corner graphic

Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries

Psalms 78



Verses 1-72


This, the first of the "historical psalms," though assigned by the rationalistic school (De Wette, Ewald, Koster, Hitzig) to a period subsequent to the Captivity, is generally allowed by more sober critics (Hengstenberg, Kay, Wordsworth, Canon Cook, Professor Alexander) to belong to the Davidical age—i.e. either to the reign of David or to that of Solomon. The abrupt conclusion when David's time is reached indicates that the writer cannot carry the lessons of history any further. The way in which David is spoken of (Psalms 78:72), and the (apparent) mention of the temple in Psalms 78:69, indicate that Solomon's reign was begun, and make "a few years after the accession of Solomon" the most probable date of the composition. There is thus no reason for rejecting the authorship of Asaph, which is asserted by the title.

The psalm is, as the title also declares, one of "instruction." It seeks to keep the people faithful to David and his house, and to check their tendency to place themselves under the leadership of the tribe of Ephraim, by recalling the whole course of God's dealings with Israel in the past, from the time of the sojourn in Egypt to the establishment of David's kingdom. It also seeks to keep them faithful to God, by showing how all their past calamities and sufferings had arisen out of their unfaithfulness (Psalms 78:8, Psalms 78:10, Psalms 78:22, Psalms 78:32, Psalms 78:37, etc.).

The psalm divides itself merely into a preface or introduction (Psalms 78:1-8), and a continuous narrative (Psalms 78:9-72).

Psalms 78:1-8

The introduction calls special attention to the teaching that is about to be put forth, which it declares to be traditional (Psalms 78:3), and, further, to be the sort of instruction which God had especially commanded to be given to his people by their teachers (Psalms 78:5, Psalms 78:6) for their edification (Psalms 78:7, Psalms 78:8).

Psalms 78:1

Give ear, O my people, to my law; rather, to my teaching. Hat-torah—torah with the article—is "the Law;" but torah alone is any teaching or instruction. Incline your ears to the words of my mouth. Dr. Kay regards the words of Psalms 78:1 as "God's own words,"

Psalms 78:2

I will open my mouth in a parable. The facts of Israelitish history. are the "parable," the inner meaning of which it is for the intelligent to grasp. They are φωνᾶντα συνετοῖσιν. I will utter dark sayings of old (comp. Proverbs 1:6). Khidoth ( חידות ) are properly "riddles" (see 14:12). Here the idea is that God's dealings with his people had been "riddles," whereto the psalmist would give the clue (comp. Psalms 78:21, Psalms 78:22, Psalms 78:33, Psalms 78:56-59, etc.).

Psalms 78:3

Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us; or, "recounted to us" (Kay). The facts of their past history had been handed down orally from father to son among the Israelites, not simply learnt from their sacred writings. So the facts of Christianity have reached us, not merely through the New Testament, but also by the teaching of the Church.

Psalms 78:4

We will not hide them from their children. They shall still be handed down in the same way. We of this generation will still continue the practice of handing down, by word of mouth, to the next generation, how God has dealt with Israel. Asaph's psalms were written, it must be remembered, to be recited in the services of the sanctuary. Showing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord; i.e. the actions for which he deserves praise. And his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done (comp. Psalms 78:12-16, and Psalms 78:23-55).

Psalms 78:5

For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel. The "testimony" and the "law" are the whole series of commands given by God to his people, beginning with the directions concerning circumcision in Genesis (Genesis 17:10-14), and terminating with the last precept in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 32:46). They may include also the teachings of God through history. These he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children (see Exodus 12:26, Exodus 12:27; Exodus 13:8, Exodus 13:14, Exodus 13:15; Deuteronomy 4:9; Deuteronomy 6:7; Deuteronomy 11:19; Deuteronomy 32:46, etc.).

Psalms 78:6

That the generation to come might know them. "The generation to come" is the next generation, that immediately following those to whom the command was directly given. Even the children which should be born. Their actual sons and daughters. Who should arise and declare them to their children. The first generation were to hand the knowledge on to the second, the second to the third, and so on. This is the way in which the hulk of human knowledge actually passes on. Not much is learnt from books without a teacher (see Acts 8:31).

Psalms 78:7

That they might set their hope in God. Instruction in God's Law, and in his treatment of their forefathers, would naturally tend to make the Israelites "set their hope in God," who in the past had done so much for them. And not forget the works of God. They could not well forget, it' they were perpetually reminded of them. But keep his commandments. If they bore God's works—i.e. his many mercies—in mind, they would be the more disposed to obedience.

Psalms 78:8

And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation (comp. Deuteronomy 21:18, Deuteronomy 21:20, for the combination of the two words). The "stubbornness" of Israel is noted in Deuteronomy 9:27; 2:19; and frequently by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 3:17; Jeremiah 7:24; Jeremiah 9:14; Jeremiah 11:8, etc.); their "rebelliousness" in Deuteronomy 9:7, Deuteronomy 9:24; Isaiah 30:1, Isaiah 30:9; Isaiah 65:2; Jeremiah 5:23; Ezekiel 2:3-8; Ezekiel 3:9, Ezekiel 3:26, Ezekiel 3:27; Ezekiel 12:2, Ezekiel 12:3, etc. (compare also for the idea 2 Kings 17:14-17; 2 Chronicles 36:14-16; Ezra 9:6, Ezra 9:7; Nehemiah 1:6, Nehemiah 1:7; Daniel 9:5-11; and Acts 7:51, "Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost; as your fathers did, so do ye"). A generation that set not their heart aright; literally, that prepared not their heart—did not make it ready to receive Divine influences (see 1 Samuel 7:3; Job 11:13; 2 Chronicles 20:33). And whose spirit was not steadfast with God. It was not that Israel was wholly without religious feeling, but the feeling was fickle, unsteadfast, never to be depended on (comp. Exodus 32:1-6; Numbers 16:41, Numbers 16:42; 2:17, etc.).

Psalms 78:9-72

The historical portion of the psalm now follows. It commences with some general remarks on the transgressions of Ephraim, i.e. of Israel while under the guidance of Ephraim—from Joshua to Samuel (verses 9-11). It then proceeds to details, and sketches the Israelite history. from the deliverance out of Egypt to the establishment of David's kingdom (verses 12-72).

Psalms 78:9

The children of Ephraim (comp. Psalms 78:67). Ephraim was the leading tribe, from the appointment of Joshua to succeed Moses until the establishment of Saul as king. Hence the tabernacle was set up within the territory of Ephraim (Joshua 18:1). The importance of Ephraim appears in 3:27; 7:24; 8:1, 8:2; 10:9; 12:1-6. Being armed, and carrying bows. There is no "and" in the original. "Carrying bows" is exegetical of "being armed". Turned back in the day of battle. The allusion is not to any one particular occasion, but to the ill success of Israel under the leadership of Ephraim during the whole period of the Judges (see 2:14; 3:8, 3:13, 3:31; 4:2; 6:1; 10:7, 10:12, etc.).

Psalms 78:10

They kept not the covenant of God (comp. Deuteronomy 29:25; Deuteronomy 31:20; 1 Kings 19:10, 1 Kings 19:14, etc.). And refused to walk in his law (see 2:11-13; 8:33; 10:10).

Psalms 78:11

And forgat his works (see Psalms 78:42), and his wonders that he had showed them (see Psalms 78:12-15, Psalms 78:24-28, Psalms 78:43-53).

Psalms 78:12

Marvellous things did he in the sight of their fathers, in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan. The miracles of Egypt are, perhaps, the most striking series in Jewish history. A more particular account of them is given below (Psalms 78:44-53). They were wrought "in the field of Zoan," i.e. in the rich flat tract east and south of the city of Zoan, the Greek Tanis, now San. This fact could not have been gathered from Exodus, but must have come to the writer from the tradition of which he speaks in verse 3.

Psalms 78:13

He divided the sea, and caused them to pass through (see Exodus 14:21, Exodus 14:22). And he made the waters to stand as an heap. The expression is taken from the Song of Moses (Exodus 15:8). It must be understood poetically.

Psalms 78:14

In the daytime also he led them with a cloud. The "pillar of the cloud" is, of course, intended (see Exodus 13:21, Exodus 13:22; Exodus 14:19, Exodus 14:24; Exodus 40:38; Numbers 9:15; Numbers 10:34; Numbers 14:14; Deuteronomy 1:33). And all the night with a light of fire. The "pillar of fire" (Exodus 13:21; Exodus 40:38; Numbers 9:16, etc.).

Psalms 78:15, Psalms 78:16

He clave the rocks in the wilderness; rather, he clave rocks. The word has no article. The reference is probably to both Exodus 17:6 and Numbers 20:8-11. And gave them drink as out of the great depths; rather, "and gave them drink abundantly, as out of the depths" (so Cheyne and the Revised Version). On the abundance of the water, see Numbers 20:11, and compare the next verse: He brought streams also out of the rock, and caused waters to run down like rivers.

Psalms 78:17

And they sinned yet more against him by provoking the Most High in the wilderness. The two provocations of a demand for bread (Exodus 16:3) and a demand for flesh (Numbers 11:4) are joined together in the present passage, as the two occasions of giving water are in Psalms 78:15, Psalms 78:16. Only the second of these two provocations was subsequent to the (first) giving of water; but the psalmist does not allow himself to be bound by considerations of strict chronological accuracy. He is a poet, and not an historian; though at present he is treating of history.

Psalms 78:18

And they tempted God in their heart by asking meat for their lust; rather, by asking food (Kay, Cheyne, Alexander). The term used ( אכל ) is wide enough to include both bread ( לחם) and flesh ( שׁאר). "For their lust" (literally, "for their soul") means for the gratification of their carnal appetites (comp. Exodus 16:3; Numbers 11:5).

Psalms 78:19

Yea, they spake against God; they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness? (see Numbers 11:4). But the psalmist either feels himself at liberty to expand the account given in the Pentateuch, or has a further knowledge of the real feelings of the people, which has come to him by tradition (compare the comment on Psalms 78:12).

Psalms 78:20

Behold, he smote the rock, that the waters gushed out, and the streams (literally, the torrent courses) overflowed; can he give bread also? can he provide flesh for his people? These were probably the people's thoughts rather than their words. An "evil heart of unbelief" underlay their clamours and their murmurings. They doubted God's power to relieve their wants, notwithstanding all the proofs that they had had of his omnipotence.

Psalms 78:21

Therefore the Lord heard this. Though these might be unspoken thoughts, yet God would "hear" them, i.e. be aware of them; for "he knoweth the very secrets of the heart." And was wroth (comp. Psalms 78:59, Psalms 78:62; Deuteronomy 3:26). So a fire was kindled against Jacob. Not a material fire, as in Le Psalms 10:2; Numbers 11:1-3; and Numbers 16:35; but the fire of God's displeasure. And anger also came up against Israel (comp. Numbers 16:30, Numbers 16:31; Numbers 11:33).

Psalms 78:22

Because they believed not in God, and trusted not in his salvation. They trusted neither in God's power nor in his love; they neither believed that he would nor that he could save them.

Psalms 78:23

Though he had commanded the clouds from above; rather, and he commanded (Hengstenberg, Cheyne, Revised Version). The command was subsequent, not previous, to the want of faith (see Numbers 11:4-31). And opened the doors of heaven (comp. Genesis 7:11, "The windows of heaven were opened"). The expressions are, of course, poetical (see also 2 Kings 7:2).

