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Psalm 78 - A Psalm for Instruction

INTRODUCTION: Psalm 78 provided instruction for the children of Israel using an abbreviated history from the time Moses led them out of Egypt until the ark of God found rest in Zion when David was king. A contrast is made between the wonderful blessings from following God in truth; and the rebellion that will bring about the righteous wrath of the LORD. Asaph is named in an inscription at the beginning of this psalm, and he was a descendent of Levi through the line of Gershom, one of Levi's three sons. King David made many appointments from the descendents of Levi for service before the LORD in Zion where he had the ark of God brought to a resting place before the temple was built.

NOTE: All Bible passages are from the King James 21st Century Bible.


Numbers 4 "15 And when Aaron and his sons have made an end of covering the sanctuary and all the vessels of the sanctuary, as the camp is to move forward, after that the sons of Kohath shall come to bear it; but they shall not touch any holy thing, lest they die. These things are the burden of the sons of Kohath in the tabernacle of the congregation."
1 Chronicles 6 "31 And these are they whom David set over the service of song in the house of the LORD after the ark came to rest. 32 And they ministered before the dwelling place of the tabernacle of the congregation with singing, until Solomon had built the house of the LORD in Jerusalem; and then they served in their office according to their order."
1 Chronicles 6 "39 And his brother Asaph, who stood at his right hand, even Asaph the son of Berachiah, the son of Shimea, 40 the son of Michael, the son of Baaseiah, the son of Malchijah, 41 the son of Ethni, the son of Zerah, the son of Adaiah, 42 the son of Ethan, the son of Zimmah, the son of Shimei, 43 the son of Jahath, the son of Gershom, the son of Levi."
1 Chronicles 23 "1 So when David was old and full of days, he made Solomon his son king over Israel. 2 And he gathered together all the princes of Israel, with the priests and the Levites. 3 Now the Levites were numbered from the age of thirty years and upward; and their number by their head count, man by man, was thirty and eight thousand, 4 of whom twenty and four thousand were to oversee the work of the house of the LORD, and six thousand were officers and judges. 5 Moreover four thousand were doorkeepers, and four thousand praised the LORD with the instruments "which I made," said David, "to praise therewith." 6 And David divided them into divisions among the sons of Levi, namely, Gershon, Kohath, and Merari."

COMMENTS: After Joshua brought the children of Israel into the Promised Land, he assembled the tribes of Israel and dedicated the tabernacle of God at Shiloh, but the ark of God did not remain there throughout the several centuries as judges ruled in the land. When David became king at Jerusalem, he had the ark of God set in a new tent in Zion, a sector of Jerusalem. Some of the duties of the Levites no longer applied as when Moses led the children of Israel for forty years in the wilderness; because there had been very specific instructions to the divisions of the Levites for preparing the tabernacle of God to be moved, and for setting it up again at the next camp site. King David made some new assignments for some of the descendents of the three sons of Levi since the ark of God had now found rest. Asaph was one of the descendents of Levi through the line of Gershom, and duties continued for those appointed by David after Solomon had the temple constructed in Jerusalem. The tabernacle that had been prepared when Moses led the people in the wilderness was not brought to Zion by King David, and there is no further mention of it in Scripture after the ark of God had rest.


Psalm 78 "1 {A Psalm for Asaph, to give instruction.} 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, showing 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 to our fathers, that they should make them known to their children; 6 that the generation to come might know them, even the children who 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 so might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not steadfast with God."

COMMENTS: The psalmist stressed at the very beginning, the need for the reader to hear what he is saying as law, and to consider it carefully. He said he would apply a parable and some dark sayings of old, so some of what he wrote could be difficult reminders. Much guidance and blessings from the LORD had been passed down from previous generations and they needed to continue to be passed to each generation that followed. The LORD should be praised for his wonderful works, and that he had established a testimony in Jacob as he gave him the name Israel. The law was given to the children of Israel and it was to be followed by every successive generation; that the people might set their hope in God and not forget his works, but keep His commandments. by this, they would not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation that did not set their hearts to have a spirit steadfast with God.


