Psalm 77:1-9: A Proper Perspective on Distress and Deliverance: Part I
The Reality of Sin and Judgment
One theme of Psalm 77 is distress and deliverance as part of God’s providence and a proper perspective of God and His ways. Psalm 77 has been placed in the third book of the Psalter (Psalms 73-89). The theme of book III is the collapse of the Davidic kingdom and the resultant distress and devastation of the people and land. Psalm 77 is part of a unit. Psalms 77-83 form a unit that focuses on the devastation and distress of Israel and the hoped-for deliverance of both the northern and southern kingdoms. Psalm 79 reports the final destruction of the southern kingdom by Babylon in 586 B.C. and Psalm 80 reports the destruction of the northern kingdom by Assyria in 722 B.C.
These Psalms outline the life experiences of these kingdoms who are children of God. The outline includes their original deliverance from Egypt; their devastation at the hands of foreign nations; the raising up of a deliverer; and the hope of a future deliverance. The organizer of the Psalter used this group of Psalms to highlight both God’s judgment and the resultant devastation and God’s covenantal faithfulness in terms of deliverance. He wanted the readers to view God and themselves from a full-orbed, proper perspective.
Psalm 77 is authored by Asaph who also authored Psalms 73-83 and Psalm 50. He was a member of the tribe of Levi and leader of the group whom David had put in charge of worship and the music which was performed at the Tent of meeting (1 Chronicles 6:39; 16:7). Generally Asaph tells “it like it is.” In Psalm 77, his goal is to have a proper perspective on distress – the bad news – and deliverance – the good news – both from God’s hand.
His psalms are centered on God’s sovereignty especially in what many would call a “surging sea – a tsunami of unfavorable circumstances.” Some may call these circumstances the “fickle finger of fate.” It was as if God had made a mistake. But Asaph was a fellow sufferer and a man of courage. He is in trouble as was all of Israel. He was experiencing distress and was looking forward to deliverance. He wanted to know if it would come. Unlike the nation as a whole, in the midst of these times, he turns to God. Initially he is not comforted and his misery is complicated. However, as in the latter part of Psalm 73, he correctly counseled himself. he does not live the lie. Rather in Psalm 77, he develops and gives a proper perspective on distress and deliverance.
Verse 1 pictured Asaph as an individual in distress as he viewed the devastation wrought by international enemies: I cried to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. He had a proper vertical reference. The God of circumstances and not the circumstances was his grid to make sense out of what was happening. He goes to the Lord in prayer (verse 2). He trusts he will be heard as he prays for the covenant community: When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted.
He described his distress. The word in the original refers to that which is narrow or confining; it conveys the idea of being in a bind or being squeezed. In our psychologized language, Asaph would be considered “stressed out.” However, Asaph knew the situation was bigger than him. He knew God took care of His people. He knew distress and deliverance were linked. Rightly he knew God was in the problem but he was not sure how and the results. The problem was not the circumstances. They were the context for him to express trust in God or in self.
Asaph is describing inner- man activity – turmoil, uneasiness, and agitation. Asaph was being squeezed. God had brought him and God’s people into a terrible situation: the Davidic kingdom had collapsed. It had lost its glory. There was devastation. They were being judged and God was using His enemies to do it! Asaph looked at the circumstances and wondered what God was doing. The circumstances were one thing; God’s control and purpose were another. This is a common scenario throughout the Bible but especially in the Psalms and the wisdom literature. For Asaph, the issue was twofold: the circumstances and the God of them – what was He doing. The situation was bad enough but he, as was Job, was perplexed at what God was doing.
Even when he remembered – reflected upon (verses 3, 6) God and Israel’s deliverance, he was not comforted (v.3: I remembered you, O God, and I groaned; I mused and my spirit grew faint). Asaph, as did David and Job, knew God was sovereign but God’s control and His presence did not bring them relief: v.4: You kept my eyes from closing. I was too troubled to speak. The word translated trouble tarasso is found in Psalms 6 and 13. John uses it in his gospel (11:33, 38; 12:27; 13:21; 14:1, 27) and also indicates a churning within. It describes Jesus’ response to His mission and ministry: pleasing His Father by becoming sin for His people by going to hell on the cross.
