God’s people limit Him by forgetfulness of His benefits (v. 11) refusing to walk in His commands (v. 10) and by believing not in His promises (v. 22).
Yet He is full of compassion, ever waiting to forgive their iniquity and spare them from being cut off entirely.
1 Give ear, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
2 I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old:
3 Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us.
4 We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done.
5 For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children:
6 That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children:
7 That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments:
8 And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not stedfast with God.
9 The children of Ephraim, being armed, and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle.
10 They kept not the covenant of God, and refused to walk in his law;
11 And forgat his works, and his wonders that he had shewed them.
12 Marvellous things did he in the sight of their fathers, in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan.
13 He divided the sea, and caused them to pass through; and he made the waters to stand as an heap.
14 In the daytime also he led them with a cloud, and all the night with a light of fire.
15 He clave the rocks in the wilderness, and gave them drink as out of the great depths.
16 He brought streams also out of the rock, and caused waters to run down like rivers.
17 And they sinned yet more against him by provoking the most High in the wilderness.
18 And they tempted God in their heart by asking meat for their lust.
19 Yea, they spake against God; they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?
20 Behold, he smote the rock, that the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed; can he give bread also? can he provide flesh for his people?
21 Therefore the LORD heard this, and was wroth: so a fire was kindled against Jacob, and anger also came up against Israel;
22 Because they believed not in God, and trusted not in his salvation:
23 Though he had commanded the clouds from above, and opened the doors of heaven,
24 And had rained down manna upon them to eat, and had given them of the corn of heaven.
25 Man did eat angels’ food: he sent them meat to the full.
26 He caused an east wind to blow in the heaven: and by his power he brought in the south wind.
27 He rained flesh also upon them as dust, and feathered fowls like as the sand of the sea:
28 And he let it fall in the midst of their camp, round about their habitations.
29 So they did eat, and were well filled: for he gave them their own desire;
30 They were not estranged from their lust. But while their meat was yet in their mouths,
31 The wrath of God came upon them, and slew the fattest of them, and smote down the chosen men of Israel.
32 For all this they sinned still, and believed not for his wondrous works.
33 Therefore their days did he consume in vanity, and their years in trouble.
34 When he slew them, then they sought him: and they returned and enquired early after God.
35 And they remembered that God was their rock, and the high God their redeemer.
36 Nevertheless they did flatter him with their mouth, and they lied unto him with their tongues.
37 For their heart was not right with him, neither were they stedfast in his covenant.
38 But he, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not: yea, many a time turned he his anger away, and did not stir up all his wrath.
39 For he remembered that they were but flesh; a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again.
40 How oft did they provoke him in the wilderness, and grieve him in the desert!
41 Yea, they turned back and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel.
42 They remembered not his hand, nor the day when he delivered them from the enemy.
43 How he had wrought his signs in Egypt, and his wonders in the field of Zoan:
44 And had turned their rivers into blood; and their floods, that they could not drink.
45 He sent divers sorts of flies among them, which devoured them; and frogs, which destroyed them.
46 He gave also their increase unto the caterpiller, and their labour unto the locust.
47 He destroyed their vines with hail, and their sycomore trees with frost.
48 He gave up their cattle also to the hail, and their flocks to hot thunderbolts.
49 He cast upon them the fierceness of his anger, wrath, and indignation, and trouble, by sending evil angels among them.
50 He made a way to his anger; he spared not their soul from death, but gave their life over to the pestilence;
51 And smote all the firstborn in Egypt; the chief of their strength in the tabernacles of Ham:
52 But made his own people to go forth like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock.
53 And he led them on safely, so that they feared not: but the sea overwhelmed their enemies.
54 And he brought them to the border of his sanctuary, even to this mountain, which his right hand had purchased.
55 He cast out the heathen also before them, and divided them an inheritance by line, and made the tribes of Israel to dwell in their tents.
