PSALM 77 TALK: TRUST IN THE UNCHANGING GOD OF LOVING SALVATION

PSALM 77 TALK: TRUST IN THE UNCHANGING GOD OF LOVING SALVATION

 (A reflection on the unchanging character of God who is presented in the bible as a Holy reliable God of loving salvation. This is in contrast to all men and women who are unholy, changeable and in great need of a God of love and salvation)

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 INTRODUCTION

 I started to write this Psalm talk while I was on a caravan trip through the dry desert area’s of central Australia. This countryside can be very beautiful in its rugged ancient landforms like Uluru or the amazing sunsets across a vast desert horizon. However it also can give the feeling of hardship and despair in its unrelenting heat and dryness.

The other day my wife and I attended a Sunday church service in a little outback town church and the pastor there made some interesting quotes but I failed to take a pen and paper with me so I could not write them down. One quote particularly spoke to me but I cannot remember exactly how it was worded but it went something like this; “God is greater than the troubles we might have”. The pastor applied this quote to prayer and how we often need to know that no trouble or difficulty we might have is to great for God to answer because he is greater than any trouble or difficulty we might have.

That is not exactly what he said but it is what I remember as the point of his excellent quote. We live in a rapidly changing world but for me the one constant never changing God of the bible is my anchor and sure hope even in the face of difficulties. These difficulties are often caused by either my own changing situation in life or by the ever-changing world in which I live.

The writer of Psalm 77 certainly learnt that lesson, as Psalm 77 is a Psalm of two parts. The first part is the writer expressing both his despair caused by his non expressed problems caused by a obvious bad change in his life that lead him to question if God is reliable and unchangeable.

The second part of the Psalm is the writer realizing that God can be relied upon and is both unchangeable and loving in the fact that he has acted in the past as a great and powerful loving God of Salvation for his people Israel.

Sometimes when our lives change or the world around us changes very real and great problems come upon us and we might be tempted to think that God has changed or does not care for us anymore. Some Christians when faced with some kind change of circumstances in their lives that causes them problems or difficulties turn from faith in God as a result.

We need to cling to the God of the bible even more in difficult changing times because he is our only hope and source of help and security when all else fails. I hope we will learn from the study of this Psalm that God can be relied upon because he is a great and loving unchangeable God especially in difficult times.

I hope we will learn anew that when we trust in his unchanging powerful love we will prove once again that he is our Savior and guide through the chaos and pain of life.

We are not told exactly what situation or changing situation led the writer to write his Psalm all we know for sure is that it is a Psalm written by a man named Asaph. However I have already learnt that besides the historical first man named Asaph who lived in the time of the later reign of David and the full reign of Solomon the name Asaph seems to be a family name applied to a number of writers of the Psalms throughout Israel’s history right up to the return from the Babylonian exile.

My theory is that it is the original man named Asaph who lived and wrote Psalms during the reign or David and Solomon. This is because the heading has one more clue to its author and that is the words; “For Jeduthun”. Jeduthun had two other Psalms given to him like Psalm 39 and Psalm 62 both Psalm of David. This means the Asaph of Psalm 77 lived at the same time as David and therefore the same time as the original man named Asaph.

The situation that best fits the original Asaph that is a kind of despairing change of the nation’s life is the Absalom rebellion when David and anyone loyal to him faced the threat of death from the rebellious Absalom and his powerful army.

Interestingly Psalms 42 and 43 most probably written by a son of Korah during the Absalom rebellion when David and his followers where trapped in the southern Jordon desert area speaks of the same kind of despair and hopelessness that the early part of Psalm 77 speaks of.

Of course I can only offer this theory as speculation because the Psalm does not give us any real concrete evidence for it being composed during the time of the Absalom rebellion. Tremper Longman 111 offers a very good reason why the actual situation that led to the writing of the Psalm is not recorded,

“His distress is unspecified which allows later worshippers to use the prayer as a template for their own address to God in the midst of similar, although not identical troubles”.

 The last introductory observation I want to make of this Psalm is the poignant use of Selah’s in this Psalm. A Selah seems to have been some kind of pause either musical or silent when the reader or worshippers could reflect on what has just been said. The Psalms three Selah’s break the Psalm into four parts, which offer us a very real and helpful breakdown of the Psalmist’s thoughts.

With these three Selah’s and the theme of trusting in the unchangeable God of loving Salvation I have broken this Psalm into four parts with the following headings:

  1. (1 – 3) A DESPARATE CRY TO GOD IN THE NIGHT
  1. The cry to God in the night (1 – 2)
  2. Remembering God only causes more pain (vs.3)
  1. (4- 9) IS GOD RELIABLE?
  1. My past and my songs do not help (4 – 6)
  2. Can God be relied upon? (7 – 9)
  1. (10 – 15) REMEMBERING HOW GOD ACTED IN THE PAST
  1. God’s right hand of miracles and wonders (10 – 12)
  2. The holy and powerful unchanging God (13 – 15)
  1. (16 – 20) REMEMBERING GOD’S GREAT ACTS OF SALVATION IN THE

                            PAST

  1. God’s act of salvation in the exodus remembered (16 – 18)
  2. God who guided his people like sheep
  1. (1 – 3) A DESPARATE CRY TO GOD IN THE NIGHT

 Please also note that I have broken each of the four sections of this Psalm into two parts and the first section is two parts of the actual prayer the writer makes to God.

