Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
For the meaning of the title to this psalm, see the notes at the title to Psa 39:1-13. It purports, like the preceding ones, to be a psalm of Asaph. See the notes in the title to Ps. 73. Nothing is known, or can now be ascertained, of the occasion on which the psalm was composed. It is not absolutely certain whether it refers to some public calamity, and is designed to express the feelings of a pious Hebrew, as of the psalmist himself (Rosenmuller), or some other Jew (DeWette), in view of such a public calamity; or whether it is designed to represent the "complaint of the church in view of her calamity and desertion (Prof. Alexander); or whether it is the statement of the private and personal experience of the author of the psalm. To me it seems that the latter is the most probable supposition, and that, in this respect, it accords with the purport and design of Ps. 73, which is by the same author. It is an interesting statement of what passed through the mind of the author, and of what may, therefore, pass through the mind of any pious person, in regard to the divine dealings. The psalm was evidently composed in a time of affliction, and the thoughts which gave the author so much trouble, and which he endeavored to calm down, were such as were suggested by affliction; by the fact that God seemed to have forsaken him, and that he had forgotten to be gracious.
The contents of the psalm are as follows:
I. A general statement of the author that he had cried to God, and that he had been heard, Psa 77:1. This, although it is in the beginning of the psalm, is clearly designed to be a general expression of his experience in the case "as recorded in the psalm," or as the result of the conflict through which he had passed.
II. A statement of his affliction, and of the exercises of his mind in his affliction, Psa 77:2-9.
(1) the statement of the affliction, Psa 77:2.
(2) in that affliction he was troubled in mind, or he had painful ideas in regard to God. He could not reconcile his sufferings with such views as he desired to cherish of God, Psa 77:3.
(3) his meditations, and perhaps the pain of disease, kept him awake, and he was unable to rest. The ordinary time of repose furnished no relief, Psa 77:4.
(4) he recalled the past; he looked over the dealings of God with people in former times; he summoned up his own reflections in times past, and especially the time when he could praise God in trouble, recalling his "song in the night" - but in vain, Psa 77:5-6.
(5) the result was that he had most painful thoughts in regard to God, as if he had forgotten to be gracious, and had cast him off forever, and would be favorable no more, Psa 77:7-9.
III. His self-reproach; his recalling himself to a proper state of feeling; his purpose to think of the dealings of God with his people, and to examine them more closely, Psa 77:10-12. He saw that the course of thought which he had indulged in was wrong, and was satisfied that it was an "infirmity," that it was to be traced to his own weakness - and that he ought to take different views of God.
IV. The result of all; the things which comforted him in his troubles, and which enabled him at last to put his calm trust in God, Psa 77:13-20.
(1) To the fact that God is great, and that he could not hope to be able to comprehend him, Psa 77:13-14.
(2) to the fact that God had redeemed his people by surprising manifestations of power, showing that he was faithful, and that he was able to deliver front the deepest distresses, Psa 77:15-18.
(3) to the fact that the way of God was in the sea, or in great waters, and that we cannot expect to be able to comprehend him, Psa 77:19.
(4) to the fact that God had led his flock in ancient times amid scenes of danger and of trial, Psa 77:20.
By all this his mind was comforted, and his soul was made calm. God heard his prayer, and gave him peace.
I cried unto God with my voice - That is, he cried or prayed audibly. It was not mere mental prayer. See the notes at Psa 3:4.
Even unto God with my voice - The repetition here is emphatic. The idea is that it was an earnest or fervent cry. Compare the notes at Co2 12:8.
And he gave ear unto me - See Psa 5:1, note; Psa 17:6, note.
In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord - Compare the notes at Psa 50:15. This trouble may have been either mental or bodily; that is, it may have arisen from some form of disease, or it may have been that which sprang from difficulties in regard to the divine character, government, and dealings. That it "assumed" the latter form, even if it had its beginning in the former, is apparent from the following verses. Whether it was connected with any form of bodily disease must be determined by the proper interpretation of the next clause in this verse.
