Psalm 78: Online lessons

Maschil of Asaph.:

Maschil of Asaph means Poem of the Scribe or Musician. So David probably using his secretary or scribe writes these words as the poet and musician of Israel.

David pleads for his people of Israel to listen to the direction of the Psalm.

He tells them these are difficult things they have to hear.

From the start of the chapter to verse 6 David tells us that this psalm was not just meant to be heard by the current generation but it would pass down the generations. This was important to David as he knew that even if this wicked generation of Israel did not listen at least the ‘Israel’ to come would. The generation  to come would surely get to know the blessings and wonders of God by the power he extols.

Verse 7-8 also tell us that from these good truths that the later generations of Israel would learn to trust God completely once again. They would not be like their wicked fathers and forefathers, rebellious and stubborn. Then at the end of verse 8 it ends with a poignant comment.

“…..whose hearts were not loyal to God, whose spirits were not faithful to him.”

The words hearts and spirits here mean mind and breath respectively. Meaning that Israel’s inner person or mind was never established in God. And their breath or bodies were not confirmed in Gods ways. Israel never converted their inner beings, so therefore there outer beings or carnal desires were never interested in following our heavenly father.

            So indeed we see also my friends that we must always be careful to keep our minds and hearts in deep connection to Gods ways, or our earthly bodies and desires shall become like Israel’s did. Seeking only the comforts of Egypt.

Verse 9-16 of Psalm 78 remind us and especially Israel of what the Lord God had done for them.

            It tells us of the time when Ephraim, who were renowned to be great warriors of the mountains, turned back in the day of battle. They did not put their trust in God and because of this indirectly the Ark of the Covenant was removed from Israel. Then God tells us of some of the amazing miracles he did for his people from captivity onwards. The things that Israel had forgotten that were seen directly by their fathers.

            Just simple everyday things of course (sarcasm) like rescuing Israel from Egypt via a great sea that splits in two. So that all Israel could walk on land through these waters. He guided them by a cloud and a pillar of fire in the sky. He split rocks so that rivers gushed out from the depths of the earth. You know just simple everyday acts like these (sarcasm). Obviously my friends you can see that I’m being sarcastic. That one of these feats alone would make headlines forever and a day. But many miracles like these being forgotten is just downright outrageous.

            Just as a side not too though I would like to digress to 1 Sam 4:6-11.

It reads…1 Samuel 4:6-11  6 Hearing the uproar, the Philistines asked, "What's all this shouting in the Hebrew camp?" When they learned that the ark of the LORD had come into the camp,  7 the Philistines were afraid. "A god has come into the camp," they said. "We're in trouble! Nothing like this has happened before.  8 Woe to us! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? They are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the desert.  9 Be strong, Philistines! Be men, or you will be subject to the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Be men, and fight!"  10 So the Philistines fought, and the Israelites were defeated and every man fled to his tent. The slaughter was very great; Israel lost thirty thousand foot soldiers.  11 The ark of God was captured, and Eli's two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, died.

            I think in this passage alone the amount of irony and absurdity is well nigh overflowing. We have the wicked enemies of Israel scared stiff and in awe of the Ark of God within Israel’s camp. Our God is then elevated even further by the fact that the Philistines remember this same God as being the one that was powerful enough to send plagues on Egypt. So these Pagan Enemies of Israel recognize this feared God of Israel. Then these Philistines get the wind up them so much, and not wanting to become Israel’s slaves, go forth and obliterate the Israeli army and capture the precious Ark.

            Well it is not often we see great enemies of God having more respect for God than his own people. But it sure is here. In fact God uses this as poetic justice. That Israel because of their lack of faith have a Great Icon of faith stolen from them after a sound beating.

            This really does show my friends how God works in the world, at that time as well as now. How God will often use an enemy or something rather objectionable in our life to teach us a lesson. How that God chastens those he loves. He uses irony and even the “Canaanite Adversity” to show us where we went wrong. This is very hard to praise God for I know, but we must my friends. This is God loving us so much he has to use every means possible to bring us home.

            In verse 17-31 we have the episode of course of the Manna and Quail. We see here David was reminding Israel again of what God had done for them and what Israel had not done for God. Israel in a nasty and churlish way told God that he might be good enough to get water from a rock but he couldn’t provide them with meat. Israel was being childish and rude to the extreme. All for what? Well, verse 18 tell us….

