WORD STUDY – OUR SICKNESS – הלח
Psalms 77:10: “And this is my sickness, the years of thy right hand of the most high.”
Asaph is very troubled in this Psalm. He has cried to God, but has found no peace. Throughout the night, he is unable to sleep, his spirit feels overwhelmed. He is so troubled he can not even speak. He communes with his heart and diligently searches his spirit but he finds no relief.
Then he says a curious thing, that his sickness is the right hand of the Most High. The right hand of God is suppose to be a good thing, yet he considers it his sickness. It seems every translation has their own take on this. The NIV says: “I will appeal to the right hand of God.” The Living Bible says: “This is my fate, your right hand has turned against me.” The NASB says: “It is my grief that your right hand has changed.” They are all, of course, paraphrasing trying to put it into something politically correct.
Literally from the Hebrew the passage says: “The is my sickness, the years of the right hand of the most high.” It seems translators just do not have the stomach to translate this verse literally. I mean how can the right hand of God be a sickness. The word sickness is chalah which has the idea of weakness. What we in the Western world fail to notice is the Semitic tendency to make a play on words. Asaph is a chief musician, he is speaking like a musician and in his poetry he is most likely making a play on the word mahalath which comes from the same root word chalah. A mahalath is a stringed instrument like a harp, lute or lyre. Such an instrument was noted for it’s ability to sooth a troubled soul. David played such an instrument before King Saul to sooth his troubled soul.
Asaph is saying that the right hand of God, is both at the same time a source of comfort but an affliction. I think I can relate to this old boy. I go through a time where my soul is troubled. I do all the right things, pray, cry out to God, remember Him, I search my own heart and spirit for anything that may be causing this lack of comfort from God. Then, like Asaph, I begin to think on the many times God rescued me in the past, how He always has been faithful. I find comfort in these thoughts, like the soothing sounds of a harp. Yet, I continue to be afflicted with the thought: “Well, He delivered me in the past, why is He not doing so now?” Then I meditate on His past faithfulness and I find comfort knowing that He has proven the power of His right hand in the past.
Asaph, meditates on the right hand of God. The right hand of God yaman expresses the close friendship of God who shares His secrets and divine revelation. He remembers that God is his close friend. He meditates on all His works and miracles, and talks to others about His deeds.
There is a shift in the tone of this Psalm when we get to verse 11. Asaph is now focusing on the mighty works of God rather than his own problems. He remembers how He has delivered in the past, how He controls nature. Then in verse 19 he declares “Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your foot prints were not seen.” Although an allusion to the crossing of the Red sea we also see that the sea is a symbol of the hidden mysteries of God. Asaph is concluding this Psalm on a note of faith. God has not failed in the past, He will not fail now. Although his circumstances are unchanged, he still faces whatever problem it is that started this Psalm off, he is going to trust in God and accept the fact that the solution to his struggle remains a mystery, known only to Him.
During some of the dark days of Elvis Presley’s life an old cowboy songwriter and friend names Stuart Hamblin wrote a song that Elvis recorded and made famous.
Known only to him are the great hidden secrets
I’ll fear not the darkness when my flame shall dim
I know not what the future holds
But I know who holds the future
It’s a secret known only to Him.
In this world of fear and doubt
On my knees I ask the question
Why a lonely, heavy cross I must bear
Then He tells me in my prayer
It’s because I am trustworthy
He gives me strength far more than my share.
All of us, even a man who had everything like Elvis Presley still must face the fact that we cannot control many things in the future. It is all in the right hand of God. Maybe that future means we must carry a lonely cross but if He calls upon us to do so, it is because we have been found trustworthy.