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Deeper Commentary


Psa 78:1

A contemplation by Asaph-
This "Asaph" could be the Asaph of Hezekiah's time (Is. 36:3) who used the Psalms in the context of the events of the Assyrian invasion. The Asaph Psalms all have parts in them relevant to that context (Ps. 50, 73-83). Or the "Asaph" may have been the singers who were relatives of Asaph, prominent at the restoration (Neh. 7:44; 11:17,22). It could mean that the psalms were a part of a collection from the Asaphites, and the name "Asaph" was therefore simply used to identify the temple singers. And again, parts of the Asaph psalms also have relevance to the restoration. The fact the Asaph Psalms speak of elohim rather than Yahweh would support the idea that they were used in the exilic / restoration period. But Asaph was the "chief" of the Levites to whom David assigned the ministry of praise before the ark (1 Chron. 16:4,5). It seems he did compose his own Psalms, which were used by Hezekiah at his time (2 Chron. 29:30). So I would again suggest that all the Asaph Psalms were composed originally by David "for" [not necessarily "by"] Asaph, but were rewritten and edited for later occasions.

Asaph lived at the time of the restoration (Ezra 2:41). All his Psalms draw on the past dealings of God with His people and encourage them on this basis to make the wilderness journey back  to the land, just as they had done at the Exodus. Asaph says he will “utter hidden things…what our fathers have told us…we will not hide them from their children” (:2,4 NIV). He speaks as if these things had been known by the fathers but not repeated to Asaph’s generation, and now Asaph as a teaching priest was going to teach them to the present generation. This would imply that after initially pining for Zion, the Jewish community in Babylon got on with life and forget their historical roots; for “the things” of which the Psalm speaks are a recounting of the covenant history of God with His people. In this context Asaph reminds them that Yahweh had chosen Zion for His temple (:60,68), and now at the restoration “The Lord awoke from sleep, as a man wakes” (:65). Asaph warns them that He has “rejected the tents of Joseph, he did not chose the tribe of Ephraim” (i.e. the 10 tribe Kingdom had been scattered and were not returning at that time), but he chose the tribe of Judah”. The final verses must surely be read as prophetic perfect, i.e. speaking about what was going to happen as if it had: “He beat back his enemies, he put them to everlasting shame…He built his sanctuary…he chose David his servant (the same phrase recurs in Ezekiel’s temple prophecies)… and David shepherded them with integrity of heart” (:67-72). It could have been so that the surrounding Arab enemies of Judah were eternally destroyed (this has never yet happened, so it can’t be describing a previous historical event), the temple built on Zion, and a David-like Messiah appeared. This was potentially possible; but it wasn’t to be. The people preferred to live in ignorance of Asaph’s appeal to their previous history.  

Hear my teaching, my people; turn your ears to the words of my mouth-
The initial author of this Psalm appears to be David, at the time when the sanctuary was moved from Shiloh in Ephraim (Josh. 18:1) to Zion in the tribe of Judah. The Psalm emphasizes the rejection of Ephraim, the largest tribe; and the historical account finishes with David. This suggests at best it was written by Solomon, or in his time; but most of the Psalms appear to have originated with David. There is a political pretext to it, however- which is to underline that Judah is the royal tribe and not Ephraim, which was the largest tribe. And the king of the kingdom is to be David and his line, not anyone else. In this opening verse, David appeals to "my people" to accept his appeal to accept him as their king, and his interpretation of the history of Ephraim and Judah.

Psa 78:2

I will open my mouth in a parable, I will utter dark sayings of old-
What follows is a salvation history of Israel. History is a riddle or parable, but it is uttered or revealed by appreciating that it is really a reflection of God's desire to save and show grace to His sinful people. This is the ultimate interpretation of human history.

Psa 78:3

which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us-
The idea may be that David is going to reveal the riddle of the historical stories which Israel had heard and known from their fathers (:2).

Psa 78:4

We will not hide them from their children-
LXX "They were not hid from their children to a second generation; the fathers declaring the praises of the Lord".

Telling to the generation to come the praises of Yahweh, His strength, and His wondrous works that He has done- As explained on Ps. 77, the intention of Israel's history is to reveal Yahweh's amazing grace and patience to such a weak and sinful people. His strength was in His grace. The great physical miracles were noteworthy even moreso for their revelation of God's grace unto salvation.

Psa 78:5

For He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a teaching in Israel, which He commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children-
This was to be the lead characteristic of the family of Abraham; the true seed would make known God's teaching to their children (Gen. 18:18). Even in Old Testament times, the basic idea of spreading God’s ways was implicit in God’s commands, although each time it seems to have met with resistance. Adam and Eve were to multiply and fill the earth, but it seems they didn’t even have intercourse , or at least Eve wasn’t pregnant, before they sinned. Noah was given the same command after the flood, but the next we know he is lying there dead drunk. And the incident at Babel shows that effectively, his children had not taken seriously the command to spread throughout the earth. Israel were to be a missionary nation, but they so evidently failed in this. The law given to Israel was intended to be a “testimony”, a witness, as the Hebrew word implies. By living out that law, Israel were to have been a witness to the world, a light to the Gentiles (Ps. 78:5). The prophets are full of invitations for the whole ends of the earth to turn to Israel’s God, yet the nation produced few real missionaries.

