Medicinal Memory | Psalm 77:5 Meditation

Psalm 77:5 Verse of the Day Commentary

The Holy City of Jerusalem had been conquered.1 God’s chosen people were dragged away to Babylon as slaves.

Was it not reasonable for the psalmist to express his doubts and question God? Yet, these questions lead the author to remember the past mighty acts of the holy, sovereign, and compassionate God — who is worthy of his and our trust.

  1. Text
  2. C4C Translation
  3. Commentary
    1. Literary Context
    2. Structure
    3. The Complaint
    4. The Questions
    5. The Reorientation: “The Turn From Self To God”
    6. Application
  4. Memorization

Text

6 חִשַּׁ֣בְתִּי יָמִ֣ים מִקֶּ֑דֶם שְׁ֝נ֗וֹת עוֹלָמִֽים׃2

5 I thought about the former days,
the years of long ago;3



Translation

I considered the days from before

the years of long ago

Commentary

Literary Context

When meditating on any Psalm, it is probably wise to consider the structure of the Books of Psalms (a.k.a., the Psalter). Psalm 77 is located in the third book of Psalms (Psalm 73-89) — which is often colored by uncertainty.4

Though the reversal of the usual superscript (“Of Asaph. A psalm.” instead of the usual “a psalm of Asaph”) may be noteworthy,5 perhaps what is more worthy of note concerning this Psalm of Asaph is that the collection of Asaph psalms probably reflects the issues that Israel faced during their captivity in the Exile.

As such, Asaph psalms often “tell it like it is”6 when it comes to the problems, distress, and doubts of the LORD’s people.

Structure

This is typical of psalms of lament. Moreover, in psalms of lament, the author begins with a complaint to God before (almost always) ending in a confession of trust in God.

Once one identifies the type or genre of a Psalm, its structure can become more apparent. One scholar outlines this psalm in five stanzas as follows:

St. 1 Cry to God (vv. 1–3)
St. 2 Description of Distress (vv. 4–6)
St. 3 Questions to God (vv. 7–9)
St. 4 Reasoning through the Problem (vv. 10–15)
St. 5 Hymn to the Creator God (vv. 16–20)7

The shift from complaint to confession appears to begin at a verse 10,8 which “testifies to a turnaround in the psalmist’s thinking.”9 The hinge at verse 10 is the point of reorientation.10

The Complaint

The author seemingly has cried out to God, stretching out his hands to Him — to no avail (Ps 77:1-2). Remembering God caused him to groan and grow faint (Ps 77:3). In his great distress, he couldn’t sleep or speak (Ps 77:4).

In Ps 77:5-6, the author remembers the days from before, the years of long ago, and his “happy songs”11 he presumably sung at night. These songs were probably hymns of praise and adoration to the LORD; what a contrast from the song of lament he is singing now!12

The Questions

Thinking about the good ol’ days causes him more distress. And his distress leads to doubts. And his doubts lead to questions (Ps 77:7-9). This questioning of God concerns elements of God’s covenant with his people Israel — which entailed favor (v. 7), unfailing love (v. 8), promise (v. 8), mercy (v. 8), and compassion (v. 9).13

No wonder the author has questions. How could God seemingly break His promises? ““Why does God let things go on as long and as tragically as they do without giving any tokens of his interest and concern?”14

The Reorientation: ‘The Turn From Self To God’

These understandable questions to God about His covenantal promises lead the author to think about the miraculous, mighty works of the LORD of the covenant (Ps 77:10-20) — the one who redeemed the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery and controlled the chaotic waters of the Red Sea (Ps 77:16-20 cf. Ex 12:31f. esp. Ex 15:8-11).15

The first exodus was “God’s salvation par excellence in the Old Testament.”16 No wonder this dramatic moment in Israelite history is recalled.

As one scholar notes, the “tonic of a true memory”17 is the reorientation from one’s self and one’s problems to the Almighty God who has already proven Himself to be greater than all of one’s problems.

The first half of this psalm (like our society?) is all about I. The second half is all about God.18 The author shifts from dwelling on his problems, to dwelling on his God — who is holy, great, and caring.19 This is what renowned Old Testament Scholar Walter Brueggemann called the “the Turn from Self to God.”20

Because his mighty, holy, and caring God has worked for the author’s ultimate good in the past, he reasons that this God can be trusted to work towards his ultimate good in the future — a “practical theology of the best sort.”21

Application

For Christians today, we probably have an even greater reason to put our active trust (i.e. faith) in God than the author of Psalm 77. The psalmist remembered God’s mighty acts during God’s redemption at the first Exodus; we can remember God’s mighty act during God’s redemption at the second Exodus:22 the Resurrection of Christ.

