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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries

Psalms 77



Verses 1-20


THIS psalm is the lament and expostulation with God of some afflicted person, perhaps Asaph, who speaks as the mouthpiece of his countrymen, complaining of Israel's apparent desertion by God (Psalms 77:1-9), but thence rising into a higher strain of hope and confidence, based on a recollection of Jehovah's past mercies (Psalms 77:10-20). The particular occasion which called forth the psalm cannot be determined. The psalm consists of six stanzas of three verses each, to which is appended one of two verses only. The pause mark, "selah," occurs at the end of the first, the third, and the fifth stanzas.

Psalms 77:1

I cried unto God with my voice, even unto God with my voice. The repetition marks the intensity of the appeal, "with my voice"—that the appellant is not content with mere silent prayer. And he gave ear unto me; rather, "that he may hearken unto me" (Cheyne), or "and do thou hearken unto me" (Hengstenberg, Kay).

Psalms 77:2

In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord (comp. Genesis 35:3; Habakkuk 3:16). My sore ran in the night; rather, my band was stretched out in the night (Cook, Cheyne, Revised Version); comp. Psalms 28:2. And ceased not. He continued in prayer all through the night. My soul refused to be comforted (comp. Genesis 37:35; Jeremiah 31:15). He was like Jacob when he lost Joseph, or like Rachel weeping for her children.

Psalms 77:3

I remembered God, and was troubled. The tenses used are present rather than past; they mark continuance; they describe the condition in which the writer remained for days or weeks. He thought of God, but the thought troubled him. It was God who had brought the calamity, whatever it was, upon his people. Seemingly, he had "cast them off"—he had "forgotten to be gracious" (see Psalms 77:7-9). I complained; rather, I muse or meditate (Hengstenberg, Kay, Cheyne). And my spirit was overwhelmed; or, waxeth faint, as in the Prayer book Version.

Psalms 77:4

Thou holdest mine eyes waking; literally, thou boldest the watches of mine eyes; i.e. preventedst me from obtaining any sleep. I am so troubled that I cannot speak; literally, I was perplexed and did not speak. The perplexity was probably caused by an inability to understand God's ways. Why had he afflicted his people? Was the affliction always to continue? Was Israel cast off?

Psalms 77:5

I have considered; rather, I considered. In my perplexity, when I could no longer speak, I betook myself to meditation. I considered the days of old, the years of ancient times. He called to mind, i.e; God's doings in the past (comp. Psalms 77:14-19).

Psalms 77:6

I call to remembrance my song in the night. He bethought himself of the songs of thanksgiving which he used to sing to God in the night (comp. Job 35:10) on account of mercies received; but this did not comfort him. "Nessun maggior dolore che ricordarsi di tempo felice nella miseria." I commune with mine own heart, and my spirit made diligent search; or, "and I diligently searched out my spirit" (Cheyne). The results of the searchings out seem to be given in Psalms 77:7-10.

Psalms 77:7

Will the Lord cast off forever? The psalmist asked himself in the night such questions as these: Is it really to be supposed that God will cast off his people forever? And will he be favourable (or, gracious) no more? Surely such desertion is incredible.

Psalms 77:8

Is his mercy clean gone forever? The mercy which he has so long shown towards Israel (comp. Psalms 78:1-72.). Doth his promise fail forevermore? The promise which he made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that he would be with their seed forever (Genesis 17:7-13; Genesis 26:24; Genesis 35:11, Genesis 35:12).

Psalms 77:9

Hath God forgotten to be gracious? Can God, who forgets nothing and no one (Isaiah 49:15), have forgotten his own nature, which is to be "merciful and gracious, long suffering, and abundant in goodness" (Exodus 34:6)? Assuredly not. The higher nature in the psalmist, as Professor Cheyne observes, expostulates with the lower one. Hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies? Has he shut them up, "as in a closed hand" (Kay, Canon Cook)? (comp. Deuteronomy 15:7).

Psalms 77:10

And I said, This is my infirmity; i.e. "the fault is not in God, but in myself"—in my own weakness and want of faith. But I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High. There is no "I will remember" in the original, which expresses the thought of the writer imperfectly; but some such phrase must of necessity be supplied. The words are retained in the Revised Version and by Professor Cheyne. The remembrance of God's mercies during the many years that are past is that which best sustains us in a time of severe trouble.

Psalms 77:11

I will remember the works of the Lord. The same thought is carried on and expressed more clearly in the present and the ensuing verse. Then a special remembrance is made of one particular mercy—the deliverance from Egypt (Psalms 77:13-20). Surely I will remember thy wonders of old (comp. Exodus 15:11).

Psalms 77:12

I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings; rather, as in the Revised Version, and muse on thy doings (comp. Psalms 77:3).

Psalms 77:13

Thy way, O God, is in the sanctuary; rather, in holiness. God's "way"—his conduct, his proceedings—however strange and mysterious it may seem to us, is always holy, i.e. just and right (comp. Genesis 18:25; Job 8:3). Who is so great a God as our God? God is both good and great; just in himself, and able to execute justice.

Psalms 77:14

Thou art the God that doest wonders. The gods of the heathen could do nothing. They were weakness, vanity, nothingness. Jehovah alone was powerful. tie could work, and could "work wonders." This clause prepares the way for the magnificent description of the deliverance of Israel at the Red Sea, which occupies Psalms 77:16-19. Thou hast declared thy strength among the people; rather, among the peoples—i.e. in the sight of many heathen nations (comp. Exodus 15:14-16).

Psalms 77:15

Thou hast with thine arm (i.e. with thy mighty strength) redeemed thy people. The deliverance from Egypt is constantly called a "redemption" (Exodus 6:6; Exodus 15:13; Deuteronomy 7:8; Deuteronomy 9:26, etc.; 2 Samuel 7:23; 1 Chronicles 17:21, etc.). It is brought forward here "as the greatest and most wonderful of all the works of God, and hence as containing the strongest pledge of future deliverance" (Hengstenberg). The sons of Jacob and Joseph. A new designation of the people of Israel, and one which elsewhere occurs only in Obadiah 1:18. Professor Cheyne suggests that it is a geographical division—by Jacob southern Israel, and by Joseph northern Israel, being intended (comp. Hosea 12:2; Amos 5:6, Amos 5:15; Amos 6:6).

