Saturday, May 19, 2012

Psalm 77

For my weekly quiet time this week, I will blog about Psalm 77.  I have three items.

1.  A theme that I heard in sermons and read in commentaries was that Psalm 77 is about the Psalmist's movement from self-absorption and self-pity to trust in God.  I especially enjoyed a story that Pastor Chuck Smith told about an alcoholic he counseled (see here).  The alcoholic had a stormy fight with his family while he was drunk, and Pastor Chuck then prayed with him.  At first, the alcoholic was complaining to God about how his family mistreated him and did not love him, but, gradually, the alcoholic's prayer changed its focus, as the alcoholic confessed to God that he had not served God as he ought.  According to Pastor Chuck, the alcoholic needed to get his self-pity out of his system before his eyes could be opened, and this occurred within the context of prayer, as was also the case with the Psalmist in Psalm 77.

2.  Psalm 77:10 is a difficult and much discussed verse.  In the KJV, it states: "And I said, This [is] my infirmity: [but I will remember] the years of the right hand of the most High."  Keil-Delitzsch presented four interpretations of this verse (which I encountered elsewhere in my reading), and, in this item, I will give the four interpretations and also justifications for them.  Then, I will look at how the Septuagint renders the verse, and what two Christian interpreters did with the Septuagint's translation of it.

a.  The word that the KJV translates as "the years of" is shenot, which is from the root sh-n-h and can mean "to change".  (The KJV, however, assumes that it's the construct plural of shanah, which means "year".)  The second half of the verse, therefore, can be translated as "the change of the right hand of the Most High".  According to Keil-Deltizsch, Martin Luther said that the point here is that the right hand of the Most High can change everything for the better.  As far as I could see, Keil-Deltizsch did not say how Luther understood the first part of the verse.  Here, though, is Luther's translation of it into the German: "Aber doch sprach ich: Ich muß das leiden; die rechte Hand des Höchsten kann alles ändern."  Based on what I found on Google Translate, that means: "But I said; I must suffer; the right hand of the Most High can change everything".  I'm unclear as to how the second part of the verse follows from the first part, in this reading.

b.  The second interpretation is that Psalm 77:10 is saying that the Psalmist's affliction is that the right hand of the Most High has changed, which presumably means that the Psalmist is upset that God is no longer delivering him.  This interpretation assumes that the Hebrew word that the KJV translates as "my infirmity", chaloti, is from the root ch-l-h, which often relates to sickness, but at times pertains to grief (I Samuel 22:8; Jeremiah 5:3).

c.  The third interpretation is that Psalm 77:10 is saying that the Psalmist's supplication is for the years of the right hand of the Most High, which means that the Psalmist is asking God to deliver him as he did in times past.  This interpretation holds that chaloti (only without the vowels that the Masoretic Text added) means "my supplication", for ch-l-h in the piel is used for supplicating (Exodus 32:11; I Samuel 13:12; II Kings 13:4; II Chronicles 33:12; Jeremiah 26:19).  One can mix and match and say that Psalm 77:10 is saying that the Psalmist's supplication is for the change of the right hand of the Most High, which would mean that the Psalmist is asking God to change his inactivity and to save him with his right hand.

d.  The fourth interpretation is that the Psalmist's affliction is the years of the right hand of the Most High, which means that the Psalmist feels afflicted by God's right hand (perhaps because the Psalmist feels that God is punishing him for some sin).

e.  Brenton's English translation of the Septuagint has: "And I said, Now I have begun; this is the change of the right hand of the Most High."  According to Marvin Tate, the Septuagint's Hebrew manuscript has a word in Psalm 77:10 from ch-l-l, which can mean "to begin" in the hiphil.  What can one do with this reading?  What did the Psalmist begin?  Augustine says that the Psalmist is having a fresh start as he thinks beyond himself and focuses on God.  Theodore of Mopsuestia, however, thinks that the verse is saying that the Psalmist began to think that God had changed his favorable attitude towards him.

3.  Psalm 77:19 states (in the KJV): "Thy way is in the sea, and thy path in the great waters, and thy footsteps are not known."  What is the Psalmist communicating when he says that God's footsteps are not known?  I liked how the Orthodox Jewish Artscroll commentary handled this (and the subsequent) verse.  It said that God split the Sea after the Exodus, but God left no physical traces of that miracle, for the Sea closed up again and reverted back to how it was before.  Consequently, because there are no physical traces of the miracle reminding us of it, we have to take the initiative to remember it and to pass it on to our children.  Moreover, notwithstanding the absence of evidence for the miracle, God continues to guide his people.  God did so after the Sea-event through Israel's leaders, Moses and Aaron.

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