By James Boice
Theme: The Loving God
In this week’s lessons we are reminded that when we are discouraged and God seems distant, we are to remember who God is, what he has done in the past, and what he promises to do in the future.
Scripture: Psalm 77:1-20
The last stanza of Psalm 77 (vv. 16-19, plus verse 20) carries through the theme introduced in stanza five, describing the Exodus more fully and in poetic language. Indeed, stanza five calls for it. For not only does it introduce the idea (“you redeemed your people,” referring to the Exodus), it also echoes words and themes from Moses’ great Song of the Exodus after the crossing of the Red Sea (see Exod. 15).
In the account of the Red Sea crossing in Exodus 14 we are told of the cloud that came between the Israelites and the Egyptians, and of the strong east wind that drove back the water to make a passage. This is reflected in the description of the water and whirlwind in the psalm. But the psalm adds details that are missing in the original account: rain, thunder, lightning and the shaking of the earth (vv. 17, 18). Either these are details missing from the original account but preserved in the historical memory of the people, or they are a poetic embellishment of the incident. Whatever the case, there is nothing improbable about these additional manifestations of God’s power on that great night of nights for Israel.
The last verse of the psalm has to do with the people’s wanderings and God’s gentle shepherding of them by the hand of Moses and Aaron. This verse seems abrupt and even an anticlimax to the psalm—some commentators speculate about a lost ending or interpolation—but the ending is intended to be exactly as it is. For what it says is that the God who acted in mighty ways in the past to redeem his people also acts in calm, tender and loving ways; and that is what he is doing at the present time even though it has not been evident to the psalmist before this.1
The great German commentator Franz Delitzsch has a wonderful suggestion at this point, namely that the prophecy of Habakkuk, which echoes some of this language, picks up where Psalm 77 leaves off. “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 figures which are borrowed from our psalm, he then beholds a fresh deed of redemption by which that of old is eclipsed.”2 In the meantime, says Habakkuk, in words that could end Psalm 77, “The righteous will live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4). And as Habakkuk goes on to say: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior” (3:17, 18)
1It might also be said in answer to the objection that this is an abrupt ending, that the psalm was intended as a prelude to the next one, which deals with Israel’s history more fully and ends with God shepherding the people by the hand of David, just as he is described as shepherding the people through the hands of Moses and Aaron here.
2Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Psalms, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, n.d.), vol. 2, p. 349.
- What account in Exodus teaches us about God, and what do we learn?
- Why is the last verse seen as being anticlimactic?
Reflection: In what ways can you see God’s calm, tender and loving ways in your life?
Prayer: Use the passage from Habakkuk 3 to pray through adversity.
For Further Study: We believe that God knows all things and controls all things, but sometimes events come into our lives that make it seem as if God is distant. Nevertheless, during seasons of hardship and confusion, we cling to God’s promises to work for our good and for the glory of his holy name. One of the attributes of God we need to remember during these times is his wisdom. Download and listen for free to James Boice’s message, “The Wisdom of God.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)
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