PSALM 78 TALK: TEACH YOUR CHILDREN WELL

PSALM 78 TALK: TEACH YOUR CHILDREN WELL

 (The lessons of the past must be learnt or we are doomed to repeat it – George Santayana – 1863 – 1950. A Psalm that commands us to teach our children or this current generation the redemptive history of the bible.)

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 INTRODUCTION

 At school I could at best be described as an average student but in one subject I sat with all the brightest kids of my year at school and that subject was History. I have no idea what drew me to history but for long as I can remember the stories of the people of the past fascinated me.

My non history student friends, and their were many of them made jokes about my love of history with taunts like, :”its boring” or “What worth is it?” and “its just a bunch or dates and boring facts that have no bearing on our lives today”. I ignored these taunts with a smile because I’m afraid I just could not get enough of the stories of the past and for me they were so helpful in giving me understanding of the current world I was living in.

The famous quote that tells us the real value of studying history is by a Spanish American Harvard University scholar named George Santayana who is said to have stated,

“The lessons of the past must be learnt or we are doomed to repeat it”.

 In the 1970’s when I was in my twenties I also fell in love with what was then called contemporary folk music and one of my favourite groups was called Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. One of their famous songs, written by Graham Nash is called, “Teach your children well”, and the first verse of that song reads like this,

“You, who are on the road must have a code that you can live by.
And so become yourself because the past is just a good bye.
Teach your children well, their father’s hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams, the one they fix, the one you’ll know by.
Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you”.

 Nash does not think much of the value of the past for the children of the present because he calls the past “a good bye” and maybe this is because it is said his lyrics dealt with his often-difficult relationship he had with his father who spent time in prison.

 Psalm 78 however brings these two great ideas together, namely teaching our children well and the value of teaching them history because these are the two great themes of this Psalm. Verses 3 and 4 express this so very clearly when its says,

“Things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us.
We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done”.

Psalm 78 is a very long Psalm, in fact it is the second longest Psalm in the book of Psalms but it is a very helpful and at times very challenging. A man named Asaph according to its Hebrew heading wrote the Psalm. The historical period it covers is from the Exodus out of Egypt to the kingship of David so the likelihood that this Psalm was written by the original man named Asaph is very strong.

The original Asaph was a Levite music leader in the worship in the Tabernacle / Temple who served in the times of king David and King Solomon (1 Chronicles 16- 4 -5, David and 2 Chronicles 5: 12, Solomon). He saw the rejection of the Northern tribes as the tribes from which God chose a king for Israel. He had seen how God had chose a man named Saul to be Israel’s first king who was from southern tribe of Benjamin and then the choice of David from the other southern tribe of Judah. This fact is another important teaching in this Psalm.

I hope from the study of this Psalm we will learn the value of teaching our children and everyone of this generation the message of God’s redemptive history so that we will be able to do what Paul told Timothy to do in 2 Timothy 2: 2,

“And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others”.

My extensive study and writing of the Psalms is part of my attempt to do just that for I hope long after I have gone to be with the Lord God’s message of the Psalms will continue to help generations to come.

As I said before this Psalm is a very long Psalm so its breakdown is very long and I am indebted to the commentary of Allan Harmon who provided some of my heading ideas for section 3 and 4 of my own breakdown of this Psalm.

  1. (1 -8) INTRODUCTION – A CALL TO TEACH YOUR CHILDREN WELL

Part 1. (1 – 4) A call to teach the children

Part 2. (5 – 8) God’s command to teach the next generation

  1. (9- 16) WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM THE TRIBE OF EPHRAIM

Part 1. (9 – 12)   Forgetting what God had revealed

Part 2. (13 – 17) What God did for them

  1. (18 – 39) PART 1. THE HISTORY OF REBELLION

Part 1. (18 – 31) Rebellion in the wilderness

Part 2. (32 – 39) Rebellion – Judgement and mercy

  1. (44 – 64) PART 2, THE HISTORY OF REBELLION

Part 1. (40 – 55) Rebellion in the wilderness and into the promise land

Part 2. (56 – 64) Rebellions Judgment in the Promised Land

  1. (65 – 72) THE HOPE OF THE GOD APPOINTED SHEPHERD / KING

Part 1. (65 – 68) The rejection of Ephraim (the northern tribes)

Part 2. (69 – 72) God’s choice of David – the shepherd king

  1. (1 -8) INTRODUCTION – A CALL TO TEACH YOUR CHILDREN WELL

The introduction to this Psalm has a strong likeness to that of wisdom literature like the book of proverbs but once it moves on from the introduction it becomes a Psalm that uses history to hammer home the message that Israel and dare I say humanity is constantly disobedient to God but God after he has acted in mercy and love to save them must judge disobedience when Israel and dare I say general mankind refuses to turn back to God. Coffman quotes a commentator named Maclaren to make a very insightful summary of the story of the whole bible and the history of Israel,

The history of Israel has been one long succession of miracles of mercy, met by equally continuous ingratitude, which has ever been punished by national calamities”.

 So lets now look at this “Wisdom literature like” introduction, which I have broken into two parts.

Part 1. (1 – 4) A call to teach the children

Part 2. (5 – 8) God’s command to teach the next generation

Part 1. (1 – 4) A call to teach the children

 The Psalm opens with a call for the writer’s people to listen to his teaching,

Verse 1,

“O my people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth”.

 The book of Proverbs has a similar call in its opening chapter, in Proverbs 1: 8,

“Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching”.

 Interestingly Psalm 78 introduction will go on to call parents to teach their children and I believe this involves everyone teaching everyone in our current generation the word of God so that the message will continue on from generation to generation.

Verse 2 spells out the kind of teaching this writer is going to give,

“I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things from of old”.

 This verse presents us with the first problem of this Psalm and that is that what the writer goes on to teach after the introduction section does not appear to be a parable or even a hidden thing but rather a straight forward telling of history.

Tremper Longman 111 helps us understand the real meaning here when he writes,

“Parable is paralleled by the word for hidden things which could also be rendered riddles”.

 John Piper points out that the Psalm does have some parable like expressions and sights verse 19,

“They spoke against God, saying, “Can God spread a table in the desert”.

 And verse 35,

“They remembered that God was their Rock, that God Most high was their redeemer”

 However Piper offers a far better explanation of what the writer probably meant by opening a parable or a riddle when he suggests,

“Could it be that the psalm poses two of the most fundamental riddles of Israel’s history”.

 He goes on to suggest that these two fundamental riddles of Israel’s history are:

  1. “Why did Israel not trust and obey God” especially after he had acted in such miraculous loving acts for them.
  1. “Why is God so patient and merciful”, especially after Israel had been so continually disobedient and unfaithful to him.

The same riddle of life still applies when we consider how God today often blesses people yet they refuse to acknowledge him and turn to him. This problem will be one of the great reasons why God had to send Jesus to save us. Paul says in Romans 5 verse 8,

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners Christ dies for us”.

 Then in verse 3 and 4 the writer of Psalm 78 commands his readers to teach their children what they have heard and know about the God of the bible, he writes,

“What we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord his power, and the wonders he has done”.

 This is what I call a command to teach our children well and it has three parts:

  1. Teaching our children what has been taught to us.
  2. Teaching our children and not hiding it from them.
  3. Teaching our children the powerful deeds and wonders of the Lord.

Lets then reflect on each of these three aspects to the command to teach our children well,

1, Teaching our children what has been taught to us.

This part of the command works if what we have been taught is the true word of God. For me my father was an atheist because his father died an atheist. My father often told me the story of my grandfathers last moments of his life when a local minister probably the hospital chaplain attempted to speak to my dying grandfather. My grandfather rudely told the minister to get lost as he had not believed in God throughout his life and he certainly did not believe in him now when he was dying.

I found my grandfathers story both sad and disturbing but my own father thought it was both funny and brave. Over the years I attempted to witness to my unbelieving father but I only seemed to have got him to change from being an atheist to a agnostic.

However even in this non- believing household God called me to himself through the ministry of my local church and particularly through the children and youth ministry it faithfully conducted. This is why I went on to work for many years in full time children and youth ministry and God used me to help other young people who came from unbelieving homes to a knowledge of the Lord.

I think that the expression in verse 3 of,

“What we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us”.

 Has another wider application of teaching the next generation our children and other children not from homes that believe in the word of God. In 2 Peter chapter one Peter speaks of the message he brought to his readers being a message from God not man which he was a eyewitness of, he writes in 2 Peter 1: 16,

“We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty”.

 He goes on to say at end of this chapter in verses 20 and 21,

“Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit”.

It is important then that what we teach our children and the up coming generation is not just, “cleverly invented stories”, as Peter puts it but father is the true word of God brought to us by Jesus and written down by men like Peter who heard him speak it and live it.

Recently I watched a Christian movie that tackled the issue of God creating the universe verses Evolution and in the movie a atheistic Evolutionist challenged a Christian in the debate with the question, Who wrote the bible?

The evolutionist said was it not men like you and me implying why can we say then that it is God’s word. However the answer is that yes men like you and me wrote the bible but the New Testament writers only wrote down what they saw Jesus did and said and Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, come from God and as John puts it in John 1: 14 is,

“The Word become flesh”.

Even the New Testament letters by people like Peter and Paul are only Jesus word explained and applied to Christians from some of the early Christian churches. Paul was particularly careful to stick to what Jesus said and indicated this in a number of places in his letters. Paul says this in Galatians 1: 6 – 8,

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all.

 Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!

Paul gives Timothy this charge and warning in 2 Timothy 4: 1 – 5,

“Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharges all the duties of your ministry”.

Even in my own lifetime I have seen what happens to churches that stop preaching the word and instead do not teach sound doctrine and the Gospel message of the bible. These churches soon die and even close up and the passing of the word of God stops happening in the lives of the next generation.

  1. Teaching our children and not hiding it from them.

   In the first part of verse 4 we read,

“We will not hide them from their children”

 A famous well used saying is, “Children should be seen and not heard” which is true in some ways, that is children should show respect to adults in their company but this saying is often used to shut children up and can be used by selfish adults to not have to put time into their children and help them develop the right attitudes and beliefs they need to have in life.

Graham Nash’s song, “Teach your children well” has two lines in the first verse that relates to this,

Teach your children well, their father’s hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams, the one they fix, the one you’ll know by.

Believer’s dreams are bound up in God’s word as it contains the words of life. At a time when many followers of Jesus where deserting Jesus, Jesus asked his 12 disciple if they wanted to leave him too. Peters answer is in John 6: 68 – 68,

“Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

 We must not hide or keep the source of our life and dreams from our children, which is what the start of verse 4 of Psalm 78 is saying. Even Christian parents can live selfish lives not putting time into the spiritual development of their very own children. They in a sense hide the word of God from their children and they wonder later on why they do not take up the faith they have in their children’s adult lives.

  1. Teaching our children the powerful deeds and wonders of the Lord.

The writer of Psalm 78 then makes sure we get what we should be teaching the younger generation with the words of verse 4B,

“We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done”.

 The writer of Psalm 78 will spell out in some detail the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord and the wonders he has done in the rest of this lengthy Psalm. He points his readers to what God did in the past. God does not act in unusual wondrous ways all the time but when he has it has been recorded for us in the bible and each generation Asaph tells us must be made known of that.

If you ask me do I believe in miracles?

My answer would be yes God could change the natural order of things to achieve his purposes. However I have one proviso even though God can change the natural order of things to achieve his purposes he generally does not do that but rather he works out his purposes for our lives through the natural order of things.

People who expect or even demand a miracle all the time could be falling into the trap that some Jews fell into who wanted Jesus to perform a miracle especially the miracle of providing bread from heaven, manna, like God did in the wilderness through Moses. Jesus answer to this is in John 6: 32 – 33,

“Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

Jesus even says that seeking for miracles all the time is wrong, Matthew 16: 4,

“A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah”.

The main praiseworthy and wondrous deed of God in the past that must feature in our teaching of the younger generation is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This is God’s most praiseworthy and wondrous deed of the past that people of every age group must learn, understand and accept because this is what the New Testament calls, The Gospel Message.

This what Jesus is referring to in John 6 when he speaks of the bread that comes down from heaven because he is that great bread of heaven. Also this is what he is speaking about when he speaks of the sign of Jonah because like Jonah who was in the belly of the fish for three days Jesus was in the grave for three days and rose to life in the resurrection.

Paul made the Gospel Message the main teaching theme of his preaching and makes this clear to the Roman church in his great letter to them and says in Romans 1: 14 – 17,

“ I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. 15 That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome.

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith”.

So we must teach our children the word of God, which contains the Gospel message, which is the praiseworthy and wondrous deed of God in and through The Lord Jesus Christ.

Part 2. (5 – 8) God’s command to teach the next generation

 Now what Asaph has just said would have been enough to get his point across that we must teach our children or the current younger generation the great message of God’s wondrous deeds of the past contained in the bible but he has more to say on this.

Asaph points his readers; the Jews who should be totally committed to the revealed law of God the fact that the teaching of our children well is part of that law.

So in this second part we see two great truths,

  1. The law of God commands us to teach our children well (vs. 5)
  2. The results of teaching our children well (6 – 8)
  1. The law of God commands us to teach our children well (vs.6)

Asaph in verse 5, says this,

“He decreed statues for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children”.

 There are many references to God giving this command or law of believing Israelites teaching their children God’s word but I like Deuteronomy 6: 6 – 7 the best which reads,

“These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up”.

This teaching of the children is here both part of obeying God commands and is in fact said to be part of every day life in Israel as it covers when you sit at home, walk along the road and lie down and get up.

According to Asaph this statue or law of teaching our children is not just something that came about in the time of Moses but goes right back to the time of Jacob who of course became the man known as Israel, one of the main fathers of the Jewish nation.

From the time of the Passover onwards the Passover ritual of the Jewish people made it a vivid teaching aid to the children as we read in Exodus 12: 25 – 27

When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony.

26 And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ 27 then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’” Then the people bowed down and worshiped”.

And Exodus 13: 8,

“On that day tell your son, ‘I do this because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt”.