Psalms 78:24

And had rained down manna upon them to eat, and had given them; rather, and rained down manna to eat, and gave them (comp. Exodus 16:13, Exodus 16:14). Of the corn of heaven (comp. Exodus 16:4; Psalms 105:40; John 6:6, John 6:7).

Psalms 78:25

Man did eat angels' food; literally, bread of the mighty ones, by which the LXX. and most commentators understand "angels" to be meant. "Angels' food" may mean either the actual food on which angels subsist, or food supplied by the ministration of angels, and derived from their dwelling place. It cannot be laid down dogmatically that angels require no food. He sent them meat to the full (comp. Exodus 16:3, where the Israelites contrast with their wretched life in the wilderness their life in Egypt, where they "did eat bread to the full").

Psalms 78:26

He caused an east wind to blow in the heaven: and by his power he brought in the south wind. Here, again, tradition seems to speak. The narrative in the Pentateuch has only, "There went forth a wind from the Lord" (Numbers 11:1-35 :81).

Psalms 78:27

He rained flesh also upon them. With the expression, "rained flesh," comp. Exodus 16:4, "Behold, I will rain bread from heaven;" and see also Genesis 19:24 and Exodus 9:23. As dust; i.e. "as thick as dust" (Prayer book Version). The quails lay "as it were two cubits high" for the distance of a day's journey round about each encampment (see Numbers 11:31). And feathered fowls like as the sand of the sea. The commonest image of multiplicity (Genesis 22:17; Deuteronomy 33:19; Joshua 11:4; 7:12, etc.).

Psalms 78:28

And he let it fall in the midst of their camp. The quails "covered the camp" (Exodus 16:13). Round about their habitations. They extended also round it on every side (Numbers 11:31).

Psalms 78:29

So they did eat, and were well filled; i.e. sated (comp. Numbers 11:19, Numbers 11:20). For he gave them their own desire; or, their own lust—that they lusted after (Revised Version).

Psalms 78:30

They were not estranged from their lust; i.e. their lust was not yet satiated—they were still indulging it. The meat was yet in their mouths, still undergoing mastication, when—

Psalms 78:31

The wrath of God came upon them, and slew the fattest of them (comp. Numbers 11:33, "While the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, the wrath of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord smote the people with a very great plague"). By "the fattest of them," we are to understand the strongest and healthiest. And smote down the chosen men of Israel; rather, the young men, as in the margin, "the ripened youths" (Cheyne). Here, again, the author adds touches which he has not obtained from the Pentateuch.

Psalms 78:32

For all this they sinned still. Neither gratitude for favours received (Psalms 78:13-17), nor alarm at punishments inflicted (Psalms 78:31), had any effect on the stiff-necked people; despite of both, they "sinned still" (comp. Psalms 78:40, Psalms 78:41, Psalms 78:56-58). And believed not for his wondrous works. Unbelief was at the root of their contumacy. They could not deny God's mighty works in the past, but they did not accept them as any evidence of his power to do other mighty works in the future (see Psalms 78:20).

Psalms 78:33

Therefore their days did he consume in vanity, and their years in trouble. Their faithlessness was punished by their forty years of vain and purposeless wandering in the wilderness, and by the "troubles" that befell them there.

Psalms 78:34

When he slew them, then they sought him (comp. Exodus 32:28, Exodus 32:35; Exodus 33:4, Exodus 33:10; Numbers 11:33; Numbers 16:48, Numbers 16:49, etc.). The repentance is not always noticed in the Mosaic narrative, being, as it was, short-lived, if not even feigned (Psalms 78:36). But, no doubt, after each outpouring of the Divine vengeance, there was at least some show of repentance, as noted in Exodus 33:4. And they returnedi.e. turned back from their evil courses—and inquired early after God; rather, earnestly (Cheyne, Canon Cook).

Psalms 78:35

And they remembered that God was their Rock; i.e. their strength and stay. The expression is first used of God in Deuteronomy 32:4. And the high God their Redeemer (comp. Psalms 19:14; Psalms 74:2).

Psalms 78:36

Nevertheless they did flatter him with their mouth. The Revised Version is simpler and better, But they flattered him with their mouth. All that they said or did when alarmed by some judgment of God's was a mere pretence—an attempt to "flatter" and cozen God, and so win his favour. And they lied unto him with their tongues. They offered him a lip service, which was a "lie," a mere semblance of real religion.

Psalms 78:37

For their heart was not right with him. It is the worship of the heart alone which God values (see Deuteronomy 10:12; Proverbs 3:1; Proverbs 23:26, etc.). If the heart be not "right with God," our worship is an offence to him. Neither were they steadfast in his covenant (comp. Psalms 78:8).

Psalms 78:38

But he, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity. (On God's compassion, see Exodus 34:6, Exodus 34:7; Numbers 14:18; Psalms 103:8; Psalms 145:8.) And destroyed them not. The allusion is to such occasions as are noted in Exodus 32:10-14; Numbers 14:12-20; Numbers 16:21, Numbers 16:45-50, when God was on the point of destroying the whole people, but relented at the intercession of Moses. Yea, many a time turned he his anger away, and did not stir up all his wrath (comp. 2:11-16; 3:8, 3:9; 4:2, 4:15; 6:1-8, etc.).

Psalms 78:39

For he remembered that they were but flesh (comp. Genesis 6:3). Flesh is weak, erring, frail—"in us, that is, in our flesh, dwelleth no good thing" (Romans 7:17)—God, therefore, who had made them "flesh," had compassion on their weakness. A wind that passeth away, and cometh not again (comp. Job 7:7). Man is a mere passing breath—as light, as fleeting, as transitory—"a vapour that appeareth for a little while, and then vanisheth away" (James 4:14).

Psalms 78:40

How oft did they provoke him in the wilderness, and grieve him in the desert! (comp. Deuteronomy 31:27; Deuteronomy 32:15-18; Acts 7:30-43, etc.). That God is "grieved" at man's sins appears, not only from this passage, but also from Genesis 6:6; Psalms 95:10; Ephesians 4:30; Hebrews 3:17.

Psalms 78:41

Yea, they turned back and tempted God; rather, again and again they tempted God (Hengstenberg, Kay, Cheyne); see Exodus 17:2, Exodus 17:7; Deuteronomy 6:16. And limited the Holy One of Israel (comp. Numbers 34:7, Numbers 34:8). This may mean either "they set limits to his power in their own minds" (see Deuteronomy 6:20), or "they actually limited his power to help and succour them by their want of faith". The other meanings suggested—"disgraced" and" provoked"—are less probable.

Psalms 78:42

They remembered not his hand; i.e. "his doings" (comp. Psalms 78:11, they "forgat his works"). Nor the day when he delivered them from the enemy. "The day" intended is probably that of the drowning of the Egyptians in the Red Sea (Exodus 15:1-27 :28). In this the Egyptian signs culminated.

Psalms 78:43

How he had wrought his signs in Egypt. The point just touched in Psalms 78:12 is now taken up and expanded, with the object of showing to the Israelites of the writer's day what cause they had for thankfulness to God in the past and for trust in him for the future. And his wonders in the field of Zoan. "The field of Zoan" (sochet Zoan) is said to be mentioned in an Egyptian inscription.

Psalms 78:44

And had turned their rivers into blood (see Exodus 7:19, Exodus 7:20). "Their rivers" are the many branches of the Nile, some natural, some artificial (Herod; 2.17), by which Lower Egypt is traversed. And their floods; or, their streams; i.e. the smaller canals, which diffused the Nile water over the entire land. That they could not drink (see Exodus 7:21).

Psalms 78:45

He sent divers sorts of flies among them (see Exodus 8:24). A particular sort of fly or beetle is meant, rather than many different sorts. Dr. Kay and Professor Cheyne suggest "dog flies"—Canon Cook, the Blatta Orientalis. Which devoured them; i.e. "preyed upon them," sucking out their life blood. And frogs, which destroyed them (see Exodus 8:6). The poet, not being an historian, does not give the plagues in their chronological order, neither regards himself as bound to mention all of them. He omits the third, and reverses the order of the second and fourth.

Psalms 78:46

He gave also their increase unto the caterpillar, and their labour unto the locust. Khasil ( חָסִיל ), here translated "caterpillar," is probably either a particular kind of locust, or the locust in one of its stages. (On the plague of locusts in Egypt, see Exodus 10:14, Exodus 10:15.)

Psalms 78:47

He destroyed their vines with hail (see Exodus 9:23-25). Here, again, there is an inversion of the order in which the plagues came, since the plague of hail preceded that of the locusts. There is also an addition to the narrative of Exodus in the mention of "vines" (see also Psalms 105:33), which may indicate a use of tradition. That vines were cultivated in Egypt is now generally acknowledged. And their sycamore trees with frost; or, with sleet—a variant of the "hail" in the other hemistich.

Psalms 78:48

He gave up their cattle also to the hall (comp. Exodus 9:19-21, Exodus 9:25). And their flocks to hot thunderbolts (see Exodus 9:24, Exodus 9:28, Exodus 9:29, Exodus 9:34). The "fire which ran along the ground" (Exodus 9:23) must have been caused by electrified clouds of high tension; the highly charged drops of rain meeting the inductively charged earth, and sparking across when within striking distance. This is believed to accompany every thunderstorm, though generally invisible to the eye. When exceptionally severe, it would convey the idea of running fire, and would of course be very destructive of life. It is no wonder that most of the cattle which were left "in the field" died (Exodus 9:21, Exodus 9:25).

Psalms 78:49

He cast upon them the fierceness of his anger, wrath, and indignation, and trouble. "The accumulation of terms signifying Divine wrath is designed to set forth the dreadful nature of this last judgment" (Hengstenberg)—the death of the firstborn. By sending evil angels among them. Most modern critics regard this clause as in apposition with the preceding one, and consider the "wrath, indignation, and trouble" to be themselves the "evil angels" spoken of. Some, however, as Hengstenberg and Kay, interpret the passage of spiritual beings—not, however, of spirits of evil, who are never said to be ministers of God's wrath, but of good angels, who on this occasion were "ministers of woe."

Psalms 78:50

He made a way to his anger; literally, he levelled a way for his anger; i.e. made a smooth path for it (Cheyne). He spared not their soul from death; rather, held not back their soul. But gave their life over to the pestilence. This is, undoubtedly, the true meaning, and not "he gave their beasts over to the murrain." Though no "pestilence" is expressly mentioned in Exodus 12:1-51. as having caused the death of the firstborn, yet pestilence may assuredly have been the means employed.

Psalms 78:51

And smote all the firstborn in Egypt (see Exodus 12:29). The chief of their strength in the tabernacles of Ham; or, "the beginning (literally, firstfruits) of their strength" (comp. Genesis 49:3). "The tabernacles of Ham" is a periphrasis for "Egypt"—the Egyptians, according to the author of Genesis (Genesis 10:6), being descendants of Ham (comp. Psalms 105:23, Psalms 105:27; Psalms 6:1-10 :22). There are no sufficient grounds for connecting the name of Ham either with the Egyptian Kem, Kemi—the native name for the country—or with Khem, one of the principal Egyptian goes. The literation is, no doubt, close in the latter case; but etymologists lay it down that close approximations are especially deceptive.

Psalms 78:52

But made his own people to go forth like sheep (comp. Psalms 77:20; Psalms 95:7). And guided them in the wilderness like a flock. The guidance began from Succoth, and was effected by means of the pillar of the cloud and the pillar of fire (see Exodus 13:20-22).

