corner graphic

Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Psalms 78



Verse 1

Give ear, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth.

Psalms 78:1-72.-God's address, through Asaph, to Israel to hear His law and His parabolic instruction. His past dealings with Israel are a parable of spiritual lessons for all ages, as illustrating His eternal principle of government. Compare Matthew 13:35. Christ, the Highest Teacher, is Antitype to Asaph. Join 5:3 with 5:4, 'The things which we have heard we will not hide; nay, we will make them (the historic facts) enigmatic means of instruction.' When Israel shall give ear to the antitypical Asaph, they shall understand, and show forth to "the generation to come," God's praises in His various dealings with them. Introduction (Psalms 78:1-4); God appointed a law to keep Israel from imitating their fathers rebellion in Moses' time (Psalms 78:5-8); Israel proved false to the law under Ephraim (Psalms 78:9-11), like their fathers, whose unbelief under Moses is described in contrast to God's marvelous works in their behalf (Psalms 78:12-40); Israel under the Judges tempted God, and forgat His judgments done for them in Egypt, as well as His planting them in Canaan (Psalms 78:41-55); therefore He forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, and gave them over to the sword (Psalms 78:56-64); but now He awakes as one out of sleep, and destroys their foes, and restores the ark, but not to its former place, Shiloh, in Ephraim. Zion henceforth is His sanctuary and David His chosen king. Let all therefore serve without revolting as heretofore (Psalms 78:65-72). The design is to warn Ephraim against incurring a fresh judgment by rebelling against God's appointment, which transferred the prerogative of Ephraim, for its sins, to Judah. On Ephraim's haughty, rebellious spirit, cf. Judges 8:1; Judges 12:1; 2 Samuel 20:2. The Psalmist delicately avoids wounding the sensitiveness of Ephraim, by not naming revolt as a likely event. He leaves the application to themselves. The references to the Pentateuch as the sacred book of the nation attest its genuineness. Also, cf. Psalms 78:64 with Job 27:15.

The Title. - Maschil of Asaph - instruction by Asaph, the musician contemporary with David.

Give ear, O my people, to my law. God's word by His prophet is not merely doctrine, but God's LAW ( towraah (Hebrew #8451)), which 'His people,' as such, at once from love and from reverential fear, are bound to obey (Isaiah 1:10; Isaiah 51:4).

Verse 2

I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old:

I will open my mouth in a parable ( maashaal (Hebrew #4912)) - a similitude (see note, Psalms 49:4).

I will utter - literally, sputter out (cf. Psalms 19:2, note); I will give vent to. The Spirit, after being pent up, eager for utterance, breaks forth like a gushing fountain.

Dark sayings - enigmas. The historical events which he details were enigmatical veils of religious truth, or instruction ( maskiyl (Hebrew #4905), in the title) hidden beneath, which under the Spirit he unfolds. Compare the same use of sacred history in 1 Corinthians 10:6; Galatians 4:24.

Of old - Hebrew, 'from of old' (Psalms 77:5; Psalms 77:11). The past time of the Mosaic period.

Verse 3-4

Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us.

Which we have heard ... We will not hide. See introductory remarks. Translate, 'What we have heard, etc., we will not hide (omit them) from their children,' etc. There is a change from the singular, in Psalms 78:1-2, to the plural, in Psalms 78:3-4, which shows that Psalms 78:3 is not to be immediately connected in sense with Psalms 78:2, but with Psalms 78:4. In Psalms 78:1-2 God is speaking by the Psalmist. In Psalms 78:3 the Psalmist enlists the sympathy of the pious among his hearers by taking them in with himself-as much as to say, God by my mouth has invited all to give ear to the deep truth wrapped up in the histories of old. Come, then, let US not hide, but show them to others, and specially to the generation to come (Exodus 10:2; Psalms 44:1; 2 Samuel 7:22; Deuteronomy 32:7). Traditions of the fathers are valuable as a testimony to facts, and in corroboration of and subordination to Scripture; but not to be raised to a level with, much less raised above, the written Word. The Psalmist draws his facts from Scripture; at the same time he recognizes that he is surrounded with family traditions which verify independently the statements of the sacred volume.

Verse 4. We will not hide them from their children - i:e., from our children, who are in truth our father's children. Our fathers transmitted to us these truths, not for our sakes only, but for distant posterity.

Showing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord. The plural praises implies the rich fullness of praise which is the Lord's due because of His deeds.

And his wonderful works - which called for the people's grateful obedience, and which were their great condemnation when they disobeyed Him.

Verses 5-8

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:

-God's appointment for Israel in the time of the Judges. God gave His law-the summary of His ordinances and deeds-in order that they and their posterity might trust and obey Him, and not rebel, as their fathers did in the wilderness.

Verse 5. For he established - literally, 'erected;' 'raised up' (cf. note, Psalms 78:6).

A testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel - namely, the Pentateuch, containing not only God's laws, but the record of God's deeds, which contain instruction in duty, and warning (cf. Psalms 78:7; Psalms 78:10-11).

Which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children - not merely by a formal teaching, but by speaking from the heart to their children's heart (Exodus 13:14; Deuteronomy 4:9; Deuteronomy 4:23; Deuteronomy 6:6-7). "Our fathers" are the Israelites of Moses' time.

Verse 6. That the generation to come might know (them) - i:e., the generation in the time of the Judges.

Even the children ... (who) should arise and declare them - not 'who should spring up;' but, omitting "who" of the English version, 'that they should rise up and declare' (them-the law and the testimony).

To their children. The Hebrew verb is the same as is translated in Psalms 78:5, "He established" - literally, 'raised up a testimony.' As God has raised up the testimony, so those for whom He raised it up should rise up and declare it. There is no copula (and) between 'that they might know ... that they should arise' to mark how closely connected are real knowing and rising up to declare one's spiritual knowledge to others, especially to one's own children (Mark 5:19). 'Whatever a man feels to be of vital importance he endeavours to set it before his family' (Hengstenberg).

Verse 7. That they might set their hope in God. "They" - namely, the second generation, that which in the period of the Judges succeeded the Mosaic one, which was the first (Psalms 78:5-6).

And not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments - (Deuteronomy 4:40; Deuteronomy 31:11; Deuteronomy 33:9.)

Verse 8. And might not be as their fathers (of Moses' days), a stubborn and rebellious generation. So Moses reproached his contemporaries (Deuteronomy 9:6-7; Deuteronomy 31:27). The image is that of a refractory son (Deuteronomy 31:18; Deuteronomy 32:5), a generation that set not their heart aright-that did not set steadily their heart in the right way. Hengstenberg translates, 'a generation that does not prepare its heart.' So margin, and Job 11:13; 1 Samuel 7:3. I prefer the English version, as agreeing with Psalms 78:37.

Verses 9-11

The children of Ephraim, being armed, and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle.

-The Israelites failed to realize the high destination which was the very object for which God called them into national existence.

Verse 9. The children of Ephraim, being armed, and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle -

i.e., like soldiers who, though armed, turn their back in battle; so the children of Ephraim (i:e., all Israel, represented by Ephraim, the ruling tribe during the period of the Judges) failed, when put to the test, to realize their noble destination of God. As here they are compared to the dastardly bowmen, so in Psalms 78:57, "to a deceitful bow," which will not do its proof work. Bowmen formed the main body of the Hebrew army. The unfaithfulness of Israel, described here, is that in the period of the Judges; and the consequent punishment is stated to have been their defeat, and the capture of the ark by the enemy (Psalms 78:41; Psalms 78:56-60), followed by the rejection of Shiloh, and the election of Judah as the place of God's sanctuary (Psalms 78:67-69).

Verse 10. They kept not the covenant of God - in opposition to Psalms 78:7, 'that they might keep His commandments.'

Verse 11. And forgat his works - in opposition to Psalms 78:7, "and not forget the works of God."

And his wonders. "His works and His wonders" are those done in Egypt and in the wilderness.

That he had showed them - through their fathers, as the representatives of the Israel of all ages.

Verses 12-40

Marvellous things did he in the sight of their fathers, in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan.

-The unbelief of the Israelite fathers is detailed as a sad contrast to God's marvels performed in their behalf; the object is in order that the sons might see in their fathers' unbelief a vivid picture of their own (Psalms 78:41 and following verses).

Verse 12-16.-God's doings for the fathers, in order to draw them to loving obedience, set forth in historical sequence.

Verse 12. Marvellous things did he in ... Egypt. First come the wonders performed in Egypt, only briefly alluded to here, because in Psalms 78:43-55 the means to take them up at greater length.

In the field of Zoan. Zoan, or Tanis, was a royal city of Lower Egypt, on the east of the Tanitic branch of the Nile. The Egyptian name is Ha-awar, 'the abode of departure.' Zoan means 'a place of departure' [zaa`an, he moved tents]. Numbers 13:22 connects its building with the building of Hebron, which was under the rule of the Palestinian Anakim. The shepherd kings were probably of this race. These made themselves masters of Lower Egypt; and their king, Salatis, built Zoan, or Avaris, about the time of Abraham. Zoan was the capital of the shepherd Pharaoh, who oppressed Israel; and hence, "the field of (i:e., the nome, or region round) Zoan" was the scene of God's miracles in behalf of Israel.

Verse 13. He divided the sea ... he made the waters to stand as an heap - (from Exodus 15:8; cf. Psalms 33:7.)

