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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Psalms 78



Verses 1-72

Title. Maschil of Asaph. Rabbi Kimchi says, that this title, which signifies to give instruction, designates also the species of music or melody to which the words were set, as is now the practice of composers. Handel named his celebrated piece, The Messiah. This psalm is a species of carmen seculare to the Hebrews.

Psalms 78:1. Give ear, oh my people. Hebrew poetry generally begins with bold addresses. Psalms 45:1. Isaiah 1:2.

Psalms 78:2. A parable, a succession of wise and instructive sayings. It is a psalm of rehearsal, that the worshipper might derive instruction from the ways of providence.

Psalms 78:5. A testimony in Jacob. The Ark of the testimony, as in twenty places; for there the Lord dwelt in glory, and his law attested his covenant.

Psalms 78:9. Ephraim being armed—turned back; that is, according to Kimchi, though actually in the field of battle, to fight against Amalek in the desert, he ran away with shame, and is branded for it. 1 Chronicles 7:21. Others think this act of cowardice happened when the ark of God was taken, for the people of Amalek were allies of the Philistines.

Psalms 78:12. Zoan. The LXX read, Tunis, as in Numbers 13:22. It was situate on the eastern branch of the Nile, in the Delta, and was the northern capital of the kings of Egypt. Rosetta is the same place now, and built on its ruins.

Psalms 78:25. Man did eat angels’ food. אבירים abirim, the mighty ones. St. Paul seems to cite this text when he says, “the Lord Jesus Christ shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels.” 2 Thessalonians 1:7.

Psalms 78:33. Their days did he consume in vanity: their sentence, couched in the name of Abel, to waste away in the desert, it would seem, quickly followed that of the ten unbelieving spies. It made them sick at heart; they gradually fainted and died. As unbelief is the damning sin of the world, so the Lord made those old rebels a fearful example to posterity.

Psalms 78:35. Their Redeemer. Hebrews גאלם goalam, their goël, as in Job 19:25. The Messiah was ever employed in redeeming and saving his people.

Psalms 78:39. A wind that passeth away. Hebrews רוח ruach, a spirit.

Psalms 78:41. They—limited the Holy One of Israel. After the Lord had given water and manna, they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness? How soon they forgot what their eyes had seen. They were not allowed to see the new miracles which he wrought in the land of Canaan.

Psalms 78:49. By sending evil angels among them, to destroy the firstborn of the Egyptians; but they had no power to touch the families where the blood of the covenant was sprinkled.

Psalms 78:63. Their maidens were not given to marriage. The Hebrew is praise or marriage song, and dances, as the Epithalamia of the heathen. The young men being cut off in war, there were no husbands for them; or, as the Syriac, they were ravished by the victorious Philistines.

Psalms 78:64. Their priests fell by the sword. Eli’s two sons and other priests, for whom their widows made no lamentation, their death being a disgrace.


In this review of Hebrew history, we see the deep stain of original sin breaking out on all occasions into new forms of crime. The old man cannot amend; he must be put off; he must be crucified. This is the grand point of instruction to posterity. For death will make all men coward, as well as Ephraim: true courage reposes in virtuous minds.

We admire the just portrait which Asaph draws of the rebellious Hebrews in the desert: they wantonly lusted for flesh, when they ate bread that God had given them from heaven. They provoked the Holy One to anger; but their punishment was less than their sin. Take warning, oh my soul, and tempt not Christ, as they tempted him.

See the compassion and tender mercy of God. All the deliverances of Israel are traced up to thee; and this is recorded for our encouragement, that we may turn to the Lord, and hope in his mercy. But if we continue in sin because grace abounds, our sin will be exceeding sinful. With God there is forgiveness, that he may be feared. His goodness is designed to lead us to repentance, and keep us from sinning against him; and if it answers this end, we, through patience and comfort of the scripture, shall have hope.


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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Psalms 78:4". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. 1835.

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