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Psalm 77: Questions in Grief

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
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November 5, 2021 12:01 am

Psalm 77: Questions in Grief

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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November 5, 2021 12:01 am

While the Psalms teach us how to praise the Lord, they also show us how to bring our grief to God and to find the relief that He alone provides. Today, W. Robert Godfrey discusses how Psalm 77 encourages us to pray and to remember God's faithfulness.

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The people of ancient Israel had a tendency to complain against God, and we learned an important lesson from them. This really becomes a key example of how not to react to try to grumble amongst yourselves behind God's back.

But if you come to God if you come forth rightly to God you can say was really in your heart. That's what the Psalm say over and over again and I think we should find to be tremendously encouraging growth and Renewing Your Mind on this Friday and I'm glad you could be doing this. The Psalms are God's songbook for his people and teachers how to praise and Psalm 33. For example, tells us to shout for joy of the Lord owe you righteous single and a new song play skillfully on the strings with loud shouts of the Psalms are also quite transparent in the way they express the most intense pain we may experience in the great relief that only the Lord provides to this point we've been looking first of all or kind of overview of some general themes as to how to approach reading the Psalms and then we looked at a series of Psalms from book 1 and two of the Psalter in book 1 we looked at the King's confidence in God's care.

Looking at Psalms that tend to be quite personal. Beginning with the stress and culminating in confidence in God what to do is more communal is more kingdom oriented.

I was suggesting and I called that book the king's commitment to God's kingdom. So were looking a little bit more of the kingdom a little less just personally, but it's only a slight difference when you look at the Psalms. There's a lot of similarities.

But when we come to book 3 which were doing today which is Psalms 73 through 89.

We are coming to a rather sharply different book in the Psalter and I've called that book the Kings crisis over God's promises and a number of the Psalms in book 3 are songs that reflect intense emotional crisis on the part of God's people. Psalms 74 reflects the destruction of the Temple and the great lament for the loss of God's temple. Psalm 73 is a Psalm of distress very personally.

Psalm 80. As I mentioned before, is perhaps the bleakest Psalm and the whole Psalter, a Psalm of individual loneliness and a sense of abandonment says darkness is my only companion.

That's a pretty bleak outlook on life and then Psalm 89 culminates and ends this book free by being very specific about a sense of the loss of God's faithfulness. The first part of Psalm 89 says God's promise to David son will always sit on David's throne, and the second half of the Psalm says, but David son is not sitting on David's throne. And so, what's going on so it's it's a book in which questions are intense and I want to focus our attentions would delve deeper into that sense of crisis. Looking at Psalm 77. Another Psalm of deep distress but also a Psalm in which the psalmist manages to come to some comfort and some encouragement in the midst of this trouble. Verse two of Psalm 77 reflects the psalmist sense that he is speaking out of a day of trouble.

The day of trouble is a phrase that actually recurs a number of times throughout the Psalter and sometimes the day of trouble represents some very specific problems that the psalmist talks about in other cases, the day of trouble is left somewhat more general and that tends to be the case here. We are not told exactly what the day of trouble is, but it's big trouble it's not little trouble. It's big trouble. There may be a hint for us a little further on in verse two. Verse two rings in the day of trouble. I seek the Lord in the night.

My hand is stretched out without wearying my soul refuses to be comforted. That may allude to Jacob hearing about the death of Joseph and saying that he refused to be comforted. So the day of trouble may be because of the death of a loved one, but it may be something else. In any case it's it's very very intense and that's the first thing that I want us to consider.

I've said before that to one of the things that's attractive about the Psalter is its emotional honesty. The psalmist doesn't pretend to feel better than he feels. And we sense that here.

It's a day of trouble and so verse one says I cry aloud to God allowed to God and he will hear me in the day of trouble. I seek the Lord in the night. My hand is stretched out without wearying my soul refuses to be comforted again.

Since a number of times throughout the Psalter. The theme of meditating in the night awake on the bed troubled praying and crying out to God. The older I get, the more appreciative I am of these night miseries and here again we see that he sleepless he can't he can't sleep for this trouble. Verse three when I remember God.

I moan when I meditate my spirit faints. So here is a picture of someone who is who is sleepless who is not finding comfort who is distressed wherever his mind turns verse four. You hold my eyelids open again, the theme of of sleeplessness. I am so troubled I cannot speak. There's this deepening sense. This deepening communication of how profound the trouble is, how profound the grief and anguish are and then we in verse five. Get a hint of where eventually he'll be able to find a little comfort.