My sore ran in the night - Margin, "My hand." It is evident that our translators sup. posed that there was some bodily disease - some running sore - which was the cause of his trouble. Hence, they so rendered the Hebrew word. But it is now generally agreed that this is without authority. The Hebrew word is "hand" - יד yâd - a word which is never used in the sense of sore or wound. The Septuagint renders it, "my hands are before him." The Vulgate renders it in the same manner. Luther, "My hand is stretched out at night." DeWette, "My hand is stretched out at night unwearied." The word which is rendered in our version "ran" - נגר nâgar - means to "flow;" and, in Niphil, to be poured out, and then, "to be stretched out;" which is evidently its meaning here. The idea is, that his hand was stretched out in earnest supplication, and that this continued in the night when these troubles came most upon him. See Psa 77:4, Psa 77:6. In his painful meditations in the night. watches - in thinking on God and his ways, as he lay upon his bed, he stretched out his hand in fervent prayer to God.
And ceased not - The word used here - פוג pûg - means properly to be cold; then, to be torpid, sluggish, slack. Here it means that the hand did not become weary; it did not fall from exhaustion; or, in other words, that he did not give over praying through weariness or exhaustion.
My soul refused to be comforted - I resisted all the suggestions that came to my own mind, that might have comforted me. My heart was so melancholy and downcast; my spirits were so crushed; my mind was so dark; I had become so morbid, that I loved to cherish these thoughts. I chose to dwell on them. They had obtained possession of me, and I could not let them go. There was nothing that my own mind could suggest, there was nothing that occurred to me, that would relieve the difficulty or restore peace to my soul. These sad and gloomy thoughts filled all my soul, and left no room for thoughts of consolation and peace. A truly pious man may, therefore, get into a state of mind - a sad, dispirited, melancholy, morbid state - in which nothing that can be said to him, nothing that will occur to himself, will give him comfort and peace. Compare Jer 31:15.
I remembered God - That is, I thought on God; I thought on his character, his government, and his dealings; I thought on the mysteries - the incomprehensible things - the apparently unequal, unjust, and partial doings - of his administration. It is evident from the whole tenor of the psalm that these were the things which occupied his attention. He dwelt on them until his whole soul became sad; until his spirit became so overwhelmed that he could not find words in which to utter his thoughts.
And was troubled - The Septuagint renders this, εὐφράνθην euphranthēn - I was rejoiced or delighted. So the Vulgate. Luther renders it, "When I am troubled, then I think on God." Our translation, however, has probably given the true idea; and in that has expressed
(a) what often occurs in the case of even a good man - that by dwelling on the dark and incomprehensible things of the divine administration, the soul becomes sad and troubled to an extent bordering on murmuring, complaint, and rebellion; and may also serve to illustrate
(b) what often happens in the mind of a sinner - that he delights to dwell on these things in the divine administration:
(1) as most in accordance with what he desires to think about God, or with the views which he wishes to cherish of him; and
(2) as justifying himself in his rebellion against God, and his refusal to submit to him - for if God is unjust, partial, and severe, the sinner is right; such a Being would be unworthy of trust and confidence; he ought to be opposed, and his claims ought to be resisted.
I complained - Or rather, I "mused" or "meditated." The word used here does not necessarily mean to complain. It is sometimes used in that sense, but its proper and common signification is to meditate. See Psa 119:15, Psa 119:23, Psa 119:27, Psa 119:48, Psa 119:78,Psa 119:148.
And my spirit was overwhelmed - With the result of my own reflections. That is, I was amazed or confounded by the thoughts that came in upon me.
Thou holdest mine eyes waking - literally, "Thou holdest the watchings of my eyes." Gesenius (Lexicon) translates the Hebrew word rendered "waking," "eyelids." Probably that is the true idea. The eyelids are the watchers or guardians of the eyes. In danger, and in sleep, they close. Here the idea is, that God held them so that they did not close. He overcame the natural tendency of the eye to shut. In other words, the psalmist was kept awake; he could not sleep. This he traces to God. The idea is, that God so kept himself before his mind - that such ideas occurred to him in regard to God - that he could not sleep.