Psalms 77:16

The waters saw thee, O God, the waters saw thee. Professor Cheyne regards this and the three following verses as not belonging properly to this psalm, but a "fragment of another," accidentally transferred to this place. But most commentators see in the passage a most essential portion of the poem. It is the thought of the deliverance from Egypt that especially sustains and comforts the psalmist in his extreme distress. The passage is prepared for by Psalms 77:11 and Psalms 77:14, and is exegetical of Psalms 77:15. They were afraid. They shrank from the sight of God, and made a way for his people to pass over. The depths also were troubled. The very abysses trembled with fear, and moved themselves, leaving the bottom of the sea dry (see Exodus 14:29).

Psalms 77:17

The clouds poured out water. The description here becomes more poetical than historical, unless, indeed, we may suppose that the writer possessed, besides what is said in Exodus, some traditional account of the passage. The skies sent out a sound; or, "uttered a voice"—the voice of the thunder, beyond a doubt (compare next verse). Thine arrows also went abroad; i.e. lightnings darted hither and thither (see Psalms 18:14; 2 Samuel 22:15).

Psalms 77:18

The voice of thy thunder was in the heavens; rather, in the whirlwind (Kay, Cheyne, Revised Version). A storm of wind usually accompanies thunder and lightning. This the author, with poetical exaggeration, heightens into a "whirlwind" (comp. Psalms 83:13; Isaiah 17:13). The lightnings lightened the world. More hyperbole. Not only did they "go abroad" (Psalms 77:17), darting hither and thither, but their intense brightness illuminated the whole earth. The earth trembled and shook. Through the reverberation of air, the earth seems to shake in a heavy thunderstorm.

Psalms 77:19

Thy way is in the sea; rather, was in the sea. Thou wentest, i.e; in person before thy people in their passage across the dry bed of the Red Sea; truly there, though invisible (comp. Exodus 15:13; Psalms 78:52, Psalms 78:53; Psalms 106:9; Isaiah 63:13). And thy path in the great waters; literally, thy paths. So the Revised Version. And thy footsteps are not known; rather, were not. No one perceived thy presence, much less discerned thy footsteps. As in external nature and in the human heart, God worked secretly.

Psalms 77:20

Thou leddest thy people like a flock (comp. Isaiah 63:11; Psalms 78:52). By the hand of Moses and Aaron. God was the true Leader. Moses and Aaron were but his instruments. Moses at one time refused to lead any more, unless God would pledge himself to go up with him (see Exodus 33:12-16).


Psalms 77:7-9

The temptation and the refuge.

"Will the Lord cast off?" Here is a soul passing through the very valley of the shadow of death, yet coming out again into the sunshine of God's loving kindness and truth. As Christian, in Bunyan's allegory, could not distinguish the whisperings of evil spirits from his own thoughts, so the bitter questions the psalmist records here as almost overturning his faith, may well have been temptations of the evil one. Whatever their source, there could be but one antidote, one refuge. From his dark thoughts and tormenting doubts of God he turns to the actual facts of God's past dealings, and stays his fainting faith on God's eternal faithfulness.

I. THE TEMPTATION. Perhaps the severest trial to which a believer can be exposed is the temptation to entertain hard, unthankful, unbelieving thoughts of God. This is like cutting off the anchor in the tempest.

1. This temptation may spring from heavy affliction; unusual in nature or duration, and so aggravated by contrast; or unlooked for, like a bolt out of a clear sky; or just what we have prayed to be spared and laboured to avoid.

2. Or from remembrance of special sins. Conscience wakes, as if refreshed with sleep. We lose sight of the cross, and see only the Law we have broken and the judgment we are on our way to meet.

3. Or from mental depression; spiritual darkness; the sense of desertion, and loss of all the joy of God's salvation and comfort of promises. Often this has its secret source in bodily weakness or disease, but is none the less hard to bear, and needs spiritual as well as bodily remedies.


1. In the conviction that the source of our trouble is in our own weakness, not in any failure of God's loving kindness. "I said, This is my infirmity."

2. In calling to mind God's past mercies. This psalm opens with a note of faith (Psalms 77:1). Literally, "My voice [is] unto God, and I will cry; my voice [was] unto God, and he gave ear to me." Then Psalms 77:2-4 record Asaph's sleepless, weary trouble. This thought, that his trouble came from God, instead of a consolation, seemed an aggravation of his woe. Then he began to think of God's past goodness—his own past joy in God. Can God change or prove unfaithful? Impossible! Only my own weak, faithless heart can suggest such a thought. If such a time of trial assails any of us, let us remember:

Psalms 77:19

The profound mystery which surrounds all thoughts of God.

"Thy way is in the sea," etc. A new word has been added of late to the English language—a brace of new words, as dismal in meaning, as uncouth in sound—"agnostic," "agnosticism." The fact is not new (1 Corinthians 1:21). An agnostic is one who believes it impossible to know that one central, supreme, primary truth, apart from which all knowledge is vanity. Nature, science, conscience, love, like sides of an immense pyramid, slope upward; but the summit is in cloud. Reason pierces the cloud, and cries, "God is there!" Faith soars into the light which thick darkness veils, and proclaims, "God is love!" But the agnostic reckons Faith unscientific, Reason going beyond her province; doubts if there be anything but cloud. So when Moses went up into the thick darkness where God was, the people, who thought the flesh pots of Egypt much more real than the voice from Sinai, said, "As for this Moses, …we know not what is become of him." Christianity and agnosticism are so irreconcilably opposed, that sympathy on the part of a Christian towards an agnostic seems difficult. Yet you cannot understand any one with whom you have no sympathy; and when you neither sympathize nor understand, you have little chance of doing good. Agnosticism contains a kernel of Christian truth, and therefore presents a point of contrast for Christian sympathy, viz. the profound mystery which surrounds all our thoughts of God, setting strait limits to our knowledge, baffling all attempts of human reason to pass those limits (Job 11:7; 1 Timothy 6:16).

