78:0We do not know who wrote the psalm. Maybe it was Isaiah after the fall of Ephraim, 720 years before Jesus was born. Ephraim was the name of the largest group of families in Israel.
The whole psalm is a story, the story (history) of God's people until the time of King David. It tells us that God was good to his people, but they were not good to him. They did not obey him. That is the problem in verse 2. We could translate it as ‘question’ or ‘secret’ or ‘puzzle.’ It is something that we want an answer to. It is still true today. We still ask, ‘Why do people not obey God, when he is so good to them?’ Read the psalm and find the answer!
After the first 8 verses, above, verses 9-72 are in 6 parts. Each part tells a bit of the story.
Tell Your Children
This is one of Asaph's Psalms that teach us about God.
1 My people, hear what I am teaching you.
Listen to the words that I am saying to you.
2 I will tell you a story.
I will talk about things hard to understand from past times.
3 We have heard them and know them
because our fathers told them to us.
4 We will not hide them from their children.
We will tell future children that they should praise the Lord.
He is very strong and he has done great things.
5 He decided what things Jacob must do and made the laws in Israel.
He told our grandfathers that they must teach them to their children.
6 Then those children would know them, even the children still to be born.
When the time came, they too would tell their children.
7 Then they the children would:
· believe that God would give them help
· not forget what God had done
· obey his laws
8 So they would not be like their grandfathers who:
· would not listen to God
· would not obey him
· did not make God their leader
· did not continue to follow him
God Saved Israel from Egypt and Gave them Water in the Desert
9 The people of Ephraim had bows and arrows for war.
But they ran away when the war started!
78:9In verse 9, we have a picture of this. Ephraim (a big group of people in Israel) had everything they needed to fight a war – but they ran away! God gave his people everything that they needed – but they did not obey his laws. In this part of the psalm we read about three miracles that God did for his people:
10 They did not keep the covenant of God.
They refused to obey his laws.
11 And they forgot what he had done
and the wonderful things that he had shown them.
12 He did miracles in front of their fathers.
He did them in the country of Egypt, in the part they called Zoan.
13 He made a road in the sea and led them through it.
He built the waters into a wall on both sides.
78:13Verses 12-13: He led them from Egypt to a country that would be theirs. To do this he made a road through the sea. The water was like a wall on both sides of them. This was a miracle because only God can make a road through a sea. God did this, but his people still did not obey his laws or keep the covenant.
14 He showed them the way with a cloud in the day
and with light from a fire all night.
78:14Verse 14: He showed them the way through the desert. He did this with a special cloud in the day and the light of a fire in the sky at night. Again, they did not keep the covenant!
15 He broke rocks in the desert
and gave his people water from deep in the earth.
16 He made streams to come from the rocks
so that the waters ran like rivers.
78:16Verses 15-16: It was dry in the desert, and they had nothing to drink. They thought that they would die, but God gave them water. But even then they continued to sin against him, verse 17. We ‘sin’ when we do not obey God.
So there are examples of the problem from history. It is a problem that we still have.
17 But they continued to sin against him.
They fought against the Most High God in the desert.
God Gave His People food in the Desert but they still did not obey Him
18 They made a plan to test God.
They demanded the food that they liked best!
19 And they spoke against God.
They said, ‘Can God do it?
Can he prepare a table in the desert?’
78:19The people saw that God gave them water in the desert. But they needed food as well. They decided to give God a test, or an exam. ‘Can he prepare a table?’, verse 19, means ‘can he put food on our table?.’ They did not think that he could! It does not mean that they did not believe that there was a God. They did not believe that he would give them help. In other words, they did not trust him.
20 It is true that when he hit a rock, water came out,
streams of water were everywhere.
But can he also give bread?
Can he supply meat for his people?
21 When the Lord heard this, he was very angry.
So he sent fire against Jacob
and also his fury against Israel.
22 He did this because they did not believe that God could do it,
or that he had the power to save them.
78:22This made God very angry, verse 22. He was so angry (or furious) that he was like a fire! Before he killed many of their best men, verse 31, he showed them what he could do. He sent manna, verse 24, and meat, verse 27.
23 So he gave an order to the clouds over them
and opened the doors in the skies.
24 He rained manna down on them, for them to eat.
He gave them bread from heaven.
78:24We think that manna was like bread. The word ‘manna’ really means ‘What is this?’ Another word for it in verse 25 is ‘bread.’ That is why we think that manna was like bread. The psalm gives us a picture. Manna was what the angels ate. Angels live with God in heaven. So the psalm shows us God opening a door in heaven (the sky) and raining manna down on the Israelites! It is only a picture. We do not know how God really did this miracle.
