Today: [Psalm 78] Contrasts of Faithfulness and Disobedience. Psalm 78 is the 2nd longest psalm after Psalm 119. It recounts the history of Israel from Moses to king David. Over and again we see God acting supernaturally to deliver and to save His people. The people in response struggle to maintain faithfulness. They spiral throughout the centuries in an endless cycle of sinning and being forgiven. God has something more for us than this pattern of failure as this 12th psalm of Asaph demonstrates.
[Psa 78:1-72 KJV] 1 [[Maschil of Asaph.]] Give ear, O my people, [to] my law: incline 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, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done. 5 For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: 6 That the generation to come might know [them, even] the children [which] should be born; [who] should arise and declare [them] to their children: 7 That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments: 8 And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation [that] set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not stedfast with God. 9 The children of Ephraim, [being] armed, [and] carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle. 10 They kept not the covenant of God, and refused to walk in his law; 11 And forgat his works, and his wonders that he had shewed them. 12 Marvellous things did he in the sight of their fathers, in the land of Egypt, [in] the field of Zoan. 13 He divided the sea, and caused them to pass through; and he made the waters to stand as an heap. 14 In the daytime also he led them with a cloud, and all the night with a light of fire. 15 He clave the rocks in the wilderness, and gave [them] drink as [out of] the great depths. 16 He brought streams also out of the rock, and caused waters to run down like rivers. 17 And they sinned yet more against him by provoking the most High in the wilderness. 18 And they tempted God in their heart by asking meat for their lust. 19 Yea, they spake against God; they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness? 20 Behold, he smote the rock, that the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed; can he give bread also? can he provide flesh for his people? 21 Therefore the LORD heard [this], and was wroth: so a fire was kindled against Jacob, and anger also came up against Israel; 22 Because they believed not in God, and trusted not in his salvation: 23 Though he had commanded the clouds from above, and opened the doors of heaven, 24 And had rained down manna upon them to eat, and had given them of the corn of heaven. 25 Man did eat angels’ food: he sent them meat to the full.
Psa. 78 is the second longest chapter of the book of Psalms. It is a maschil, or “enlightenment” psalm and the 12th of the psalms of Asaph. The psalm recounts the history of the people of God from the exodus from Egypt down to David’s times. The theme is that of exhortation to be faithful to Jehovah and to bring to mind the failures of times past in the light of His mercy and lovingkindness. The people are warned not to repeat the pattern of the sins of the past and encouraged to maintain adequate training and guidance to the next generation.
In verse 1 when the writer calls the reader to give ear to the law – he is speaking specifically of the 5 books of the Torah, the encapsulation of God’s law. Jewish mystics believed that the Torah from beginning to end was the whole of God’s name. They contended that to recite the law from beginning to end without stopping was to invoke the power of creation as in Genesis 1. The first verse invokes the Torah and verse 2 contains a Messianic reference. When the disciples would read Psalm 78:2 speaking of parables and dark sayings they saw it as being fulfilled in the teachings of Jesus:
[Mat 13:34-35 KJV] 34 All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them: 35 That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.
Is Jesus still speaking to us in parables today? Certainly He is. It is helpful to bear this in mind for the Holy Spirit still speaks to us in metaphor, type and shadow today. Staunch literalists mishandle the scripture when they do not make room for esoteric meaning and shadows in reading the scripture, including what some call the “rhema” word which emphasizes specific scripture as personal, subjective revelation to a particular believer.
In verse 9 we see the tribe of Ephraim is singled out among the tribes as having a reputation for war – yet never going out to battle. The Ephraim mentality is very prevalent in our religious culture. When Gideon went to battle, or Joshua or other deliverers Ephraim would often find reason not to join in the fray. They would then appear afterward with great indignation for not being invited to share in the victory. Criticism and vitriol run deep in Christian culture – but those who criticize the loudest and doing the least in the kingdom. Men and women who are making an impact and reaching souls will seldom speak criticism against others because they simply cannot find time to do so. They are seeking the kingdom and none else. You cannot seek the kingdom and criticize your brother and sister in Christ.
26 He caused an east wind to blow in the heaven: and by his power he brought in the south wind. 27 He rained flesh also upon them as dust, and feathered fowls like as the sand of the sea: 28 And he let [it] fall in the midst of their camp, round about their habitations. 29 So they did eat, and were well filled: for he gave them their own desire; 30 They were not estranged from their lust. But while their meat [was] yet in their mouths, 31 The wrath of God came upon them, and slew the fattest of them, and smote down the chosen [men] of Israel. 32 For all this they sinned still, and believed not for his wondrous works. 33 Therefore their days did he consume in vanity, and their years in trouble. 34 When he slew them, then they sought him: and they returned and enquired early after God. 35 And they remembered that God [was] their rock, and the high God their redeemer. 36 Nevertheless they did flatter him with their mouth, and they lied unto him with their tongues. 37 For their heart was not right with him, neither were they stedfast in his covenant. 38 But he, [being] full of compassion, forgave [their] iniquity, and destroyed [them] not: yea, many a time turned he his anger away, and did not stir up all his wrath. 39 For he remembered that they [were but] flesh; a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again. 40 How oft did they provoke him in the wilderness, [and] grieve him in the desert! 41 Yea, they turned back and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel. 42 They remembered not his hand, [nor] the day when he delivered them from the enemy. 43 How he had wrought his signs in Egypt, and his wonders in the field of Zoan: 44 And had turned their rivers into blood; and their floods, that they could not drink. 45 He sent divers sorts of flies among them, which devoured them; and frogs, which destroyed them. 46 He gave also their increase unto the caterpiller, and their labour unto the locust. 47 He destroyed their vines with hail, and their sycomore trees with frost. 48 He gave up their cattle also to the hail, and their flocks to hot thunderbolts. 49 He cast upon them the fierceness of his anger, wrath, and indignation, and trouble, by sending evil angels [among them]. 50 He made a way to his anger; he spared not their soul from death, but gave their life over to the pestilence; 51 And smote all the firstborn in Egypt; the chief of [their] strength in the tabernacles of Ham: 52 But made his own people to go forth like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock. 53 And he led them on safely, so that they feared not: but the sea overwhelmed their enemies.