So in the most important Jewish festival of the year the teaching of children is a central part of the tradition and ceremony for probably God’s greatest wondrous, praiseworthy salvation deed of the Old Testament.

So Psalm 78: 5, speaks of the fathers and I believe parents, both Dad and Mum teaching the children the law of God which became the basis of the Old Testament word of God coupled with the message of God’s salvation of the nation of Israel out of Egypt and into the promised land.

For the Christian the teaching of children is also commanded as we see in a passage like Ephesians 6: 4,

“Fathers, do not exasperate your children, instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord”.

 Paul also notes in 2 Timothy 1: 5, the role of Timothy’s mother and grandmother’s teaching and influence in the forming of his faith,

“ I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also”.

So far as children being involved in Christian ceremony or celebrations like the Jews have in the Passover the New Testament has nothing to say but a few years ago the church I attended had a long hard look at children of believers being involved in the celebration of the Lords Supper, Christ instituted ceremony or sacrament that remembers his greatest and wondrous deed of salvation for us. After much debate with trials of children coming back from Sunday school to take communion which is grape juice and bread the decision was to not go ahead with this on a regular basis.

However I believe we must teach our children the biblical teaching on the communion from a young age so that when they are old enough for the church to be sure they fully understand this they can take part in this important celebration of the death of our Lord Jesus Christ to save us from our sins.

I was thirteen years old when I first came to Christ and the very next year I attended extensive teaching classes to confirm my baptism and be able to take part in the communion service of my local church. This meant that I really understood the bibles teaching on the Lords supper and was able to fully appreciate what this was all about when I regularly attended communion church services.

  1. The results of teaching our children well (6 – 8)

Asaph finally tells his readers and hearers the results of teaching our children well in verses 6 – 8,

“So the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.

They would not be like their ancestors— a stubborn and rebellious generation,
whose hearts were not loyal to God, whose spirits were not faithful to him”.

I see in these verses I see five results of teaching our children well,

  1. They will know (vs. 6a)
  2. Generations will know (vs.6b)
  3. They will put their trust in God (vs. 7a)
  4. Obey God and his word (vs. 7b)
  5. Not become rebellious (vs.8)
  1. They will know (vs. 6a)

Asaph starts his verse on the results of teaching our children well as giving them knowledge in verse 6a,

“So the next generation would know them”.

This verse follows the previous verses command to teach the law and if we take into account what is said in the end of verse 4 it includes teaching the children the,

“The praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done”.

 To know in the bible is not just what some call head knowledge as Jeremiah says in Jeremiah 22: 16,

“He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is this not what it means to know me? Declares the Lord”.

 Jeremiah is not just speaking of head knowledge here and either is Asaph as he declares in verse 8 that he wants this knowing to make the children able to not be rebellious as many in Israel’s history had been,

They would not be like their ancestors— a stubborn and rebellious generation,
whose hearts were not loyal to God, whose spirits were not faithful to him”.

To know God, Asaph points out is to have hearts loyal to God and spirits to be faithful to him.

God wants us and our children to have this kind of knowing in our lives as Jesus prays for us to have as well in John 17:3,

“Now this is eternal life that they might know you the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent”.

And Paul says in his prayer for the Ephesians church in Ephesus 1: 17 – 21,

“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come”.

Now this is really something to know but notice in verse 19 Paul prays,

“That the eyes of your heart may be enlightened”

Paul is not speaking of mere head knowledge here but a deep enlightenment of our hearts, which of course is the centre of our being that directs our will and actions.

This means what we teach our children should not be just knowledge of the bible but must be presentation of the challenge of the demands of the Gospel to put our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the kind of teaching I received in my early teenage years that led me to faith in Christ.

  1. Generations will know (vs.6b)

Asaph calls for the teaching of the law of God and his wonderful powerful deeds to not only reach the next generation but generations to come, he writes in verse 6b,

“Even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children”.

 So we have seen Asaph wants the next generation to know but now he wants this heart deep knowledge to go on to future generations to come. We can thank men like Asaph that we have the scriptures the very word of God as we are reading this Psalm which goes on to set down the message of the disobedience of man and the great mercy and longsuffering love of God.

Some say that the bible was simply made up by men who lived years after the events it records but what kind of person is going to make up a story about his people that presents them as hopelessly unfaithful failures who suffered the judgment of God for their disobedience?

No the bible presents God’s people as some have said with warts and all and it presents a God that no other religion presents. The God of the bible is a God who does judge sin but at the same time he is a God of love who goes as far as sending his own Son from heaven to save us from our sin and therefore his coming judgment as the famous verse in the bible declares, John 3: 16,

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”.

No other religion presents a God like the God of the bible and we have men like Asaph to thank for knowing about him. Certainly Asaph desire for children not yet born knowing the God of the bible has come to pass.

It is now our responsibly to make sure that the current generation and the one coming up behind it know the word of God and particularly God’s praiseworthy deeds of power and wonder.

Paul knew the importance of passing on the message of God’s wonderful gospel message that he chose men like Timothy to be the ones to take this message on to the next generation and this is why he encourages Timothy to do the same as we saw in the introduction to this Psalm talk when I quoted 2 Timothy 2: 2,

“And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others”.

  1. They will put their trust in God (vs. 7a)

So as I said before Asaph is not promoting head knowledge of God and his word as in verse 7a he writes,

“Then they would put their trust in God”

The difference between head knowledge and what I call heart knowledge, which involves our minds but goes deeper than that to real faith in God that Asaph calls trust in God.

This too is a central and continual message of the bible from Abraham who believed and trusted in God to Moses and King David and right through the time of the prophets trust or faith in God stands out as what made these men great and wonderful witnesses to the reality of knowing God. Isaiah puts it this way in Isaiah 25: 10,

“In that day they will say, “Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us.
This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”

Then in the New Testament the concept of trust in God comes to its fullest expression. Jesus says this in John 14: 1,

“Do not let your hearts be troubled, Trust in God; trust also in me”.

Jesus goes on to say that people who do this have a home in heaven prepared by him, verses 2 – 3,

“My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am”.

Paul taught much about trusting God in his letters to some of the early churches and no finer example of this is Romans 15: 13,

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”.

So the hope and joy God wants to give us is through trust in him and as we saw from what Jesus said in John 14 through trust in God’s son Jesus Christ.

I thank God that people older than me took the challenge that Asaph and the bible presents to challenge me to trust in God and I pray that I too will take up this challenge to call my generation and the one coming up to do the same.

  1. Obey God and his word (vs. 7b)

Trusting in God is a theme right throughout the bible but along side this is the twin theme of obedience. Asaph knows his bible as we will see even more from the rest of his Psalm but even in this concept of obedience to God appears in this opening section of his Psalm 78.

In verse 7b, he writes,

“And would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands”.

In verses 4 and 5 Asaph has commanded his readers to teach their children the praiseworthy, powerful, wondrous deeds of God and commands and laws of God. This he believes will lead to them and future generations to trust in God and now he ads obedience to God.

This obedience will come about because they will not forget his deeds and I think also because they truly trust in God.

All through the bible real trust in God is always accompanied by obedience to God and his word. In Genesis 15: 6 we read,

“Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness”.

To believe in God is another way of saying Abraham trusted in God. This statement of Abrahams trust or faith in God comes at a very difficult time in his life for both he and his wife Sarah who are very old and have not had a child yet. God had promised to make out of Abraham a great nation but how can that happen when he doesn’t have a child or heir?

God declares to Abraham that he will be the father of a great nation and Abraham believes this to be true and acts on his belief continuing to trust God for an heir, which comes in the later years of Abraham and Sarah in the form of as son named Isaac. Recently I heard of a Indian women having her first child in he seventies and this shows that it is not impossible for this kind of miracle to happen.

Abraham was called by God to leave Ur and God would give him a great land so Abraham believes or trusts in God and leaves Ur.

Note that in the case of Abraham the New Testament calls him the father of our faith (Romans 4: 16) who always acted on what he believed God was telling him by obeying what God told him to do.

In the letter written by James the half brother of Jesus the concept of trust or faith being shown with obedience is prominent as we can see from a passage like James 2: 14 – 18,

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead”.

James goes on in this passage to sight Abraham and another example of his faith leading to obedience in verses 18 – 24,

“18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

 20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone”.

Note how James points out that even the demons and I would say the devil himself believe in God and shudders. You see the Devil does not have saving faith that leads to obedience like the faith Abraham had.

Asaph points out that we must not forget the deeds of God and also his commands because once we stop reading God’s word or God forbid stop believing in his word our obedience to God will stop.

Churches and individual Christians that stop believing that the bible is the word of God instead of just containing the word of God are dying today because they have lost the power source God has provided for our faith or trust in God to be strong and vital.

Churches and individual Christians that stop obeying the clear commands of God found in his word are dying because they do not have real faith or trust in God made clear by their disobedience to God and his word.

  1. Not become rebellious (vs.8)

The fifth and final outcome of teaching our children and the coming generation the praiseworthy, powerful wondrous deeds of God and his commands is that they wont become rebellious which Asaph expresses this way in verse 8,

“They would not be like their forefathers – a stubborn and rebellious generation, whose hearts were not loyal to God, whose spirits were not faithful to him”.

This theme of disobedience of the writer’s forefathers becomes a central teaching theme for the next 55 verses of this Psalm. Indeed for most of the generations to come after Asaph wrote this disobedience of Israel becomes a central theme of the rest of the bible.

What went wrong in Israel to cause this?

The answer to this question will unfold in the 55 verses that follow this opening section of this Psalm but for now I might suggest that most of the people of Israel in the bible before Asaph and after did not trust and obey in the true God of the bible but rather turned to other God’s instead.

The sin of idolatry becomes a sin that comes up over and over again in the Old Testament. It seems that the ancient Israelites could not resist the worship of God presented to them by the people that surrounded them.

The worship of Baal, which involved sex in the form of religious prostitution and the pressure, brought on Israel by its kings making political alliances with foreign kings who worshipped other idol Gods seduced many to turn away from the true God of the bible.

Another great reason for the failure of true trust in the God of the bible by most of the ancient Hebrew people was compromise with the religious faiths and their idolatry practices that surrounded them.

The prophets point out over and over again that the religious leaders of Israel like the Kings and priests are the first to blame for the sins of the people because they had failed to do what Asaph had called his people to do expressed so well in verse 5,

“He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children”.

The prophet Hosea points out that the religious leaders of his day not only did not teach God’s word to the children but they did not teach it to anyone but rather led the people astray into trusting in others God’s rather than the God of the bible. Hosea 4: 4 – 9,

“But let no one bring a charge, let no one accuse another, for your people are like those who bring charges against a priest. You stumble day and night, and the prophets stumble with you. So I will destroy your mother— my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.” Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children. The more priests there were, the more they sinned against me;
they exchanged their glorious God for something disgraceful. They feed on the sins of my people and relish their wickedness. And it will be: Like people, like priests.
I will punish both of them for their ways and repay them for their deeds”.

Even today so called teachers of the church are doing the same thing, not teaching the word of God but leading the people in their churches astray. Paul warned Timothy of this as he commanded him to teach the word of God in 2 Timothy 4: 1 – 4,

“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths”.

So these myths Paul speak of is characteristic of any teaching other than the word of God because a myth is anything other than the truth revealed in the word of God.

The church has suffered from the time of Paul and onwards from teachers in its churches that teach things other than the word of God.

As Paul predicted the opportunity and inspiration for this will come from people in Christian churches who will gather teachers that suit their own desires and teach that which they are looking for them to teach. But Timothy and all teaches in the church who want to remain true to the God of the bible must teach God’s word even when it is not generally popular which Paul describes as being “in season and out of season”.

That concludes Asaph call to teach your children well and now for the next 54 verses of his Psalm he presents his own version of what the children or the next generation should be taught and what he presents will surprise you.

  1. (9- 16) WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM THE TRIBE OF EPHRAIM

 Asaph seems to pick on Ephraim one of the twelve tribes of Israel throughout his presentation of what children or next generation should be taught. Most commentators agree that Ephraim represents all of the Northern tribes of Israel. The excellent article by “got Question. org on “What should we learn from the tribe of Ephraim? Says this about Ephraim being representative of the Northern Kingdom containing 10 tribes says this,

“Throughout the Old Testament the name Ephraim often refers to the ten tribes comprising Israel’s Northern Kingdom, not just the single tribe after Joseph’s son”.

 The writer of the “gotQuestion.org then offers Hosea 5: 3 as a clear example of Ephraim being representative of the northern kingdom of Israel, which reads,

“I know all about Ephraim; Israel is not hidden from me. Ephraim, you have now turned to prostitution; Israel is corrupt”.

Even in the time of Asaph, which is around David’s time which is before the split of the Kingdom of Israel into two kingdoms after the death of David’s son Solomon Ephraim was representative of the Northern ten tribes who had sinned by turning away from God and worshipping Canaanite God’s that still surrounded them in the land.

James Coffman points out the pre Kingdom split problems of Ephraim and the northern tribes of Israel with these words,

“The great failure of Ephraim was not the rupture of the kingdom after the reign of Solomon, but their wickedness during the period of the Judges, a wickedness that eventually led to the removal of the tabernacle in Ephraim’s territory (at Shiloh), and to the transfer of the leadership of the kingdom to the Davidic dynasty as well as the relocation of the tabernacle in Jerusalem.”

The period of Ephraim’s wickedness during the time of Judges seems to be in the mind of Asaph as he wrote his Psalm and particularly in verses 56 – 64.

So now Asaph presents his long but fascinating presentation of what I call the redemptive history of Israel. All history is written from some kind of perspective and the bible always-present history from God’s redemptive perspective.

Asaph presentation of redemptive history starts specifically with a look at the tribe of Ephraim and what we can learn from them and I have broken this second section into two parts.

Part 1. (9 – 12)   Forgetting what God had revealed

Part 2. (13 – 17) What God did for them

 Part 1. (9 – 12)   Forgetting what God had revealed

This first section sets up what Asaph has already suggested as the reason why the people of Israel failed in the past, expressed by his description of them in verse 8 as,

“A stubborn and rebellious generation”.