Psalm 78:18 They willfully put God to the test by demanding the food they craved.

            The word craved here means for their desire, lust or self. So not only were they inadvertently demanding of God and cynical to their toes but they wanted the meat just to fulfill the lusts of their bodies. Don’t forget that God had provided previously for Israel in miraculous circumstances the ‘manna’ bread also. But then sometime later Israel decided this was not good enough and demanded meat. These current verses combine these two different events so the lessons are easier to see.

            So God opens the heavens up for the manna and also for the Quail that he fed them. But in God-like justice he made sure Israel’s tantrums came back to bite them. God covered the entire camp as far as a days journey by foot with Quail from the heavens. Not only did he cover the ground with Quail but covered it 3foot thick. And of course no sooner were all Israel engorged with the demands of their lusts he dealt them their punishment again with a plague.

            We might think the Israel’s sins thousands of year previous has nothing to do with us friends. But I think it does. How often do we cry to God for what we want when we think we need it. How often has he always provided for us when times are hard. He gives us so much food we can vary our diet every hour if we wish. He provides shelter and security to most of us. Do we turn to God and tell him off for not giving us enough of what we think we need? Do we honestly understand what we need? Does God know more about our needs than us? I think if we are honest we will know the answers already.

            Our spiritual diet is also like the Israelites but in a good way. God gives us the bread of the mighty (manna means mighty) when we need it and then the ‘meat of the word’ when we need it. Varied sustenance for spiritual growth. We must not forget to thank God for this too.

            In verse 32-39 God tells us a very personal story I believe. A story of a loving dejected father who tries every way he can to please his child but keeps getting hurt. God did everything he could to help them but Israel was stubborn and kept paining their Father. Verse 34-37 tell us of the fickle story…..

            Psalm 78:34-37  34 Whenever God slew them, they would seek him; they eagerly turned to him again.  35 They remembered that God was their Rock, that God Most High was their Redeemer.  36 But then they would flatter him with their mouths, lying to him with their tongues;  37 their hearts were not loyal to him, they were not faithful to his covenant.

            God knows all and sees all my friends. This is something we know. So not only did God know Israel was using flattery and deception to try to get what they wanted, God knew they would. God knows the beginning from then end and knew he would suffer dearly at the behest of his Childs antics. Israel’s heart was not with God and they had forgotten the promise they made to God. To love and follow him as their Father.

            I think verse 38 and 39 is a real tear jerker. A reminder that out great Lord and Master of the heavens and earth can feel the pain and suffering we all feel when we are hurt or rejected. The only difference is God did everything right and we don’t.

It reads…

Psalm 78:38-39  38 Yet he was merciful; he forgave their iniquities and did not destroy them. Time after time he restrained his anger and did not stir up his full wrath.  39 He remembered that they were but flesh, a passing breeze that does not return.

God knew they deserved to be wiped out as a nation, but he didn’t. He forgave them and restrained his hand of destruction. Israel deserved nothing but eternal obliteration and destruction but God’s love prevailed. Why oh why? Why did this great God of ours put up with such antics of lust and selfishness causing such rejection and pain? Well the answer quite simply is in the next verse. Verse 39.

39 He remembered that they were but flesh, a passing breeze that does not return.

God knows our nature, he understands it even more now through Christ-like insight. The insight that his Son Jesus Christ experienced. God knows that Israel were just flesh, here today but gone tomorrow. He doesn’t excuse human nature but he does forgive it and allow for it.

How much more is this a lesson for us. That God knows he will be hurt by our tantrums however they come across. He knows we will always fall away from the right path no matter how hard we try to stay on it. But God loves us because we try. He loves us because we have to try. That as failing dying creatures we won’t give up because God doesn’t give up. Truly this insight into the loving-kindness of God’s nature is earth shaking. What a marvelous God and what marvelous encouragement we glean from just this one verse.

Verse 40 to verse 51 tells of the actual exodus. The direct and miraculous coming out from Egypt. The plagues and signs that were demonstrated to all for Israel’s sake and to glorify God.

Verse 52-55 once again reminds us of Gods love in action….

Psalm 78:52-55  2 But he brought his people out like a flock; he led them like sheep through the desert.  53 He guided them safely, so they were unafraid; but the sea engulfed their enemies.  54 Thus he brought them to the border of his holy land, to the hill country his right hand had taken.  55 He drove out nations before them and allotted their lands to them as an inheritance; he settled the tribes of Israel in their homes.