Psa 78:6

that the generation to come might know, even the children who should be born; who should arise and tell their children-
David is saying that "we" (:4), he and his descendants, would continue declaring God's mighty acts to their children. But he is building up to a contrast with the descendants of Ephraim, whom he will insist had forgotten God's mighty acts, implying they had not taught them to their children. David is correct in viewing attitudes to teaching children as a highly significant indicator as to whether we are the seed of Abraham (Gen. 18:18). But his own house / family was not right with God either, so it seems David is madly pressing ahead with a line of reasoning to justify the establishment of his family line and tribe before God, rather than that of Ephraim, the largest tribe.

Psa 78:7

that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments-
David often takes strength from God's previous deliverances to cope with whatever he was now facing (Ps. 61:3). This may sound natural, but in fact it isn't; because we are inclined to forget the great things He has done for us, as Israel did in the desert.

Psa 78:8

and might not be as their fathers-
To condemn and differ from your fathers was a radically counter-cultural position in David's world.

A stubborn and rebellious generation-
The "stubborn and rebellious" were to have been disciplined and rejected from the family (s.w. Dt. 21:18). But lack of obedience to this led to the attitudes of youth becoming the hallmark of an entire generation, as we see today. The grace of it all is seen in how God gave gifts and His Spirit to His people "to the rebellious also" (Ps. 68:18 s.w.), that He might dwell among  them. Israel both before (Is. 1:23; Jer. 5:23) and after the exile (Is. 65:2) were rebellious. David's hope for his natural seed wasn't realized.   

A generation that didn’t make their hearts loyal, whose spirit was not steadfast with God-
The heart and the spirit are clearly paralleled here. The gift of a holy spirit is therefore the gift of a psychology, an attitude of heart, which is what we all so desperately need. Yet here, the essence of their rebellion was in their hearts. "Steadfast" is s.w. "established" in the promise to David about his kingdom being established by God (2 Sam. 7:16). The idea is that they did not allow their heart or spirit to be established / stabilized by God; the same word is translated "nurse" (2 Sam. 4:4). He is willing and eager to confirm the hearts of men; but that generation didn't allow Him to do so. The word is also translated 'to have faith', and in this sense faith is also not of ourselves, but is the gift of God to those who want it (Eph. 2:8).

Psa 78:9

The children of Ephraim, being armed and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle-
The idea is that they had the weapons, the potential, but turned back. It is our wasting of Divine potential which is indeed so grievous. But what is the historical reference? There appears to be none, unless Ephraim's general failure to drive out the Canaanites is referenced. But that was true for many of the tribes. There is a reference to some individual Ephraimites being defeated by the Philistines of Gath (1 Chron. 7:20-22). David instead gloriously conquered the Philistine of Gath, Goliath. I suggest that David is slanting history to present Ephraim as far more sinful than Judah, to justify his moving the ark from Shiloh in Ephraim (Josh. 18:1) to Jerusalem in Judah. He is painting Ephraim's failures as of a far worse nature than those of Judah and the rest of Israel- in order to establish his point, that he and his tribe had been chosen. Twisting the incident in 1 Chron. 7 as if it involved all Ephraim is typical of this. Indeed God did choose David and his line. But that didn't need David or Solomon to justify it by presenting themselves as righteous and the rest of Israel as so deeply unworthy and sinful. Likewise our salvation is by the grave of Divine election, but that doesn't mean that we have to pull down others to demonstrate our own worthiness.

The observation has been made that :8 and :10 flow on together and the rhythm of the passage is interrupted by :9; as if this history of God's grace with His people has been used by David or Solomon and had had the rhetoric against Ephraim crudely inserted into it at various points, in order to justify David's line. See on :17.

Psa 78:10

They didn’t keep God’s covenant, and refused to walk in His law-
This is presented as at variance with the lead characteristic of the seed of Abraham, which was to keep and teach the covenant to others (:5); and which David is insisting he and his line will do.

Psa 78:11

They forgot His doings, His wondrous works that He had shown them-
The contrast is with :4, where the true seed of Abraham are to declare "His wondrous works" and not forget them. Our attitudes to teaching God's ways to our children and others remains the litmus test of being within the covenant (see on :5).

Psa 78:12

He did marvellous things in the sight of their fathers, in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan-
LXX "In the plain of Tanes", which was the capital of Egypt, where Pharaoh's palace was, where Moses and Aaron did the miracles. The "fathers" have been defined in :8 as disbelieving. Yet despite this, they experienced miracles and deliverance (:13). Again the idea is that the rebellious were delivered by grace, and the mystery of history is that God has repeatedly saved the undeserving.  

Psa 78:13

He split the sea, and caused them to pass through. He made the waters stand as a heap-
LXX "he made the waters to stand as in a bottle". This great deliverance looks forward to Christian baptism (1 Cor. 10:1). This great salvation was to the "fathers" (:12), who have been defined in :8 as disbelieving. So this then refers to a salvation by grace. It was of God's 'causing' that they passed through; for they were fearful and seemed to prefer death or return to Egypt, than passing through the waters. Our salvation likewise is of God's causing (see on :8).

Psa 78:14

In the daytime He also led them with a cloud, and all night with a light of fire-
I suggest that again we have a pairing of the Psalms, here of Psalms 77 and 78. The salvation history outlined in Ps. 78 is a development of this theme of Ps. 77. Hence Ps. 77:20 ends with Israel being "led" as a flock, and Ps. 78 continues this theme (Ps. 78:14,53 s.w.).

