Humanity, it seems, loves a countdown. Sports fans count down the days until the next big game. Music-lovers count down the days to their favorite artists’ new release. Children innately countdown sleeps until birthdays. As an unabashed lover of all things Advent, we have various countdowns to the celebration of the Incarnation littering our entire home.
But what about when the countdown continues? What if we don’t have a quaint calendar informing us of the release or celebration date? Even worse, what are we to do if we don’t even know there will be a solution this side of glory?
In a season of joyful countdowns, let us not forget those whose countdowns are less cheery: the days until the next PET scan, the next pregnancy test, the next “first holiday” without a beloved family member or friend, the next court date, or any other number of heavy nexts.
A Songwriter without a Song
Asaph came from a long line of song-writers and worship-leaders that began with the establishment of the first Temple. He wrote a dozen psalms as a poet laureate, of sorts, of God’s people. He was chosen and fashioned by God to be a tender-hearted artist to lead Israel into worship and wonder.
Yet, in Psalm 77, we find the beloved song-writer saddened by the silence of pain and depression. His songs of joy and awe feel a million ballads away. Day and night, he continues to cry out to God to show up, to move, to do something to stir his stagnant heart (v 1-2). He isn’t sleeping (v 4). The lover of words cannot even find words to express the crushing grief that continually weighs upon him (v 4).
The long wait and the song-less season temporarily warps Asaph’s vision, even to the point of assuming that the unchangeable God Almighty must have changed.
Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable? Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are His promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up His compassion? Psalm 77:2-4 & 7-9.
A Shift in the Song
Up until this point in the Psalm, Asaph has referred to the Lord in the general term Adonai, meaning lord or master. However, a subtle shift takes place in verse 11. Here, Asaph begins to refer to God by the more personal and intimate name Yahweh. Rather than get stuck in the song-less sameness of today, he shifts his focus to the annuls of the past. He begins to remember and call to mind intentionally all the ways God has historically shown up and shown off to His people.
I will remembers the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds. Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God? You are the God who works wonders; you have made known Your might among the peoples. You with your arm redeemed your people, the children of Jacob and Joseph. Psalm 77: 11-15.
The same arm that, based on countless translations of verse 10, Asaph assumed had turned against him, is now remembered as the strong right hand that had rescued throngs from Egypt.
Historical fact and evidence begins to trump feelings, as Asaph decides to count God’s faithfulness rather than count the days until God lifts the veil of present darkness.
An Old Song Offers Hope in the Song-less Season
The remainder of the Psalm focuses on a poetic retelling of the way God had rescued His people from Egypt. Waters fleeing, deeps trembling and skies thundering (verses 16-18), lead to the culminating and concluding two verses.
Your way was through the seas, your paths through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen. You led your people like a flock, by the hand of Moses and Aaron. Psalm 77: 19-20.
This Psalm does not tie up neatly with a bow, as some Psalms do. We don’t hear the end of Asaph’s countdown to experiencing God intimately again. The countdown continues, but now with a song-less man who has committed to re-singing old songs until the Lord brings him a new one.
Just as God left no clear heel prints as He rescued His people in the muddy bottoms of the Red Sea, Asaph concludes that God’s ways are mysterious and untraceable, but also trustworthy and true.