Psalm 78

A contemplation by Asaph.
1 Hear my teaching, my people. Turn your ears to the words of my mouth. 2 I will open my mouth in a parable. I will utter dark sayings of old, 3 which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. 4 We will not hide them from their children, telling to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, his strength, and his wondrous deeds that he has done. 5 For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a teaching in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children; 6 that the generation to come might know, even the children who should be born; who should arise and tell their children, 7 that they might set their hope in God, and not forget God’s deeds, but keep his commandments, 8 and might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation that didn’t make their hearts loyal, whose spirit was not steadfast with God. 9 The children of Ephraim, being armed and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle. 10 They didn’t keep God’s covenant, and refused to walk in his law. 11 They forgot his doings, his wondrous deeds that he had shown them. 12 He did marvelous things in the sight of their fathers, in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan. 13 He split the sea, and caused them to pass through. He made the waters stand as a heap. 14 In the daytime he also led them with a cloud, and all night with a light of fire. 15 He split rocks in the wilderness, and gave them drink abundantly as out of the depths. 16 He brought streams also out of the rock, and caused waters to run down like rivers. 17 Yet they still went on to sin against him, to rebel against the Most High in the desert. 18 They tempted God in their heart by asking food according to their desire. 19 Yes, they spoke against God. They said, “Can God prepare a table in the wilderness? 20 Behold, he struck the rock, so that waters gushed out, and streams overflowed. Can he give bread also? Will he provide flesh for his people?” 21 Therefore the LORD heard, and was angry. A fire was kindled against Jacob, anger also went up against Israel, 22 because they didn’t believe in God, and didn’t trust in his salvation. 23 Yet he commanded the skies above, and opened the doors of heaven. 24 He rained down manna on them to eat, and gave them food from the sky. 25 Man ate the bread of angels. He sent them food to the full. 26 He caused the east wind to blow in the sky. By his power he guided the south wind. 27 He rained also flesh on them as the dust; winged birds as the sand of the seas. 28 He let them fall in the middle of their camp, around their habitations. 29 So they ate, and were well filled. He gave them their own desire. 30 They didn’t turn from their cravings. Their food was yet in their mouths, 31 when the anger of God went up against them, killed some of their fattest, and struck down the young men of Israel. 32 For all this they still sinned, and didn’t believe in his wondrous works. 33 Therefore he consumed their days in vanity, and their years in terror. 34 When he killed them, then they inquired after him. They returned 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 mouth, and lied to him with their tongue. 37 For their heart was not right with him, neither were they faithful in his covenant. 38 But he, being merciful, forgave iniquity, and didn’t destroy them. Yes, many times he turned his anger away, and didn’t stir up all his wrath. 39 He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes away, and doesn’t come again. 40 How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness, and grieved him in the desert! 41 They turned again and tempted God, and provoked the Holy One of Israel. 42 They didn’t remember his hand, nor the day when he redeemed them from the adversary; 43 how he set his signs in Egypt, his wonders in the field of Zoan, 44 he turned their rivers into blood, and their streams, so that they could not drink. 45 He sent amongst them swarms of flies, which devoured them; and frogs, which destroyed them. 46 He gave also their increase to the caterpillar, and their labor to the locust. 47 He destroyed their vines with hail, their sycamore fig trees with frost. 48 He gave over their livestock also to the hail, and their flocks to hot thunderbolts. 49 He threw on them the fierceness of his anger, wrath, indignation, and trouble, and a band of angels of evil. 50 He made a path for his anger. He didn’t spare their soul from death, but gave their life over to the pestilence, 51 and struck all the firstborn in Egypt, the chief of their strength in the tents of Ham. 52 But he led out his own people like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock. 53 He led them safely, so that they weren’t afraid, but the sea overwhelmed their enemies. 54 He brought them to the border of his sanctuary, to this mountain, which his right hand had taken. 55 He also drove out the nations before them, allotted them for an inheritance by line, and made the tribes of Israel to dwell in their tents. 56 Yet they tempted and rebelled against the Most High God, and didn’t keep his testimonies; 57 but turned back, and dealt treacherously like their fathers. They were turned aside like a deceitful bow. 58 For they provoked him to anger with their high places, and moved him to jealousy with their engraved images. 59 When God heard this, he was angry, and greatly abhorred Israel; 60 so that he abandoned the tent of Shiloh, the tent which he placed amongst men; 61 and delivered his strength into captivity, his glory into the adversary’s hand. 62 He also gave his people over to the sword, and was angry with his inheritance. 63 Fire devoured their young men. Their virgins had no wedding song. 64 Their priests fell by the sword, and their widows couldn’t weep. 65 Then the Lord awakened as one out of sleep, like a mighty man who shouts by reason of wine. 66 He struck his adversaries backward. He put them to a perpetual reproach. 67 Moreover he rejected the tent of Joseph, and didn’t choose the tribe of Ephraim, 68 but chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion which he loved. 69 He built his sanctuary like the heights, like the earth which he has established forever. 70 He also chose David his servant, and took him from the sheepfolds; 71 from following the ewes that have their young, he brought him to be the shepherd of Jacob, his people, and Israel, his inheritance. 72 So he was their shepherd according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them by the skillfulness of his hands.

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Questions about today’s reading? See if Matthew Henry can help.
Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary, 1706

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.

Verses 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!

Verses 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.

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