I. THE MYSTERY OF CREATION. Our senses show us the surface of universe phenomenon; the harmonious working of the mighty machine; the endless flow, through birth, growth, decay, of the river of life. But where is the moving power, the fountain, the loom in which this wondrous web is being woven, and the hand which weaves? Science pierces below the surface; shows everywhere unchanging law, faultless adjustment, interchangeable forces, rules of number, measure, weight, mutual attraction and fitness. But we cannot stop short in these. "Evolution" is supposed to explain it all. But what explains evolution? As Mr. Spencer has rightly observed, we should rather call the process of nature "involution," because at each step and stage something new and surprising comes in. Process is not cause. When, e.g; a number of primary atoms enter into combination, not at haphazard, but in fixed. proportions of number and weight, and a new substance, with wholly new properties, is produced—whence came these properties? Had the atoms continued apart, they would have had no existence to all eternity. Why do the atoms attract and cleave to one another? Whence their violent movement? Where are those laws of number, weight, proportion, which cannot exist in the atoms, yet which every atom so absolutely obeys? To talk of laws is no explanation; it is the very existence of laws we want explained. Science can give no reply to these or ten thousand such questions. The Bible gathers up all lesser mysteries in the one primaeval mystery with which its first sentence sets us face to face—not to reason or comprehend, but to worship: "In the beginning, God created."

II. THE MYSTERY OF PROVIDENCE. By "providence" we understand the Creator's wise, merciful, universal, sovereign control over all his works, especially human life and the welfare of his children. We often compare nature, or human life, to a web incessantly weaving; but this is a very feeble image. Instead of parallel threads, crossed at right angles by another set of parallel threads, we see countless millions of independent lines of natural force and of human will crossing at every conceivable angle every moment with incalculable speed. Yet the pattern of God's purpose is being woven. "No man liveth to himself." Sometimes in concert, often in discord, mostly in ignorance or disregard, we are influencing one another, depending on one another. Yet "we know that all things work together for good to them that love God." Daily experience confirms the Bible teaching, that in what is to our eyes this inconceivable tangle of will, chance, and law, every thread lies under God's eye, obeys his will. Illust.: History of Joseph (cf. Genesis 15:13; Genesis 42:36; Genesis 45:7, Genesis 45:8). Miracles are not more wonderful than providence (special reference here to the passage of the Red Sea). No sharp line between them in Scripture. No reason to think "natural laws" broken in one case or other, any more than man breaks natural laws when he drives his trains through mountains, makes iron float on the ocean, compels wind, water, steam, lightning, to work his engines (see Psalms 119:89; Daniel 4:35).

III. THE MYSTERY OF GOD'S DEALINGS WITH OUR RACE AND WITH INDIVIDUALS. Scripture shows one line of Divine purpose from beginning to end of world. History shows all the most energetic progressive races brought into contact with the Bible and the Church of God. But why the slow progress of the gospel; the huge stagnating masses of heathendom; the late birth of science; the obstinate prevalence of war, tyranny, slavery? If we say (rightly) sin is at the bottom of all, this only runs up all other mysteries into the deepest and darkest. Compared with all this, what we call "mysteries" in our daily life seem simple, especially with the key of promise (Hebrews 12:5-10). Yet how dark they often are!

IV. Above, beneath, around, behind, all these mysteries is THAT OF WHICH WE SCARCELY DARE SPEAKTHE MYSTERY OF GOD HIMSELF—his eternity, omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience, righteousness, love (Psalms 139:6). This is a lesson, not of unbelief, but of faith. A God whom we could comprehend, in whom we found no unfathomable depth of mystery, would be no more the God of the Bible than of nature. Yet "we know what we worship" (John 4:22). The cloud covers the mount, but the path is open. "We draw near" (Exodus 20:21; Isaiah 45:15; Hebrews 10:19, Hebrews 10:22). See how from this awful view of Divine mystery the psalmist passes—like a change in music from a stormy minor to a cheerful major, and restful close: "Thou leddest," etc. We know all we need to know. Not a question concerning God, on which our welfare practically turns, but the Bible has a clear, full answer (John 1:18; John 17:3; 1 John 4:16).


Psalms 77:1-20

From darkness to dawn.

So may this psalm be described. We have the night of weeping followed by the morning, if not of joy, yet of peace. It is a portraiture to which the experience of myriads of souls has answered and will answer. Hence, for the help of all such, the psalm has been given. We know not who the writer was, nor when, nor the special reason why, the psalm was written. We only know that it is the utterance of a heart that had been sorely troubled, but to whom light and peace came again. We are shown the darkness, the paling of that darkness, and the dawn.


1. It was very dark. There was great trouble. He tells of it in Psalms 77:2, Psalms 77:3, Psalms 77:4. And prayer seemed no good, notwithstanding it was very earnest, hence spoken aloud (Psalms 77:1) and prolonged all the night through (Psalms 77:2 : "My hand in the night hath been stretched out [the hand of entreaty and prayer] and ceased not"). Nevertheless, no comfort came.

2. His grief seems to have prompted distrust. As Jacob (Genesis 37:35) about Joseph, and David about his child (2 Samuel 12:17) and about Absalom (2 Samuel 18:1-33.), so here there was what there should not have been—the refusing to be comforted.

3. But this made the darkness yet deeper. He could not remember God (Psalms 77:3). He could not realize his presence and help; he could only sigh in distress. He could not commune with his own heart, but his spirit was too overwhelmed. He would sleep, but could not. He would speak to God, but his trouble was too great. The distressed soul, as it often does, utterly broke down. But a breakdown like that brings speedily the help of God. He will never leave his people in a strait like that, blessed be his Name! And so we see—

II. THE PALING OF THE DARKNESS. Those who ascend high mountains to witness the glory of the dawn are told of its advent by the paling of the darkness. And spiritually, we see this here. God sends the thoughts of his servant back to "the days of old" (Psalms 77:5), and to the bright joyous periods which were like a "song," and their sweet memories came back and talked to him, and set his spirit in "diligent search," so that he was compelled to come to the conclusion that all his dark and dreadful thoughts about the Lord's casting off forever, and being favourable no more (see Psalms 77:7, Psalms 77:8, Psalms 77:9), were all impossible of belief, mere nightmares of the soul, altogether false and untrue. Then in Psalms 77:10 he comes to see how he has been led to think such sad thoughts. "Then I said, This is my sorrow, that the right hand of the Highest hath changed." Yes, God's providence had changed, but not his heart. Before we pass on, let us ask—Why does God let his servants suffer such eclipse of all joy as is recorded here? Partly by way of reproof. The psalmist "refused to be comforted." We often do when, would we only say, "I will trust," then we should find that we should "not be afraid." It is the letting in of doubt and unbelief that works such harm. Or, if not for reproof, then for the sake of others, that when we find them in darkness, we may be able to tell them how God helped us.

