1 My people, hear my instruction; listen to what I say. 2 I will declare wise sayings; I will speak mysteries from the past— 3 things we have heard and known and that our fathers have passed down to us. 4 We must not hide them from their children, but must tell a future generation the praises of the Lord, His might, and the wonderful works He has performed.5 He established a testimony in Jacob and set up a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers to teach to their children 6 so that a future generation— children yet to be born—might know. They were to rise and tell their children 7 so that they might put their confidence in God and not forget God’s works, but keep His commands. 8 Then they would not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not loyal and whose spirit was not faithful to God. 9 The Ephraimite archers turned back on the day of battle. 10 They did not keep God’s covenant and refused to live by His law. 11 They forgot what He had done, the wonderful works He had shown them. 12 He worked wonders in the sight of their fathers in the land of Egypt, the region of Zoan. 13 He split the sea and brought them across; the water stood firm like a wall. 14 He led them with a cloud by day and with a fiery light throughout the night. 15 He split rocks in the wilderness and gave them drink as abundant as the depths. 16 He brought streams out of the stone and made water flow down like rivers. 17 But they continued to sin against Him, rebelling in the desert against the Most High. 18 They deliberately tested God, demanding the food they craved. 19 They spoke against God, saying, “Is God able to provide food in the wilderness? 20 Look! He struck the rock and water gushed out; torrents overflowed. But can He also provide bread or furnish meat for His people?” 21 Therefore, the Lord heard and became furious; then fire broke out against Jacob, and anger flared up against Israel 22 because they did not believe God or rely on His salvation. 23 He gave a command to the clouds above and opened the doors of heaven. 24 He rained manna for them to eat; He gave them grain from heaven. 25 People ate the bread of angels. He sent them an abundant supply of food. 26 He made the east wind blow in the skies and drove the south wind by His might. 27 He rained meat on them like dust, and winged birds like the sand of the seas. 28 He made them fall in His camp, all around His tent. 29 They ate and were completely satisfied, for He gave them what they craved. 30 Before they had satisfied their desire, while the food was still in their mouths, 31 God’s anger flared up against them, and He killed some of their best men. He struck down Israel’s choice young men. 32 Despite all this, they kept sinning and did not believe His wonderful works. 33 He made their days end in futility, their years in sudden disaster. 34 When He killed some of them, the rest began to seek Him; they repented and searched for God. 35 They remembered that God was their rock, the Most High God, their Redeemer. 36 But they deceived Him with their mouths, they lied to Him with their tongues, 37 their hearts were insincere toward Him, and they were unfaithful to His covenant. 38 Yet He was compassionate; He atoned for their guilt and did not destroy them. He often turned His anger aside and did not unleash all His wrath. 39 He remembered that they were only flesh, a wind that passes and does not return. 40 How often they rebelled against Him in the wilderness and grieved Him in the desert. 41 They constantly tested God and provoked the Holy One of Israel. 42 They did not remember His power shown on the day He redeemed them from the foe, 43 when He performed His miraculous signs in Egypt and His wonders in the region of Zoan. 44 He turned their rivers into blood, and they could not drink from their streams. 45 He sent among them swarms of flies, which fed on them, and frogs, which devastated them. 46 He gave their crops to the caterpillar and the fruit of their labor to the locust. 47 He killed their vines with hail and their sycamore fig trees with a flood. 48 He handed over their livestock to hail and their cattle to lightning bolts. 49 He sent His burning anger against them: fury, indignation, and calamity— a band of deadly messengers. 50 He cleared a path for His anger. He did not spare them from death but delivered their lives to the plague. 51 He struck all the firstborn in Egypt, the first progeny of the tents of Ham. 52 He led His people out like sheep and guided them like a flock in the wilderness. 53 He led them safely, and they were not afraid; but the sea covered their enemies. 54 He brought them to His holy land, to the mountain His right hand acquired. 55 He drove out nations before them. He apportioned their inheritance by lot and settled the tribes of Israel in their tents. 56 But they rebelliously tested the Most High God, for they did not keep His decrees. 57 They treacherously turned away like their fathers; they became warped like a faulty bow. 58 They enraged Him with their high places and provoked His jealousy with their carved images. 59 God heard and became furious; He completely rejected Israel. 60 He abandoned the tabernacle at Shiloh, the tent where He resided among men. 61 He gave up His strength to captivity and His splendor to the hand of a foe. 62 He surrendered His people to the sword because He was enraged with His heritage. 63 Fire consumed His chosen young men, and His young women had no wedding songs. 64 His priests fell by the sword, but the widows could not lament.65 Then the Lord awoke as if from sleep, like a warrior from the effects of wine. 66 He beat back His foes; He gave them lasting shame. 67 He rejected the tent of Joseph and did not choose the tribe of Ephraim. 68 He chose instead 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 sheepfolds; 71 He brought him from tending ewes to be shepherd over His people Jacob— over Israel, His inheritance.72 He shepherded them with a pure heart and guided them with his skillful hands.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
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The writer of this Psalm begins by giving instructions to hear and listen (verse 1) and to tell and praise (verse 4). What follows that instruction is the history of Israel up to the time this Psalm was written. The point of rehashing all this history was to help the people of Israel remember where they came from, and to encourage them to be thankful to God.