Although it's not coming right now.

He says I consider the days of old. The years long ago.

He said verse six.

Let me remember my song in the night. Let me meditate in my heart, so he he's beginning to cast his mind back to the faithfulness of the Lord that the theme he'll return to later in the Psalm, but before he manages that he says my spirit made a diligent search, but what did it come up with. I came up with a whole series of questions tough questions haunting questions verse seven. Will the Lord's burn forever and never again be favorable has his steadfast love forever ceased are his promises and and and for all time as God forgotten to be gracious as he and anger shut up his compassion was a pretty extreme questions are those are questions of oil down to feeling completely abandoned by the Lord. Judged by the Lord, forgotten by the Lord, punished by the Lord.

Whatever's going on. He feels utterly alone, and one of the things that has intrigued me over the years is how many questions there are in the Psalms. I tried to count them up once and I there are actually question marks in Hebrew so you're on your sometimes left a little uncertain about these things but I ended up with about 170 questions are asked in Psalms a lot of questions and I think sometimes were sort of told that if were really spiritual. We shouldn't, we shouldn't ask why and and I've realized finally, why that kind of advice is offered.

Ministers offer that advice because they don't know why and does so that ought to be trouble. They don't want to admit their inability but the Psalter is full of wives. Other questions as well.

And it's not that the Psalter any more than the minister can answer for sure in every given circumstance exactly why something is happening but what the Psalter says it's okay to ask, it's okay to wonder it's okay to be honest with God, and I think that's part of the liberating character of the Psalter that emotionally and in prayer. We don't have to pretend to be other than we are. When were miserable. We can say were miserable when were sinful Whigs. They were sinful when we feel abandoned rig site we feel abandoned, and I think part of the pattern of the Scriptures is God never objects to his people coming to him honestly now, wait, we should aim at. Also coming in safe and when we come to him were coming at least because we have a little faith if we didn't have any faith at all. We wouldn't come to Calvin always says that you should control your anger and that's true as far as it goes, but there a lot of verses allow us to be pretty angry, and it's part of why I think were given these verses, so that we can come with with honesty and ask questions.

A number of times in the Psalter. There is reference to Exodus 17 to Israel at reference name and you remember the story or maybe you don't. But it's an important episode in Israel's history where Israel begins to complain to Moses and ask why did you bring us out in the wilderness to die. Why did we just stay in Egypt, least we had some food in Egypt and that place is later renamed Massa and Marable. The place of grumbling and complaining and you might say, well, the Psalms of all these questions, encouraging, grumbling and complaining. Would you end up really just with the sin that is sought reference name and the answer is no because when you read the story of Exodus 17 carefully what you discover is the real offense of Israel. There is a work praying they were muttering amongst themselves.

They were if you will, complaining behind God's back and what was at the very heart of their complaint is God with us or not it was a complete lack of faith. It was an abandonment of God, and that's why it becomes emblematic in the Scriptures for the long way for God's people to react. It's picked up in Psalm 95 picked up in Hebrews 3 and four, so that this really becomes a key example of how not to react to try to grumble amongst yourselves behind God's back.

But if you come to God if you come forthrightly to God to come honestly to God if you come honestly with faith in God. You can say was really in your heart.

That's what the Psalms say over and over again and I think we should find to be tremendously encouraging and sometimes it really is bleak.

What what does the psalmist feel here, will the Lord's burn forever and never again be favorable. That's what he feels this happened to her knees asking a question about that. Now these questions.

Of course are rhetorical questions in which the answer is somewhat implied in the question itself, I suspect, even as the psalmist asks these questions, he kinda knows the answer and the answer he kind of noses. No you won't's burn forever.

Nonetheless that's wasting has his steadfast love forever ceased. Now couple times we've heard that word and Psalter steadfast love. That's the Hebrew word facet and it's one of the Hebrew word so kind of worth learning. They're all worth learning, but pass it is hard to translate into English and in the King James was usually translated mercy, so it would've read here has his mercy forever ceased its usually translated mercy in the New Testament Greek.

I sometimes translate covenant love covenant faithfulness.