 Now in verse 9 he pins down this stubborn and rebellious generation with the words,

“The men of Ephraim, though armed with bows, turned back on the day of battle”.

 The actual tribe of Ephraim are described in 1 Chronicles 12: 30 as great warriors,

“Men of Ephraim, brave warriors, famous in their own clans”.

 Yet Judges 1: 29 says of them,

“Nor did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites in Gezer, but the Canaanites continued to live among them”.

 This is also mentioned in Joshua 16: 10 and is in direct defiance to God’s specific command in Exodus 23: 23 – 25,

“My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out. 24 Do not bow down before their gods or worship them or follow their practices. You must demolish them and break their sacred stones to pieces. 25 Worship the Lord your God, and his blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away sickness from among you”.

Note the problem God tells his people the non-wiping out of the Canaanites will lead to the worship of their God’s, which included evil practices like using religious prostitution and child sacrifice in worship. God was judging the Canaanites for doing such abominable practice but the men of Ephraim, as all of the northern tribes did not obey God’s command. This led to the Northern tribes adopting Canaanite worship practices into their worship of the God of the bible.

This means I agree with commentators like H.C. Leupold who argue that verse 9 reference to the men of Ephraim turning back in battle is,

“Not a historical allusion to a particular event but a general statement in figurative language”.

This then makes the sense of the next verse, verse 10 that read,

“They did not keep God’s covenant and refused to live by his law”.

 The story of the Northern Kingdom, which took the name of Israel with the smaller southern kingdom taking the name of Judah, is a story of a people who failed to keep to God’s covenant agreement and continually broke God’s law. So many of the prophets spelt this out over and over again and God’s judgement would fall on them if they did not do not turn back to God and obey his laws.

We see this particularly in the words of the prophet Hosea who moves continually fro calling Israel Ephraim and Ephraim Israel and says things like Hosea 14: 1,

“Return, O Israel to the Lord your God. Your sins have been your downfall”.

Asaph in verses 11 and 12 points out that Ephraim had forgotten what God had done to create them and bring them to the Promised Land,

“They forgot what he had done, the wonders he had shown them. 12 He did miracles in the sight of their ancestors in the land of Egypt, in the region of Zoan”.

The tribe of Ephraim like all the 12 tribes of Israel were only in the Promised Land because of what God had done for them in freeing them from slavery in Egypt. Asaph will in a number of coming places in his Psalm spell out the wonders and miracles God did to free or liberate his people from Egypt. Asaph also speaks of the region of Zoan which Allan Herman says is,

“A city north – east of the Nile Delta” and is probably in the area called Goshen in Genesis 49: 10, which is said where the people of Israel settled in Egypt in the time of Joseph.

It seems from his Psalm and the account of the first five books of the bible that Israel even forgot what God had done for them in the period of the lives of the actual people who experienced it, such is the insidious nature of sinful man.

Paul has no qualms in setting for the terrible insidious nature of all of us as sinners in the book of Romans. In Romans 3: 10 – 18,

As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
13 “Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.” “The poison of vipers is on their lips.” 14 “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 ruin and misery mark their ways,
17 and the way of peace they do not know.”18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

This fact lead Paul to argue that we cannot save ourselves and this why God had to send Jesus to save us which is God’s greatest rescue mission even greater and more wondrous than the Exodus from Egypt and this is something we must never forget like the Israelites forgot their great act of God’s salvation.

Part 2. (13 – 16) What God did for them

Asaph now spells out some of the miracles and wonders God did that Ephraim/ Israel had forgotten and I see three of these mentioned here and they are;

  1. The crossing of the red sea (vs. 13)
  2. The guiding of the people of Israel by the cloud and pillar of fire (14)
  3. The provision of water in the wilderness journey (15 – 16)

Lets have a quick look at each of these three great wondrous miracles of God that the people of Israel had forgotten and I will make some application of them as well.

  1. The crossing of the red sea (vs. 13)

Verse 13 sums up one of the greatest and most important wondrous miracle of the Old Testament in a most succinct and beautiful way,

“He divided the sea and led them through; he made the water stand firm like a wall”.

How could the people who witnessed such an incredible event as the dividing of the water of a great body of water in two to produce a safe road to cross and then to see once you had crossed those walls of water held up by the power of God close on your enemies as they too tried to cross to kill you. Yet this seems to be exactly what happened as we read this in Exodus 32 that these same people who crossed over the divided red sea become restless when Moses went up the holy mountain of Sinai and made a golden calf to worship God.

In Exodus 32: 7 – 10,

“Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’

 “I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”

  1. The guiding of the people of Israel by the cloud and pillar of fire (14)

Likewise Asaph picks up another great wondrous miracle in verse 14 in Israel’s salvation from Egypt the was he led them by day with a cloud and a pillar of fire by night,

“He guided them with the cloud by day and with light from the fire all night”.

You cannot imagine that this constant day and night reminder of God’s wondrous miracle of his guidance could be forgotten but as we just saw the people one stopped at Mont Sinai quickly forgot about his miraculous guidance by God.

So generations after these events even those who had witnessed further miraculous guidance by God when he led them into the Promised Land forgot what God had done and turned to the powerless God’s of the Canaanites they should have destroyed.

We to can easily forget God’s guidance in our lives when we were first made aware of how God sent Jesus into the world to make a way for us back to heaven by dying for our sins on the cross.

Even some Christians in the early church at the time of the writing down of the New Testament had problems with forgetting their first love of Christ and grew cold in their faith as we see in Hebrews 10: 24 -25,

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching”.

Also in Johns book called Revelation Jesus himself warns some the early churches about the danger of forgetting our first love and growing cold in our walk with him, Revelation 2: 4- 5,

“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lamp stand from its place”.

  1. The provision of water in the wilderness journey (15 – 16)

Twice in the story of the Israelites in their wilderness wanderings God miraculously provided water for them, Exodus 17: 6 and Numbers 20: 8 ff. Asaph brought these two miraculous events together in verses 15, 16,

He split the rocks in the wilderness and gave them water as abundant as the seas;
16 he brought streams out of a rocky crag and made water flow down like rivers”.

Then Asaph in verse 17 points out both what led up to these miracles of God for the people in the wilderness and how they acted after he did it,

“But they continued to sin against him rebelling in the desert against the Most High”.

Listen to how the people grumbled and rebelled against Moses and Aaron God’s appointed leaders leading up to that miraculous provision of water in the wilderness, Numbers 20: 1 – 5,

“In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried.

 Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. They quarrelled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the Lord! Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!”

The significance of this incident is that it is not the first time the people grumbled about the lack of water as it looks like the Exodus 17 incident is a separate miracle of God providing water through a dry rock. We can see the people’s rebellion in the Exodus 17: 2, That records some of the interaction between Moses and his people,

So they quarrelled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.”

Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?”

 So Asaph is quite correct when he says the people of Israel in the desert continued to sin and rebel against God who Asaph calls the Most High a name and description of God popular in the book of Psalms (Ps. 18: 13, 73: 11, 77: 10 and 83: 18).

Paul speaks to the Philippians about grumbling and complaining in Philippians 2: 14 – 16 and links it to our witness to unbelievers in our world,

“ Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labour in vain”.

Notice how Paul implies that not grumbling or complaining should set us apart from the fallen world around us and I ask, are non -believers attracted to churches full of people who always grumble and complain about things?

The answer is obvious and Paul makes this clear by saying we will shine like stars in the sky to the fallen world when we offer them the Gospel message from the basis of a church that presents itself as a unified happy fellowship of believers in the true word of God.

  1. (18 – 39) PART 1. THE HISTORY OF REBELLION

 Now Asaph in barks on two sections of his long Psalm that Allan Harman in his commentary on the Psalms calls “Cycles” which is two sections that speak about the same period of history with slightly different emphasis in each but with the same teaching outcome. These two parts continue to look at Israel’s rebellion in the wilderness but the second part adds the continuing story of Israel’s rebellion into the Promised Land.

The old saying, “You can’t teach a old dog new tricks” applies here but we must remember that the people of Israel that entered the Promised Land are the next generation after those who wandered for 40 years in the wilderness. So maybe we should change the saying to, “You can’t teach a sinful people to stop rebelling against God”.

I will look at these two sections with similar headings and also break them up with two parts.

Part 1. (18 – 31) Rebellion in the wilderness

Part 2. (32 – 39) Rebellion – Judgement and mercy

 Part 1. (18 – 31) Rebellion in the wilderness

 I was not sure if I should break this new part at the end of verse 16 or verse 17 as verse 17 and 18 set down the main point Asaph is going to make in this third section of his Psalm 78. This main point is the people of Israel in the wilderness continually committed sin against God or rebelled against or wilfully put God to the test. This is exactly what he says in verses 17 – 18,

“But they continued to sin against him, rebelling in the wilderness against the Most High.18 They willfully put God to the test by demanding the food they craved”.

Verse 18 introduces the next instance of the people of Israel’s source of rebellion, that of demanding food which God will again miraculously provide. This demand for food is also linked in this section with their previous demand for water.

I will make four observations from verses 19 – 31,

  1. How the people spoke against God and grumbled (19 – 20)
  2. The reaction of God to the people grumbling (21 – 22)
  3. God’s miraculous provision of food for his grumbling people (23 – 29)
  4. God’s anger against the grumbling of his people (30 – 31)
  1. How the people spoke against God and grumbled (19 – 20)

Asaph describes the people of Israel’s speaking against God with grumbling this way in verses 19 and 20,

“They spoke against God; they said, “Can God really spread a table in the wilderness?20 True, he struck the rock, and water gushed out, streams flowed abundantly, but can he also give us bread? Can he supply meat for his people?”

These people, you might say, just cannot get it. They have witnessed over and over again God’s miraculous provisions through opening up a sea of water to guiding them with a special cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night and then by making water flow out of a dry rock and yet they cannot see that this same God will not let them starve in the desert and will therefore miraculously provide food for them.

Asaph says they challenge God by saying,

“Can God really spread a table in the wilderness?20 True, he struck the rock, and water gushed out, streams flowed abundantly, but can he also give us bread? Can he supply meat for his people?”

This is not a people of faith but a sinful unbelieving people who are simply full of doubt and fear. The grumbling at this stage by these sinful unbelieving people is even worse than Asaph presents when we read the account of it in Exodus 16: 2 – 3,

In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”

They are saying they would rather be slaves in Egypt again, exploited, abused and harassed with full bellies than be saved by a great powerful and loving God who has provided all they have needed so far and if they could only exercise a little faith will provide what they need in the future.

I can remember hearing the stories of the people of Israel in Sunday School as a child and wandering how hopeless God’s people seem to be not realising that they are a picture of what we all are like to God without the gift of his forgiveness in Christ.

Paul tells the Ephesians what they were like before they were saved by God’s love in Christ in Ephesians 2: 1 – 3,

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath”.

Yes that’s what we were like and that is a good description of the people of Israel in the wilderness but Paul says in the next six verses what God did for us, how we obtain that and what that gives us in Christ, Ephesians 2: 4 – 10,

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”.

  1. The reaction of God to the people grumbling (21 – 22)

Then Asaph spells out in the next two verses God’s reaction to his people’s grumbling and lack of faith,

“When the Lord heard them, he was furious; his fire broke out against Jacob, and his wrath rose against Israel, 22 for they did not believe in God or trust in his deliverance”.

Some translations translate furious with anger, a word not popular with some Christians today as they wont accept that God can and does get angry but it is a righteous anger often called God’s Wrath.

I read a good biblical rundown on the Wrath of God on the Internet site called “Got Question? org” and here are a three good quotes from it that explain God’s wrath and his love as well.

  1. “There is vast difference between the wrath of God and the wrath of man. God’s wrath is holy and always justified; man’s is never holy and rarely justified.
  1. “God’s wrath against sin and disobedience is perfectly justified because His plan for mankind is holy and perfect, just as God Himself is holy and perfect. God provided a way to gain divine favor—repentance—that turns God’s wrath away from the sinner. To reject that perfect plan is to reject God’s love, mercy, grace and favor and incur His righteous wrath”.
  1. “God alone is able to avenge because His vengeance is perfect and holy, whereas man’s wrath is sinful, opening him up to demonic influence. For the Christian, anger and wrath are inconsistent with our new nature, which is the nature of Christ Himself (2 Corinthians 5:17)”

 The incident Asaph refers to in these verses is found in Numbers 11: 1 – 3,

“Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the Lord, and when he heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. When the people cried out to Moses, he prayed to the Lord and the fire died down. So that place was called Taberah, because fire from the Lord had burned among them”.

God is not pleased with us when we grumble and complain but as “Got Question? org” “God provided a way to gain divine favor—repentance—that turns God’s wrath away from the sinner”.

 Even as Christians we will still sometimes grumble and complain and when we do we need to go to God in repentance and faith claiming the work Jesus did on the cross for us when his death satisfied the wrath of God. As Paul says in Romans 5: 9,

“Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!”

 Note also what Asaph sees as the real issue that aroused God’s anger which is clearly stated in verse 22,

“For they did not believe in God or trust in his deliverance”.

When we grumble or doubt God we could be showing we really don’t believe in Him and the salvation he won for us in Christ. Again we must repent or turn away from the sin of grumbling and seek the sure forgiveness of Christ, which he won for us on the cross.

  1. God’s miraculous provision of food for his grumbling people (23 – 29)

Amazingly even though God was angry with his people and did show this with the deaths of a small group of them through his love he still provided food for them as Asaph now sets down in verses 23 – 29,

“Yet he gave a command to the skies above and opened the doors of the heavens;
24 he rained down manna for the people to eat, he gave them the grain of heaven.
25 Human beings ate the bread of angels; he sent them all the food they could eat.
26 He let loose the east wind from the heavens and by his power made the south wind blow.27 He rained meat down on them like dust, birds like sand on the seashore.
28 He made them come down inside their camp, all around their tents.29 They ate till they were gorged—he had given them what they craved”.

