This is a psalm of Asaph that contrasts times of sorrow with times of song. It begins with a lament but ends with joy and praise. Asaph tells us if we focus on our troubles, we will just sink into them but if we focus on God, then we will be lifted up with hope and joy.
Although the headings aren’t inspired by God, they are important because they give us some understanding of the Psalm and they help us to see why it was written. The headings usually tell us four things.
1. Who wrote them, probably wrote them or possibly wrote them.
2. Information about the historical background to the Psalm. Why it was written.
3. They tell us of the tune the Psalm was written to.
4. How it was used.
The heading tells us that this was written for the director of music. Some commentators believe that the ‘director of music’ is God Himself and others believe that it is a song leader who led choirs or musicians, 1 Chronicles 6:33 / 1 Chronicles 16:17 / 1 Chronicles 25:6.
The psalm was for Jeduthun who was one of the musicians appointed by David to lead Israel’s worship, 1 Chronicles 16:41 / 1 Chronicles 25:1-3. He also mentioned in the headings of Psalm 39 and Psalm 62.
Asaph was the singer and musician during the reign of David and Solomon, 1 Chronicles 15:17-19 / 1 Chronicles 16:5-7 / 1 Chronicles 25:6. 1 Chronicles 25:1 and 2 Chronicles 29:30 tell us that Asaph was a prophet in his musical compositions.
Asaph begins by crying out to God because of the distress he was going through and wonders if God has abandoned him, Psalm 3:4. The good news is that when he sought the Lord, in his distress, Psalm 50:15, He knows that He heard his cry, Psalm 5:1 / Psalm 17:6.
Asaph stretched out his untiring hands in prayer, Psalm 143:6, that is, he prayed all night long. He appears to be struggling emotionally but then he remembered times when he sang in the night. However at the time of writing this psalm, Asaph, was in distress, he was searching for answers from God, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.
He couldn’t find any comfort because of his distress, in other words, he’s feeling overwhelmed, Jeremiah 31:15. Despite remembering God he still groaned, he meditated and was getting weaker, Psalm 119:15 / Psalm 119:23 / Psalm 119:27 / Psalm 119:48 / Psalm 119:78 / Psalm 119:148.
You may notice at the end of verse three, some translations have the word, ‘selah’, although no one really knows what this word means, it’s likely it means to pause. It’s a time to stop and reflect upon what has just been said.
We can almost imagine Asaph pausing for a breath as he contemplates and tries to make sense of how he’s feeling.
Because of his distress, Asaph’s eyes couldn’t close and he was so troubled he couldn’t speak, that is, in his anguish, he earnestly was trying to seek God.
He reminisces back to when he was younger when he sang songs to God and meditates in his heart, Job 35:10 / Psalm 42:8, why God doesn’t his prayers as he did back then.
His inner being asks if the Lord will ‘reject him forever?’ In other words, he feared the worst, he feared that he wouldn’t ever receive God’s love and mercy ever again.
He fears that God has failed in His promise to take care of him in his time of distress. He fears that God has forgotten to show him mercy and he wonders if God, in His anger has withheld His compassion, Psalm 25:6 / Isaiah 16:11 / Isaiah 63:15 / Luke 1:78 / 1 John 3:17.
You may notice at the end of verse nine, some translations have the word, ‘selah’, although no one really knows what this word means, it’s likely it means to pause. It’s a time to stop and reflect upon what has just been said.
We can almost imagine Asaph pausing for a breath as he contemplates if God has abandoned him or not.
After reflecting upon his own circumstances, Asaph now turns his thoughts toward God and what God has done in the past. Instead of focusing on all the negative things which were happening in his life, he now focuses on the positive things of God.
We don’t know if God ever did answer Asaph’s prayer, but at this point, he appears to be happy just thinking about all the great things God has done in the past. Instead of focusing on his circumstances, He chose to remember God’s past dealings with His people.
He appealed in his mind to remember the years when God stretched out His right hand, that is when God’s power and strength were clearly shown. He is determined to remember the miracles God did and all His works and to meditate and speak about God’s mighty deeds.
God’s ways are holy, and there is no god as great as Him. God is the One who performs miracles and clearly displayed His power among the peoples, Exodus 6:6 / Exodus 15:16 / Psalm 10:15. It was God who redeemed His people time and time again, Isaiah 43:3. They were descendants of Jacob and Joseph, Genesis 47:29-31 / Genesis 50:24-25.
This metaphor is significant in reference to salvational contexts in the New Testament. By a strong arm, God had physically redeemed His people out of Egyptian captivity, Exodus 15:16 / Isaiah 63:12. They were redeemed by God because they couldn’t redeem themselves.
You may notice at the end of verse fifteen, that some translations have the word, ‘selah’, although no one really knows what this word means, it’s likely it means to pause. It’s a time to stop and reflect upon what has just been said.
We can almost imagine Asaph pausing for a breath as he contemplates how God worked in and through His people’s lives in the past.
Asaph now speaks of the sovereignty of God over the natural world, that is, the waters and the clouds. The waters are probably a reference to the time when God displayed His power over the Red Sea, the sea was afraid and fled from God, Habakkuk 3:10-11 / Revelation 20:11.
Most commentators aren’t sure what the clouds reference actually refers to, but Asaph describes the rain, thunder and lightning, which all describe the power of God, Exodus 19:16 / Job 36:26-33 / Job 37:1-5 / Psalm 29:1-11.
The arrows flashing back and forth, maybe be referring to the lighting strikes which come during times of thunder, Psalms 18:14 / Psalm 144:6.
God’s presence was so powerful that even the earth trembled and quaked, Psalm 29:1-11. God’s power led Israel safely through the Red Sea, in other words, God cleared the path for them to go through.
Even though there were no footprints, Israel knew that it was God who led the way, they knew that God was using Moses and Aaron to lead them through, Exodus 13:17-14:31.
When Asaph focused on himself, his life was in a dark place, and he had no reason to hope for a better future. However, when he focused on God and what God had done in the past, he remembered all the great things God had done for His people in the past and he had hope for a better future.
When we find ourselves in times of distress and there appears to be no relief from our suffering, we will be blessed to remember what God has done in the past not only for us but for other Christians.
When we meditate upon God’s Word and read how Jesus voluntarily died for us in order that we can be saved, surely that alone should help put our suffering into perspective. We should remember what Christ did for us every time we partake of the Lord’s Supper, Luke 22:19 / 1 Corinthians 11:24.
It’s easy to focus so much on our suffering that we just want to give up, but when we remember that we were once dead in our sins, but are now made alive in Christ Jesus, Ephesians 2:1-10, when we remember that Christ is coming back, 1 Corinthians 11:26, then we will then begin to focus again and not give up, 1 Corinthians 15:57.