PSALM 78 OVERVIEW
Title. Maschil of Asaph. This is rightly entitled an instructive Psalm. It is not a mere recapitulation of important events in Israelitish history, but is intended to be viewed as a parable setting forth the conduct and experience of believers in all ages. It is a singular proof of the obtuseness of mind of many professors that they will object to sermons and expositions upon the historical parts of Scripture, as if they contained no instruction in spiritual matters: were such persons truly enlightened by the Spirit of God, they would perceive that all Scripture is profitable, and would blush at their own folly in undervaluing any portion of the inspired volume.
Division. The unity is well maintained throughout, but for the sake of the reader's convenience, we may note that Psalms 78:1-8 may be viewed as a preface, setting forth the psalmist's object in the epic which he is composing. From Psalms 78:9-41 the theme is Israel in the wilderness; then intervenes an account of the Lord's preceding goodness towards his people in bringing them out of Egypt by plagues and wonders, Psalms 78:42-52 . The history of the tribes is resumed at Psalms 78:53 , and continued to Psalms 78:66 , where we reach the time of the removal of the ark to Zion and the transference of the leadership of Israel from Ephraim to Judah, which is rehearsed in song from Psalms 78:67-72 .
Verse 1. Give ear, O my people, to my law. The inspired bard calls on his countrymen to give heed to his patriotic teaching. We naturally expect God's chosen nation to be first in hearkening to his voice. When God gives his truth a tongue, and sends forth his messengers trained to declare his word with power, it is the least we can do to give them our ears and the earnest obedience of our hearts. Shall God speak, and his children refuse to hear? His teaching has the force of law, let us yield both ear and heart to it.
Incline your ears to the words of my mouth. Give earnest attention, bow your stiff necks, lean forward to catch every syllable. We are at this day, as readers of the sacred records, bound to study them deeply, exploring their meaning, and labouring to practice their teaching. As the officer of an army commences his drill by calling for "Attention," even so every trained soldier of Christ is called upon to give ear to his words. Men lend their ears to music, how much more then should they listen to the harmonies of the gospel; they sit enthralled in the presence of an orator, how much rather should they yield to the eloquence of heaven.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Whole Psalm. This Psalm appears to have been occasioned by the removal of the sanctuary from Shiloh in the tribe of Ephraim to Judah, and the coincident transfer of preeminence 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. B. M. Smith, in "The Critical and Explanatory Pocket Bible." 1867.
Verse 1. Give ear, O my people, to my law: incline your ears. Inclining the ears does not denote any ordinary sort of hearing, but such as a disciple renders to the words of his master, with submission and reverence of mind, silent and earnest, that whatever is enunciated for the purpose of instruction may be heard and properly understood, and nothing be allowed to escape. He is a hearer of a different stamp, who hears carelessly, not for the purpose of learning or imitation, but to criticise, to make merry, to indulge animosity, or to kill time. Musculus.
Verse 1. Incline your ears. Lay them close to my lips, that no parcel of this sacred language fall to the ground by your default. John Trapp.
Verse 1. To the words of my mouth. Was it not sufficient for the parallelism to say, To my words? Obviously. Why then is there any notice taken of the mouth? Because those who can prescribe laws to their subjects are also those who scorn to address them with their mouth. Such is the custom of kings, princes, pontiffs, both Roman and others. For the higher every one rises in dignity, the less he considers it becoming to him to speak to the people, to teach and instruct them by word of mouth. They think they owe nothing to the people, but are altogether taken up with this, that they may be looked up to as princes, and so retain a certain secular majesty of command. But, with one's own mouth to teach the ignorant, is a singular proof of love and paternal affection, such as becomes the preceptor, pastor and teacher. This Christ most constantly employed, because he was touched with paternal affection towards the lost sheep, and came as a shepherd to seek them. The manner of earthly princes he therefore rejected, and clothed himself with that paternal custom which becomes the shepherd and teacher, going about and opening his mouth in order to give instruction. See Matthew 5. Rightly, therefore, was the prophet not content with saying, Give ear, O my people, to my law: he adds, Incline your ears to the words of my mouth. Thus he indicates that he was about to address and instruct them with paternal affection. Musculus.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 1. The duty of attending to God's word. Modes of neglecting the duty; ways of fulfilment; reasons for obedience; evils of inattention.
WORKS USEFUL IN CONNECTION WITH PSALM SEVENTY-EIGHT
Valuable information upon THE PLAGUES OF EGYPT will be found in the following works: --
"Observations upon the Plagues inflicted upon the Egyptians: in which is shewn the peculiarity of those Judgments, and their correspondence with the Rites and Idolatry of that People... By JACOB BRYANT. 1794."
"Israel in Egypt; or the Books of Genesis and Exodus illustrated by existing Monuments. By WILLIAM OSBURN. 1856."
UPON ISRAEL IN THE WILDERNESS
"The wanderings of the Children of Israel. By the late Rev. GEORGE WAGNER, 1862."
"The Church in the Wilderness." By WILLIAM SEATON. In two vols. 1821.