Asaph set forth God’s miraculous provision of food for his hungry grumbling people and it comes in two forms:

  1. Manna from heaven (23 – 25)
  2. Quails or birds through a east wind (26 – 29)
  1. Manna from heaven (23 – 25)

So even after the people grumbled and put God to the test over the non provision of food but in his love for his people still provided them the food they needed, Tremper Longman 111 sums the situation this way,

“While Psalm 23: 5 celebrates God a host who prepares a table for his people, the wilderness generation doubted that God could feed them, God was angry and punished them, then still gave them manna.”

This provision of miraculous God given food is described this way,

“Yet he gave a command to the skies above and opened the doors of the heavens; he rained down manna for the people to eat, he gave the grain of heavens. Men ate the bread of angels; he sent them all the food they could eat”.

What was this food called manna?

Even though what it was like is described in Exodus 16: 31,

“The people called the bread manna. It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey”.

And even though we are told how it appeared each morning, Exodus 16: 13b – 14,

“In the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor”.

We do not know what it really was and either did the Israelites as the word manna simply means, “What is it?”

It seems to be a specially produced food from God for the specific purpose of feeding his people in a desert and this seems to be while Asaph speaks of it coming from the heavens and even the bread of Angels”.

Another amazing important fact about this manna is that It miraculously turned out to be just enough for each daily need of the people as we see from Exodus 16: 17 and 18,

“The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. 18 And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed”.

This might be a good lesson on the fact that God promises to provide us with what we need not what we necessarily want as Paul declares in Philippians 4: 19,

“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.

I might want a car like a Ferrari but God provides me with a sound second had Nissan 1200 Datsun station wagon. I chose a Nissan 1200 Datsun station wagon because when I left Bible College and went into Youth ministry I had virtually no money but needed a more suitable car to do my extensive running around in the large suburban area God had called me to work in. I prayed for a car to meet my need and was soon led to a low priced three year old Nissan 1200 Datson station wagon which turned out to be a very economical car to run and cost me almost nothing in running repairs and I only got rid of it seven years later because my wife and I could then afford something a little newer and more comfortable to drive around in.

God’s provisions might sometimes not seem flash or expensive but they meet our needs in ways we often cannot understand. Not long ago I dropped my car into my local mechanics for a service and my mechanic was cursing as he worked on a very expensive BMW car and he told me that people don’t realise that these fancy foreign cars are often very difficult and costly to service and repair. His advice was to buy a good basic generally common car and it will work out far more cost effective to service and repair.

The story of God providing manna from heaven makes a return appearance in the New Testament as part of the aftermath of Jesus miraculous feeding of 5,000 people. John’s Gospel account of this in John 6 and after Jesus feeds the 5,000 from a small boys picnic lunch a number of the people fed come to Jesus asking for more and refer to God’s miraculous provision of manna that they say Moses gave them. You might say they wanted a free miraculous meal constantly but Jesus tells them something quite outstanding in John 6: 32 – 33,

“Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

Knowing Jesus is all we really need in life for as Jesus says in Matthew 6: 33 – 34,

33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own”.

Jesus is saying get your priorities right, put him and his Kingdom first and he will take care of the rest. My need for a car in my early ministry days was something I needed to work for Jesus and the building up of his kingdom so God provided the perfect vehicle to do that work at that time.

  1. Quails or birds through a east wind (26 – 29)

Asaph then points out that God did not stop at just providing miraculous bread but provides equally miraculously meat for them in the form of migratory birds known as quails. He writes in verses 27 – 29,

“He rained meat down on them like dust, birds like sand on the seashore.
28 He made them come down inside their camp, all around their tents. 29 They ate till they were gorged— he had given them what they craved”.

The book of Numbers points out that even though the wilderness generation had the food they needed in the form of the miraculous provision of God in the form of manna they were still not happy.

The people started grumbling about the lack of meat in their diet and probably also the lack of variety, manna in the morning, manna at lunch- time and manna for dinner. We read this in Numbers 11: 4 – 7,

“The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!”

So God, according to Asaph gives them this time what they craved or wanted rather than needed. God used a powerful east wind which means it was blowing in from the ocean and this picks up a large flock of migratory birds called quails.

However this turns out to be a bit of a double edge sword because it miraculously provides meat but as Asaph then points our in verses 30 – 31,

“But before they turned from what they craved, even while the food was still in their mouths,31 God’s anger rose against them; he put to death the sturdiest among them,

cutting down the young men of Israel”.

Sometimes God will give us what we crave or want and then we will pay the consequences of that wrong craving. Many years ago my parents bought one of those expensive foreign cars mainly for prestige but it turned out costing them lots of money in running expenses.

Maybe we should say, “be careful what you ask for” because God just might give it to you and let you learn why what we desire or crave is not what is necessarily or what is best for us.

Paul picks up the point of what we should learn from this grumbling desire seeking wilderness generation in 1 Corinthians 10: 1 – 6, and teaches us this from them,

“For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

 Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did”.

 Part 2. (32 – 39) Rebellion – Judgement and mercy

Harman called the two middle sections of this Psalm a “cycle” a cycle that represented the sad but all so true story of people rebelling against God and God reacting, as he must with judgment but then showing amazing underserved love, mercy when he shouldn’t have.

So Asaph after setting down the grumbling rebellious actions of Israel at the start of their long wilderness wanderings now sets down this cycle of Rebellion – Judgment and mercy.

To track this I have broken this second part of the this third section into three parts:

  1. Rebellion and judgment in the wilderness (32 – 33)
  2. Shallow repentance in the wilderness (34 – 37)
  3. Amazing restraining love for God’s people in the wilderness (38 – 39)
  1. Rebellion and judgment in the wilderness (32 – 33)

Asaph starts verse 32 with the words

“In Spite of all this”

Which captures the utter senselessness of this wilderness generation for they had seen over and over again God’s miraculous provisions and also his reaction to their grumbling lack of faith in him that produced his judgment. Yet they continued to keep on dong it.

The full verse 32 says exactly this,

“In spite of all this, they kept on sinning; in spite of his wonders they did not believe”.

 For all of us who have been involved in Christian ministry the feeling of frustration that lies behind these words is all so familiar.

When we see people we are ministering to with the presentation of the wonderful message of the Gospel and yet we see those people simply turn their backs on God to keep living their often-pathetic hopeless lives.

The minister of my church recently told us the story of a non -Christian friend of his he invited to one of his Gospel presentation courses he often runs and the friend said at the end of the course, “I know what this message is about and offers me but I simply and not willing to give up my current way of living to become a Christian.

The way my minister felt probably mirrors how Moses probably felt when he saw how his people so easily turned away from truly trusting in God when they grumbled and complained to God through him.

Listen to how Moses prays to God during their complaints of manna not being enough for them to eat in Numbers 11: 10 – 15,

“Moses heard the people of every family wailing at the entrance to their tents. The Lord became exceedingly angry, and Moses was troubled. 11 He asked the Lord, “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? 12 Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their ancestors? 13 Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 14 I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. 15 If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me—if I have found favor in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin.”

 They got manna miraculously provided by God but they wanted meat so they complained and even after getting meat they ate it like a pack of dogs devouring a dead carcass not as grateful followers of a loving God who had just wondrously provided for his people.

Asaph then speaks of God’s reaction to that in verse 33,

“So he ended their days in futility and their years in terror”.

 The ultimate fate of the wilderness generation was to wander the desert unto all of them were dead and it was only their children with a couple of exceptions like Joshua and Caleb who entered the promised land and broke the cycle of desert wandering. Asaph is probably reflecting on something like Numbers 32: 13,

“The Lord’s anger burned against Israel and he made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until the whole generation of those who had done evil in his sight was gone”.

Remember Asaph has said God wants believing fathers to teach their children well and this is part of what he wants them to teach them.

We saw how Paul was not backward in using the sinful actions of the wilderness generation in his teaching of others in 1 Corinthians 10 and the writer of the book of Hebrews also used this in Hebrews 3: 7 – 14,

So, as the Holy Spirit says:

 “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness,
where your ancestors tested and tried me, though for forty years they saw what I did.10 That is why I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’ 11 So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ”

 12 See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. 14 We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.

Here the writer first quotes Psalm 95: 8 – 11 and then ads his own application of the wilderness generation for his readers. He wants them to not have a sinful unbelieving heart but rather they are to encourage one another daily to hold to their faith in Christ to the very end.

  1. Shallow repentance in the wilderness (34 – 37)

It seems for the wilderness generation that each time they were judged by God for their sinful disobedience they turned back to God and his divine covenant as Asaph points out in verses 34 and 35,

“Whenever God slew them, they would seek him; they eagerly turned to him again.
35 They remembered that God was their Rock, that God Most High was their Redeemer”.

God’s judgment on them had an element of discipline as he used it to try and bring his people back to a right relationship with him and according to these two verses it seemed to have worked.

The seemed to do three things to them:

  1. It made them seek him again
  2. It turned them around to him (which is repentance)
  3. It made them remember that God was their rock and redeemer

That is a good formula for what any person should do if they want to truly come to God:

  1. Seek the Lord
  2. Repent of your sins
  3. Acknowledge that in God alone can we depend
  4. Acknowledge that he is our redeemer or Savior.

However for the wilderness generation this was not genuine God seeking, repenting of sin and acknowledging of who God is because Asaph says in verses 36 and 37,

“But then they would flatter him with their mouths, lying to him with their tongues;
37 their hearts were not loyal to him, they were not faithful to his covenant”.

Asaph pick up four problems with this turning back to God in these verses:

  1. Their words were not genuine
  2. Their tongues spoke lies
  3. Their hearts were not loyal to God
  4. Their commitment to God’s covenant was faulty.

This is what Psalm 95: 10 and Hebrews 3: 10 says about this wilderness generation,

“For forty years I was angry with that generation I said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways”.

Note it is their hearts that were the problem, Asaph said,

“Their hearts were not loyal to him”.

While the writer of Psalm 95 says,

“They are a people whose hearts go astray”.

Our faith and praise of God must be genuine and must come from our hearts and that only shows in our lives lived in obedience to God and his word as the writer to the Hebrews nails it again with these words in Hebrews 13: 15 – 16,

“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased”.

Asaph words at the end of verse 37 are telling as a description of where the wilderness generation went wrong,

“They were not faithful to his covenant”.

Amazingly the first people who received the great detailed description of God’s covenant failed to keep it. This will be the pattern of the people in the rest of the Old Testament the failure of God’s people not keeping his covenant.

God had to do something different and greater to save us and we will see this more clearly in the last point of this third section of this Psalm.

  1. Amazing restraining love for God’s people in the wilderness (38 – 39)

Some people think that the God of the Old Testament is different the God of the New Testament because they only see in the Old Testament the God of wrath and judgment and in the New Testament they see only a God of love and compassion. This, sadly is for far from the truth.

Asaph has just spoken of the grumbling and rebellious nature of the wilderness generation and how God did judge their sin on many occasions and this only led to a superficial insincere repentance of the people.

Now in verses 38 – 39 Asaph makes a remarkable couple of statements about the God of the bible that should kill off this idea that the God of the Old Testament is not seen there as a God of love like he is in the New Testament. Asaph writes,

“Yet he was merciful; he forgave their iniquities and did not destroy them. Time after time he restrained his anger and did not stir up his full wrath. 39 He remembered that they were but flesh, a passing breeze that does not return”.

Leopold points out that verse 38 is an echo of another famous description of the God of the bible, the time God passed near Moses and his essence or basic qualities was described in Exodus 34: 6 – 7,

“And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”

God could have wiped out the wilderness generation and started again with a new chosen people in fact God even suggests this to Moses as a possible solution to the wilderness generations horrific rebellion in Exodus 32: 9 – 10,

“I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”

 Moses of course pleaded with God and in his plea he reminds God of God’s covenantal promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that he would make a great nation from them.

Asaph makes it clear that even if God might have suggested wiping out his people and starting again he in the end would not do that because he is a merciful God and forgave their iniquities and did not destroy them.

 Some might say but God did destroy many of them in judgment and he will do the same in the final judgment, how can you say he is a loving and forgiving God then?

The fact is all of the wilderness generation and indeed all of us deserve to be destroyed in judgment as Paul says in Romans 3: 23,

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.

 God’s love is that even though we all deserve to be condemned and punished for sin God chooses to save some not because they deserve to be saved but because God in his love and mercy chooses to save some. Listen to Paul speak of this in Romans 9: 14 – 16,

“What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15 For he says to Moses,

“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”16 It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy”.

Asaph points out that with the wilderness generation,

“Time after time he restrained his anger”

Peter points out something of the mind and actions of God towards all sinful people and his judgment to come in these words in 2 Peter 3: 8 – 9,

“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance”.

Finally Asaph makes an amazing statement in verse 39 to why God acted with such compassion towards the grumbling and rebellious wilderness generation,

“He remembered that they were but flesh a passing breeze that does not return”.

Allan Herman writes,

“God knew the frailty of his people and his understanding of their weakness awakened his compassion for them”.

This did not mean God changed his mind about not letting the wilderness generation enter the Promised Land except for Joshua and Caleb who were the only men who had faith in God to help them take the Promised Land from the vastly militarily superior Canaanites.

It did mean however that he did not wipe them out and start again with a man like Moses and it did mean that the wilderness generation children would enter and take the Promised Land from the Canaanites but they too had their problems, as we will see in part of the next section of the Psalm.

Just before we look at the next section I must point out one more bit of New Testament application of verses 38 and 39 and that is the answer to the question:

What should be our right response to God’s mercy and love shown to us in Christ?

Again I will let Paul give you his answer to that question found in Romans 12: 1 – 2,

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will”.

  1. (44 – 64) PART 2, THE HISTORY OF REBELLION

 The second cycle as Allen Herman points out of this history of rebellion of the wilderness generation looks at other examples of their grumbling rebellion.

In the final verse of the first part of this fourth section, verse 55 he moves on the next generation after the wilderness generation who continue the grumbling rebellion their fathers had in the wilderness.