Verses 5-9 record more of Asaph’s inner-man activities – his thoughts and desires. He thought of the days of old as he remembered God’s faithfully carrying Israel. Circumstances had changed. Therefore, he asked the question: Is God still loving? Is He still faithful? Asaph was asking himself as well as God. He wanted to know if really God. How could he explain a God who keeps His promises: promises including blessings and judgment?
v.5: I thought about the former days, the years of long ago;
v.6: I remembered my songs in the night. My heart mused and my spirit inquired:
v.7: Will the Lord reject me forever? Will he never show his favor again?
v.8: Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time?
v.9: Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?
Asaph begins to change his focus and perspective. He wrote that he remembered (see Psalms 105-106 which speak to the folly of “not remembering” and the blessing and joy of remembering). He knew God as promise maker and promise keeper. He remembered Israel’s deliverance and God as Israel’s Protector. Yet he knew things were not right. Israel was in the midst of cataclysmic change. The glory of the Davidic kingdom was no more. Israel had fallen. Her beauty was reduced only to dust and rubble. They were a plundered, disgraced people. Israel had fallen.
He is beginning to come to his senses – to change his thinking which picks up its temp in verse 10. The circumstances must be interpreted in light of God’s revelation of himself. He had been Israel’s Deliverer. The people had missed that point in the years of wandering in the wilderness and as a rebellious nation. God had delivered the people physically which pointed to a spiritual deliverance. But they rejected God’s efforts and there were consequences.
God had revealed himself as one who blesses and curses (Deuteronomy 8; 28; Leviticus 26). From Asaph’s viewpoint much like Jeremiah’s viewpoint, the devastation and distress hurt (Lamentations 1)! He grieved as he should. He was I the process of developing a proper perspective on God’s ways: devastation and deliverance.
1. Asaph looked beyond the circumstances to the God of them. This motif is common in Scripture. Read Genesis 50:15-21.
a. How does Joseph’s mindset compare with Asaph’s?
b. What did Joseph and Asaph have in common?
c. Both understood and relied on the sovereignty of God: How does that fact help explain the beauty of the statement given in question #1?
2. Asaph rightly understood that Israel was in deep trouble.
a. He was tempted to do what?
b. What did he do?
3. How are thoughts, desires, and actions linked?
a. People often refer to feelings ad they mean what?
b. How was it possible for Asaph to change his thinking and wanting?
Psalm 77:10-20: A Proper Perspective on Distress and Deliverance: Part II
The Reality of God’s Deliverance
Asaph knew and recognized all too well that Israel had sinned and judgment had fallen upon them. Distress was the result which should point the people to God and His deliverance. Psalm 77 records Asaph’s development of a proper perspective on distress and deliverance. Now the question loomed: would God restore Israel and keep His promises? This is very similar to the question that Adam and Eve faced when they were exiled from the Garden.
It is also the question that was raised in various places in the Psalter including Psalm 15 and 24: who may ascend the holy hill and enter into God’s presence? Would fellowship be restored? The clarity and the poignancy of the situation motivated Asaph to seek the character of God. His remembering picks up tempo beginning with in verses 10.
As in many of Asaph’s psalms, there was a turning point. The motif of “coming to your senses” is reminiscent of Psalm 73:16-17. It is not limited to Asaph (see 1 Samuel 30 especially verses 6-7; Luke 15:17-18). He then breaks out in a doxology:
v.10: Then I thought, “To this I will appeal: the years of his right hand of the Most High.
v.11: I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
v.12: I will mediate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.
v.13: Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God?
v.14: You, the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples
v.15: With your mighty hand you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.
