Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Comfort Derived from the History of the Past during Years of Affliction
"The earth feared and became still," says Psa 76:9; the earth trembled and shook, says Psa 77:19 : this common thought is the string on which these two Psalms are strung. In a general way it may be said of Psalms 77, that the poet flees from the sorrowful present away into the memory of the years of olden times, and consoles himself more especially with the deliverance out of Egypt, so rich in wonders. As to the rest, however, it remains obscure what kind of national affliction it is which drives him to find his refuge from the God who is now hidden in the God who was formerly manifest. At any rate it is not a purely personal affliction, but, as is shown by the consolation sought in the earlier revelations of power and mercy in connection with the national history, an affliction shared in company with the whole of his people. In the midst of this hymnic retrospect the Psalm suddenly breaks off, so that Olshausen is of opinion that it is mutilated, and Tholuck that the author never completed it. But as Psalms 77 and Ps 81 show, it is the Asaphic manner thus to close with an historical picture without the line of thought recurring to its commencement. Where our Psalm leaves off, Hab. 3 goes on, taking it up from that point like a continuation. For the prophet begins with the prayer to revive that deed of redemption of the Mosaic days of old, and in the midst of wrath to remember mercy; and in expression and figures which are borrowed from our Psalm, he then beholds a fresh deed of redemption by which that of old is eclipsed. Thus much, at least, is therefore very clear, that Psalms 77 is older than Habakkuk. Hitzig certainly calls the psalmist the reader and imitator of Hab. 3; and Philippson considers even the mutual relationship to be accidental and confined to a general similarity of certain expressions. We, however, believe that we have proved in our Commentary on Habakkuk (1843), S. 118-125, that the mutual relationship is one that is deeply grounded in the prophetic type of Habakkuk, and that the Psalm is heard to re-echo in Habakkuk, not Habakkuk in the language of the psalmist; just as in general the Asaphic Psalms are full of boldly sketched outlines to be filled in by later prophetic writers. We also now further put this question: how was it possible for the gloomy complaint of Psalms 77, which is turned back to the history of the past, to mould itself after Hab. 3, that joyous looking forward into a bright and blessed future? Is not the prospect in Hab. 3 rather the result of that retrospect in Psalms 77, the confidence in being heard which is kindled by this Psalm, the realizing as present, in the certainty of being heard, of a new deed of God in which the deliverances in the days of Moses are antitypically revived?
More than this, viz., that the Psalm is older than Habakkuk, who entered upon public life in the reign of Josiah, or even as early as in the reign of Manasseh, cannot be maintained. For it cannot be inferred from Psa 77:16 and Psa 77:3, compared with Gen 37:35, that one chief matter of pain to the psalmist was the fall of the kingdom of the ten tribes which took place in his time. Nothing more, perhaps, than the division of the kingdom which had already taken place seems to be indicated in these passages. The bringing of the tribes of Joseph prominently forward is, however, peculiar to the Asaphic circle of songs.
The task of the precentor is assigned by the inscription to Jeduthun (Chethb: Jeduthun), for ל (Psa 39:1) alternates with על (Psa 62:1); and the idea that ידותון denotes the whole of the Jeduthunites ("overseer over...") might be possible, but is without example.
The strophe schema of the Psalm is 7. 12. 12. 12. 2. The first three strophes or groups of stichs close with Sela.