Verse 15,16. He clave the rocks in the wilderness ... He brought streams also out of the rock. The plural "rocks," and the quotation in Psalms 78:16 (first clause) of Numbers 20:8, "streams," only being substituted for the prosaic 'water,' show that the two occasions of miraculously supplying water are joined here-that at Rephidim, Exodus 17:6, and that at Kadesh, Numbers 20:1-29; Psalms 78:15 refers to both; Psalms 78:16 to the one at Kadesh, as the greater of the two. Only on this second occasion, at Kadesh, is the Hebrew for "rock" used both in Numbers 20:8 and here in Psalms 78:16 [ cela` (Hebrew #5553)]. On the first occasion, that at Rephidim, the Hebrew translated in the English version, "rock," is rather 'a stone' [ tsuwr (Hebrew #6697)]. It is the general term, and might be applied to both occasions. "He clave" ( y

Verses 40-55

How oft did they provoke him in the wilderness, and grieve him in the desert!

-The Israelites in the time of the Judges tempted God by forgetting His judgments in Egypt in Israel's behalf, which are here detailed, as also His love in bringing Israel into Canaan.

Verse 40. How oft did they provoke ... and grieve him in the desert! - (Psalms 95:9-10 : Isaiah 63:10 .) "They vexed His Holy Spirit," Ephesians 4:30; Ezekiel 16:43, 'thou hast fretted me.'

Verse 41. Yea, they turned back, and tempted God - Hebrew idiom, 'They tempted God anew.' The rebellion of Israel in the time of the Judges in Canaan was a new provoking of God, as their fathers had provoked Him before "in the wilderness" (Psalms 78:40).

And limited the Holy One of Israel. The very title of God reproves their unbelieving perversity; the God whose sanctity had been proved by so many miracles before Israel (Psalms 71:22). "Limited" - circumscribed Him with bounds, virtually saying that there are some things which He cannot do; up to a certain point He has power, but after that He has not [from taawaah (Hebrew #8427), to mark with a sign: as the letter Tau (t), Ezekiel 9:4; Numbers 34:7-8]. Compare Psalms 78:20, above, as an instance of their fathers limiting God. Hengstenberg takes the Hebrew in the sense to 'brand' with dishonour. The Septuagint, 'they exasperated.' I prefer the English version.

Verse 43. How he had wrought his signs in Egypt - reverting to Psalms 78:12 - "Marvellous things did He ... in

... Egypt." Here the marvels of God in Egypt are set forth in fuller detail, in order to show by the sad contrast the wickedness of the sons: for it was for their sakes, as much as for their fathers, that those marvels were performed; so that God had the strongest claims upon their loving obedience (cf. Exodus 10:1-2; Psalms 105:27).

Verse 44 And had turned their rivers into blood - the first plague. "Rivers" - i:e., the different canals of the as the cause of the death of the first-born, yet there is nothing there inconsistent with this; nay, Exodus 9:15 implies it.

Verse 51. The chief of their strength - the first-fruits of their strength; poetically for the first-born (Genesis 49:3; Deuteronomy 21:17; Psalms 105:36; cf. Exodus 12:29).

The tabernacles of Ham - whose true offspring Egypt was, as well in blood as in wickedness (Genesis 9:22; Genesis 10:6).

Verse 52. But made his own people to go forth like sheep - (Exodus 12:37; Exodus 15:22.)

An guided them in the wilderness-which began on this side of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:3).

Verse 53. And he led them on safely, so that they feared not - i:e., so that they had no cause to fear. Not Israel's fearlessness of faith, but God's grace in removing all grounds of fear, is the subject of praise (Exodus 14:13).

Verse 54. And he brought them to the border of his sanctuary, even to this mountain, which his right hand had purchased - Zion, the spiritual center of the Holy Land. Though, it was not gotten possession of by Israel until David's time, it was viewed as destined to be theirs and by God's gift theirs from the first. Compare Exodus 15:13; Exodus 15:17, which passage is verbally referred to here, "Thou shalt bring them in ... the mountain of thine inheritance ... in the Sanctuary, O Lord, which thy hands have established." It was hallowed by Abraham's offering of Isaac upon it, (Genesis 22:1-24.) Not all Canaan is meant, as in Deuteronomy 3:25 : but Mount Zion (Psalms 74:2; Psalms 68:16). The Psalmist's object is to give prominence to Zion above Shiloh, that so Israel's northern tribes might not, as in former instances, prove rebellious against the will of the Lord.

Verse 55. He cast out the heathen also before them (the Israelites), and divided them (the pagan) an inheritance by line.} He caused them (the pagan - i:e., their territory) to fall as an inheritance by the measuring line (Numbers 34:2; Psalms 105:11, margin; 16:6; 13:7).

Verses 56-64

Yet they tempted and provoked the most high God, and kept not his testimonies:

-Israel's unfaithfulness in the time of the Judges caused God to forsake the tabernacle of Shiloh, and brought down other sore judgments.

