Psalms 78

Lessons from Israel's Past


A Maskil of Asaph.

1 My people, hear my instruction; listen to what I say.[a]
2 I will declare wise sayings; I will speak mysteries from the past[b]-
3 things we have heard and known and that our fathers have passed down to us.
4 We must not hide them from their children, but must tell a future generation the praises of the Lord, His might, and the wonderful works He has performed.[c]
5 He established a testimony in Jacob and set up a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers to teach to their children
6 so that a future generation- children yet to be born-might know. They were to rise and tell their children
7 so that they might put their confidence in God and not forget God's works, but keep His commandments.[d]
8 Then they would not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not loyal and whose spirit was not faithful to God.[e]
9 The Ephraimite archers turned back on the day of battle.
10 They did not keep God's covenant and refused to live by His law.[f]
11 They forgot what He had done, the wonderful works He had shown them.
12 He worked wonders in the sight of their fathers, in the land of Egypt, the region of Zoan.[g]
13 He split the sea and brought them across; the water stood firm like a wall.[h]
14 He led them with a cloud by day and with a fiery light throughout the night.[i]
15 He split rocks in the wilderness and gave them drink as abundant as the depths.[j]
16 He brought streams out of the stone and made water flow down like rivers.
17 But they continued to sin against Him, rebelling in the desert against the Most High.[k]
18 They deliberately[l] tested God, demanding the food they craved.[m]
19 They spoke against God, saying, "Is God able to provide food in the wilderness?
20 Look! He struck the rock and water gushed out; torrents overflowed. But can He also provide bread or furnish meat for His people?"[n]
21 Therefore, the Lord heard and became furious; then fire broke out against Jacob, and anger flared up against Israel
22 because they did not believe God[o] or rely on His salvation.
23 He gave a command to the clouds above and opened the doors of heaven.
24 He rained manna for them to eat; He gave them grain from heaven.
25 People[p] ate the bread of angels.[q] He sent them an abundant supply of food.[r]
26 He made the east wind blow in the skies and drove the south wind by His might.
27 He rained meat on them like dust, and winged birds like the sand of the seas.
28 He made [them] fall in His camp, all around His tent.[s] [t]
29 They ate and were completely satisfied, for He gave them what they craved.
30 Before they had satisfied their desire, while the food was still in their mouths,
31 God's anger flared up against them, and He killed some of their best men. He struck down Israel's choice young men.[u]
32 Despite all this, they kept sinning and did not believe His wonderful works.
33 He made their days end in futility, their years in sudden disaster.
34 When He killed [some of] them, [the rest] began to seek Him; they repented and searched for God.
35 They remembered that God was their rock, the Most High God,[v] their Redeemer.[w]
36 But they deceived Him with their mouths, they lied to Him with their tongues,
37 their hearts were insincere toward Him, and they were unfaithful to His covenant.[x]
38 Yet He was compassionate; He atoned for[y] [their] guilt[z] and did not destroy [them].[aa] He often turned His anger aside and did not unleash[ab] all His wrath.[ac]
39 He remembered that they were [only] flesh,[ad] a wind that passes and does not return.
40 How often they rebelled against Him in the wilderness[ae] and grieved Him in the desert.
41 They constantly tested God and provoked the Holy One of Israel.
42 They did not remember His power [shown] on the day He redeemed them from the foe,
43 when He performed His miraculous signs in Egypt and His marvels in the region of Zoan.[af]
44 He turned their rivers into blood, and they could not drink from their streams.[ag]
45 He sent among them swarms of flies,[ah] which fed on them, and frogs, which devastated them.[ai]
46 He gave their crops to the caterpillar and the fruit of their labor to the locust.[aj]
47 He killed their vines with hail and their sycamore-fig trees with a flood.
48 He handed over their livestock to hail and their cattle to lightning bolts.[ak]
49 He sent His burning anger against them: fury, indignation, and calamity- a band of deadly messengers.[al]
50 He cleared a path for His anger. He did not spare them from death, but delivered their lives to the plague.
51 He struck all the firstborn in Egypt, the first progeny of the tents of Ham.[am] [an]
52 He led His people out like sheep and guided them like a flock in the wilderness.
53 He led them safely, and they were not afraid; but the sea covered their enemies.[ao]
54 He brought them to His holy land, to the mountain His right hand acquired.[ap]
55 He drove out nations before them.[aq] He apportioned their inheritance by lot and settled the tribes of Israel in their tents.[ar]
56 But they rebelliously tested the Most High God, for they did not keep His decrees.
57 They treacherously turned away like their fathers; they became warped like a faulty bow.
58 They enraged Him with their high places and provoked His jealousy with their carved images.
59 God heard and became furious; He completely rejected Israel.
60 He abandoned the tabernacle at Shiloh, the tent where He resided among men.[as]
61 He gave up His strength[at] to captivity and His splendor to the hand of a foe.[au]
62 He surrendered His people to the sword because He was enraged with His heritage.
63 Fire consumed His chosen young men, and His young women had no wedding songs.[av]
64 His priests fell by the sword, but the[aw] widows could not lament.[ax]
65 Then the Lord awoke as if from sleep,[ay] like a warrior[az] from the effects of wine.
66 He beat back His foes; He gave them lasting shame.
67 He rejected the tent of Joseph and did not choose the tribe of Ephraim.
68 He chose instead the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion, which He loved.
69 He built His sanctuary like the heights,[ba] like the earth that He established forever.
70 He chose David His servant and took him from the sheepfolds;
71 He brought him from tending ewes to be shepherd over His people Jacob- over Israel, His inheritance.
72 He shepherded them with a pure heart and guided them with his 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.

Footnotes 54

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

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