Psalms 78

1 Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
2 I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old,
3 things that we have heard and known, that our ancestors have told us.
4 We will not hide them from their children; we will tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.
5 He established a decree in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach to their children;
6 that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and rise up and tell them to their children,
7 so that they should set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments;
8 and that they should not be like their ancestors, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.
9 The Ephraimites, armed with the bow, turned back on the day of battle.
10 They did not keep God's covenant, but refused to walk according to his law.
11 They forgot what he had done, and the miracles that he had shown them.
12 In the sight of their ancestors he worked marvels in the land of Egypt, in the fields of Zoan.
13 He divided the sea and let them pass through it, and made the waters stand like a heap.
14 In the daytime he led them with a cloud, and all night long with a fiery light.
15 He split rocks open in the wilderness, and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep.
16 He made streams come out of the rock, and caused waters to flow down like rivers.
17 Yet they sinned still more against him, rebelling against the Most High in the desert.
18 They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved.
19 They spoke against God, saying, "Can God spread a table in the wilderness?
20 Even though he struck the rock so that water gushed out and torrents overflowed, can he also give bread, or provide meat for his people?"
21 Therefore, when the Lord heard, he was full of rage; a fire was kindled against Jacob, his anger mounted against Israel,
22 because they had no faith in God, and did not trust his saving power.
23 Yet he commanded the skies above, and opened the doors of heaven;
24 he rained down on them manna to eat, and gave them the grain of heaven.
25 Mortals ate of the bread of angels; he sent them food in abundance.
26 He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens, and by his power he led out the south wind;
27 he rained flesh upon them like dust, winged birds like the sand of the seas;
28 he let them fall within their camp, all around their dwellings.
29 And they ate and were well filled, for he gave them what they craved.
30 But before they had satisfied their craving, while the food was still in their mouths,
31 the anger of God rose against them and he killed the strongest of them, and laid low the flower of Israel.
32 In spite of all this they still sinned; they did not believe in his wonders.
33 So he made their days vanish like a breath, and their years in terror.
34 When he killed them, they sought for him; they repented and sought God earnestly.
35 They remembered that God was their rock, the Most High God their redeemer.
36 But they flattered him with their mouths; they lied to him with their tongues.
37 Their heart was not steadfast toward him; they were not true to his covenant.
38 Yet he, being compassionate, forgave their iniquity, and did not destroy them; often he restrained his anger, and did not stir up all his wrath.
39 He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and does not come again.
40 How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness and grieved him in the desert!
41 They tested God again and again, and provoked the Holy One of Israel.
42 They did not keep in mind his power, or the day when he redeemed them from the foe;
43 when he displayed his signs in Egypt, and his miracles in the fields of Zoan.
44 He turned their rivers to blood, so that they could not drink of their streams.
45 He sent among them swarms of flies, which devoured them, and frogs, which destroyed them.
46 He gave their crops to the caterpillar, and the fruit of their labor to the locust.
47 He destroyed their vines with hail, and their sycamores with frost.
48 He gave over their cattle to the hail, and their flocks to thunderbolts.
49 He let loose on them his fierce anger, wrath, indignation, and distress, a company of destroying angels.
50 He made a path for his anger; he did not spare them from death, but gave their lives over to the plague.
51 He struck all the firstborn in Egypt, the first issue of their strength in the tents of Ham.
52 Then he led out his people like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock.
53 He led them in safety, so that they were not afraid; but the sea overwhelmed their enemies.
54 And he brought them to his holy hill, to the mountain that his right hand had won.
55 He drove out nations before them; he apportioned them for a possession and settled the tribes of Israel in their tents.
56 Yet they tested the Most High God, and rebelled against him. They did not observe his decrees,
57 but turned away and were faithless like their ancestors; they twisted like a treacherous bow.
58 For they provoked him to anger with their high places; they moved him to jealousy with their idols.
59 When God heard, he was full of wrath, and he utterly rejected Israel.
60 He abandoned his dwelling at Shiloh, the tent where he dwelt among mortals,
61 and delivered his power to captivity, his glory to the hand of the foe.
62 He gave his people to the sword, and vented his wrath on his heritage.
63 Fire devoured their young men, and their girls had no marriage song.
64 Their priests fell by the sword, and their widows made no lamentation.
65 Then the Lord awoke as from sleep, like a warrior shouting because of wine.
66 He put his adversaries to rout; he put them to everlasting disgrace.
67 He rejected the tent of Joseph, he did not choose the tribe of Ephraim;
68 but he chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion, which he loves.
69 He built his sanctuary like the high heavens, like the earth, which he has founded forever.
70 He chose his servant David, and took him from the sheepfolds;
71 from tending the nursing ewes he brought him to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel, his inheritance.
72 With upright heart he tended them, and guided them with skillful hand.

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 1

  • [a]. Heb [armed with shooting]

Chapter Summary

Psalms 78 Commentaries