Psa 78:15

He split rocks in the wilderness, and gave them drink abundantly as out of the depths-
The generosity of God to those disbelieving 'fathers' is emphasized. They were fed to the full, and given abundant water, which tasted like cool water springing up from the depths of the earth. The splitting of the Red Sea (:13 s.w.)continued in essence, with the daily splitting of the rock, as it were, from which their water source flowed. God's redemptive action was not only seen in bringing us from the world (Egypt) to the waters of baptism and onto the Kingdom path; but that same activity is in fact a daily occurrence.

Psa 78:16

He brought streams also out of the rock, and caused waters to run down like rivers-
The verbs in this section speak of the incessant activity of God; splitting, causing, bringing forth, leading, feeding, giving to drink. And this same level of hyperactivity is going in our lives as we are led towards the Kingdom after accepting baptism.

Psa 78:17

Yet they still went on sinning against Him, rebelling against the Most High in the desert-
The "they" in the context is Ephraim (:9). But these were the sins of the majority of Israel. So it would appear that David is painting Ephraim as bad as possible, blaming them for Israel's sins in the desert, in an attempt to justify his own kingdom of Judah. And yet as noted on :7, it could be argued that we have here in this Psalm a salvation history of Israel, into which has been inserted rhetoric against Ephraim. That rhetoric inserted in :9 then throws the rest of the Psalm out of kilter; because fairly obviously, we are reading here in this section of the general sins of Israel in the desert, rather than of Ephraim alone.

Psa 78:18

They put God to the test in their heart by asking food according to their lust-
The Psalms, along with the entire Biblical record, emphasize the importance of the heart. Their request for food was a testing of God in their hearts. Spiritual mindedness is of the essence; the theme of the spirit is therefore very major in the New Testament. But it reflects the emphasis of the Old Testament upon the huge significance of the human heart and thinking. This was in radical contrast to the way in which religions of the time focused purely upon the external.

Psa 78:19

Yes, they spoke against God. They said, Can God prepare a table in the wilderness?-
This happened to David when fleeing from Absalom, when a kind supporter gave David a feast in the wilderness, as he celebrates in Ps. 23. Perhaps a later hand [Solomon?] has included this in order to present David as the believer, compared to Ephraim.

Psa 78:20

Behold, He struck the rock, so that waters gushed out, and streams overflowed. Can He give bread also? Will He provide flesh for His people?-
LXX "or prepare a table for his people". See on :19. The idea seems to be that they tested God (:18) by challenging Him to not merely produce food but a feast for them in the desert. Their argument was that producing gushing water from the rock was but a minor miracle; but could He produce flesh and bread? This was asked without faith (:23), not as a request, but as a reflection of their cynical lack of trust and faith.

Psa 78:21

Therefore Yahweh heard, and was angry. A fire was kindled against Jacob, anger also went up against Israel-
The reference is to the burning of God's wrath at Taberah. If the "they" in the previous verses is intended to refer to Ephraim (as the flow of the grammar from :9 suggests it does), then David is trying to wrongly blame Israel's misfortunes upon Ephraim. This was an exaggeration and reflects David by all means marshalling all possible excuses for making his Judah the lead tribe rather than Ephraim.

Psa 78:22 because they didn’t believe in God, and didn’t trust in His salvation-

Although God opened the doors of Heaven to rain manna upon Israel, they “trusted not in his salvation”. The manna, as in John 6, became a symbol of their salvation; and yet the repetitious ordinariness of it all meant they missed the point. Every time we read God’s word, take again the bread of Heaven each week, the more familiar we are with it, the more likelihood there is that this can happen to us. 

Psa 78:23

Yet He commanded the skies above, and opened the doors of heaven-
The "yet" continues the theme of God's grace. Although they didn't believe nor trust (:22), yet God poured His gifts upon them. The "command" was to the Angels, who produced the food (:25).

Psa 78:24

He rained down manna on them to eat, and gave them food from the sky-
LXX "The bread of heaven", a phrase clearly alluded to by the Lord Jesus concerning Himself, and used by Him to represent God's salvation. This was rained upon them; just as the water was abundant and the food fully satisfied them. This amazing outpouring of grace was given although they didn't believe nor trust (:22), and this was the background to God's gift of His Son, "the bread of heaven".

Psa 78:25

Man ate the bread of angels; He sent them food to the full-
See on :29. The bread was created by the Angels, who had been commanded to bring it for Israel (see on :23). But the word translated "angels" here is not malak. It rather means 'the mighty ones'. It parallels "food to the full"; they were given a feast, fit for the great and mighty. Such was God's grace to those who didn't believe in Him (:22) and mocked whether He could provide any more than free water (:21).

Psa 78:26

He caused the east wind to blow in the sky, by His power He guided the south wind-
The idea may be that the quails were blown in by a south easterly wind. He had likewise caused the east wind to operate in bringing locusts upon Egypt and in causing the miracle at the Red Sea. The Hebrew idea of "spirit" and "wind" is connected, and God makes His Angels winds (Ps. 104:4). Clearly He was using Angels to bring about these miracles with winds; see on :23. 

Psa 78:27

He rained also flesh on them as the dust-
The raining down of quails was again typically generous, just as the water was abundant, the food fully satisfied them "to the full" (:25).

Winged birds as the sand of the seas-
Appropriate, seeing that the seed of Abraham were to be as the sand of the sea and dust of the land. Clearly there was here a reference to the primary fulfilment of the promises to Abraham. It was always a case of 'now but not yet'; all God's plans for salvation have some primary fulfilment in this life.