III. THE DAWN. This came through his remembrance of, and meditation on:

1. The deeds, so wondrous, of the Lord (Psalms 77:11, Psalms 77:12).

2. What God himself was—so holy and so great (Psalms 77:13).

3. The recollection of God's special act of redemption (Psalms 77:15-19).

4. The shepherd care of God.—S.C.

Psalms 77:13

God's way in the sanctuary.

This verse is capable of different renderings. We take the one here given, as in the main true, and rich in sacred suggestion. God's way is in the sanctuary because—

I. IT IS SEES THERE. The character, mind, and heart of God are revealed there. His holiness, that nothing unclean may approach him; yet also his mercy and compassion, as seen in the forgiveness through sacrifice proclaimed there; the worship he delights in and demands; the surrender of the self to him, symbolized by the shedding of the blood of the sacrifices, for "the blood is the life." So must the heart, the will, the real self, of the worshipper be presented to God; the transforming power of the Holy Spirit which he will give to us who thus come in full sin render to him, for the fire which consumed the sacrifice was no man-enkindled flame, but came down from heaven, and set forth how the blessed Holy Spirit of God would take hold of our poor dead fleshly nature, and transform it and uplift it heavenward, Godward, as did the fire the sacrifice. Thus was God's way of saving sinful men set forth and shown.

II. LEADS THERE. All his dealings with us are to lead us to his own presence, to bring us back to himself. We have got away into the far country, poor sinful ones that we are, and God's way with us is all to lead us to turn and say, "I will arise and go to my Father, and will say," etc.

III. IS LIKE WHAT IS THERE—holy, just, and good. God can ask, "Are not my ways holy?" They are in harmony with the spirit of the sanctuary. He is holy in all his ways. One rendering of the text is, "O God, thy way is holy." The records of history, of experience, of conscience, all assert the righteousness and holiness of God.

IV. IS UNDERSTOOD THERE. (Cf. Psalms 73:17.) There we get light sufficient, and, better still, the acquiescent, submissive mind, that learns to rest in the Lord and wait patiently lee him (cf. Hannah, 1 Samuel 1:13; Luke 18:10). Ah! how often has the wearied, much tried child of God found in the holy sanctuary that there have come such messages from God to his soul, through prayer, or psalm, or hymn, or God-inspired word, that he has gone down to his home comforted!

V. IS TRANSFIGURED THERE. It may have been a terribly hard, difficult, rough way; the man's lot in life may be heavily burdened with care, but "in the sanctuary," as he waits upon God and pours out his soul before the Lord, lo, these very trials and cares become transfigured and changed in fashion, so that they become as wings on which his soul mounts up nearer to God than ever he had attained to before, and he comes to confess, "It was good for me that I was afflicted."

CONCLUSION. Then do we know the way of the sanctuary? Would we enter there? The path leads by the altar. The soul that would enter in and know the blessedness of the sanctuary of God, must come along that path; the path of lowly penitence and trust and heart surrender, so that on him may come the blessed fire of the Holy Spirit, bringing him into the presence of God.—S.C.

Psalms 77:19

The mysteries of Providence.

"We know not, Israel knew not, by what precise means their deliverance from the hosts of Pharaoh was wrought; we know not by what precise track through the gulf the passage was effected. We know not, and we need not know; the obscurity, the mystery here, as elsewhere, was part of the lesson All that we see distinctly is that through this dark and terrible night, with the enemy pressing close behind, and the driving sea on either side, he led his people like sheep by the hand of Moses and Aaron" (Stanley). And that great event of the Exodus, the mercy and mystery of which were so alike conspicuous, has often been taken as the symbol of those manifold and often mysterious dealings of God with his people in which we can do nothing but believe and trust that, through these deep waters and by these unknown ways, he will bring us out into a full deliverance from all that oppresses us. And for those who trust him this is assuredly what he will do. But the mind cannot keep, and, indeed, it need not, from reverently asking why God's providence is often so full of mystery as well as of pain to men? Calamities frightful in their nature, desolations terrible and widespread, so that human life at times becomes like the prophet's scroll, which was full, both within and without, of mourning, lamentation, and woe. What is to be said of these things? Certainly they are instrumental in much that is good.


1. How would faith be educated and developed but for the demands made upon it by the trials of life? Trust in God is an absolute essential to the strength, the joy, the power, and the permanence of the Christian life. There must, then, be occasions and demands for its exercise, and the trials of life supply them.

2. What a spur to invention earthly calamities are! Perhaps there is no one single safeguard against such calamities in which we now rejoice, but owed its existence to their occurrence, and the pressure they put upon men to discover such safeguard. Is there a lighthouse anywhere along our coasts but where some gallant ship has, for want of it, gone down with many precious lives?

3. What power there is in life's sorrows to bind together hearts that otherwise would have remained apart! There is a blessed uniting power in sorrow.

4. The calamities of life, when death seems to reign in terrible power, serve to startle the conscience of sinful men, and, as it were, force them to think of God and things eternal (Isaiah 26:9).

5. They strengthen the argument for the future life. The justice and goodness of God could not be maintained, if "in this life only we have hope."

6. The good man is by them drawn nearer to God, and hides the more closely within the blessed shelter of God's never-failing love.

7. They serve as revelations of character to the self-deceived, and show such how far other than they have thought they really are.

8. They teach us to sympathize with the sorrowful. Even Christ learned through the things that he suffered.

9. Suffering is the way to life. "Through much tribulation we must enter the kingdom."

10. They show, what men are apt to forget, that "here we have no continuing city."S.C.


Psalms 77:1

Complaining to God.