The poet is resolved to pray without intermission, and he prays; fore his soul is comfortless and sorely tempted by the vast distance between the former days and the present times. According to the pointing, והאזין appears to be meant to be imperative after the form הקטיל, which occurs instead of הקטל and הקתילה, cf. Psa 94:1; Isa 43:8; Jer 17:18, and the mode of writing הקטיל, Psa 142:5, Kg2 8:6, and frequently; therefore et audi = ut audias (cf. Sa2 21:3). But such an isolated form of address is not to be tolerated; והאזין has been regarded as perf. consec. in the sense of ut audiat, although this modification of האזין into האזין in connection with the appearing of the Waw consec. cannot be supported in any other instance (Ew. ֗234, e), and Kimchi on this account tries to persuade himself to that which is impossible, viz., that והאזין in respect of sound stands for ויאזין. The preterites in Psa 77:3 express that which has commenced and which will go on. The poet labours in his present time of affliction to press forward to the Lord, who has withdrawn from him; his hand is diffused, i.e., stretched out (not: poured out, for the radical meaning of נגר, as the Syriac shows, is protrahere), in the night-time without wearying and leaving off; it is fixedly and stedfastly (אמוּנה, as it is expressed in Exo 17:12) stretched out towards heaven. His soul is comfortless, and all comfort up to the present rebounds as it were from it (cf. Gen 37:35; Jer 31:15). If he remembers God, who was once near to him, then he is compelled to groan (cf. Psa 55:18, Psa 55:3; and on the cohortative form of a Lamed He verb, cf. Ges. ֗75, 6), because He has hidden Himself from him; if he muses, in order to find Him again, then his spirit veils itself, i.e., it sinks into night and feebleness (התעטּף as in Psa 107:5; Psa 142:4; Psa 143:4). Each of the two members of Psa 77:4 are protasis and apodosis; concerning this emotional kind of structure of a sentence, vid., Ewald, ֗357, b.
He calls his eyelids the "guards of my eyes." He who holds these so that they remain open when they want to shut together for sleep, is God; for his looking up to Him keeps the poet awake in spite of all overstraining of his powers. Hupfeld and others render thus: "Thou hast held, i.e., caused to last, the night-watches of mine eyes," - which is affected in thought and expression. The preterites state what has been hitherto and has not yet come to a close. He still endures, as formerly, such thumps and blows within him, as though he lay upon an anvil (פּעם), and his voice fails him. Then silent soliloquy takes the place of audible prayer; he throws himself back in thought to the days of old (Psa 143:5), the years of past periods (Isa 51:9), which were so rich in the proofs of the power and loving-kindness of the God who was then manifest, but is now hidden. He remembers the happier past of his people and his own, inasmuch as he now in the night purposely calls back to himself in his mind the time when joyful thankfulness impelled him to the song of praise accompanied by the music of the harp (בּלּילה belongs according to the accents to the verb, not to נגינתי, although that construction certainly is strongly commended by parallel passages like Psa 16:7; Psa 42:9; Psa 92:3, cf. Job 35:10), in place of which, crying and sighing and gloomy silence have now entered. He gives himself up to musing "with his heart," i.e., in the retirement of his inmost nature, inasmuch as he allows his thoughts incessantly to hover to and fro between the present and the former days, and in consequence of this (fut. consec. as in Psa 42:6) his spirit betakes itself to scrupulizing (what the lxx reproduces with σκάλλειν, Aquila with σκαλεύειν) - his conflict of temptation grows fiercer. Now follow the two doubting questions of the tempted one: he asks in different applications, Psa 77:8-10 (cf. Psa 85:6), whether it is then all at an end with God's loving-kindness and promise, at the same time saying to himself, that this nevertheless is at variance with the unchangeableness of His nature (Mal 3:6) and the inviolability of His covenant. אפס (only occurring as a 3. praet.) alternates with גּמר (Psa 12:2). חנּות is an infinitive construct formed after the manner of the Lamed He verbs, which, however, does also occur as infinitive absolute (שׁמּות, Eze 36:3, cf. on Psa 17:3); Gesenius and Olshausen (who doubts this infinitive form, 245, f) explain it, as do Aben-Ezra and Kimchi, as the plural of a substantive חנּה, but in the passage cited from Ezekiel (vid., Hitzig) such a substantival plural is syntactically impossible. קפץ רחמים is to draw together or contract and draw back one's compassion, so that it does not manifest itself outwardly, just as he who will not give shuts (יקפּץ) his hand (Deu 15:7; cf. supra, Psa 17:10).
