I cried unto God with my voice, Even unto God with my voice; and he gave ear unto me. In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord: My sore ran in the night, and ceased not: My soul refused to be comforted.
I call to remembrance my song in the night: I commune with mine own heart: And my spirit made diligent search.—Psalm 77:1–2, 6
I would recommend reading the study on Prayer in the Night Season before continuing in this study. The Prayer in the Night Season was a prayer we encountered in Psalm 42 to which God responded with His song. There is only one subject worth God’s time singing about, and that is the subject of His people. In the prayer of Psalm 42, the lesson we learn is that no matter how dark the night and no matter how severe the time of affliction, God delights in nothing else than to hear the prayers of His people and to comfort His people. You may be experiencing overwhelming pain right now. You may be confused as to why God would not be answering your prayer. But if you are saved, I can assure you that the Lord is singing His song to you.
Psalm 77 is also a prayer in the night season, but whereas Psalm 42 presents the song God sings to us, Psalm 77 is a song that is sung to God. For this reason, I am labeling this prayer as The Prayer in the Night Song. Psalm 77 has for a long time been my go-to psalm when I enter into a night season. In this night song, we find the outpouring of the depressed, discouraged, and broken heart of a psalmist by the name of Asaph. But we will find that as Asaph shifts his attention away from himself and his worries and turns his eyes upon the Lord and all His works, the song he sings to the Lord grows into a song of magnificent praise to the God of the night.
A Note on Asaph
Asaph, the son of Berechiah, is often mentioned along with Jeduthun and Heman. All three of these men were “seers (prophets)” and led in worship at the tabernacle and temple. They were also singers and musicians. Their sons continued to serve in leading music off and on throughout Judah’s history and are seen serving in the reigns of Hezekiah and Josiah. What I find really interesting is that these musical prophets would prophesy with their harps, psalteries, and cymbals. They would actually declare God’s message with their instruments!
“Moreover David and the captains of the host separated to the service of the sons of Asaph, and of Heman, and of Jeduthun, who should prophesy with harps, with psalteries, and with cymbals”
—1 Chronicles 25:1
When the ark was carried from the house of Obed-Edom to Jerusalem, Asaph was in charge of leading the thanksgiving and praise. While others played upon psalteries and harps during this joyful time, Asaph played with cymbals. Later on when the ark was brought into the temple, Asaph, along with Heman and Jeduthun, played with harps, psalteries, and cymbals. In summary, these three men were prophets, singers, musicians, and song leaders. Pretty neat! Asaph’s name means “to gather in.” Jeduthun’s name means “to praise.” And Heman’s name means “to be faithful.” Isn’t this a wonderful illustration of how we are to sing to God? As we peruse through this beautiful song, let’s gather together our praises as we faithfully sing to our Precious Redeemer who is worthy of all our praise! (1 Chronicles 15:5,19; 25:5–6; 2 Chronicles 5:12; 29:13–14, 30; 35:15)
The Night Season
Asaph, the distinguished musical prophet who led all Israel in thanksgiving and praise to God Almighty, is now in the privacy of his bedroom crying tears of dark depression and sorrow. When we looked at the prayer in the night season, we mentioned how darkness oftentimes breeds fear. We fear the dark because it contains the unknown. The darkness of night can be scary. But at the same time, the darkness of the night can also reveal treasures if you look for it. Did you know that if you get away from the lights of the city on a clear night, you can see the Milky Way? It’s a beautiful sight! Now, some of you even with this information will not ever attempt to find the Milky Way. And that is fine. We all have our own interests. But if you want to experience the joys of finding the many treasures of the night sky, it will take initiative. And that is just what we find Asaph doing in Psalm 77. Even as the Lord tells king Cyrus, “And I will give thee the treasures of darkness,” the Lord has treasures for us in the night season. In Psalm 42, the treasure was God’s song. In Psalm 77, the treasure is God’s works.