"I will cry unto God with my voice, and may he give ear unto me!" No historical associations can be fixed for this psalm. It is the psalm of one deeply interested in the welfare of Israel, who takes as a burden on his own heart the depressed condition of the nation, and gloomily regards it as a sign of the withdrawal of God's favour. The trouble of the writer is not persona], but relative; and with its moods may be compared the prayers of Daniel (9) and of Nehemiah (1). It is well that there should always be persons who take the burdens of their nation on their own hearts; recognize the Divine relation to national condition; and put their feeling and desire into intercessory prayer. Under some phases of Christianity there is danger of religion becoming too strictly personal—too little concerned with corporate and national life. This psalm is characteristically a psalm of complaint; it is the utterance of a man in sore perplexity and distress, who can only see the dark side even of Divine dealings. Was he right or wrong? May we say he was both right and wrong?

I. ON THE FACE OF IT, COMPLAINING MUST BE WRONG. It is usually the utterance of the discontented mind. A man complains when he imagines himself to be neglected or ill used. At the bottom of complaining generally lies an overweening sense of our own importance—the idea that we deserve better than we get. This, in part, may have affected the psalmist. Not concerning himself, but concerning the favoured nation. He complains because he thinks the nation deserved better at the hands of God than it was receiving. He was jealous for his people. Fancied desert is the root out of which complainings spring. But what desert can man or nation have before God, that can form ground of reproach? And whoever makes much of his "deserts" must be reminded of his "ill deserts." "If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?" Complaining of God must be wrong; because it shows

Even in the strangest experiences, submission, not complaint, is the becoming thing.

II. ON FURTHER CONSIDERATION, WE MAY SAY, COMPLAINING IS RIGHT. As a sign of confidence in God, it is right; but then it will be complaining to God, not of him. Openness before God means that we speak freely to him just what is in our thought and heart, Relief comes to us only when, in such ways, we can make full and free expression of our confidence, and tell God what we do think and feel, even though we know it is wrong to think and feel it. Reserve is the bane of friendship. There must be no reserve with God. And the very best way in which to become ashamed of our complainings is to speak them out before God. The infinite patience and gentleness towards us seems to search us through and through.—R.T.

Psalms 77:2

The mission of mental depressions.

"My hand in the night season was stretched out, and ceased not." The figure is of the hand stretched out in prayer till it was unnerved by weariness, and yet refused to rest. The cause of lying awake at night is usually mental anxiety and distress; burdens on the mind rather than pains in the body. We begin to think worryfully, and so banish sleep. The text, therefore, presents a season of mental depression; and the occasion of it is found in the anxious condition of the nation. Illust. by the times of Hezekiah. Times of mental depression are not necessarily wrong. They are the natural response of the mind to physical conditions and outward circumstances. They mean "sensitiveness," "quickness to respond;" and these differ in different individuals. Some are easily made despondent; they can always see, or think they see, black clouds gathering in the sky. Some are unduly hopeful, and fail to respond when circumstances do call for anxiety. We make the mistake of failing to recognize Divine working through the anxieties of the mind, as well as through the pains of the body, and the distress of the circumstances. We deceive ourselves by thinking these mental trials are in no sense sent; we make them ourselves, and so we fail to associate God with them, and lose what would be our best comfort and relief. The truth is, that God is even more freely working through our mental depressions, because they are immaterial—they belong to the innermost of us, to the sphere in which God's grace is most unhindered.

I. MENTAL DEPRESSIONS KEEP US CONVINCED OF THE SPIRITUAL. Suppose we took all things easily; never troubled over them; never brooded;—how easily the "material" would gain the mastery! We know there is another world than the world of sense; there is a world of thought and feeling. How intense and real this world is we are made to know when depression prevents sleep, and even breaks down health. And so we come to apprehend the reality of the "spiritual."

II. MENTAL DEPRESSIONS CONVINCE OF THE SERIOUSNESS OF OUR MORAL CONFLICT. Conceive that the struggle for character only concerned circumstances and relations, and then what an unimportant struggle it would seem to be! "But we wrestle, not with flesh and blood only, but with the rulers of spiritual darkness." Add mental conflict, and virtue becomes a sublime achievement, a transcendent victory, won at an awful cost.

III. MENTAL DEPRESSIONS MAY BE OVERRULED SO AS TO GIVE NOBLER VIEWS OF GOD. Illustrate by the psalm (Psalms 77:10-20). The law of rebound applies. Compare such a case as that of the poet Cowper, whose songs of trust were the cries of one who was often in despair. The question is—Do we yield to mental depressions, or do we resist them, and so let God work his work of grace through them?—R.T.

Psalms 77:4

Occupations for sleepless nights.

Comparing Psalms 77:3, we find that, lying awake, the psalmist had "remembered God," or, more precisely, had "thought upon God." It is true that the thought had only brought him trouble, but the occupation was good, whatever it brought him. Comp. Psalms 4:4, "Commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still;" Psalms 63:6, "When I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches." As the cause of less of sleep is generally a physical condition, and often brain disease of some kind, men usually at such times take sombre, dreary, and distressing views. They are never so ready to "write bitter things against themselves as when they lie awake at night." It is well to see clearly that the views taken at such times are almost always untrue and unworthy, and can seldom be hopefully made the guide of conduct or the basis of important decisions. And proper correction of gloomy night views should be made when sunshine brings light and cheer into our souls once more.

I. MOST PEOPLE, WHEN THEY LIE AWAKE, WORRY OVER THEIR CIRCUMSTANCES. And that is a very hopeless occupation. Only dark, depressing, anxious sides of things are likely to come to view in night seasons. It will be found that the fretting things are usually the things selected for thinking over. And, usually, it is imagination that is active, fashioning woes in the near future, and presenting all the issues that are unfolding as disastrous. It would be a lesson never to be forgotten by any man, if he could be told the fears he fashioned in the night seasons that never came to pass.

II. MANY PEOPLE, WHEN THEY LIE AWAKE, THINK OVER THEIR SINS. And that is even a more hopeless occupation. A man wants light in which to see his sins truly. Brooding over the "things we have done which we should not have done, and the things left undone which we should have done," is sure to become morbid work. Souls do even get a kind of dreadful satisfaction in making themselves out to be as wicked as possible. And night estimates of sin are very seldom true ones. Besides, this going over of past sins is absolutely wrong, for it is dishonouring God by the untrustfulness which wilt not fully receive the truth, that all those sins are pardoned and put forever away. If God no longer "remembers" them, it must be wrong for us to do so.