With ואמר the poet introduces the self-encouragement with which he has hitherto calmed himself when such questions of temptation were wont to intrude themselves upon him, and with which he still soothes himself. In the rendering of הלּותי (with the tone regularly drawn back before the following monosyllable) even the Targum wavers between מרעוּתי (my affliction) and בּעוּתי (my supplication); and just in the same way, in the rendering of Psa 77:11, between אשׁתּניו (have changed) and שׁנין (years). שׁנות cannot possibly signify "change" in an active sense, as Luther renders: "The right hand of the Most High can change everything," but only a having become different (lxx and the Quinta ἀλλοίωσις, Symmachus ἐπιδευτέρωσις), after which Maurer, Hupfeld, and Hitzig render thus: my affliction is this, that the right hand of the Most High has changed. But after we have read שׁנות in Psa 77:6 as a poetical plural of שׁנה, a year, we have first of all to see whether it may not have the same signification here. And many possible interpretations present themselves. It can be interpreted: "my supplication is this: years of the right hand of the Most High" (viz., that years like to the former ones may be renewed); but this thought is not suited to the introduction with ואמר. We must either interpret it: my sickness, viz., from the side of God, i.e., the temptation which befalls me from Him, the affliction ordained by Him for me (Aquila ἀῤῥωστία μου), is this (cf. Jer 10:19); or, since in this case the unambiguous חלותי would have been used instead of the Piel: my being pierced, my wounding, my sorrow is this (Symmachus τρῶσίς μου, inf. Kal from חלל, Psa 109:22, after the form חנּות from חנן) - they are years of the right hand of the Most High, i.e., those which God's mighty hand, under which I have to humble myself (Pe1 5:6), has formed and measured out to me. In connection with this way of taking Psa 77:11, Psa 77:12 is now suitably and easily attached to what has gone before. The poet says to himself that the affliction allotted to him has its time, and will not last for ever. Therein lies a hope which makes the retrospective glance into the happier past a source of consolation to him. In Psa 77:12 the Chethb אזכיר is to be retained, for the כי in Psa 77:12 is thus best explained: "I bring to remembrance, i.e., make known with praise or celebrate (Isa 63:7), the deeds of Jāh, for I will remember Thy wondrous doing from days of old." His sorrow over the distance between the present and the past is now mitigated by the hope that God's right hand, which now casts down, will also again in His own time raise up. Therefore he will now, as the advance from the indicative to the cohortative (cf. Psa 17:15) imports, thoroughly console and refresh himself with God's work of salvation in all its miraculous manifestations from the earliest times. יהּ is the most concise and comprehensive appellation for the God of the history of redemption, who, as Habakkuk prays, will revive His work of redemption in the midst of the years to come, and bring it to a glorious issue. To Him who then was and who will yet come the poet now brings praise and celebration. The way of God is His historical rule, and more especially, as in Hab 3:6, הליכות, His redemptive rule. The primary passage Exo 15:11 (cf. Psa 68:25) shows that בּקּדשׁ is not to be rendered "in the sanctuary" (lxx ἐν τῷ ἁγίῳ), but "in holiness" (Symmachus ἐν ἁγιασμῷ). Holy and glorious in love and in anger. God goes through history, and shows Himself there as the incomparable One, with whose greatness no being, and least of all any one of the beingless gods, can be measured. He is האל, the God, God absolutely and exclusively, a miracle-working (עשׂה פלא, not עשׂה פלא cf. Gen 1:11)
(Note: The joining of the second word, accented on the first syllable and closely allied in sense, on to the first, which is accented on the ultima (the tone of which, under certain circumstances, retreats to the penult., נסוג אחור) or monosyllabic, by means of the hardening Dagesh (the so-called דחיק), only takes place when that first word ends in ה- or ה-, not when it ends in ה-.))
God, and a God who by these very means reveals Himself as the living and supra-mundane God. He has made His omnipotence known among the peoples, viz., as Exo 15:16 says, by the redemption of His people, the tribes of Jacob and the double tribe of Joseph, out of Egypt, - a deed of His arm, i.e., the work of His own might, by which He has proved Himself to all peoples and to the whole earth to be the Lord of the world and the God of salvation (Exo 9:16; Exo 15:14). בּזרוע, brachio scil. extenso (Exo 6:6; Deu 4:34, and frequently), just as in Psa 75:6, בּצוּאר, collo scil. erecto. The music here strikes in; the whole strophe is an overture to the following hymn in celebration of God, the Redeemer out of Egypt.