Psalms 78:53

And he led them on safely, so that they feared not (comp. Exodus 14:13-22). At Pi-hahiroth they "were sore afraid" (Exodus 14:10), but after Moses had exhorted them (Psalms 78:13), they showed no more signs of fear. But the sea overwhelmed their enemies (Exodus 14:26-31; Exodus 15:1, Exodus 15:4, Exodus 15:10).

Psalms 78:54

And he brought them to the Border of his sanctuary. The "sanctuary" is here probably the Holy Land, as in Exodus 15:17; or we may translate גבוּל קדשׁוֹ "his holy territory." Even to this mountain. Mount Zion, on which the writer regards himself as standing while his words are chanted in the temple service. Which his right hand had purchased; or, had gotten, "had won." God's right hand won the whole land for his people.

Psalms 78:55

He cast out the heathen also before them (comp. Exodus 34:24; Deuteronomy 7:1; 1 Kings 21:26 : Psalms 44:2, etc.). "They get not the land in possession by their own sword, neither did their own arm save them; but God's right hand, and his arm, and the light of his countenance" (Psalms 44:3). And divided them an inheritance by line. The measuring line, which was employed in parcelling out territory, is intended (comp. Jeremiah 31:39; Amos 7:17). Joshua's division of the land among the tribes is specially pointed at. And made the tribes of Israel to dwell in their tents; i.e. in the tents of the heathen—the abodes of the Hivites, Hittites, Amorites, Porizzites, Girgashites, and Jebusites.

Psalms 78:56

Yet they tempted and provoked the most high God (comp. above, Psalms 78:17). The Israelites continued to "tempt and provoke God" after they had obtained possession of the Holy Land, and divided it among them (see 2:11-19; 3:12; 4:1; 6:1; 10:6-15; 13:1, etc.). And kept not his testimonies; or, his ordinances (Cheyne).

Psalms 78:57

But turned back, and dealt unfaithfully like their fathers (comp. Psalms 78:8, end the comment ad loc.). They were turned aside like a deceitful bow (comp. Hosea 7:16). A "deceitful bow" is one that fails in the hour of need, either breaking, or losing its strength, or sending its arrows wide of the mark.

Psalms 78:58

For they provoked him to anger with their high places. The "high place" worship was always displeasing to God. It was, no doubt, deeply tinged with idolatry. And moved him to jealousy with their graven images. In the time of the Judges, both graven and molten images were employed by the Israelites in a worship which they nevertheless regarded as the worship of Jehovah (see the history of Micah in 17:1-13 and 18:1-31; especially 17:4, 17:13, and 18:14, 18:17, 18:18, 18:31).

Psalms 78:59

When God heard this, he was wroth (comp. above, Psalms 78:21). And greatly abhorred Israel. Not Israel, as distinct from Judah, but Israel in the broadest sense, the entire nation, as in Psalms 78:55.

Psalms 78:60

So that he forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh. The "tabernacle of the congregation" was first set up under Joshua (Joshua 18:1-28.) at Shiloh, a city of Ephraim, and here the national sanctuary continued throughout the period of the Judges ( 18:31; 21:19; 1 Samuel 1:3, 1 Samuel 1:24; 1 Samuel 2:14; 1 Samuel 3:21; 1 Samuel 4:4, etc.). God was regarded as having "forsaken" this sanctuary, when he allowed the ark of the covenant, its chief treasure, to be taken (1 Samuel 4:11-22). Subsequently, but at what exact time is unknown, the tabernacle was removed from Shiloh to Nob (1 Samuel 21:1), and later on to Gibson (1 Kings 3:4). The tent which he pitched among men.

Psalms 78:61

And delivered his strength into captivity, and his glory into the enemy's hand. God's "strength" and "glory" is the ark of the covenant (compare the expression in 1 Samuel 4:21, 1 Samuel 4:22, "The glory is departed from Israel"). (For the capture and "captivity" of the ark, see 1 Samuel 4:17, and 1 Samuel 4:5; 1 Samuel 6:1-21.)

Psalms 78:62

He gave his people over also unto the sword. Thirty thousand Israelites were slain in the battle in which the ark was captured (see 1 Samuel 4:10). And was wroth with his inheritance (comp. Psalms 28:9; Psalms 33:12; Psalms 106:5, Psalms 106:40).

Psalms 78:63

The fire consumed their young men. The reference is not to such passages as Le Psalms 10:2; Numbers 11:1; Numbers 16:35, where a literal fire seems to be spoken of, but rather to the fire of war (Numbers 21:28; Isaiah 26:11; Jeremiah 48:45), or more generally to the fire of the Divine anger (Isaiah 10:16-18; Isaiah 47:14, etc.). And their maidens were not given to marriage; literally, were not praised in song; i.e. in the bridal song. The destruction of the young men, either in battle or in any other way, caused there to be more marriageable girls in Israel than there were husbands for (comp. Isaiah 4:1).

Psalms 78:64

Their priests fell by the sword. As Hophni and Phinehas at the taking of the ark (1 Samuel 4:11), and, no doubt, many others on other occasions. And their widows made no lamentation. The solemn funeral dirge could not take place, since the bodies remained on the battlefield.

Psalms 78:65

Then the Lord awaked as one out of sleep (comp. Psalms 7:6; Psalms 35:23; Psalms 73:20). God is said to "awake," when, after a time of inaction, he suddenly exerts his Almighty power, to the discomfiture of his enemies. That God never really slept was the profound conviction of the Israelites generally (see 2 Kings 18:27; Psalms 121:3, Psalms 121:4). And like a mighty man that shouteth by reason of wine (comp. Zechariah 10:7; Isaiah 42:13).

Psalms 78:66

And he smote his enemies in the hinder parts; rather, backward, so that they fled before him (comp. Psalms 40:14; Psalms 70:2, etc.). There is no allusion to 1 Samuel 5:6-12. The reference is rather to the many victories of Israel over the Philistines, which began under Samuel (1 Samuel 7:10), and continued under Saul and David. He put them to a perpetual reproach. Covered them, that is, with shame and disgrace. The shame culminated, perhaps, in David's victory over Goliath (1 Samuel 17:40-51).

Psalms 78:67

Moreover he refused the tabernacle of Joseph. The "tabernacle of Joseph" is the sanctuary at Shiloh, which was north of Bethel, and thus within the limits of the tribe of Ephraim. When a permanent site was to be assigned to the tabernacle and the ark, God did not choose for them the position of Shiloh, but that of Jerusalem. And chose not the tribe of Ephraim. Ephraim had enjoyed the pre-eminency from the time of the death of Moses (see the comment on Psalms 78:9). By the course of events between Samuel's death and the establishment of the kingdom of David, the pre-eminency had been transferred to Judah, according to the design of the Almighty from the first (see Genesis 49:8-10).

Psalms 78:68

But chose the tribe of Judah. The choice was made when David was, by God's command, anointed to be king (1 Samuel 16:1-12). The Mount Zion which he loved (comp. Psalms 87:2, "The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob"). God, no doubt, inspired David with the thought of fixing his residence in "the stronghold of Zion" (2 Samuel 5:9), and of bringing up the ark of the covenant into it (2 Samuel 6:12-17). The presence of the ark determined the selection of Jerusalem for the site of the temple.

Psalms 78:69

And he built his sanctuary like high palaces; rather, like the heights. The "heights of heaven" (Job 11:8; Job 22:12) are probably meant. Like the earth which he hath established forever; i.e. lofty as heaven, stable and firmly fixed as earth. The ultimate fate of the sanctuary is mercifully hidden from the psalmist.

Psalms 78:70

He chose David also his servant (see 1 Samuel 16:1, 1 Samuel 16:12). And took him from the sheepfolds.

Psalms 78:71

From following the ewes great with young he brought him (comp. Isaiah 40:11). The Hebrew word translated "ewes great with young" really means "ewes that are giving suck." This is the portion of the flock which needs the tenderest care. To feed Jacob his people, and Israel his inheritance (see 1 Chronicles 11:2). As Peter, James, and John were called from their occupation of fishers to be "fishers of men" (Matthew 4:19), so David was called from feeding sheep to feed God's people.

Psalms 78:72

So he fed them according to the integrity of his heart. On the whole, David performed his task of governing Israel faithfully. He had the direct testimony of God to that effect (see 1 Kings 9:4). And he guided them by the skilfulness of his hands. David was not only an upright and faithful king, but also a "skilful" or prudent one. He built up his kingdom into an empire without suffering any serious disasters. Israel reached its acme of glory and prosperity under him, decline setting in under Solomon.


Psalms 78:29

The heart's desire gratified.

"He gave them their own desire." Three days' march from Sinai, at the first halting place, where the tabernacle was first pitched after quitting the plain at the foot of that holy mountain, the wandering Arabs of the desert might gaze on the saddest, most shameful waymarks of Israel's pilgrimage towards the Land of Promise. A row of dreary mounds marked where thousands of plague-stricken corpses had been hastily buried by the terrified survivors. As the silver trumpets again sounded, and the mourning host, with thinned ranks, marched away from the ghastly spot, they named it "Kibroth-hattaavah"—"Graves of lust." Many centuries afterwards the Holy Spirit in this psalm wrote this epitaph.

I. THE HISTORY is told in Numbers 11:1-35; with that terseness and graphic power which belong to Bible narratives. The grand characteristic of those narratives, however, is not their style, but this—they let us see behind the scenes; they withdraw the veil and show us God's guiding and controlling hand—in miracle, when miracles are needed, not otherwise; but no less in the ordinary course of nature and human affairs. Thus we are taught that when we cannot see behind the scenes, within the veil, the same hand is always there. This terrible episode in Israel's history is one of the most signal illustrations of that profound mystery—the thwarting of God's gracious designs by man's sin and unbelief. "Design"—not that absolute purpose which must stand, let who will gainsay, but, as in nature and providence, so in the spiritual realm, the lines along which God works; the manifest fitness of things; the blessed and useful results which would certainly come about if men were trustfully obedient. In this sense, the design with which God led Israel forth out of Egypt is clear as day (Isaiah 43:21). To form a nation, giving them the two main elements of civilization—order and ideas: wise, righteous order; true, noble, fruitful ideas. And this, that they might be—as they have been, spite of all their sin and failure—the religious leaders and teachers of mankind. They were a rough material—with little, perhaps, beyond the patriarchal government of their chiefs of tribes and families, and the strict discipline to which their labour in Egypt inured them, to raise them above the "mixed multitude" of fugitives who joined them in their escape from bondage. Severe training was indispensable to mould them first into an army of hardy warriors, then into a nation of industrious, God-fearing, law-abiding free men. But had they bent to the hand that led them, listened to the voice that spoke to them, it would have been a gracious discipline. Their first lesson was the foundation truth of religion—absolute dependence on the power and providence of the Almighty Creator, "not far from every one of us" (Numbers 11:14 16, 23, 24). Then, at the foot of Mount Sinai, even the dullest, most unbelieving, ungodly heart was constrained to feel the actual presence of the living God; and national as well as personal life definitely hung on these two principles—obedience to God's Law, and faith in God's promise. Stained and maimed as is the history of God's ancient people, through their incurable, insensate unbelief and rebellion, so faithfully confessed in their own Scriptures, it is yet the source, remote but real, of our own religious life today; supplies our most touching and stirring pictures and parables of the Christian's life journey to the better land. What would it have been could they have risen to the height of God's purpose, and, like Caleb, "followed the Lord wholly"? Three conclusions seem so plain that I do not well know how any candid mind can avoid them.

