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Psalm 78

God’s Goodness and Israel’s Ingratitude

A Maskil of Asaph.

1

Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;

incline your ears to the words of my mouth.

2

I will open my mouth in a parable;

I will utter dark sayings from of old,

3

things that we have heard and known,

that our ancestors have told us.

4

We will not hide them from their children;

we will tell to the coming generation

the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,

and the wonders that he has done.

 

5

He established a decree in Jacob,

and appointed a law in Israel,

which he commanded our ancestors

to teach to their children;

6

that the next generation might know them,

the children yet unborn,

and rise up and tell them to their children,

7

so that they should set their hope in God,

and not forget the works of God,

but keep his commandments;

8

and that they should not be like their ancestors,

a stubborn and rebellious generation,

a generation whose heart was not steadfast,

whose spirit was not faithful to God.

 

9

The Ephraimites, armed with the bow,

turned back on the day of battle.

10

They did not keep God’s covenant,

but refused to walk according to his law.

11

They forgot what he had done,

and the miracles that he had shown them.

12

In the sight of their ancestors he worked marvels

in the land of Egypt, in the fields of Zoan.

13

He divided the sea and let them pass through it,

and made the waters stand like a heap.

14

In the daytime he led them with a cloud,

and all night long with a fiery light.

15

He split rocks open in the wilderness,

and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep.

16

He made streams come out of the rock,

and caused waters to flow down like rivers.

 

17

Yet they sinned still more against him,

rebelling against the Most High in the desert.

18

They tested God in their heart

by demanding the food they craved.

19

They spoke against God, saying,

“Can God spread a table in the wilderness?

20

Even though he struck the rock so that water gushed out

and torrents overflowed,

can he also give bread,

or provide meat for his people?”

 

21

Therefore, when the Lord heard, he was full of rage;

a fire was kindled against Jacob,

his anger mounted against Israel,

22

because they had no faith in God,

and did not trust his saving power.

23

Yet he commanded the skies above,

and opened the doors of heaven;

24

he rained down on them manna to eat,

and gave them the grain of heaven.

25

Mortals ate of the bread of angels;

he sent them food in abundance.

26

He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens,

and by his power he led out the south wind;

27

he rained flesh upon them like dust,

winged birds like the sand of the seas;

28

he let them fall within their camp,

all around their dwellings.

29

And they ate and were well filled,

for he gave them what they craved.

30

But before they had satisfied their craving,

while the food was still in their mouths,

31

the anger of God rose against them

and he killed the strongest of them,

and laid low the flower of Israel.

 

32

In spite of all this they still sinned;

they did not believe in his wonders.

33

So he made their days vanish like a breath,

and their years in terror.

34

When he killed them, they sought for him;

they repented and sought God earnestly.

35

They remembered that God was their rock,

the Most High God their redeemer.

36

But they flattered him with their mouths;

they lied to him with their tongues.

37

Their heart was not steadfast toward him;

they were not true to his covenant.

38

Yet he, being compassionate,

forgave their iniquity,

and did not destroy them;

often he restrained his anger,

and did not stir up all his wrath.

39

He remembered that they were but flesh,

a wind that passes and does not come again.

40

How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness

and grieved him in the desert!

41

They tested God again and again,

and provoked the Holy One of Israel.

42

They did not keep in mind his power,

or the day when he redeemed them from the foe;

43

when he displayed his signs in Egypt,

and his miracles in the fields of Zoan.

44

He turned their rivers to blood,

so that they could not drink of their streams.

45

He sent among them swarms of flies, which devoured them,

and frogs, which destroyed them.

46

He gave their crops to the caterpillar,

and the fruit of their labor to the locust.

47

He destroyed their vines with hail,

and their sycamores with frost.

48

He gave over their cattle to the hail,

and their flocks to thunderbolts.

49

He let loose on them his fierce anger,

wrath, indignation, and distress,

a company of destroying angels.

50

He made a path for his anger;

he did not spare them from death,

but gave their lives over to the plague.

51

He struck all the firstborn in Egypt,

the first issue of their strength in the tents of Ham.

52

Then he led out his people like sheep,

and guided them in the wilderness like a flock.

53

He led them in safety, so that they were not afraid;

but the sea overwhelmed their enemies.