I am so troubled - With sad and dark views of God; so troubled in endeavoring to understand his character and doings; in explaining his acts; in painful ideas that suggest themselves in regard to his justice, his goodness, his mercy.
That I cannot speak - I am struck dumb. I know not what to say. I cannot find "anything" to say. He must have a heart singularly and happily free by nature from scepticism, or must have reflected little on the divine administration, who has not had thoughts pass through his mind like these. As the psalmist was a good man, a pious man, it is of importance to remark, in view of his experience, that such reflections occur not only to the minds of bad people - of the profane - of sceptics - of infidel philosophers, but they come unbidden into the minds of good people, and often in a form which they cannot calm down. He who has never had such thoughts, happy as he may and should deem himself that he has not had them, has never known some of the deepest stirrings and workings of the human soul on the subject of religion, and is little qualified to sympathize with a spirit torn, crushed, agitated, as was that of the psalmist on these questions, or as Augustine and thousands of others have been in after-times. But let not a man conclude, because he has these thoughts, that therefore he cannot be a friend of God - a converted man. The wicked man invites them, cherishes them, and rejoices that he can find what seem to him to be reasons for indulging in such thoughts against God; the good man is pained; struggles against them: endearours to banish them from his soul.
I have considered the days of old - Rather, "I do consider;" that is, "I think upon." This refers to his resolution in his perplexity and trouble; the method to which he resorted in examining the subject, and in endeavoring to allay his troubles. He resolved to look at the past. He asked what was the evidence which was furnished on the subject by the former dealings of God with himself and with mankind; what could be learned from those dealings in regard to the great and difficult questions which now so perplexed his mind.
The years of ancient times - The records and remembrances of past ages. What is the testimony which the history of the world bears on this subject? Does it prove that God is worthy of confidence or not? Does it or does it not authorize and justify these painful thoughts which pass through the mind?
I call to remembrance my song in the night - Compare Job 35:10, note; Psa 42:8, note. The word here rendered "song" - נגינה negı̂ynâh - means properly the music of stringed instruments, Lam 5:14; Isa 38:20; then, a stringed instrument. It is the word which we have so often in the titles to the psalms (Psa 4:1-8; Psa 6:1-10; Psa 54:1-7; Ps. 55; Psa 67:1-7; Psa 76:1-12); and it is used here in the sense of song or psalm. The idea is, that there had been times in his life when, even in darkness and sorrow, he could sing; when he could find things for which to praise God; when he could find something that would cheer him; when he could take some bright views of God adapted to calm down his feelings, and to give peace to his soul. He recalls those times and scenes to his remembrance, with a desire to have those cheerful impressions renewed; and he asks himself what it was which then comforted and sustained him. He endeavors to bring those things back again, for if he found comfort then, he thinks that he might find comfort from the same considerations now.
I commune with mine own heart - I think over the matter. See the notes at Psa 4:4.
And my spirit made diligent search - In reference
(a) to the grounds of my former support and comfort; and
(b) in reference to the whole matter as it lies before me now.
Will the Lord cast off for ever? - This was the subject, and the substance, of his inquiry: whether it was a fair and just conclusion that God would show no mercy; would never be gracious again. Evidently the thought passed through his mind that this seemed to be the character of God; that things looked as if this were so; that it was difficult, if not impossible, to understand the divine dealings otherwise; and he asks whether this was a fair conclusion; whether he must be constrained to believe that this was so.
And will he be favorable no more? - Will he no more show favor to people? Will he pardon and save no more of the race of mankind?
Is his mercy clean gone for ever? - The word rendered "clean gone" means to fail; to fail utterly. The idea is, Can it be that the compassion of God has become exhausted - that no more mercy is to be shown to mankind - that henceforth all is to be left to stern and severe justice? What would the world be if this were so! What must be the condition of mankind if mercy were no more to be shown to the race!
Doth his promise fail for evermore? - Margin, as in Hebrew, "to generation and generation." The original Hebrew rendered "promise" means "word;" and the question is, whether it can be that what God has spoken is to be found false. Can we no longer rely on what he has said? All the hopes of mankind depend on that, and if that should fail, all prospect of salvation in regard to our race must be at an end.
