringed musical instrument that was

struck with a plectrum; but here it possibly might be applied to

the Psalm that was played on it. But it appears to me rather that

the psalmist here speaks of the circumstances of composing the

short ode contained in the seventh, eighth, and ninth verses;

which it is probable he sung to his harp as a kind of dirge, if

indeed he had a harp in that distressful captivity.

My spirit made diligent search.] The verb chaphas

signifies such an investigation as a man makes who is obliged to

strip himself in order to do it; or, to lift up coverings, to

search fold by fold, or in our phrase, to leave no stone unturned.

The Vulgate translates: "Et scopebam spiritum meum." As scopebam

is no pure Latin word, it may probably be taken from the Greek

σκοπεω scopeo, "to look about, to consider attentively." It is

however used by no author but St. Jerome; and by him only here and

in Isa 14:23:

And I will sweep it with the besom of destruction; scopabo eam in

scopa terens. Hence we see that he has formed a verb from a noun

scopae, a sweeping brush or besom; and this sense my old Psalter

follows in this place, translating the passage thus: And I sweped

my gast: which is thus paraphrased: "And swa I sweped my gaste, (I

swept my soul,) that is, I purged it of all fylth."

Verse 7. Will the Lord cast off for ever?] Will there be no end

to this captivity? Has he not said, "Turn, ye backsliders; for I

am married unto you: I will heal your backsliding, and love you

freely." Will he then be favourable no more? Thus the psalmist

pleads and reasons with his Maker.

Verse 8. For evermore?] ledor vador, "to generation

and generation." From race to race. Shall no mercy be shown even

to the remotest generation of the children of the offenders?

Verse 9. Hath God-in anger shut up his tender mercies?] The

tender mercies of God are the source whence all his kindness to

the children of men flows. The metaphor here is taken from a

spring, the mouth of which is closed, so that its waters can no

longer run in the same channel; but, being confined, break out,

and take some other course. Wilt thou take thy mercy from the

Israelites, and give it to some other people? This he most

certainly did. He took it from the Jews, and gave it to the

Gentiles.

Verse 10. And I said, This is my infirmity] The Hebrew is very

obscure, and has been differently translated:

vaomar challothi hi shenoth yemin

elyon; "And I said, Is this my weakness? Years the right hand of

the Most High." If challothi comes from chalah, and

signifies to pray, as De Dieu has thought, then his translation

may be proper: Precari hoc meum est; mutare dextram Altissimi. "To

pray, this my business; to change the right hand of the Most

High." I can do nothing else than pray; God is the Ruler of

events. Mr. N. M. Berlin translates, "Dolere meum hoc est;

mutare est dextra Altissimi." To grieve is my portion; to change

(my condition) belongs to the right hand of the Most High. Here

shenoth, which we translate years, is derived from

shanah, to change. This latter appears to me the better

translation; the sum of the meaning is, "I am in deep distress;

the Most High alone can change my condition." The old Psalter,

following the Vulgate,-Et dixi, Nunc coepi: haec mutatio dexterae

Excelsi,-translates: And I said, Now I began this chaunchyng of

ryght hand of hihegh (highest) Alswa say, God sal noght kast al

man kynde fra his sigt with outen ende: for nowe I began to

understand the syker; (the truth;) that man sal be brogt to

endles; and thar fore, now I said, that this chaunchyng fra wreth

to mercy, is thrugh Ihu Criste that chaunges me fra ill to gude,

fra noy to gladnes.

Once more, Coverdale, who is followed by Matthews and Becke,

takes the passage by storm: "At last I came to this poynte, that I

thought; O why art thou so foolish? The right hande of the Most

Hyest can chaunge all."

Verse 11. I will remember the works of the Lord] I endeavour to

recollect what thou hast done in behalf of our fathers in past

times; in no case hast thou cast them off, when, with humbled

hearts, they sought thy mercy.

Verse 13. Thy way-is in the sanctuary] See Ps 73:17. I must

go to the sanctuary now to get comfort, as I went before to get

instruction. What a mercy to have the privilege of drawing near

to God in his ordinances! How many doubts have been solved, fears

dissipated, hearts comforted, darknesses dispelled, and snares

broken, while waiting on God in the means of grace!

Some understand the words, Thy way is in holiness-all thy

dispensations, words, and works are holy, just and true. And as is

thy majesty, so is thy mercy! O, who is so great a God as our God?

Verse 14. Thou-doest wonders] Every act of God, whether in

nature or grace, in creation or providence, is wondrous; surpasses

all power but his own; and can be comprehended only by his own

wisdom. To the general observer, his strength is most apparent;

to the investigator of nature, his wisdom; and to the genuine

Christian, his mercy and love.

Verse 15. The sons of Jacob and Joseph.] "The sons which Jacob

begat and Joseph nourished." says the Chaldee. The Israelites are

properly called the sons of Joseph as well as of Jacob, seeing

Ephraim and Manasseh, his sons, were taken into the number of

the tribes. All the latter part of this Psalm refers to the

deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt; and the psalmist uses

this as an argument to excite the expectation of the captives. As

God delivered our fathers from Egypt, so we may expect him to

deliver us from Chaldea. It required his arm to do the former,

and that arm is not shortened that it cannot save.

