Psalms 78

1 {An instruction. Of Asaph.} Give ear, O my people, to my law; incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
2 I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter riddles from of old,
3 Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us:
4 We will not hide [them] from their sons, shewing forth to the generation to come the praises of Jehovah, and his strength, and his marvellous works which he hath done.
5 For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children;
6 That the generation to come might know [them], the children that should be born; that they might rise up and tell [them] to their children,
7 And that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but observe his commandments;
8 And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation that prepared not their heart, and whose spirit was not stedfast with God.
9 The sons of Ephraim, armed bowmen, turned back in the day of battle.
10 They kept not the covenant of God, and refused to walk in his law;
11 And forgot his doings, and his marvellous works which he had shewn them.
12 In the sight of their fathers had he done wonders, in the land of Egypt, the field of Zoan.
13 He clave the sea, and caused them to pass through; and made the waters to stand as a heap;
14 And he led them with a cloud in the daytime, and all the night with the light of fire.
15 He clave rocks in the wilderness, and gave [them] drink as out of the depths, abundantly;
16 And he brought streams out of the rock, and caused waters to run down like rivers.
17 Yet they still went on sinning against him, provoking the Most High in the desert;
18 And they tempted God in their heart, by asking meat for their lust;
19 And they spoke against God: they said, Is God able to prepare a table in the wilderness?
20 Behold, he smote the rock, and waters gushed out, and streams overflowed; is he able to give bread also, or provide flesh for his people?
21 Therefore Jehovah heard, and was wroth; and fire was kindled against Jacob, and anger also went up against Israel:
22 Because they believed not in God, and confided not in his salvation;
23 Though he had commanded the clouds from above, and had opened the doors of the heavens,
24 And had rained down manna upon them to eat, and had given them the corn of the heavens.
25 Man did eat the bread of the mighty; he sent them provision to the full.
26 He caused the east wind to rise in the heavens, and by his strength he brought the south wind;
27 And he rained flesh upon them as dust, and feathered fowl as the sand of the seas,
28 And he let it fall in the midst of their camp, round about their habitations:
29 And they did eat, and were well filled; for that they lusted after, he brought to them.
30 They were not alienated from their lust, their meat was yet in their mouths,
31 When the anger of God went up against them; and he slew the fattest of them, and smote down the chosen men of Israel.
32 For all this, they sinned still, and believed not in his marvellous works;
33 And he consumed their days in vanity, and their years in terror.
34 When he slew them, then they sought him, and returned and sought early after God;
35 And they remembered that God was their rock, and God, the Most High, their redeemer.
36 But they flattered him with their mouth, and lied unto him with their tongue;
37 For their heart was not firm toward him, neither were they stedfast in his covenant.
38 But he was merciful: he forgave the iniquity, and destroyed [them] not; but many a time turned he his anger away, and did not stir up all his fury:
39 And he remembered that they were flesh, a breath that passeth away and cometh not again.
40 How oft did they provoke him in the wilderness, and grieve him in the desert!
41 And they turned again and tempted God, and grieved the Holy One of Israel.
42 They remembered not his hand, the day when he delivered them from the oppressor,
43 How he set his signs in Egypt, and his miracles in the field of Zoan;
44 And turned their rivers into blood, and their streams, that they could not drink;
45 He sent dog-flies among them, which devoured them, and frogs, which destroyed them;
46 And he gave their increase unto the caterpillar, and their labour unto the locust;
47 He killed their vines with hail, and their sycamore trees with hail-stones;
48 And he delivered up their cattle to the hail, and their flocks to thunderbolts.
49 He cast upon them the fierceness of his anger, wrath, and indignation, and distress, -- a mission of angels of woes.
50 He made a way for his anger; he spared not their soul from death, but gave their life over to the pestilence;
51 And he smote all the firstborn in Egypt, the first-fruits of their vigour in the tents of Ham.
52 And he made his own people to go forth like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock;
53 And he led them safely, so that they were without fear; and the sea covered their enemies.
54 And he brought them to his holy border, this mountain, which his right hand purchased;
55 And he drove out the nations before them, and allotted them for an inheritance by line, and made the tribes of Israel to dwell in their tents.
56 But they tempted and provoked God, the Most High, and kept not his testimonies,
57 And they drew back and dealt treacherously like their fathers: they turned like a deceitful bow.
58 And they provoked him to anger with their high places, and moved him to jealousy with their graven images.
59 God heard, and was wroth, and greatly abhorred Israel:
60 And he forsook the tabernacle at Shiloh, the tent where he had dwelt among men,
61 And gave his strength into captivity, and his glory into the hand of the oppressor;
62 And delivered up his people unto the sword, and was very wroth with his inheritance:
63 The fire consumed their young men, and their maidens were not praised in [nuptial] song;
64 Their priests fell by the sword, and their widows made no lamentation.
65 Then the Lord awoke as one out of sleep, like a mighty man that shouteth aloud by reason of wine;
66 And he smote his adversaries in the hinder part, and put them to everlasting reproach.
67 And he rejected the tent of Joseph, and chose not the tribe of Ephraim,
68 But chose the tribe of Judah, the mount Zion which he loved;
69 And he built his sanctuary like the heights, like the earth which he hath founded for ever.
70 And he chose David his servant, and took him from the sheepfolds:
71 From following the suckling-ewes, he brought him to feed Jacob his people, and Israel his inheritance.
72 And he fed them according to the integrity of his heart, and led them by the skilfulness of his 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 17

  • [a]. As Ps. 19.2.
  • [b]. As Ps. 77.11.
  • [c]. i.e. Tanis, a town in Lower Egypt.
  • [d]. Sela, as Ps. 31.3.
  • [e]. Or 'rebelling against;' and so ver. 40.
  • [f]. Or 'furnish,' as Prov. 9.2.
  • [g]. Or 'by.'
  • [h]. As Ps. 69.18.
  • [i]. The word means, 'make pretence,' elsewhere 'entice,' 'deceive.'
  • [j]. Or 'rebel against.'
  • [k]. Or 'limited.'
  • [l]. Lit. 'redeemed.'
  • [m]. Or 'vermin;' but it is as in Ex. 8.21.
  • [n]. Lit. 'the devourer,' a species of locust: so 1Kings 8.37; 2Chron. 6.28: see Joel 1.4.
  • [o]. Lit. 'beauty.'
  • [p]. Or 'chosen,' as ver. 31.
  • [q]. Or 'wept not.'

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

The Darby Translation is in the public domain.