Verse 7 provides us with the reason why: “So that they might put their confidence in God and not forget God’s works, but keep His commands.” Remembering the good things God has done leads us to worship, trust, and obey Him.
Take a minute and scan back through the text. Look for the words “He” and “they,” and pay attention to the action that follows. What you will see is God’s continued goodness, mercy, and provision in spite of Israel’s continued refusal to obey. From the Garden of Eden to the present day, the story the Bible tells is about God’s goodness and our sinfulness. But as psalmist reminds us, that is not the whole story.
“He chose David His servant and took him from the sheepfolds;He brought him from tending ewes to be shepherd over His people Jacob—over Israel, His inheritance.He shepherded them with a pure heart and guided them with his skillful hands.”
Psalm 78 ends with the rule of David, and it envisions a day when a coming King will rule from the throne of David. The goodness of God and the sinfulness of man meet on the cross of Jesus Christ. Born in the line of David, Jesus came to deliver God’s people from their slavery to their sin and to their selves.
Philosopher George Santayana is credited with a statement you have likely heard many times: “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Israel’s story shows us that they learned very little from their mistakes. Though God led them out of Egypt and provided their every need, “Yet they sinned more against Him.”
This is Israel’s story, but it is also our story. More often than not, we repeat past mistakes. If you are anything like me, your struggles remain the same because all people have the same problem—sin. Indeed, the root of all sin is idolatry, the failure to make God the most important thing in our lives. The essential nature of people does not change. And if at this point you are thinking that sounds pretty bleak, you would be correct. There has to be bad news before there can be good news.
The good news is God does not change either. And God is just as merciful as He is good. He is all that He is at all times in equal measure. Fortunately for us, God is more gracious than we are sinful. He is able to overcome our sin and separation and make us new. He is able to change our nature and this is the central story of Scripture. The Bible tells the story of Redemptive History, which is God redeeming a people for Himself through the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Certain places in Scripture give voice to the story that God is telling; Psalm 78 is one of those places. Thinking deeply on passages like Psalm 78 helps us to see our deep need for God and appreciate God’s unmerited provision in Christ. We see our story. We see God’s story. And we see the place where those two stories come together in Jesus. This type of reflection urges us to be deeply grateful for what God has done and instructs us to help other people find their place in this story.
Stories exist to be told and shared. That is how they continue to be stories and not just memories. Psalm 78 uses the paradigm of sharing the story of faith within the context of a family. Some of us are not blessed with physical children, but neither were Jesus or Paul. Yet that never stopped them from telling the story of what God was doing. Jesus poured His life into twelve men, and then into three—Peter, James, and John—in a more intentional way. Paul poured his life into Timothy, Silas, and Titus. Whether it be family or friend, all of us have the opportunity and responsibility to tell someone about God’s story.
- How well do you know God’s story? Are you able to articulate the central story of Scripture? Do you know it well enough to share it with your children, family, friends, or co-workers? How could you use this Psalm to tell someone else about God’s story?
- Psalm 78 begins with the exhortation to listen and hear. One of the ways we become familiar with redemptive history is through continual time spent alone with God through the study of His Word and prayer. Are these priorities in your life? The gospel is the central story of Scripture. How can you look for the gospel in every passage of Scripture you read?
- Verse 4 also includes exhortations to tell and praise. To whom can you tell the story of Scripture? Take a minute to pray with your Oikos card for opportunities to tell God’s story.
- Does reflecting on God’s story motivate you to praise Him for His goodness? The study of God should always lead to worship of God. Is this a reality in your life?