It is law that it is mercy, but it's particularly for his people. In light of the covenant that he has promised will not fail so it's sort of like saying has his unfailing love failed, and of course implicit been in the very question is, is an answer. No unfailing love can't fail, but that's how he feels he isn't feeling the covenant faithfulness and love of the Lord are his promises that in them for all time to see this is this is one of the very lowest moments of spiritual experiences in it. When you begin to wonder if the promises of God are really reliable. It's wonderful to have promises but the really only wonderful if the promises are kept. I can promise you all $1 million at the end of this lecture about the promise is significant only if I keep it and I want to assure you I won't but but God's promises aren't like that you know God's promises are always reliable and so he feels so disoriented. Has God forgotten to be gracious.

Has he in anger, shut up his compassion now that we know the psalmist is a sinner but there doesn't seem to be in this Psalm, a particular sin that in mind, and so I think he's giving voice to that sort of general floating guilt we can all feel I'm I'm suffering. So I'm wondering my suffering because I'm guilty of something. I'm not aware I'm guilty of is God being vengeful to me and I'm not even aware of why that's were what's what's going on here.

So these are questions that in days of trouble in in terrible moments, God's people experience and wonder about 10 don't know how to react to and so what does the psalmist doing this really low point. He says in verse 10. Then I said, I will appeal to this, the years of the right hand of the most high. I will remember the deeds of the Lord. Yes, I will remember your wonders of old. It's interesting that verse 11 is the center of the song and therefore is receiving may well be the heart of the matter. The center of the meaning of the song. Actually, this is following a pattern we find in a number of Psalms. What should the people of God do when they're really in distress. While prey is one of the things to do in the psalmist is praying this is a prayer but the Psalter also says when the president is lawful and you have questions about God's care and love. Think about the past.

Remember what he's done in the past and by remembering, recalling, meditating on what is done in the past. It will help you to be reassured, he won't abandon you now and and that's a wonderful spiritual advice, and it's developed here in the Psalter verse five he says I consider the days of old. The years long ago. PP maybe thinking very personally there that's that's one way we can meditate on God's faithfulness. We can we can think of always been faithful with us individually in the past.

These are the experiences we've had of his goodness and mercy and care in our own individual lives.

But here, as often in the Psalter. His mind also goes back to the great faithfulness of God to his people in his great saving works, and so in the Old Testament that was of course the deliverance from Egypt.

Above all, that's the great emblem of God's saving mercy of this power. They were enslaved in Egypt, and God brought them forth with a mighty arm. He liberated them. He brought them to the land of promise. This is the grades deliverance to which they are frequently called to look back. Is God mighty yes he defeated Pharaoh. Yes, he opened the Red Sea is God loving and faithful.

Yes, he had remembered Israel all those centuries in Egypt and now he brought them forth, he is a saving God is a remembering God that's that's what's brought to the fore as they look back and so it's interesting in verse 13 we come to a new question your way, all God is holy.

What God is great like our God. Now not a doubting question, but a faith filled question very much like what was said as Israel passed through the Red Sea. What God is like unto our God. Part of what the deliverance from Egypt is all about is the defeat of the Egyptian gods. The Egyptians had more gods than you can remember the names of and Pharaoh himself was the living God, but our God defeated all the gods of Egypt including Pharaoh. In fact, Pharaoh was drowned in the Red Sea, so here is the epitome of deliverance and the Old Testament in many places it in throughout the Psalter goes back to that. And in verse 15 we see that celebrated you with your arm redeemed your people. The children of Jacob and Joseph, and then it goes on to meditate on that, but it meditates on it in a fairly unique way because the meditation in the first place is not on the victory and the power, but on the darkness of the moment which of course is exactly would be somewhat encouraging to someone in a very black moment in our lives when we look back at other black moments.

They were defeat, but they were victory. That's what we see in verse 16 and 17, when the water saw you. Oh God. When the waters saw you. They were afraid indeed. The deep trembled. The clouds poured out water. The skies gave for thunder your arrows flashed on every side the crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind your lightnings lighted up the world the earth trembled and shook nothing for mama we usually with the help of Cecil B deMille think of just the water coming back in usual walk you through them and the great triumph, but I think deMille does have lightning in the background but for for Israel standing on the edge of the Red Sea. The lightning wasn't really in the background it's flashing all around the earth shaking under their feet. Rain is pouring down the windows rolling and don't they have to wonder for a minute, is this deliverance or is this death know what's really going on here and then in verse 19 Your Way was through the sea your path through the great waters yet.