One musical term worth mentioning is the term, stanza. A stanza is a group of lines in a poem or song that form a unit. In Psalm 77 we have a prelude (introductory musical piece) and 3 stanzas, all of which are separated by the Hebrew word, “Selah.” This word “Selah” was a musical notation in the Hebrew psalms which indicated where the singer would pause. When we read the word in the Psalms, it tells us to pause and ponder what was just read.
The Prelude: Remembrance of God
I cried unto God with my voice, Even unto God with my voice; and he gave ear unto me. In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord: My sore ran in the night, and ceased not: My soul refused to be comforted. I remembered God, and was troubled: I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed. Selah.Psalm 77:1—3
In the prelude to this song of the night, we find Asaph fervently crying out to God. Twice he mentions how he cried unto God with his voice. In the rush of modern, busy life, God’s people for the most part do not know how to pray with fervency. As one preacher put it, in the old days God’s people would fast and pray, but now we just pray fast. To uncover the treasure of the night, Asaph cries out fervently unto God and lifts up his voice. And what did God do? “He gave ear unto me.” Notice that the psalmist does not say God answered him. In reality, the questions Asaph puts to God are really self-answering. God does delight in answering prayer. But in this psalm, what was more important to Asaph was that the God of heaven heard his prayer.
Notice next that in the day of Asaph’s trouble, he “sought the Lord”—not TV, not his friends, not books. Asaph sought the Lord. God’s people have grown accustomed in times of trouble to seek everything else but the Lord. As his “sore ran in the night,” he wrestles with God. Asaph wants fellowship with God, and he has questions burning at his heart. In Genesis 32:24 we read, “And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.” We find out later that the man Jacob wrestled was the Lord. Jacob wanted a blessing from the Lord and wrestled all night for it. When God granted his request, Jacob named that place, “Peniel,” the Face of God. The petition Jacob made before God was a Prayer at the Face of God. Just like the Jacob of old, Asaph seeks the Lord’s face and wrestles all night for His blessing. When the storm clouds and darkness roll in, who or what do you turn to?
In the last part of this prelude, we read that the psalmist “remembered God, and was troubled.” Why would the remembrance of God trouble him? After all, he is crying out to him. Shouldn’t the remembrance of God bring him comfort? It could be that Asaph was experiencing guilt in failing the Lord, and the remembrance of God troubled him. However, because of the questions he asks in Stanza 1, I am inclined to think that Asaph is troubled because of unanswered prayer and the fear that God has forsaken him. What was Asaph’s first response? He complained. This complaint did nothing for him but overwhelm his spirit.
I’ve titled this prelude, “Remembrance of God,” but this remembrance of God was troubling because the psalmist had been absorbed with himself.
Stanza 1: Remembrance of Self
Thou holdest mine eyes waking: I am so troubled that I cannot speak. I have considered the days of old, The years of ancient times. I call to remembrance my song in the night: I commune with mine own heart: And my spirit made diligent search. Will the Lord cast off for ever? And will he be favourable no more? Is his mercy clean gone for ever? Doth his promise fail for evermore? Hath God forgotten to be gracious? Hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies? Selah.Psalm 77:4—9
Asaph blames his sleeplessness on God. When he remembered God, his heart was troubled, and he tosses about in bed throughout the night. He tries to find the words to speak, and they don’t come to him. As he lays there speechless, his mind begins to reflect, and Asaph begins his song with the words,
“Will the Lord cast off for ever?”
This is a sad way to start off a song! The song begins with soft and somber notes. In Asaph’s discouragement and confusion, he questions God. He questions God’s neglect, favor, mercy, promises, grace, and judgment. Asaph had led all Israel in God’s worship. He was familiar with the Scriptures, and he spent much time musing over the works of David. Asaph knew very well the answers to these questions. It may be possible that Asaph was experiencing some doubts, but I believe Asaph’s ole carnal flesh was just acting up a bit and this first stanza was simply the instinctive response of the flesh to his troubles.