I have broken this fourth section of the Psalm into two parts:

Part 1. (40 – 55) Rebellion in the wilderness and into the promise land

Part 2. (56 – 64) Rebellions Judgment in the Promised Land

 Part 1. (40 – 55) Rebellion in the wilderness and into the promise land

 Asaph starts this second cycle of rebellion in the wilderness with these words of verse 40 and 41,

How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness and grieved him in the wasteland! 41 Again and again they put God to the test; they vexed the Holy One of Israel”.

These two verses are a good summary of what Asaph has said about the wilderness generation so far and it says they had done three things:

  1. Rebelled against God
  2. Put God to the Test
  3. Vexed, Grieved or Brought Pain to God

Let me make some brief comments and application of each of these three things the wilderness generation did in the desert.

  1. Rebelled against God

Even when Moses first went up the Mount Sinai to speak with God on the people’s behalf and receive God’s holy law this wilderness generation rebelled against God by demanding Aaron make them God’s they could follow because Moses had been gone for some time.

Exodus 32: 2 – 4 says,

“Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.”

 3 So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron.

4 He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”

 Even Aaron gets caught up in this sheer act of rebellion no doubt overcome by the fear of the mob but still in excusable and we saw in the last section that God’s reaction was to want and destroy all the people except Moses in judgment for their sin.

God hates idolatry and his first two commandments make this clear, Deuteronomy 5: 6 – 10,

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 10 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments”.

Paul seems to indicate from Romans 1 that idolatry lies at the heart of our rebellion to God he says in Romans 1: 21 – 23,

“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles”.

In our modern western world we might not make literal idols that look like animals or even men today but we turn form God to worship evolution or money and possessions or even our own bodies as many devote themselves to making their bodies physically attractive as the number one priority in their lives.

All this is idol worship and is our way of showing we are in rebellion to the rule of God in our lives.

  1. Put God to the Test

The next aspect of the wilderness generation had done wrong so far as Asaph has sighted is “putting God to the test”. Got a question?org explains putting God to the test and gives us the actual Hebrew word and its meaning,

“There is another Hebrew word for “test” used elsewhere in the Bible. Nacah means “to put to the test, try, or tempt.” It is used in Deuteronomy 6:16, where God commands Israel to not test Him: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test as you did at Massah.”

 We saw that it was at Massah or Meribah in the previous section where the people put God to the test over water and later over food and each time God provided but each time the people failed to trust God to actually do what he was able to do. Instead they grumbled and complained and for this they also suffered God’s judgment.

We too need to learn to trust God and not put him to the test when things don’t seem to be going our way or the way we think things should be going. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5: 7,

“We live by faith, not by sight”

 And the writer to the Hebrews says in Hebrews 11: 6,

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him”.

So we need to learn to not doubt God even in difficult times and not grumble or complain but to trust God believing as the writer to the Hebrew says,

“He (God) rewards those who earnestly seek him”.

  1. Vexed, Grieved or Brought Pain to God

The final thing the wilderness generation had done wrong was Vexed or Grieved God by their constant grumbling and rebellion. Some modern translations use the term “Brought God pain” to make clear what vexing or grieving God actually is.

God showed he loved his people in that he saved them out of the bondage of Egypt and provided for their every need in the wilderness but this wilderness generation over and over again grumbled, rebelled and as we previously saw put God to the test. This Asaph tells us caused great pain to God.

In the New Testament speaks of grieving the Holy Spirit in Ephesians 4: 30,,

“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption”.

This verse appears in the middle of a section of Pauls letter where he is speaking about how we should and should not get on with other people in how we speak and act. We are a new creation in Christ bought by his amazing love and we should act in a way that fits that high calling. If fail to act that way we are just like the wilderness generation who grumbled and complained and caused grief for the God who had done so much for them.

Asaph starts verse 42 with the words,

“They did not remember”.

He then tells his readers just what God had done for this wilderness generation that seemed to have forgotten and I see in the next 13 verses the following four things God had done for them.

  1. How God redeemed or saved them out of bondage in Egypt (42 – 43)
  2. How God sent plagues on the Egyptians to help save them (44 – 52)
  3. How God led them through the desert and across the red sea (52 – 53)
  4. How God brought them to the promised land (54 – 55)
  1. How God redeemed or saved them out of bondage in Egypt (42 – 43)

Asaph returns again to the amazing story of how God saved this wilderness generation out of the bondage of Egypt. He writes in verses 42 – 43,

They did not remember his power— the day he redeemed them from the oppressor, 43 the day he displayed his signs in Egypt, his wonders in the region of Zoan.

Why he speaks of this yet again is not clear but maybe he wants to make sure his listeners and readers really get it, these people witnessed with their very own lives God’s power in action when he redeemed them from their Egyptian oppressors. They saw the display of his wondrous miracles or signs yet their actions in the wilderness of grumbling and testing God appeared to reveal they had forgotten how great and powerful their God actually was.

We should not be quick to throw rocks at these people as the expression goes because the Church of Jesus Christ over the centuries since his powerful and miraculous act of redemption for us seemed to act as though they had forgotten what he had done.

I find the letters to the seven churches in the apostle Johns day recorded in the early chapters of the book of Revelation so instructive because it teaches us that even within a generation of the time of Christ even Christians can forget or grow cold of the mighty redemption of Christ that made them who they were.

Each of the churches had issues relating to their faith and commitment to Christ,

  1. The church in Ephesus forsook their first love and they are told to remember the height from which they had fallen (Rev. 2: 4 – 5).
  1. The church in Smyrna was about to suffer great persecution and needed remember the Lord and not be afraid in the face of this persecution (Rev. 2: 8 – 11).
  1. The church in Pergamum had problem with some people who had been led away into false teaching and needed to remember the true word of God (Rev. 2: 14 – 16).
  1. The church in Thyatira had the problem of an evil women prophetess who was leading people into immoral acts and false teaching. They needed to have nothing to do with her and remember the true word of God (Rev. 2: 20 – 25).
  1. The church in Sardis had the problem of appearing outwardly alive to Christ but inwardly they were dead. The are told to remember what they had received in Christ and obey it (Rev. 3: 1 – 4).
  1. The church in Philadelphia seemed to have little strength but had remained faithful to God’s word but they to like the church of Smyrna soon would face great persecution and they just needed to keep remembering God and his word (Rev. 3: 7 – 10).
  1. Finally the church in Laodicea had the problem of becoming indifferent in their faith which John calls being neither cold or hot from becoming materially wealthy and they needed to remember God and his word and be willing to suffer for him (Rev, 3: 14 – 18).

So what we see both good and bad in the snap shot of these seven churches can be seen in various ways and times since in church history and even today. So we need to learn the lessons Asaph is teaching us from the grumbling rebellious wilderness generation.

  1. How God sent plagues on the Egyptians to help save them (44 – 52)

Then Asaph catalogues only six of the nine plagues God miraculously performed for Israel in Egypt and they not in the order they appear in the book of Exodus. Tremper Longman 111 makes this interesting observation about this with these words,

He begins by recounting the plagues. For his purposes, he neither needs to name them all or list them in order but he does end with the final and most devastating plague of all, death of the firstborn if Egypt”.

 It has been said that each of these plagues was also a judgment on some of the God’s of Egypt or at least the symbols for them like, The Nile river, Grasshoppers, Locusts and cattle. Even the lightening storm that rained down hail had religious significants for the Egyptians for a number of their God’s related to weather and storms.

The plagues also hit out at the very substance of Egypt’s wealth and well being and were designed as verse 49 says as God’s judgment on Egypt’s many sins,

“He unleashed against them his hot anger his wrath, indignation and hostility”.

 So this part of the Psalm can be broken up by the six plagues Asaph lists here,

  1. The plague of the river Nile turning to blood (vs. 44)
  2. The plague of flies (vs. 45a)
  3. The plague of frogs (vs. 45b)
  4. The plague of grasshoppers / locusts (vs. 46)
  5. The plague of hail (vs’s 47 – 48)
  6. The plague of the death of the firstborn (vs’s 49 – 51)

I will now make a brief comment on the first 5 of these plagues and then have a bit more to say about my explanation of the final plague of the death of the first born. I am indebeted to the work of Kevin Epps in a paper I found on the Internet called “A Deeper look at the 10 Plagues”.

  1. The plague of the river Nile to blood (vs. 44)

“He turned their rivers to blood; they could not drink from their streams”

The first plague spoken by Asaph is that of the river Nile turning to blood. It was the river Nile that made Egypt what it was as it provided the fertile flood plains each year for great crops to be grown. So this lifeblood of the nation turned to blood as both an act of judgment against Egypt’s sin and a way of telling Pharaoh God meant business through Moses and he should let his people go.

  1. The plague of flies (vs. 45a)

“He sent swarms of flies that devoured them”.

 Kevin Epps points out,

“The words “of flies” are in italics throughout this chapter, indicating that they’re not part of the Hebrew text but were supplied by the translators to try to complete the thought. The Hebrew word for “swarms” (‘ârôb, Brown-Driver, and Briggs’ Hebrew Lexicon) could have been referring to a “mixture” of insects, which is one of its definitions.

 Or it could have been swarms of a particular insect, perhaps one that they worshipped. “Khepri … was associated with the scarab or dung beetle … making him one of the most famous insect gods.”

Epps also points out that these insects did not bother the people of Israel in Goshom so God’s miracle was not only targeted at the Egyptians it was also targeted at not harming his people.

  1. The plague of frogs (vs. 45b)

“And frogs devastated them”.

Epps points out the deeper significance of this plague with these words,

This outbreak of frogs struck at the Egyptians’ pride in the ancient god Heqet, who was depicted as a woman with a frog’s head. She was a fertility goddess.

 The Egyptians appear to have been targeted by this plague. “The word order of the Hebrew text is important because it shows how the plague was pointedly directed at Pharaoh: ‘and against you, and against your people, and against all your servants frogs will go up’” (Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible).

  1. The plague of grasshoppers / Locusts (vs. 46)

“He gave their crops to the grasshoppers”

 This plague struck out again at the source of Egypt’s wealth and prosperity their great crops and many a farmer in different parts of the world have experienced financial ruin through swarms of locusts plagues. However here God makes this happen as Moses stretched out his hand and rod over Egypt as Exodus 10: 12,

“And the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over Egypt so that locusts will swarm over the land and devour everything growing in the fields”.

 Some time the miracle of God is simply a natural event perfectly timed by his sovereign will.

  1. The plague of hail (vs’s 47 – 48)

“He destroyed their vines with hail and their sycamore figs with sleet. He gave over their cattle to the hail, their livestock to bolts of lightning”.

 As I previously said the plagues were a judgment on Egypt also aimed at their many God’s showing that the God of the Bible alone is the one true God. Egypt had up to three God’s that they would have looked to for protection against the ravages of occasional extreme weather, Shu the wind god, Nut the sky Goddess and Horus the Sky God of upper Egypt yet they could not protect them against the God of the bible who sent upon the usual settled dry Egypt a massive ferocious thunder storm.

 Epps makes these further insightful observations of this plague and some of its New Testament application with these words,

“The Egyptians had more control over protecting themselves from this plague. God warned them to “gather your livestock, … for the hail shall come down on every man and every animal which is found in the field; … and they shall die’” (verse 19). Yet, unbelievably, after having suffered the previous six plagues, some still did not heed this warning. Likewise, in the end times man’s rebellious attitude against God will be unfathomable (Revelation 9:18-21).

 God was using Pharaoh to teach a powerful lesson: “But indeed for this purpose I have raised you up … that my name may be declared in all the earth” (Exodus 9:16). Paul quotes this passage in Romans 9:17. Paul also explains that God desires that everyone ultimately repent (1 Timothy 2:4)—even those few whom He hardens for a greater long-term purpose”.

  1. The plague of the death of the firstborn (vs’s 49 – 51)

 “He unleashed against them his hot anger, his wrath, indignation and hostility – a band of destroying angels. He prepared a path for his anger; he did not spare them from death but gave them over to the plague. He struck down all the firstborn of Egypt, the first fruits of manhood in the tents of Ham”.

 So I have already pointed out that the 9 plagues that fell on Egypt were not only a miraculous demonstration of the power of the God of the bible but as this verse reveals a act of judgment against the Egyptians and their many God’s.

The words ,

 “He prepared a path for his anger”

 Is a vivid poetic description of the hand of God sweeping down on Egypt in judgment. This can be also seen in the expression at the end of verse 49,

“A band of destroying angels”

This sets up Asaph thoughts on the final plague of the death of the first born, God tells Moses of what he will do on that terrible night of the first Passover, Exodus 12: 12.

“On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn – both men and animals – and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord”.

 So Israel is prepared with blood of the sacrificed lamb on their doors, an image that fits the great sacrifice of Christ on the cross for our salvation and,

“He (God) stuck down all the firstborn of Egypt, the first fruits of manhood in the tents of Ham” (Vs. 51)

 Something of the horror of that night and what it did to their Pharaoh and all his people is captured so well in Exodus 12: 29 – 30,

“At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. 30 Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead”.

This story reveals two great things:

  1. The serious price that must be paid for sin
  2. The great act of undeserved love (grace) that saves his people from God’s judgment.
  1. The sin and rebellion of Pharaoh and his people cost the lives of the first- born sons of Egypt. Our sin and rebellion cost the life of God’s only Son on the cross, as Jesus said he came to do in Matthew 20: 28,

“Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to give his life as a ransom for many “

 God saved all the Israelites that night by the sign of the blood of the lamb on the front doors of their dwellings. God through Jesus blood given as a sacrifice for our sins on the cross ransomed us from death and won for us eternal life. As Paul declares in Romans 6: 23.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”.

  1. How God brought them to the promised land (52 – 55)

Asaph completes this second go at rebellion in the wilderness by the wilderness generation with God’s guidance through their desert wanderings right up to the borders of the Promised Land. Then in verse 55 he speaks in one verse of God driving out the Canaanites for the next generation to be able to possess the land God had given them.

Lest look at God’s guidance of the wilderness generation to the borders of the promised land first, verses 52 – 54. Lets look a little closer at each of these verses.

Verse 52,

“But he brought his people our like a flock; he led them like sheep through the desert”.

 The image of God leading his people out of Egypt and through the desert wanderings like a shepherd leading his flock was the last thought in the previous Psalm, Psalm 77,

“You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron”.