Psa 78:28

He let them fall in the midst of their camp, around their dwelling places-
Yet again God's grace is emphasized, because the quail dropped right next to their tents. They just had to pick them up and cook them, rather than having to wander around the desert picking them up. And this was all for those who refused to trust and believe in Him (:22) and mocked whether He could provide any more than free water (:21).

Psa 78:29

So they ate, and were well filled; He gave them their own desire-
The complete satisfaction and filling of the Israelites was quite a theme (:25 also), looking forward to how the Lord's later feeding miracles left the people completely satisfied. It is a theme of the Bible that in essence, God gives men their own desires, just as the prodigal son was given what he wrongfully demanded. Here, Israel lusted (s.w. Num. 11:4) and God gave them what they lusted after. This is to point up the huge importance of our innermost desires, our heart, our dominant passions- being upon the things of God and His Kingdom. David could say that all his desire was for the things of God (s.w. Ps. 38:9; Is. 26:8). More than anything else we should desire to please Him and be in His Kingdom. And all who thus love the Lord's appearing will be eternally with Him (2 Tim. 4:8).

Psa 78:30

They didn’t turn from their cravings. Their food was yet in their mouths-
Those who lusted for meat were given it; yet “they were not estranged from their lust” (AV).  Sin never satisfies. Giving in to temptation will not lead to the craving being permanently resolved.


Psa 78:31

when the anger of God went up against them, killed some of their fattest, and struck down the young men of Israel-
Significantly, it was the "fattest" who complained about lack of food. God had not let them really suffer from lack of food. And it is those fat ones who are particularly recorded as being struck down. "Struck down" is often used in the sense of making to bow down in homage (s.w. Ps. 72:9; 95:6). Perhaps there is the hint that the younger ones repented. 

Psa 78:32

For all this they still sinned, and didn’t believe in His wondrous works-
Those "wondrous works" typically refer to God's saving miracles especially at the Red Sea. Despite being taught that God is for real, they refused to learn the lessons of their wonderful history. The problem was in their hearts, their attitude of mind deep within them. For Israel refused to be obedient, were stiff-necked, because they were "not mindful of Your wonders" (Neh. 9:17). 

Psa 78:33

Therefore He consumed their days in vanity, and their years in terror-
LXX "anxiety". That vanity and anxiety which fills the lives of those who don't want God is in fact given by Him. Again we see evidence of God's ability to work directly upon human hearts, positively [by the Holy Spirit] and [in this case] negatively.

Psa 78:34

When He slew them, then they inquired after Him; they relented and sought God earnestly-
This could refer to the time of the judges, but in :40 we are still as it were in the wilderness with Israel, so I suggest this refers to their occasional responses to God during the various judgments in the desert. But this earnest seeking of God was just for a moment as they faced judgment. For generally they did not seek Him (Rom. 3:11).  

Psa 78:35

They remembered that God was their rock, the Most High God their redeemer-
As noted on :34, this was but a passing awareness; for the wilderness generation, and Israel generally, did not remember God as their redeemer. "The most high God" could suggest that they believed in many gods, but in their desperate moments, recognized Yahweh as the "most high" of them all. And this was why they did not permanently have Yahweh as their only rock. Let us remember that Israel carried the tabernacle of their god Remphan through the desert as well as that of Yahweh.

Psa 78:36

But they flattered Him with their mouth, and lied to Him with their tongue-
The language of flattery and deceit could suggest that God was so in love with them that He as it were restrained His omniscience, just as at times He restrains His omnipotence; in order to enter fully into relationship with His people, in real time (in human terms).

Psa 78:37

For their heart was not right with Him, neither were they faithful in His covenant-
Faithfulness to the covenant is here presented as a matter of the heart, rather than ritualistic obedience and assent to bullet points of theology. This was the stuff of the idol cults; Yahweh sought an intimate relationship with the hearts of His worshippers.

Psa 78:38

But He, being merciful, forgave iniquity, and didn’t destroy them-
There is no suggestion that He forgave them because they repented and remained penitent; to show mercy forgive iniquity is what God is good at, it is part of His fundamental character intrinsic to His Name (Ex. 34:4-6). It was all of grace and love and desperate desire to save them.

Yes, many times He turned His anger away, and didn’t stir up all His wrath-
This seems to suggest He Himself controlled His anger, Himself turning that anger away, rather than being like a pagan deity whose anger was appeased by blood sacrifice. God turned from His anger due to Moses' intercession (Ex. 32:12 s.w.), but this is not to say that He cannot in any case turn away His anger. Just as we may control our anger from within ourselves, or at other times we may do this because of the appeal of another to us, or because there is repentance from the one who provoked us. And there were times when this was the case with God (s.w. Num. 25:4; Josh. 7:26; 2 Chron. 12:12; 29:10; 30:8).

Psa 78:39

He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes away, and doesn’t come again-
The impression is that God forgave them not because they repented- but because of His compassion, His remembering of His covenant with them [‘remember’ is often used of God in a covenant context], and simply because He recognized the frailty of their humanity. In other words, He forgave them because of His grace. We dare not allow this wonderful fact to work in us any sense of ease with sin, nor any shrugging off of the importance of repentance. But all the same, the grace of God is wonderful, and this grace is what we must show to others. And this means, forgiving without demanding specific repentance. Family life is full of the lesson that this is how we have to live if we are to live in peace with both God and men.