One could argue that this questioning shouldn’t have even taken place to begin with, and I guess that would be a valid argument. But in times of affliction, God’s people can sometimes find it hard to not ask these questions. I’ve heard close friends who I have come to respect as spiritually-minded people question God when a loved one passes away. “Why would God do this? Why would God take them now? Why would God not answer my prayer?” Do you see how similar these questions are to Asaph’s?
Another example is found in Habakkuk. In Chapter 1, Habakkuk questions God’s silence and justice. “Wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?” (Habakkuk 1:13b).
Stanza 2: Remembrance of God’s Works
And I said, This is my infirmity: But I will remember the years of the right hand of the most High. I will remember the works of the LORD: Surely I will remember thy wonders of old. I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings. Thy way, O God, is in the sanctuary: Who is so great a God as our God? Thou art the God that doest wonders: Thou hast declared thy strength among the people. Thou hast with thine arm redeemed thy people, The sons of Jacob and Joseph. Selah.Psalm 77:10—15
Both Asaph and Habakkuk questioned God. I have recently begun calling these kinds of prayers the “Why-Prayers.” But there is one really important key truth I want to point out about a similarity between Asaph’s and Habakkuk’s “Why-Prayers”:
There was a point at which the “why’s” stopped.
It’s natural for the flesh to rise up in confusion to question God’s ways. For Habakkuk, he questioned God for a while, but there was a point at which he stopped, climbed up the watchtower, stood in his place, shut his mouth, and watched for God’s answer. “I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, And will watch to see what he will say unto me, And what I shall answer when I am reproved” (Habakkuk 2:1). For Asaph, he simply declares: “This is my infirmity.” An infirmity is a weakness or wound. It is as if Asaph gives up the complaint and states, “This is the weakness I am given. This is the wound I must bear. This is what has been appointed to me.” Asaph has accepted his lot in life. Too often God’s people will insist on questioning God without expecting God to answer. We’ll keep on talking, questioning, and doubting, but it would do us well to at some point put a stop to these questions and listen for God’s answer.
I’d be interested to know the backstory behind this psalm. I don’t know what Asaph was struggling with, but whatever it was, he learned to accept it. Whereas the first stanza was soft and somber, Stanza 2 gradually grows louder and more pleasant as the psalmist reflects upon God’s works.
- God’s Works of the Past
“But I will remember the years of the right hand of the most High. I will remember the works of the LORD: Surely I will remember thy wonders of old.“
He first reflects upon God’s works of the past and recalls the “years of the right hand of the most High.” In Genesis 35 we find Rachel pregnant on a journey from Bethel to Bethlehem. From an encounter with Esau in Genesis 32:13, we know that Jacob was sensitive to hardships of travel. But in Genesis 35, Jacob continues to lead his family on the journey to Bethlehem. Along the way, Rachel goes into labor. Her labor was intense, and Rachel was at the point of death. Rachel gave birth to a son and named him, “Ben-oni,” Son of My Sorrow, and not long after the birth, Rachel died. I wonder what was going through Jacob’s mind. I wonder if his first instinct was to blame himself for insisting that the family continue in travel in the midst of Rachel’s pregnancy. Rachel was Jacob’s prize, the love of his life, and now she is gone. Regardless, the boy that Rachel called Ben-oni, Jacob called “Benjamin,” Son of My Right Hand. Jacob took the sorrow and pain that was appointed him and turned it around. That sorrow was now turned to his right hand, the place of strength and power. Here in Psalm 77, the psalmist turns the sorrow around to remind himself of the years of the right hand of the Most High. Asaph’s trial turned into a blessing.
You may right now be in a similar position. You may be going through a time of sorrow and confusion. You have a choice. You can stay where you are and dwell in the sorrow. Or you can turn it around and reflect upon God’s works and wonders of old. Do you remember when the Lord saved you? What happened? Who led you to the Lord? What verses were said? What message was preached? What song was sung? Do you remember when God answered a prayer? What did He answer? Do you remember a time where you had a near-death experience on the road, but you were delivered from it? Do you remember all the times food was on your table? We have so much to thank God for! Look at what He’s done for us!
