Psalms 78

1 A maskil of Asaf: Listen, my people, to my teaching; turn your ears to the words from my mouth.
2 I will speak to you in parables and explain mysteries from days of old.
3 The things which we have heard and known, and which our fathers told us
4 we will not hide from their descendants; we will tell the generation to come the praises of ADONAI and his strength, the wonders that he has performed.
5 He raised up a testimony in Ya'akov and established a Torah in Isra'el. He commanded our ancestors to make this known to their children,
6 so that the next generation would know it, the children not yet born, who would themselves arise and tell their own children,
7 who could then put their confidence in God, not forgetting God's deeds, but obeying his mitzvot.
8 Then they would not be like their ancestors, a stubborn, rebellious generation, a generation with unprepared hearts, with spirits unfaithful to God.
9 The people of Efrayim, though armed with bows and arrows, turned their backs on the day of battle.
10 They did not keep the covenant of God and refused to live by his Torah.
11 They forgot what he had done, his wonders which he had shown them.
12 He had done wonderful things in the presence of their ancestors in the land of Egypt, in the region of Tzo'an.
13 He split the sea and made them pass through, he made the waters stand up like a wall.
14 He also led them by day with a cloud and all night long with light from a fire.
15 He broke apart the rocks in the desert and let them drink as if from boundless depths;
16 yes, he brought streams out of the rock, making the water flow down like rivers.
17 Yet they sinned still more against him, rebelling in the wilderness against the Most High;
18 in their hearts they tested God by demanding food that would satisfy their cravings.
19 Yes, they spoke against God by asking, "Can God spread a table in the desert?
20 True, he struck the rock, and water gushed out, until the vadis overflowed; but what about bread? Can he give that? Can he provide meat for his people?"
21 Therefore, when ADONAI heard, he was angry; fire blazed up against Ya'akov; his anger mounted against Isra'el;
22 because they had no faith in God, no trust in his power to save.
23 So he commanded the skies above and opened the doors of heaven.
24 He rained down man on them as food; he gave them grain from heaven -
25 mortals ate the bread of angels; he provided for them to the full.
26 He stirred up the east wind in heaven, brought on the south wind by his power,
27 and rained down meat on them like dust, birds flying thick as the sand on the seashore.
28 He let them fall in the middle of their camp, all around their tents.
29 So they ate till they were satisfied; he gave them what they craved.
30 They were still fulfilling their craving, the food was still in their mouths,
31 when the anger of God rose up against them and slaughtered their strongest men, laying low the young men of Isra'el.
32 Still, they kept on sinning and put no faith in his wonders.
33 Therefore, he ended their days in futility and their years in terror.
34 When he brought death among them, they would seek him; they would repent and seek God eagerly,
35 remembering that God was their Rock, El 'Elyon their Redeemer.
36 But they tried to deceive him with their words, they lied to him with their tongues;
37 for their hearts were not right with him, and they were unfaithful to his covenant.
38 Yet he, because he is full of compassion, forgave their sin and did not destroy; many times he turned away his anger and didn't rouse all his wrath.
39 So he remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that blows past and does not return.
40 How often they rebelled against him in the desert and grieved him in the wastelands!
41 Repeatedly they challenged God and pained the Holy One of Isra'el.
42 They didn't remember how he used his hand on the day he redeemed them from their enemy,
43 how he displayed his signs in Egypt, his wonders in the region of Tzo'an.
44 He turned their rivers into blood, so they couldn't drink from their streams.
45 He sent swarms of flies, which devoured them, and frogs, which destroyed them.
46 He gave their harvest to shearer-worms, the fruit of their labor to locusts.
47 He destroyed their vineyards with hail and their sycamore-figs with frost.
48 Their cattle too he gave over to the hail and their flocks to lightning bolts.
49 He sent over them his fierce anger, fury, indignation and trouble, with a company of destroying angels
50 to clear a path for his wrath. He did not spare them from death, but gave them over to the plague,
51 striking all the firstborn in Egypt, the firstfruits of their strength in the tents of Ham.
52 But his own people he led out like sheep, guiding them like a flock in the desert.
53 He led them safely, and they weren't afraid, even when the sea overwhelmed their foes.
54 He brought them to his holy land, to the hill-country won by his right hand.
55 He expelled nations before them, apportioned them property to inherit and made Isra'el's tribes live in their tents.
56 Yet they tested El 'Elyon and rebelled against him, refusing to obey his instructions.
57 They turned away and were faithless, like their fathers; they were unreliable, like a bow without tension.
58 They provoked him with their high places and made him jealous with their idols.
59 God heard, and he was angry; he came to detest Isra'el completely.
60 He abandoned the tabernacle at Shiloh, the tent he had made where he could live among people.
61 He gave his strength into exile, his pride to the power of the foe.
62 He gave his people over to the sword and grew angry with his own heritage.
63 Fire consumed their young men, their virgins had no wedding-song,
64 their cohanim fell by the sword, and their widows could not weep.
65 Then Adonai awoke, as if from sleep, like a warrior shouting for joy from wine.
66 He struck his foes, driving them back and putting them to perpetual shame.
67 Rejecting the tents of Yosef and passing over the tribe of Efrayim,
68 he chose the tribe of Y'hudah, Mount Tziyon, which he loved.
69 He built his sanctuary like the heights; like the earth, he made it to last forever.
70 He chose David to be his servant, taking him from the sheep-yards;
71 from tending nursing ewes he brought him to shepherd Ya'akov his people, Isra'el his heritage.
72 With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with skillful hands.