1. That such a history—so unlike anything else—would never have been invented had it not been real.

2. That Hebrew writers would never have penned such a history of national apostasy, folly, and sin (of which this psalm is an epitome and specimen), unless divinely inspired.

3. The fact that what the Bible records as God's promises have been fulfilled after the lapse of ages, spite of the unbelief and opposition of those to whom they were given, cannot rationally be accounted for except by the fact that they are in truth God's word, which cannot be broken (Numbers 23:19).


1. God is able to give you your "own desire." Some hidden wish, perhaps, so bold, or selfish, or wrong, or out of all ordinary range of likelihood, you dare not breathe in human ear. Yet if God spoke to you as to Solomon (2 Chronicles 1:7), that is what would leap to your lips. If God does not grant it, it will not be because he cannot. No need of miracle. "With God all things are possible." Beware, therefore, how you pray!

2. God may (and sometimes does) grant our heart's desire, not approving, but in displeasure and punishment: happy for us if it be only for chastisement; not (as in the case of Israel) for destruction (Psalms 106:15). Not arbitrarily. The body cannot be gorged, unbridled lust satiated, and at the same time the soul fed, the spiritual life nourished. Examples: love of wealth; amusement; success; ease. God and idols cannot both dwell in the soul's sanctuary. Sin brings its own penalty.

3. Therefore God may refuse and withhold our heart's desire, not in anger, but in mercy and wisdom. The father will not give the stone, serpent, scorpion (Luke 11:11, Luke 11:12), even if the child asks for it.

4. The heart's desire is the test of character. What a man loves both shows what he is and moulds him. "As he thinketh in his heart, so is he" (Hebrews 4:12). The sinful desire, Christ teaches, is sin (Psalms 19:12; 1 John 1:8, 1 John 1:9).

5. There are desires which we may be sure God will satisfy: the earnest of their own fulfilment (Psalms 145:19; Isaiah 26:8).

Psalms 78:34

Mercy remembered in wrath.

"When he slew them," etc. Sin is not all wilfulness; it is also infirmity—our calamity as well as our crime. Perhaps, otherwise, repentance and pardon would be impossible. God takes account of men's weakness as well as of their guilt. He alone can hold the balance. This psalm lays a heavy indictment of disobedience, lust, and unbelief against God's chosen people. Yet there is no more touching, beautiful description of Divine compassion than Psalms 78:38, Psalms 78:39. In wrath he remembers mercy. The punishment of sin is not only consistent with God's mercy, it is an exercise of mercy; because both its effect and purpose are to bring men to acknowledge their sin and return to God. If it fail, hardening instead of softening, this is through impenitence and unbelief.

I. First lesson. EXPERIENCE SHOWS THAT TROUBLE LEADS MEN TO SEEK GOD WHEN NOTHING ELSE WILL. "When he slew them" (cf. Psalms 119:67, Psalms 119:71).

1. Trouble scourges conscience awake; brings sin to mind (1 Kings 17:18). Joseph's brethren carried their sin on their consciences unconfessed two and twenty years; covered the sore with opium plaster of silence, indifference, forgetfulness. But with Simeon bound before their eyes, accused of being spies, families at home gnawed with hunger, conscience woke (Genesis 42:21, Genesis 42:22). In many cases trouble actually springs from sin: conscience dull, indeed, if not touched! Of course, this does not apply to all troubles. No greater mistake than for Christians to torment themselves with the notion that every trial is punishment for some special sin. Probably the hardest trials in life arise from sins of others; e.g. good wife has bad husband, good husband bad wife, godly parents undutiful, vicious children; honest man deceived by those he trusts. Even carelessness, ignorance of others, may overwhelm brightest life with calamity; e.g. whole family swept away through poisoned milk or ill-laid drains. Yet, even so, the sufferer may hear a voice none else can hear. Very solemn, touching glimpse of inner working of conscience (Job 13:23-26).

2. Trouble breaks up the illusions of life. Life's chariot wheels would drive heavily if we had no illusions. Hardly even young people would have courage to face the future if we saw things just as they are. A token man was meant for bliss—an heir of life, not death—that trouble commonly seems so strange, joy so natural. Faith can lift above sorrow, but no experience (our own or others') makes us at home with it. As misfortune tests a man's friends—perhaps few out of many, and not those he counted on—so when trouble singles us out, sets us apart on that beach of God's school, we learn the difference between dreams and realities, pleasure and profit, show and substance. Well for you if then the anchor holds; great eternal realities emerge. Terrible if the surface breaks up, shadows dissolve, and no reality, no refuge, rest, certainty, remain! The lesson of Psalms 46:1-11. is a hard one; but those who have learned it count it worth while: "God is our Refuge "(Psalms 46:1-3).

3. In trouble men learn to pray. The sense of our weakness and dependence on God, and of his nearness and readiness to help, may slumber, like sense of sin; and need heavy blow to waken it. Even earnest Christian can hardly pray when all goes smoothly, as when the storm bursts. Jonah, no doubt, a man of prayer; but never prayed before as when weeds wrapt about his head (Jonah 2:1-10.). Disciples (Mark 4:38). Even heathen sailors (Jonah 1:6). The anchor of prayer which, perhaps, has swung idly through half the voyage of life, is let down then. (See Mrs. Browning's 'Cry of the Children.') Let us correct our views of life. We are often amazed—faith is tried—by the enormous mass of human sorrow and suffering, and that life is so unstably balanced on brink of death. How would it be if trouble banished, and life secure, healthful, joyous, for centuries—men still being sinners? Would not God be more fearfully forgotten, sin regarded as a trifle, shows of life taken for substance, voice of prayer fall silent? World would become not better, but incalculably worse. In mercy, as well as judgment, man was shut out of Eden (Genesis 3:22) lest immortality became a curse.

II. AS EXPERIENCE SHOWS THIS RESULT OF TROUBLE, GOD'S WORD REVEALS THIS DESIGN OF TROUBLE. "Then they sought him." God meant they should. What we have spoken of may be called the natural effect of trouble, if accepted as God's chastening—to awaken conscience, dispel illusions, lead us to pray; not necessary result—taken amiss, it may harden. "Natural result" is only another name for Divine purpose (except so far as sin has perverted our nature). But God's Word gives far higher, more inward, view of life—a distinct Divine plan and purpose, at least forevery life yielded and trusted to God. No view of life so noble as this (Psalms 138:8). Scripture abounds with illustrations: Abraham, Joseph, David, Saul of Tarsus. Exceptions? Yes, in this sense, that high place and conspicuous service are for the few. But, after all, chief aim in God's training is character, not service; not what we are to do, but to be. Tens of thousands in lowliest walks God is training, as surely as Joseph—not for high place here, but glory, honour, immortality. Now, if one thing is plain, it is that character is perfected by discipline. Gold needs the furnace (Hebrews 12:5). To go above all mere human examples. Our Saviour's whole life was obedience—prayer—fellowship with his Father. But see Hebrews 5:7-9; Hebrews 2:10; John 16:32. Those lessons, therefore, we have spoken of, do not belong merely to conversion, or early stages of Christian experience. Christian who has long rejoiced in forgiveness may need deepened sense of sin. If he has kept his head steady in prosperity, he may yet need the bracing air and cool twilight of adversity. Holiest Christian may be brought nearer to God—to the Saviour. It would be a narrow view to think all this exhausts the design of trouble. In the case of our blessed Lord we should not have dared to think of this end at all, if not so plainly taught. Main end—supreme purpose—"to give his life a ransom." He "bare our sins." Even with us, his humble imperfect disciples, suffering is largely "vicarious"—for the sake of others. Calls forth as nothing else could, sympathy, love, mutual help. Softens and enriches the soil of life. St. Paul (Colossians 1:24).


Psalms 78:1-72

Whole psalm: Warnings against unbelief.


1. To warn Ephraim; not to taunt and exult over him, but to warn. This psalm seems to belong to the period of the disruption. Ephraim, with the other northern tribes, had broken away from Judah and from the worship of God, and this psalm seems designed, by its recital of their old sins and the consequences thereof, to warn them against like sin in the future (cf. 2 Chronicles 13:1-22.).

2. To warn Judah. If they had been greatly exalted of God, and by his presence amongst them were so still, let them take warning by Ephraim's sin, that they fall not in like manner.


1. After an exordium (Psalms 78:1-4), in which he asks attention, and tells the manner of his speech, its source, and its intent;

2. He begins his history, telling of the covenant, and wherefore God had appointed it, and what a failure on Israel's part it had been (Psalms 78:5-8).

3. Then he gives the details of his story. He charges Ephraim as being most in fault; how they broke the covenant, refused God's Law, and forgot his works—the wonders of the Exodus and of the wilderness, the pillar of fire, and the water out of the rock; how they tempted God in spite of all, and taunted him with their unbelief as to his power to provide them bread.

4. Then the psalm recites how God was wroth with them, and gave them the flesh they lusted after, but the plague along with it, letting them eat of the fruit of their own ways (Psalms 78:31).

5. Next he tells of their miserable repentance (Psalms 78:34-36), and how oft, nevertheless, God forgave them (Psalms 78:38, Psalms 78:39).

6. Then from Psalms 78:42-58 there is a further recital of God's favour, and their ingratitude and disobedience. Then from Psalms 78:59-67 is told the final rejection of Ephraim, and from thence onward the choosing of Judah and of David, and the justification of that choice (Psalms 78:72). But—


1. The fearful strength of the evil heart of unbelief. Religious privilege cannot restrain it; miracles cannot convince it; nor mercies persuade it; nor awful judgments permanently change it.

2. Inquire whence deliverance from such evil heart may come.

Psalms 78:2

History a parable.

In Matthew 13:1-58. this verse is quoted as the ground of our Lord's teaching by parables. He never used fables—stories which contain the unnatural and grotesque,—but parables—stories of what were, or might have been, actual occurrences. Probably many of them were. And all history is a parable, and ought to be so used by us in teaching far more than it is; for, like the parables, history has for—

I. ITS AUTHOR—God. The story of the nations often seems to be no better than a wild hurly-burly, and their wars to be no more important than, as one has said, the fightings of so many kites and crows. But such idea is the result of a merely slight and superficial observation. Deeper study would show the

"Divinity that shapes our ends,

Rough-hew them how we will."

The philosophy of history is the discovery of God.

II. ITS METHODS—the record of events that are ordinary, familiar, human. These are the common groundwork of both parable and history.

III. ITS USEFULNESS—that it conveys instruction in a manner that arrests thought, deepens impression, awakes interest, and is retained in the memory as other forms of teaching are not. It is especially adapted for children.

IV. ITS INTENT AND PURPOSE—to teach men, and to incline them to follow the ways of God. And such are—

V. ITS RESULTS. For just as the result of the parables of our Lord on the minds and hearts of men is simply incalculable in the vast extent of its controlling power, so also is it with the teachings of history. They have created a just judgment and a fixed habit of mind in men, upon which most of the modern life of the nations is based. History—the record of experience—is, after all, the Bible of mankind, and doubtless was intended so to be. We do no honour to the sacred Scriptures by our too common habit of confining our studies of the ways of God in history to its records alone. All history teaches of God, and not that of the Bible only. Happy will it be for both teachers and taught when they, as did the writer of this psalm, regard all national history as a parable of God.—S.C.

Psalms 78:4

Religious education.