  1. The cry to God in the night (1 – 2)

He starts his Psalm with words of great despair expressed in a prayer or cry to God,

“I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me”.

 This Psalm follows to pattern of what is called a lament which always starts with some kind of desperate plea to God that seem to be unanswerable. These pleas to God are often framed as complaints, which this one seems to be. However as we will see from this Psalm the laments end up praising God when the writer gains new insight into his very real problem.

Here our writer speaks of seeking God’s help and he wants God to hear him indicating he believes his prayer is going unheard by God because he has not yet received any kind of answer to his prayers. H.C Hermon writes,

“Instead of becoming pre-occupied with his own feelings, the Psalmist turns his attention to the only source of help”.

 However verse 2 reveals that initially at least this source of help is not to be found,

“When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted”.

 Note the writer is so disturbed by his current problem he is praying into the night and the words, “I stretched out untiring hands”, are indicative of the way the ancient Hebrews prayed. They often fell to the ground with their hands stretched up to God a posture that depicts both humility and submission to the God of heaven.

His desperate seeking of the Lord does not initially at least offer him comfort and peace. He is both weary and desperate for God to answer him.

Paul spoke a lot about prayer in his letters and I particularly like his word on prayer in the letter to the Philippians in Philippians 4: 6,

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God”.

 It as though Paul is saying turn your problems and difficulties into prayers and do this in an attitude of praise and thanksgiving. This I believe is real faith it is when the rubber really hits the road. We might be confident to pray and praise God when things are going well but are we willing and indeed able to do it when things are not going so well?

I think of times in my life when the rubber hit the road in my experience. When I was on a bible-teaching trip to Myanmar a couple of years ago and a very strange and painful illness struck me down. I wondered why this was happening to me when I was serving God so faithfully and my illness cut me down. I had to turn this very real problem over to God and prayer and I sent a SOS message back home to my faithful prayer supporters to pray for me and within a day or so I was able to resume my teaching program.

I can remember praying like this man through the worst night of my illness and Satan tempted me to doubt that God was listening but my firm understanding of God and his word helped me battle on in prayer on that terrible sleepless night of pain and suffering.

  1. Remembering God only causes more pain (vs.3)

However for the writer of Psalm 77 his night of prayer did not initially help him as he writes in verse 3,

“I remembered you, O God, and I groaned; I mused and my spirit grew faint”.

 His prayer that night involved him remembering God, thinking of God and what he knew about God and it seems it only caused him further pain as he says he,

groaned” and his “spirit grew faint”.

 I know of Christians who suffered and are suffering much more than one night of pain and difficulty and for them I’m sure their suffering was even greater when they remembered God and his many promises to them. I know of two Christian friends right now, who I am praying for who have been suffering much pain and difficulty for some time. Their faith is being surely tested but I know what God says about suffering particularly what he revealed by Peter about it in 1 Peter 1: 6 – 7,

“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed”.

 Sometimes I am shocked by the brutal honesty of these ancient writers of the Psalms and what they say to God in prayer and I’m sure this is so because God wants us to not hold back in prayer but tell him how we feel and what we want him to do for us.

So far as not finding a quick answer to prayer I am reminded of the words of Jesus about prayer in Matthew 7: 7,

“Ask and will be given you; seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you”.

 I understand that this verse is saying be positively persistent in prayer as it speaks of asking, seeking and knocking but it always says you will be given, will find and the door will be opened to you.

  1. (4- 9) IS GOD RELIABLE?

In the second section after the first Selah, the writer continues his lament or complaint for in this second section he still has not found God’s answer to his desperate prayers. Again I have broken this second section into two parts.

  1. My past and my songs do not help (4 – 6)

The first part of this second section the writer of Psalm 77 continues his thoughts of his frustration and pain caused by his remembrance of God in his prayer through the night. He starts this with these words in verse 4,

“You kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak”.

 He is speaking about not being able to sleep and that his problems and difficulties seemingly unanswered by God caused him not to be able to sleep made worse by his remembrance of how his life was before he had these problems and difficulties, verse 5,

“I thought about the former days, the years of long ago”.

 I think of two friends of mine I am praying for at the moment, one who had a terrible accident and the other is now suffering a terrible illness that will lead to his death. For both these men their lives leading up to this were greatly blessed and they had relative minor times of suffering compared to their present situation. Their problems have caused me to wonder how I would feel and act if I was in their current situation.

I’m sure when we are suffering horrific difficulties as Christian’s we must at some stage think back to former seemingly blessed days and feel even more pain as we do so.

However I hope I will in the future hang on to God in the possible difficult days ahead as I grow older by the day and eventually come to the end of my earthly life. I hope I will lean on the words of 1 Peter I quoted earlier and also the words of Paul in Romans 5: 1 – 5,

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us”.

 The writer of Psalm 77 completes his frustrated look back at his blessed past by his remembrance of his songs of the past, he writes in verse 6,

“I remembered my songs in the night. My heart mused and my spirit inquired”.

 This is where this Psalm writer sounds very much like another song writer and singer of his time A Son of Korah in Psalm 42 verse 4,

“These things I remember as I pour out my soul; how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng”.

 This Son of Korah like Asaph was leader of worship particularly worship that involved music. However both of them as they faced serious problems and difficulties only found their music or they’re leading of that music to only cause further pain and frustration.

Asaph remembered maybe some of his own compositions that usually made him feel better but in this case they only made him feel worse. His final words of this verse strike me as words of continuing spiritual frustration,

“My heart mused and my spirit inquired”.