Your footprints were unseen. I love that phrase yet. Your footprints were and see the way opened up it was you who opened it up it was you who are leading us but we didn't see Regency now many other places the stresses on how God did leave the column of fire in the column of smoke that were once the other: but here the emphasis is on what they didn't say no it's it's it's great to have things you do say but sometimes you like to see more and and that's where the emphasis is here. Why couldn't we see God why couldn't we see God but we didn't he let us we couldn't see his footprints.

There weren't any footprints of God and the sin we just had to walk and can you see how this comfort is coming around and all sorts of waves to two people in the day of trouble God is with you. God is opening the way, but you may not be able to see the footprints and then it closes with you lead your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron God's footprints couldn't be seen. But God's ministers were there to help delete the God and this is again pointing the sorrowing soul to a place where he can be helped where he can be encouraged and and strengthened one of things it's good to do and you're looking at Psalms is to look at words that are repeated. Sometimes it's it's very common words.

Verse two in the day of my trouble. I seek the Lord in the night my hand is stretched out without where you can you can see him raising his hand in prayer, asking the Lord to take his hand and then verse 10 we read. Then I said, I will appeal to this to the years of the right hand of the most high, so he's he's raising his hand reaching out for the hand of God. Remembering that the hand of God had reached him and blessed him in times past, and then we close with verse 20 you lead your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron. So the hand of God may not of been right there. He made obscene have got or felt the hand of God but God holds his hand through the hand of Moses and Aaron and and it's a picture of God being with this people, but not always visibly not always with a clear answer to every question, but with a presence by the hand of those were appointed to lead his people and so this is really a marvelous Psalm in terms of expressing that the depth of pain but also showing a way forward.

It doesn't close by saying and then I felt perfect again know, but I had a hand to hold onto that reminded me that God is holding on so as we close Betsy's encouragement, but I think we should all have in the day of trouble that even though we can see who is feeling God is encouragement in the midst of trouble. I hope that resonates with you. It certainly does with me. We find such comfort and peace in the Psalms, and I'm grateful that you joined us today as we have been featuring over the last several days, Dr. Robert Godfrey series learning to love the Psalms. Dr. Godfrey's careful study has helped us understand the themes structure and beauty of the Psalms, no matter what circumstances you're going through these divinely inspired poems or comforting companion that we likely to have all 12 messages from the series, you can request the two DVD set when you give a donation of any amount to look at her ministries are web address is Renewing Your or you can call us with your gift at 800-435-4343 Renewing Your Mind is a listener supported outreach avoided her ministries a listener named Al recently called us to tell us of the impact that Dr. RC sprawled in this ministry have had on his life. My name is Al I live in Albany, Oregon. I first started listening to RC in 1997 I was struggling through the word had been learning Arminianism, which wasn't squaring up with the word and I was very confused. Hi started digging into the Bible for myself and I thought I was insane until I heard Dr. Sproul on the radio teaching the holiness of God and everything was becoming crystal clear in the first book that I read of his was grace unknown which tremendously help me and Renewing Your Mind is been a blessing in more ways than you can ever imagine.

And the staff that teaching the conferences, everything is just been so wonderful, very grateful. Thank you.

Well, we appreciate you sharing that with us, our president and CEO Chris Larson is here with me down there Chris as I hear Al say that everything became crystal clear. I can't help but think of an illustration you've used many times of a rope.

One rope is a tangled mess. The other is arranged on the ground in a perfect coil and he views that illustration described the clarity of abductor scrolls teaching, I think we've all had the balls of rope in our garage that become a tangled mess and naughty over time. But what I've benefited from and I think what our listeners here in Mr. Belinsky's testimony is just how RC was used to make complex ideas.

Simple and easy to understand and so that is why we are so thankful for the way that our listeners continue to pray for this broadcast is it goes out through of course radio, but certainly everywhere on the Internet such as the increasing pace of our reach.

We give thanks to God for that and we look forward to many more years and decades to serve as God sustains us. We do give thanks for that. Thank you Chris for being with us and thankful that we have played a small role in Al's life. Next week will continue spreading the seed of the gospel with Dr. scrolls series knowing Scripture. I hope you make plans to be with us, beginning Monday here on Renewing Your Mind

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