Psalms 78 Commentary

Chapter 78

Attention called for. (1-8) The history of Israel. (9-39) Their settlement in Canaan. (40-55) The mercies of God to Israel contrasted with their ingratitude. (56-72)

Verses 1-8 These are called dark and deep sayings, because they are carefully to be looked into. The law of God was given with a particular charge to teach it diligently to their children, that the church may abide for ever. Also, that the providences of God, both in mercy and in judgment, might encourage them to conform to the will of God. The works of God much strengthen our resolution to keep his commandments. Hypocrisy is the high road to apostacy; those that do not set their hearts right, will not be stedfast with God. Many parents, by negligence and wickedness, become murderers of their children. But young persons, though they are bound to submit in all things lawful, must not obey sinful orders, or copy sinful examples.

9-39. Sin dispirits men, and takes away the heart. Forgetfulness of God's works is the cause of disobedience to his laws. This narrative relates a struggle between God's goodness and man's badness. The Lord hears all our murmurings and distrusts, and is much displeased. Those that will not believe the power of God's mercy, shall feel the fire of his indignation. Those cannot be said to trust in God's salvation as their happiness at last, who can not trust his providence in the way to it. To all that by faith and prayer, ask, seek, and knock, these doors of heaven shall at any time be opened; and our distrust of God is a great aggravation of our sins. He expressed his resentment of their provocation; not in denying what they sinfully lusted after, but in granting it to them. Lust is contented with nothing. Those that indulge their lust, will never be estranged from it. Those hearts are hard indeed, that will neither be melted by the mercies of the Lord, nor broken by his judgments. Those that sin still, must expect to be in trouble still. And the reason why we live with so little comfort, and to so little purpose, is, because we do not live by faith. Under these rebukes they professed repentance, but they were not sincere, for they were not constant. In Israel's history we have a picture of our own hearts and lives. God's patience, and warnings, and mercies, imbolden them to harden their hearts against his word. And the history of kingdoms is much the same. Judgments and mercies have been little attended to, until the measure of their sins has been full. And higher advantages have not kept churches from declining from the commandments of God. Even true believers recollect, that for many a year they abused the kindness of Providence. When they come to heaven, how will they admire the Lord's patience and mercy in bringing them to his kingdom!

40-55. Let not those that receive mercy from God, be thereby made bold to sin, for the mercies they receive will hasten its punishment; yet let not those who are under Divine rebukes for sin, be discouraged from repentance. The Holy One of Israel will do what is most for his own glory, and what is most for their good. Their forgetting former favours, led them to limit God for the future. God made his own people to go forth like sheep; and guided them in the wilderness, as a shepherd his flock, with all care and tenderness. Thus the true Joshua, even Jesus, brings his church out of the wilderness; but no earthly Canaan, no worldly advantages, should make us forget that the church is in the wilderness while in this world, and that there remaineth a far more glorious rest for the people of God.

Verses 56-72 After the Israelites were settled in Canaan, the children were like their fathers. God gave them his testimonies, but they turned back. Presumptuous sins render even Israelites hateful to God's holiness, and exposed to his justice. Those whom the Lord forsakes become an easy prey to the destroyer. And sooner or later, God will disgrace his enemies. He set a good government over his people; a monarch after his own heart. With good reason does the psalmist make this finishing, crowning instance of God's favour to Israel; for David was a type of Christ, the great and good Shepherd, who was humbled first, and then exalted; and of whom it was foretold, that he should be filled with the Spirit of wisdom and understanding. On the uprightness of his heart, and the skilfulness of his hands, all his subjects may rely; and of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end. Every trial of human nature hitherto, confirms the testimony of Scripture, that the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, and nothing but being created anew by the Holy Ghost can cure the ungodliness of any.

Chapter Summary

Maschil of Asaph. Or for "Asaph" {f}; a doctrinal and "instructive" psalm, as the word "Maschil" signifies; see Psalm 32:1, which was delivered to Asaph to be sung; the Targum is, "the understanding of the Holy Spirit by the hands of Asaph." Some think David was the penman of it; but from the latter part of it, in which mention is made of him, and of his government of the people of Israel, it looks as if it was wrote by another, and after his death, though not long after, since the account is carried on no further than his times; and therefore it is probable enough it was written by Asaph, the chief singer, that lived in that age: whoever was the penman of it, it is certain he was a prophet, and so was Asaph, who is called a seer, the same with a prophet, and who is said to prophesy, 2 Chronicles 29:30 and also that he represented Christ; for that the Messiah is the person that is introduced speaking in this psalm is clear from Matthew 13:34 and the whole may be considered as a discourse of his to the Jews of his time; giving them an history of the Israelites from their first coming out of Egypt to the times of David, and in it an account of the various benefits bestowed upon them, of their great ingratitude, and of the divine resentment; the design of which is to admonish and caution them against committing the like sins, lest they should be rejected of God, as their fathers were, and perish: some Jewish writers, as Arama observes, interpret this psalm of the children of Ephraim going out of Egypt before the time appointed.

Psalms 78 Commentaries

Complete Jewish Bible Copyright 1998 by David H. Stern. Published by Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.