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2002 11 11
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Chapter 78


A maskil of Asaph. 1 Attend, my people, to my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth.


2 I will open my mouth in story, drawing lessons from of old.


We have heard them, we know them; our ancestors have recited them to us.


We do not keep them from our children; we recite them to the next generation, The praiseworthy and mighty deeds of the LORD, the wonders that he performed.


God set up a decree in Jacob, established a law in Israel: What he commanded our ancestors, they were to teach their children;


That the next generation might come to know, children yet to be born. In turn they were to recite them to their children,


that they too might put their trust in God, And not forget the works of God, keeping his commandments.


They were not to be like their ancestors, a rebellious and defiant generation, A generation whose heart was not constant, whose spirit was not faithful to God,


3 Like the ranks of Ephraimite archers, who retreated on the day of battle.


They did not keep God's covenant; they refused to walk by his law.


They forgot his works, the wondrous deeds he had shown them.


4 In the sight of their ancestors God did wonders, in the land of Egypt, the plain of Zoan.


He split the sea and led them across, piling up the waters rigid as walls.


God led them with a cloud by day, all night with the light of fire.


He split rock in the desert, gave water to drink, abounding as the deep.


He made streams flow from crags, drew out rivers of water.


But they went on sinning against him, rebelling against the Most High in the desert.


They tested God in their hearts, demanding the food they craved.


They spoke against God, and said, "Can God spread a table in the desert?


True, when he struck the rock, water gushed forth, the wadis flooded. But can he also provide bread, give meat to his people?"


The LORD heard and grew angry; fire blazed up against Jacob; anger flared up against Israel.


For they did not believe in God, did not trust in his saving power.


5 So he commanded the skies above; the doors of heaven he opened.


God rained manna upon them for food; bread from heaven he gave them.


All ate a meal fit for heroes; food he sent in abundance.


He stirred up the east wind in the heavens; by his power God brought on the south wind.


He rained meat upon them like dust, winged fowl like the sands of the sea,


Brought them down in the midst of the camp, round about their tents.


They ate and were well filled; he gave them what they had craved.


But while they still wanted more, and the food was still in their mouths,


God's anger attacked them, killed their best warriors, laid low the youth of Israel.


In spite of all this they went on sinning, they did not believe in his wonders.


God ended their days abruptly, their years in sudden death.


When he slew them, they began to seek him; they again inquired of their God.


6 They remembered that God was their rock, God Most High, their redeemer.


But they deceived him with their mouths, lied to him with their tongues.


Their hearts were not constant toward him; they were not faithful to his covenant.


7 But God is merciful and forgave their sin; he did not utterly destroy them. Time and again he turned back his anger, unwilling to unleash all his rage.


He was mindful that they were flesh, a breath that passes and does not return.


How often they rebelled against God in the desert, grieved him in the wasteland.


Again and again they tested God, provoked the Holy One of Israel.


They did not remember his power, the day he redeemed them from the foe,


8 When he displayed his wonders in Egypt, his marvels in the plain of Zoan.


God changed their rivers to blood; their streams they could not drink.


He sent insects that devoured them, frogs that destroyed them.


He gave their harvest to the caterpillar, the fruits of their labor to the locust.


He killed their vines with hail, their sycamores with frost.


He exposed their flocks to deadly hail, their cattle to lightning.


He unleashed against them his fiery breath, roar, fury, and distress, storming messengers of death.


He cleared a path for his anger; he did not spare them from death; he delivered their beasts to the plague.


He struck all the firstborn of Egypt, love's first child in the tents of Ham.


God led forth his people like sheep; he guided them through the desert like a flock.


He led them on secure and unafraid, but the sea enveloped their enemies.


He brought them to his holy land, the mountain his right hand had won.


God drove out the nations before them, apportioned them a heritage by lot, settled the tribes of Israel in their tents.


But they tested, rebelled against God Most High, his decrees they did not observe.


They turned back, deceitful like their ancestors; they proved false like a bow with no tension.


They enraged him with their high places; with their idols they goaded him.


God heard and grew angry; he rejected Israel completely.


9 He forsook the shrine at Shiloh, the tent where he dwelt with humans.


He gave up his might into captivity, his glorious ark into the hands of the foe.


God abandoned his people to the sword; he was enraged against his heritage.


Fire consumed their young men; their young women heard no wedding songs.


Their priests fell by the sword; their widows made no lamentation.


Then the Lord awoke as from sleep, like a warrior from the effects of wine.


He put his enemies to flight; everlasting shame he dealt them.


He rejected the tent of Joseph, chose not the tribe of Ephraim.


10 God chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion which he favored.


He built his shrine like the heavens, like the earth which he founded forever.


He chose David his servant, took him from the sheepfold.


From tending sheep God brought him, to shepherd Jacob, his people, Israel, his heritage.


He shepherded them with a pure heart; with skilled hands he guided them.



1 [Psalm 78] A recital of history to show that past generations did not respond to God's gracious deeds and were punished by God making the gift into a punishment. Will Israel now fail to appreciate God's new act - the choosing of Zion and of David? The tripartite introduction invites Israel to learn the lessons hidden in its traditions ( Psalm 78:1-4, 5-7, 8-11); each section ends with the mention of God's acts. There are two distinct narratives of approximately equal length: the wilderness events ( Psalm 78:12-39) and the movement from Egypt to Canaan ( Psalm 78:40-72). The structure of both is parallel: gracious act ( Psalm 78:12-16, 40-55), rebellion ( Psalm 78:17-20, 56-58), divine punishment ( Psalm 78:21-31, 59-64), God's readiness to forgive and begin anew ( Psalm 78:32-39, 65-72). The psalm may reflect the reunification program of either King Hezekiah (late eighth century) or King Josiah (late seventh century) in that the Northern Kingdom (Ephraim, Joseph) is especially invited to accept Zion and the Davidic king.

2 [2] Story: Hebrew mashal literally means "comparison" and can signify a story with a hidden meaning. Matthew 13:35 cites the verse to explain Jesus' use of parables.

3 [9] Ephraimite archers: Ephraim was the most important tribe of the Northern Kingdom. Its military defeat (here unspecified) demonstrates its infidelity to God, who otherwise would have protected it.

4 [12,43] Zoan: a city on the arm of the Nile, a former capital of Egypt.

5 [23-31] On the manna and the quail, see Exodus 16 and Numbers 11. Unlike Exodus 16, here both manna and quail are instruments of punishment, showing that a divine gift can become deadly because of Israel's apostasy.

6 [35] Remembered: invoked God publicly in worship. Their words were insincere ( Psalm 78:36).

7 [38] God is always ready to forgive and begin anew, as in choosing Zion and David ( Psalm 78:65-72).

8 [43-55] Exodus 7-12 records ten plagues. Here there are six divine attacks upon Egypt; the seventh climactic act is God's bringing Israel to the holy land.

9 [60] Shiloh: an important shrine in the north prior to Jerusalem. Despite its holy status, it was destroyed ( Psalm 78:60-64; cf Jeremiah 7:12, 14).

10 [68,70] God's ultimate offer of mercy to the sinful helpless people is Zion and the Davidic king.

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