The first eight verses of this psalm have much to say upon this great question. Upon—

I. ITS AUTHORITY. "He commanded our fathers" (Psalms 78:5; cf. Deuteronomy 6:1-25.). That which reason, conscience, and experience would alike teach, the authority of God confirms by direct command. And it is at our peril that we neglect this. The sanctions that accompany the command have not to wait for the future life for their fulfilment; they are visible everywhere in the present, as they have been in all the past.

II. ITS IMPORTANCE. This entire psalm is the sad record of the results of neglecting this command (see Psalms 78:8, Psalms 78:40).


1. By entrusting this duty mainly to the parents (see Psalms 78:5)—those who might naturally be expected to feel the chief interest in, and responsibility for, their children.

2. Adopting the most interesting mode of instruction—the parabolic (Psalms 78:2); the historic (Psalms 78:4).

3. Charging the children with the responsibility of transmission (Psalms 78:5, Psalms 78:6).

IV. ITS HIGH AND HOLY PURPOSE. (Psalms 78:7, Psalms 78:8.)—S.C.

Psalms 78:9

Recreant Ephraim.

We do not know what battle this was. Some point to 1 Chronicles 7:21; others to Joshua 13:1, Joshua 13:13 and Joshua 18:3; others to 1 Samuel 4:1-22. But we do not certainly know. Ephraim's character was such as is here described (see verse 57). Also Hosea, passim; he terms them "a cake not turned;" "a silly dove." He says, they "compass me about with lies." As to their armour, see 2 Chronicles 17:17. Also see David's teaching "the children of Judah the use of the bow." Their opportunities for service were very great. As a tribe they were rich; the sanctuary of Israel was at Shiloh, in their midst; the metropolis of the land also; theirs, too, the largest population, the most famous names—Joseph, Joshua, Gideon. They were an especially military tribe. As to their fate, they utterly perished (see Romans 11:1-8). Their history is very instructive; for there is a battle to be waged today. As we watch we see many come to it "armed," and capable of rendering the good service we look for from them. But lo! many of them turn back, and render no help at all, to their own shame and to the hurt of many more. Note—

I. THE BATTLE. "All the world's a stage," said our great poet. Had he said, "All the world's a battlefield," he would have been yet more true to fact. The battle is between God and Satan, as to who shall reign over us—God or his adversary. And God has equipped many soldiers for the fight. See—

II. THE ARMOUR he has given them—given to many of us. Christian education; holy example; means of grace; power and capacity for service, imparted by the teaching of his Word; the sanctions and urgings of conscience, the drawings of his Spirit, and much more. Such things constitute the armour which would make us good soldiers if we would avail ourselves of them. But there is—

III. THE TURNING BACK on the part of many, even as Ephraim turned back. Ridicule has, perhaps, to be met; or loss to be borne; or self to be denied; or ease to be foregone; the cross in one or other of its forms has to be taken up; and many go away—go back, sorrowful, perhaps, but, nevertheless, they turn back. Oh, what shame to them! a people nobly born, well armed, and pledged to the service, and yet, etc.! What dishonour to Christ! what discouragement to the faithful Church! what loss to God's kingdom! what triumph for the foe! what ruin for themselves!—S.C.

Psalms 78:16

The rock.

(Cf. 1 Corinthians 10:4; Numbers 20:1-29.) What rock was this? Travellers have described such rock; but we do not know that it was this one. But we do know that it existed; that the waters which flowed from it followed Israel; which is what Paul means by saying that the "rock followed them;" and that this rock was a type of Christ—not Christ himself, but a type of him. Note—


1. In nature. A rock is like Christ; it is stable, solid, fit for a foundation. A rock may be a great defence. "Be thou my strong Rock, a House of defence to cover me." A refreshing shade. "The shadow of a great rock," etc.

2. In the fact that the rock was smitten ere the waters flowed out.

3. Moses, the Law's representative, was the smiter. And to obey the Law, Christ was smitten.

II. THE STREAMS WHICH FLOWED FROM IT. These tell of what from Christ flow to us—pardoning mercy, sanctifying grace, spiritual consolation, eternal life. And as those streams, so these are free, satisfying, copious, constant.

III. THE INQUIRIES SUGGESTED. Have we drunk of them? If not, do so. Are we drinking of them? Invite others.—S.C.

Psalms 78:21

National judgments.

This psalm is emphatically a judgment psalm. It teaches that—

I. NATIONS ARE JUDGED AS WELL AS INDIVIDUALS. History is almost entirely occupied with the judgments of God upon nations. Hence it is that we say, "Happy is that nation which has no history!" for if it has, we know the nature of the record for the most part.

II. THEIR JUDGMENT IS JUST. Study the causes of the decline of empires, nations, and peoples, and it will generally be found that, as with the Canaanitish nations, their vice and wickedness had become so rampant and foul that, for the sake of humanity at large, it was necessary that the besom of God's destruction should sweep them away. Gibbon's great work on the 'Decline and Fall of the Empire of Rome' is really—though Gibbon was far enough from intending it to be so—a theodice, a vindication of God and of his righteousness.

III. BUT SUCH JUDGMENTS DO NOT COME UNTIL ALL OTHER MEANS HAVE BEEN FIRST TRIED. It was so with Israel. They had witnessed the plagues upon Egypt. They had experienced the unstinted mercy and long suffering of God. They had seen the glorious miracles which God wrought on their behalf. They had been taught his holy Law. So that the question of Isaiah 5:4 was altogether just. And so in the history of all nations. If God's vengeance cometh surely, it cometh very slowly; so that, perchance, it may not need to come at all.

IV. THEY ARE EXECUTED IN THE PRESENT LIFE. There is no future judgement for nations. When Christ came, as he did at the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the judgment he predicted should then take place was fulfilled.

V. IN THEM THE INNOCENT SUFFER WITH THE GUILTY. This is inevitable. The sins of the fathers are visited upon the children. Hence—

VI. THEY PREDICT THE FUTURE FINAL JUDGMENT. God shall then judge every man according to his works, as is not possible in the judgments of the nations now.

VII. ARE EFFECTUAL BUT FOR A TIME. They do not put an end to sin, but only stay it for a season (verse 34).

VIII. ARE ACCORDING TO RIGHTEOUSNESS. The leaders in sin shall suffer deepest condemnation. See the doom of Ephraim, Israel's ringleader in iniquity (Isaiah 5:9, 57, 67).

IX. THE SINS WHICH PROVOKE THEM DO NOT HINDER THE PURPOSES OF GOD. (Verse 70.) David was raised up to carry on what should have been Ephraim's work.


Psalms 78:32

The tenacity of sin.

This psalm might have for title, "The Devil's Grip;" "The Heart hold of Sin;" "The Gates of Hell prevailing," or any other such sad surname. For throughout its weary length it tells of scarce anything else. And would that it were only an old-world story!—a tale of ancient Israel, but of nobody else. But concerning such persistence in sin, note—

I. IT IS SEEN TODAY AS MUCH AS EVER. In the history of nations; of Churches; of families; of individuals. Of how many may it be said as it was of Amon, "But Amon sinned more and more"! What Christian pastor has not had under his own observation again and again those whose story is told here?

II. THERE ARE NO GRACIOUS RESISTANCES WHICH IT DOES NOT OVERCOME. "For all this," was said of old, and can be now. This "all" includes now, as of old: Divine revelation (Psalms 78:5); early education (Psalms 78:3); warning from ill example of others near to them (Psalms 78:8); unspeakable mercies and deliverances (Psalms 78:11, Psalms 78:12); perpetual providential love; forbearance upon forbearance (Psalms 78:38); terrible judgments (Psalms 78:31); Opportunities of return (Psalms 78:34, Psalms 78:35). All this and more of like gracious nature they disregarded, even as men do still.

III. ITS SECRET IS EVER THE EVIL HEART OF UNBELIEF. Not the unbelief which is the result of the perverted brain, but that which is generated by the evil heart, the sin-loving soul.


1. "Fools make a mock at sin." What else can they be who tamper and trifle with such a deadly thing! It may be in you seemingly weak as a cobweb film; let alone, it will become strong as the cable which holds fast, let the strain on it be what it may.

2. Meet this tenacity of sin by the tenacity of grace. Cling to Christ in strenuous prayer; hold on so to him.

3. Be content with nothing less than the gift of the clean heart; be sanctified as well as justified. "The blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin."

4. Remember how the strong one was and ever will be cast out by the Stronger (Luke 11:21, Luke 11:22), even Christ, who is "mighty to save," if we will give ourselves up to him.—S.C.

Psalms 78:34

The determined sinner's regular round.

There are regions to which so many tourists go, and the notable places in which they usually visit in an almost fixed order, that the way they take has come to be known as and called "the regular round." This psalm and this verse seem to set forth another regular round which sin-hardened souls do perpetually take. We will—


1. They start with sin, and on and on they go, with occasional misgivings, which, however, soon grow less along the broad, attractive, much-frequented road.

2. But next they come to where the punishment of God has to be met and endured. This is a dreary place, and they cry out in their pain. But they cannot avoid this stage. However slowly they may seem to travel, they reach it one day, and a dark day that is. They had no business along the road at all, and God will have them know that; and hence this punishment stage is placed right across it, that men may either be deterred from going by the road at all, or else turn speedily back. But if they will still go on in it, they are certain to come to this terrible place.

3. They are in a great hurry to get away, and so they alter their course. They seem to repent of their previous journey altogether. "When he slew them, then they sought him." "The devil was sick, the devil a monk would be." How often Pharaoh, when he had got to this miserable stage, made as if he would amend his way! And it very often seems as if such as he really had done so. The sham repentance is, to our poor bleared eyes, so much like the real, that we are quite deceived, and we help the sinner to deceive himself.

4. Then next is the stage of the hardened heart. The will unsubdued, the mind determined on its own way. Hidden away, deep down underneath the decorous disguise of a temporarily altered conduct, there is the stone-like heart, the will resolute in its own way. It is not going to change, though it may be prudent to seem for a time as if it were. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked."

5. Then there is reached, not long after, the first stage whence the wretched round began. The soul is back at its sin again.

II. THE POINT WHERE THE SOUL MAY BREAK AWAY. It is at the repentance stage. Some one has said that what we call the ten plagues might rather be called Pharaoh's ten opportunities of turning from his sin to God. And undoubtedly they were such. The pang of repentance which he felt might have led right away from God's judgments.

"There is a tide in the affairs of men,

Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune."

And in the affairs of the soul that tide at flood is the hour when God shows us the wretchedness of our sin, and bids us turn to him.


1. It is evidently possible, The road branches where you are: one way leads to God—the way along which God's voice is surely calling you; the other leads to the hardened heart,—it is the way along which you have come.

2. Now call upon God for help to answer his call.

3. Break away in actual conduct. Books, companions, amusements, all that is to you occasion of and temptation to sin; break away resolutely and at once from them; have done with them altogether.

4. All the while keep calling upon God. He has promised to save you. Put in the cheque of his promise, and claim payment of it. Trust him, expect him to make good his word—and he will. Credo experto.—S.C.

Psalms 78:36

The worship that God hates.

I. IT IS ALL TOO COMMON. This psalm is all taken up with the record of such worship. And it did not begin with the people told of here. What was Cain's worship but so much flattery and lying unto God? And all through the prophetic history, the like worship is perpetually denounced. The one class of people whose presence and contact even the wonted gentleness of our Lord could not abide were such as these—hypocrites. We know with what scathing words he was wont to address them. And the apostles of our Lord, after his ascension, were continually meeting with it and condemning it. And it is rife and rampant still. How terrible the contrast, so widely seen, between what men profess and what they really are and do! But—


1. Sometimes the visible anger of God will lead to it. It is the too common product of a religion begotten of terror and abject fear (see Psalms 78:34; and cf. Isaiah 25:9). Such times will make men profess anything that they think will get them relief.