Psalm 78 "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 they forgot His works and His wonders that He had shown them. 12 Marvelous 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 a heap."

COMMENTS: Not long before Jacob died in Egypt, he gave a special blessing to Joseph's younger son Ephraim, and said he would be greater than his older brother. Genesis 48 "15 And he blessed Joseph and said, "God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who fed me all my life long unto this day, 16 the Angel who redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth." 17 And when Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand upon the head of Ephraim, it displeased him; and he held up his father's hand to remove it from Ephraim's head unto Manasseh's head. 18 And Joseph said unto his father, "Not so, my father, for this is the firstborn. Put thy right hand upon his head." 19 And his father refused and said, "I know it, my son, I know it. He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great; but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations." 20 And he blessed them that day, saying, "In thee shall Israel bless, saying, 'God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh.'" And he set Ephraim before Manasseh."

About four hundred years after Jacob died, Moses led the people out of Egypt and they remained in the wilderness for forty years until the LORD removed Moses and gave him a unique burial. Then the LORD appointed Joshua of the tribe of Ephraim to lead the people into the Promised Land. Joshua 1 "1 Now after the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, it came to pass that the LORD spoke unto Joshua the son of Nun, Moses' minister, saying, 2 "Moses My servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou and all this people, unto the land which I give to them, even to the children of Israel."" Joshua desired to follow the law of the LORD given through Moses, and there were very important elements to be observed by all the children of Israel as they took possession of the land. Exodus 23 "30 Little by little I will drive them out from before thee, until thou be increased and inherit the land. 31 And I will set thy bounds from the Red Sea even unto the Sea of the Philistines, and from the desert unto the river; for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and thou shalt drive them out before thee. 32 Thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor with their gods. 33 They shall not dwell in thy land, lest they make thee sin against Me; for if thou serve their gods, it will surely be a snare unto thee."

After the death of Joshua and the elders like him, changes began to take place among the tribes. Joshua 24 "29 And it came to pass after these things that Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died, being a hundred and ten years old. 30 And they buried him in the border of his inheritance in Timnathserah, which is in Mount Ephraim, on the north side of the Hill of Gaash. 31 And Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and who had known all the works of the LORD, that He had done for Israel." Judges began to rule in various territories, and the children of Ephraim and Manasseh were like the other tribes, and did not drive out all the inhabitants of the land. Judges 1 "27 Neither did Manasseh drive out the inhabitants of Bethshean and her towns, nor Taanach and her towns, nor the inhabitants of Dor and her towns, nor the inhabitants of Ibleam and her towns, nor the inhabitants of Megiddo and her towns; but the Canaanites would dwell in that land. 28 And it came to pass, when Israel was strong, that they put the Canaanites to tribute, and did not utterly drive them out. 29 Neither did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites who dwelt in Gezer, but the Canaanites dwelt in Gezer among them."

So the behavior of the descendents of Ephraim was not unlike the general wayward actions of all of the tribes who belonged to Israel. They did not keep the covenant of the LORD or rely on his strength in the day of battle with the heathen people. They forgot the many wonders he had shown their ancestors in Egypt before he brought them out of captivity; and how he separated the Red sea so Israel passed through on dry ground, but Pharaoh's pursuing army was destroyed as the waters closed over them.


Psalm 78 "14 In the daytime also He led them with a cloud, and all the night with a light of fire. 15 He cleaved 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 for meat for their lust. 19 Yea, they spoke 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?""

COMMENTS: The cloud which led them in the daytime and the pillar of fire that guided them by night were miraculous signs possible only from God. Having water gush forth from a rock in the wilderness in such an abundance as to supply for all the people and for their livestock was yet another miraculous provision from the LORD. They provoked the LORD by asking for meat to satisfy their lustful desire, sinfully requesting that the LORD respond to them as though he was to serve them! They tested him by implying that he could not provide more than he had already done.


Psalm 78 "21 Therefore the LORD heard this and was wroth; so a fire was kindled against Jacob, and anger also rose 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 ate angels' food; He sent them meat to the full. 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 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 ate and were well filled, for He gave them their own desire. 30 But 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."