 This inquiring continues into the next part of this second section.

  1. Can God be relied upon? (7 – 9)

Often when we go through very difficult times we are sometimes tempted to doubt God and what he has revealed about himself. This was the problem of Job who hung on desperately through his sufferings but questioned what God was doing with little answer from God unto God finally spoke to end Job’s trial of faith.

In Job 23: 1 – 5, Job desperately is seeking answers to the cause or causes of his suffering,

“Even today my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy in spite of my groaning. If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling! I would state my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would find out what he would answer me, and consider what he would say”.

 So too does the writer of Psalm 77 ask God a series of six probing questions in verses 7 – 9 which indicate he is starting to doubt the validity of what he knows about the God of the Bible. If the answer is yes to his six questions then the God of the bible cannot be relied upon because he is not faithful to his promises or his revealed character.

Lets look at each of these six doubting God questions:

  1. “Will the Lord reject forever”?” (vs.7a)

 Temper Longman 111 points out that many of these questions are connected to God’s covenant and particularly his covenantal promises. The first question lies at the heart of the problem. Something has happened to the Psalmist and his nation that God called into being and promised to always be with and bless.

As we read in Deuteronomy 7: 7 – 9,

“The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other people, for you were the fewest of all people. But is was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands”.

 But the writers experience at the time of the writing of his Psalm was that it seemed that God had gone against these great promises of love and had rejected his people. So the writer asks,

“Will the Lord reject forever”?”

 This could fit well with the Absalom rebellion where God’s true followers of God’s appointed king David were under attack by the rebellious son of David, Absalom. It appeared that Israel faced being now run by a King who was not true to God and his word and anyone who disobeyed him faced death and destruction.

It also fits the time of the Babylonian conquest of Judah and the terrible exile into Babylon of most of the people after the city of God, Jerusalem and the holy temple was destroyed by the Babylonian invasion.

  1. “Will he never show his favor again?

As we have seen God’s covenant promises favor to his people Israel he called through his love. Now it seems there is no favor from God and he seems to have deserted them. God’s blessings on his people seemed lacking and the writer at this stage of his thinking cannot see a change in his current difficult situation.

This is a warning against any true believer trusting in the life’s experience, as some Christians seem to do today. The preachers of the prosperity Gospel seem to say that God will never allow problems and difficulties in the lives of his true followers. I have met many former disillusioned Christians who when problems and difficulties in either their lives or their churches lives caused them to walk away from their faith in God and some I have found have even become hostile to those who continue to believe in the God of the bible.

Maybe God is saying to some believers do you believe in me because your life is going well or do you believe in me no matter what your life and your feelings are telling you.

Paul trusted in God in both the good and bad times of his life and even learnt the great lesson of life which he expresses so clearly in Philippians 4: 11 – 13,

“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content wherever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength”.

 Paul would never say God cannot be relied upon but the writer of this Psalm has not come to this conclusion yet.

  1. “Has his unfailing love vanished forever” (8a)

 This question strikes at the very heart of God’s covenant to his people. As we read in Deuteronomy 7: 8:

“But is was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt”.

 God’s love is the basis of his covenant it was only because of God’s love that Israel was God’s special people and now the writer of Psalm 77 feels that his problem and the problems of his people revealed that God had stopped loving his people and it was as though God’s love had vanished.

I must point out here that God’s covenant of love was also conditional upon the people of Israel obeying his laws. As we read in the verses that follow Deuteronomy 7: 7- 9, verses 10 – 11,

“But those who hate him he will repay to their face by destruction; he will not be slow to repay to their face those who hate him. Therefore, take care to follow the commands, decrees and laws I give you today”.

 Certainly if this was written during the time of the Babylonian exile then the reason why Israel was almost destroyed was because as a nation they had turned away from God and the following of his laws and had turned to other God’s.

God warned his people through the prophets over a number of years but God eventually had to judge his people’s sins and so he raised up the Babylonian nation against them. The Babylonians themselves eventually suffered God’s judgment as well but for a time God’s people had to suffer God’s loving discipline for their many sins.

 If it was the time of the Absalom rebellion that this was written then it was the sins of King David himself that led to the problems he and God’s faithful followers faced during this short but painful rebellion.

God might be leading us into difficult times to discipline us but as the writer to the Hebrews says in Hebrews 12: 5b – 6,

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son”.

  1. “Has his promise failed for all time” (8b)

 Each of these questions he is asking are very real searching questions that reveal that the writer because of his terrible changed situation when writing this is starting to doubt the reliability of trusting in God. We have seen that through the covenant God made with his special people Israel that many promises where made by God for his people.

He would be their God, he would bless them, he, God would protect them not because they deserved his love and promises but because of whom God is a God of great love. We see this expressed over and over again in the first five books of the bible known to the Jews as The Torah. We see this in a verse like Exodus 15: 13 – 14,

“In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling. The nations will hear and tremble; anguish will grip the people of Philistia”.

Yet the writers experience at the time of writing the Psalm seemed the opposite of this and again this would be how the original Asaph would have felt during the height of the rebellion of Absalom and even more so the later descendant of Asaph who wrote Psalm 74. Psalm 74 seems to have been written during the time of the exile into Babylon when the writer of Psalm 74 was left back in the land facing a terrifying occupation of the Babylonians.