25 People ate the same bread that angels ate.
God sent them plenty of food.
26 Then God sent an east wind blowing through the skies.
And he was so strong that he also sent a south wind.
27 He caused meat to fall down on them like rain from the sky.
The birds covered all the ground like dust.
They were as many as the grains of sand beside the sea.
78:27And he sent them meat. He made a strong wind that blew birds to them, verse 27. There were so many birds that they were like bits of sand by the sea! They could eat these birds. We think that they were birds that we call ‘quails.’ But while they ate the manna and quails, God killed many of them. We do not know how.
28 He made them fall where his people were living,
all round their tents.
29 And they ate as much as they needed.
God gave them what they wanted.
30 But before they ate all that they wanted
while the food was still in their mouths,
31 God became very angry with them.
He killed the strongest of them
and sent the young men of Israel to their deaths.
The People Are Not Really Sorry
32 Even when this happened, they still sinned.
They did not believe that God had done these miracles.
78:32In verses 22 and 32 we read that they did not ‘believe that God could do’ or that God ‘had done’ these miracles. They did not think that their God was powerful enough! Some Bible students think that these verses mean that they did not believe that there was a God! They certainly did not obey him, or keep his covenant.
33 So he made their days seem to blow away like the wind.
He made their years go away fast so that they were afraid!
34 When he killed some of them, the other people looked to God.
They were sorry and really prayed to him.
78:34Verse 33 is a nice way of saying what verse 34 says in a clear way. ‘Days – to blow away like the wind’ and ‘years to go fast’ both mean that life is short. Because God killed them (we do not know how), their lives were shorter than they thought that they would be! This made the people that God did not kill say that they were sorry. They remembered that God was their Rock and their Redeemer (verse 35).
– Rock was a name for God. It meant that they could build their lives on him (or, maybe, that he is like the Rock that gave them water in the desert).
– Redeemer was another name for God. It meant that he gave them help and saved them from their enemies.
35 And they remembered that God was their Rock.
Also, they remembered that the Most High God was their Redeemer.
36 But what they said was not true
and they did not mean what they said with their mouths to praise him.
37 They were not honest with him.
They did not obey his covenant in their heart.
78:37Verses 36-37: These verses tell us about the people. They did not mean what they said and they did not keep the covenant. But God was kind (merciful) to them, verses 38 and 39. Because they were human, he did not destroy them. Instead, he forgave them. What does the word ‘forgive’ really mean?
Some people think that ‘forgive’ means ‘excuse and forget.’ But here it means more than this. We can only really understand it after Jesus came to the earth. Jesus died to ‘forgive’ sin. This means that God ‘gave’ our sin to Jesus, and Jesus took it away. God ‘gave’ it ‘for’ us – so we say that God ‘forgave’ us! Paul tells us in Romans 3:25 that the death of Jesus gave ‘forgiveness for sins that are past.’ This means that God forgave all the sins of people in the Old Testament because Jesus died. This includes the people in Psalm 78:38-39. But they – like us – had to thank God for it!
38 But he was merciful to them.
He forgave their sin and did not destroy them.
Many times he was not angry with them
and did not become furious with them.
39 But he remembered that they were only human,
like a wind that blows away and does not return.
The People do not Remember what God Did in Egypt
78:40These verses look back to when Israel was in Egypt. God did two things there:
– He sent 10 plagues to make the King of Egypt (Pharaoh) let God's people go free
– He led his people through the Red Sea and the desert to the land he had promised them
40 The people of Israel often fought against God in the desert.
They made him very sad in the wilderness.
41 Many times they tested God
and this made the Holy One of Israel very unhappy.
42-43 They chose not to remember what he did when:
· he saved them from the enemy
· he showed his miracles in Egypt
· he did powerful things in the region called Zoan
44 Here are some things that God did to the Egyptians:
He turned their rivers into blood,
so they could not drink from their streams.
45 He sent very large numbers of flies that made a lot of trouble for them.
And he sent frogs that made even more trouble!
46 He gave the plants that they grew to grasshoppers
and their food to locusts.
47 He killed their vines with hail
and their fig-trees with frost.
48 He killed their cows with hail
and their sheep with fire from the sky.
49 He was so angry that he burned like a fire against them.
He sent a group of angels to destroy them
called anger, fury and distress.
50 He made a path for his anger.
He did not save them from death.
He gave their lives to the plague.
51 He killed all the first born sons in Egypt,
the oldest boys of the men of Ham.
78:51In verses 44-51 are 6 of the 10 plagues. A plague is when something bad happens to a group of people. Here is where you can find them in the Bible. The other 4 are also in the list.