Verse 56. Yet they tempted and provoked the most high God - (Judges 2:7-13.)

And kept not his testimonies - (Deuteronomy 6:16-17.)

Verse 57. But turned back, and dealt unfaithfully like their fathers - (Psalms 78:8.)

Verses 65-72

Then the Lord awaked as one out of sleep, and like a mighty man that shouteth by reason of wine.

-Now Yahweh awakes as one out of sleep, and destroys His people's enemies, and restores the ark; but Shiloh of Ephraim is now no more His resting-place, but Zion, and David is His chosen king. The inference is tacitly left to be drawn-Let not Ephraim and Israel resist like their fathers, but joyfully give in their adhesion to God's appointment.

Verse 65. Then the Lord awaked as one out of sleep. He had seemed, so far as His people's cause was concerned, like one sleeping (Psalms 44:23). Now he arose (in the days of Samuel, Saul, and David) to deliver them from their enemies (1 Samuel 5:1-12; 1 Samuel 6:1-21; 1 Samuel 7:10-14).

Like a mighty man that shouteth by reason of wine - whose natural strength in stimulated by wine, so that he shouts as a warrior under its gladdening influences (Psalms 104:15).

Verse 66. And he smote his enemies in the hinder part - literally fulfilled on the Philistines by the "emerods in their secret parts" (1 Samuel 5:9). Hengstenberg takes it as in Psalms 9:3, 'He smote them back' - i:e., so as to flee back.

He put them to a perpetual reproach. The Philistines went down step by stop, until they were annihilated as a nation.

Verse 67. Moreover he refused the tabernacle of Joseph (Psalms 78:59-60) - "the tabernacle of Shiloh."

And chose not the tribe of Ephraim - which under the Judges had been the ruling tribe. The rejection refers only to their previous precedency, and the presence of the sanctuary among them. As part of the nation, Ephraim shared in the common privilege of the whole people of God.

Verse 68. But chose the tribe of Judah, the mount Zion - to be at once the seat of time sanctuary and of the monarchy (Psalms 78:69-71).

Verse 69. And he built his sanctuary like high (palaces) - rather 'like the heights,' namely, of heaven: standing in antithetical correspondence to "the earth" (Gesenius.) Hengstenberg takes it, 'like the high (mountains): for the Hebrew (ramim) is the common term applied to a mountain, whence Ramah is used of high-lying places; but it is never applied to heaven; nor is the sanctuary at Zion compared usually to heaven, but to high hills (cf. Psalms 68:15-16).

Like the earth which he hath established for ever. As the comparison to the heights of heaven marks Zion's glory and spiritual excellency, so the comparison to "the earth which he hath established forever" (cf. Psalms 104:5; Ecclesiastes 1:4) marks her stability; not like the sanctuary of Gilgal, Shiloh, and Nob, which did not abide permanently. In Zion "the Lord will dwell forever" (Psalms 68:16; Psalms 132:14; 1 Kings 8:13). The fullness of the promise of eternal permanence belongs to the spiritual Zion. The temple on Zion was overthrown by Nebuchadnezzar, and again by Titus; but against the true temple built on Christ "the gates of hell shall never prevail" (Matthew 16:18; Revelation 21:10-26). The height of Zion is only to be discerned by the eye of faith. To the eye of sense many world hills seem higher.

Verse 70,71. He chose David also his servant, and took him from the sheepfolds - from following the ewes great with young. So the Septuagint, Vulgate, and Ethiopic. 'The suckling sheep,' the Syriac, Chaldaic, and Arabic versions.

He brought him to feed Jacob - literally, 'to feed in Jacob;' 'to tend as a shepherd among the people of Jacob.' The true shepherd feels especial care for the tender sheep. and those with young he does not overdrive them (Genesis 33:13-14). Such to his people wee King David designed to be (2 Samuel 7:8). The Psalmist appeals to the Israelites to show loving loyalty to such a shepherd-like king. David, alas! was not always the shepherd, but once "took the poor man's lamb" (2 Samuel 12:4-9). The antitypical David always "feeds His flock like a shepherd, gathers the lambs with His arm, carries them in His bosom, and gently leads those that are with young" (Isaiah 40:11).

Verse 72. So he fed them according to the integrity of his heart - (1 Kings 9:4.) "He" - i:e., not God, but David, who, as a shepherd king, realized God's design, by ruling Israel not merely for his own, but for the peoples good. Let rulers remember that they are made for the state, not the state for them.

And guided them by the skillfulness of his hands - circumspectly guarding against his sheep suffering assault or neglect. The shepherd, with rod and staff in hand, guides the sheep (Psalms 23:4); so David exhibited his skill, not only by counsel, but in execution by the hands.


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Psalms 78:4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.

Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology