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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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 Isaiah 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."
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.
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?
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.
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."
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.
Thy way-is in the sanctuary
See Psalms 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?
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.
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.
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.
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," Psalms 77:18.
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.
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, Psalms 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, Psalms 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, Psalms 77:2.
3. Even the "remembrance of God troubled him," Psalms 77:3.
4. His soul was overwhelmed, Psalms 77:3.
5. He became at last speechless through grief, Psalms 77:4.
6. All sleep departed from him, Psalms 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, Psalms 77:5.
2. He could rejoice in and praise God, Psalms 77:6.
3. But now, on diligent search, all good is gone, Psalms 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? Psalms 77:7-9.
II. How he is restored.
1. He begins with a correction of himself: "I said, This is my infirmity," Psalms 77:10.
2. Takes encouragement from a remembrance,-
(1) Of God's ways: "I will remember-the right hand of the Most High," Psalms 77:10.
(2) Of his WORKS: "I will remember thy wonders of old," Psalms 77:11.
3. On these he will meditate and discourse, Psalms 77:12.
(1) He then addresses his speech to God; who he understands is to be sought in his sanctuary, Psalms 77:13.
(2) And who is "infinitely great and good," Psalms 77:13.
(3) Who has declared his strength among the people, Psalms 77:14.
(4) And particularly to the descendants of Jacob, Psalms 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," Psalms 77:16.
2. In the HEAVENS: "The clouds poured out water, Psalms 77:17.
3. In the EARTH: "The earth trembled and shook," Psalms 77:18.
IV. The final cause of all was that he might lead his people out of their bondage, and destroy their enemies, Psalms 77:19,20.