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Psalm 77: Has God’s hand changed?

Our circumstances

The war against Ukraine continues to rage on – it’s been more than a month. I find myself vacillating between anger and sorrow. I’m angry that Putin is trying to destroy Ukraine; it seems so unreasonable. I’m sorrowful because innocent lives are being killed in both Russia and Ukraine; it seems so unnecessary.

Our lesson

I turned to Psalm 77 today in my lament.

I cry aloud to God,
    aloud to God, that he may hear me.
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.
I think of God, and I moan;
    I meditate, and my spirit faints.

Psalm 77:1-3 NRSVA

God uses the Psalter to remind us that it is appropriate to lament the trouble in our world, and it gives us a pattern of complaint, instruction, and praise.

In this day of the troubling war, we have been calling on God to protect His people, to make way for the fight to end. We meditate, but our souls are not comforted.

The Psalmist’s questions

The Psalmist complains, mourns, and asks these five questions as if he believes God has forsaken him –

  1. Will the Lord spurn forever and never again be favorable?
  2. Has his steadfast love ceased forever?
  3. Are his promises at an end for all time?
  4. Has God forgotten to be gracious?
  5. Has he, in anger, shut up his compassion?
    Psalm 77:7-9 NRSVA

A disturbing verse

I found that verse 10 in Psalm 77 is translated in two very different ways. Look at this translation from the NASB, which tends to use a word-for-word instead of a thought-for-thought translation method –

Then I said, “It is my grief,
That the right hand of the Most High has changed.”

Psalm 77:10 NASB

In scripture, we are taught that God does not change – even the Psalmist himself teaches us, “the one who sits enthroned from of old—with whom there is no change!” The Psalmist almost loses his way in his grief, overwhelmed with sorrow and trouble. And so it is with us – at least I have felt this at times. When whatever problem seems to overtake me, and God is silent, I have lifted my voice, blaming God as it were for removing His hand, leaving me alone, neglecting me. Have you experienced that kind of pain? If so, I invite you to read on–

An abrupt change in focus

The pattern of lament we find in the Psalms always leads us to remember, recall, and speak aloud what we know is true about God. Notice the turnaround from verse 10 to verses 11 – 13.

And I say, ‘It is my grief
    that the right hand of the Most High has changed.’
I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord;
    I will remember your wonders of old.
I will meditate on all your work,
    and muse on your mighty deeds.
Your way, O God, is holy.
    What god is so great as our God?

Psalm 77:10-13 NRSVA

The Psalmist abruptly changes his focus. He makes a concerted effort to shift his thinking from his earthly circumstances to the clear evidence of God’s faithfulness. Notice the language in those verses, the repetition recalling God’s mighty deeds, miracles, and incredible acts of redemption. This is key, a powerful lesson for us when we read the news and are overwhelmed with despair.

Our evidence of God’s faithfulness

We have evidence of God’s faithfulness. The Psalmist didn’t have first-hand knowledge of Jesus, but we do. His Spirit witnesses to our spirit that we are His children. And we know that is possible because Jesus is the living Lord, the divine son of God who conquered death on our behalf.

The Psalmist recounts the redemption of the people of Israel, the Exodus. We can tell our testimonies or other redemptive acts that God has worked in our lives. If too overwhelmed, we can lean on the gospel stories of Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection.

Unseen footprints

I love verse 19 – it represents so well where we are right now!

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

Psalm 77:19 NRSVA

His footprints were unseen! Can you relate to that? I can. There is a Christian song by Babbie Mason and Eddie Carswell that says —

God is too wise to be mistaken
God is too good to be unkind
So when you don’t understand
When don’t see His plan
When you can’t trace His hand
Trust His Heart

Trust His Heart

The Psalmist ends Psalm 77 with the beautiful picture of the Good Shepherd – “you led your people like a flock.” Many years later, Jesus would reveal Himself as our Good Shepherd. He silenced storms, walked on waves, and raised the dead to life – footprints witnessing to His deity.

A changed perspective

Today we can trust God even in our despair, even in the face of war that continues. We can rest in knowing that God is working out His plan. We don’t understand – don’t even pretend to understand why the horrific suffering, the orphaned children, the desolation is allowed.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:8-9 NRSVA

With an act of our will, we recount what God has done in the past and what He will do in our future.

Our prayer

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
    you who lead Joseph like a flock!
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth …
Stir up your might,
    and come to save us!

Psalm 80:1-2 NRSVA
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