Psa 78:40

How often they rebelled against Him in the wilderness, and grieved Him in the desert!-
God was and is so sensitive, hence He can be "grieved", broken hearted (s.w. Gen. 6:6), because of the behaviour of otherwise insignificant little people on the face of this planet. This extreme sensitivity is a function of His intense love. In the desert, Israel grieved God in that they grieved His Holy Spirit (s.w. Is. 63:10). This is quoted about us in the New Testament (Eph. 4:30). God wishes us to be saved, and the work of His Spirit is propelling us towards salvation. But we can resist it, and thereby we grieve the very saving heart of God.  

Psa 78:41

They turned around and put God to the test, and provoked the Holy One of Israel- God can do anything, He is omnipotent. But He chooses to limit His omnipotence in order to allow man total freewill. Therefore effectively, how far God will fulfil His purpose depends upon how far we are obedient to Him. Thus Israel limited the Holy One of Israel (Ps. 78:41 AV). Only at the return of the Lord Jesus will God 'take to Himself His great power' (Rev. 11:17)- which language of itself suggests that God has chosen to limit His omnipotence for the moment.

Asaph lived at the time of the restoration (Ezra 2:41). All his Psalms draw on the past dealings of God with His people and encourage them on this basis to make the wilderness journey back  to the land, just as they had done at the Exodus. It is this, an Asaph Psalm, that warns Israel about the danger of limiting what God is potentially prepared to do for His people. The refusal of the exiles to participate in the restoration was the parade example of this.

Psa 78:42

They didn’t remember His hand, nor the day when He redeemed them from the adversary-
This is in contrast to how the true seed of Abraham were to remember the Red Sea deliverance and teach it to their children (:4,5). Israel kept their Passovers throughout the wilderness years, one would assume- but they never remembered the day that God brought them out of Egypt (Ps. 78:42)- although notice how although Israel didn't remember God, yet He remembered them in His grace (Ps. 106:7, 45). We can read of the cross, of the utter certainty of our salvation, sing and speak of it; and yet totally fail to personally realize the powerful imperatives which abound in this wonderful news.

We can so easily be like Israel, who (presumably, under Moses) kept the Passover throughout their forty years in the wilderness; but never in all that time remembered the day that the Lord brought them forth from Egypt (Ps. 78:42). Yet this was what the Passover was intended for, to remind them of that day of their redemption! They kept the Passover, but never really grasped what it was all about; they never really remembered that day of salvation, they forgot the wonder of their redemption and the future direction which it should have imparted to their lives. And so we can so easily break bread without due attention to the real import of the cross.

Psa 78:43

how He set His signs in Egypt, His wonders in the field of Zoan-
LXX "In the plain of Tanes", which was the capital of Egypt, where Pharaoh's palace was, where Moses and Aaron did the miracles. The "wonders" were not simply the miracles of the plagues, but the fact that this was done to deliver "the fathers" (:12) who have been defined in :8 as disbelieving. Yet despite this, they experienced miracles and deliverance (:13). Again the idea is that the rebellious were delivered by grace, and the mystery of history is that God has repeatedly saved the undeserving.  

Psa 78:44

He turned their rivers and streams into blood so that they could not drink-
The plagues upon Egypt are cited here in the context of a history of Israel which emphasizes His grace to His people. This is the lens through which we must view the plagues upon Egypt. They were intended to be part of God's saving plan, both for His people and also for those Egyptians who were provoked by them to accept His great salvation.

Psa 78:45

He sent among them swarms of beetles, which devoured them; and frogs, which destroyed them-
As noted on Exodus, the plagues were all aimed at different gods of Egypt. Those of the frogs and beetles were typical of this. The intention of the plagues was to deconstruct the entire religion of Egypt, and bring her people to accept Yahweh's great salvation; to quit Egypt along with His people, and travel towards His Kingdom.

Psa 78:46

He gave also their increase to the caterpillar, and their labour to the locust-
The loss of the results of human labour are often used to bring people to accept God's saving work, which is by grace and not human works. See on :44. This principle works to this day. The man who spends his life building his house and finds it burnt down overnight... may thereby be provoked to turn to God and His works and salvation.

Psa 78:47

He destroyed their vines with hail, their sycamore fig trees with frost-
See on :45,46. The Hebrew for "frost" could also refer to some insect plague. If literally "frost", then we have the picture of extremely low temperatures hitting the Egyptians but not the Israelites, just as there was light for the Israelites but darkness for the Egyptians, and hail in some areas but not in others where the Israelites were. The message was that Yahweh was in complete control of the elements, and can single out individuals to spare from His judgments.

Psa 78:48

He gave over their livestock also to the hail, and their flocks to hot thunderbolts-
See on :45,46. God "gave over" or 'shut up unto' the Egyptians to judgment (:48,50), but the same word is used of how He did the same to His people Israel (:62). They were judged for acting as the Egyptians in their hearts. Likewise the unspiritual and worldly amongst the new Israel will be "judged / destroyed [along] with the world" (1 Cor. 11:32).

Psa 78:49

He threw on them the fierceness of His anger, wrath, indignation, trouble, and a band of angels of evil-
LXX "a message of evil angels". All the Angels in the sense of supernatural beings are obedient to God. There is no Biblical division of Angels into sinful ones and good ones. Angels are immortal (Lk. 20:35,36), and seeing as the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23), this means that they cannot sin. However, "evil" in the sense of disaster is from God (Is. 45:5-7; Am. 3:6). And it seems this work of bringing disaster or "evil" is specifically in the hands of Angels. 