I’ve looked back through the years at what the Lord has done for our church. I remember many times when I witnessed people in our church both young and old call out upon the name of the Lord for salvation. I remember witnessing young men getting called to preach. I remember witnessing people who gave up their bitterness and burdens to submit to God’s will. God’s works and wonders of the past are absolutely amazing!
2. God’s Works in the Present
“I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings. Thy way, O God, is in the sanctuary: Who is so great a God as our God?”
God’s not done! It’s possible you may not be paying attention to it and you can’t see it, but it doesn’t change the fact that God is still at work! The psalmist says, “he will meditate.” To meditate is to think about often. There are so many things we like to meditate upon. It’s easy to meditate upon politics. College students may meditate on schoolwork. Young people may meditate on relationships. But Asaph declares that he will meditate on God’s work. He purposes in his heart that he will dwell on nothing else and talk of nothing else but the work that God is doing in the present. I’ve heard many of God’s people complain about the state of the world, and the state of the world indeed does not look too bright. But God is still at work! We have a promise that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church. Until the Lord Jesus comes to carry His bride to be with Him, the Lord will keep saving sinners, calling preachers, and establishing churches. What is God doing in your church right now? Do you see God at work? What is God doing in your heart right now? What is He teaching you? Are you going through a trial right now? It is natural to stay in Stanza 1, dwelling on the sorrow around you. But it would do you well at some point to proceed into Stanza 2, and meditate upon the lessons that God is teaching in the trial. God is definitely at work. Meditate and talk about it!
As Asaph meditates on God’s works in the present, he observes, “Thy way, O God, is in the sanctuary.” It’s possible for a spiritual man to live without a family. But a spiritual man cannot live without a church. Reader, if you are saved, God has called you to be a part of a local church to serve and grow (Romans 12:4–5; 1 Corinthians 12:12–14; Ephesians 3:10; Hebrews 10:25). Yes, God can and will work in your heart at home. But His way is in the sanctuary. God is at work right now in the local church. Are you worried about the wellbeing of your church? “And he is before all things, and by him all things consists” (Colossians 1:17). Jesus is the glue that holds the church together! We are to do our part in making sure that we stay glued to Jesus. As the psalmist reflects on the grace God bestows at the church house, he has no choice but to close the thought with praise: “Who is so great a God as our God?”
3. God’s Works in the Future
“Thou art the God that doest wonders”
God has worked magnificently in the past. He is at work right now. But the God who parted the Red Sea for the Israelites way back in the book of Exodus is declared by Asaph to be the “God that Doest Wonders.” The God of yesterday is the God of tomorrow! As the old song goes,
Many things about tomorrow
I don’t seem to understand
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds my hand
4. God’s Works in Eternity
“Thou hast declared thy strength among the people. Thou hast with thine arm redeemed thy people, The sons of Jacob and Joseph. Selah.”
God has declared His strength among the people. When did this happen? Romans 1:18–20 teaches that every single people in the world knows there is a God. Creation bears witness of Him! You cannot just look up at a sky full of stars on a clear night and simply say that they were put into their patterns by chance. No mathematician nor statistician can intelligently say that. The God who simply “made the stars also” has declared His strength throughout all the world. For all eternity His strength will be declared. His Word is settled in Heaven forever (Psalm 119:89). For all eternity we will witness the wisdom and majesty of God.
Not only do we see God’s works in eternity in regard to His creative power and His written Word, we will forever be witnesses of His redemptive power. “Thou has with thine arm redeemed thy people.” God’s people are simply all those who have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament, God’s people was Israel. Israel will once more be reclaimed at the end of the seven-year tribulation. Right now, God’s people consist of born-again believers collected in the Bride of Christ. But for the rest of eternity, the Redeemed of the Lord, both Jew and Gentile, will be partaking of the blessings of redemption. God’s works will never cease. The blood of Jesus was amazing to Moses. It was amazing to Asaph. It’s amazing for us today. It will be amazing to those who will be saved tomorrow. But for all eternity, the blood of Jesus will still amaze God’s people. Praise the Lord!