Plague 1 (verse 44) – water to blood – see Exodus 7:17-21 and Psalm 105:29
Plague 2 (verse 45) – frogs – see Exodus 8:1-7 and Psalm 105:30
Plague 3 – lice (insects) – see Exodus 8:16-19 and Psalm 105:31
Plague 4 (verse 45) – flies – see Exodus 8:20-24 and Psalm 105:31
Plague 5 – cows died – see Exodus 9:1-7 and Psalm 78:48
Plague 6 – boils – see Exodus 9:8-12
Plague 7 (verse 47) – hail and storm – see Exodus 9:18-26 and Psalm 105:32
Plague 8 (verse 46) – locusts – see Exodus 10:1-20 and Psalm 105:34
Plague 9 – darkness – see Exodus 10:21-29 and Psalm 105:28
Plague 10 (verse 51) – death of first sons – see Exodus 11 and 12 and Psalm 105:36
Pharaoh would not let God's people go. God sent these 10 plagues to make Pharaoh let God's people go, verses 43-51. Then God took them to the holy land, a Bible name for the country of Israel, verses 52-55. But verse 42 tells us that ‘they chose not to remember what he did.’ This made God very sad, verse 40, and unhappy, verse 41.
52 This is what God did for his people:
But he took his people from Egypt like a flock.
And he led them like sheep through the desert.
53 They were safe with him as a guide and they were not afraid.
But the sea drowned their enemies.
54 So he brought them to the edge of his holy land,
to this hill-country, which his right hand took.
55 He sent away the people that were living there.
He said which parts of the land each group of his people could have.
He put the families of Israel in their homes.
The Israelites in The Holy Land
56 But the Israelites tested the Most High God and they fought against him.
Also, they did not obey his laws.
57 They turned away and did not keep the covenant, like their fathers.
They were like a bow that would not shoot straight!
58 They made him angry with their high places
and their idols made him very angry.
59 When God heard this, he was angry
and he stopped giving them help completely.
60 He left his house the tent at Shiloh,
the place where he had lived on earth.
61 He gave his power and his glory
to the enemy for them to keep.
62 He let the sword kill his people,
he was so angry with them.
63 The fire of war ate their young men
and the young girls did not hear music when they married.
64 The sword killed their priests
and their wives could not cry for them.
78:64In verses 9-31, we read about God's people Israel (the Israelites) in the desert. They were coming from Egypt to the holy land. In verses 40-55, we read about the plagues that God used to get them out of Egypt. Now in verses 56-64, we read about Israel (the people) in Israel (the land). They turned away from God and did not obey him. They were like ‘a bow that did not shoot straight’, verse 57. A bow like this is not good. So, the people of Israel were not good. Instead of loving and worshipping God in his house in Shiloh, they loved idols instead. They put these idols on high hills, where they worshipped them, verse 58. Shiloh was a place about 30 kilometres north of Jerusalem. They kept the Covenant Box there. But God was so angry because of their idol worship that he:
– Went away from the house that they had made him at Shiloh
– Did not give them any more help
– Gave the Covenant Box (his power and glory) to their enemy, the Philistines
– Let the enemy kill many of the people of Israel
The story about this is in I Samuel 4 and 5.
God Makes Judah Leader Instead of Ephraim
65 Then the Lord woke up as from sleep.
He was like a strong man shouting after drinking wine.
66 He beat his enemies so that they went away.
He did this so that they would always be ashamed.
67 Also, he decided not to let the people of Joseph continue as leaders.
And he no longer chose the tribe of Ephraim.
68 But he chose the tribe of Judah.
Mount Zion was there, which he loved.
69 There he built a temple to live in like his home in heaven.
He made it so that it would always be there, like the earth.
70 Also, he chose David his servant
and he took him away from the sheep farm.
71 He took him from feeding sheep
and brought him to be shepherd of his people Jacob,
those in Israel that were his.
72 And so David, with his honest heart, was their shepherd.
He knew how to lead them.
78:72Now there is a big change. God leads his people so that they beat their enemy, the Philistines. He did three other things:
– He made Judah the leader of the tribes, not Ephraim, verses 67-68. Until then, Ephraim was leader, but not a good leader, verse 9.
– He made his home on earth in Mount Zion in Jerusalem, verses 68-69.
– He chose David to be king, verses 70-72. David led his people like a shepherd leads his sheep.
Jacob had 12 sons. Each had a large family or tribe. As the tribe of Levi worked in Jerusalem, that left 11 tribes. Joseph had two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. They both took the place of Joseph, so there were still 12 tribes!