Psalms 78

God’s Faithfulness in Israel’s History


A maskil of Asaph.

1 Listen, O my people, to my teaching. Incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
2 I will offer a parable [with] my mouth. I will pour out riddles from long ago,
3 that we have heard and known, and our ancestors have told us.
4 We will not hide [them] from their children, telling the next generation the praises of Yahweh, and his power and his wonders that he has done.
5 For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach to their children,
6 so that [the] next generation might know-- children [yet to] be born-- [that] they might rise up and tell their children,
7 that they might set their confidence in God, and not forget the deeds of God, but keep his commandments,
8 and not be like their ancestors, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation [that] did not make ready its heart, whose spirit was not faithful [to] God.
9 The sons of Ephraim, {armed with archers}, turned back on [the] day of battle.
10 They did not keep the covenant of God and refused to go in his law.
11 They also forgot his deeds, and his wonders that he had shown them.
12 In front of their ancestors he did a wonder, in the land of Egypt, [in] the region of Zoan.
13 He split the sea and caused them to go over, and he caused waters to stand like a heap.
14 And he led them with the cloud by day, and all night with a fiery light.
15 He caused rocks to split in the wilderness and provided drink abundantly as [from the] depths.
16 And he brought streams out of [the] rock and caused water to flow down like rivers.
17 But they sinned still further against him by rebelling [against the] Most High in the desert.
18 And they tested God in their heart [by] asking food {for their craving}.
19 And they spoke against God. They said, "Is God able to prepare a table in the wilderness?
20 Yes, he struck [the] rock and water flowed and streams gushed out, [but] can he also give food or provide meat for his people?"
21 Therefore Yahweh heard and he was very angry, and a fire was kindled against Jacob, and [his] anger also rose up against Israel,
22 because they did not believe God, and they did not trust his salvation.
23 Nevertheless, he commanded [the] skies above and opened [the] doors of heaven,
24 and rained down on them manna to eat and gave them the grain of heaven.
25 Humankind ate [the] bread of {angels}. He sent them food [enough] to be satisfied.
26 He caused [the] east wind to blow in the heavens and drove along [the] south wind by his strength.
27 Then he rained meat on them like dust, even winged birds like [the] sand of [the] seas.
28 He caused [them] to fall in the midst of his camp, all around his dwellings.
29 So they ate and were well filled, and he brought about [what] they craved.
30 They had not yet turned aside from their craving, [while] their food [was] still in their mouth,
31 the anger of God rose against them, and he killed some of the stoutest of them, even the young men of Israel he caused to bow down [in death].
32 In spite of all this they sinned further and did not believe his wonders.
33 And he consumed their days with futility their years with terror.
34 When he killed [some of] them, then they sought him, and repented and earnestly sought God.
35 And they remembered that God [was] their rock, and God Most High their redeemer.
36 But they enticed him with their mouth and lied to him with their tongue.
37 For their heart was not steadfast with him, nor were they faithful to his covenant.
38 But he [was] compassionate; he pardoned [their] guilt and did not destroy [them]. And many [times] he turned back his anger and did not stir up all his wrath,
39 for he remembered that they [were] flesh, a passing wind that does not return.
40 How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness and vexed him in [the] wasteland!
41 So they again tested God and distressed the Holy One of Israel.
42 And they did not remember his {power} {when} he redeemed them from the enemy,
43 how he performed his signs in Egypt and his wonders in the region of Zoan,
44 when he turned their rivers to blood so they could not drink [from] their streams.
45 He sent among them flies that devoured them and frogs that destroyed them.
46 And he gave their crop to the locusts and their labor to the locust.
47 He destroyed their vines with hail and their sycamore trees with sleet.
48 He also handed their cattle over to the hail and their livestock to the lightning bolts.
49 He sent against them his fierce anger, rage and indignation and trouble, a band of {destroying} angels.
50 He cleared a path for his anger. He did not spare them from death but handed their life over to the plague.
51 And he struck down all [the] firstborn in Egypt, [the] first of [their] virility in the tents of Ham.
52 Then he led out his people like sheep and guided them like a herd in the wilderness.
53 And he led them safely and they were not afraid, but the sea covered their enemies.
54 So he brought them to his holy territory, this mountain his right hand acquired.
55 And he drove out nations before them and allocated them for an inheritance by [boundary] line, and settled the tribes of Israel in their tents.
56 But they tested and rebelled against God Most High and did not keep his statutes.
57 And they turned and were treacherous like their ancestors. They twisted like a crooked bow.
58 For they provoked him to anger with their high places, and made him jealous with their images.
59 God heard and he was very angry and rejected Israel utterly.
60 So he abandoned the dwelling place at Shiloh, [the] tent he had placed among humankind.
61 And he gave his strength into captivity and his splendor into [the] hand of [the] enemy.
62 He also handed his people over to the sword, and he was very angry with his inheritance.
63 Fire devoured his young men, and his young women were not praised.
64 His priests fell by the sword, and his widows did not weep.
65 Then the Lord awoke like [one who had been] asleep, [awoke] like a warrior who had been drunk with wine.
66 And he beat back his enemies; he gave them over to perpetual scorn.
67 And he rejected the tent of Joseph, and did not chose the tribe of Ephraim,
68 but chose the tribe of Judah, {Mount Zion} that he loved.
69 And he built his sanctuary like [the] heights, like [the] earth that he established forever.
70 And he chose David his servant and took him from [the] sheepfolds.
71 He brought him from following nursing ewes to shepherd Jacob, his people, and Israel, his inheritance.
72 And he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, and led them by the skillfulness 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 32

  • [a]. The Hebrew Bible counts the superscription as the first verse of the psalm
  • [b]. Hebrew "open"
  • [c]. Or "fathers"
  • [d]. Or "descendants"
  • [e]. Hebrew torah
  • [f]. Or "fathers"
  • [g]. Or "fathers"
  • [h]. Literally "armed with shooters of the bow"
  • [i]. Hebrew torah
  • [j]. Or "fathers"
  • [k]. Literally "for their soul"
  • [l]. Literally "mighty ones"
  • [m]. Hebrew "bird"
  • [n]. Or "he ended their days like a breath"
  • [o]. Or "and their years suddenly"
  • [p]. Or "covered," or "atoned for"
  • [q]. Or perhaps, "pressed to the limit"
  • [r]. Literally "hand"
  • [s]. Literally "the day that"
  • [t]. Hebrew "set"
  • [u]. Normally the word for the Nile, with the plural here suggesting perhaps it and its canals
  • [v]. Two different words translated "locusts"
  • [w]. The word for "sleet" is only used here, and the translation is a guess based on context
  • [x]. Literally "evil"
  • [y]. Hebrew "their soul"
  • [z]. Hebrew "border"
  • [aa]. Or "had created"
  • [ab]. Or "fathers"
  • [ac]. Or "deceitful"
  • [ad]. Or "virgins"
  • [ae]. Or "like a warrior shouting because of wine"
  • [af]. Literally "the mountain of Zion"

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 quotations marked (LEB) are from the Lexham English Bible. Copyright 2012 Logos Bible Software. Lexham is a registered trademark of Logos Bible Software.