Psalms 78

1 Listen, my people, to my teaching, and pay attention to what I say.
2 I am going to use wise sayings 1 and explain mysteries from the past,
3 things we have heard and known, things that our ancestors told us.
4 We will not keep them from our children; we will tell the next generation about the Lord's power and his great deeds and the wonderful things he has done.
5 He gave laws to the people of Israel and commandments to the descendants of Jacob. He instructed our ancestors to teach his laws to their children,
6 so that the next generation might learn them and in turn should tell their children.
7 In this way they also will put their trust in God and not forget what he has done, but always obey his commandments.
8 They will not be like their ancestors, a rebellious and disobedient people, whose trust in God was never firm and who did not remain faithful to him.
9 The Ephraimites, armed with bows and arrows, ran away on the day of battle.
10 They did not keep their covenant with God; they refused to obey his law.
11 They forgot what he had done, the miracles they had seen him perform.
12 While their ancestors watched, God performed miracles 2 in the plain of Zoan in the land of Egypt.
13 He divided the sea and took them through it; 3 he made the waters stand like walls.
14 By day he led them with a cloud 4 and all night long with the light of a fire.
15 He split rocks open in the desert and gave them water from the depths.
16 He caused a stream to come out of the rock 5 and made water flow like a river.
17 But they continued to sin against God, and in the desert they rebelled against the Most High.
18 They deliberately put God to the test 6 by demanding the food they wanted.
19 They spoke against God and said, "Can God supply food in the desert?
20 It is true that he struck the rock, and water flowed out in a torrent; but can he also provide us with bread and give his people meat?"
21 And so the Lord was angry when he heard them; he attacked his people with fire, and his anger against them grew,
22 because they had no faith in him and did not believe that he would save them.
23 But he spoke to the sky above and commanded its doors to open;
24 he gave them grain from heaven, 7 by sending down manna for them to eat.
25 So they ate the food of angels, and God gave them all they wanted.
26 He also caused the east wind to blow, and by his power he stirred up the south wind;
27 and to his people he sent down birds, as many as the grains of sand on the shore;
28 they fell in the middle of the camp all around the tents.
29 So the people ate and were satisfied; God gave them what they wanted.
30 But they had not yet satisfied their craving and were still eating,
31 when God became angry with them and killed their strongest men, the best young men of Israel.
32 In spite of all this the people kept sinning; in spite of his miracles they did not trust him.
33 So he ended their days like a breath and their lives with sudden disaster.
34 Whenever he killed some of them, the rest would turn to him; they would repent and pray earnestly to him.
35 They remembered that God was their protector, that the Almighty came to their aid.
36 But their words were all lies; nothing they said was sincere.
37 They were not loyal to him; 8 they were not faithful to their covenant with him.
38 But God was merciful to his people. He forgave their sin and did not destroy them. Many times he held back his anger and restrained his fury.
39 He remembered that they were only mortal beings, like a wind that blows by and is gone.
40 How often they rebelled against him in the desert; how many times they made him sad!
41 Again and again they put God to the test and brought pain to the Holy God of Israel.
42 They forgot his great power and the day when he saved them from their enemies
43 and performed his mighty acts and miracles in the plain of Zoan in the land of Egypt.
44 He turned the rivers into blood, 9 and the Egyptians had no water to drink.
45 He sent flies among them, that tormented them, 10 and frogs that ruined their land.
46 He sent locusts to eat their crops 11 and to destroy their fields.
47 He killed their grapevines with hail 12 and their fig trees with frost.
48 He killed their cattle with hail and their flocks with lightning.
49 He caused them great distress by pouring out his anger and fierce rage, which came as messengers of death.
50 He did not restrain his anger or spare their lives, but killed them with a plague.
51 He killed the first-born sons 13 of all the families of Egypt.
52 Then he led his people out like a shepherd 14 and guided them through the desert.
53 He led them safely, and they were not afraid; 15 but the sea came rolling over their enemies.
54 He brought them to his holy land, 16 to the mountains which he himself conquered.
55 He drove out the inhabitants as his people advanced; 17 he divided their land among the tribes of Israel and gave their homes to his people.
56 But they rebelled against Almighty God 18 and put him to the test. They did not obey his commandments,
57 but were rebellious and disloyal like their ancestors, unreliable as a crooked arrow.
58 They angered him with their heathen places of worship, and with their idols they made him furious.
59 God was angry when he saw it, so he rejected his people completely.
60 He abandoned his tent in Shiloh, 19 the home where he had lived among us.
61 He allowed our enemies to capture the Covenant Box, 20 the symbol of his power and glory.
62 He was angry with his own people and let them be killed by their enemies.
63 Young men were killed in war, and young women had no one to marry.
64 Priests died by violence, and their widows were not allowed to mourn.
65 At last the Lord woke up as though from sleep; he was like a strong man excited by wine.
66 He drove his enemies back in lasting and shameful defeat.
67 But he rejected the descendants of Joseph; he did not select the tribe of Ephraim.
68 Instead he chose the tribe of Judah and Mount Zion, which he dearly loves.
69 There he built his Temple like his home in heaven; he made it firm like the earth itself, secure for all time.
70 He chose his servant David; 21 he took him from the pastures,
71 where he looked after his flocks, and he made him king of Israel, the shepherd of the people of God.
72 David took care of them with unselfish devotion and led them with skill.

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.

Cross References 21

  • 1. 78.2Matthew 13.35.
  • 2. 78.12Exodus 7.8--12.32.
  • 3. 78.13Exodus 14.21, 22.
  • 4. 78.14Exodus 13.21, 22.
  • 5. +278.12-16Wisdom 16.1--19.22.+O+N78.15, 16Exodus 17.1_-7;Numbers 20.2-13.
  • 6. 78.18-31Exodus 16.2-15;Numbers 11.4-23, 31-35.
  • 7. 78.24 +2Wisdom 16.20-29; +1John 6.31.
  • 8. 78.37Acts 8.21.
  • 9. 78.44Exodus 7.17-21.
  • 10. 78.45 aExodus 8.20-24; bExodus 8.1-6.
  • 11. 78.46Exodus 10.12-15.
  • 12. 78.47, 48Exodus 9.22-25.
  • 13. 78.51Exodus 12.29.
  • 14. 78.52Exodus 13.17-22.
  • 15. 78.53Exodus 14.26-28.
  • 16. 78.54Exodus 15.17;Joshua 3.14-17.
  • 17. 78.55Joshua 11.16-23.
  • 18. 78.56Judges 2.11-15.
  • 19. 78.60Joshua 18.1;Jeremiah 7.12-14; 26.6.
  • 20. 78.61 1 Samuel 4.4-22.
  • 21. 78.70, 71 1 S 16.11, 12; 2 S 7.8;1 Chronicles 17.7.

Footnotes 2

  • [a]. hail . . . lightning; [or] terrible disease . . . deadly plague.
  • [b]. shiloh: [The central place of worship for the people of Israel before the time of King David.]

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

Scripture taken from the Good News Translation - Second Edition, Copyright 1992 by American Bible Society. Used by Permission.