At this point in Psalm 77, Asaph begins to see things in a different light—Yahweh acted to save His people in history, which brought the psalmist comfort in the midst of his present chaos and pain. Specifically, the LORD rescued His people in the exodus. That brings us to verses 15–20:
15 You with your arm redeemed your people, the children of Jacob and Joseph. Selah 16 When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; indeed, the deep trembled. 17 The clouds poured out water; the skies gave forth thunder; your arrows flashed on every side. 18 The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lighted up the world; the earth trembled and shook. 19 Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen. 20 You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
As you read through the Bible from beginning to end, certain themes are obviously important—the seed of the woman, the need for a righteous king, eating with God. The list could go on and on, but one of the most important themes is the exodus. This is a crucial event, both within this psalm and in the Bible as a whole. At this point, it is important to ask some contextual questions: What was the significance of the exodus for the ancient Israelites? What came to their minds when they heard this story? Simply put, the exodus was salvation in their minds.1 This was the lens they looked through in order to understand God’s saving work.
It is important for us to realize that in the Bible, the exodus is not just the salvation of Hebrew slaves from the oppression of Pharaoh and Egypt. It also includes the wilderness wanderings and coming to the foot of Mount Sinai to meet with God as His people. Ultimately, it leads to Israel taking possession of the promised land, where they would dwell as God’s people and He would dwell as their God.2 Really, this is a miniature picture of the story of the Bible from Genesis 3 onward. Adam and Eve were in God’s holy presence as His people in the garden of Eden, which Ezekiel 28:13–14 tells us was a mountain garden. Yet Adam and Eve sinned and were driven from God’s presence, driven off of His mountain. In the exodus, we see a reversal. The people of God were brought through the judgment of the sea to the foot of His mountain and ultimately into His land, instead of being thrown out of God’s land and off of His mountain through judgment.
The exodus from Egypt was big in and of itself, of course. Thousands upon thousands of slaves were freed from one of the most powerful ancient nations, and God parted the Red Sea for Israel while drowning Pharaoh and his forces. As we might expect after learning how to read the Bible as Christians, however, the first exodus ultimately pointed to something bigger and better. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament often talk about Christ’s work in redemption through the exodus lens. This is the greater exodus, not merely a salvation from physical slavery in Egypt.
In fact, all of the parts of our salvation are here in the story of the redemption from Egypt. The Israelite slaves were rescued from the oppression of Pharaoh and the Egyptians. We are rescued from the dominion of sin and the devil. Those Hebrews were brought into the presence of God at Mount Sinai. We are brought, as Hebrews 12:22–24 tells us, “to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant.” Israel was brought through her pilgrim wanderings in the wilderness to Canaan, the promised land of God. We are brought through our pilgrim wanderings on this sinful, fallen, painful earth into the ultimate Canaan: heaven, and ultimately the new creation itself (Heb 11:10).
Therefore, what we see Asaph doing here is what we should do when doubts creep into our minds, when our suffering drives us to question God and His promises: he remembered the redemption God accomplished in history, and he trusted in this great Redeemer. This is our story, too. We are part of the same people of God as Asaph. The exodus is our family history. More than that, we have even more of God’s special revelation than Asaph did, and we are recipients of an even greater redemption. We can look back not just at the exodus, but at what the exodus promised in seed form: the redemption won for us by Christ Himself.
Now, you may be wondering at this point: why does the Sea seem to be the villain in this retelling of the exodus and not Pharaoh or the Egyptians? The answer may have something to do with chaos. That is, Psalm 77 gives no indication that Asaph’s situation changed, but clearly, by the end of the psalm his perspective was different. Life was still chaotic, but he remembered God’s control over the chaotic waters of the Red Sea. This psalm has some similarities to the Song of the Sea in Exodus 15, where Moses and all the children of Israel sang to the LORD after their deliverance from Pharaoh and the Sea.3 At this point, we should note that the Israelites were terrified of the Sea: it represented untamable/uncontrollable chaos, yet God delivered His people from raging waters. That fact brought great comfort and hope to Asaph in the middle of his own chaos. Asaph realized that the enslaved Hebrews in Egypt could not see their redemption coming any more than he could see his own deliverance on the horizon, yet it came just the same, and it came through the chaotic waters of the sea.
God is free—He is not operating on our schedule, but this is the God who redeemed His people in the past, and He continues to deliver them. The psalmist therefore found comfort not in his feelings, but rather in what God had done outside of him in history, as should we. This is exactly where we pilgrims should look in the midst of our wilderness wanderings on the way to the promised land. Notice again verse 19: “Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen.” In the words of one scholar, “That God delivers his people without visible footprints is of great significance for the psalmist, whose suffering arises from the perceived absence of God . . . God’s presence need not always be detectable for his deliverance to be certain.”4 When we cannot see God at work with our eyes, we can still know that He is God for us. Christ is God with us. The Holy Spirit is God in us. We may not see the waters of the Red Sea parting before us, but we have the same LORD as our Shepherd, even through the valley of the shadow of death. He still leads His people like a flock. When we come to church on the Lord’s Day, we hear the declaration of our own exodus, led not by Moses, but instead by Christ himself. This is where we hear the message of deliverance proclaimed to us week in and week out. This is where God has promised to meet us and to strengthen us through the preaching of His Word and the administration of His sacraments.
You may be reading this without faith in Christ. How can you be a part of this ultimate exodus? Repent and believe the gospel! Those who are in Christ are the only ones who can have this hope. If you are reading this and trusting in Christ, know that these promises of God are not just true in general and in the abstract; they are true for you, no matter what you may be going through in this life.
Christian, I do not know why you are suffering, and most likely neither do you. I do not know when your suffering will end, and neither do you. We can both know this, however: God has acted in history to save His people in the exodus, and ultimately in Christ. When suffering comes, and it will, do not sweep it under the rug. Do not pretend that it is not that bad, or that you are doing okay when you really are not. Cry out to God with Asaph. Wrestle with the deep questions while keeping your eye on the LORD, as he did. Ultimately, remember the exodus. Remember that God redeemed His people from slavery in Egypt, safely brought them through the water that killed their oppressors, brought them to the foot of His holy mountain, and finally brought them into the land He had promised to them. Remember also, Christian, that Christ has redeemed you, that He has paid the penalty for your sin and obeyed perfectly in your place, and that you who have faith in Him have been rescued from the tyranny of sin and the devil, you have been brought unscathed through the judgment, you have come to the very mountain of God, and one day you will be in the ultimate promised land, forever.
Let us close with a description of that land promised to us in Revelation 21:3–4, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’” Remember, Christian, because God has acted in history to redeem you, you can know that this will one day be your land, no matter the suffering you are experiencing in this life. Because God has redeemed His people in history, we can have hope, even in the midst of suffering. Christ for us, Christ with us, Christ before us, Christ behind us. He will never let go of His pilgrim people as He brings us to the land He won for us. We pilgrims are not there yet, but He promises to be with us all the way.
- Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954), 109.
- Bryan D. Estelle, Echoes of Exodus: Tracing a Biblical Motif (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press 2018)
- Estelle, Echoes, 140.
- Gregory M. Stevenson, “Communal Imagery and the Individual Lament: Exodus Typology in Psalm 77,” Restoration Quarterly 39, no. 4 (1997), 217.
©Christopher Smith. All Rights Reserved.
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