The Angels never affect our freewill, but nevertheless provide the necessary arrangement of circumstances to encourage us to do God's will, and affecting the lives of unbelievers to this end too. In order for unbelievers to present the necessary trials to us in order to bring this about, the Angels harden the hearts of these people. The plagues were due to Pharaoh's heart being hardened by God (Ex. 4:21)- i.e. by the Angels of evil. Ex. 9:14 speaks of the plagues being sent upon Pharaoh's heart, and here we have Angels of evil being sent. Angels affect human hearts- for good and bad, operationalizing the upward or downward spirals into which human beings must inevitably enter.

1 Cor. 10:10 speaks of an Angel called “the destroyer” who brought about Israel’s punishments in the wilderness. And yet Ps. 78:49 speaks of these as being executed by “A band of Angels of evil”. Likewise Rev. 9:14 has one Angel controlling others, perhaps as our guardian Angel has control over many others to effect his plans for us. The one Angel had control over others, Angels specifically used to bring evil upon those whom God rejects. It may be they will be used again in the judgment of the last day. Or it could be that ‘Angels’ in Ps. 78:49 is an intensive plural, and the AV reading is correct: “by sending evil angels…”. The one great Angel of evil is “the destroyer” of 1 Cor. 10:10. This could imply that some of the references to a “Satan” who brings disaster, as in Job, refer to one specific Angel who does these things, or co-ordinates them.

Psa 78:50

He made a path for His anger, He didn’t spare their soul from death, but gave their life over to the pestilence-
God would have spared them had they identified with Israel and followed the Passover ritual, trusting in the blood of the lamb. See on :48. The idea may be that unlike supposed angry deities and the wrath of man, God's wrath was channeled and directed in a specific way. The death of the firstborn was the specific path or channel for His wrath. And it was intended to be creative, leading towards repentance.

Psa 78:51

and struck all the firstborn in Egypt, the chief of their strength in the tents of Ham-
The death of the firstborn was because either the individuals or their parents refused to be obedient to God's offer of salvation. It was therefore a result of human sin; and part of "sin" is that it hurts others. "The chief of their strength" is another way of saying 'the firstborn' (s.w. Gen. 49:3). The idea is that human strength was to be taken away, because Egypt was not trusting in God's strength. But God did the same to His own "strength", His people (:61).

Mizraim or Egypt was the descendant of Ham (Gen. 10:6; Ps. 105:23,27; 106:22). There may be an allusion to Khem, one of the main Egyptian gods. For the purpose of all the plagues was to demonstrate that Yahweh was the only God, and the Egyptian gods had no real existence.

Psa 78:52

But He led forth His own people like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock-
Ps. 78:52 and Is. 63:9,11 describe God as leading Israel out of Egypt as an obedient flock of sheep, suggesting that they were all accounted righteous then, by grace; even though Ezekiel says they left Egypt still carrying the gods of Egypt, and carried the tabernacle of Remphan as well as that of Yahweh. Similarly, Balaam said that at the Exodus God did "not behold iniquity in Jacob" (Num. 23:21,22).  


Psa 78:53

He led them safely so that they weren’t afraid, but the sea overwhelmed their enemies-
LXX "He guided them with hope", in that through the law of Moses He continually reminded them of how things would be in Canaan. They were afraid at the Red Sea; but they were counted righteous (see on :52), and so are described as being unafraid. We too are counted righteous at baptism. The intended lack of fear was a psychological miracle, the result of the gift of God's Spirit in the human spirit. But they did fear (Ex. 14:10-12). Surely we must read in some conditions here- God’s care for them was such that they need not have feared, but they failed to discern His care and power and therefore they did fear.

Psa 78:54

He brought them to the border of His sanctuary, to this mountain, which His right hand had purchased- "The mountain" usually refers to mount Zion, where the sanctuary was. But the idea is that the entire eretz promised to Abraham was to be as equally holy. "This mountain" suggests that this Psalm was to be recited in the sanctuary services on mount Zion. Ex. 15:17 envisaged all the redeemed Israel as dwelling in the mountain of the sanctuary. The "purchase" is elsewhere stated as being of the people, not the land or sanctuary itself (s.w. Dt. 32:6; Ps. 74:2; Is 1:3). But David is unduly focusing upon the issue of the sanctuary. It could be argued from 1 Chron. 21:24 that David had "purchased" mount Zion (s.w.), and he likes to think that in fact God has done this. But his obsession with building a temple there was initially rebuked by God.  

Psa 78:55

He also drove out the nations before them, allotted them for an inheritance by line, and made the tribes of Israel to dwell in their tents-
The Hebrew implies He made them take their inheritance. But here we have a case of potential enablement; for the tribes didn't inherit much of the land allotted despite God willing it upon them. Just as many whom God wishes to inherit the Kingdom will not take their inheritance because they refused to believe Him and were distracted by the immediate and secular rather than focusing upon the spiritual.

Psa 78:56

Yet they put to the test and rebelled against the Most High God, and didn’t keep His testimonies-
This appears to refer to their departure from Yahweh at the time of the Judges. The same words are used of their testing and rebellion in the desert. This was the overall character of Israel.

