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Psalm 77

STROPHE DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
Comfort In Trouble From Recalling God's Mighty Deeds
MT Intro
For the choir director; according to Jeduthun.
A Psalm of Asaph.
The Consoling Memory of God's Redemptive Works Prayer For Deliverance From Personal Trouble Comfort in Times of Distress Meditations on Israel's Past
77:1-6 77:1-3 77:1-3 77:1-3 77:1
        77:2-3
  77:4-6 77:4-10 77:4-10 77:4-6
77:7-10 77:7-9     77:7-9
  77:10-15     77:10-12
77:11-15   77:11-15 77:11-15  
        77:13-15
77:16-20 77:16-20 77:16-20 77:16-20 77:16-17
        77:18-19
        77:20

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

A. This Psalm is characterized by cohortatives (8). The psalmist is remembering what he did and what YHWH has done in the past.

B. Psalm 77:11-15, 16-20 focus on YHWH's acts of

1. deliverance

2. creation

C. YHWH is the

1. creator

2. warrior

3. sustainer

4. shepherd

D. This Psalm specifically mentions

1. Jacob, Ps. 77:15

2. Joseph, Ps. 77:15

3. Moses, Ps. 77:20

4. Aaron, Ps. 77:20

YHWH's past acts of deliverance and provision seem long ago and far away. Note the series of questions in Ps. 77:7-9.

E. Psalm 77:16-20 are similar in theology and imagery to YHWH as Creator in Ps. 74:13-17. The water imagery could refer to Genesis 1 (i.e., creation) or Exodus 14-15 (i.e., the exodus).

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 77:1-6
 1My voice rises to God, and I will cry aloud;
 My voice rises to God, and He will hear me.
 2In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord;
 In the night my hand was stretched out without weariness;
 My soul refused to be comforted.
 3When I remember God, then I am disturbed;
 When I sigh, then my spirit grows faint.  Selah.
 4You have held my eyelids open;
 I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
 5I have considered the days of old,
 The years of long ago.
 6I will remember my song in the night;
 I will meditate with my heart,
 And my spirit ponders:

77:1 "My voice rises to God" This phrase with no verb is repeated twice for emphasis. The psalmist has prayed often and intensely but with no peace/result! He trusts YHWH but longs for Him to act as He has in the past on behalf of the covenant people.

▣ "I will cry aloud" This verb (BDB 858, KB 1042, Qal cohortative) is used often in the exodus and wilderness wandering period (cf. Exod. 14:10,15; 17:4; Num. 12:13; 20:16; Deut. 26:7). It is possible that the description of Ps. 77:16-19 refers to this same period. There was no silent prayer in the ancient world. Reading and prayer were spoken aloud!

▣ "He will hear me" This is both affirmation and request! The rest of this strophe (Ps. 77:1-6) expresses the psalmist's distress at the apparent silence of YHWH.

77:2 "In the day of my trouble" This is a recurrent phrase in the Psalms (cf. Ps. 50:15; 86:7; slightly different phrasing but the same concept in Ps. 91:15; 107:6,15).

The use of "day" denotes a period of time, not a specific 24 hour period. See Special Topic: Day (yom).

▣ "In the night my hand was stretched out" Notice that "in the day" of line 1 is parallel to "in the night" of line 2. This was a way of expressing constant (i.e., "without weariness"), around-the-clock prayer (i.e., "hand stretched out").

Jewish prayer posture was usually

1. standing

2. hands raised

3. eyes open, lifted to heaven

The verb (BDB 620, KB 669, Niphal perfect) is literally "poured out." NIDOTTE, vol. 3, p. 27, thinks that two aspects of prayer are combined in this verse (cf. Lam. 2:19).

1. pouring one's heart out to God in prayer

2. lifting/stretching one's hands out to God in prayer

 

▣ "My soul refused to be comforted" YHWH seemed not to hear and act so the psalmist continued to pray! This is theologically parallel to Habakkuk (i.e., Hab. 2:1).

77:3 This is a series of three Qal cohortatives. The psalmist could not find peace in prayer. It seemed YHWH's actions in the past (cf. Ps. 77:5) on the covenant people's behalf had changed (cf. Ps. 77:10b).