2. Sometimes it is from the contagion of common custom. Everybody makes a profession of religion; in many circles it is held to be bad form not to do something of the kind. But it makes no sort of difference to the real character or the ordinary conduct. It leaves the heart untouched, and too often worse than that.

3. There is a secret, undefined trust that there is some good in it, after all. People do not flatter their fellow men, nor tell lies to them when they are perfectly sure that no advantage will result; still less if they are sure that harm will follow. But they think they will be advantaged by it, perhaps greatly. And so in regard to God. Men think that their attention to religious observances, and the loud profession they make, must count for something to their advantage when the great reckoning-day comes. And hence the flattering and lying told of here go on.

4. And such people encourage one another. Religious teachers, judging only by what they see—and they cannot do much more—assume that all is right, and hope for the best, and so insensibly soothe those who really need to be aroused from their condition as with the trump of doom. Even under a generally faithful ministry a man who will not give up his sin can manage to suck a poisonous satisfaction from these flatteries and lies, whereby he has probably first of all deceived himself, and hopes to deceive God, as he has his ministers and his Church generally. But—


1. If there be amendment of conduct, it is very short-lived (Psalms 78:34-40).

2. A heart made harder than before.

3. Repeated Divine chastisements, so that their life is a wretched one.

4. Final and utter rejection (Psalms 78:59, Psalms 78:60).


1. Examine yourselves. Do you give time to regular secret prayer? Are you really consecrated to God? If so, then:

2. Trust Christ to keep you hour by hour and day by day.—S.C.

Psalms 78:40

Provoking God.

Israel did this, and notwithstanding every inducement to do otherwise. We note—

I. MANY PEOPLE DO THE LIKE STILL. God speaks plainly, loudly, persistently, by his Spirit, his providence, his Word, his judgments, and yet, etc.



1. Truly repent.

2. Trust Christ.

3. Be filled with the Spirit.—S.C.

Psalms 78:40

How oft did they provoke.

I. ANSWER THE QUESTION. This long psalm supplies a sample of Israel's sin. Their provokings were so frequent that the whole history of the people, stretching over many generations and long centuries, seemed to be all of a piece, and is called "the day of provocation."

II. INQUIRE HOW THEY PROVOKED GOD? By the perpetual repetition of the wretched round of sin, and then repentance. If they had done nothing else but sin, they would quickly have perished; it' they had sinned once, and done with it, their history would have been a far happier one; but it was this perpetual backsliding which provoked God.

III. WHY WAS IT? There was:

1. The force of example; all the nations round, the greatest and most glorious of them included, worshipped idols.

2. Then the indulgence which idolatry gave to sin; it was such an easy religion.

3. The difficulty of realizing the unseen, of living by faith.

4. The cravings of a corrupt nature.


1. It was such madness. Nothing but evil had ever come of their sin, and yet they went after it again.

2. Such ingratitude to God. What had he not done for them?

3. The terrible harm they did to their children and to the whole world.

V. WHAT CAME OF IT? What always must come—repeated and terrible chastisement, and rejection at the last.—S.C.

Psalms 78:41

Limiting God.

This psalm contains many instances of this. It is a painful thing to see even a bird or beast, made for freedom and longing after it, caged or chained or otherwise kept in captivity. Yet more is it distressing to see a man of noble aspiration, of lofty capacity, of patriotic spirit, and intent on doing good, get "cribbed, cabined, and confined" by petty prejudices, mean jealousies, base motives, and vile conduct, on the part of those around him; and often such a sight has been seen. And the cry of a soul awfully limited and bound down is heard in Romans 7:24, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me," etc.? What barrier in the way of blessing do such limitings set up? But what must it be to limit God? How much more sad and deplorable that must be! Now—


1. But this may be questioned. It should seem impossible when we think of the greatness and power of God, of his universal sway, of his infinite wisdom, of the hurt and harm that must come of such conduct. All such considerations seem to render impossible the limiting of God.

2. But undoubtedly man can do this. For else he would be a mere machine, not a man; he would have no more volition than a tree or a bird. If he is to be able to say "Yes" to God, he must be able also to say "No." And he can and does. Scripture asserts it—see this whole psalm. God stood ready to bless, but Israel would have none of his counsel, and set at nought all his reproof. Reason asserts it, for it steadily affirms that we are free, and can will and choose as we please. Experience asserts it. Concerning nations, Churches, individuals, has not God again and again said, as Jesus did when he wept over Jerusalem, "How often would I have gathered thee … but ye would not!"? We read how in some places Christ could do no mighty works there because of their unbelief.


1. Very often in their prayers and desires. They insist too much upon definite blessings being given. They ask some temporal blessing—rain, or health, or the sparing of life, or it may be a spiritual blessing; but they limit God to definite time, manner, and means. And such prayers come to nothing, for they have asked amiss. And then men make a mock at prayer. We need to remember our Lord's words in Gethsemane, "Father, not my will, but," etc.

2. Yet more do we limit God in our thoughts. (See Romans 7:19, Romans 7:20.) And all anxious care and foreboding is really a limiting of God. Hence Christ so forbade it (see Matthew 6:1-34.). How Jacob limited God when he cried, "All these things are against me"! We shall get help against this by heeding Paul's counsel (Philippians 4:1-23.), "Be careful for nothing, but," etc. But if foreboding care is guilty of this, yet more is despair, whether for ourselves or for others.

3. But most of all, and worst, our sins limit God. The Church at Laodicea kept the Lord outside her door. And how often we stand in our children's way, when God would bless them, by our worldliness and unbelief! We will not let God bless us or them. God would, but we would not. May the Lord pardon us every one, and save us from this sin!—S.C.

Psalms 78:57

A deceitful bow.



1. That they should be as a bow. That is a weapon, and for him. Christians are to be aggressive, a power in the hands of God against the world, the flesh, and the devil.

2. That they should be powerful. In the case of the bow, that depended on the elasticity of the wood, or the temper of the steel, of which the bow was made, also on the skill shown in its construction. Fault in either so much lessened the value of the bow. And God would have us a power in his hands; he can use weak things, but he would have us strong for himself.

3. True. The bow made of the right material and in right manner would send the arrow straight to the mark and up to the mark, so that it would not fall short or swerve aside. But how many of us, in serving God, are guilty of this! We fall short, are not thorough, or are by one cause or another turned aside.

4. And that their strength should abide. It was said of Joseph, "His bow abode in strength." As a good bow would retain its tenacity and elasticity, so that it could be permanently relied upon. Here is the real test of our fidelity; it is not so much our having strength—at the beginning we all have this more or less—but it is the keeping it, the standing the year-in-and-year-out strain. This is what God desires in us.


1. The bow was a very effective weapon. Hence no army was sent forth without a large body of trained archers. Its silent, swift, distant, deadly effect made it a weapon not only very valued, but indispensible. And God has such servants. Was not Peter one such, and Paul, and many other of less distinguished name—men who so wrought for God as to render service of most effectual kind? And there are such still, men and women too, so endued with power by God that their presence and ministry are the signal at once for great victories to be won for God.

2. And it was therefore reckoned as very formidable, a force not to be trifled with by any foe. And because faithful ministers of God are such weapons for God, therefore it is that Satan strives with all his power to disarm them or to render their ministry of none effect. He knew full well what destruction the Lord Jesus would bring upon his dominion, and therefore, immediately after his baptism, he wrought during those dread forty days, by repeated and terrible temptation, to make his mission ineffectual and to baffle its design. But our Lord, as we all know, gained signal victory, as we also through him may gala like victory.


1. The bow was a trusted weapon. "I will not trust in my bow," said the psalmist (Psalms 44:6), implying how usual was the trust men had in it. The sword and the bow are constantly coupled together in Scripture as the two chief weapons of the soldier on which he was to rely. And so God trusts his servants, commits the treasures of his grace to them, entrusts them to guard and keep the souls Christ died to redeem.

2. And hence a favourite weapon. David commanded that the children of Judah should be taught the use of the bow, because it was his beloved Jonathan's favourite weapon. And it is not too much to say that the chosen means whereby God accomplishes his victories in his spiritual kingdom is through his faithful servants. Not to angels, not to the might, learning, or wisdom of this world, has God given this great charge. But to those who may be, and often are, weak and despised in the eyes of the world, but God makes them mighty.

IV. BUT, NEVERTHELESS, THERE ARE THOSE WHO ARE DECEITFUL. In the bow itself, it is owing to fault in material or structure. In those whom the bow represents, it is because they are spiritually weak and untrue. The Prophet Hosea (8) uses this same figure, and shows how applicable it was to the people of his day. And there are such now.

V. THE RESULTS OF SUCH DECEIT ARE ALL SAD. God is dishonoured; the faithful Church is reviled; the enemy triumphs; the bow itself is cast away.

VI. HOW THIS MAY BE PREVENTED. By abiding in Christ, who is our Life, our Strength, our All.—S.C.

Psalms 78:59

God turned against his people.

I. THIS AN AWFUL POSSIBILITY. We have an instance here told of. And the history of nations, Churches, individuals, furnish many more.

II. BUT GREATLY DISBELIEVED. The devil will do his bad best to make men not believe it. Therefore uses:

1. False theology, wresting the Scriptures. There were people in St. John's day (see 1 John 1:1-10.) who said they had no sin. Some trusted in their Abrahamic descent; others did not believe in sin at all, they counted it to be but infirmity; others talked of the imputed righteousness of Christ, and affirmed that whatever sin they might commit, they, being in Christ, were guiltless; others, as today, believed that God was too merciful to condemn any one.

2. The deceitfulness of sin.

3. The ill example of others.

III. MUCH NEEDING, THEREFORE, TO BE INSISTED ON. Slight views of sin lie at the root of well nigh all departures from God, hut such views are impossible when it is seen to what they lead.


Psalms 78:67-72

God's chosen ones.

These verses show that they whom God chooses are—

I. OFTEN NOT FOUND AMONGST THE GREAT. (Psalms 78:67.) Ephraim was the lordly tribe, the aristocracy of Israel. They had a long roll call of illustrious names. But God "refused the tabernacle of Joseph" (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:1-31.).

II. BUT, NEVERTHELESS, THEY MAY BE. (Psalms 78:68.) For the tribe of Judah was but little less exalted than Ephraim. God puts no ban upon any rank, or people, or tribe. How stern are the utterances of our Lord about the rich! And yet there have been many saints of God who have been rich.

III. ARE FOUND GENERALLY AMONGST THE LOWLY. (Psalms 78:70, Psalms 78:71.) "Blessed are ye poor," said our Lord. From amongst them the pioneers of the kingdom of God have nearly all come—"unlearned and ignorant men," poor, but rich in faith.

IV. AND WHERE NO APPARENT FITNESS EXISTS for the work that has to be done. David, a rustic shepherd lad, and yet, etc. (Psalms 78:71).

V. BUT GOD'S CHOICE IS ALWAYS JUSTIFIED. (Psalms 78:72.) Of what great servant of God could it have been foretold that he would be what he came to be?

VI. OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST IS THE SUPREME EXAMPLE OF THIS. Despised of men. My soul, what is he to thee?—S.C.


