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A psalm for lockdown

12 of the psalms in the Bible were written by Asaph, the man David put in charge of the music in the temple; and 11 of them are grouped together in Psalms 73-83. Most of them reflect a time of difficulty or hardship. The first is typical. Asaph begins by acknowledging God’s goodness:

Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. (Psalm 73:1)

But evidently it doesn’t always feel like that, because he goes on:

But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. (2-3)

The next one doesn’t even have an encouraging first verse:

O God, why do you cast us off forever? Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture? (Psalm 74:1)

And so it goes on. By the time we get to Psalm 77 our sorry psalmist can’t sleep – he lies awake at night and worries about life:

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 … You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak. (Psalm 77:2-4)

God’s unseen footprints

But there’s another theme in Asaph’s psalms. He constantly finds encouragement, and he finds it in the kind hand of God. In Psalm 73 he was depressed that wicked people seemed to thrive, living life without any pain or burden.

But then I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end. (Psalm 73:17)

He realises that injustice will come to an end, and that he can stop worrying and trust in God:

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:26)

Perhaps the most profound change comes in Psalm 77 – the psalm where he couldn’t sleep. In the first nine verses he referred to himself 20 times, and to God 12. Not surprising perhaps, because he was writing about his troubles. But then something happens to change all that:

Then I said, “I will appeal to this, to the years of the right hand of the Most High.” (Psalm 77:10)

Instead of thinking about himself he thinks about God, his goodness to him in his life and his saving hand in the past – in particular the way he brought Israel out of Egypt. In the second half of the psalm he refers to himself 3 times, and to God 25! What has changed is that he has stopped putting himself in the centre of his life, and put God there. Then, reflecting on the Exodus, Asaph says something remarkable:

Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen. (Psalm 77:19)

God’s unseen footprints: what Asaph has realised is that all the way through the wilderness God was walking with his people - and in the same way, through all his own personal problems and anxieties, God was walking with him.

And our lives? We do not see the footprints of God; there is no visible sign of his presence, but maybe we can find in our lives the same encouragement that Asaph found. We can’t meet our friends – not even our family. But we can meet with God, and he is not far away. He may be our Father in heaven, but he is also our Father on the earth, walking through this lockdown with us – even though his footprints are unseen.

Andrew Walker

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