COMMENTS: The LORD demonstrated that he is indeed able to supply anything at his will, but judgment was combined as he delivered in a manner they had not anticipated, what they had challenged him to give. They had not believed in his salvation even though the LORD had already provided manna from heaven: and this was uniquely described as food for angels, not like common food found on the earth. Their attitude and remarks stirred up the anger of the LORD and he supplied an exceeding abundance of meat of fowls on the midst of the camp. When they ate they were filled as they received their own desire, but many of them died with food still in their mouths, being slain by the LORD.


Psalm 78 "32 For all this, they sinned still and believed not in 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 inquired early after God. 35 And they remembered that God was their rock, and the high God, their redeemer. 36 Nevertheless they flattered Him with their mouth, and they lied unto Him with their tongues. 37 For their heart was not right with Him, neither were they steadfast 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."

COMMENTS: Though all these wonders had been demonstrated, they still sinned and did not believe in the LORD, therefore their days passed in vane and fruitless years, with much trouble in their lives. Each time they saw many among them die because of rebellion against the LORD, they turned to claim him as their rock and redeemer; but this was just flattery as they had not truly accepted the LORD in their hearts, and had not committed themselves to his covenant. But the LORD is full of compassion, and many times he forgave their iniquity and did not destroy them; for He knows the frailty of existing in the flesh, and how quickly a lifetime in the body will pass away; and that life will be in utter vanity without firm trust in the LORD.


Psalm 78 "40 How oft did they provoke Him in the wilderness, and grieve Him in the desert! 41 Yea, they turned back and tested 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 streams, 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 harvest unto the caterpillar, and their labor unto the locust. 47 He destroyed their vines with hail, and their sycamore 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, indignation, and trouble, by sending evil angels among them. 50 He made a path 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 He 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."

COMMENTS: How often the children of Israel provoked the LORD during the forty years in the wilderness, almost as if they were totally unaware of the miracles he had done in Egypt in their behalf to a people who had absolute power over them. But they had indeed witnessed the miracles God wrought against the Egyptians, while protecting Israel and not calling them to engage in battle with the Egyptians. Their rebellion in the wilderness limited the Holy One of Israel from providing blessings without the need for judgment. So the psalmist reviewed the miraculous signs of destruction to many Egyptian resources, that gradually brought Pharaoh to release all of the children of Israel. The last disastrous personally felt blow was that the LORD had slain all the firstborn in Egypt, the chief of their strength in the tents of Ham. But the LORD made his "own people" go forth like sheep being guided by a protective shepherd. They were safe, but the Egyptian troops that pursued them were covered over and destroyed in the midst of the sea.


Psalm 78 "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 apportioned them an inheritance by line, and made the tribes of Israel to dwell in their tents. 56 Yet they tested 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 had 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."

COMMENTS: The LORD brought the people to the border of what would become the holy city of Jerusalem, the future resting place for the ark of God. He gave them victory over the heathen and allowed them to set up territorial lines for their inheritance. However, again the people began to turn aside as the previous generation had done, and they even began to worship false gods. God was greatly displeased and he forsook the tabernacle that had traveled with Israel during the forty years in the wilderness; and Joshua had dedicated that sacred tabernacle and the ark of God at Shiloh when Israel entered the land of promise. The LORD delivered the ark of the Covenant, which represented His strength and glory to Israel, into captivity by the pagan Philistines. Many young men fell by the sword, including priests; and the young maidens had no men for marriage, and widows mourned the loss of their husbands. The psalmist did not give complete detail about the capture of the ark of God; or about Saul of the tribe of Benjamin who was anointed by Samuel as the first king of Israel as directed by the LORD because the people wanted to have a king.