Psalms 78:1

The responsibility of hearers.

"Incline your ears." This psalm is regarded as the first and greatest of the historical psalms. It is "an inspired comment on the sacred history, with an avowed didactic purpose of warning, by a recital of God's repeated mercies, and of Israel's repeated sins. The historical psalms have a double value. They illustrate and confirm the historic record, always giving it vividness, and occasionally adding fresh touches of detail. But their real importance lies in the light which they throw on the religious conception of that history, which, indeed, alone makes it a continual lesson on the eternal will of God, and the unchanging characteristics of humanity." This psalm may be compared to the modern sermon or religious address, which differs from teaching in being an appeal to feeling, emotion, and principle, as well as to intellect. The Hebrew people were, and still are, easily interested in public teachers who can skilfully review the national history. But the point to which attention is now directed is, that there is a double responsibility when the teacher and the taught come together—an effort demanded of the hearer as well as of the teacher. He must "incline his ear." Dr. Clay Trumbull points out, in relation to Sunday school work, that "intelligent, purposeful teaching includes the idea of two persons, both of them active. 'Teaching,' as causing another to know, includes the mutual effort of two persons to the same end. The teacher must endeavour to cause the pupil to learn a particular fact or truth which he wants him to know; the learner must endeavour to learn that particular fact or truth. Until the two are at this common work, the process of teaching has not begun: until the learner has learned, the teacher has not taught." The counsel to "incline our ears," or "our heart," is repeated again and again in Scripture (see Joshua 24:23; 1 Kings 8:58; Psalms 119:36, Psalms 119:112; Psalms 141:4; Proverbs 5:13; Jeremiah 7:24; Jeremiah 25:4, etc.). It seems designed to impress on us that we are responsible for malting the effort to hear profitably. Men make effort to listen to music; they make effort to catch every word of the orator; they can and they ought to make effort to heed the religious teacher. The responsibility of hearers may be said to concern four things.

I. CULTIVATING THE HABIT OF LISTENING. Which involves drawing the mind in from other subjects, and fixing it on one. Of some people this praise can be spoken—they are good listeners.

II. HEARING WITH INTELLIGENT ATTENTION. Involving the activity of the mind in relation to what is heard. Thinking as well as listening.

III. HEARING WITH PERSONAL INTEREST. For religious truth is not abstract, but relative to individuals. A man does not bear the right relation to it until he sees how it concerns himself.

IV. HEARING WITH PURPOSE OF OBEDIENCE. For all religious teaching is designed to be, in some way, a guide to conduct.—R.T.

Psalms 78:2

Teaching by parable.

The answering word to "parable," in this verse, is "dark sayings," or "hard sentences," which reminds us of the Queen of Sheba, who journeyed to Jerusalem to prove Solomon with "hard questions." We cannot bring the precise New Testament ideas of the word "parable" to bear upon the word as used in this psalm, and yet its meaning is very exact. The parable is treated as a setting of truth which veils or hides the truth, and compels the hearer to search, if he would find it. A parable is truth like a nut. The kernel of truth can only be reached by those who will break the shell. Here the psalmist gives a sketch of the national history in such a way that, to many, it may only be a sketch of history; but he wraps up higher moral and spiritual teachings in it, and these those who are in earnest may discover. The parable, as used by our Lord, may be thus described: "It used an incident, taken from common life, and rounded into a gem-like picture, to set forth some corresponding truth in the higher and spiritual region." The Old Testament parable used "points of history" with a similar purpose. There is need for this method of teaching, in precise adaptation to every age; because the human mind needs help to the apprehension of higher truth, and the human heart needs help to the reception of spiritual truth. Pleading for teaching by parable or by illustration still, we may point out that—

I. IT ARRESTS ATTENTION. Just as children are all alive if we propose to tell them a story, so the teacher and the preacher at once brighten up their audiences when they give an illustration. Our Lord always secured attention because he was illustrative. There were no abstract statements in his teachings; they were all changed into pictures. His work "swarmed with figures of speech," and so it was that "the common people heard him gladly."

II. IT DISARMS PREJUDICE. It is difficult for public teachers to warn and reprove wisely. They may easily offend by direct and pointed applications. They can interest in a picture which excites no prejudice, and skilfully bring out applications that awaken consciences, and set them making their reproaches.

III. IT EXCITES THOUGHT. Illustrate by the difference between history as a bare record of facts, and the philosophy of history, which concerns the relations of the facts, and the mutual influence of the characters. The psalmist here designs to present the old history in such ways as to compel thought concerning God's ways with man, and man's ways with God.

IV. IT REMAINS IN MEMORY. Only particular dispositions and trained intellects can remember abstract propositions. Everybody can remember stories, pictures, and illustrations; and there is always the possibility that, holding the parable, they will hold—for use on occasion—the truth which it was designed to teach.—R.T.

Psalms 78:4, Psalms 78:5

Our mission to the coming generation.

The interest of the Old Testament in children is seldom worthily recognized. The Divine confidence is felt in Abraham on this singular ground, "For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment" (Genesis 18:19). The meaning of the most significant rite of the Mosaic system—the Passover—was to be carefully explained to the "children." The command is given concerning the holy laws, "Thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up" (Deuteronomy 6:7). The psalmist speaks thus of his work: "This shall be written for the generation to come; and the people which shall be created shall praise the Lord" (Psalms 102:18). And the prophets repeat after Isaiah, and say, "The father to the children shall make known thy truth" (Isaiah 38:19). Dr. Horace Bushnell, in a very striking way, calls the religious teaching of religious families" the out-populating of the Christian stock." There is always hope for the new generation; but the foundation of that hope is the righteousness and faithfulness of this generation. Then they truly work for the children who work to fit the parents for influencing the children. Our mission to our children is—if we follow the psalm—

I. TO TEACH THEE GOD'S DOINGS AND GOD'S WILL. This mission is entrusted first to parents. Only as civilization involves parental inabilities and disabilities, can the duty be delegated to servants, or to Sunday school teachers. The things we have to teach our children are:

1. God in history.

2. God in covenant.

3. God in law.

4. God in redemption.

Our power to do our work worthily depends on our own spiritual apprehensions. And they must not be left to pick up religious knowledge. God requires that we teach them.


1. By commending such lives in the grace and beauty of our own. It is not enough to "allure to brighter worlds;" we can "lead the way."

2. By teaching them the lessons that we may be able to draw from our own experience.

3. By enforcing the warnings which are suggested by the ancient histories (see verse 9).

4. By patiently aiding them in the formation of good religious habits.

III. TO MAKE THEM FEEL THEIR RESPONSIBILITY TO THE GENERATION FOLLOWING THEM. The object set before us, in teaching our children, is (verse 7), "to the intent that, when they come up" into their fatherhoods and motherhoods, "they might show their children the same." So our influence should be repeating itself, generation after generation. Our faithfulness to our mission may put a new and nobler impress on the coming generations (see Psalms 145:4).—R.T.

Psalms 78:9

The bad example of Ephraim.

The incident here alluded to is not known. Evidently there was some well remembered occasion when Ephraim suffered an ignominious defeat in consequence of their apostasy from God. There is a Hebrew legend which records how, during the Egyptian captivity, the tribe of Ephraim, in the pride of their heart, endeavoured to forestall the appointed time of the Exodus, and. went out armed, only to be massacred by the men of Gath. It has, however, been observed that in the prophetical books (especially Hosea), the whole northern kingdom is mentioned under the term "Ephraim;" and, taking this view, the "psalmist may allude to a defeat of a peculiarly disgraceful character, which was regarded as a punishment of the ten tribes for their secession from the divinely appointed Davidic dynasty. Precisely of this nature is the defeat of the 800,000 men of Jeroboam by the 400,000 of Abijah, in 2 Chronicles 13:1-22." But we ought to look for some instance in which Ephraim made a show of taking part with the other tribes, and forsook them—perhaps through jealousy—in the moment of stress. The image is one of faithlessness. The thought that calls to mind the sin of Ephraim is given at the close of 2 Chronicles 13:8, "A generation … whose spirit was not steadfast with God." We are to learn, not from their act, but from the spirit which found expression in their act. Illustrate from all known of this tribe.

I. A BAD EXAMPLE OF WAVERING. Compare Reuben, "unstable as water." This is the common failure of impulsive people, who take up things excitedly, but have no staying power. (See the "stony ground" hearers.) It implies grave weakness of character, which prevents success in life being won, or confidence being felt. We can never be sure of the wavering man, who may respond to the last impulse, and fail us at the most trying time. Constancy, steadfastness, are not recognized sufficiently as elements of character that may be, and should be, developed and educated in the young, who should be made to carry through what they begin.

II. A BAD EXAMPLE OF LACK OF PRINCIPLE. In the case before us, Ephraim evidently acted on mere feeling. Principles of loyalty, and brotherly service to their fellow tribes, would have enabled them to master "feeling" and "fear." They had no adequate "sense of the right;" they allowed themselves to be ruled by the "expedient," which constantly leads men to do mean and shameful things. He only is noble who can act on principle, and suffer for the right.

III. A BAD EXAMPLE OF SUSPICIOUSNESS. Illustrate by the difficulty Gideon had with the Ephraimites ( 8:1-4). Some always think they are being neglected, slighted. In this case, probably Gideon had not thought about these Ephraimites, so he could not have designed any evil. When discontented with ourselves, we readily suspect other people's treatment of us.

IV. A BAD EXAMPLE OF SELF-IMPORTANCE. Ephraim was always thinking what was due to itself as the leading tribe. The people who are over full of self are only too likely to fail their friends in the evil day.—R.T.

Psalms 78:12, Psalms 78:31

God's marvellous doings.

The marvel of God's doings is always this—He is ever rescuing, delivering, restoring, redeeming, saving, or, as we may say, putting things straight. The type of all God's doings was, to the Jew, the rescue of the race from Egyptian bondage. The Divine attributes are not best seen in punishments or scenes of terror; throughout the history of the world they have been most fully revealed in God's savings, deliverings, and redeemings. Moses composed a song when the Hebrews had safely reached the further shores of the Red Sea. To him that rescue was a most impressive demonstration of the Divine righteousness; so the song runs thus: "Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?" When God would declare the great foundation laws, he revealed himself as the nation's Deliverer and Saviour: "I am the Lord thy God, that brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." When Joshua pleaded so earnestly, "What wilt thou do unto thy great Name?" the thing distressing him was that God seemed to have ceased to be a Deliverer and Redeemer of his people. David gains right impressions of the Divine righteousness by meditating on the Divine mercy. Started on this line, we may consider as "marvellous doings"—

I. THE DIVINE DELIVERANCES. Reading sacred history for illustrations, we find:

1. Noah delivered from peril of flood.

2. Abraham delivered from Chaldean polytheistic associations.

3. Hebrews delivered from bondage, and from position of peril at the Red Sea.

4. Local deliverances, as in the times of the Judges, early history of David, reigns of Asa and Jehoshaphat.

5. National rescue from captivity.

6. Deliverance from sin, by Christ Jesus. Every case is a marvel of Divine wisdom, power, and grace. And God is best known in his redeemings. "He delivereth and rescueth."

II. THE DIVINE PROVIDENCES. Which efficiently provide, and mysteriously guide. By providences we mean the ordinary arrangements of life, as distinct from times of trouble and peril. There is a marvel of the Divine ordering of Israel's way, and of ours. Heaven-sent manna, and streams from smitten rocks, tell of an ever-wonder-working providence. To devout minds, no marvel is greater than God's making "all things work together for good."

