Psalm 77:20[19] and theophanies

Daniel Wagner dan.wagner at
Mon Mar 26 22:18:21 EST 2001

----- Original Message ----- 
From: George Athas <gathas at>
To: Biblical Hebrew <b-hebrew at>
Sent: Monday, March 26, 2001 5:26 PM
Subject: Re: Psalm 77:20[19] and theophanies

> | Can not this theophany also communicate something mysterious
> | and incomprehensible about the ways of God?
> We would have to ask whether this is intended by the author. I have no doubt that many
> people would want to take it that way, but I'm not sure the author is necessarily drawing
> a moral from the theophany in this case.

Divine power is itself a "moral," that is, a doctrine of something about God, is it not? I say this because in one way or another, all of the theophany presentation must be intended by the author to have significance in the context re: God's care, protection, mercy, and/or leading of His people.

> | I agree that power/authority over nature is part of it. But why limit
> | it there?
> I think that's where the author limits it. There are certain 'supernatural' images
> associated with divine appearances, and those in Ps 77 are classic.
> | Perhaps you are correct, but what is your basis for not allowing
> | incomprehensibility or mysteriousness as something that can be intended
> | to communicate by a theophany?
> Context.

Your several responses here were very similar to my thinking originally on this passage after looking through the context and seeking to determine interrelationship of ideas, since the verses preceding (15-19 [16-18]) focus on divine power and might appear to have little relationship to the idea of incomprehensibility or mysteriousness. But then i kept coming back to verse 20[19] and couldn't see any significance to it except for what i concluded, namely that incomprehensibility or untraceability of God's ways might just be another "moral" about God just like power over nature is a moral. 

But, if my conclusion was not correct, what idea do you see in "Your footprints could not be traced"? I.e., what *is* the relationship of this phrase to the context of divine providence in leading/caring for the people if not some allusion to mysteriousness of God's ways? In what way does it relate to, further, or highlight the theophanic concept?

> | Another related question: Does a theophany necessarily intend to
> | communicate "images where nature reacts in all sorts of weird and
> | wonderful ways to the > divine appearance" as you said, or can it intend to
> | be poetic descriptions of some literal phenomenon in nature, such as various
> | types of storms, a flood, perhaps a volcano or earthquake, etc.?
> Probably both. These powerful natural phenomena were probably associated with divine acts,
> and so they came to be used as standard imagery for describing theophanies.

Thanks, that makes sense.

Dan Wagner

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