Hath God forgotten to be gracious? - Has he passed over mercy in administering his government? Has he ceased to remember that man needs mercy? Has he forgotten that this is an attribute of his own nature?
Hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies? - The original word here rendered "tender mercies" refers to the "bowels," as the seat of compassion or mercy, in accordance with a usage common in Hebrew. See Psa 25:6, note; Isa 16:11, note; Isa 63:15, note. Compare Luk 1:78 (in Greek); Phi 1:8; Phi 2:1; Jo1 3:17. We speak of the "heart" as the seat of affection and kindness. The Hebrews included the heart, but they used a more general word. The word rendered "shut up" means "closed;" and the question is whether his mercy was closed, or had ceased forever. The psalmist concludes that if this were done, it must be as the result of anger - anger in view of the sins of people.
And I said, This is my infirmity - The meaning of this phrase is not, as would appear from our translation, that his reflections on the subject were to be traced to his weakness, or were a proof of weakness of mind, but that the subject overpowered him. This verse has been very variously rendered. The Septuagint and the Vulgate translate it, "And I said, now I begin; this is a change of the right hand of the Most High," with what meaning it is difficult to see. Luther renders it, "But yet I said, I must suffer this; the right hand of the Most High can change all;" a beautiful sentiment, but probably not the idea in the original. The Hebrew means, "This makes me sick;" that is, "This distresses me; it afflicts me; it overwhelms me. Such reflections prostrate me, and I cannot bear up under them. I "must" seek relief. I "must" find it somewhere. I "must" take some view of this matter which will save me from these dreadful thoughts that overpower and crush the soul." Any deep mental emotion may have this effect, and it is not strange that such a result should be produced by the momentous thoughts suggested by religion, as it sometimes attends even the manifestation of the divine mercy to the soul. Compare the notes at Dan 10:8-9. The course of thought which the psalmist pursued, and in which he found relief, is stated in the following verses. It consisted of an attempt to obtain, from the remembrance of the divine administration in past times, views of God which would lead to confidence in him. The views thus obtained, as will be seen, were two-fold:
(a) That, as far as his dealings could be understood, God was worthy of confidence; and
(b) That in the ways of God there are, and must be, many things which man cannot comprehend.
But I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High - That is, the years when God displayed his power; when he reached out his right hand; when he manifested his true character; when there was a proper exhibition to the world of what he is, and of the true principles of his administration. The words "But I will remember" are not in the original, though, as they occur in the following verse, they are not improperly supplied by the translators. The original, however, is more striking and emphatic: "This makes me sick! The years of the right hand of the Most High!" The history of those years occurred to his mind. They rose to his view suddenly in his sorrow. They came before him in such a form and manner that he felt they should be inquired into. Their history should be examined. In that history - in those remembered years - "relief" might be found. It was natural to look there for relief. He instinctively turned, therefore, to examine the records of those years, and to inquire what testimony they bore in regard to God; what there might be in them that would give relief to a troubled heart.
I will remember the works of the Lord - That is, I will call them to remembrance, or I will reflect on them. I will look to what God has "done," that I may learn his true character, or that I may see what is the proper interpretation to be put on his doings in respect to the question whether he is righteous or not; whether it is proper to put confidence in him or not. Or, in other words, I will examine those doings to see if I cannot find in them something to calm down my feelings; to remove my despondency; and to give me cheerful views of God.
Surely I will remember thy wonders of old - Thy wonderful dealings with mankind; those acts which thou hast performed which are suited to excite amazement and wonder.
I will meditate also of all thy work - That is, with a view to learn thy real character; to see whether I am to be constrained by painful facts to cherish the thoughts which have given me such trouble, or whether I may not find reasons for cherishing more cheerful views of God.