54

And he brought them to his holy hill,

to the mountain that his right hand had won.

55

He drove out nations before them;

he apportioned them for a possession

and settled the tribes of Israel in their tents.

 

56

Yet they tested the Most High God,

and rebelled against him.

They did not observe his decrees,

57

but turned away and were faithless like their ancestors;

they twisted like a treacherous bow.

58

For they provoked him to anger with their high places;

they moved him to jealousy with their idols.

59

When God heard, he was full of wrath,

and he utterly rejected Israel.

60

He abandoned his dwelling at Shiloh,

the tent where he dwelt among mortals,

61

and delivered his power to captivity,

his glory to the hand of the foe.

62

He gave his people to the sword,

and vented his wrath on his heritage.

63

Fire devoured their young men,

and their girls had no marriage song.

64

Their priests fell by the sword,

and their widows made no lamentation.

65

Then the Lord awoke as from sleep,

like a warrior shouting because of wine.

66

He put his adversaries to rout;

he put them to everlasting disgrace.

 

67

He rejected the tent of Joseph,

he did not choose the tribe of Ephraim;

68

but he chose the tribe of Judah,

Mount Zion, which he loves.

69

He built his sanctuary like the high heavens,

like the earth, which he has founded forever.

70

He chose his servant David,

and took him from the sheepfolds;

71

from tending the nursing ewes he brought him

to be the shepherd of his people Jacob,

of Israel, his inheritance.

72

With upright heart he tended them,

and guided them with skillful hand.


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Ps 78:1-72. This Psalm appears to have been occasioned by the removal of the sanctuary from Shiloh in the tribe of Ephraim to Zion in the tribe of Judah, and the coincident transfer of pre-eminence in Israel from the former to the latter tribe, as clearly evinced by David's settlement as the head of the Church and nation. Though this was the execution of God's purpose, the writer here shows that it also proceeded from the divine judgment on Ephraim, under whose leadership the people had manifested the same sinful and rebellious character which had distinguished their ancestors in Egypt.

1. my people … my law—the language of a religious teacher (Ps 78:2; La 3:14; Ro 2:16, 27; compare Ps 49:4). The history which follows was a "dark saying," or riddle, if left unexplained, and its right apprehension required wisdom and attention.

3-8. This history had been handed down (Ex 12:14; De 6:20) for God's honor, and that the principles of His law might be known and observed by posterity. This important sentiment is reiterated in (Ps 78:7, 8) negative form.

5. testimony—(Ps 19:7).

8. stubborn and rebellious—(De 21:18).

set not their heart—on God's service (2Ch 12:14).

9-11. The privileges of the first-born which belonged to Joseph (1Ch 5:1, 2) were assigned to Ephraim by Jacob (Ge 48:1). The supremacy of the tribe thus intimated was recognized by its position (in the marching of the nation to Canaan) next to the ark (Nu 2:18-24), by the selection of the first permanent locality for the ark within its borders at Shiloh, and by the extensive and fertile province given for its possession. Traces of this prominence remained after the schism under Rehoboam, in the use, by later writers, of Ephraim for Israel (compare Ho 5:3-14; 11:3-12). Though a strong, well-armed tribe, and, from an early period, emulous and haughty (compare Jos 17:14; Jud 8:1-3; 2Sa 19:41), it appears, in this place, that it had rather led the rest in cowardice than courage; and had incurred God's displeasure, because, diffident of His promise, though often heretofore fulfilled, it had failed as a leader to carry out the terms of the covenant, by not driving out the heathen (Ex 23:24; De 31:16; 2Ki 17:15).

12-14. A record of God's dealings and the sins of the people is now made. The writer gives the history from the exode to the retreat from Kadesh; then contrasts their sins with their reasons for confidence, shown by a detail of God's dealings in Egypt, and presents a summary of the subsequent history to David's time.

Zoan—for Egypt, as its ancient capital (Nu 13:22; Isa 19:11).

15, 16. There were two similar miracles (Ex 17:6; Nu 20:11).

great depths—and—rivers—denote abundance.

17-20. yet more—literally, "added to sin," instead of being led to repentance (Ro 2:4).

