A Song in Times of Despair, A Devotional on Psalm 77

What a week it has been. I know we all stand dumbfounded at where our world stands right now. As you know I have been teaching a growth class on the Psalms. Last Sundays lesson was to be on Psalm 77. I am amazed at how applicable it is to our current circumstances and as a result I decided to share it with you in addition to sharing it with my class. I pray it helps to frame the current crisis through the eyes of faith that God gives His people.

Psalm 77
To the choirmaster: according to Jeduthun. A Psalm of Asaph.

Of Psalm 77 Spurgeon, himself well versed in the school of physical and spiritual torment, wrote: “Some of us know what it is, both physically and spiritually, to be compelled to use these words: no respite has been afforded us by the silence of the night, our bed has been a rack to us, our body has been in torment, and our spirit in anguish…Alas, my God, the writer of this exposition well knows what thy servant Asaph meant, for his soul is familiar with the way of grief. Deep glens and lonely caves of soul depressions, my spirit knows full well your awful glooms!” Spurgeon along with many other saints through the centuries have taken great comfort in the Psalms of Asaph. What a mercy that God should include these transparent, poetic expressions of one of His saints suffering in the midst of doubt and fear. They remind us of the futility of trying to hide our emotions from our ever-present, all-knowing God and give us permission to lay bare our souls before our loving heavenly Father.

1 I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and he will hear me.

2 In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted.

3 When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints. Selah

Asaph’s despondency is immediately apparent in his crying out to God, and lest we think he suffers silently he reinforces the audible nature of his prayer. Given the tenor of the rest of the song his next statement, “And He will hear me,” may very well be the demand of a faith in crisis rather than the quiet confidence of a sure thing. In verse 2 we begin to see the tormented soul of this worship leader who wrestles day and night; his outstretched hand metaphorically grabbing hold of the garment of Christ with an unrelenting tenacity; his plea being spurred on by the acute pain of a soul writhing in pain. He finds no relief in the memory of God’s faithfulness, no comfort in his previous confidence in the Sovereign. Here, with an apparent inability to move on from his grief, a Selah is placed, as this state of affairs is thought upon.

4 You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak.

5 I consider the days of old, the years long ago.

6 I said, “Let me remember my song in the night; let me meditate in my heart.”  Then my spirit made a diligent search:

As he continues it becomes apparent, by the abundant use of the personal pronoun, that this weary saint is consumed with self-absorption to the point of total despair. Exhausted and dumbfounded He desperately surveys the past for some glimmer of hope, some assurance that things will not always be as they are. Songless and mute in his present circumstance, he remembers the sweet song in the night of former suffering, the memory of which merely sharpens the pain of the current abandonment that he feels. And then the rhetorical questions of faith come:

7 “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?

8 Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time?

9  Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” Selah

In his commentary of the Psalms James Montgomery Boice says, “The questions in this stanza are… negative… But even in this form it is better to ask them than not to ask them, because asking them sharpens the issue and pushes us towards the right, positive response. Alexander Maclaren insists that asking such questions is good. He writes, ‘Doubts are better put into plain speech than lying diffused and darkening, like poisonous mists, in his heart. A thought, be it good or bad, can be dealt with when it is made articulate. Formulating vague conceptions is like cutting a channel in a bog for the water to run…’ What is impossible to deal with is dissatisfaction that will not express itself openly or submit to reason.” In asking the questions of his heart, Asaph’s faith is strengthened as he silently responds to them with, “No, no, no, no, no!” Again we pause to contemplate, to wrestle, and to continue answering in faith with an emphatic, “No! of course not! It cannot be so!”

10 Then I said, “I will appeal to this, to the years of the right hand of the Most High.”

11 I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old.

12 I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds.

Even though the exercise has failed up to this point to bring consolation, the psalmist knows that he must continue to hold on to the reality of the past. God has defined himself in His actions through the ages and He does not change, therefore it must be so! The only way out for poor Asaph is to cling to the end of this rope for dear life. And so it is with all of God’s saints. Sometimes we must simply “know that we know!” “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (I Corinthians 10:13b) Take heart children of God. When the trial is too great, the suffering too long, the silence too deafening and the weight too heavy, look for the rope. It may be dangling just within reach, but it will be there, the escape will come. He has promised it. Cling to the promise and know that you know.