And talk of thy doings - Or rather, "I will muse on thy doings" - for so the Hebrew word signifies. It is not conversation with others to which he refers; it is meditation - musing - calm contemplation - thoughtful meditation. He designed to reflect on the doings of God, and to ask what was the proper interpretation to be put on them in regard to his character. Thus we must, and may, judge of God, as we judge of our fellow-men. We may, we must, inquire what is the proper interpretation to be put on the events which occur under his administration, and form our opinions accordingly. The result of the psalmist's reflections is stated in the following verses.
Thy way, O God, is in the sanctuary - Luther renders this, "O God, thy way is holy." Prof. Alexander, "O God, in holiness is thy way." DeWette, "O God, holy is thy way." The word rendered "sanctuary" - קדשׁ qôdesh - means properly "holiness." It is not the same word which in Psa 73:17 is rendered "sanctuary" - מקדשׁ miqdâsh. The word here employed, however, may mean a holy place, a sanctuary, as the tabernacle Exo 28:43; Exo 29:30, or the temple Kg1 8:8; Ch2 29:7. In this passage the word is ambiguous. It means either that the way of God is holy, or in holiness; or, that it is in the sanctuary, or holy place. If the former, it is a statement of the result to which the psalmist came in regard to the divine character, from a contemplation of his doings. If the latter, it means that the way of God - the true principles of the divine administration - are to be learned in the place where he is worshipped, and from the principles which are there set forth. Compare the notes at Psa 73:17. It seems to me that the former is the correct interpretation, as it accords better with the scope of the passage.
Who is so great a God as our God - In greatness no one can be compared with him. He is supreme over all. This is the first reflection of the psalmist in regard to God - that he is great; that he is superior to all other beings; that no one can be compared with him. The evident inference from this in the mind of the psalmist, as bearing on the subject of his inquiry, is, that it is to be expected that there will be things in his administration which man cannot hope to understand; that a rash and sudden judgment should not be formed in regard to him from his doings; that people should wait for the developments of his plans; that he should not be condemned because there are things which we cannot comprehend, or which seem to be inconsistent with goodness. This is a consideration which ought always to influence us in our views of God and his government.
Thou art the God that doest wonders - It is, it must be, the characteristic of God, the true God, to do wonderful things; things which are suited to produce amazement, and which we can little hope to be able to understand. Our judgment of God, therefore, should not be hasty and rash, but calm and deliberate.
Thou hast declared thy strength among the people - Thou hast manifested thy greatness in thy dealings with the people. The word "people" here refers not especially to the Hebrew people, but to the nations - the people of the world at large. On a wide scale, and among all nations, God had done that which was suited to excite wonder, and which people were little qualified as yet to comprehend. No one can judge aright of what another has done unless he can take in the whole subject, and see it as he does who performs the act - unless he understands all the causes, the motives, the results near and remote - unless he sees the necessity of the act - unless he sees what would have been the consequences if it had not been done, for in that which is unknown to us, and which lies beyond the range of our vision, there may be full and sufficient reasons for what has been done, and an explanation may be found there which would remove all the difficulty.
Thou hast with thine arm - That is, with strength or power, the arm being a symbol of strength. Exo 6:6; Exo 15:16; Psa 10:15.
Redeemed thy people - Thou didst rescue or deliver them from Egyptian bondage. See the notes at Isa 43:3.
The sons of Jacob and Joseph - The descendants of Jacob and Joseph. Jacob is mentioned because he was the ancestor of the twelve tribes; Joseph, because he was conspicuous or eminent among the sons of Jacob, and particularly because he acted so important a part in the affairs of Egypt, from whose dominion they were redeemed.
The waters saw thee ... - The waters of the Red Sea and the Jordan. There is great sublimity in this expression; in representing the waters as conscious of the presence of God, and as fleeing in consternation at his presence. Compare Rev 20:11; Hab 3:10-11.
They were afraid - On the word used here - חול chûl - see Psa 10:5, note; Psa 55:4, note. It may mean here to tremble or quake, as in pain Deu 2:25; Joe 2:6. - Alarm, distress, anguish, came over the waters at the presence of God; and they trembled, and fled.
The depths also were troubled - The deep waters, or the waters "in" the depths. It was not a ripple on the surface; but the very depths - the usually calm and undisturbed waters that lie below the surface - were heaved into commotion at the divine presence.
