Psalm 77

Submitted by admin on Sun, 2007-09-16 10:51.

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The Hebrew expression natsách (preceded by the preposition “to”) is commonly thought to signify “to the musical director” or “leader.” In the Septuagint, the rendering is “to the end.” An ancient Latin translation of the Hebrew Psalter reads victori (“to the victor”), probably because of linking the Hebrew expression to a root meaning “to defeat.” This suggests that considerable uncertainty exists about the significance of natsách.

The musician Jeduthun may have been the same person as the Levite Ethan. (Compare 1 Chronicles 15:17, 19 with 1 Chronicles 16:39-41 and 25:1.) Jeduthun, the contemporary of David and Asaph, does not appear to have been involved in composing the words of this psalm, for it is more specifically linked to Asaph. Possibly the reference in the superscription may be understood to mean “according to the style of Jeduthun.” The nature of the distress reflected in Psalm 77 does not appear to relate to the time David reigned. So the ascription to Asaph may be understood as applying to a later descendant or member of the house of Asaph.

Both personally and as a member of the nation of Israel, the psalmist found himself in extremely difficult circumstances. He cried out to God, wanting his voice to be heard or to gain a favorable response. (See the Notes section for additional comments on verse 1[2].)

In the “day” or time of his distress, he sought the Lord. When praying at night, he would stretch out his hand (“hands,” LXX) like a suppliant. With such intensity did the psalmist implore the Most High, that he kept his hand outstretched without wearying. Still, the trouble he faced weighed so heavily upon him that his “soul” or he himself “refused” to be consoled. He found no comfort. (For comments about the Septuagint rendering, see the Notes section regarding verse 2[3].)

Whenever he would “remember” God or his thoughts would be focused on him, the psalmist would groan. Possibly his groaning or sighing stemmed from seeing no evidence that needed aid was at hand. In the extant text of the Septuagint, the psalmist’s remembering God is presented as having had a positive effect on him. “I remembered God and rejoiced.” As he mused or pondered about God, his “spirit” would “faint.” This suggests that he found himself in a weak and discouraged state, likely feeling that relief would not be coming soon. Then, too, he would not have understood why God permitted him to suffer so much.

When referring to God as keeping his eyelids open, the psalmist likely meant that he could not sleep on account of the distressing situation he faced. The Septuagint rendering in Rahlfs’ printed text represents the psalmist’s eyes as being occupied with the watches of the night, suggesting that he remained awake and aware of every watch that passed. Instead of “eyes,” fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus read “enemies,” with all his enemies being portrayed as setting a watch or guard against the psalmist. He found himself in a troubled state, seemingly in such perplexity or agitation that he could not speak or was unable to express himself.

The psalmist thought about the “days of old,” the “years” of the ancient past. These former times would have been when the Most High liberated his people from affliction.

According to the Masoretic Text, the psalmist remembered his “music,” but the Septuagint refers to him as meditating. The Hebrew could be understood to mean that he would recall earlier times when he praised God with music during the night. In the Tanakh, the reference to “music” is interpretively translated in a negative sense, “I recall at night their jibes at me.” Some translations, like the Septuagint, do not include the reference to music in verse 6(7). “The years long past I remember. In the night I meditate in my heart; I ponder and my spirit broods.” (NAB) “Each night my mind is flooded with questions.” (CEV)

As a consequence of the musing of his “heart” (the reflections of his deep inner self) and the searching with his “spirit” or his mind, the psalmist was plagued with troubling questions. Would the Lord’s rejection continue for all time to come and his favorable attention never again be granted? Had his steadfast love, compassionate concern, or “mercy” (LXX) perpetually ceased and his “promise” (literally, “word” or “saying,” probably signifying his promise to aid his people) come to an end from “generation to generation” or permanently? Had God forgotten to be gracious? In anger, had he closed off his compassion?

It appeared to the psalmist that there had been a change respecting the “right hand of the Most High.” Unlike past times, the Almighty was not using his power to aid and protect his people. This troubling thought seems to have pained the psalmist. (For additional comments on verse 10[11], see the Notes section.)

At this point, the psalmist’s reflection shifted to God’s past dealings. He determined to recall the deeds of Yah (the abbreviated form of YHWH), his wonders from of old. The psalmist’s objective appears to have been to strengthen his wavering faith. A consideration of past deliverances would have served to remind him of YHWH’s loving care and stopped him from brooding about the then-existing distress. He then basically repeated the thought that he would make God’s work and his dealings the object of his meditation or reflection.

