Psalm 78:41

 

EXPOSITION

Verse 41. Yea, they turned back. Their hearts sighed for Egypt and its fleshpots. They turned to their old ways again and again, after they had been scourged out of them. Full of twists and turns, they never kept the straight path.

And tempted God. As far as in them lay they tempted him. His ways were good, and they in desiring to have them altered tempted God. Before they would believe in him they demanded signs, defying the Lord to do this and that, and acting as if he could be cajoled into being the minion of their lusts. What blasphemy was this! Yet let us not tempt Christ lest we also be destroyed by the destroyer.

And limited the Holy One of Israel. Doubted his power and so limited him, dictated to his wisdom and so did the same. To chalk out a path for God is arrogant impiety. The Holy One must do right, the covenant God of Israel must be true, it is profanity itself to say unto him thou shalt do this or that, or otherwise I will not worship thee. Not thus is the Eternal God to be led by a string by his impotent creature. He is the Lord and he will do as seemeth him good.

 

EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS

Verse 41. They turned back. As for that expression, wbwfyw, which we translate, and they turned back; that is, say some, to go back again into Egypt, or as others, returned back to their old wont of rebellion; I say, it hath no such meaning here; it is a Hebraism, and should be rendered, they returned and tempted, that is, saepius tentaverunt, they oftentimes tempted him, or they tempted him again. Thomas Froysel, in "Sermons concerning Grace and Temptation." 1678.

Verse 41. Tempted God. This only expresses the fact that men act towards him as if he could be tempted, or in a way fitted to put him to the proof, to provoke his righteous displeasure, and make him proceed against them, as it were just for him actually to do because of their offences. It is not in the least degree opposed to the statement of James - - "God cannot be tempted with evil," which is the the effect that he cannot be influenced by evil, so as to be drawn into it, turned toward it -- so as to feel its power or experience its contamination. He is infinitely far removed from it, raised above it, under all its forms. He is so because of the absolute perfection of his being and blessedness. John Adam, in "Exposition of the Epistle of James." 1867.

Verse 41. Limited the Holy One of Israel. They limited either

  1. God's power, as above, Psalms 78:19-20 . Or,
  2. God's will, directing and prescribing to him what to do, and when, and in what manner; and murmuring at him if he did not always grant their particular and various desires. Matthew Poole.

Verse 41. They limited the Holy One of Israel. Here, then, is an awful charge, and mysterious it seems to us as awful. How dreadful that man, the worm, should arrogate to himself that, to say to him that made him, "Thus far shalt thou go and no farther." Amazing, I say, the charge! to contract the dimensions and operations of the Deity. Amazing insolence, to draw a boundary line, beyond which the Creator himself must not pass, to define and prescribe to the Lawgiver of nature himself the pathway of his providence! The turpitude is immense. But we know, my friends, that the crime is not uncommon; and one of the natural results of sin seem to be this, -- that the sinful spirit, whether of man or of the lost archangel, unable to shake the firm foundations of the Eternal Throne, amuses its malignity, and seeks a temporary cessation from its withering cares, in putting up barriers on the outskirts and frontiers of the Almighty empire, vainly hoping to annoy the Possessor of the throne they cannot disturb. Affecting words! Do they affect you as they affect me? They turned back and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel. Somehow, it seems no combination of words could have been so affecting. They limited God. They limited the Almighty. They limited the Infinite. No! These words have an awful and affecting surge of meaning in them; for wile they describe Him, awful and self contained Being whose essence is eternity and power; whose self existence is declared by the amazing marvels of nature; whose life was essential being. They limited Him -- The One in whose being all being was swallowed up and absorbed -- The One before whose glance mountains and hills fled away and were not found -- The One from everlasting, God; high over all, blessed for ever more. The One to whom all the nations were as the drop of a bucket, and who took up the isles as a very little thing, -- Him, they limited. They had known his character as The Holy One; it was all they knew of his character; but it was surrounded with an awfulness more dread than even the solitary power and self repose of Deity. In awful words and meanings they had heard his character proclaimed -- The Holy One. Him they limited. Him, whose throne was curtained with the dreadful wings of sinless archangels, crying through the darkness of that ineffable brightness, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty! and whose holiness was asserted even by the disorders of the rolling world. They limited him. More personal, and therefore more wonderful, became the enormity. The generation of their race had testified for Him, the Holy One of Israel; they had beheld the marvels of his holiness and power in Egypt, in the Red Sea; they had heard of the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob; they had heard of him who had spoken to their Captain in the bush burning with fire; they beheld his pillar of fire and cloud; they knew themselves divinely selected and chosen; and him who chose they limited! That which should have ensured their faith became only the fountain of their criminality. E. Paxton Hood.

Verse 41. They limited the Holy One of Israel. God cannot bear it with patience, that we should limit him, either to the time, or manner, or means of help. He complains of the Jews for this presumption, they limited the Holy One of Israel. It is insufferable to circumscribe an infinite wisdom and power. He will work, but when he pleases, and how he pleases, and by what instruments he pleases, and if he please, without instruments, and if he please by weak and improbable, by despised and exploded instruments. Joseph Caryl, in a "Sermon before the House of Commons," entitled, "The Works of Ephesus."

Verse 41. (last clause). This was Israel's sin, and has it not often been ours? Our God is the "Holy One," and will do what is most for His glory; he is the Holy One of Israel, and will therefore consult his people's welfare. We must not limit his wisdom, for it is infinite; we must not limit his power, for it is omnipotent; we must not limit him to time, for he will display his sovereignty: he will not be tied to walk by our rules, or be bound to keep our time; but he will perform his word, honour our faith, and reward them that diligently seek him. James Smith.

Verse 41. Limited. In the only other place where the Hebrew word occurs ( Ezra 9:4 ), it means to set a mark upon a person, which some apply here, in the figurative sense of stigmatising or insulting. Joseph Addison Alexander.

Verse 41. Limited the Holy One of Israel, or signed him; signed him with a sign, so the Targum; they tempted him by asking a sign of him, as Jarchi interprets it; insisting that a miracle be wrought, by which it might be known whether the Lord was among them or not, Exodus 17:7 ; with which compare Matthew 15:1 : or they set bounds, so Kimchi, to his power and goodness, saying, this he could do, and the other he could not; see Psalms 78:19 - 20; and so men limit the Lord when they fix on a blessing they would have, even that, and not another; and the measure of it, to what degree it should be bestowed on them, as well as the set time when they would have it; whereas the blessing itself, and the degree of it, and the time of giving it, should be all left with the Lord who knows which and what of it is most convenient for us, and when is the best time to bestow it on us. John Gill.

Verse 41. Limited the Holy One of Israel -- mistrust of God's power to effectuate all his graces, to do what is needed in any case for his people, and carry out his purposes for them. The moment I suppose anything cannot be for blessing, I limit God. This is a great sin -- doubly, when we think of all he has done for us. The Holy Ghost ever reasons from God's revealed, infinite love to all its consequences. He reconciled; surely he will save to the end. He did not spare his Son; how shall he not give all things? J. N. Darby.

 

HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS

None.