 The role of the shepherd in ancient middle- east culture was far more hands on than what we know of modern sheep farming in places like my country, Australia. The ancient middle -eastern shepherd worked with smaller number of sheep and would have known each of them by name. He cared for them, slept near them and guided them day in day out.

King David who we know started out as a shepherd and for the first 16 years or so cared for sheep. He of course wrote many Psalms and referred to the care of sheep being like God’s care for us. Psalm 23: 1 – 4 graphically picks up something of God’s care and guidance for us pictured as a Shepherd caring for and guiding his sheep,

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

So here in Psalm 78 verse 52 this image of how God led his people is that of a shepherd leading his sheep such was the great care and provision God had for his people but yet we learnt in verse 42 says,

“They did not remember”

 Jesus took up this image of the Shepherd looking after his sheep in John 10: 14,

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me”

 Also verses 27 and 28,

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand”.

So we must always remember that Jesus promises to guide us in this life and right into the next like a shepherd leads his sheep throughout their lives.

Verse 53,

“He guided them safely, so they were unafraid; but the sea engulfed their enemies”

This is a direct reference to God’s great miracle of the crossing of the red sea, which Asaph has already described in verse 13,

“He divided the sea and led them through; he made the water stand firm like a wall”.

Not only were they saved from the hands of the Egyptians and able to cross a sea safely but the enemies who pursued them were engulfed or over run by the closing waters of that sea. Exodus 14: 30 tells us this,

“That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore”.

How quickly the wilderness generation forgot the power and wonder of their God because soon after this they are grumbling about no water and food and they end up rebelling against God also by setting up a Golden calf to worship instead of this great and powerful God who had done so much for them.

Verse 54,

“Thus he brought them to the border of his holy land, to the hill country his right hand had taken”.

This is a cross over verse from the grumbling and rebellious wilderness generation to the next generation that entered the Promised Land. All of the wilderness generation we know except Joshua and Caleb perished by the time they reached the borders of the Promised Land and a new generation the next generation entered the Promised Land via the hill country.

So even though the wilderness generation continually failed to serve God properly God in his mercy and love still cared for and guided them but not into the Promised Land for this was denied them because of their grumbling rebellion.

The writer to the Hebrews makes direct reference to this and give us this warning from that in Hebrews 3: 16 – 19,

“Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? 17 And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? 19 So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief”.

Verse 55,

Sets up what Asaph has to say in his final presentation of Israel’s history up to his time that presents the cycle of Rebellion – Judgment and Mercy. It reads,

“He drove out the nations before them and allotted their lands to them as an inheritance; he settled the tribes of Israel in their homes”.

This final verse in this part of the fourth section of the Psalm simply states what God’s miraculous power did for his people. He not only brought the next generation of the wilderness generation up to the borders of the Promised Land but on into the hill country and all the way into the entire land of Canaan, which became the Land of Israel.

God worked for them even here most powerfully and gave his special people victory over their enemies. Some Christians view the story of the wilderness wanderings as analogist of this life and the entering the Promised Land as a picture of going to heaven.

Even worse some use the wilderness wanderings as analogist of the non-victorious Christian life and the entering of the Promised Land as analogist of the victorious Christian life.

I however seek to avoid these kinds of analogies because both in the wilderness and the taking of the Promise Land the Israelites still sinned and failed God, as we will see in the next section of the Psalm.

No what both the wilderness generation and the next generations that followed them teaches us is I think three main things:

  1. We must not grumble and doubt the leading of God but have faith in his love and provisions. As we saw from a verse like Hebrews 11: 6,

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him”.

  1. The Exodus from Egypt and particularly the Passover are analogist of what Christ has done for us on the cross. As John the Baptist proclaimed as he saw Jesus coming in John 1: 29,

“Look the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”.

And as Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 5: 7,

Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb has been sacrificed.

  1. The continual rebellion and failure of Israel in the wilderness and in the Promised Land point to the need for a new and better way for us to come to God. This new and better way must provide forgiveness of our sins and a new heart to be able to serve God more truly.

This is what lie behind the teaching of the entire New Testament and its emphasis on which we call the Gospel message and there is no better example of it than a passage like Hebrews 9: 14 – 15,

“How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

 15 For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant”.

Part 2. (56 – 64) Rebellions judgment in the Promised Land

 In the last verse of the previous first part to this fourth section Asaph spoke of how God miraculously drove the nations out of the land of Canaan so the people of Israel could settle in God’s Promised Land and take up their inheritance that God had given them.

This last part of the history of rebellion takes a look at Israel’s sad cycle of Rebellion and Judgment even as they possessed or failed to fully possess God’s Promised Land. It the final part we will see the cycle of the people’s rebellion and God’s judgment on that but unlike the first cycle of Rebellion and Judgment (32 – 39) this part will not speak of God’s mercy as that will comes up for the people in the Promised Land in the final section of the Psalm.

I have broken this second part of the fourth section of the Psalm into two parts:

  1. Rebellion in the Promised land (56 – 58)
  2. Gods judgment in the Promised Land (59 – 64)
  1. Rebellion in the Promise Land (56 – 58)

So after God on a number of occasions helped give Israel victory over the Canaanites to possess the land this new generation followed the sin and rebellion of God the previous wilderness generation as verse 56 says,

“But they put God to the test and rebelled against the Most High; they did not keep his statutes”.

We read the term

“They put God to the test”

back in verse 41 and in my comments about the term used in that verse I quoted from the internet sight called Got Question?org, who gave us the Hebrew word for that term and its meaning,

“Nacah means “to put to the test, try, or tempt.”

 I read another very informative article on the internet on “Testing God” by Ron Jullan from the Gutenberg College and Ron was commenting on the testing God reference to the people of Israel when they needed water which verse 41 covers and this is how Ron explains the term “Testing God”,

“Notice how Exodus describes it: “…they tested the Lord, saying, ‘is the Lord among us, or not?’” The lack of water caused them to question whether God was really on their side.

 All that He had done in the past didn’t count; all that He had promised to do in the future didn’t count; what counted was the frightening present. God couldn’t really be there, couldn’t really be powerful and trustworthy, if He would bring them to a barren wilderness.

 The question should have been settled already; God is there; He is powerful and loving. Instead, each new difficulty caused Israel to question His power and goodness. They “tested” Him by making Him prove His faithfulness all over again”.

 This final part of the fourth section of this Psalm deals with the taking of the Promise Land covered in the bible by the book of Judges and the early part of 1 Samuel and the story here is the people did not obey God when he told them to completely destroy the Canaanites and not compromise their faith in the God of the bible with the Canaanite religions but over and over again they did not do this and when they got into trouble with Canaanite up risings and attacks they put God to the test by doubting God’s ability to deal with this.

The people of the early taking of the Promised Land generation verse 56 says,

“Rebelled against the Most High; they did not keep his statutes”.

They rebelled because they did not obey what God told them to do. They rebelled because we will see in the next verse they adopted some of the worship practices of the Canaanite religion.

Ron Jullian in his excellent article on “Testing God” quotes Jesus use of the term “do not put God to the Test” in Matthew 4: 5 – 7, which deals with the second temptation of Jesus by the devil, it reads like this,

“Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple.” If you are the Son of God”, he said, throw yourself down, for it is written:

“He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift up their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone”.

Jesus answered him,

It is also written, Do not put the Lord your God to the test”.

Ron Jullian open up what was actually happening and what it teaches us when Satan tempted Jesus to jump off the Temple Wall with these words,

This temptation was potentially very attractive. On the surface, jumping off the temple seems like such a powerful act of faith.

Certainly nobody would jump unless he truly trusted God to catch him. Very few of us would have the faith and courage to do it, but Jesus had such faith and courage. What a powerful demonstration of faith jumping off the temple could have been!

 But Jesus knew that jumping off the temple would not demonstrate faith; instead it would be a gross act of unbelief. God hadn’t asked Him to jump off the temple; to jump would not be obedience, but presumption. Why would He want to? Because it would force God’s hand. Because it would make the Father prove that He indeed was on Jesus’ side.

 Things were looking bleak for Jesus at the moment; how tempting to force the Father to send a legion of angels, to demand that God prove again that Jesus was His beloved Son. Like Israel in the wilderness, Jesus would have been asking the question, “Is God with me or not?”

 Jesus didn’t need the answer to that question; He knew already. Yes, the Father had led him into a barren wilderness and afflicted Him with hunger and lack. But Jesus knew that God was with Him; He didn’t need to prove it to Himself, to Satan, or to anyone else. God had proven Himself in the past; God had made great promises for the future; Jesus could look at His difficult present circumstances and say, “The Father has nothing to prove to me.”

Ron Jullian goes on in his article to apply the concept of us not putting God to the test in our daily lives. It basically boils down to not questioning God in hard times about who he is and how he has let us down or how we would trust him more if he brought us out of these difficult times.

No, we are to have the attitude or faith Paul expressed in Philippians 4: 12 – 13,

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength”.

Verse 57 and 58 spells out clearly what the early taking of Canaan generations sins actually were,

“Like their fathers they were disloyal and faithless, as unreliable as a faulty bow. They angered him with their high places they aroused his jealousy with their idols”.

 This new generation did not learn the lesson of the previous generation; their fathers who suffered the fate of all dying (except Joshua and Caleb) in the desert and never entered the Promise Land. Now this new generation of Israelites were, according to verse 57,

“Disloyal and faithless”

 The sad story of this generation and a number of generations after them is catalogued in the book of Judges and early 1 Samuel and it is a tale of great turning away from God and the following of Canaanite inspired worship and then a big turning back to God when these unconquered Canaanites turned on Israel with war and death.

God hears the cry of the people and answers it with a Judge, a man or women who is faithful to God and who then miraculously leads his or her people to victory over the Canaanite enemies. However after being freed from these periods of great oppression the people turned back to their sinful unfaithful ways of Canaanite inspired worship.

Judges 2: 18 – 19, sets down clearly this cycle of disloyalty and faithfulness and the shallow turning back to God the whole book speaks of,

Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived;

For the Lord relented because of they’re groaning under those who oppressed and afflicted them. 19 But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their ancestors, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.

The expression in verse 57,

“As unreliable as a faulty bow”

 Is well explained by Tremper Longman 111,

“ One whose very construction does not allow it to hit the target”.

 They might have shown much promise as they entered the Promise Land under the leadership of the God centred Joshua but very quickly they disintegrated into a most unreliable disloyal faithless people and as the time of Judges progressed they got even worse.

Then the more specific sin of this time is made clear with the words in verse 58 which says,

“They angered him with their high places they aroused his jealousy with their idols”.

They fell into the same sin the wilderness generation fell to at Mt Sinai, the sin of idolatry. This would have been mainly the Canaanite idol of Baal, Got Question? Org tells us this about Baal,

“The word Baal means, “lord”; the plural is Baalim. In general, Baal was a fertility god who was believed to enable the earth to produce crops and people to produce children. Different regions worshiped Baal in different ways, and Baal proved to be a highly adaptable god”.

 Baal worship set up idols of Baal on high places like hills and often involved prostitution and child sacrifice as part of its worship.

Another common Canaanite idol for another God the Israelites fell to was the female Goddess Asherah and Got Question? org says this about this God and the its worship practices,

“Considered the moon-goddess, Asherah was often presented as a consort of Baal, the sun-god (Judges 3:7, 6:28, 10:6; 1 Samuel 7:4, 12:10). Asherah was also worshiped as the goddess of love and war and was sometimes linked with Anath, another Canaanite goddess.

Worship of Asherah was noted for its sensuality and involved ritual prostitution. The priests and priestesses of Asherah also practiced divination and fortune-telling”.

 The problem Israel had with the temptation of these idol worship religions was no doubt the carnal attractiveness of them. They offered visibility, a idol, sensual pleasure, prostitution and no doubt the idea of simply blending in the local religious ideas and practices to those of the God of the Bible.

The law or as verse 56 of this Psalm calls it, “Statutes” strictly forbids the worship of idols as we see in Exodus 20: 4 – 6,

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments”.

Idol worship is a temptation that has overcome even the Christian church over the ages, like the virtual worship of Christian relicts like bits of the original cross of Christ, the spear that was thrust into Christ side and even ridiculous supposed toe nails and other bodily bits of the early apostles of Christ have been set up in churches as objects of worship.

I have often asked myself why?

I think the answer is many people want tangible objects to worship, a kind of put God in a box mentality and this leads to unscrupulous men setting up supposed relics for worship for their own gain and profit.

Jesus made it clear what he believed acceptable worship really is when he said to the Samaritan women who’s people worshipped on a different high place than the Jews in John 4: 21 – 24,

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

 We must worship God in Spirit and truth and not in any way with idols or so called religious props that pull us away from true faith in the God of the bible.

  1. Gods judgment in the Promised Land (59 – 64)

So verse 58 tells us that the unfaithfulness of the generation of Israel after the wilderness generation angered God. We learnt that their unfaithfulness was expressed in testing God and idol worship as they first probably used Baal type worship to worship the God of the Bible but very quickly turned from the God of the bible to false God’s like Baal and Ashreh.

Asaph in verses 59 – 64 then spells out the terrible judgment of God that falls on this generation and the generations since them up to his time, which is obviously from what we read in the last section of the Psalm, the time of David.

Asaph focuses most of his description of God’s judgment on a incident of God’s judgment that is recorded in 1 Samuel 4: 1 – 11 where the Philistines defeat Israel and remove the ark of the covenant from Israel after the Israelites of that time take the Ark of the covenant from the Northern city of Shiloh to use as a help in their battle with the Philistines of that time.

Lets look at each verse that sets down God’s Judgment on Israel at that time.

Verse 59,

“When God heard them, he was very angry; he rejected Israel completely”

 This is another good summary of the time of the Judges when God punished the people of Israel over a 450 year period. However the phrase,

“He rejected Israel completely”

 Probably refers more to the end of that period when the Northern Kingdom and particularly the tribe of Ephraim is passed over for the choice of Israel’s first king who comes from the southern tribe of Benjamin in the person of Saul. Even after Saul turns out to be a failure as a Godly King God chooses David from the other southern tribe the tribe of Judah and David sets up the central worship of the God of the bible in the southern city of Judah called Jerusalem.