Stanza 3: Remembrance of the God of the Night
The waters saw thee, O God, the waters saw thee; they were afraid: The depths also were troubled. The clouds poured out water: The skies sent out a sound: Thine arrows also went abroad. The voice of thy thunder was in the heaven: The lightnings lightened the world: The earth trembled and shook. Thy way is in the sea, And thy path in the great waters, And thy footsteps are not known. Thou leddest thy people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.Psalm 77:16—20
This final stanza is the remembrance of the God of the night. One song put it like this:
For the God on the mountain, is still God in the valley,
When things go wrong, he’ll make them right
And the God of the good times, is still God in the bad times
The God of the day, is still God in the night
He began the song with his eyes focused on that which was right around him, absorbed with his own concerns. Asaph begins the first stanza by singing softly and somberly. Finding that his limited vision provided no comfort, he shifts his focus to gain a clearer picture of what was actually happening around him. He is now able to see God at work all around him. Throughout Stanza 2, Asaph sings louder and louder as he reflects upon all of God’s works and wonders. Finally, his gaze shifts upward as he realizes that all the storm clouds, thunder, dark waters, and even the night itself are in complete submission to the Lord, the God of the night. This final stanza is sung joyfully and triumphantly with every part of his heart pouring out praise to his Redeemer.
He starts with the words, “The waters saw thee, O God, the waters saw thee; they were afraid: The depths also were troubled.” Deep waters, storms, and darkness throughout the psalms represent for us the times of trial and affliction wherein we are overwhelmed, fearful, and confused. The psalmist, now with clear focus, realizes that the waters are afraid of God. That which overwhelmed him in verse 3 is in itself fearfully submissive to the plan of God.
“The clouds poured out water: The skies sent out a sound: Thine arrows also went abroad. The voice of thy thunder was in the heaven: The lightnings lightened the world: The earth trembled and shook.” Not only were the waters submissive to God in fearful reverence, the psalmist declares in these words that the frightful and intimidating storms were ordained by God. I remember a camping trip that took place back in 2012. The purpose of the camping trip was to get alone with God. I spent time reading His Word, praying, and enjoying fellowship with God. I was by myself in the woods for a week, and things were going great. I read through most of the Bible that week and got a lot of things settled. But quite possibly the biggest lesson the Lord taught me was during one dark night as I lay on my sleeping bag in my tent. Our section of the country had been experiencing a very dry drought all that summer. I didn’t even think to check the weather as I just assumed there would be no rain. After all, we’re in a drought and haven’t seen rain in weeks! But one night that week, there came up an absolutely horrible thunderstorm, one of the worst I had seen in a long time. And as I lay there by myself in a small tent in the middle of the woods, I was completely helpless. With every lightning strike, the tent would light up, but I would have no clue where the lightning struck. I heard lightning strike down trees around me, and the wind blew down others. With trees falling down around me, I was laying there with nothing I could possibly do but pray and have fellowship with God. That dark night, I found out in a new way just how small I was. When the dark storms surround and overwhelm us, it may just be God’s way of teaching us how small we really are. Asaph could have chosen to stay in Stanza 1. But he would’ve missed the blessing. The storms are ordained by the Lord, the Lord who loves and cares for His children.
“Thy way is in the sea, And thy path in the great waters, And thy footsteps are not known.”
Asaph is now coming to a close. He just finished a portion of music with joyful and triumphant singing. Now, he steps back to wonder with admiration at the wisdom of God. I believe these words were sung very contemplatively. Asaph notes an amazing nugget of truth. Yes, the waters were in submission to the Lord. Yes, the storms were ordained by the Lord. But here we find that it is God’s will for His children to walk through the waters and storms. What is the will of God? “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29). It is God’s will for His people to suffer. But if we make the same progression as Asaph through this song in the night, we learn that we can rejoice through this suffering. Suffering teaches us reliance on the Lord and will draw us closer to Him if we allow it.