Asaph is changing! As a result, he thinks, remembers, mediates, and considers: all of these are terms conveying the idea of reasoning – sober cognition! He is counseling himself by beginning with truth: God is in control. Feelings and circumstances are not to be his rule of thumb. They are not his standard for evaluating God, himself, and Israel. In verse 13 he asks what God is greater than Israel’s God.
He concludes, or perhaps more accurately re-concludes this about God: He is majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, and working wonders (Exodus 15:11; Psalms 35:10; 71:19; 77:13; 86:8; 89:6; and 113:5). This is quite an amazing testimony especially given the circumstances. It is the only one that makes sense! Psalm 77 brings hone the truth that distress and deliverance are twin pillars in God’s economy.
In verse 15, the author is referring to all Israel: descendants of Jacob and Joseph. I don’t know if he was referring to God’s covenant promise to David as given 2 Samuel 7:12-16. God promised a man on the throne, David’s descendant, and a kingdom. David had reunited the northern and southern kingdom documented in chapters 5-7 of 2 Samuel. Asaph may have been ahead of his time: what God has joined together let no man separate!
Asaph is confident in God’s covenant-making and covenant-keeping. In verses 16-19, he refers to God’s supernatural deliverance of rebellious Israel through the Red Sea. Asaph reflected on the type of Deliverer Israel had and has. He is the God of presence – He is the Way as He leads the way. Asaph is giving a veiled reference to Jesus Christ who is among His people and who the way, the truth, and the life (Matthew 1:21, 23; John 14:6).
The way to the Way is repentance which is another manner of saying come to your senses. It is a matter of life and death. The remnant of Israel was to learn the lesson. Asaph had changed thinking. He focused on God and His activity in His world. Asaph changed his view of himself, Israel, and God. He read his circumstances through God’s word and past activities. He renewed his thinking about God and when he did, trust and hope were forth coming.
v.16: The waters saw you, O God, the waters saw you and writhed; the very depths convulsed.
v.17: The clouds poured down water; the skies resounded with thunder; your arrows flashed back and forth.
v.18: Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind, your lightening lit up the world; the earth trembled and quaked.
v.19: Your path led through the sea; our way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen.
v.20: You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
In verse 20, he closed the Psalm on a resounding note which actually completed the though expressed in verse 15: You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron. The thought expressed in this verse conveyed pastoral concern and tenderness in the midst of dark times. For the expression of the same thought process see Psalms 78:52, 72; 79:13; 80:13. Certainly and completely God is the good Shepherd and Deliverer. Asaph and Israel must get busy trusting and obeying. Asaph knew intellectually and now experientially that God never leaves or forsakes him and His people.
As did Job, Asaph came to the realization that he did not need to know every point along the way. He only needed to know the Way and rest in the Way. The commercial: you are in good hands and the song: He holds the whole world in His hand picture Asaph’s God. Circumstances did not change and God did not change. Asaph changed. He focused on truth: there was and always had been light in and at end of the tunnel.
For Asaph the light had been turned on. He came to his senses. Circumstances did not determine his final response. He was seeing with spiritual eyes what he could not understand using only his senses – his physical eyes. The Holy Spirit was alive and well!
As Jesus demonstrated there is always a grand end and a blessing. Long, sustained obedience and trust in the same direction is required and brings the believer home (Hebrews 12:1-3). The Triune God provides truth; saving faith; true hope; grace; and a personal relationship with Him. So many of the saints of old teach the lesson of endurance God’s way for His glory and their good (Hebrews 11:39-40). Asaph was in good company!
1. What are the various grids to or means of interpreting life and life events?
2. Saving faith and true hope are gifts from whom?
a. Both have an object and content: See Hebrews 11:1, 6 and Romans 8:24-25.
b. What is the object to each?
c. What is the content of each?
3. Asaph was refreshed by the fact that God led his people (verse 20):
a. What is historical event is he referring?
b. What is the significance of this event?
c. It points to Christ’s resurrection which many term the new exodus: a dead savior is no savior at all. Explain.