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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Psalms 77



Verse 4


‘Thou holdest mine eyes waking.’

Psalms 77:4

I. The poet was in trouble, on what occasion cannot now be known, nor can we tell who wrote the poem, or at what period it was written. There are no traces of the authorship of David. But it is evidently very ancient. There is no allusion to the Temple worship. The one historical reference is to the Exodus. The appellation of the children of Israel, as sons of Jacob and Joseph, rather indicates that it was written prior to the division into two nations. Had it been of a late period Judah rather than Joseph would have been the term used. The word Jeduthun has no light for us.

All this makes the psalm really more helpful. The trouble was of a personal nature, hence the application of the poem is worldwide, suited for all in similar anxiety. It was not a national calamity, like the Captivity. It was ‘my trouble’—the Psalmist’s own sorrow. The help he sought was not for the nation, but for himself. The darkness was that of a cloudy night, when no stars are seen, for, whatever the trial was, there came with it a doubt of the Divine mercy and a questioning of the Divine promise. Herein was the grief, for sorrow of soul is the soul of sorrow. He retired for rest, but the darkness brought no relief; indeed, in the quiet solitude of the bed-chamber the trouble seemed to increase. ‘Thou holdest my eyelids,’ he says to God. Sleep came not. The poem presents a vivid delineation of the mental bewilderment of an ancient night.

II. He thought of ‘the days of old,’ or, as in the original, of ‘the morning.’—A Midrash note says ‘of Abraham,’ who lived in the morning of faith. He recalled ancient times. He remembered one occasion when in the darkness he had such a sense of the Divine favour, that he sang for joy in the night season. At length he took the resolve to look away from self to an unchanging God. ‘This anxiety,’ said he, ‘is my infirmity, but I will think of the power of the Most High.’ He would turn round and no longer look at his own shadow, but at the bright sun. Soon the vision changes. On the canvas of the night comes vividly a scene of olden days. Other things were shut out, and this arose in his imagination.

It was the hour of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. How far the Psalmist’s vision was true to fact we cannot tell, he adds much to the record in Exodus. It was very real to him, and depicts a scene more full of awe than his own then present tribulation. Those lightning flashes were the arrows of the Almighty. He was marching mysteriously through the sea. Then comes a sublime contrast. Right in the centre, calm beneath the illumined cloud, went onwards the chosen people, led safely through it all by the appointed guides, like a peaceful flock directed by its shepherds to fresh pasture. With this grand etching the psalm closes. What more indeed is needed? The moral is so obvious it needs no stating. That old story abides in the Church as a picture-lesson of the mysterious but sure ways of God, and shows a safe path through the stormy dark sea of every period of anxious sorrow.


‘It is well to pray that we may make the most of the wakeful hours, that they may be no more wasted ones than if we were up and dressed. They are His hours, for “the night also is Thine.” It will cost no more mental effort (nor so much) to ask Him to let them be holy hours, filled with His calming presence, than to let the mind run upon the thousand “other things” which seem to find even busier entrance during the night.

With thoughts of Christ and things Divine

Fill up this foolish heart of mine.

It is an opportunity for proving the real power of the Holy Spirit to be greater than that of the Tempter. And He will without fail exert it, when sought for Christ’s sake.’


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Psalms 77:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

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