Tell Your Children

Psalm 78

An EasyEnglish Translation with Notes (about 1200 word vocabulary) on Psalm 78

Gordon Churchyard

Words in boxes are from the Bible.

A word list at the end explains words with a *star by them.

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Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me. Do not stop them". (Matthew 19:14)

Psalm 78: 1 - 8

  (This is one) of *Asaph’s Psalms that Teach Us (about God).

v1   My people, hear what I am teaching you.
  Listen to the words that I am saying to you.

v2   I will tell you a story.
  I will talk about things hard to understand from past times.

v3   We have heard them and know them
  because our fathers told them to us.

v4   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.

v5   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.

v6   Then those children would know them, even the children still to be born.
  When the time came, they too would tell their children.

v7   Then they (the children) would:
  ·   believe that God would give them help
  ·   not forget what God had done
  ·   obey his *laws

v8   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

The Story of Psalm 78

We 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.


God Saved Israel from Egypt and Gave them Water in the *Desert

Psalm 78: 9 - 17

v9   The people of Ephraim had bows and *arrows for war.
  But they ran away when the war started!

v10   They did not keep the *covenant of God.
  They refused to obey his *laws.

v11   And they forgot what he had done
  and the *wonderful things that he had shown them.

v12   He did *miracles in front of their fathers.
  (He did them) in the country of Egypt, in the part (they called) Zoan.

v13   He made a road in the sea and led them through it.
  He built the waters into a wall (on both sides).

v14   He showed them the way with a cloud in the day
  and with light from a fire all night.

v15   He broke rocks in the *desert
  and gave (his people) water from deep (in the earth).

v16   He made streams to come from the rocks
  so that the waters ran like rivers.

v17   But they continued to *sin against him.
  They fought against the *Most High in the *desert.

What verses 9 - 17 mean

The questions, or problems, from past times (verses 2, 8-9) continue here. God did great things (or *wonderful things or *miracles) for his people, but they did not obey him. Why?

Because, like us, they wanted to do what they liked, not what God wanted! They did not keep the *covenant of God, verse 10. A *covenant is when two groups of people agree what to do. Here one group is God, the other is his people. God agreed to give them help, and they agreed to obey his *laws, or rules, verse 7. In this psalm "*laws" maybe means only the rules in the first 5 books of the Bible.

In 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:

  ·  Verses 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.

  ·  Verse 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!

  ·  Verses 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 and fought against the *Most High", 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.


God Gave His People Food in the *Desert, But They Still Did Not Obey Him

Psalm 78: 18 - 31

v18   They made a plan to *test God.
  They demanded the food that they liked best!

v19   And they spoke against God.
  They said, "Can God do it?
  Can he prepare a table in the *desert?

v20   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?’

v21   When the *LORD heard (this) he was very angry.
  So he sent fire against *Jacob
  and also his *fury against Israel.

v22   (He did this) because they did not believe that God (could do it),
  or that he had the power to save them.

v23   So he gave an *order to the clouds over (them)
  and opened the doors in the skies.

v24   He rained *manna down on them, for them to eat.
  He gave them bread from *heaven.

v25   People ate the (same) bread that *angels ate.
  (God) sent them plenty of food.

v26   Then (God) sent an east wind blowing through the skies.
  And he was so strong that he also sent a south wind.

v27   And he rained meat down on them like powder.
  (He rained) flying birds on them *like sand by the sea.

v28   He made them fall where (his people) were living,
  all round their *tents.

v29   And they ate as much as they needed.
  God gave them what they wanted.

v30   But before they ate all that they wanted
  (while the food was still in their mouths),

v31   God became very angry with them.
  He killed the strongest of them
  and sent the young men of Israel to their deaths.

What verses 18 - 31 mean

The 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.

This 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.

We 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.

And 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.


The People Are Not Really Sorry

Psalm 78: 32 - 39

v32   Even when this happened, they still *sinned.
  They did not believe that God had done these *miracles.

v33   So he made their days seem to blow away like the wind.
  He made their years go away fast (so that they were) afraid!

v34   When he killed (some of) them, (the other people) looked to God.
  They were sorry and really prayed to him.

v35   And they remembered that God was their Rock.
  Also, (they remembered) that God *Most High was their *Redeemer.

v36   But what they said was not true
  and they did not mean what they said with their mouths to *praise him.

v37   They were not honest with him.
  They did not obey his *covenant in their heart.

v38   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).

v39   But he remembered that they were only human,
  like a wind that blows away and does not return.