III. THE DIVINE FORBEARANCES. Many of these are called to mind in this psalm. God's long suffering towards stiff-necked Israel must always seem a marvel of grace; and his people in every age have exclaimed, "It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed."

IV. THE DIVINE JUDGMENTS. (See verse 31.) These must be included, but they are put last, because "judgment is his strange work." The marvel of God's judgments is the absence of vindictiveness in them, and the power that makes them work towards ends of moral blessing.—R.T.

Psalms 78:18

Heart tempting of God.

Prayer book Version, "And provoked the Most Highest in the wilderness." The idea is that, in their urgent entreaty for meat, which became, in fact, a demand, and an expression of masterful self-willedness, the people made it necessary for God to do what he would gladly have been spared from doing—correct them by means of severe judgments. "They required meat for their lust." God provided for their need; they wanted him to provide for their self-indulgence; and this no man has ever any right to expect of God, though, in fact, he does give us "all things richly to enjoy." But notice this point. The mere request the people made did not appear to be wrong in itself. The wrong is seen when the heart, the purpose, prompting the request, is clearly recognized. "God looketh on the heart." Compare the request of Simon Magus (Acts 8:21). Simon Peter recognized heart tempting of God, and firmly declared, "Thy heart is not right in the sight of God."

I. OUR REQUESTS CAN NEVER STAND ALONE. We can usually only judge the propriety or impropriety of a request. God never separates the request from the person who makes it. Even we look anxiously for signs of sincerity and earnestness. God finds all the interest of a request in the state of mind it expresses. What prompts the request is the question of supreme importance. God answers the man, not the man's words. Show in how many ways there may be divorce between the man and his request. Illustrate by Augustine's prayer, "Lord, convert me," which sounds well, and can be approved. When he added, "but not yet," he let his heart speak, and spoiled his prayer. When God read his heart, he heard this, "Don't convert me, Lord." If we look at the heart behind the request of the Israelites, we can see the unbelief which would put God to the test, and say, "He can give us this light bread, he cannot give us good meat." Plead for searchings of heart before offering petitions to God, because he will answer the heart, not the petition, so we must see to it that the petition expresses the heart. God is provoked by insincerity to correct through judgments (Psalms 78:30, Psalms 78:31).

II. OUR REQUESTS MAY REALLY BE INSULTS. None of us can come aright to God unless "we believe that he is, and that he is the Rewarder of those who diligently seek him." God asks for trust. "Believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." The supreme offence to God is "doubting him," "suspecting him." These men offered insult to Jehovah when in effect they said, "Give us flesh to eat; we know you cannot do that."—R.T.

Psalms 78:22

God's call to trustfully.

God is represented as being "grieved" because his people failed to trust him, and depend upon his help. The good man is troubled when those whom he loves fail to trust him. We love to be relied on. We do our noblest and our best for those who will confide in us. And from ourselves we may learn to think of God aright. The best in man is the suggestion of the truest thoughts we can have of God. Our Lord represented the attitude of God towards us when he said to the ruler, "Only believe [trust]; all things are possible to him that believeth." If God calls us to trust him fully, and is grieved with us when we fail to trust him fully, the question arises, "Has he made such trust possible and reasonable?" We may confidently say he has, in view of what we know he is; what relations he bears to his people; and what things he has been doing in all ages for his people.

I. IN VIEW OF WHAT WE KNOW HE IS. Whatever side of his revelation of himself to us we may study, the impression left on us is that he is infinitely trustworthy. Take his Creatorship, involving the reliance of all existence on his upholding. Take his independence, as indicated in the term, "I am," given to Moses as a substitute for a name. Take his holiness, as the indication of absolute perfection in character. We want, in those on whom we can rely, power—we must know that they can; independence—we must be sure that they are above being biassed; and character—we must be sure of their response, in feeling, to our need. On this line it may be shown that none but God can have the right to claim our perfect trust. We may "trust in the Lord forever."

II. IN VIEW OF THE RELATIONS HE BEARS TO HIS PEOPLE. These have a special character. Beyond what God is to all his creatures, he bears special relations to his people. These gather up into the terms, Redeemer, Saviour, Father. Redeemer from Egypt, and from sin. Saviour from peril, and from self. Father, as hearing on himself the burden of his children's well being. If these relations are unfolded in their Christian developments, the call to full trust will be shown as every way reasonable.

III. IN VIEW OF THE THINGS HE HAS BEEN DOING IN ALL AGES. This brings us to the psalm. We may select illustrations from this historical retrospect. The two things immediately connected with the text are—the failure to trust God to provide needful daily bread. They might have trusted, for he could, he did, provide. With this lesson, the people failed to trust God for needed drink. But they might have trusted fully, for he could, he did, provide.—R.T.

Psalms 78:37

The grievous sin of insincerity.

"For their heart was not right with him;" Prayer book Version, "not whole with him;" Perowne, "not steadfast with him." An accusation is brought against God's people by Hoses to this effect, "Their heart is divided; now shall they be found faulty." Some are said to have "feared the Lord, and served other gods." But it is a more searching view of insincerity, or double mindedness, if we see that a man may keep up his open and outward relations with God, and all the time be really serving himself, "following the devices and desires of his own heart." This is the kind of insincerity to which, in subtle ways, we are all exposed; and it is a supreme offence in the sight of God, who wants act and motive, doing and feeling, to match. Our Lord Jesus Christ represented the feeling of God in his stern words concerning the insincere, the hypocrite. To the wicked he was ever tender and gracious; but to the wicked who cloaked his wickedness, to the man who came hiding with fawning words his malicious purpose, the Lord Jesus was most severe. The point of insincerity that comes out in connection with the text, is the show of reformation that men will make in order just to get out of their calamities. "When he slew them, then they inquired after him;" but there was no serious purpose in their inquiries. "Yea, they turned again, and sought God." They did but "flatter him with their mouth, and they lied unto him with their tongue."

I. INSINCERITY IS OFFENSIVE IN THE SIGHT OF GOD. The infinitely True One loves truth. The infinitely Pure One loves sincerity. Insincerity never deceives him, who "searcheth the heart and trieth the reins," and "needeth not that any should testify of man, for he knows what is in man." The clothes of a man should genuinely express the man. Much more should the words of a man, and the ways of a man, express the man.

II. INSINCERITY IS AN ANXIETY IN THE MIND OF GOD. Because it is the most effective hindrance to his work in men's souls. The man puts a false front on, to prevent God's dealing with him as he is. Because it reveals a depraved condition. And because cherished insincerity exercises a most debasing influence on character. A man cannot become noble who keeps up a sham. The inevitable result is the formation of a habit of mind and thought which makes a serious and truthful life impossible.—R.T.

Psalms 78:70

The grace of Divine selections.

"He chose David also his servant, and took him from the sheepfolds." The selection of David may be. viewed from two sides. It was an act of Divine grace toward David himself; and an act of Divine grace in providing such a king for the people.

I. DIVINE GRACE TOWARD DAVID HIMSELF. A careful study of David's early life brings out the fact that he was, in some sense, the despised one of the family. He was evidently much younger than his brothers; probably the child of another mother, who was brought into the family under somewhat peculiar circumstances. While all the brothers went to the war, David was kept at home. When Jesse called all his sons before Samuel, he left David out, as if he hardly came into the family reckoning. It was, then, the despised one, who had been sent to the sheepfolds with the women, who was selected by God for the highest place in the new state. God constantly makes the "poor of this world to confound the wise." But not arbitrarily. Only because he seeks to fit men to places, on the ground of their endowments and character and fitness for their positions. There is "no respect of persons with God." David was selected as the fitting man.

II. DIVINE GRACE PROVIDING SUCH A KING FOR THE PEOPLE. He was selected on the Divine judgment as to what was best for the people. Compare Saul, selected as meeting the people's idea of what was best for them. Kingsley says, "I look on David as an all but ideal king, educated for his office by an all but ideal training. Among the dumb animals he learnt experience which he afterwards put into practice among human beings. The shepherd of the sheep became the shepherd of men. He who had slain the lion and the bear became the champion of his native land. He who followed the ewes great with young fed God's oppressed and weary people with a faithful and true heart, till he raised them into a great and strong nation. So both sides of the true kingly character, the masculine and the feminine, are brought out in David." It may be pointed out that, in David, were qualities of kingship which would have made him a blessing to any nation, in any age. And it may further be shown that, in him, there were characteristic abilities, which made him specially the man for his time. Lead on to show that the one thing which made David's reign a supreme blessing to the people was his personal and governmental loyalty to the theocratic idea. He never failed through any disloyalty to his Overlord, Jehovah.—R.T.


Psalms 78:3-8

The Divine object of revelation.

In this paragraph we have stated the object which God had appointed Israel to fulfil—to receive his Law and truth, that they might transmit them to posterity, and that they and their posterity might be brought to a living trust in God, and obedience to his will. Suggests—


1. He has gloriously revealed his character in Christ: his love. Christ showed the nature of God to be love by his own character and by his teaching.

2. By him also he made the most perfect revelation of his Law. The old Law was interpreted by Christ, and received its most spiritual meaning and its widest sweep and application. Love is the only fulfilment of the Law—love to God and love to man.


1. By awakening trust or faith in God. (Psalms 78:7.) That is the natural effect of the revelation he has made.

2. By producing obedience to his will. (Psalms 78:7.)

3. By awakening a reciprocal love. (Psalms 78:4.) This celebrates "the praise of God, and. his might, and his wonderful works that he has done."

III. THAT THIS REVELATION WAS GIVEN THAT IT MIGHT BE PROPAGATED. To all that are living now, and to all coming generations.

1. By the public ministry. By preaching, by books, and by living example.

2. By the instruction of our children. In the family and in schools. The power of character as a teacher.—S.

Psalms 78:32-39

God's tender mercy.

This passage describes the conduct of the rebellious and lustful Israelites in the wilderness, and sets forth three things—God's chastisement of their sin; their superficial repentance; God's pitiful compassion.

I. GOD'S CHASTISEMENT OF SIN. (Psalms 78:33, Psalms 78:34.) "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness."

1. Their sin was sensual indifference to the wonders of God's redemption. (Psalms 78:32.) "They believed not his wondrous works"—in connection with their redemption from the miseries of Egypt. The same sin now in reference to the work of Christ.

2. The punishment was trouble and death. (Psalms 78:33, Psalms 78:34.) Sin always leads to trouble, and sometimes to death.

3. By granting them their sinful desires. (Psalms 78:29.)


1. It was inspired by fear. (Psalms 78:34.) Fear—terror—never produces genuine repentance.

2. They made insincere promises of amendment. (Psalms 78:36.) "They flattered God with their mouth, and lied unto him with their tongues." It was no true repentance.

3. They were still unchanged in heart. (Psalms 78:37.) And no repentance is true and lasting which does not make the heart right towards God.

III. GOD'S PITIFUL COMPASSION. (Psalms 78:38, Psalms 78:39.)

1. God's punishment of sin is a moderated punishment. (Psalms 78:38.) "And did not stir up all his wrath." No punishment goes beyond the desert, and he makes it as light as it can be.

2. God pities as well as condemns our weakness and misery. (Psalms 78:39.) "He knoweth our frame, and remembereth that we are dust."

3. God's forbearance is exercised with a view to our redemption. (Psalms 78:38.) "Many a time turned he his anger away." "Not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance."—S.


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

Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 78:4". The Pulpit Commentary. 1897.

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