Psa 78:57

but turned back, and dealt treacherously like their fathers-
LXX "Broke covenant". The reference seems to be to their unfaithfulness at the time of the Judges.

 They were turned aside like a deceitful bow-
In the very context in which we read that Israel "limited the Holy One of Israel" (Ps. 78:41), we find Israel described as "a deceitful bow" (Ps. 78:57). In whose hands was that bow? Surely in God's. In the same way as the quality of the bow limits the power of the archer, and causes hurt to him if it backfires on him, so were Israel to God; and so we are to Him.

Psa 78:58

For they provoked Him to anger with their high places, and moved Him to jealousy with their engraved images-
The language of provocation and God noticing and becoming angry (:59) is on one hand inappropriate to the God who sees and knows all things. Yet it seems to me that just as He at times limits His omnipotence, so He limits His omniscience. This is in order to enter into legitimate, real time [from our human viewpoint] relationship with man.

Psa 78:59

When God heard this, He was angry, and greatly abhorred Israel-
See on :58. Israel abhorred God's laws (s.w. Lev. 26:15,43) and therefore His abhorrence of them was appropriate. And yet by grace God did not "utterly abhor" Israel when He judged them (s.w. Lev. 26:44) but restored them. So He did not treat them as they treated Him; and in this again we see His abiding grace. But the psalmist chooses to ignore this grace, and claim that as a sign of that abhorrence He removed His "tent" from Shiloh to Jerusalem (:60,67,68). But I am inclined to see this as David's wilful interpretation of what happened. For it is too much to say that God's abhorrence of Israel was just because Ephraim had sinned. They all sinned. And in any case, His abhorrence of them was not total and there was grace in the way that He did not abhor them as they did to Him. So it seems to me that the history is being twisted to blame Ephraim alone for all Israel's 'falling out' with God. Grace is overlooked. Judah's sin is likewise overlooked. And the ark went from Shiloh into captivity because all Israel had sinned, not just Ephraim. And its return to Kirjath Jearim and thence its coming to Zion was of David's doing rather than God's. God's abhorrence of "Israel" is defined as His abhorrence or 'rejection' (s.w.) of "Joseph" (:67). The history is being presented as if God's anger with "Israel" was in fact His anger with Joseph / Ephraim. 

Psa 78:60

so that He forsook the tent of Shiloh, the tent which He placed among men- Shiloh was in Ephraim (Josh. 18:1). It was David who moved the sanctuary from there to Jerusalem; but he is arguing that God did this, implying His shekinah glory / presence was withdrawn from Shiloh but reappeared once the sanctuary was established in Jerusalem. It is hard to know the degree to which David is being an accurate historian, or over interpreting to suit his own narrative and justification of his own tribe, Judah.

David's mistaken interpretation seems to be corrected in Jer. 7:12-14; 26:6. There we learn that there was indeed some kind of physical structure built for the sanctuary at Shiloh, which was destroyed; although the historical records don't record this. But it was destroyed because "Israel" had sinned, and no blame is placed particularly upon Ephraim. And there is the repeated warning that the Jerusalem temple was no better than that in Shiloh and would likewise be destroyed. Yet David's vision here is that the Jerusalem sanctuary was going to last eternally (see on :69). Jeremiah is saying that in fact Judah were no better than Ephraim in the end.

There could be here the implication that the Angel was physically present in the tabernacle, and that God's displeasure was shown by this Angel literally being withdrawn. The shekinah glory associated with the Angel's presence was no longer seen. A number of other references support this idea of an Angel physically being present in the tabernacle / temple, and therefore being the source of the glory which sometimes shone forth; 1 Chron. 15 and Ps. 68 describe the entrance of the ark into Jerusalem in terms of the Angelic march through the wilderness at the Exodus, thus connecting the Ark with the Angels. See on 1 Chron. 13:6; Ex. 25:8; 33:3; Lev. 4:17; Num. 14:42; Ecc. 5:1-7; 2 Chron. 31:2; Is. 8:18; Mic. 1:3; Dan. 8:11; Ez. 8:4; Mt. 23:21.

Psa 78:61

and delivered His strength into captivity, His glory into the adversary’s hand-
"His strength... glory" is paralleled with "His people" (:62), although David also has in view His glory manifest over the ark going into captivity with the Philistines. See on :51. Frederick Buechner remarked upon the "folly of preaching”: “to choose for His holy work in the world... lamebrains and misfits and nitpickers and holier-than-thous and stuffed shirts and odd ducks and egomaniacs...”. Yet weak Israel are described as God’s “strength”, the channel through which His strength would be shown to the nations; and they failed Him.

Psa 78:62

He also gave His people over to the sword-
God "gave over" or 'shut up unto' the Egyptians to judgment (:48,50), but the same word is used of how He did the same to His people Israel (:62). They were judged for acting as the Egyptians in their hearts. Likewise the unspiritual and worldly amongst the new Israel will be "judged / destroyed [along] with the world" (1 Cor. 11:32).

And was angry with His inheritance-
There is a mutuality between God and man. God and His Kingdom are our inheritance (:55); but we are His inheritance. A man's inheritance was the essence of Himself, all He had in the world. And this is how we are to Him.

Psa 78:63

Fire devoured their young men, their young women had no wedding song-
This Psalm seems to conclude with the time of David, but perhaps this has been edited to make it relevant to the exiles (as :64). For this is the language of Lamentations about what happened at the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem. The allusion is to the young men who were Job's sons being devoured by fire, representing Divine judgment. 

