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Psalm 77

Footsteps unseen

What if you feel like God has failed you—that he’s more problem than solution? Do you just stuff it down and wear your “good believer” smile, no matter how you feel? Or do you honestly tell him how you feel?

I cry out to God in distress—
cry out for him to hear me.
2 On the day when trouble hit
I searched for the Lord.
All night long I stretched out my hands to you
refusing to be consoled.
3 I thought about God and groaned.
In fact, the more I thought about him
the worse I felt.

4 You’ve kept me from closing my eyes
I’m so distraught I can’t speak.
5 I think back to other times
years long gone.
6 I remember my song in the night
and reflect, asking myself:
7 “Is Yahveh’s rejection final?
Will he never smile on me again?
8 Is his unfailing love gone for good?
Are his promises forever null and void?
9 Has God forgotten how to be gracious?
Has his anger shut down his compassion?”
10 Then I said, “How disastrous for me
that the Most High’s power to rescue
is no longer there for me!”

11 I call to mind what you’ve done, Yahveh
and recall your miracles from long ago.
12 I recount your achievements
and reflect on all you’ve done.
13 Your ways are holy, God.
What god could possibly rival our God?
14 You’re the God who did miracles
forcing the nations to acknowledge your power.
15 Stretching out your strong arm
you redeemed your people—
Jacob and Joseph’s descendants.
16 When the waters saw you, God
when the waters saw you, they recoiled
even the briny deep shuddered.
17 The clouds poured down water
the skies thundered
your arrows flashed on every side.
18 Your thunder rolled and crashed
your lightning bolts lit up the world
the earth trembled and shook.
19 Your path traversed the sea—
you strode right through the surging waters
yet your footsteps were unseen.
20 You led your people like a flock
under the care of Moses and Aaron.[1]

This psalm’s jarringly dissonant halves have made some label it a mishmash of clashing psalms. Alternatively, we can see it as the psalmist’s throwing her life’s contradictions—how things are versus how they’re “supposed to” be—at God and implicitly asking him to reconcile them.

Since he’s allowed her troubles, the psalmist credits God with her grief and insomnia and questions her deepest Torah beliefs—that he’s faithful, gracious, compassionate and holy. The glory days are gone, and she wonders if God has cut her off and reneged on his promises, letting his anger veto his love. With all her questions screaming for answers, she concludes that he’s no longer there for her. Then without missing a beat, she holds up what she knows of God from the Exodus event. Namely, that he’s powerful, compassionate, holy and, yes, incomparably mysterious—his footsteps being altogether untraceable.

So the psalmist honestly faces her grief and pain, holding her lived experience up beside what scripture teaches without forcing any sort of false resolution of the two. She thus models holding onto God when we feel like letting go, and yet doing so in such a way that we lay our case before him and ask him to resolve the tension between our deepest griefs and our faith.[2]

Thank you that, holy as you are, God, you aren’t threatened by my honest doubts. I recall all you’ve done and revealed yourself to be, especially in the cross—Jesus’ greater Exodus. Help me hold my hurts against its truth till you resolve the tension between my experience and my faith in you. Amen.

In your free moments today, mediate on this truth:

Your path traversed the sea—
you strode right through the surging waters
yet your footsteps were unseen.


[1] Since vv. 11-20 contrast the past with the psalmist’s current situation, verse 20 may imply that the psalm was written during a period when God’s people were leaderless, as in the exile, or else led by ungodly kings.

[2] Jesus urges us to do this very thing in Luke 18:1-8. Goldingay (2007) 473.

Why Yahveh?

Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and occasionally transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Modern translations, likewise, either translate or transliterate it. While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it is more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. I’ve chosen to transliterate it to root it more firmly in the biblical story as the name—meaning the “self-existent One”—that God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. This name set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it in order better to hallow it. In transliterating it, I follow the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard. He advocated transliterating it as Yahveh—pronounced yah·vay—arguing that following the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish than Yahweh.
May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Robert Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.