Psalms 78

1 Listen, dear friends, to God's truth, bend your ears to what I tell you.
2 I'm chewing on the morsel of a proverb; I'll let you in on the sweet old truths,
3 Stories we heard from our fathers, counsel we learned at our mother's knee.
4 We're not keeping this to ourselves, we're passing it along to the next generation - God's fame and fortune, the marvelous things he has done.
5 He planted a witness in Jacob, set his Word firmly in Israel, Then commanded our parents to teach it to their children
6 So the next generation would know, and all the generations to come - Know the truth and tell the stories
7 can trust in God, Never forget the works of God but keep his commands to the letter.
8 Heaven forbid they should be like their parents, bullheaded and bad, A fickle and faithless bunch who never stayed true to God.
9 The Ephraimites, armed to the teeth, ran off when the battle began.
10 They were cowards to God's Covenant, refused to walk by his Word.
11 They forgot what he had done - marvels he'd done right before their eyes.
12 He performed miracles in plain sight of their parents in Egypt, out on the fields of Zoan.
13 He split the Sea and they walked right through it; he piled the waters to the right and the left.
14 He led them by day with a cloud, led them all the night long with a fiery torch.
15 He split rocks in the wilderness, gave them all they could drink from underground springs;
16 He made creeks flow out from sheer rock, and water pour out like a river.
17 All they did was sin even more, rebel in the desert against the High God.
18 They tried to get their own way with God, clamored for favors, for special attention.
19 They whined like spoiled children, "Why can't God give us a decent meal in this desert?
20 Sure, he struck the rock and the water flowed, creeks cascaded from the rock. But how about some fresh-baked bread? How about a nice cut of meat?"
21 When God heard that, he was furious - his anger flared against Jacob, he lost his temper with Israel.
22 It was clear they didn't believe God, had no intention of trusting in his help.
23 But God helped them anyway, commanded the clouds and gave orders that opened the gates of heaven.
24 He rained down showers of manna to eat, he gave them the Bread of Heaven.
25 They ate the bread of the mighty angels; he sent them all the food they could eat.
26 He let East Wind break loose from the skies, gave a strong push to South Wind.
27 This time it was birds that rained down - succulent birds, an abundance of birds.
28 He aimed them right for the center of their camp; all round their tents there were birds.
29 They ate and had their fill; he handed them everything they craved on a platter.
30 But their greed knew no bounds; they stuffed their mouths with more and more.
31 Finally, God was fed up, his anger erupted - he cut down their brightest and best, he laid low Israel's finest young men.
32 And - can you believe it? - they kept right on sinning; all those wonders and they still wouldn't believe!
33 So their lives dribbled off to nothing - nothing to show for their lives but a ghost town.
34 When he cut them down, they came running for help; they turned and pled for mercy.
35 They gave witness that God was their rock, that High God was their redeemer,
36 But they didn't mean a word of it; they lied through their teeth the whole time.
37 They could not have cared less about him, wanted nothing to do with his Covenant.
38 And God? Compassionate! Forgave the sin! Didn't destroy! Over and over he reined in his anger, restrained his considerable wrath.
39 He knew what they were made of; he knew there wasn't much to them,
40 How often in the desert they had spurned him, tried his patience in those wilderness years.
41 Time and again they pushed him to the limit, provoked Israel's Holy God.
42 How quickly they forgot what he'd done, forgot their day of rescue from the enemy,
43 When he did miracles in Egypt, wonders on the plain of Zoan.
44 He turned the River and its streams to blood - not a drop of water fit to drink.
45 He sent flies, which ate them alive, and frogs, which bedeviled them.
46 He turned their harvest over to caterpillars, everything they had worked for to the locusts.
47 He flattened their grapevines with hail; a killing frost ruined their orchards.
48 He pounded their cattle with hail, let thunderbolts loose on their herds.
49 His anger flared, a wild firestorm of havoc, An advance guard of disease-carrying angels
50 to clear the ground, preparing the way before him. He didn't spare those people, he let the plague rage through their lives.
51 He killed all the Egyptian firstborns, lusty infants, offspring of Ham's virility.
52 Then he led his people out like sheep, took his flock safely through the wilderness.
53 He took good care of them; they had nothing to fear. The Sea took care of their enemies for good.
54 He brought them into his holy land, this mountain he claimed for his own.
55 He scattered everyone who got in their way; he staked out an inheritance for them - the tribes of Israel all had their own places.
56 But they kept on giving him a hard time, rebelled against God, the High God, refused to do anything he told them.
57 They were worse, if that's possible, than their parents: traitors - crooked as a corkscrew.
58 Their pagan orgies provoked God's anger, their obscene idolatries broke his heart.
59 When God heard their carryings-on, he was furious; he posted a huge No over Israel.
60 He walked off and left Shiloh empty, abandoned the shrine where he had met with Israel.
61 He let his pride and joy go to the dogs, turned his back on the pride of his life.
62 He turned them loose on fields of battle; angry, he let them fend for themselves.
63 Their young men went to war and never came back; their young women waited in vain.
64 Their priests were massacred, and their widows never shed a tear.
65 Suddenly the Lord was up on his feet like someone roused from deep sleep, shouting like a drunken warrior.
66 He hit his enemies hard, sent them running, yelping, not daring to look back.
67 He disqualified Joseph as leader, told Ephraim he didn't have what it takes,
68 And chose the Tribe of Judah instead, Mount Zion, which he loves so much.
69 He built his sanctuary there, resplendent, solid and lasting as the earth itself.
70 Then he chose David, his servant, handpicked him from his work in the sheep pens.
71 One day he was caring for the ewes and their lambs, the next day God had him shepherding Jacob, his people Israel, his prize possession.
72 His good heart made him a good shepherd; he guided the people wisely and well.

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

Published by permission. Originally published by NavPress in English as THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language copyright 2002 by Eugene Peterson. All rights reserved.