The clouds poured out water - Margin, "The clouds were poured forth with water." The translation in the text is the more correct. This is a description of a storm; but to what particular storm in history does not appear. It was evidently some exhibition of the divine greatness and power in delivering the children of Israel, and may have referred to the extraordinary manifestation of God at Mount Sinai, amidst lightnings, and thunders, and tempests. Exo 19:16. For a general description of a storm, as illustrating this passage, see Job 36:26-33, notes; Job 37:1-5, notes; and Psa 29:1-11.
The skies sent out a sound - The voice of thunder, which seems to come from the sky.
Thine arrows also - The lightnings - compared with burning or ignited arrows. Such arrows were anciently used in war. They were bound round with rags, and dipped in some combustible substance - as turpentine - and shot into houses, grain-fields, haystacks, or towns, for the purpose of setting them on fire. It was not unnatural to compare the rapid lightnings with such blazing arrows.
Went abroad - They moved rapidly in all directions.
The voice of thy thunder was in the heaven - Compare the notes at Psa 29:1-11. The word rendered "heaven" here - גלגל galgal - means properly "a wheel," as of a chariot, Isa 5:28; Eze 10:2, Eze 10:6; Eze 23:24; Eze 26:10. Then it means a "whirlwind," as that which rolls along, Eze 10:13. Then it is used to denote chaff or stubble, as driven along before a whirlwind, Psa 83:13; Isa 17:13. It is never used to denote heaven. It means here, undoubtedly, the whirlwind; and the idea is, that in the ragings of the storm, or of the whirlwind, the voice of God was heard - the deep bellowing thunder - as if God spoke to people.
The lightnings lightened the world - The whole earth seemed to be in a blaze.
The earth trembled and shook - See the notes at Psa 29:1-11.
Thy way is in the sea - Probably the literal meaning here is, that God had shown his power and faithfulness in the sea (that is, the Red Sea), in delivering his people; it was there that his true character was seen, as possessing almighty power, and as being able to deliver his people. But this seems to have suggested, also, another idea - that the ways of God, in his providential dealings, were like walking through the sea, where no permanent track would be made, where the waves would close on the path, and where it would be impossible by any footprints to ascertain the way which he had taken. So in regard to his doings and his plans. There is nothing by which man can determine in regard to them. There are no traces by which he can follow out the divine designs - as none can follow one whose path is through the trackless waters. The subject is beyond man's reach, and there should be no rash or harsh judgment of the Almighty.
And thy path in the great waters - The additional idea here may be, that the ways or plans of God are vast - like the ocean. Even in shallow waters, when one wades through them, the path closes at once, and the way cannot be traced; but God's goings are like those of one who should move through the great ocean - over a boundless sea - where none could hope to follow him.
And thy footsteps are not known - The word rendered "footsteps" means properly the print made by the "heel," and the print made by the foot. The idea here is, that there are no traces in regard to many of the dealings of God, which appear most incomprehensible to us, and which trouble us most, as there can be no footprints left in the waters. We should not venture, therefore, to sit in judgment on the doings of God, or presume that we can understand them.
Thou leddest thy people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron - This satisfied and comforted the mind of the psalmist. God had never forsaken his people. He had shown himself faithful in his dealings with them. He had acted the part of a good shepherd. In all the dangers of their way; in their perilous journey through the wilderness; amidst foes, privations, and troubles - rocks, sands, storms, tempests - when surrounded by enemies, and when their camp was infested with poisonous serpents - God had shown himself able to protect his people, and had been faithful to all his promises and covenant-engagements. Looking back to this period of their history, the psalmist saw that there was abundant reason for confiding in God, and that the mind should repose on him calmly amid all that was dark and mysterious in his dealings. In view of the past, the mind ought to be calm; encouraged by the past, however incomprehensible may be God's doings, people may come to him, and entrust all their interests to him with the confident assurance that their salvation will be secure, and that all which seems dark and mysterious in the dealings of God will yet be made clear.