This really is a wonderful lesson in mercy and care. We also can see God’s hand in our lives too. That if God who was so willingly rejected and scorned by a Nation, was still able to love and care for Israel, how much more then for us. How much more is God able to be our Shepard in Christ. Through Christ his Son we are led. God engulfs the adversaries around us so we can follow him even more. So we can learn more about him.    God is actively right now in the Middle East leading us spiritually and soon physically into the promised land. He will drive out the wicked nations and we, not just Israel, but we, as part of Spiritual Israel will inherit the promised land. What a marvelous hope we have!

Verse 56-64 reiterates once again the story of God’s mercy and Israel’s rebelliousness. Israel continually put God to the test and made God jealous with their pagan idols. God abandoned the Tabernacle, and let the Ark be taken into captivity as we read earlier in Samuel. Then it says God was ‘angry with his inheritance’. This almost sounds like a contradiction, ‘to be angry with your own inheritance’. But God was punishing the Nation that would inherit directly from him. They had to be chastened for their own good. God was not going to give up. He made a covenant with Israel and still has one. A covenant that now includes us!

We seem to follow this whole chapter up until here quite sadly. The wickedness of Israel and the rejection of our Heavenly Father. All rather Somber. But wait…..would the great musician and poet leave us hanging there. No David would not. For verse 65 to the end reads….

Psalm 78:65-72  Then the Lord awoke as from sleep, as a man wakes from the stupor of wine.  66 He beat back his enemies; he put them to everlasting shame.  67 Then he rejected the tents of Joseph, he did not choose the tribe of Ephraim;  68 but he chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion, which he loved.  69 He built his sanctuary like the heights, like the earth that he established forever.  70 He chose David his servant and took him from the sheep pens;  71 from tending the sheep he brought him to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel his inheritance.  72 And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.

David finishes it off again with a bang. A real turn of emotion. God himself is likened to a drunken man waking out of a stupor. I think David would be one of the few that could get away with relating the great God of heavens and earth to a drunkard with a hangover. But nevertheless God in this psalm has woken abruptly into action. He tells us he will now reject living in tents and find his dwelling in Judah. In none other than Mount Zion or modern day Jerusalem. God built this sanctuary to last for ever and pulled out a meager Shepard boy to Shepard God’s people from this place. Of course this is David as Israel’s Shepard and more importantly the lineage of David, meaning Christ. So David’s line was forever to be set up ruling from Jerusalem. David then finishes off with a modest explanation of himself. Being a man after God’s own heart this is completely excusable. For David did lead Israel with great integrity and understanding.

Well this has been a long chapter and a lot of content was skipped and summarized for time constraints. But none the less we can glean a lot from what we have read.

So what are the direct lessons we can take with us to the Emblems and beyond.

·        We must remember to keep our hearts and therefore our bodies satisfied with spiritual food. We must look into our conscience for the Emblems and beyond.

·        We should realize that God works miracles everyday for us. We might not see a big commotion like Israel did but he works through other people and events. God also uses adverse people or events to teach us the lessons we need to grow. God does this because he loves us.

·        We must remember that God knows what we need better than we do. So generally if it happens, we needed it.

·        We also must remember to thank God for the spiritual food he gives us whether it be light spiritual manner or heavy spiritual meat. Both are good for us at different times.

·        If we think we can deceive God by our actions no matter how small, we are really only deceiving ourselves. Let us be honest with God as well as ourselves.

·        God understands our nature but doesn’t excuse it automatically. We are here to remember how he has forgiven us through Christ. He loves us because we try so hard, let us never quit on God as he never quits on us.

·        God is actively sheltering us now from our enemies, whether physical or spiritual. He is also actively leading us into the promised land for our Inheritance as part of Spiritual Israel.

·        The final point of course alongside the previous is the most important. That is to do with our lineage. The lineage we have been baptized into. The family we have joined and are to remember and celebrate in the emblems. That as God woke from his drunkenness we are reborn now into activity. We don’t just sit and remember these emblems but we are taking them on the run. We are running together holding hands and helping those up who have fallen. For we have an inheritance that is gifted to us. Let us eat and drink with thanksgiving and adoration. God our Father, God our love.