Psa 78:64

Their priests fell by the sword, and their widows couldn’t weep-
This is again the language of Lamentations about the Babylonian desolation; see on :63. This doubtless happened at the time of the Judges, but there is no particular record of the priests being destroyed. Although the book of Judges records the deep apostacy of the priesthood at that time.

Psa 78:65

Then the Lord awakened as one out of sleep, like a mighty man who shouts by reason of wine-
We have here language which we may think inappropriate being used to describe and express the sudden, violent awakening of God to judgment. And we wonder whether David is really correct to suggest God was as it were asleep and inactive whilst the ark was not with Israel; for the next verse seems to speak about God's rescue of the ark from the Philistines. David often expresses in the Psalms how he was just as close to God far from the sanctuary as when present in it. He often speaks of how he actually lived in the wilderness in the shadow of the cherubic wings, with God's glory above him and the blood of atonement as it were beneath him on the mercy seat. But all that is rather forgotten in his obsession with the sanctuary being literally in Jerusalem, in Judah, and the rejection of Ephraim.

Psa 78:66

He struck His adversaries backward, He put them to a perpetual reproach-
The Hebrew is as in the AV- He smote them in the private parts. This refers to how the ark was taken from Shiloh in Ephraim into the land of the Philistines, who were smitten in their private parts with tumours (1 Sam. 5:6); but then the ark was returned, not to Shiloh in Ephraim, but to Kirjath Jearim in Judah, and thence to Jerusalem in Judah. But the question for us is the degree to which God ordered this transferal of the ark from Shiloh to Jerusalem; or whether David manipulated it that way, and God went along with it.

Psa 78:67

Moreover He rejected the tent of Joseph-
God's abhorrence of "Israel" is defined as His abhorrence or 'rejection' (s.w.) of "Joseph" (:59). The history is being presented as if God's anger with "Israel" was in fact His anger with Joseph / Ephraim. See on Ps. 80:1; 81:5.

And didn’t choose the tribe of Ephraim- This claims that God did not choose Ephraim- whereas Jacob did (Gen. 48:14). The implication could well be that even at the end of his life, Jacob's choice of Ephraim over Manasseh reflected some sort of weakness, a being out of step with God. This attitude that he could bring about the fulfillment of God's promises through his own efforts was the outcome of Jacob's self-righteousness. The blessing of the firstborn came upon Joseph, and Jacob had chosen Ephraim, Joseph's son, as the one who should effectively carry this blessing of the firstborn (1 Chron. 5:1,2; Gen. 48:1). Ephraim marched closest to the ark (Num. 2:18-24). Yet there seems no specific statement that God rejected Ephraim in favour of Judah.

The implication of the argument is that this rejection of Ephraim and choosing of Judah happened when God 'awoke' and destroyed His enemies (:65,66). But it is hard to locate this historically. It would seem that David is again guilty of over interpretation of some unrecorded victory, in order to justify his own tribe. See on :59.

Psa 78:68

but chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion which He loved-
David clearly loved mount Zion and the sanctuary there, pining for it in so many of his psalms of exile. But he seems to transfer his love for Zion onto God. This is a very common failure of men, to create God after their own image and likeness rather than accepting Him solely for who He reveals Himself to be. See on :59.

Psa 78:69

He built His sanctuary like the heights, like the earth which He has established forever-
But the sanctuary was later destroyed, it was not in fact "established forever". See on :60. Again we see David dogmatically imagining that the future building of a sanctuary would be sanctioned by God to the point that God would be the builder. And therefore it would be eternal. He uses the prophetic perfect to describe what was yet future as having already happened. But God's response to David's desire to build a temple was that this was not at all what He wished. 

Psa 78:70

He also chose David His servant and took him from the sheepfolds-
This was indeed the case; but the Divine choice of David didn't have to mean that He had thereby rejected Ephraim and Shiloh, and considered Judah to be His righteous, premier tribe. It seems that David and Solomon, or whoever authored the Psalm, was slanting history to defend and justify Judah and the Davidic line, and at times over interpreting.

Psa 78:71

from following the ewes that have their young, He brought him to be the shepherd of Jacob His people, and Israel His inheritance-
See on :72. This is the language used of the Messianic seed who could have arisen at the restoration, and which was ultimately realized in the Lord Jesus (Is. 40:11). The allusion is clearly to Gen. 49:24, which says that Joseph (and therefore his son Ephraim) was to be shepherded by the God of Jacob. Whilst all David says here is true as far as it goes, he is always subtly arguing that he has been chosen to lead Ephraim and "Joseph". See on Ps. 80:1. Solomon's Proverbs tend to do the same thing; inspired truth in themselves, and yet also clearly written by Solomon with a view to justifying himself and the Davidic line against his potential competitors for the throne.

Psa 78:72

So he was their shepherd according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them by the skillfulness of his hands-
There is an intentional ambiguity as to whether the "shepherd" in view is God or David (:70). The idea seems to be that David was Israel's shepherd on God's behalf. As noted on :71, we sense that this is praising David for his skilful leading of Israel, as if he was to be accepted as the unquestioned ruler, and all competition was to be discounted. David's heart was not consistently of integrity, as we see in the matter of Bathsheba and Uriah; it was only by grace that David was counted like this (s.w. 1 Kings 9:4). God did indeed give his son Solomon "understanding" (s.w. "skillfulness", 1 Kings 4:29).