After David’s son Solomon dies the land of Israel splits into two kingdoms with Israel in the north with 10 tribes and Judah in the south with 2 tribes. Eventually Assyria in 722BC overran Israel after Israel turned to Canaanite worship practices over many hundreds of years.

This marks the end of Israel as they are either are all killed by the Assyrians or exiled throughout the Assyrian empire and they never really return to Israel.

Even though Judah nearly 200 years later are overrun by the Babylonians and mainly exiled into Babylon they did return to the Promised Land and continue a more truer worship of the God in the bible from that time on.

So the concept of God rejecting Israel in the north completely took a long time to fully eventuate but it came to pass in God’s good timing of history.

Verses 60 – 61,

“He abandoned the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent he had set up among men”.

 Verse 60 commences the story of the start of the northern kingdom of Israel being rejected by God completely because 1 Samuel 4: 1 – 11 tells us the story of the defeat of Israel by the Philistines who capture the ark of the covenant which had been up to that time in the sanctuary of the Northern city of Shiloh. This is the reference to the abandoning of the Tabernacle (The tent of meeting) in verse 60.

Israel at that time was under the leadership of the two corrupted sons of the Priest / Judge Eli and their names were Hophni and Phinehas who are both killed in the battle with the Philistines. Israel has done badly in the initial battle with the Philistines so someone gets the seeming bright idea of getting the Ark of the Covenant from Shiloh and take it into battle with the Philistines to help guarantee victory over the Philistines.

Even though the Philistines seem afraid of this significant religious object they continue to fight and probably to their surprise win a decisive victory over the army of Israel and capture the Ark of the Covenant and take it back to a city in Philistine territory.

So this explains what Asaph is saying in verse 61,

“He sent, the ark of his might into captivity, his splendor into the hands of the enemy”

Verse 62,

“He gave his people over to the sword; he was very angry with his inheritance”.

 The battle the day the Ark of the Covenant was taken by the Philistines was a devastating defeat for the people of Israel. 1 Samuel 4: 10 – 11 describes it this way,

“So the Philistines fought, and the Israelites were defeated and every man fled to his tent. The slaughter was very great; Israel lost thirty thousand foot soldiers. 11 The ark of God was captured, and Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, died”.

So God in an act of Judgment on the peoples many sins gave them over to the swords of their enemy The Philistines. The description of Israel as God’s inheritance comes fro Deuteronomy 9: 29,

“But they are your people, your inheritance that you brought out by your great power and your outstretched arm”.

Israel, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were God’s special chosen people but their sin and rebellion by the time of Eli and his sons was so great God almost destroyed them in his anger or wrath.

I have spoken already in this long Psalm about the wrath of God, which many modern people find very difficult to both understand and therefore accept. I have found a very good biblical explanation of the wrath of God on the Internet by a man named Joseph Scheumann on a sight called dersireGod. Org and he calls his article “Five truths about the wrath of God.

I would like to summarize this excellent article with the five headings or truths and one New Testament verse to support the truth and one quote from each point from Scheumann’s article,

  1. God’s Wrath is Just,

Romans 2: 5,

“But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed”.

J.I Packer: “God’s wrath in the Bible is never the capricious, self- in dulgent, irritable, morally ignoble thing that human anger so often is. It is a right and necessary reaction to objective moral evil”.

  1. God’s wrath is to be feared

Matthew 25: 46,

“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life”.

 “God’s wrath is to be feared because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3: 23).

  1. God’s wrath is consistent in the Old and New Testament

Romans 1: 18,

“ The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness”.

“It is common to think of the Old Testament God as mean, harsh, and wrath-filled, and the God of the New Testament as kind, patient, and loving. Neither of these portraits are representative of Scripture’s teaching on the wrath of God”.

  1. God’s wrath is love in action against sin

Romans 5: 8,

 “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.

“God’s love for his glory motivates his wrath against sin”.

  1. God’s wrath is satisfied in Christ

1 Timothy 1: 15,

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst”.

“Here we have the ultimate good news: “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners (1Timothy 1: 15). Because of Christ, God can rightly call sinners justified (Romans 3: 26). God has done what we could not do, and he has done what we didn’t deserve”.

Verses 63 – 64,

“Fire consumed their young men, and their young women had no wedding songs;
64 their priests were put to the sword, and their widows could not weep”.

We have already seen that the defeat of Israel by the Philistines in 1 Samuel 4 was a terrible blow to Israel at that time. It is only one of many defeats people like the Philistines dished out to Israel in the time of the judges. 1 Samuel 4: 10 says,

“So the Philistines fought, and the Israelites were defeated and every man fled to his tent. The slaughter was very great; Israel lost thirty thousand foot soldiers”.

Asaph describes the effect of this devastating defeat poetically with the words in verse 63 that says

“Fire consumed their young men, and their young women had no wedding songs;

With the great loss of life of Israel’s soldiers many young women would not have a man to marry now and so we have the mention of the cessation of wedding songs as their would be no more weddings for at least a while.

Verse 64 picks up the fact that the two corrupted priests, Hophni and Phinehas died in this battle and even Eli, their father dropped dead when he heard the news of the death of his sons and the loss of the ark of the covenant to the Philistines (1 Samuel 4: 14 – 18).

The next four verses pick up the story of the death of one of Eli’s son Phinehas wife who is expecting his child and who on the news of her husbands death goes into labor to give birth to a son but she dies in child birth and therefore gets a mention in Asaph poetic description of this terrible day of God’s judgment in Israel so Asaph says in verse 64,

64 their priests were put to the sword, and their widows could not weep”.

This then is the end of Asaph account of God’s judgment on Israel, which came about because they had sinned against the Lord. Interestingly I read a little further than chapter 4 of 1 Samuel and came upon this interesting after mouth of this story of judgment on Israel. It is what we read in 1 Samuel 7: 2 – 4,

“Then all the people of Israel turned back to the Lord. So Samuel said to all the Israelites, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” So the Israelites put away their Baals and Ashtoreths, and served the Lord only”.

It appears that under the corrupted leadership of Eli and his son’s wholesale Canaanite worship had gone on for some time in Shiloh also using both the Tabernacle and Sanctuary and The ark of the covenant mixed with Canaanite idols of Baal and Ashtorths or , Asherahs so God had to stop this mixed up rebellious worship of his people and he did this through the Philistines.

Now we will move to the final section of the Psalm that reveals both God’s answer to the problems of Israel’s many sins and how his mercy will be shown as well.

  1. (65 – 72) THE HOPE OF THE GOD APPOINTED SHEPHERD / KING

 As I said at the end of the last section of this Psalm God had an answer to Israel’s continual sin of turning to the God’s of the Canaanites and not obeying his laws or statutes. The answer is simple but it acts as a turning point in the story of the bible.

It is a turning point because from the time of David on the main focus of the bible’s story will be the smaller southern kingdom of Israel known as Judah and the great hope for God’s people and indeed the whole world that will come out of the Kingdom.

I have broken this final section into two parts:

Part 1. (65 – 68) The rejection of Ephraim (the northern tribes)

Part 2. (69 – 72) God’s choice of David – the shepherd king

Part 1. (65 – 68) The rejection of Ephraim (the northern tribes)

I see two aspects of this first part of the final section of this Psalm:

  1. God’s Judgment on his enemies (65 – 66)
  2. The rejection of Ephraim (67 – 68)
  1. God’s Judgment on his enemies (65 – 66)

This first aspect of this first part speaks of how God stopped the victories of Israel’s main enemies at that time particularly of course The Philistines.

The section starts with a strangely worded verse, verse 65,

“Then the Lord awoke as from sleep, as a man wakes from the stupor of wine”,

I don’t think this verse is saying that when he is judging God’s people through their enemies he is asleep like a man who had too much wine to drink the night before. No, this is yet another poetic description by Asaph to describe how God suddenly dealt with Israel’s enemies who he had used to judge them of their many sins.

The Philistines seemed to have really beaten the Israelites and now had their precious ark but the chapters that follow 1 Samuel 4 present a picture of at first the gradual defeat of the Philistines under Samuel, Saul the first king of Israel and finally totally under the leadership of King David in the early part of his reign.

God awoke or changed direction as he moved to install a king who would lead ultimately to his final great solution for the sins of mankind in the form of the coming of his only son Jesus Christ the great suffering king who would give his life on the cross to save people from their sins and give them a new heart to serve God through the coming of the Holy Spirit to all true believers.

As its says in Revelation 17: 14,

“They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.”

  1. The rejection of Ephraim (67 – 68)

 God’s plan of salvation for his people sadly will not come through the northern Kingdom that became known as Israel, which featured the strong and numerous tribe of Ephraim who descended from the great Joseph. Verse 67 simply says,

“Then he rejected the tents of Joseph, he did not choose the tribe of Ephraim”.

All through this Psalm Asaph has been picking out the sins of God’s people and right back at the start he mentioned this large and powerful tribe of Ephraim, verse 9 – 10,

“The men of Ephraim, though armed with bows, turned back on the day of battle;
10 they did not keep God’s covenant and refused to live by his law”.

In the final part of the previous section we learnt how this northern tribe, which had Shiloh in their tribal area, had lost the Ark of the Covenant in battle with the Philistines as they suffered a crushing defeat by them.

We also saw in 1 Samuel 7: 2 – 7 that the worship of the Lord at Shiloh had included Baal and Asherah worship which featured idols, worship prostitution and sometimes child sacrifice. God had to do something.

So how did God deal with Ephraim’s continual sin?

First he took the Ark of the Covenant away from being at Shiloh in the north and we will learn that it will be placed in Jerusalem in the south of Israel by King David.

Then as this verse reads God rejected Ephraim as the chosen tribe and gave it to Judah in the south through the royal line of King David.

So we then read in verse 68,

“But he chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion which he loves”.

It seems that Judah in the south of Israel had people who truly worshipped God as he should and we see that it is eventually David a lowly shepherd boy who God describes in 1 Samuel 13: 14 and Acts 13: 22 as a man after God’s own heart.

David early in his reign conquers Jerusalem and then sets up the true and pure worship of the God of the Bible on Mount Zion where he builds the Tabernacle in which he places the reclaimed Ark of the Covenant.

Then in the reign of Solomon David’s son builds a Temple in Jerusalem as a more permanent house for the Ark of the Covenant and the God ordained worship practices he laid down in his word.

All this teaches us so many things and I would like to pick out just two application points:

  1. Watering down or drifting away from God’s word and what it has to say to us has very dangerous and has serious consequences.

The writer to the Hebrews speaks about the dangers of drifting away from the word of God and says this in Hebrews 2: 1 – 4,

“We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?

This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will”.

Note how even in the first centaury the actual writers of the New Testament knew what they were writing a message of salvation announced by the Lord Jesus Christ and confirmed by the signs and wonders God did by those who heard it, namely the actual first followers of Jesus who are of course the men God chose to record this message which is the word of God.

Many years ago I lived around the corner from a Mormon worship centre and I had many Mormon missionaries knocking on my door trying to convert me to the Mormon religion. One day one of them tried to give me a copy of the book of Mormons and I took it looked at it in my hands and asked,

When was this first written down?

I knew the answer, which my Mormon missionaries did not seem to know or were not prepared to say. I said, “It was written down by a man named Joseph Smith in 1830 and that is 18 hundred years after the death of Christ so it is not the word of God”, I then threw the book out the door and told them to leave my house,

This might have seemed a very harsh way of treating these two young men from America but the point is it is a very dangerous and serious thing to add to, subtract from or drift away from the word of God and my actions made that very clear to those two young men that day.

Even the mainline churches today are in great danger of drifting away or sadly, as some have done, given up on the word of God and they like the tribe of Ephraim might be facing the rejection of the blessings of God.

  1. Mixing our faith and worship with non-biblical ides and practices has very dangerous and serious consequences.

The Northern tribes of Israel, centered in the tribe of Ephraim mixed up their worship of the God of the bible with pagan religious and worship practices and the result was the judgment of God upon them and the removal of God’s blessing and special calling for them as God’s special people.

Paul speaks to the church in Corinth about the dangers of pagan worship practices creeping into Christian worship in his day in 1 Corinthians 10: 14 – 22,

“Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.

 18 Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? 19 Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. 22 Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he?”

Note how Paul calls this church to flee from idolatry and focus on Christ and his instituted worship practice of remembering his giving of his body as a sacrifice, which was on the cross of course.

We face different temptations in idolatry and pagan practices entering our worship today. My wife and I attended a church service in a large city of Canada a few years ago that was billed as a Jazz church worship service. I have no problems with Jazz but the music played that day had no Christian worship value and the sermon given had no real bible basis and it was said, proudly that the musicians were not even Christians.

If the church said they were hosting a Jazz concert I would not be critical but to just play Jazz music without any Christian content, by non Christian musicians and then have no real bible based message and call it Christian worship is in my mind giving into pagan worship practices.

I’m sure many of the worshippers in Shiloh in Ephraim back long ago asked,

What’s wrong with the local pagans erecting a couple of idols in our sanctuary we know who we are worshipping and look how we are now reaching lots of local Canaanites.

The danger of course is what happened in Ephraim once biblical worship practices entered the sanctuary in Shiloh it was a very quick slippery slope into full on non God of the bible worship and following and that led to God’s terrible judgment.

Part 2. (69 – 72) God’s choice of David – the shepherd king

So Asaph has told us that the Northern tribes of Israel represented by the biggest tribe their Ephraim was rejected by God particularly because of their many sins in turning away from God and practicing pagan Canaanite worship along side worship practices of the God of the bible,

Now in the final part of this final section Asaph tells us who and what he replaced the Northern tribes with. There are two aspects to God’s replacement of the Northern tribes leading of the Promised Land and they are:

  1. God’s sanctuary in Jerusalem in the tribe of Judah’s area (vs. 69)
  2. The choice David the shepherd king (70 – 72)
  1. God’s sanctuary in Jerusalem in the tribe of Judah’s area (vs. 69)

Asaph has already said in verse 68,

“But he chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion, which he loved”.

