Commentary on Psalms (42 - 89)
© by Francis Foulkes
& Cyril Okorocha



"1. I cry aloud to God,
aloud to God, that he may hear me.
2. In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
my soul refuses to be comforted.
3. I think of God, and I moan;
I meditate, and my spirit faints. Selah

4. You keep my eyelids from closing;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
5. I consider the days of old,
and remember the years of long ago.
6. I commune with my heart in the night;
I meditate and search my spirit:
7. 'Will the Lord spurn forever,
and never again be favourable?
8. Has his steadfast love ceased forever?
Are his promises at an end for all time?
9. Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?' Selah
10. And I say, 'It is my grief
that the right hand of the Most High has changed.'

11. I will call to mind the deeds of the LORD;
I will remember your wonders of old.
12. I will meditate on all your work,
and muse on your mighty deeds.
13. Your way, O God, is holy.
What god is so great as our God?
14. You are the God who works wonders;
you have displayed your might among the peoples.
15. With your strong arm you redeemed your people,
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. Selah

16. When the waters saw you, O God,
when the waters saw you they were afraid;
the very deep trembled.
17. The clouds poured out water;
the skies thundered;
your arrows flashed on every side.
18. The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind;
your lightnings lit up the world;
the earth trembled and shook.
19. Your way was through the sea,
your path, through the mighty waters;
yet your footprints were unseen.
20. You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron." There are different ways in which we can remember the past, and our recalling what has happened in past days can have different effects on our lives. This is illustrated well by this psalm. The psalmist was in great trouble. Whether the trouble was personal or that of his nation, it affected him very deeply. He cried out to God (verse 1), and in the night as well as in the day he stretched out his hands to God in earnest prayer (verse 2). Yet he found no comfort. He was unable to sleep in his bed, and he blamed God for that (verse 4). He said he was so troubled that he was unable to speak.

Discouragement in recalling the past

In verse 5 the psalmist says, "I consider the days of old, and remember the years of long ago". But all that he could think of was that things were much better in the past. If only he could go back to those times, it would be so much better. Now it seemed as if the Lord no longer showed his "steadfast love". The promises of God seemed no longer to have any meaning (verse 8). Had God become so angry with his people that they could never again know his compassion? (verse 9). It was the psalmist's greatest distress that it seemed to him that "the right hand of the Most High" - the power of God to come to the help of his people - had changed (verse 10). In this first part of the psalm "I" is most prominent. The psalmist allowed himself to be filled with self-pity. Although he was trying to pray, he was not really looking up to God, but inwardly to himself, and he was just thinking of all his troubles and disappointments.

Encouragement in recalling the past

In the first half of the psalm the psalmist has meditated and considered the days of old (verse 5), but he has continued to be sorry for himself. Then he began more truly to think of God. He said he would "call to mind the deeds of the Lord", and remember his "wonders", his "work", his "mighty deeds". God's ways were not only powerful, they were "holy". Because they were God's, they were always wise and true. This says what Isaiah 55:8-9 presents as God's word to his people, "my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways --- . For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." The person who thinks like that of the ways of God and the works of God will say there is none "so great as our God" (verse 13). That leads to thinking of the past in a different way, and finding encouragement from the past - because God doesn't change. The God who has done great things in the past is still "the God who works wonders". His power can be trusted. It is seen still in the storm, in thunder and lightning flashes (God's "arrows" as verse 17 puts it). But he is a God of love and mercy as well as of power. He redeemed his people, setting them free from their slavery in Egypt (verse 15). He showed both his power and his love when, though unseen, he led them across the sea into freedom and across the Jordan into their land (verse 19). As a shepherd caringly leads his flock, he led his people "by the hand of Moses and Aaron" (verse 20).

When we think of what God has done in the past and realise that he never changes, then there is always encouragement and never discouragement in recalling the past, although God may choose to act in the future in ways different from the ways in which he has acted in the past.

Meditation The centre of Christian worship and the foundation of our faith and hope is the remembrance of what Jesus Christ has done for us (see 1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

For further thought and study

a. Read Exodus 15:1-13 and Habakkuk 3:2-16 and notice ways in which the recalling of the past in those passages is like what we have in this psalm.

b. What kind of meditation has a good effect of a person's life? When is the opposite true? What should be the centre of a Christian's meditation? See Joshua 1:8, Psalm 63:5-7 and 143:5-6.


1. According to the heading this is another Asaph psalm (see note 1 on Psalm 73). We have also the words, "according to Jeduthun", as in the heading of Psalm 39. Jeduthun is referred to in 1 Chronicles 16:41-42 and 25:1 and 2 Chronicles 5:12 as sharing responsibility for the music of worship in the temple.

2. Translations differ in the way they take verse 6. Our rendering, "I commune with my heart in the night" follows some of the earliest translations of the Hebrew. The Hebrew text reads rather as the New International Version takes it, "I remembered my songs in the night", indicating the way that the psalmist's meditation in the past had brought joy and praise to his lips.

3. Verse 10 is another verse that has been understood in two different ways. It can be read as our Version takes it as expressing grief that God seems to have changed. Or it can be read, as many earlier English translations took it, as speaking of remembering "the years of the right hand of the Most High", meaning the recalling of past years in which his mighty works were seen.