Both these men during their times of great difficulty would have great grounds to question the unchanging, reliable and loving nature of God expressed in the covenant made with God and his people Israel.

We to will all face times of great change in our lives leading to difficult and even painful times in our lives and Satan the great accuser and liar will tempt us to doubt the unchangeable loving nature of the God of the bible.

Paul warned believers in Ephesus about the great spiritual battle all Christians are caught up in and tells them this in Ephesians 6: 10 – 11,

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes”.

 When we are caused to doubt the great promises of God and even the unchanging loving nature of God we need to look away from our current experience’s of life and trust in the great unchanging God of the bible who will pull us through the trails and struggles of life. Paul goes on to say this about the struggles or spiritual battles of this life in Ephesians 6: 13,

“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand”.

 He goes on to advise us how we can stand firm with God’s armor that includes, the belt of truth (the bible), the breastplate of righteousness, the Gospel of peace, the sword of the spirit (which is also the word of God), the shield of faith and finally prayer which gives us access to God himself.

  1. “Has God forgotten to be merciful?” (9a)

 This fifth doubting God question is similar to the third doubting question, which asked is God’s unfailing love suddenly vanished. As we have seen a number of times already these doubting questions relate directly with God’s great covenantal promises, which had at the basis of it the great love of God for his people Israel.

Now the writer suggests through the question he has posed that he is starting to think because of the difficult life experience he is going through that the God of the bible has changed and therefore cannot be relied upon.

He gives God in this question a very real human failing the ability to forget which makes us as human beings unreliable. People today forget their marriage vows to stay loyal to their marriage partners no matter what happens unto at least death parts them.

People today promise all kinds of things to other people but so often they fail to fulfill their promises. We see this in business, Governments and all kinds of family and other relationships in life.

Is God then just like us?, the writer is starting to suggest, he too forgets his very nature which is to love us and show us mercy.

As I said in my comments on question 3 God’s covenant promises of love did come with conditions as we saw expressed in Deuteronomy 7: 7- 9, verses 10 – 11,

“But those who hate him he will repay to their face by destruction; he will not be slow to repay to their face those who hate him. Therefore, take care to follow the commands, decrees and laws I give you today”.

We saw that if this was written during the time of the Absalom rebellion than the former sins of David when he committed adultery and murder had a part to play in the trouble he and those loyal to God and his chosen king faced during that short but painful time in Israel’s history, Absalom himself was in rebellion to God which led him to turn on his father and anyone who supported his father with vengeance and hate.

Then if the man who lived much later wrote this known as Asaph also because he was a descendant of the original Asaph who faced the destruction of Israel or Judah by the Babylonians of Jerusalem and the Temple of God. Most of the people had been taken into exile in Babylon and his Babylonian overlords left him in a very dangerous place where his life was constantly in danger.

This terrible plight also was a result of the sins of the nation over a number of generations. During this time God raised up many prophets to warn the people of the consequences of their many sins but over and over again the people would not listen.

This writer was a faithful follower of the God of the bible but this is the reality of the Christian life as well, other people’s sins can and do impact on our lives as well. When a drunk driver willfully smashes his car into a Christian’s car or a anti Christian extremist Muslim bombs a Christian church then other people’s sins affects terribly true and faithful believers.

So has God forgotten to be merciful when these kind of things happen to true and faithful believers?

Paul has a surprising answer to this question in Romans 8: 28,

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”.

 Sometimes the truth of this promise of God can be seen in this life but often in this life we will not see how terrible events that happens to a Christian can be worked by God for the good of those who love him.

The concept of a drunk driver smashing into the car of an innocent person was used for good in one case I know of that happened many years ago when I was in ministry training in Bible College.

A young man named Peter who was a believer in the local church youth group I helped to run had a brother named Vince who refused to acknowledge God and listen to his wonderful Gospel message. One night the non-believing brother was stopped at a set of lights with his girlfriend when a drunk driver drove through a red light and ploughed into his stopped car. His girl friend was killed instantly and he was badly smashed up in the driver’s seat of his car.

In hospital the members of the youth group and of course his believing brother visited him and we learnt that his badly broken leg had no chance of healing. We of course prayed for this young man’s full recovery and conversion to Christ. Within a few days of our prayers the doctors noted a change in the way the broken leg responded to treatment and even put it down to a miracle themselves. Vince the non-believing brother finally listened to his bother Peter explanation of the Gospel message and as a result God called this young man into his kingdom.

Vince went on to love and serve the Lord and eventually married a Christian girl in the fellowship group he now attended with his brother Peter who constantly gave praise to God for his brothers healing in both body and soul.

This is a true story that I witnessed with my own eyes but I must say sometimes Paul’s word of promise of “all things working for good” are words we must accept by faith trusting in the great unchanging God of love who we know through the bible and particularly the Lord Jesus Christ who gave his life to bring us back to God.

Jesus death seemed like a horrible and terrible event that could be seen as God forgetting to be merciful but it turned out to be the act of God’s love to give us his mercy and love confirmed by God raising Jesus on the third day.

  1. “Has he in anger withheld his compassion” (9b)

 The final doubting question points to the two possible times of the writing of this Psalm in that he asks about the anger of God which came on his people in Judgment.

During the Absalom rebellion David and his faithful followers seemed to be under God’s anger or judgment when Absalom turned on them seeking to destroy them. Of course during the time of the exile into Babylon and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple the people of God faced the anger of God expressed in his judgment upon the peoples many sins.

