Psalm 77 shares a number of unique marks with other Psalms of Asaph. In verse 13 we hear that no other god compares to the God of Israel. This lines up with what Psalm 82 will say about other gods; not that they don’t exist, but that the true God dominates them.
In verse 15 we hear that the particular people God saved are the descendents of Jacob and Joseph. Psalm 80:2 will speak just of the three tribes of Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh. Ephraim and Manasseh are the Joseph tribes. There was a short time, after the events described in 2 Kings 15:29, when the Northern Kingdom consisted only of those tribes. The threat to the nation that these poets are feeling would have been sharpest just in those years.
Beginning in verse 16 the psalm describes the Exodus events in a way that does not seem derive from or depend on the Book of Exodus. This too seems characteristic of the Psalms of Asaph, as we will see in Psalm 78. It also indicates the ancient nature of the tradition that these Psalms draw upon.
But with all these interesting facts, don’t forget the intense personal struggle this Psalm relates. The psalmist has asked whether God withholds his compassion forever. As The Message paraphrase has it, “Has he angrily stalked off and left us?”
The psalmist resolves this by looking at his tradition about what God did in the past.
Just as the turning point for Psalm 73 came when that psalmist entered the sanctuary (73:17), so this psalmist learns that God’s way is in the sanctuary (77:13). That is where people tell of God’s wonders (75:1). He is thinking about how God led the people of Israel out of Egypt. He imaginatively sings about this from the standpoint of the waters. The waters saw God and responded with waves, rain, wind, thunder and lightning.
There are a few items here that correspond to Exodus 14 and 15. But this is a whole different way of talking about it. It is almost like a battle between two powers, the sea and God. There is nothing said about the Egyptians. God overcomes the sea and makes a path right through it.
“Your way is through the sea;
Your paths through the great waters.
Your footsteps are not known“ (Psalms 77:19).
God is both present in his actions and hidden. We can’t see his footprints.
We are still looking for God’s footprints. But the psalmist picked up the trail in the sanctuary. God’s road is in the sanctuary (13) and God’s road is in the sea (19). The road leads from the one to the other.
Humans have to have ways of keeping the truths of the past alive. The rulers, the religious establishment, and most of the people in eighth century Israel forgot. The Asaph psalmists struggled to keep the memory vital, both in their country and in their own minds.