For “indeed, when Jesus speaks of [H]is resurrection, he speaks of leading an exodus (Lk 9:31)”23 (the Greek word translated departure in the NIV is actually (ἔξοδος | exhodos)).

So, when we are going through hard times, it’s OK to call out to God in lament. It’s OK to express our doubts. It’s OK to ask God “why?”.24 But we should always remember that God redeemed us at the Second Exodus, and that God continues to work things out for our ultimate good (Rom 8:28) — whether that be on this side of heaven or the next.

Memorization

Memorize Psalm 77:5 after watching a brief video tutorial demonstrating the How to Memorize Any Bible Verse in Less Than Five Minutes method below:

Sources

  1. “Surely the fall of Jerusalem is the background of this psalm.” Michael Wilcock, The Message of Psalms: Songs for the People of God, ed. J. A. Motyer, vol. 2, The Bible Speaks Today (Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2001), 22.
  2. Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia: With Werkgroep Informatica, Vrije Universiteit Morphology; Bible. O.T. Hebrew. Werkgroep Informatica, Vrije Universiteit. (Logos Bible Software, 2006), Ps 77:6.
  3. The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Ps 77:5.
  4. Beth Tanner, “Book Three of the Psalter: Psalms 73–89,” in The Book of Psalms, ed. E. J. Young, R. K. Harrison, and Robert L. Hubbard Jr., The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014), 616.
  5. “Cf. Psalms 50; 73–76, 78–79, 82–83.” Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Psalms 2: A Commentary on Psalms 51-100, ed. Klaus Baltzer, trans. Linda M. Maloney, Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2005).
  6. Though Boice makes it seems like Asaph and not his sons wrote this psalm. Asaph is probably much closer, historically, to the time of King David (ca. 1000). James Montgomery Boice, Psalms 42–106: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005), 637.
  7. Beth Tanner, “Book Three of the Psalter: Psalms 73–89,” in The Book of Psalms, ed. E. J. Young, R. K. Harrison, and Robert L. Hubbard Jr., The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014), 612.
  8. “[Verse 10] then makes a strong pivot between the two sections,” Derek Kidner, Psalms 73–150: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 16, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1975), 309.
  9. Tremper Longman III, Psalms: An Introduction and Commentary, ed. David G. Firth, vol. 15–16, The Tyndale Commentary Series (Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2014), 287.
  10. “Like [Psalm 73:17], however, 77:10 is the point at which he is reoriented.” Michael Wilcock, The Message of Psalms: Songs for the People of God, ed. J. A. Motyer, vol. 2, The Bible Speaks Today (Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2001), 22.
  11. J. A. Motyer, “The Psalms,” in New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, ed. D. A. Carson et al., 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 535.
  12. “Presumably these are hymns of joy, in stark contrast.” Tremper Longman III, Psalms: An Introduction and Commentary, ed. David G. Firth, vol. 15–16, The Tyndale Commentary Series (Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2014), 286.
  13. J. A. Motyer, “The Psalms,” in New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, ed. D. A. Carson et al., 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 535.
  14. H.C. Leupold as quoted in James Montgomery Boice, Psalms 42–106: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005), 638.
  15. “Comparison of v 13 with Exodus 15:8–11 shows that memory is concentrated on the great works of God from the exodus onwards.” J. A. Motyer, “The Psalms,” in New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, ed. D. A. Carson et al., 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 535.
  16. Tremper Longman III, Psalms: An Introduction and Commentary, ed. David G. Firth, vol. 15–16, The Tyndale Commentary Series (Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2014), 288.
  17. J. A. Motyer, “The Psalms,” in New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, ed. D. A. Carson et al., 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 535.
  18. Michael Wilcock, The Message of Psalms: Songs for the People of God, ed. J. A. Motyer, vol. 2, The Bible Speaks Today (Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2001), 22–23.
  19. James Montgomery Boice, Psalms 42–106: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005), 642.
  20. Michael Wilcock, The Message of Psalms: Songs for the People of God, ed. J. A. Motyer, The Bible Speaks Today (Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2001).
  21. James Montgomery Boice, Psalms 42–106: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005), 642.
  22. “We live in the period after the coming of Christ, whose great redemptive acts, which the exodus anticipated.” Tremper Longman III, Psalms: An Introduction and Commentary, ed. David G. Firth, vol. 15–16, The Tyndale Commentary Series (Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2014), 289.
  23. Leland Ryken et al., Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 254.
  24. “The very presence of this prayer in the Psalms makes it clear that God invites his people’s honest and courageous prayers.” Tremper Longman III, Psalms: An Introduction and Commentary, ed. David G. Firth, vol. 15–16, The Tyndale Commentary Series (Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2014), 287.
About @DannyScottonJr 168 Articles
Imperfect servant striving to be an unapologetically apologetic ambassador for Jesus the Christ. Princeton University Alum | Palmer Theological Seminary Student