When a person or a nation is facing some kind of difficult time of life that appears to be God’s judgment coming on them then it is only natural they would ask,

“Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”

 The disciples who stood at the foot of the cross of Christ could have asked this very question as Jesus the innocent Son of God suffered on the cross for our sins.

Where was God’s compassion or love the day Jesus hung on the cross?

The answer to that question is the amazing message of the bible. God’s love and anger or wrath was seen in one in that great act of Christ on the cross.

The New Testament writers all speak of this in various places, I like the way Paul puts this in 2 Corinthians 5: 21,

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”.

 In one great act of sacrifice God declares he hates sin and must punish it and at the same time by the death of Christ God shows us his great love in making a way for us to be forgiven of our sins and as Paul puts it,

“Become the righteousness of God”.

 So God’s anger or wrath on Jesus shows us his love and mercy which Paul calls God’s grace which is love we don not deserve, Ephesians 2: 4 – 7,

“But because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus”.

 So we come to the end of the writer of Psalm 77 doubting 6 questions, which I have all suggested hint at the concept that the God of the bible can change his mind and therefore cannot be relied up. In the next section we will learn of how his doubts in God are answered and the whole Psalm shifts from doubts to positive faith in God.

  1. (10 – 15) REMEMBERING HOW GOD ACTED IN THE PAST

As I mentioned in the introduction this Psalm is a Psalm in two halves, the first half which have just looked at contains great emotions of fear and doubt and the writer speaks of going day and night in desperate prayer with seemingly no answer from God.

The writer seems to be going through a very difficult time and this is something he faces because for him and his people Israel God seems to have forgotten his covenantal promises them.

However this downward spiral of doubt and despair suddenly changes in the second half of this Psalm and the writer is buoyed by great positive thoughts of the unchanging love and power of his God who performs miracles of redemption for his people.

Again I have broken this third section into two parts:

  1. God’s right hand of miracles and wonders (10 – 12)
  2. The holy and powerful unchanging God (13 – 15)
  1. God’s right hand of miracles and wonders (10 – 12)

 In verse 10 this incredible change or shift in thinking starts with the writer being inspired in thought to appeal to God’s right hand, he writes,

“Then I thought, “To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High”.

 What caused this writer to change from his doubting thoughts to the positive thought of the great hand of God is simply not made clear. Maybe he thought a little deeper about the God who made the covenant with Israel and as he goes on to refer to the redeeming actions of God in the Exodus were God led his people out of bondage in Egypt.

The idea of the great “right hand of God” is an idea or theme spoken of right through the entire Old Testament. It is a term that first appears in Moses great song of the actual crossing of the red sea which this writer focuses on in the rest of this Psalm. This is in Exodus 15: 6,

“Your right hand, O Lord, was majestic in power. Your right hand, O Lord shattered the enemy”.

 The right hand, as most people are right handed, is the hand of action and power and when God acts he is often spoken of using his right hand of power and might as David declares in Psalm 20: 6,

“Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed; he answers him from his holy heaven with the saving power of his right hand”.

 Isaiah also speaks of the comfort God offers his faithful people by the help he offers them by his righteous right hand in Isaiah 41: 10,

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand”.

 In the New Testament the concept of the right hand of God is used in a number of places to refer to the position Jesus now holds in heaven once he had died for our sins on the cross and rose and ascended back to God. Stephen catches a glimpse of this as he is dying by being stoned in Acts 7: 55,,

“But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God”.

 Finally Paul refers to Jesus being at the right hand of God in his prayer for the church in Ephesus as an encouragement for them and us to look to God in prayer with great hope in Ephesians 1: 18 – 21,

“I pray also that your eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparable great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him form the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion and tile that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come”.

 Finally the writer calls on the right hand of the “Most High” and Allan Harmon explains the significance of this title this way,

“The use of the name “Most High” recalls the use of the tile for God by Abraham (Gen. 14: 22) after a notable victory”.

 So right back as far as Abraham God has been giving his people victory over their enemies which again suggests this writer of Psalm 77 is looking to God for victory over a oppressive enemy like Absalom in David’s time or the Babylonians in the time of the exile.

This is exactly what the writer of Psalm 77 speaks of in the next verse, verse 11,

“I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago”.

 We too can look back to the miraculous deeds of the God of the bible. We can look back to the miraculous deeds of God in Christ when he raised Jesus from the dead probably the greatest miracle of all time. However that miraculous act of God gives us hope because as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 the resurrection of Jesus provides us the way of our resurrection from the dead to come. He writes in verses 54 – 55 of 1 Corinthians 15,

“When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”.

 Verse 12 of Psalm 77 is a statement of intent of the writer now he has this new-inspired insight into the God of the bible,

“I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds”.

 Considering God’s mighty deeds of the past is what has changed his doubting dark thoughts expressed in his desperate prayer at the start of this Psalm. Considering God’s mighty deeds will be the thoughts he will take into the rest of the Psalm.

We too need to learn from this great piece of inspiration in this Psalm. When we face times of great difficulty that can lead to us doubting the unchanging faithfulness of God then we too need to consider God’s mighty deeds of the past. This is how Paul spoke of how he moved forward even in the face of continuing difficulty in Philippians 3: 12,

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that which Christ Jesus took hold of me”.