III. WISE PEOPLE, WHEN THEY LIE AWAKE SET THEIR THOUGHTS ON GOD. And that is the proper and hopeful occupation.

1. Even our circumstances seem to gain new shapings, settings, and relations, and become altogether more hopeful, when we can associate God with them.

2. Even our sins can be calmly reviewed, when we can see how God has dealt with them, and what he has done for us through sanctifying to us our very experience of them.—R.T.

Psalms 77:6

The cheer of hallowed memories.

"I call to remembrance my song in the night." This expression recalls the appeal of Elihu (Job 35:10), "But none saith, Where is God my Maker, who giveth songs in the night?" But the mood of the psalmist here is peculiar. To him the memories of past joys do but intensify present distress. "When I remember how near God once was, the present seems more bitter, and the thought brings increase of sadness." Some, however, render this clause, "I will give my mind to my song in the night; I will muse with my heart while my spirit makes search;" and understand the psalmist to mean, that he resolves to compose the present poem that very night.

I. ALL MEN HAVE PRECIOUS AND CHERISHED MEMORIES. However sad and anxious and burdened later life may become, every man's early life—childhood, youth, young manhood—is more or less pleasant to look back on. Partly because of what it actually was, partly because of the sunshine which the spirit of youth put on it, and partly because memory keeps the pleasant, and easily drops the painful. Then there are memories of events that have happened. And, for the Christian man, memories of special times of Divine guidance, rescue, restoration. And for many, dearest memories of sanctified human love. The term, "song in the night," suggests special memories of ways in which our hearts were kept trustful and cheerful, even in times of darkest trouble and most painful distress. With the waves and billows going over us, we yet could sing in our souls, "Yet the Lord will command his loving kindness …in the night his song shall be with me."

II. THE PLEASANTNESS OR PAINFULNESS OF OUR MEMORIES DEPENDS ON OUR OWN CONDITIONS OF MIND AND FEELING. The memories never change. They are always full of God and of his grace. We change our relation to them, and make them depressing or inspiriting according to our moods. According to bodily states, anxious circumstances, or mental and spiritual conditions, we read our past. So the cause for anxiety is that "singleness," clearness of vision, which enables us to see the past as it was, and read aright its relation to the present. So often when memories depress us, we need to see that the fault lies in our way of recalling them; and we should say, "This is my infirmity."

III. IF OUR MEMORIES TELL US WE WERE ONCE GLAD IN GOD, THEY REMIND US THAT WE MAY WISELY BE GLAD IN GOD STILL. For "he is the same yesterday, today, and forever." No matter what may seem to be the present, it is the sphere of the same Divine love and care.—R.T.

Psalms 77:8

Possible exhaustion of God's mercies.

So fully was the thought of God woven into the whole life and relations of a pious Jew, that to him the unbearable distress was the lost sense of God's presence and interest. We have two striking instances of this. The supreme point of David's distress, when fleeing from his son Absalom, lay in this—his enemies taunted him with the lost favour of God, saying, "Where is now thy God?" And Isaiah closes his magnificent fortieth chapter with this sublime appeal, "Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God?" Imagined change in God's relation, and the failure of God's mercy, are the supreme woes to all Godfearing men still.

I. THE CHRISTIAN'S GREAT TROUBLES ARE DOUBTS ABOUT GOD, NOT AFFLICTIONS SENT BY GOD. The distinction between these two is this—doubts are inward, afflictions are outward. It is not a very great thing for the soul to master mere circumstances—especially since God never permits them to be overwhelming. The great thing is for the soul to master itself. When our circumstances start doubts, then we get humbled and broken. It is doubt, suspicion, fear, that really crushes our spirits, and forces tears. Our doubtings usually concern:

1. God's Personality. Like David, we cry for assurance that God is a "living God;" not a vain idol; not an abstraction of science; not the vague "eternal that makes for righteousness."

2. God's relationship. He may be God, but is he my God?

3. God's faithfulness. For God ever sets out promises for faith to grasp; and what can faith do if God does not keep his promises?

4. God's actual present nearness. "Where is now thy God?" "Thou hast covered thyself with a cloud, that our prayer might not pass through."

II. THE STING OF DOUBTING TIMES IS THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF SIN. Illustrate from the case of David, who lost the sense of God, lost his hope in God, filled his soul with questionings and fears, when he had stepped aside from the ways of righteousness and good self-restraint. Sin clouds the mind with doubts.

III. NEITHER AFFLICTIONS, NOR DOUBTS, NOR CONSCIOUS SIN DO MAKE GOD'S MERCIES FAIL. Precisely in those scenes Divine mercies most abound. Things, and conditions of mind and feeling, may affect our vision of him; they cannot affect him. We may project our shadows over him, and then find we can only see the shadows. God is not moved to change by our change. "He abideth faithful."

"His mercies aye endure,

Ever faithful, ever sure."

Ask, "Is his mercy clean gone forever?" and you cannot want any answer. To state the question is to be ashamed of the doubting that suggested it.—R.T.

Psalms 77:10

A supreme mental distress.

"That the right hand of the Highest hath changed." It is as if the psalmist were saying, "All this that I have been asking myself, and saddening myself with asking, seems impossible, and yet it is this very possibility of change in God toward me which so sorely perplexes and distresses me." "This is my sorrow, the changing of the right hand of the Most High." Do we not all feel that, if God be changed, then indeed the "whole foundation rocks"? We build our hopes on this—"He abideth the same, and his years are throughout all generations." As the psalmist gradually comes to a better mind, he feels that his sorrow was really his infirmity, and in some sense his shame. No man can expect to be free from experience of mental distress; the question is—Shall we give way to it, or shall we resist it? Here, in this psalm, we may find two things.

I. A MAN—A GOOD MANDISPOSED TO TAKE DESPONDENT VIEWS. And there is always a self-strand in the spirit of the despondent. They keep too much in the self-sphere, looking within rather than "off unto Jesus." This man took despondent views:

1. Of life generally. We call those who put this tone on their reading of life pessimists—men who can always see the "dark sides," and make "dark sides" when there are none to see. It is partly a nervous, anxious disposition, and may often be wisely dealt with as disease, whose cure may be found in abundance of God's sweet sunshine, and the good cheer of pleasant human friendship.