18. in their heart—(Mt 15:19).

for their lust—literally, "soul," or, "desire."

provoking—and—tempted—illustrated by their absurd doubts,

19, 20. in the face of His admitted power.

21. fire—the effect of the "anger" (Nu 11:1).

22. (Compare Heb 8:8, 9).

23-29. (Compare Ex 16:11-15; Nu 11:4-9).

25. angels' food—literally, "bread of the mighty" (compare Ps 105:40); so called, as it came from heaven.

meat—literally, "victuals," as for a journey.

29. their … desire—what they longed for.

30, 31. not estranged … lust—or, "desire"—that is, were indulging it.

31. slew … fattest—or, "among the fattest"; some of them—

chosen—the young and strong (Isa 40:31), and so none could resist.

33-39. Though there were partial reformations after chastisement, and God, in pity, withdrew His hand for a time, yet their general conduct was rebellious, and He was thus provoked to waste and destroy them, by long and fruitless wandering in the desert.

36. lied … tongues—a feigned obedience (Ps 18:44).

37. heart … not right—or, "firm" (compare Ps 78:8; Ps 51:10).

39. a wind … again—literally, "a breath," thin air (compare Ps 103:16; Jas 4:14).

40, 41. There were ten temptations (Nu 14:22).

41. limited—as in Ps 78:19, 20. Though some prefer "grieved" or "provoked." The retreat from Kadesh (De 1:19-23) is meant, whether—

turned—be for turning back, or to denote repetition of offense.

43. wrought—set or held forth.

45. The dog-fly or the mosquito.

46. caterpillar—the Hebrew name, from its voracity, and that of—

locust—from its multitude.

47, 48. The additional effects of the storm here mentioned (compare Ex 9:23-34) are consistent with Moses' account.

48. gave … cattle—literally, "shut up" (compare Ps 31:8).

49. evil angels—or, "angels of evil"—many were perhaps employed, and other evils inflicted.

50, 51. made a way—removed obstacles, gave it full scope.

51. chief of their strength—literally, "first-fruits," or, "first-born" (Ge 49:3; De 21:17).

Ham—one of whose sons gave name (Mizraim, Hebrew) to Egypt.

52-54. made his … forth—or, brought them by periodical journeys (compare Ex 15:1).

54. border of his sanctuary—or, "holy border"—i. e., region of which—

this mountain—(Zion) was, as the seat of civil and religious government, the representative, used for the whole land, as afterwards for the Church (Isa 25:6, 7).

purchased—or, "procured by His right hand" or power (Ps 60:5).

55. by line—or, the portion thus measured.

divided them—that is, the heathen, put for their possessions, so tents—that is, of the heathen (compare De 6:11).

56, 57. a deceitful bow—which turns back, and so fails to project the arrow (2Sa 1:22; Ho 7:16). They relapsed.

58. Idolatry resulted from sparing the heathen (compare Ps 78:9-11).

59, 60. heard—perceived (Ge 11:7).

abhorred—but not utterly.

60. tent … placed—literally, "caused to dwell," set up (Jos 18:1).

61. his strength—the ark, as symbolical of it (Ps 96:6).

62. gave—or, "shut up."

his people—(Ps 78:48; 1Sa 4:10-17).

63. fire—either figure of the slaughter (1Sa 4:10), or a literal burning by the heathen.

given to marriage—literally, "praised"—that is, as brides.

64. (Compare 1Sa 4:17); and there were, doubtless, others.

made no lamentation—either because stupefied by grief, or hindered by the enemy.

65. (Compare Ps 22:16; Isa 42:13).

66. And he smote … part—or, "struck His enemies' back." The Philistines never regained their position after their defeats by David.

67, 68. tabernacle of Joseph—or, "home," or, "tribe," to which—

tribe of Ephraim—is parallel (compare Re 7:8). Its pre-eminence was, like Saul's, only permitted. Judah had been the choice (Ge 49:10).

69. Exalted as—

high palaces—or, "mountains," and abiding as—the earth.

70-72. God's sovereignty was illustrated in this choice. The contrast is striking—humility and exaltation—and the correspondence is beautiful.

71. following … ewes, &c.—literally, "ewes giving suck" (compare Isa 40:11). On the pastoral terms, compare Ps 79:13.




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