 Note how Paul says he takes hold of what Jesus took hold of for him which is a reference to Jesus death on the cross for his sins and of course Jesus going ahead to heaven for him and all who believe in the resurrection and ascension into heaven. As the writer to the Hebrews puts it in Hebrews 12: 2,

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God”.

 The great difficulty of life we all face is our death but the concept of considering all the mighty deeds of God in the past is the answer for that as well. We need to mediate on the fact that Jesus won for us eternal life by his death for sin on the cross and then even our death is as Paul put it is “swallowed up in victory”, 1 Corinthians 15: 54.

  1. The holy and powerful unchanging God (13 – 15)

Then in the second part of this third section the writer states clearly that his doubts of the unchanging faithfulness of God where wrong and groundless as in verse 13, he writes,

“Your ways, O God, are holy. What God is so great as our God?”

 A Holy God is not a fickle changeable God like the human type God’s the false God’s of the nations of the world around about Israel were. Leopold writes,

“Thy way is Holy, that is to say, far removed from the defective and imperfect doings of the children of man”.

 This is why he asks, “What God is so great as our God?”

 The prophet Isaiah had much to say about the Holiness of God as he starts his ministry with the vision of the holiness of God seated in heaven, Isaiah 6: 3,

“And that were calling to one another, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory”.

 I chapter 8 verse 13 God tells Isaiah not to fear the fickleness of the sinful nation but to fear God only as he alone is the holy one,

“The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread”,

 Finally in the later chapters of Isaiah God makes it clear why he is the only one and truly Holy God like we read in Isaiah 44: 6 – 7,

“This what the Lord says – Israel’s King and redeemer, the Lord Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God. Who then is like me? Let him proclaim it, Let him declare and lay out before me what has happened since I established my ancient people, and what is yet to come – yes, let him foretell what will come”.

 Isaiah then speaks of the worthless nature of the man made idols of the other God’s of the nations.

Jesus is spoken of as the Holy one in the New Testament as Hebrews 7: 26 says,

“Such a high priest meets our need – one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens”.

 This high priest the writer to the Hebrews is speaking of is Jesus who because he was holy, perfect and without sin was able to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins. This means that Jesus is both the High priest and the sacrificial offering which is exactly what the writer to the Hebrews says in Hebrews 9: 14,

“How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God”.

 A priest is a mediator between God and man and Paul says in 1 Timothy 2: 5 -6,

“For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men”.

 The writer of Psalm 77 has just then declared that the God of the bible, the God he is now meditating upon is the one great holy and therefore unchangeable God who he now declares in verse 14, performs miracles,

“You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples”.

 He will spell out clearly in the final section one great miracle of the past, namely the Exodus from Egypt and particularly when God opened up the red sea for the people to cross and then closed it to destroy the Egyptian army that perused them. This great event fits well the description of God’s miraculous acts of the past expressed in verse 14.

Then in verse 15 he spells our clearly why God performed these miraculous deeds of the past,

“With your mighty arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph”.

 God only performed these miracles in the past because he wanted to redeem or save his people. Again the theme or idea of God redeeming or saving his people by his mighty acts is right through the whole bible.

Form the fall of Adam and Eve we read of God’s great rescue mission of mankind. The result of this great rescue mission is even hinted at right back in Genesis 3: 15 where God speaks of the offspring of Eve crushing the head of Satan,

“And I will put enmity between you and the women, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel”.

 God’s great rescue mission moves through history to Abraham and his descendant and two of these are mentioned here Jacob and Joseph, two men who experienced the mighty hand of God in their lives, Jacob in his wrestling with the Angel of God and Joseph in his salvation from his brothers evil plans to destroy him by his rise in the courts of Pharaoh in Egypt.

Then the rescue mission takes an even greater turn with the deliverance of the descendants of Jacob and Joseph being redeemed or saved out of bondage in Egypt.

This nation is then saved throughout the wilderness wanderings from warring nations into the promised land of Israel where again and again the mighty arm of God leads his people into victory over their enemies.

Finally we read of the coming of God’s Son to earth who proclaims in Mark 10: 45,

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”.

 The writer of Psalm 77 then inserts his final Selah, a time to stop and think over the great truths he has just so beautifully expressed about the unchanging love of God expressed in his mighty miraculous acts of redemption in the past before he completes his Psalm with a more specific look at one of these great acts of redemption his people Israel.

If this was written at the time of the dark days of the rebellion of Absalom or the even darker days of the conquest of Judah and Jerusalem by the Babylonians then what we have just read would have been such a comfort and means of encouragement for the original readers of this Psalm.

We, with hindsight can see that eventually in both of these times God acted yet again with his mighty arm of miraculous redemption for his people in those days.

In the case of the rebellion of Absalom we read in 2 Samuel of how Absalom took bad advice and allowed David’s followers to re-group and defeat Absalom and his followers.

In the case of Babylon and the exile it was only a period of 70 years that the Jews where kept in bondage in Babylon and then God raised up the Mede’s and the Persians and Babylon was destroyed and under the rule of Cyrus the Jews returned to Israel to rebuild their land and eventually the Temple in Jerusalem.

So we need to learn the lessons of history of how there might be times of great difficulty and even persecution of true believers but God is in control and his mighty hand is working out his purposes for our world and us, his people.

We need to turn to the unchangeable God of the bible in difficult times who’s unchanging love and salvation is ours in Christ. Again I quote wonderful words of the writer to the Hebrews, Hebrews 12: 2,

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God”.