What verses 32 - 39 mean

In 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.

Verse 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.

Verses 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!


The People Do Not Remember What God Did In Egypt

Psalm 78: 40 - 55

v40   The people (of Israel) often fought against God in the *desert.
  They made him very sad in the *wilderness.

v41   Many times they *tested God
  and this made the *Holy One of Israel very *unhappy.

v42 - v43   They chose not to remember what he did when:
  ·   he saved them from the enemy
  ·   he showed his *miracles in Egypt
  ·   he did *wonders in that part (of Egypt called) Zoan

v44   (Here is some of what God did to the Egyptians):
  He turned their rivers into blood,
  so they could not drink from their streams.

v45   He sent very large numbers of flies that made a lot of trouble for them.
  And (he sent) *frogs that made even more trouble!

v46   He gave the plants that they grew to *grasshoppers
  and their food to *locusts.

v47   He killed their *vines with *hail
  and their *fig-trees with *frost.

v48   He killed their cows with *hail
  and their sheep with fire from the sky.

v49   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.

v50   He made a path for his *anger.
  He did not save them from death.
  He gave their lives to the *plague.

v51   He killed all the first born (sons) in Egypt,
  the oldest boys of the men of Ham.

v52   (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.

v53   They were safe with him as a guide and they were not afraid.
  But the sea drowned their enemies.

v54   So he brought them to the edge of his *holy (land),
  to this hill-country, which his right hand took.

v55   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.

What verses 40 - 55 mean

These 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

In 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.





Where to Find



water to blood

Exodus 7:17-21; Psalm 105:29




Exodus 8:1-7;  Psalm 105:30



*lice (insects)

Exodus 8:16-19; Psalm 105:31




Exodus 8:20-24; Psalm 105:31



cows died

Exodus 9:1-7




Exodus 9:8-12



*hail and storm

Exodus 9:18-26; Psalm 105:32




Exodus 10:1-20; Psalm 105:34




Exodus 10:21-29; Psalm 105:28



death of first sons

Exodus 11 and 12; 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 42tells us that ‘they chose not to remember what he did’. This made God very sad, verse 40, and *unhappy, verse 41.


The *Israelites In The *Holy Land

Psalm 78: 56 - 64

v56   But (the *Israelites *tested God *Most High and fought against him.
  Also, they did not obey his *laws.

v57   They turned away and did not keep the *covenant, like their fathers.
  They were like a bow that would not shoot straight!

v58   They made him angry with their high places
  and their *idols made him *jealous.

v59   When God heard this, he was angry
  and he stopped giving them help completely.

v60   He left his house (the *tent) at Shiloh,
  the place where he had lived on earth.

v61   He gave his power and his *glory
  to the enemy for them to keep.

v62   He let the *sword kill his people,
  he was so angry with them.

v63   The fire (of war) ate their young men
  and the young girls did not hear music (when they married).

v64   The *sword killed their *priests
  and their wives could not cry for them.

What verses 56 - 64 mean

In 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 *ark there. The *ark was a box. They kept the *covenant-rules in it. 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 *ark (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. The wife of a *priest had a baby when the Philistines took the *ark of God. She called the baby Ichabod. This is a *Hebrew word that meant "the *glory is gone". She meant that the *ark of God was gone! In verse 63, "ate" means "killed them by burning them to death".


God Makes Judah Leader Instead of Ephraim

Psalm 78: 65 - 72

v65   Then the *Lord woke up as from sleep.
  He was like a strong man shouting after (drinking) *wine.

v66   He beat his enemies so that they went away.
  He did this so that they would always be ashamed.

v67   Also, he decided not to let the people of Joseph (continue as leaders).
  And he no longer chose the *tribe of Ephraim.

v68   But he chose the *tribe of Judah.
  *Mount Zion (was there), which he loved.

v69   (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.

v70   Also, he chose David his servant
  and he took him away from the sheep farm.

v71   (He took him) from feeding sheep
  and brought him to be *shepherd of his people *Jacob,
  those in Israel that were his.

v72   And so David, with his honest heart, was their *shepherd.
  He knew how to lead them.