▣ "Selah" See note at Ps. 3:2. Notice it appears at the end of Ps. 77:3, 9, 15. The NJB and NKJV see its use as closing separate strophes.

77:4a This line of poetry is confusing. The psalmist wants to quit praying but YHWH causes (BDB 28, KB 31, Qal perfect) him to keep on. It is possible to interpret this as God allowing him to remain awake so that he can continue to pray. It seems that Ps. 77:4-6 serves as an introduction to the six questions of 77:7-9 with the possible shocking conclusion of Ps. 77:10!

This first strophe describes the psalmist's acts in detail (as does Ps. 77:11-12). This is a record of the psalmist's theological struggle for more information about God and His will and way for the covenant people. The psalmist sees the obvious disconnect between the past and the present. He cannot understand why!

77:6 "I will remember. . .I will meditate. . .ponder" These are three verbs which describe the psalmist's mental actions (cf. Ps. 143:5) from despair (Ps. 77:1-5) and doubt (Ps. 77:7-10). It is not until Ps. 77:11-15,16-20 that he regains his sense of trust in YHWH's character and actions on Israel's behalf.

Notice three verbs (two the same) reappear in Ps. 77:11-12. Faith takes time and thought! The trustworthiness of revelation and personal experience merge into settled conviction.

▣ "song in the night" Because of Ps. 42:8 this phrase may be an allusion to YHWH's gracious actions which turn into night-time praises (both conscious and unconscious). The psalmist knew days and nights of praise and peace but his current experience was very different.

The UBS Text Project gives three possibilities to the term NASB translates "song" (BDB 618).

1. music - נגינתי (MT, NASB)

2. murmur/meditate - והגיתי (LXX, Peshitta, NJB)

3. sorrow - נוגנתי (NEB)

 

▣ "my spirit ponders" The verb is literally "searches" (BDB 344, KB 341, Piel imperfect with waw). It is masculine and "spirit" (BDB 924) is feminine. Therefore, it could refer to

1. the psalmist himself

2. God searching him (cf. Ps. 139:1,23)

 

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 77:7-10
 7Will the Lord reject forever?
 And will He never be favorable again?
 8Has His lovingkindness ceased forever?
 Has His promise come to an end forever?
 9Has God forgotten to be gracious,
 Or has He in anger withdrawn His compassion?  Selah.
 10Then I said, "It is my grief,
 That the right hand of the Most High has changed."

77:7-10 This strophe is connected to the psalmist's disturbing prayer of Ps. 77:1-6. He cannot understand. He asks a series of stark, scary questions that seem to question YHWH's covenant promises and unchanging character! These are the most frightening questions in the OT! He apparently does not perceive that the problem might be the sin, idolatry, and covenant faithlessness of the covenant people.

The most distressing aspect to these questions is his false conclusion (i.e., Ps. 77:10)! YHWH has not changed (BDB 1039, KB 1597) but His people have!

Derek Kidner, Tyndale OT Commentaries (pp. 308-309) takes the view that Ps. 77:10 is a positive turning point verse, introducing Ps. 77:11-20. "Selah" appears at the end of Ps. 77:9, which may imply that Ps. 77:10-15 comprise a strophe (cf. NKJV, JPSOA). The tone of the Psalm surely changes at 77:11-20.

77:7-8 Psalm 77:7 and 8 have four words or phrases that describe the psalmist's feeling that YHWH has permanently abandoned Israel.

1. forever, Ps. 77:7 - BDB 761 

2. forever, Ps. 77:8 - BDB 664 

3. ceased forever (lit. "are at an end"), Ps. 77:8 - BDB 170, KB 197, Qal perfect

4. come to an end, Ps. 77:8 - BDB 189 construct BDB 189

For #1 see Special Topic: Forever ('olam). This repetition shows the fear and doubt of the psalmist.

77:8 "lovingkindness" See Special Topic: Lovingkindness (hesed).

77:10 "the Most High" This Hebrew title, "Elyon" (BDB 71, see SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY) is from the word "high" or "upper." It was used of God in Gen. 14:18-22; Num. 24:16; Deut. 32:8 by non-Israelites.