  1. (16 – 20) REMEMBERING GOD’S GREAT ACTS OF SALVATION IN THE

                           PAST

 The writer of Psalm 77 could have finished his Psalm at the end of verse 15 but he wrote one final section where he focuses himself and his readers on one specific mighty miraculous act of God’s redemption, namely the Exodus and in particular the crossing of the red sea.

I have broken this final section into two parts as well:

  1. God’s act of salvation in the exodus remembered (16 – 18)
  2. God who guided his people like sheep (19 – 20)
  1. God’s act of salvation in the exodus remembered (16 – 18)

 The writer now present the great act of God’s redemption in the past the crossing of the red sea in pure poetic terms. We need to see that this is poetry as all the Psalms are and when we do we can really appreciate what we are reading.

I see 3 poetic images here:

  1. The sea saw God’s power and parted (vs. 16)
  2. The Skies revealed God’s power (vs. 17)
  3. The earth trembled at God’s power (vs.18)
  1. The sea saw God’s power and parted (vs.16)

The first poetic device here to speak of God’s great miraculous act of crossing the red sea is that of the personification of the waters of the sea. He writes in verse 16,

“The waters saw you, O God, the waters saw you and withered; the very depths were convulsed”.

 I feel that the writer of Psalm 77 was inspired by another work of poetry that described this great event, namely the song of Moses in Exodus 15. For verse 16 I think that Exodus 15: 8 provides interesting connections with this verse,

“By the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up. The surging waters stood firm like a wall; the deep waters congealed in the heart of the sea”.

 The writer of Psalm 77 speaks as though the waters were a person who when they saw God and his mighty power simply gave up their normal shape and place of being and parted or as the writer put it withered.

Moses speaks of the blast of God’s nostrils causing the waters to stand up like a wall. Both speak of the very depths of the sea being deeply stirred and effected by the power of God.

This shows us clearly that God is in control of even the tumultuous seas and oceans. We see from the Gospels that Jesus had the power to control and effect nature in the story of his calming of the stormy seas of Galilee. In Mark 4: 35, we read of Jesus waking up in the middle of a great storm rebuking the wind and waves,

“He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be Still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm”.

 The reaction of the disciples to this in verse 41 is very understandable,

“They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and waves obey him”.

 It was a though they were even more terrified of what Jesus was able to do then the storm itself. These were hardened experienced fishermen who knew that normally we are helpless in the face of the violence of nature yet Jesus stands up and simple gives the order and the wind and waves obey him.

  1. The Skies revealed God’s power (vs. 17)

No-where in the story the parting of the waters of the red sea is their any mention of a great storm yet verse 17 seems to suggest that a great storm took place as well on that day.

I think we need to read this verse and the next in poetic terms. Verse 17 says,

“The clouds poured down water, the skies resounded with thunder; your arrows flashed back and forth”.

 Interestingly the principle heathen God that Israel often turned to throughout its history was Baal who was a storm God.

Even the Egyptians had God’s of war who were related to the storms, which we see in the 7th plague of Egypt, the plague of Hail. As each plague was also a display of God’s power over one of the God’s of Egypt.

In Moses song in Exodus 15 he writes this in verse 10,

“But you blew with your breath, and the sea covered them. They sank like lead into the mighty waters”.

So like a mighty storm God’s judgment fell upon the Egyptians, like lightning striking like arrows God brought down the Egyptian army.

This is the frightening image of the final judgment to come as Jesus speaks of it in Matthew 24: 27 – 29,

“For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather. Immediately after the distress of those days, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken”.

 This is poetic picture of the final miraculous powerful act of God, which will establish the final act of Judgment for those who refuse to look to God and the final act of salvation for those who have tuned to him.

  1. The earth trembled at God’s power (vs.18)

Again we have a poetic picture of the crossing of the red sea in verse 18 that uses a thunder storm again and also a earthquake to poetically describe this great event,

“Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind, your lighting lit up the world; the earth trembled and quaked”.

 Such was the power of God overturning nature to create the miracles of the parting of the red sea that it was like a massive thunderstorm or earthquake smashing the waters of that sea into the shape God wanted so that he could save his people. Indeed the earth trembled that day when God performed the miracle of the parting of the sea.

The fact that many of the other supposed Gods of the Nations around Israel had storm God’s like Baal is no coincidence here as the God of the bible is not in the storm or is the storm but controls and directs the storm. In my Psalm 29 talk I go into this great truth in some depth. In Psalm 29 the thunder -storm is but God’s voice speaking powerfully as it says in verses 4 – 9,

“The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic. The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon. He makes Lebonon skip like a calf, Sirion like a young wild ox. The voice of the Lord shakes the desert; the Lord shakes the Desert of Kadesh. The voice of the Lord twists the oaks and strips the forest bare. And in his temple all cry, “Glory”.

 Well here in Psalm 77 verse 18 God’s voice is heard like thunder and seen like lighting in the mighty parting of the sea as God made a path for his people to cross safely and then resumed the waters to their natural state to destroy the army of Pharaoh.

This God who acted with such power and might is the same God today who can transform the lives of people who look to him. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews picks up this fact in Hebrews 13: 7 – 8,

“Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever”.

 The same God who parted the seas is the same God who sent Jesus Christ his only son to die on the cross for our sins. This is the same God we can look to today and he can be relied upon.

The writer of Psalm 77 is reminding himself of this great truth as well and we will see in the final part of this fourth section of the Psalm what he concludes from his remembrance of the unchanging God of the bible.