2. Of their present circumstances. Some people always wear "smoked spectacles," and so nothing is bright to their view.

3. Of God's dealings with them. They think so much more of the things, than of the love and wisdom that devise, arrange, and adapt them. Things are always variable; the love and the wisdom are always the same. The sea down below is always heaving and tossing; the heavens up above are always steadfast. There is variety in God's working, but no variety in him.

II. A MAN—A GOOD MANWHO SETS HIMSELF TO FIND A REMEDY FOR HIS DESPONDENCY. He resists the disposition to doubt, and will not let it get the mastery over him. He sets himself upon thinking well over two things.

1. His own frailty. He suspects that what he seems to see may be in himself. It may be like the tiny insect in the astronomer's telescope, that seemed to show a huge creature eating up the moon. It is well always to suspect imperfection in our vision when doubts distress.

2. God's power and purpose. If he cannot see these in his own small sphere, he can see them in the large spheres of the history of God's Church. This is absolutely certain—God works for ends of blessing, and God is able to accomplish that which he purposes.—R.T.

Psalms 77:11, Psalms 77:12

A remedy for troubled hearts.

"But I will celebrate the deeds of Jah." With Psalms 77:11 the change in the prophet's feeling actually begins. "Hitherto he has looked too much within, has sought too much to read the mystery of God's dealings by the light of his own experience merely. Hence the despondency when he contrasts the gloomy present with the far brighter and happier past. He cannot believe that God has indeed forgotten to be gracious, that he has indeed changed his very nature; but that he may be reassured and satisfied on this point, his eye must take a wider range than that of his own narrow experience." The remedy for troubled hearts so often is this—get out of your limited, narrow spheres; take larger, wider, more comprehensive views. Begin to consider the "God of the whole earth;" cease to keep God in the small sphere of your own personal interests. See the unchanging purpose that through the ages runs. For our help towards gaining the larger views of God, the records are left us of his dealings with men in the early ages of the world, and from them this comes out clearly and strongly—God is, everywhere and always, the Redeemer, Deliverer, Restorer, Saviour; always "putting things right again;" always working towards the highest ends of blessing for the creatures he has made. If we can get the conviction of this large truth into our souls, we are easily lifted up above the perplexities of our particular lot. If our "puzzle piece" does seem to be oddly shaped, it fits into the great scheme, which, when completed, will plainly be seen to have accomplished the highest possible benediction for humanity.

I. IT COMFORTS US TO REMEMBER GOD'S DEEDS AS A WHOLE. Take any biography given in the Old Testament. We could find in it single perplexing things; e.g. Joseph cast into the pit; David hunted over the mountains. But read the lives as a whole, and God's purpose of grace comes fully to view. So read incidents of history, and you will be perplexed; read the history, and all becomes clear. Read the struggles of an age, and you may find no meaning; read the dealings of God with the race, and much is made plain.

II. IT COMFORTS US TO SET GOD'S DEALINGS ONE OVER AGAINST ANOTHER. Nothing stands alone. Everything is prepared for, related to something else, and having its characteristic influences and results. Things match, and the matching often provides the explanation.

III. IT COMFORTS US TO SET GOD'S DEEDS IN RELATION TO OUR HIGHER NECESSITIES. Not comfortableness, but our higher moral welfare, is the end God has in view. It is often a new view of our circumstances to read them in this light.—R.T.

Psalms 77:13

The holiness of Divine dealings.

"O God, thy way is holy! Who is [so] great a God as [our] God?" Comp. Exodus 15:11, "Who is like unto thee, O Jehovah, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?" For "in the sanctuary" there is the various rendering "in holiness." It is evident that the term "holy," as applied to God, must include much more than it does when applied to men. We must try to find what was especially in the psalmist's mind, and so what he put, as his meaning, into this word. He began thinking of God's ways with his people Israel, especially in the rescue from Egypt, and deliverance at the Red Sea. This recalled the song of Moses, and the striking contrast between the gods of the heathen and the God of Israel. The first thing that arrests attention whenever that contrast is made is that the God of Israel has character, and puts character into his works; but the idol gods cannot be said to have any character. This the psalmist expresses by saying, "O God, thy way is holy;" or, "Thy doings bear a character, they have an aim and purpose, and that is a moral aim." We may take suggestions of a division from the passage in Exodus which presents three points in which Jehovah is unapproachable—holiness, awefulness, and miraculous power.

I. GOD IS "GLORIOUS IN HOLINESS;" that is, in character. We may read the story of God's dealings in either of two ways.

1. We may study it in order to find out what God is in himself.

2. We may bring our knowledge of what God is in himself to help us in explaining the meaning and mystery of his dealings. This latter is the higher work. When we are fully satisfied with the character of God, we begin to trace purposes of holiness and love in all his doings. We see that God's way is right, because he is right. If he is holy, we can trust him, if we cannot trace his way.

II. GOD IS "FEARFUL IN PRAISES." The proper object of the pro foundest awe, even to those who approach him with praise and thanksgiving. They who are duly impressed with the Divine holiness never permit any growth of knowledge, any acquaintance with God's ways, to nourish undue familiarities with his sacred Name. Think what we may of God's dealings, we must keep in our souls due reverence for God himself. No awe can attach to the gods of man's creation. It is the unique response of man to adequate impressions of the Divine holiness.

III. GOD "DOETH WONDERS." "Both through nature, and on occasions overruling nature, accomplishing the most astonishing results," which are seen to be most astonishing when viewed in the moral issues which they accomplish.—R.T.

Psalms 77:19

God's unknown ways.

"Thy footsteps were not known;" that is, they were not known or understood beforehand. They were not, they could not have been, anticipated. It is said that "the unexpected is the thing that happens." And so it is in connection with the ways of God. Man can but seldom find out the Almighty intent. God's "ways are higher than our ways, and his thoughts than our thoughts." The life of a godly man is full of the "surprises of grace;" and so he is taught lessons of trust. Recall the scene on the Egyptian side of the Red Sea. Observe that such were the hopeless features of the situation, that a way of rescue never came to the minds of any of the leaders. They must "stand still, and see the salvation of God;" and to the surprise of every one, his way proved to be "in the sea, and his path in the great waters." Of God's ways with his people, three things may be said.