“Thy footsteps are not known.” We will not know every little detail of the paths He is directing, but we know the paths He is directing are good, acceptable, and perfect. When the Lord makes a way for you through dark storms and waters of the night, it is not our place to try to figure out ahead of time when the storms will clear up. We are to simply take one step at a time. The Bible doesn’t say that He will make known all the details of the paths. It just simply says, “and He shall direct thy paths.”
The words that Asaph uses to close his song in the night are these: “Thou leddest thy people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.” He recalls Israel’s wilderness experience. When we look back upon the forty years Israel wandered in the wilderness, we often only ever focus on Israel’s backsliding. But notice how the Lord looks back on Israel’s wilderness experience:
“Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the LORD; I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown. Israel was holiness unto the LORD, and the firstfruits of his increase: all that devour him shall offend; evil shall come upon them, saith the LORD.”
Though the Lord’s anger waxed hot at Israel several times in their wilderness journey, the Lord now looks back at those years with eyes full of grace. Even in their sin and weakness, the Lord, full of grace, led His people “like a flock.”
Know this. The God on the mountain is still God in the valley. The God of the good times is still God in the bad times. The God of the day is still God in the night. We must recognize that God’s paths for us will often lead through the dark waters of the night. But know that all along the way, the Lord will be leading us like a flock. Which stanza are you in? Are you in Stanza 1, focusing on your own concerns? Have you been able to get to Stanza 2, focusing on all the wondrous works of God in the past, present, future, and in all eternity? Or have you reached Stanza 3 where you have grown to not only recognize God’s works, but also to delight and rejoice in the God who leads His people through the night season.
I will close this study with a poem I wrote several years back during the first time the Lord used Psalm 77 to bring me comfort during a night season.
The Song in the Night
He sought the Lord in trouble,
he was heard when his voice cried.
He tossed and turned in anguish
as his sore ran through the night.
His soul no comfort wanted
though he sought Him in the day.
His remembrance of God
revealed that he failed to obey.
His spirit overwhelmed him
as he spoke of his reproach.
“Is thy mercy gone forever?
Are thy promises reposed?
“Wilt thou cast me off forever
and be favourable no more?”
And thus his song continued
of God’s mercies to implore.
His wife aspires to comfort,
be a help in time of need.
But from him she hides her sorrow,
in a room she shares his grief.
As she listens to his crying,
she remembers all God’s works.
How he saved them from destruction,
gave them comfort and new birth.
“Lord, just show him all your goodness,
show him love and show him grace.
Let him think upon thy faithfulness
upon him shine thy Holy face.”
And thus the duet sang
as the Creator pleased to hear
the baritone, all his questions,
the soprano, all her tears.
Then suddenly a silence
touched the ears of the psalmist’s wife
followed by some sweet rejoicing,
words of joy and words of life.
“I’ll remember all the years
of the right hand of the Most High.
I’ll remember all thy works
and all thy wonders, all thy might.
“Of thy doings, I will declare
as I worship at thy feet.
When I go up to thy temple,
I’ll remember Thou art great.
“You’re the God that doest wonders
led thy people through the sea.
Redeemed thy flock from evil
as the earth shook to its knees.
“All thy thunderings and lightenings
teach the waters are afraid.
The depths also were troubled,
all the enemies dismayed.
“Thy way is in the sea
and the great waters show thy path.
They show thy way is power,
on the waters thou hast sat.
Today I need not worry
and tomorrow I’ll depend
upon thy Word to guide me
through the waters by thy hand.”
The couple’s hearts are joyous
the baritone and his wife.
New words are gladly written
as they think upon their life:
“I sought the Lord in trouble
and He heard me when I cried.
He delighted in the music
of my praise-song in the night.”