  1. God who guided his people like sheep (19 – 20)

In the last two verses of Psalm 77 I think the writer of it concludes with what he has learnt from thinking back to what God did in the past for his nation Israel when he helped them cross the physical barrier of the red sea. He writes in verse 19,

“Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen”.

 The writer speaks of God’s guidance through the sea which is I think a poetic picture of God leading his people through the trials and difficulties of life. For the ancient Hebrew people the sea was a wild untamed dangerous thing as the prophet Isaiah exploits in Isaiah 57: 20 – 21,

“But the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud. There is no peace, says my God for the wicked”.

 So God is Lord over the turbulent restless seas and oceans, he tames even the mighty waters of this earth such is his power. He made a sure and safe passage through the red sea for his people to guide them through the impossible difficulty of the turbulent sea.

The expression, “though your footprints were not seen”, is explained well by Allan Harmon when he writes,

They did not see God himself, just as Moses did not see him when he revealed to him his glory. Thus the expression “though your footprints were not seen”.

 We do not see God as he is now but we see the results of his actions in our world and our lives. We can see God in the bible, in our lives, in answers to our prayers and in the lives of others but Paul points out that in this life we only see God in part, 1 Corinthians 13: 12,

“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known”.

 The truth of what Paul is saying is only fully understood when we realise that mirrors in Paul’s day where nothing more than highly polished brass.

We have learnt that the writer seems to be facing enormous difficulty which we believe was brought about by the problems his nation was facing at the time of his writing this Psalm.

Like the dark days of the rebellion of Absalom or the even darker days of the Babylonian conquest of Judah and Jerusalem and now he realizes that the God he is praying to is the same God who led his people through the great difficult barrier of the red sea by making a path for them to trod.

So if God made a path that led his people through the mighty sea surely he can make a path for his people in the writers day through the difficulty of an internal or foreign invasion?

This I think is his conclusion and it becomes even clearer in the last verse, verse 20,

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

 The concept of God being Israel’s shepherd and Israel being his flock of sheep who he guides and protects is right through the Old Testament and finds its supreme example in the famous Psalm 23 of David which says in verses 1 – 4,

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his namesake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me”.

 These words echo and flesh out so beautifully the expression of the writer in Psalm 77, “you led your people like a flock”.

 Amazingly Jesus picks up this great biblical image of the Shepherd and his flock in John 10: 14 – 16,

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – Just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – I lay down my life for the sheep, I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen, I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd”.

 So far as leading his flock, which all true believers are part of, Jesus says this in verses 27 – 28,

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no on e can snatch them out of my hand”.

Jesus promises here to be our guide and protector in this life leading us to the green pastures of heaven itself because he gives those who follow him eternal life.

So just as Moses and Aaron led the people of Israel through the path of the red sea and on through the wilderness so Jesus promises to lead us through this ever changing world we live in. He is the one constant never changing one who we can cling to at all times even in times of difficulty which I think is the best explanation of the words in Psalm 23 verse 4,

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for you are with me”.

 CONCLUSION

 We have seen from this Psalm that even though we might go through great and terrible changes in our lives we can rely on the great unchangeable loving God of the bible to guide and save us.

My two friends I am praying for at the moment who are currently facing very difficult changes in their lives both know and trust in the God of the bible and so my prayer for them is that God in his love will continue to be their help and guide and that he will give them peace and hope as they face their problems and difficulties in life realizing as the outback pastor said in his sermon, “God is greater than the troubles we might have”. I remember the bible quote that Pastor gave after making that point and I offer it here as part of my concluding words. It is Philippians 4: 6 – 7,

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

I close as usual with a poem and a prayer.

 

I TRUST IN THE UNCHANGABLE GOD

(Based on Psalm 77)

 

I cried to God in a very great dark time

I pleaded for an answer to my prayer

But it seemed that God would not give me an answer

Then I suffered fear and despair.

 

I could not sleep as I cried out to God

I started to question God’s love

Then I remembered that God sent down Jesus

Who came to save with love.

 

Chorus:

So trust in the unchangeable God

The God who has revealed himself to us.

He is the God who loves us

So turn to him and trust.

 

The God of the bible in the past

Used his mighty right hand

Performing miracles for his people

Providing them a promised land

 

What God is like the God of the bible

Holiness and power he displays

He parted the waters of the red sea.

His salvation made them a way.

 

Chorus:

So trust in the unchangeable God

The God who has revealed himself to us.

He is the God who loves us

So turn to him and rust.

 

God makes a path for us to walk upon

He leads like the shepherd leads his sheep.

God has shown his power and authority

He never slumbers or sleeps.

 

Jesus is the same yesterday and forever

He can be relied upon.

He is the one who helps and guides us

He is changeless as he leads us on.

 

Chorus:

So trust in the unchangeable God

The God who has revealed himself to us.

He is the God who loves us

So turn to him and trust.

Yes turn to him and trust.

 

By: Jim Wenman

 

PRAYER:

 Father in heaven I thank you for being a great unchangeable and reliable God of love. Help me in this ever-changing world to reach out with faith and trust in your unchangeable promises of help and salvation. Even when life’s changes causes me great pain and difficulty help me to know your guidance and peace in this time of change knowing that your greatest act of love was when you sent Jesus to win for me eternal life with you in heaven above. In Jesus name I pray this, Amen

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