Verse 16. The waters saw thee] What a fine image! He represents

God approaching the Red Sea; and the waters, seeing him, took

fright, and ran off before him, dividing to the right and left to

let him pass. I have not found any thing more majestic than this.

The depths also were troubled.] Every thing appears here to have

life and perception. The waters see the Almighty, do not wait

his coming, but in terror flee away! The deeps, uncovered, are

astonished at the circumstance; and as they cannot fly, they are

filled with trouble and dismay. Under the hand of such a poet,

inanimate nature springs into life; all thinks, speaks, acts;

all is in motion, and the dismay is general.

Verse 17. The clouds poured out water] It appears from this that

there was a violent tempest at the time of the passage of the Red

Sea. There was a violent storm of thunder, lightning, and rain.

These three things are distinctly marked here. 1. "The skies sent

out a sound:" the THUNDER. 2. "Thine arrows went abroad:" the

LIGHTNING. 3. "The clouds poured out water:" the RAIN. In the next

verse we have, 4. An EARTHQUAKE: "The earth trembled and shook,"

Ps 77:18.

Verse 19. Thy way is in the sea] Thou didst walk through the

sea, thy path was through a multitude of waters.

Thy footsteps are not known.] It was evident from the effects

that God was there: but his track could not be discovered; still

he is the Infinite Spirit, without parts, limits, or passions. No

object of sense.

Verse 20. Thou leddest thy people like a flock] This may refer

to the pillar of cloud and fire. It went before them, and they

followed it. So, in the eastern countries, the shepherd does not

drive, but leads, his flock. He goes before them to find them

pasture, and they regularly follow him.

By the hand of Moses and Aaron.] They were God's agents; and

acted, in civil and sacred things, just as directed by the Most

High.

ANALYSIS OF THE SEVENTY-SEVENTH PSALM

In this Psalm the prophet shows the bitter agony which a

troubled spirit undergoes from a sense of God's displeasure; and

the comfort which it afterwards receives through faith in his

promises.

There are two parts in this Psalm:-

I. The psalmist sets forth the strife between the flesh and the

spirit; and how the flesh tempts the spirit to despair, and calls

in question the goodness of God, Ps 77:1-10.

II. Next, he shows the victory of the spirit over the flesh;

being raised, encouraged, and confirmed by the nature, promises,

and works of God, Ps 77:11-20.

This is an excellent Psalm, and of great use in spiritual

desertion.

I. The strife. The prophet betakes himself to God. 1. He prays.

2. Prays often. 3. Prays earnestly. 4. And with a troubled soul.

The Psalm is, therefore, not the expression of a despairing soul,

but of one that has a great conflict with temptation.

Though he complains, yet he despairs not.

I. His complaint is bitter, and he sets down how he was

exercised.

1. He found no intermission; day and night he was in distress.

His voice was continually lifted up, and his hands constantly

stretched out to God in prayer. When no man saw him, he prayed.

His complaint was in secret, and far from hypocrisy, which always

loves to have witnesses.

2. He refused to be comforted, Ps 77:2.

3. Even the "remembrance of God troubled him," Ps 77:3.

4. His soul was overwhelmed, Ps 77:3.

5. He became at last speechless through grief, Ps 77:4.

6. All sleep departed from him, Ps 77:4.

II. He shows that his grief was aggravated by a consideration of

the happiness he once enjoyed, but had lost.

1. He had considered the days of old, Ps 77:5.

2. He could rejoice in and praise God, Ps 77:6.

3. But now, on diligent search, all good is gone, Ps 77:6.

4. His debate between hope and despair, which leads him to break

out in the following interrogations: 1. Will the Lord cast off for

ever? 2. Will he be favourable no more? 3. Is his mercy clean

gone? 4. Doth his promise fail? 5. Hath God forgotten to be

gracious? 6. Hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies?

Ps 77:7-9.

II. How he is restored.

1. He begins with a correction of himself: "I said, This is my

infirmity," Ps 77:10.

2. Takes encouragement from a remembrance,-

(1) Of God's ways: "I will remember-the right hand of the Most

High," Ps 77:10.

(2) Of his WORKS: "I will remember thy wonders of old,"

Ps 77:11.

3. On these he will meditate and discourse, Ps 77:12.

(1) He then addresses his speech to God; who he understands is

to be sought in his sanctuary, Ps 77:13.

(2) And who is "infinitely great and good," Ps 77:13.

(3) Who has declared his strength among the people, Ps 77:14.

(4) And particularly to the descendants of Jacob, Ps 77:15.

III. He amplifies the story of their deliverance from Egypt by

several instances of God's power.

1. In the RED SEA: "The waters saw thee," Ps 77:16.

2. In the HEAVENS: "The clouds poured out water, Ps 77:17.

3. In the EARTH: "The earth trembled and shook," Ps 77:18.

IV. The final cause of all was that he might lead his people out

of their bondage, and destroy their enemies, Ps 77:19, 20.

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