Psalm 78

Psalm 78 is 72 verses long, so I will not write it here. You can read it on your own or listen to it on the YouVersion app.

Psalm 78 is titled: Tell the Coming Generation (ESV), God’s Kindness to Rebellious Israel (NKJV), and God’s Guidance of His People in Spite of Their Unfaithfulness (NASB2020).

A Maskil of Asaph. A Psalm of Asaph. A Contemplation of Asaph: A Maskil or Maschil is a Hebrew word. The meaning is unknown, but most scholars believe it’s a literary or musical term that refers to how the psalm should be performed or it’s purpose in worship services.

Asaph was a Levite chosen by King David to minister to the people in the tabernacle. He was a singer and musician and prophet. He was also a poet; he wrote 12 of the psalms in the Psalter. (1 Chronicles 15:17-19, 16:5-7, 2 Chronicles 29:13).

Psalm 78 is a song to contemplate God’s saving grace, but also to remember the rebelliousness of a nation. God loves the children of Israel, but repeatedly the nation had not heeded His commands and turned their backs on Him. The results were detrimental to generations of people. Thousands of years of: following God, becoming weary, seeking an “easier” path, God’s warning, God’s punishment, God’s forgiveness…repeat.

Does it sound familiar? I feel like that describes an individual’s walk with the Lord as well. But this psalm will remind us to not forget how God has been faithful, to not forget that He is our Father and there are consequences to our free will, and to not forget that God is mighty and powerful. He is God after all. We gloss over that sometimes. Let us not forget.

The devil wants us to remember the things we ought to forget and to forget the things we ought to remember.

Sandy Adams, pastor,

Because of the abrupt ending with David as shepherd, scholars believe that this psalm was written by the original Asaph of David and Solomon’s time.

Give ear, O my people, to my law; incline your ears to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old, which we have heard and known, and our father have told us. We will not hide them from their children, telling to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and His strength and His wonderful works that He has done. 
Psalm 78:1-4 NKJV

Asaph begins his long song of wisdom with a call to attention. Listen to my words…Incline your ear…listen to my doctrine. I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old.

There is nothing “dark” in the sense of evil or mystical or magical. Asaph means difficult things. When Jesus walked this earth, he taught with parables because stories make difficult things easier to understand. In his gospel, Matthew tells us that Jesus used the same teaching method by quoting Psalm 78:2:

Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: 
"I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world."
Matthew 13:34-35 NIV

Why did Jesus speak only in parables to the crowds? Is it that stories are easier to understand? Is it that stories are easier to repeat around the dinner table?

Psalm 78 teaches two things: 1) a warning to Israel to remember, and 2) a reminder that the next generation must be adequately instructed.

Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
Deuteronomy 6:4-9 NIV

What does God require us to teach the next generation? What does He expect us to tell our children and grandchildren? We are required to share His Word. He commands that we teach them the stories of old. Sometimes we don’t know how to teach, or we gloss over, the rebelliousness of Israel or the wrath of God or the consequences of sin. We can’t do that. We must teach God’s Word in its entirety. As we teach the love and sacrifice of Jesus, we must also teach the wrath and consuming fire of God. They are two and the same. We cannot understand one without the other.

The more of parental teaching the better; ministers and Sabbath school teachers were never meant to be substitutes for mother’s tears and father’s prayers.

Charles Spurgeon, English preacher, 1834-1892

God absolutely requires of believing parents that they should, indeed must, teach their children the way of truth and use every possible influence to persuade them to walk in it.

James Burton Coffman, pastor, 1905-2006

We must also teach our children to teach their children to teach their children. There are five generations mentioned in this song.

In verses 12-16, Asaph goes on to remember how the Lord saved the Israelites in Egypt; how He parted the Red Sea; and how He continued to guide them with a cloud by day and firelight by night. God performed mighty miracles of great power in Egypt; with the plagues upon Pharaoh (Exodus 9-11) and then dividing the Red Sea with a trail for His people to walk through and “heaps of water” on either side (Exodus 14). Great and mighty power from the Lord. (Exodus 40:34-38)

The Lord always provided as a father to His children; He gave them direction and lit their path; He provided clean water to drink. When they grumbled and complained, wanting the rich food of Egypt, He again provided them with manna, the “bread of angels.”

But they sinned even more against him: God repeatedly did great and amazing things for Israel in taking the people out of Egypt and preserving them in the wilderness. Yet Israel’s response was to sin even more and to rebel against the Most High.

David Guzik, pastor,
But they continued to sin against him, rebelling in the wilderness against the Most High. They willfully put God to the test by demanding the food they craved. They spoke against God; they said, "Can God really spread a table in the wilderness? True, he struck the rock, and water gushed out, streams flowed abundantly, but can he also give us bread? Can he supply meat for his people?" When the LORD heard them, he was furious; his fire broke out against Jacob, and his wrath rose against Israel, for they did not believe in God or trust in his deliverance.
Psalm 78:17-22 NIV

God provided everything that the people needed, but it was never enough. God had been faithful. He had shown Himself mighty and powerful. He had defended and protected. He would not let them starve or die out in the wilderness. Why did they keep turning against Him?

God’s anger was at their unbelief. It wasn’t that they wanted better food, it was that they questioned if He could even provide for His children even though all that He already done for them.

Keep in mind that the sins Asaph had in mind were the sins of ingratitude, testing God, and doubting His power and His care. These were sins God was furious with. We often think God takes little account of such sins.