13 Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God?

14 You are the God who works wonders; you have made known your might among the peoples.

15 You with your arm redeemed your people, the children of Jacob and Joseph. Selah

When the fog begins to lift and Asaph begins to see clearly again he runs to God, his Savior. As if to counter the five earlier questions, he remembers five critical attributes of God that give him a glimmer of hope: God’s holiness, uniqueness, sovereignty, power and love. Certainly if God is holy then He is a just Judge, he cannot pronounce a wrong verdict, the scales of justice in His courtroom are balanced. He is unique among gods and therefore the only true sovereign Creator; there is no room for doubting whether this God is the one in whom we should place our confidence, for He is the only choice. The God of Israel is actively working His wonders; he is invested in the lives of His people. He did not set the creation in motion and step away from His responsibility. No, this God is sovereign and wonderfully orchestrates all of His creation into a beautiful symphony of praise. This holy, unique and sovereign God also has omnipotence behind His working. What can prevent an all-powerful being from having His way? Nothing is out of His control or good pleasure. And all of these attributes are brought to bear for one purpose; the redemption of a people for Himself and a bride for His Son. This supreme act of love wasn’t dictated from a distant throne in heaven. It didn’t happen at the behest of His servants. This wonderful God pursues the apple of His eye with relentless fervor, with His own arm He saves them, through his own sacrifice, at unimaginable cost to Himself. Stop and consider these glorious truths of the God of the Bible. Selah.

16 When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; indeed, the deep trembled.

17 The clouds poured out water; the skies gave forth thunder; your arrows flashed on every side.

18  The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lighted up the world; the earth trembled and shook.

19 Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen.

As Asaph remembers the previous truths about His creator He is prompted to write a poetic account of the great deliverance of God’s people from slavery in Egypt, the pinnacle event of God’s redemption in the Old Testament. What better occasion to remember when doubting God’s dealings in our lives? How much more can we, with New Testament eyes, rejoice in the testimony of deliverance. There is no doubt that Asaph, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, included this testimony of God’s saving grace for those of us who understand its representation of our redemption in Christ. Will the God who redeemed you by the blood of His only Son leave you destitute in your time of need? Will Jesus Christ, who through the cross, took upon Himself the eternal suffering of God’s wrath for you, make you suffer needlessly? When the chariots of the evil one and the spears of sin are bearing down upon you, look to the impassable waters, for they are about to be opened, and your sin and despair will be crushed to death under the flood of grace that comes only from the Savior’s love.

20 You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

And with this simple, abrupt statement of faith in the Good Shepherd, Asaph concludes his song of lament. There is no triumphant expression of victory over his present trial, no joyful worship in final deliverance. He is perhaps, only a little better off than when he began; clinging to what God has done in the past in hope of future joy and rest. Sometimes in our deepest sufferings this is as far as we can come. Paul gives us this beautiful expression of our hope in Romans chapter 8:

You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

As we share in the sufferings of Christ, can we even begin to imagine that they are anything close to His suffering on our behalf? Thank God, no. He suffered hell and utter abandonment of the Father so that we will never have to. And yet, our sufferings are real and they do hurt. They are our sufferings and no one can endure them for us. There are no shortcuts to graduation day in the school of suffering. Nothing is more loathsome to me than the false prosperity gospel of the American Church. I submit that there is no Christ in this “christianity.” For where Christ is, there is suffering. It is a mark of being part of the family. The true Church, in ages past and around the world today, understands this very well and so must we. In conclusion consider these words of Spurgeon; this “hymn… is for experienced saints only, but to them it will be of rare value as a transcript of their own inner conflicts… Therefore, with devout joy and full of consolation, we close this Psalm; the song of one who forgot how to speak and yet learned to sing far more sweetly than his fellows.”

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