When He directed His lance towards the Red Sea, which stood in the way of His redeemed, the waters immediately fell as it were into pangs of travail (יחילוּ, as in Hab 3:10, not ויּחילו), also the billows of the deep trembled; for before the omnipotence of God the Redeemer, which creates a new thing in the midst of the old creation, the rules of the ordinary course of nature become unhinged. There now follow in Psa 77:18, Psa 77:19 lines taken from the picture of a thunder-storm. The poet wishes to describe how all the powers of nature became the servants of the majestic revelation of Jahve, when He executed judgment on Egypt and delivered Israel. זרם, Poel of זרם (cognate זרב, זרף, Aethiopic זנם, to rain), signifies intensively: to stream forth in full torrents. Instead of this line, Habakkuk, with a change of the letters of the primary passage, which is usual in Jeremiah more especially, has זרם מים עבר. The rumbling which the שׁחקים
(Note: We have indicated on Psa 18:12; Psa 36:6, that the שׁהקים are so called from their thinness, but passages like Psa 18:12 and the one before us do not favour this idea. One would think that we have more likely to go back to Arab. sḥq, to be distant (whence suḥḳ, distance; saḥı̂ḳ, distant), and that שׁהקים signifies the distances, like שׁמים, the heights, from שׁחק = suḥḳ, in distinction from שׁחק, an atom (Wetzstein). But the Hebrew affords no trace of this verbal stem, whereas שׁחק, Arab. sḥq, contundere, comminuere (Neshwn: to pound to dust, used e.g., of the apothecary's drugs), is just as much Hebrew as Arabic. And the word is actually associated with this verb by the Arabic mind, inasmuch as Arab. saḥâbun saḥqun (nubes tenues, nubila tenuia) is explained by Arab. sḥâb rqı̂q. Accordingly שׁהקים, according to its primary notion, signifies that which spreads itself out thin and fine over a wide surface, and according to the usage of the language, in contrast with the thick and heavy פני הארץ, the uppermost stratum of the atmosphere, and then the clouds, as also Arab. a‛nân, and the collective ‛anan and ‛anân (vid., Isaiah, at Isa 4:5, note), is not first of all the clouds, but the surface of the sky that is turned to us (Fleischer).)
cause to sound forth (נתנוּ, cf. Psa 68:34) is the thunder. The arrows of God (חצציך, in Habakkuk חצּיך) are the lightnings. The Hithpa. (instead of which Habakkuk has יחלּכוּ) depicts their busy darting hither and thither in the service of the omnipotence that sends them forth. It is open to question whether גּלגּל denotes the roll of the thunder (Aben-Ezra, Maurer, Bttcher): the sound of Thy thunder went rolling forth (cf. Psa 29:4), - or the whirlwind accompanying the thunder-storm (Hitzig); the usage of the language (Psa 83:14, also Eze 10:13, Syriac golgolo) is in favour of the latter. On Psa 77:19 cf. the echo in Psa 97:4. Amidst such commotions in nature above and below Jahve strode along through the sea, and made a passage for His redeemed. His person and His working were invisible, but the result which attested His active presence was visible. He took His way through the sea, and cut His path (Chethb plural, שׁביליך, as in Jer 18:15) through great waters (or, according to Habakkuk, caused His horses to go through), without the footprints (עקּבות with Dag. dirimens) of Him who passes and passed through being left behind to show it.
If we have divided the strophes correctly, then this is the refrain-like close. Like a flock God led His people by Moses and Aaron (Num 33:1) to the promised goal. At this favourite figure, which is as it were the monogram of the Psalms of Asaph and of his school, the poet stops, losing himself in the old history of redemption, which affords him comfort in abundance, and is to him a prophecy of the future lying behind the afflictive years of the present.