The point at which the psalmist stopped his reference was when Israel suffered defeat, and they used the ark of God as if for their own convenience they could bring about victory by moving it as they desired. 1 Samuel 4 "3 And when the people had come into the camp, the elders of Israel said, "Why hath the LORD smitten us today before the Philistines? Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of the LORD out of Shiloh unto us, that when it cometh among us, it may save us out of the hand of our enemies." 4 So the people sent to Shiloh, that they might bring from thence the ark of the covenant of the LORD of hosts, which dwelleth between the cherubims; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God. 5 And when the ark of the covenant of the LORD came into the camp, all Israel shouted with a great shout, so that the earth rang again. 6 And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shout, they said, "What meaneth the noise of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews?" And they understood that the ark of the LORD had come into the camp. 7 And the Philistines were afraid, for they said, "God has come into the camp!" And they said, "Woe unto us! For there hath not been such a thing heretofore. 8 Woe unto us! Who shall deliver us out of the hand of these mighty gods? These are the gods who smote the Egyptians with all the plagues in the wilderness. 9 Be strong, and acquit yourselves like men, O ye Philistines, that ye be not servants unto the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Acquit yourselves like men, and fight!" 10 And the Philistines fought, and Israel was smitten, and they fled every man into his tent; and there was a very great slaughter, for there fell of Israel thirty thousand footmen. 11 And the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain." The LORD God had not directed Israel, and they paid the penalty for such a common approach to the sacred ark of the Almighty God.


Psalm 78 "65 Then the LORD awakened as one out of sleep, like a mighty man that shouteth by reason of wine. 66 And He smote His enemies in the hinder parts, and laid upon them 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 also chose David 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 skillfulness of his hands."

COMMENTS: The LORD provided another landmark event in the history of Israel, and indeed in the history of all mankind, as he directed Samuel to anoint David as the second king in Israel. Ephraim no longer have any leadership distinction, and Saul of the tribe of Benjamin had been rejected; so Judah became the line that would lead to Christ, the everlasting King. David was blessed by the LORD as he had many victories over the enemies of Israel even while Saul was still the king. David had weakness in the flesh as with all men, but he had a heart ever searching to serve the LORD. David represented the protective shepherd of the sheepfold, who became like a shepherd of the flock of God. He secured Zion and Jerusalem as the symbolic high place for the eternal King of kings who reigns on high from his throne in heaven.

Not long before Jacob died in Egypt, as he did with each of his twelve sons, he gave a prophetic word to Judah which had a significant blessing. Genesis 49 "8 "Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise; thy hand shall be on the neck of thine enemies; thy father's children shall bow down before thee. 9 Judah is a lion's whelp; from the prey, my son, thou art gone up. He stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up? 10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet until Shiloh come; and unto Him shall the gathering of the people be. 11 Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass's colt unto the choice vine, he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes. 12 His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk."


LORD, the miracles you performed in Egypt became more severe as Pharaoh refused to believe in the power behind them, but after the death of the first-born of the Egyptians, the children of Israel were finally permitted to leave. Pharaoh changed his mind and sent troops after Israel, and another miracle allowed Israel to pass through the Red sea on dry ground, which then closed over the pursuing troops destroying them all with no needed defense by Israel. Soon after, Israel rebelled in the wilderness with complaints and demands, which aroused your wrath and brought judgment. This happened more than once and the children of Israel turned back to you, but not with a sincere heart. Because of your long-suffering and compassion, you did not always punish them as they deserved. LORD, your miracles in Egypt and those performed in the wilderness for forty years are very important to the history of Israel, but also to believers in all generations because over many centuries you have guided by your Holy Spirit the men who wrote so much Scripture before the coming of Christ Jesus; and the writing after his sufficient sacrifice for the sin of all who accept that gift of salvation by grace through faith. There has not been such a concentrated period of miracles since that time, except when the Lord Jesus gave proof of his deity, and many refused to believe those miracles and certain prophetic Scriptures he fulfilled by coming in the flesh. I thank you, my God and my King, that you have opened my heart to believe what has been passed down through your Word, and for the many times you have shown to me your patience and compassion. . Strengthen me Lord for the remainder of my journey in this present life, that I may sincerely demonstrate my love and faith in you. Amen, and amen.

Published 11 January 2019