What verses 65 - 72 mean

Now 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!

Something to do

1. Read the story of the *plagues in Egypt, if you have a Bible. You can find where they are after verse 55 of Psalm 78.

2.  Make sure that you tell your children the story of Jesus and his love for them.


Word List

Adonai ~ *Lord or master; (or better, my *Lord or my master) in *Hebrew.

angels ~ *spirits that live in *heaven with God.

anger ~ what you feel when you are angry.

arrows ~ pointed sticks shot by a bow.

Asaph ~ look in the Introduction to the Psalms of David Book 3.

boil ~ a red place on your skin that hurts.

covenant ~ two people have agreed what each should do (here, God and his people). Look after Psalm 25 in Book 1 of the Psalms of David for more about the covenant.

desert ~ a dry place with much sand.

distress ~ a very *unhappy feeling.

fig ~ a fruit that many people eat.

flock ~ a group of animals such as sheep.

forgive ~ take away the results of *sin. (But look in the notes on Psalm 85:2).

frogs ~ small animals that live in water and on land.

frost ~ cold white powder *like snow.

furious ~ very, very angry.

fury ~ what you feel when you are very, very angry.

grandfathers ~ (in the psalm) people that lived long ago.

grapes ~ the fruit of a plant called the *vine. People use them to make drink that has alcohol in it. The drink is *wine.

grasshopper ~ a small *locust (here it may also mean *locust).

hail ~ ice in rain.

heaven ~ the home of God.

Hebrew ~ the language that the *Jews spoke when they wrote the Psalms of David.

history ~ when someone records past events, we say that they have written history.

holy ~ very, very good; only God is really holy, the land where he lives with his people is also holy because he is there.

Israelite ~ a *Jewish person (see Jew).

Jacob ~ another name for Israel, both the people and the land. (Jacob was Abraham’s grandson).

Jehovah ~ how some languages say *Yahweh, one of the names of God in *Hebrew.

Jew ~ someone who was born from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their children.

Jewish ~ a word that describes a *Jew or anything to do with a *Jew.

laws ~ the rules in a country. In Psalm 78, the rules in the first 5 books of the Bible.

lice ~ small insects that can carry illnesses to people.

like ~ another word for "as".

locust ~ an insect that eats all the green parts of plants.

Lord ~ a name for God; it means he has authority, or "master"; *Adonai in *Hebrew. Look also at *LORD below.

LORD ~ a special name for God that his people use. It is the *covenant name of God. In *Hebrew it is *Yahweh or *Jehovah. Look after Psalm 25 in Book 1 of the Psalms of David for more about the names of God.

manna ~ food from *heaven. It is *like bread. The word "manna" is *Hebrew for "What is it?" This is because the *Jews did not know what God had sent them!.

merciful ~ kind.

miracles ~ great things that only God can do.

Most High ~ a name for God.

Old Testament ~ the first part of the Bible; the *holy things that the writers wrote before Christ’s birth.

order ~ words that tell someone what they must do.

plague ~ something very bad, often an illness.

praise ~ say how great somebody is; or, words that say how great someone is.

quails ~ small birds that people can eat.

Redeemer ~ a name for God. It means that he pays the price of our *sin. This happened when Jesus died on the cross.

sin ~ not obeying God, or what you do when you do not obey God.

spirits ~ they are alive, but we cannot see them. There are good spirits usually known as *angels. Bad spirits (known also as evil spirits, or demons) do not live in *heaven now, but in the air round us. *Satan is their leader.

tent ~ a home or building made from animal skins.

test God ~ make God show what he can do.

the law/laws ~ (in this psalm) rules in the first 5 books of the Bible.

trust ~ believe that someone (usually God in the psalms) will be good to you.

unhappy ~ the opposite of happy.

vines ~ plants that grow *grapes (to make *wine).

wilderness ~ a wild place where people did not grow food.

wine ~ a drink with alcohol in it. People make it from *grapes.

wonder ~ another word for *miracle.

wonderful ~ great and surprising.

Yahweh ~ the *covenant name for God. Most Bibles translate it *LORD with 4 capital letters. It means something *like "I am" or "always alive".


© 2001-2002, Wycliffe Associates (UK)

This publication is written in EasyEnglish Level A (1200 words).

January 2002

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