 So it is not a surprise when he goes on to say in verse 69,

“He built his sanctuary like the heights, like the earth that he established forever”.

 The significance of the sanctuary and later the Temple is it is through these physical reminders of his covenant embodied in what they housed, The Ark of the Covenant represent God making his presence known to mankind.

Isaiah 2: 1 -4 is just one example of how The Old Testament presents Zion and the Temple as the place from which God makes himself known to the world, it says,

This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:

In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say,

 “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore”.

Note how Isaiah sees how from the Temple in Jerusalem God will teach his ways and from there the law of God will go out to all the nations of the earth.

We know that Jesus himself predicted the destruction of the Temple in Mark 13:1 -2 and the Romans destroyed the Temple in AD 70.

So how can Asaph say this Sanctuary / Temple will be established forever?

The answer is one great name The Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus spoke a number of times about the destruction of the temple, like the reference I gave earlier, Mark 13: 1 – 2,

“As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”

 “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

Then on another occasion John records words Jesus said that will answer the question of how can Asaph say the sanctuary / Temple will last forever when it was totally destroyed in AD70?

The reference in Johns Gospel that gives us the answer to this is John 2: 18 – 22,

“The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken”.

Jesus was in the Temple area when he spoke these words so he believed he was God’s new Temple or he was the embodiment of God making his presence known to mankind.

John had just declared in John 1: 14 that Jesus was,

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth”.

So once Jesus died on the cross and through that made a way back to God there was no need for the physical temple as through Jesus we now have direct access to God.

Mathew 27: 50 – 51 makes this clear by the reference to the curtain in the Temple being torn in two that once symbolically blocked access to God.

“And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split”.

Paul tells Timothy in 1 Timothy 2: 5,

“For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus”.

As I said before the Temple was destroyed in AD 70 and has never been rebuilt and I believe it will never be rebuilt because God has a new more dynamic Temple and what that is will shock you.

Paul again tells us what is God’s new Temple or place where he makes his presence known and he makes this clear in 1 Corinthians 6: 19,

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?”

God now has millions of walking Temples all around the world making his presence known as they take Jesus to the world.

  1. The choice David the shepherd king (70 – 72)

Finally the Psalm ends with the great hope for his people bound up in a great king, David. The last three verses of this long but fascinating Psalm speak of this great hope,

“He chose David his servant and took him from the sheep pens; 71 from tending the sheep he brought him to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel his inheritance. 72 And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skilful hands he led them”.

 I want to speak about three great things from these verses:

  1. God’s choice is not mans choice (vs. 70)
  2. God’s king is a shepherd and a servant king (vs. 71)
  3. God’s shepherd leads us in truth and care (vs. 72)

For each of these I will be not only speaking about David and his rule in ancient Israel but I will be also speaking about the greater David and the greater King Jesus Christ who is the king of everything as Hebrews 1: 1 – 3 declares,

“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven”.

  1. God’s choice is not mans choice (vs. 70)

Asaph declared in verse 70,

“He chose David his servant and took him from the sheep pens”.

 The story of the choice of David has always fascinated me and personally I have taken great encouragement from this amazing story. We read of God’s choosing of David in 1 Samuel 16: 1 – 13.

The story goes that God has just made it clear to the prophet Samuel and King Saul that he has rejected Saul as king. So then God tells Samuel to go to what would have been a backwater area of Israel to a lesser- known and socially accepted family of Jesse in Bethlehem. Here he will choose from Jesse’s sons a new king for Israel.

Then one by one Samuel looks at each of Jesse sons but the Lord keeps saying I have not chosen any of them. Samuel notes that outwardly some of these boys look like good candidates for the role of king but God says to Samuel in 1 Samuel 16: 7,

“But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

 Once Samuel had checked over seven of Jesse’s sons Samuel told him, 1 Samuel 16: 10b,

“The Lord has not chosen these.”

 Then Samuel asks Jesse is this all of your sons and Jesse answers this way in 1 Samuel 16: 11,

“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.” Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”

 I will let the rest of this passage tell the final part of this story, 1 Samuel 16: 12 – 13,

“So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features.

 Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”

 13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.”.

David was so young so humanly speaking unworthy as he was both a brash faced kid who only kept the sheep for the family but God looked past the outward appearance and saw the heart of David that was truly devoted to him.

Why do I find this simple story so fascinating and encouraging?

The reason is that it tells us so much about how God calls people and even looks at them.

Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1: 26 – 30,

“Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.

27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.”.

 Both this story and Psalm 78: 70 speak of David as a keeper of sheep,

“And took him from the sheep pens”.

 Who would have guessed that looking after sheep was the perfect preparation for a king but David was no ordinary King as we will see in the next verse and besides his life experience was he had to trust God to look after those sheep. Listen to what David soon would say as he was about to face the giant Philistine soldier Goliath in 1 Samuel 17: 34 – 37,

 “But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. 36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”

  1. God’s king is a shepherd and a servant king (vs. 71)

Asaph takes the last concept of verse 70, the fact that before David was chosen as the new king of Israel he was a shepherd of sheep and makes his own application of that with these words in verse 71,

“From tending the sheep he brought him to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel his inheritance”.

 David was unlike all kings of his time and times to come unto his greater descendant would come who is of course The Jesus Christ.

Kings usually rule with power and might they are usually more dictators than servants yet because David learnt how to lead and control people from keeping sheep he actually cared for his people and put as much love and understanding into his kingship as he did into his flock of sheep he kept as a young man.

Listen to David speaking about his care for his people in two verses of Psalms he wrote. First of all Psalm 25: 22,

“Redeem Israel, O God from all their troubles!”

 Then Psalm 28: 9,

“Save your people and bless your inheritance; be their shepherd and carry them forever”.

 In David’s time as a shepherd or keeper of sheep sometimes he would have to literally carry a wounded sheep to safety and even care for that injured sheep to recovery or death.

This then is the unique nature of David as the King Of Israel as he had both a heart for God and a heart for his people and instead of being the kind of leader who Lorded his will over his people he was their servant.

This is the kind of king Jesus is and the writer to the Hebrews calls him in 13: 20b,

“The great Shepherd of the sheep”.

 He is the one who is said to be in Matthew 20: 28, the one who came not to,

“Be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”.

I still get a tingle down my spine when I sing the great modern hymn by Graham Kendrick, “The Servant King” that presents the bibles overall message of the Servant nature of Jesus Christ and so I will let it tell you why Jesus is the servant King.

From heaven you came helpless babe
Entered our world, your glory veiled
Not to be served but to serve
And give Your life that we might live.

 Chorus:

 This is our God, The Servant King
He calls us now to follow Him
To bring our lives as a daily offering
Of worship to The Servant King.

 There in the garden of tears
My heavy load he chose to bear
His heart with sorrow was torn
‘Yet not My will but Yours,’ He said

 Come see His hands and His feet
The scars that speak of sacrifice
Hands that flung stars into space
To cruel nails surrendered.

 So let us learn how to serve
And in our lives enthrone Him
Each other’s needs to prefer
For it is Christ we’re serving.

 Chorus:

 This is our God, The Servant King
He calls us now to follow Him
To bring our lives as a daily offering
Of worship to The Servant King.

David’s kingship offered the hope of the great shepherd / servant king and Jesus full filled that hope for all of us who will but choose to follow him.

  1. God’s shepherd leads us in truth and loving care (vs. 72)

Asaph ends his Psalm with a further description of the kingship of David and he writes,

“And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them”.

 This verse is written in the past tense as though Asaph is here reflecting of the former reign of David. We know that Asaph name appears in the time of Solomon in 2 Chronicles 5: 12 so maybe he has just seen the end of Solomon’s reign and as a very old man witnessed the division of the Kingdom into two Kingdoms that happened soon after Solomon’s son Rehoboam came to the throne.

However Asaph says that David’s reign featured two wonderful attributes and these attributes were in the context of being shepherded which we have just seen is a leadership that is characterized by serving rather than being served and is the opposite of dictatorship that most of the kings in history have been characterized by.

I remember the first time I experienced this kind a leadership when I was around 14 years old when one of the two ministers of my church of that time saw the need for the church hall to be swept. Instead of saying to me pick up that broom and sweep that floor he instead grabbed two brooms and gave me one and said come and sweep the hall with me.

This is how the Lord Jesus leads us he comes with us to help us serve him as he declares in Matthew 11: 28 – 30,

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Lets then look at to attributes of David / Jesus servant leadership has in it.

  1. Integrity – Truth
  2. Skilful loving care
  1. Integrity – Truth

David was not a perfect person or king he made some major blunders during his life, which included adultery and murder and where he tried to hide the truth of those sins from God. But David, once God exposed his sins to him through the prophet Nathan opened up to God in true repentance and faith.

However generally David led his people with integrity of heart, he loved them and most of all he loved God.

In Psalm 26 David declares his integrity of heart and love of God when it seems his enemies sought to challenge his integrity and discredit his role as king. David says this about himself in Psalm 26: 1 – 3,

Vindicate me, Lord, for I have led a blameless life; I have trusted in the Lord
and have not faltered. Test me, Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind;
for I have always been mindful of your unfailing love and have lived in reliance on your faithfulness”.

David gives us a glimpse of a Kingship that featured integrity or truthfulness so maybe Asaph wants his generation to teach the next generation to look forward to another king like David and even become imitators of their former great king in their daily lives.

The hope that I think lies behind this description of David was only full filled in the Lord Jesus Christ who describes his kingship to Pilot this way in John 18: 37,

“You are right in saying I am king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me”.

Jesus also said in Johns Gospel, John 8: 31 – 32,

“If you hold to my teaching and are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free”.

And Jesus makes this great claim in John 14: 6,

“I am the way and the truth and the life”.

C.H Spurgeon says this in a sermon on the John 18 passage, a sermon he called, “Jesus The king of truth”

Are you willing to walk with the Truth through the mire, and through the slough? Have

You the courage to profess unfashionable Truth? Are you willing to believe the Truth against which science, falsely so-called, has vented her spleen? Are you willing to accept the Truth, although it is said that only the poor and uneducated receives it? Are you willing to be the disciple of the Galilean who’s Apostles was a fisherman?

 Verily, verily, I say unto you, in that day in which the Truth in the Person of Christ shall come forth in all its Glory, it shall go ill with those who were ashamed to acknowledge it and its Master! In the next place, if we have heard Christ’s Voice, do we recognize our life’s Objective? Do we feel, “For this end were we born, and for this cause we came into the world, that we might bear witness to the Truth of God?”

So Jesus leads by the truth, leads us into all truth and wants us to follow him the way, the truth and the life.

  1. Skilful loving care

Finally Asaph closes his long but fascinating Psalm with the words,

“With skillful hands he led them”.

 Remember these skillful hands that led them were the hands of a Shepherd who loved and cared for his people like sheep. So David loved and cared for his people like a shepherd who would fight to protect his sheep, carry them to safety when injured and above all guide them to green pasture as David speaks of in Psalm 23: 2.

Even in the Psalms of David, which are often his prayers, we see him caring for his people like a shepherd cares for his sheep.

I have now studied 78 Psalms intensely and in the many Psalms of David I have learnt he loved and cared for his people. He often closes his Psalms with a prayer or a thought for his people. I have checked and found that 7 times David closed one of his Psalms with a prayer for his people and the one I think is the most relevant here is the last verse in Psalm 28, verse 9 which I have already quoted,

“Save your people and bless your inheritance; be their shepherd and carry them forever”.

 Notice how he asks God to carry them which is the vivid image of the shepherd putting the injured sheep over his shoulders to carry it to safety.

As I quoted before in Matthew 11: 28 – 30, Jesus says he wants to do the same thing for us,

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

David indeed led his people with skillful and may I add caring hands and Jesus wants to lead us even more skillfully and caringly.

I finish this wonderful concept of how Jesus leads us with the writer to the Hebrews wonderful benediction that picks up the this shepherd concept in Hebrews 13: 20 -21,

“Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, 21 equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen”.

CONCLUSION

As we come to the end of this long but very helpful Psalm let us take stock of the main things it has taught us and I think I can point to four things:

  1. The need to teach our children well and that means teaching them word of God and its story of redemptive history
  2. The puzzle, mystery or riddle of why Israel turned away from God after God had done so much for them. The answer to that we learnt is the awful sinful / rebellious nature of all mankind that sometimes even defies logic.
  1. The just but horrific nature of the judgment of God on sin and rebellion only tempered by his love.
  1. Finally the hope of Salvation and restoration in God’s shepherd king who is Jesus Christ our Lord who died for our sins on the cross to make a way back to God and now promises to guide and care for us like a shepherd cares for his sheep.

I close as usual with a poem and a prayer:

 

COME TO THE SHEPHERD KING

(Based on Psalm 78)

 

Chorus:

 

Come to the Shepherd king

The King of everything

He wants to carry us now

By his awesome power.

 

Oh people listen now

Of hidden things to know.

Tell all your family

Of Israel’s history.

 

Chorus:

 

Pass on the message now

Of God’s great mighty power.

He saved the Israelites

But they took God from their sights.

 

Chorus:

 

God opened up the sea

The Egyptians did not go free.

God led them through desert lands

But they questioned God’s great plans.

 

Chorus:

 

Gave water from a rock

But their faith in God had stopped.

They asked for food but didn’t trust

God’s power to help the lost.

 

Chorus:

 

God did so much for them

But they failed to trust in him.

So turn now from your sin

And learn to trust in him.

 

Chorus:

 

Come to the Shepherd king

The King of everything

He wants to carry us now

By his awesome power.

 

By: Jim Wenman

 

PRAYER:

 Father in heaven please help me to pass on the message of your word to the next generation. The message of your people’s constant turning from you even after you did so much for them. Help me not to be like them but rather inspired by your love for me in Christ Jesus help me to always trust in you. Thank you Jesus that you are my shepherd King who gave your life for me on the cross and rose to make a way for me back to heaven. Help me to tell others about your great love. In Jesus Name I pray Amen.

 

 

 

 

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