The reference to God’s way being “in holiness” may be understood to mean that all of God’s dealings are right, reflecting the ultimate standard in purity or faultlessness. The Hebrew could also mean that God’s way is in the “holy place,” possibly signifying that the sanctuary is the place for learning about God’s way. (Compare Psalm 73:16, 17.) “Who is a great god like [our] God?” asked the psalmist. The implied answer is, YHWH is without equal.

He alone worked wonders, giving rise to astonishment in the case of all who witnessed or heard about his saving acts. Among non-Israelite peoples he revealed his might.

With his “arm” or power, God redeemed his people, the “sons” of Jacob and Joseph, liberating them from enslavement in Egypt. It may be because of Joseph’s role in preserving the offspring of Jacob alive during the time of famine and also afterward that the psalmist referred to them as “sons” of Joseph. (Compare Genesis 47:12; 50:20.)

The reference to the waters seeing God and being in “anguish” or “afraid” (LXX) evidently is to be understood as relating to the parting of the Red Sea. At that time, the “deep,” the “abyss” (LXX), or the sea “trembled,” splitting open as if overcome with fright.

The psalmist next described a storm—drenching rain, thunder (literally, “clouds gave forth a voice”) and lightning. God’s “arrows went forth” or lightning flashed all around. Whether the psalmist regarded the phenomena as accompanying the dividing of the Red Sea or alluded to the later event at Mount Sinai is not specifically apparent from the context. The mention of the trembling and shaking of the earth or land in verse 18(19) appears to fit the fear-inspiring manifestation of divine power at Sinai when a thick dark cloud descended upon the mountain. The whole mountain began to shake violently, and the Israelites heard loud thunder and saw repeated lightning flashes. (Exodus 19:16-18)

In the psalm, the “sound” of God’s thunder is either to be understood as being in the whirlwind or as sounding like the whirling of many wheels. Both meanings are found in translations. “Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind.” (NIV) “The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind.” (NRSV) “Your thunder rumbled like wheels.” (Tanakh) “Your thunder roared like chariot wheels.” (CEV) God’s lightning lit up the land, and the “earth” or land trembled and shook. (See the Notes section for additional comments on verse 18[19].)

It appears that the psalmist portrayed what happened in connection with the Red Sea as if God had walked through it, causing it to part. Yet no evidence of any trace of his passing through could be seen and so his footprints did not come to be “known.”

God led his people like a flock through the wilderness, caring for them. He did so “by the hand of Moses and Aaron,” using them as his agents in dealing with the Israelites.

Notes:

In verse 1(2), translators have rendered the Hebrew either as meaning that God did hear the psalmist’s cry, that he implored God to hear him, or that he cried out with the confidence that God would hear him. “I cry to God in distress, I cry to God and he hears me.” (NJB) “I pray to you, Lord God, and I beg you to listen.” (CEV) “My voice rises to God, and I will cry aloud; my voice rises to God, and He will hear me.” (NASB) “I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and he will hear me.” (ESV, HCSB) The Septuagint reads, “With my voice I cried to the Lord, with my voice to God, and he heeded me.”

The extant text of verse 2(3) in the Septuagint does not include the expression about the hand being stretched out and not growing numb or wearying but reads, “In the day of my distress, I sought God, with my hands before him at night, and I was not deceived.”

Verses 3(4), 9(10), and 15(16) end with the expression “selah,” a transliterated Hebrew term the meaning of which is uncertain. The Septuagint rendering is diápsalma, thought to mean “pause” or “musical interlude.”

In verse 8(9), the Septuagint reads, “Or will he cut off his mercy totally [literally, to the end] from generation to generation?” This differs from the Masoretic Text in not mentioning the “word” or “saying.”

There is some uncertainty about the exact significance of the Hebrew text of verse 10(11). This accounts for differences in renderings, including the addition of interpretive elements. “And I said, ‘It is my fault that the right hand of the Most High has changed.’” (Tanakh) “And I said, ‘This is what wounds me, the right hand of the Most High has lost its strength.’” (NJB) “I conclude: ‘My sorrow is this, the right hand of the Most High has left us.’” (NAB) “And I say, ‘It is my grief that the right hand of the Most High has changed.” (NRSV) “Then I said, ‘God Most High, what hurts me most is that you no longer help us with your mighty arm.’” (CEV) The extant text of the Septuagint reads, “And I said, ‘Now I have begun; this [is] the change of the Most High’s right hand.’”

In verse 18(19), the Masoretic Text does not have a verb associated with “thunder.” The Hebrew word galgál may be defined as “wheel,” “whirl,” or “whirlwind.” The different meanings of the Hebrew term and the absence of a verb account for the variation in the renderings of translators. In the Septuagint, there also is no verb. It reads, “The sound of your thunder in the wheel.”

Regarding the divine name (YHWH), see Psalm 1.