David Guzik, pastor,

Therefore the Lord heard this and was wroth. He was not indifferent to what they said. He dwelt among them in the holy place, and, therefore, they insulted him to his face. He did not hear a report of it, but the language itself came into his ears. So a fire was kindled against Jacob.

Charles Spurgeon, English preacher, 1834-1892

Interestingly, after Jesus fed the 5,000 (or closer to 20,000 counting women and children), then He walked on water out to the boat, then He spoke before Jewish leaders the next day…John quotes these verses (24-25):

Therefore they said to Him, "What sign will you perform then, that we may see it and believe you? What work will you do? Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'"

Then Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."

Then they said to Him, "Lord, give us this bread always."

And Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me shall never hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.
John 6:30-35 NKJV

In Numbers 11:31-34, the Israelites grumbled for meat, and the Lord gave them meat. But there were so many dead quails, three feet deep in the camp, it took them all day and all night to gather. Then God struck some of them with a sickness.

But before they turned from what they craved, even while the food was still in their mouths, God's anger rose against them; he put to death the sturdiest among them, cutting down the young men of Israel.
Psalm 78:30-31 NIV

God gave a disobedient and rebellious Israel all they desired and craved, and the quail turned to a plague of judgment among them.

David Guzik, pastor,

They walked through a sea to escape soldiers. They were thirsty and God gave them fresh water IN THE DESERT. They were hungry and the Lord provided the “bread of angels.” They wanted to meat and God rained down three feet of dead quail.

And still, they doubted His ability to provide and defend. Still, they doubted the place they were in. They wanted more. The Lord knew what they needed; the fresh water and the manna would mean survival in the desert. But they demanded more, and God knew it would make them sick. But He provided what they asked–in over abundance. And some got sick and died–the young, strong, sturdiest men of group.

In spite of all this, they kept on sinning; in spite of his wonders, they did not believe.
Psalm 78:32 NIV

In spite of this they still sinned: In some ways this is the most tragic line of the psalm. Despite all the blessings and the strongest corrections, they still sinned. Israel didn’t learn either from God’s goodness or from His wrath.

David Guzik, pastor,

And so, we know how the story goes, the children of Israel wandered in the desert, unable to enter the Promised Land. They sinned, then they sought Him. But not with their whole hearts. They would confess and praise Him with their mouths, but their hearts remained hard. God knows our hearts. And God is faithful. He is merciful. He forgave His children over and over again.

Here are some interesting translations of verse 40:

Again and again they put God to the test; they vexed the Holy One of Israel. (NIV)

Again and again they tempted God, and pained the Holy One of Israel. (NASB2020)

Yes, again and again they tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel. (NKJV)

Yea, turning back, they tempted God, and limits set upon Him, who in midst of Isr'el is the only Holy One. (MP1650--Scottish Psalter)

God does not sin; He cannot be tempted.

In Matthew’s Gospel, something similar is said about Jesus:

Now He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief. 
Matthew 13:58 NKJV

In the one sense it is impossible for the creature to limit the Creator. Yet, when God ties His work to man’s faith/or obedience, there is a sense in which man can and does limit God.

David Guzik, pastor,

Our fear and unbelief, our unwillingness to follow God’s direction, limits the blessings He has planned for our lives. Think about that the next time you worry about taking a step of faith.

Asaph goes on to remember more of the miracles in Egypt and more of the unbelief and stubbornness of the people. He reminds his reader of Shiloh, when God turned His back on His people again and the ark of the covenant was stolen. The story of Shiloh is found in 1 Samuel 4; the Philistines defeated the Israelites in battle to the loss of 4,000 soldiers, then the ark was stolen and carried off. Thirty thousands soldiers died in the resulting battle, and even some priests from the tabernacle.

1 Samuel 5 describes what happened to the Philistine people as a result of the ark of the covenant.

Then the Lord awoke as from sleep, as a warrior wakes from the stupor of wine. He beat back his enemies; he put them to everlasting shame. Then he rejected the tents of Joseph, he did not choose the tribe of Ephraim; but he chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion, which he loved. He built his sanctuary like the heights, like the earth that he established forever. He chose David his servant and took him from the sheep pens; from tending the sheep he brought him to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel his inheritance. And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.
Psalm 78:65-72 NIV

Of course, God was not sleeping nor was He drunk on wine. But it was “as if” He were when He came to Israel’s rescue again. He chose a king to lead His people. And not from one of the tribes that the people would expect. He sought Judah. And not one of Jesse’s tall, handsome, strong sons. But He chose David, the youngest and smallest. David, the shepherd, would lead His people. And He would do so with a heart “after God’s own heart.”

David was upright before God, and never swerved in heart from the obedient worship of Jehovah. Whatever faults he had, he was unfeignedly sincere in his allegiance to Israel’s superior king; he shepherded for God with honest heart. And guided them by the skillfulness of his hands.

Charles Spurgeon, English preacher, 1834-1892

Like many aspect of David’s rule, this was fulfilled in a much greater way in David’s Greater Son, Jesus the Messiah. David’s heart mostly had integrity; the heart of Jesus was perfect in integrity. David guided Israel with great skill; Jesus leads His people with perfect skill.

David Guzik, pastor,
In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. 
Daniel 7:13-14 NIV

Father in heaven, thank you for this psalm, this beautiful piece of poetry attesting to your great faithfulness throughout time. Help us to remember how you have been faithful. Help us to teach the next generation and the generation after that. Give us the words to say and the strength in our hearts. Thank you for all that you’ve done and will do. We love you and we praise you today. Amen.


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