From Psalms 77–80
Psalms 77–80 have at least two things in common. First, they fall into the category of “community lament,” meaning they speak of, about, or for the people of Israel as a whole, and specifically, they concern lamentation (weeping, grieving, mourning). You might also call them dirges or elegies, or put it simply—they’re the sad songs of God’s people.
But there’s something else these four psalms have in common, something I found interesting: each ends or begins with a single verse reminding us that, through it all, God is our Shepherd (77:20; 78:72; 79:13; 80:1).
Why this image? Why circle back to it again and again and again and again? I couldn’t help but jump forward several hundred years to what Jesus said about being our Shepherd in the New Testament:
“He who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. … The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. … I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. … I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.“ (John 10:2-15)
If you read Psalms 77–80 in full, you might notice they convey God in several ways. He is Ruler, Judge, and Creator; He is All-Mighty, All-Powerful, All-Seeing, and All-Able. Psalm 78, particularly, captures God’s “glorious deeds,” “might,” and “the wonders that he has done” (v. 4). But at the end of the day, these psalms call for something else—thankful for His power, they call repeatedly for His compassion (77:9; 78:38; 79:8; 80:3, 7, 19).
This is the call for a Shepherd.
When you’re hurting, when you’re struggling, when you’re reeling from guilt and desiring release or suffering unjustly and yearning for relief, when you’re mourning and lamenting—whatever the cause—it’s helpful to know God has control. To know He is all-powerful and almighty and able to do wonders. But it’s healing to know He has compassion.
To know He hears your voice when you cry out to Him; to know He knows not only your specific name but the specific fears you face and specific causes of your pain; to know He’s right there—right in front of you, speaking to you and leading you out, checking the path just before He calls you to walk it, taking the steps beforehand and testing the road; to know He cares for you and will not abandon you but is willing to do whatever it takes to protect you, defend you, fight for you; to know He’s already laid down His life to save your own.
Praise God, we serve more than a God. We serve a Shepherd, meaning whatever we face today, we do not face it alone.
Next week’s reading: Psalm 85–91.