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Psalms Chapter 78: Are your people repeating history, Lord?

Psalms Chapter 78:Verses 1-31 (Unless otherwise cited the scriptures in this devotional are from the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. It is not chosen for is veracity, but only because it is a public domain version of scripture.)

Psalm 78 is one of the longest psalms in the Bible. It is also one of the most exciting psalms in the book. The opening verse introduces the chapter after the tradition of wisdom literature.  On the other hand, most of the poem is about historical material. One could categorize this psalm as a redemptive-historical/remembrance psalm that is influenced by the prose of wisdom literature.

The two historical traditions are presented for two main reasons.

      1. First, to instruct its hearers to obedience to YHWH. Ephraim/Israel  [the northern kingdom] was disobedient to God and ended up rejecting him. Today Christians can learn from their negative example and obey God.
      2. Secondly, the culminating verse explains why the northern kingdom is rejected and celebrates the choice of David and his descendants, who were obedient to God. It also explains why God placed his presence in the southern kingdom. (Longman, Tremper, III. Psalms: An Introduction and Commentary, InterVarsity Press, 2014. ProQuest Ebook Central, Created from liberty on 2020-01-22 07:12:46.)

Listen to this parable: Verses 1-8 David instructs the children of Israel


The psalmist begins this chapter by imploring the audience to listen to his parable/riddle ( another name for a parable is “māšāl”; which can also be translated ‘proverb’). The exhortation to listen is noted in  (v. 1; see Prov. 1:8; 4:1; 5:1, etc.), The phrase is used is the wisdom literature series in the Bible. The object of this psalm/parable is to teach the future generations not to make the same mistake that the previous generation made.  Today, we, as Christians, use the word of God and past historical events in Christianity to teach our children and present congregations to learn from church history. We should not be repeating the same mistakes that the church has made in the past.  When we begin to make the same mistakes, it is because we have forgotten the past actions that lead to those mistakes.  It is 2020, and we are slowly gravitating back to a time in history where humanity was at its worst.  We know that scripture dictates that the end times will be the worse time in the history of humankind.  We, the people of today, seem to have forgotten that historical markers that remind us of your provision. So what can we do? Learn from the ancient past and stay focused on God’s plan for our lives.

Actions of the men of Ephraim

verses 9 to 16

Ephraim was a dominant tribe in the northern area of Israel at the time of the writing of this psalm. In this psalm, it stands for the entire northern part of Israel. The psalmist may be referring to a battle in Israel’s history when the Philistines defeated the army of Israel and took the ark from Shiloh, a city in Ephraim (1 Sam. 4 – 6). It is also possible that the psalmist could be referring to Saul, the first king of Israel, who was fatally wounded by the Philistines (1 Sam. 31). Lastly,  it could be referring to the defeat of the northern kingdom by the Assyrians in 722 bc (2 Kgs 17). The exact battle is not essential for the central message of the section in the psalm. That message exposes the northern kingdom’s failure to be obedient to YHWH. 

What happened to the men of Ephraim? They forgot God’s great acts of protection and deliverance at the time of the Exodus. Not once did the nation have to retreat in battle. Israel had absolute trust and confidence in God, their Warrior King, who had earlier defeated the mighty nation of Egypt (Exodus 6-15).

They had forgotten

  • 11 . . .his works, [plagues], and his wonders that he had shewed them. 12 Marvelous things did he in the sight of their fathers, in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan”  (Exod. 14 – 15).
  • The men of Ephraim had forgotten, thus freeing the enslaved Israelites. Passover established.  
  • Even after God had freed the people from Egypt his miraculous hand was over them as they wandered in the wilderness: when he guided them with a cloud by day and fire by night (Exod. 40:36– 38) he brought water out of rocks to ensure that they did not die from thirst (Exod. 17:1– 7; Num. 20:1– 13; Ps. 114).National Geographic’s historical record of the plagues. Even after all of those miracles, what did the people do, and what was God’s response to them? Remember, David is reminding the people about God’s sustaining power and his amazing grace.

Lord, they continued to sin: Verses 17-31

psalm 78 verses 17 to 31

The psalmist reminds the nation of  Israel about its rebellions in the wilderness. We read about those instances in the book of Exodus: Please take the time to read this book. Also, read the Book of Numbers. Today Christians do not understand the Old Testament. They are relying on movies and pastors to give them excerpts from these books. Devotionals do not provide one with the brevity and seriousness of the sins notated in these books when one does not read the entire works for themselves.

Theologians are not clear why the psalmist switches between Ephraim and Israel. But it is clear that the people were rebellious and were sinful. They deliberately ignored God and created their own gods. Today we do the same thing. The gods of today are not as insipid as the brass and golden calves of the OT times, but they are just as sinful. The gods of social media, recognition, positions, political affiliations, religious institutions, theological constructs, etc. 

Like Israel of the past,  God has demonstrated his power to his people today, but we continually respond with doubt.  We want anything and anyone to deliver us from our daily challenges, instead of God. The people of God tested him:

  • -in the wilderness (Num. 14 in particular verse 22), including their demands for food.
  • Just look at Psalm 23:5. It celebrates God as a host at a dinner party who prepares a table for his people. The psalmist knew that the wilderness generation doubted that God would, or even could, sustain them. Why? After all, he had provided water, for them, from a rock early in their journey (Exod. 17:1– 7).  They doubted that he could feed them.
  • God was angry, and although he punished them, he still gave them manna. What was manna?  Manna was white in color and tasted like coriander wafers made with honey (Exod. 16:31) and olive oil (Num. 11:8). Even with this provision from God, the people continued to grumble about the steady diet of manna.
  • Manna was not good enough for them. They wanted animal flesh to eat, which angered the Lord. So, he gave them meat and plenty of it (Num. 11:4– 35). Their disobedience and ungratefulness were judged. The psalmist records the plague that killed many of the rebels. The place where the judgment was executed was named Kibroth Hattaavah, ‘”the graves of lust” (Num. 11:33– 34).

What has God called us from that we lust after today? Think about things that we all desire that may well lead us to worship them instead of God. As we think about those things, we can begin to recognize the sin of Israel that the psalmist talks about in this passage.  Wallowing in the memory of the sin does us no good at all. Praying for forgiveness and abstaining from going back to that state and or stage in our Christian walk is pleasing to the Lord. I must state here that salvation is not hinged on us being perfect, doing ‘stuff’ to please God, or to manipulate him into not exacting punishment on us. Christ paid the price of our retribution with his death and resurrection.  However, that does not give us an excuse to continue living sinful lives.  It does not preclude that it is appropriate for us to stay in our habitual sins. It does open the doors to the throne of God to which the nation of Israel did not have personal access.

Prayer: Lord, your death on the cross, tore the veil of separation wide open.  You made it possible for us to be able to come before the throne of mercy and grace and plead for forgiveness, healing, blessings, and provision – not just for ourselves but also for others. Thank you for the cross, Lord. Your resurrection gave us access to the table that you spread before your servant David. Your light shines through us as brightly as we allow it to shine. It blazes through the darkness of this world as long as we remain in your presence. Forgive or unbelief and our sins and give us the kind of boldness that only comes from the Holy Spirit Lord. In your name, we pray – selah.


Herbert, A.S. “The ‘Parable’ (MĀŠĀL) in the Old Testament.” Scottish Journal of Theology 7, no. 2 (1954): 180–96. doi:10.1017/S0036930600001332.

Longman, Tremper, III. Psalms: An Introduction and Commentary, InterVarsity Press, 2014. ProQuest Ebook Central, Created from liberty on 2020-01-22.

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