This Psalm uses several different names for Deity.

1. Elohim, Ps. 77:1 (twice), 3, 13,16

2. Adonai, Ps. 77:2, 7 (lit. "my Lord")

3. Most High, Ps. 77:10

4. Yah, Ps. 77:11 (abbreviation for YHWH)

5. El, Ps. 77:9, 13, 14 (general name for deity in the ANE)

 

NASB, NRSV"It is my grief"
NKJV"It is my anguish"
NJB"This is what wounds me"
JPSOA"It is my fault"
Peshitta"This is my infirmity"

There is disagreement among modern scholars as to the Hebrew root.

1. חלה, BDB 317 I - "to sicken" (NASB, NRSV, TEV, NET, REB, Peshitta)

2. חלה, BDB 318 II - "to entreat the favor of" (NIV)

3. חלל, BDB 319 - "to pierce" (NJB, UBS Text Project's suggestion, "my being wounded," p. 333)

 

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 77:11-15
 11I shall remember the deeds of the Lord;
 Surely I will remember Your wonders of old.
 12I will meditate on all Your work
 And muse on Your deeds.
 13Your way, O God, is holy;
 What god is great like our God?
 14You are the God who works wonders;
 You have made known Your strength among the peoples.
 15You have by Your power redeemed Your people,
 The sons of Jacob and Joseph.  Selah.

77:11-15 The psalmist again tries to focus on YHWH's past acts (cf. Ps. 77:11-12, 14-15). He refocuses on His unchanging, unique character (cf. Ps. 77:13, see SPECIAL TOPIC: MONOTHEISM).

Note the purposeful parallel of the verbs in Ps. 77:11-12 to those of Ps. 77:6.

77:11 "wonders" It denotes YHWH's acts of creation and deliverance. See Special Topic: Wonderful Things. The same word (BDB 810) is used in Ps. 77:14 and the same root in Ps. 78:4,11,32; 107:8,15,21,24,31; 119:18,27.

77:13 "Your way" The term "way" (BDB 202) speaks of

1. His revelation, cf. Ps. 119:14; Jer. 18:15, see SPECIAL TOPIC: TERMS FOR GOD'S REVELATION

2. His characteristic actions (i.e., Ps. 119:3)

 

▣ "holy" This could refer to

1. God's character

2. God's temple

 

SPECIAL TOPIC: HOLY

77:14-15 Notice the parallelism between Ps. 77:14b and 15a. However, there is a distinction between

1. Your strength among the peoples (i.e., non-Israelites, see Special Topic: YHWH's Eternal Redemptive Plan)

2. Your arm redeemed Your people (i.e., Israelites)

 

77:15 "redeemed" See Special Topic: Ransom/Redeem.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 77:16-20
 16The waters saw You, O God;
 The waters saw You, they were in anguish;
 The deeps also trembled.
 17The clouds poured out water;
 The skies gave forth a sound;
 Your arrows flashed here and there.
 18The sound of Your thunder was in the whirlwind;
 The lightnings lit up the world;
 The earth trembled and shook.
 19Your way was in the sea
 And Your paths in the mighty waters,
 And Your footprints may not be known.
 20You led Your people like a flock
 By the hand of Moses and Aaron.

77:16-20 The psalmist looks backwards to Genesis (cf. Ps. 77:15) and to the Exodus (cf. Ps. 77:20). The God of creation has become the warrior of Israel!

The Psalm does not state the psalmist's final conclusion. Hopefully, his remembrance and meditation on YHWH's person and acts caused him to reject his conclusion/question of Ps. 77:10.

77:16 "the waters"

SPECIAL TOPIC: Waters

77:20a This phrase is characteristic of Asaph's Psalms (cf. Ps. 74:1; 78:52,70-76; 79:13; 80:2). What a beautiful title (i.e., Shepherd) for the Creator/Redeemer God! He is with us and for us (cf. Psalm 23).

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Is this Psalm an individual lament or a national lament?

2. Why are Ps. 77:7-10 so theologically significant??

3. Is Ps. 77:10 a positive message or a negative message?

4. Does this Psalm use imagery from creation or the exodus?