I. EXPERIENCE CANNOT SUGGEST THEM. We fall back on our experience to guide our conduct under new circumstances. What happened before will explain what is happening now. But the sphere of human experiences is strictly limited. Men never do things that somebody has not done before them. "There has no temptation taken us but such as is common to man." But God is under no limitation to the circle of human experiences. He does, he is constantly doing, new things. Life forevery one of us is like the story of the children of Israel, full of Divine surprises, and we are never "straitened in God." Illustrations may be taken from Old Testament history, in which God delivered his people in ways which experience could not have suggested.

II. THOUGHT CANNOT ANTICIPATE THEM. "It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps." In a similar way, show how man's thought is limited by man's limited knowledge. No man has compassed the entire circle of Divine possibilities. The man who knows most must say, "These are parts of his ways." So man has not the material for deciding what God will be sure to do in any given case.

III. TRUST CAN ALWAYS WAIT FOR THEM, sure that God will unfold them in the best times and in the best ways. God's people are as safe as Israel at the Red Sea. God's unknown way for them will be revealed to them in good time.—R.T.

Psalms 77:20

God the Shepherd of his people.

"Thou leddest thy people like a flock." Vaihinger gives a keynote in his sentence, "The minstrel lets his harp drop, and reclines in fulness of faith on God's love." In the psalm depressing circumstances awaken depressing thoughts; they even make the psalmist think hard things about God. He found relief in turning his thoughts away from himself and his own condition, and dwelling on the larger theme of God's ways of dealing with his people through all the generations. After going over them awhile, he lightens upon a new and satisfying idea of God with which he may close his meditations. God is really the Shepherd of his people. Read his work aright, and you cannot fail to recognize that it is just shepherding. He leads as a shepherd leads his flock. The shepherd figure is familiar to Scripture readers; but our Western associations cannot fill the term with its best meanings and suggestions. In mountain districts, or on broad moorlands and plains, we get more suitable impressions of the perils of sheep, and of the exclusive devotion of the shepherd to their care.

I. GOD AS SHEPHERD FOR THE NEEDS OF HIS PEOPLE. Shepherding involves competency of knowledge of the district, so as to provide pasture and water. Apply to the provisions made for Israel when journeying through the wilderness—manna, water, meat. These represent our common everyday needs, which truly come by the Shepherd's providing, arranging, and controlling. But a flock has special needs, such as arise from sickness, weather, time of lambs, etc. And so the striking figure is given us of God, "He shall feed his flock like a Shepherd; he shall gather the lambs in his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that give suck." Shepherding, then—flock leading—involves that our "God doth provide." "My God shall supply all your needs."

II. GOD AS SHEPHERD FOR THE CHANGES OF HIS PEOPLE. This point is specially Eastern. Flocks necessarily kept moving, changing the pasture grounds, because of failing food and need of adjustment to different seasons. In mountain lands the cattle are taken to the higher grounds for the summer months, and brought down into the valleys again before winter sets in. Some of the changes in the circumstances of God's people are made by his providence. There never was an age of greater restlessness and changeableness than this in which we live. Some of the changes come through our own wills and wilfulness; and these changes try the Shepherd. Within the Shepherd's will the sheep have their own will—freedom, in many ways, to follow their own inclination. So we have a large liberty, a measure of free will; but it has always to he kept within the Shepherd's lines. Man's free will must be kept well within God's will. On this side special dealing is sometimes found necessary for the sheep and for God's people. The Shepherd may require to be even rough in his restrainings and restorings.

III. GOD AS SHEPHERD FOR THE DANGERS OF HIS PEOPLE. Illustrate from Eastern flocks: day dangers—such as crossing rivers, broken limbs, sudden floods down the wadies, etc.; night dangers—need of finding sheep cotes, gathering brushwood to top the hurriedly raised wall of the fold, watching against wild animals and robbers. But the sheep are not aware of, or fail to estimate, their dangers. All the burden of watching depends on the shepherd. So the dangers of God's people come from

Their Shepherd knows precisely both them and their circumstances. The faithfulness of our Shepherd only meets with fitting response in our submission and obedience. If God is still leading his people as a flock, two things may be impressed on us.

1. Able to lead is God's attribute.

2. Willing to be led is his people's attitude.—R.T.


Psalms 77:1-15

Refuge in God's unchangeableness.

Occasion of the psalm uncertain. "The poet flees from the sorrowful present away into the memory of the years of olden times, and consoles himself especially with the deliverance out of Egypt. But it remains obscure what kind of affliction it is which drives him to find refuge from the God now hidden in the God who was formerly manifest."



III. IF GOD HAS FORSAKEN HIM, IT IS SOMETHING INCONSISTENT WITH HIS NATURE AND COVENANT. (Psalms 77:7-9.) His promises cannot fail; his mercy, which is from everlasting, cannot be blotted out from his nature. Psalms 77:10 is of doubtful interpretation.

IV. HE WILL CONQUER HIS DOUBTS BY REMEMBERING GOD'S WONDERS WROUGHT FOR HIS PEOPLE OF OLD. (Psalms 77:10-15.) Because God must be unchangeable. God redeemed his people from their afflictions in Egypt; therefore he will redeem them from their present affliction.—S.

Psalms 77:3

Sick bed promises.

"I remembered God, and was troubled: I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed." "Conversion during trouble difficult and unsatisfactory." Most men forget God while they are free from trouble; some remember him in trouble, and the remembrance brings an increase of trouble. Salvation, conversion, on a sick bed (death bed) difficult and doubtful.


1. The mind is sometimes oppressed with such fears as to prevent the exercise of faith and love. Prospect of immediate death, and the sudden light cast upon the memory.

2. The enfeebled state of the mind and the pains of the body hinder us from receiving any spiritual impressions.

3. The greatness of the change requires all the powers of health. Painter and astronomer in a storm.


1. The want of experience to prove its soundness. Temptation, etc.

2. The suddenness of it, without striking a blow.

3. The mind may have been deeply impressed without being changed.

In prospect of eternity, remembered sins would impress. Faith, love, hope, necessary to change the mind.

Address two classes.

1. Those who have not fulfilled their sick bed promises.

2. Those who are trusting to a future sick bed conversion.—S.


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 77:4". The Pulpit Commentary. 1897.

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