Verse 26 recounts the episode when the people complained about the manna. The Lord caused an east wind to blow and rained down quail upon the people until they ate so much many of them died. Asaph rehearses the repeated disobediences in the wilderness when the people would complain and suffer then repent and return. This is not God’s plan. Living for God is not intended to be an endless cycle of sinning and being forgiven. The heart of God is that we overcome sin by the sacrifice of Himself on the cross and live a life of going from glory to glory instead of failure to failure.
54 And he brought them to the border of his sanctuary, [even to] this mountain, [which] his right hand had purchased. 55 He cast out the heathen also before them, and divided them an inheritance by line, and made the tribes of Israel to dwell in their tents. 56 Yet they tempted and provoked the most high God, and kept not his testimonies: 57 But turned back, and dealt unfaithfully 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 graven images. 59 When God heard [this], he was wroth, and greatly abhorred Israel: 60 So that he forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent [which] he placed among men; 61 And delivered his strength into captivity, and his glory into the enemy’s hand. 62 He gave his people over also unto the sword; and was wroth with his inheritance. 63 The fire consumed their young men; and their maidens were not given to marriage. 64 Their priests fell by the sword; and their widows made no lamentation. 65 Then the Lord awaked as one out of sleep, [and] like a mighty man that shouteth by reason of wine. 66 And he smote his enemies in the hinder parts: he put them to a perpetual reproach. 67 Moreover he refused the tabernacle of Joseph, and chose not the tribe of Ephraim: 68 But chose the tribe of Judah, the mount Zion which he loved. 69 And he built his sanctuary like high [palaces], like the earth which he hath established for ever. 70 He chose David also his servant, and took him from the sheepfolds: 71 From following the ewes great with young he brought him to feed Jacob his people, and Israel his inheritance. 72 So he fed them according to the integrity of his heart; and guided them by the skilfulness of his hands.
Verse 54-55 speaks of the entering in of the people to the promised land. God led them out of the wilderness and cast all of their enemies out before them. Yet there were still problems with disobedience and halfhearted compliance to the guidance of God. It is a truth that God will always be found faithful to His word. We on the other hand often overlook and reinterpret what we sense God is saying to fit our convenience and alleviate pressure in our lives. It is so important to us when God has spoken that we listen to His voice and hold ourselves accountable. Accountability is one of the most difficult commitments a believer in Christ is called to make. Pastors try to hold us accountable, leaders emphasis accountability in their teachings. We can speak of being in alignment with leadership but the first and foremost matter of accountability is first between us and God alone. James said this:
[Jas 4:8 KJV] 8 Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse [your] hands, [ye] sinners; and purify [your] hearts, [ye] double minded.
Accountability to God begins and ends with living this life on your own recognizance with God. You will have little success or blessing in your relationships with leadership unless you first and foremost establish your own commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ that looks no further than your own heart for a demand to compliance and seeking first the kingdom of God.
Verses 68-72 speak of the rejection of the tribe of Ephraim because of lukewarmness and disobedience. Ephraim you will remember settled on the other side of Jordan, not wanting to go into the promised land as commanded by God. At the time that they requested to do this of Joshua the Lord granted their request. Just as when the people asked for quail, Ephraim asked for a modification of the plan of God to their own hurt. Be careful what you ask for. Many times I have asked God to lift pressure off of my life. I have heard the Lord say on occasion “ask Me one more time…” This always brought the fear of God in my heart. God’s plan for your life will often bring pressure into your life that you would never choose for yourself. Ephraim wanted out from under the pressure and lost their inheritance. Remember the teaching of Paul in Acts 14:22 that it is through much tribulation (pressure) that we enter the kingdom.
With Ephraim rejected we find Judah accepted and David brought forth as a man after God’s own heart. Verse 70 says that David was brought out of the sheepfolds of his father Jesse and made to be the shepherd king of all Israel. The key for us of the entire psalm is that of exhorting obedience under pressure. You may be as David, laboring in obscurity – but be faithful. Listen to God’s voice. Refuse to murmur or to ask to have your own way. In time the faithfulness of God will bring you out of the hard place into the fullness of His plan for your life.
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