56 Yet they tempted and provoked the most high God, and kept not his testimonies:
57 But turned back, and dealt unfaithfully like their fathers: they were turned aside like a deceitful bow.
58 For they provoked him to anger with their high places, and moved him to jealousy with their graven images.
59 When God heard this, he was wroth, and greatly abhorred Israel:
60 So that he forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent which he placed among men;
61 And delivered his strength into captivity, and his glory into the enemy’s hand.
62 He gave his people over also unto the sword; and was wroth with his inheritance.
63 The fire consumed their young men; and their maidens were not given to marriage.
64 Their priests fell by the sword; and their widows made no lamentation.
65 Then the Lord awaked as one out of sleep, and like a mighty man that shouteth by reason of wine.
66 And he smote his enemies in the hinder parts: he put them to a perpetual reproach.
67 Moreover he refused the tabernacle of Joseph, and chose not the tribe of Ephraim:
68 But chose the tribe of Judah, the mount Zion which he loved.
69 And he built his sanctuary like high palaces, like the earth which he hath established for ever.
70 He chose David also his servant, and took him from the sheepfolds:
71 From following the ewes great with young he brought him to feed Jacob his people, and Israel his inheritance.
72 So he fed them according to the integrity of his heart; and guided them by the skilfulness of his hands.
Psalm 1 – J. Vernon McGee
Psalm 78:1-12 – Learning from the Fathers
This psalm is said to have arisen, from a strong controversy between Judah and Ephraim as to the location of God’s sanctuary, and its final transfer within the limits of the tribe of Judah. The psalmist enumerates the moral and spiritual considerations that led to the choice. See Psalm 78:67-68. The great message of the psalm is the inconstancy of the people, which so often manifested itself. Whose spirit was not stedfast with God, Psalm 78:8. They turned back in the day of battle, Psalm 78:9. See also Psalm 78:17, 37, 41, 57. It may be that the psalmist implies that these failures were for the most part Ephraim’s, and that therefore Judah was chosen. Surely, however, there was not much to choose between them, and whatever favor was shown to either of them was wholly attributable to God’s unchanging mercy.
This hymn was probably intended to be learned by the children in the Hebrew home, that they might set their hearts on God and not forget His works. It is a good practice to store the fresh memories of the young with the words of Scripture, which will often return in afterlife in hours of temptation and distress. The memorizing of the Word of God is a most valuable habit. The wheels of the mind and heart must grind—let them grind wheat. —Through the Bible Day by Day
Psalm 78:13-24 – “A Table in the Wilderness”
Throughout this wonderful recital there is a perpetual contrast between God’s unswerving goodness and the incessant backsliding of His people; and as we read it, we learn that sin is not simply the violation of the divine law, but a source of pain and trouble to our Heavenly Father’s heart. For us He cleaves the seas, leads us in the daytime, builds His watch-fires around us at night, and brings streams of blessing from the rocks. But we tempt Him by our incessant unbelief. We say, He certainly did thus and thus, but can He, will He, do this or that? “Can God furnish?” “Can he give bread?”
When shall we dare to believe in our Lord’s assurances; first, that “with God all things are possible” (Mark 10:27); and second, that “all things are possible to him that believeth” (Mark 9:23)? But we must live habitually in fellowship with God before we are able to exercise this faith. As we nourish our souls by feeding on the promises, and studying what He has done in the lives of others, out faith removes all the boundaries with which it had limited the Holy One, and cries (Mark 1:40), “Thou wilt, thou canst”! —Through the Bible Day by Day
Psalm 78:19—Can God?
Oh, fatal question! It shut Israel out of the Land of Promise, and it will do as much for you. Israel had seen the wonderful works of God, cleaving the sea, lighting the night, and giving water from rocks. Yet they questioned God’s ability to give bread, and to spread a table in the wilderness. Surely it was a slur on his gracious Providence to suppose that He had begun what He could not complete, and had done so much but could not do all.
But we are in danger of making the same mistake. Though behind us lay the gift of the Cross, the miracles of Resurrection and Ascension, the care exercised by God over our early years, the goodness and mercy of our after lives, we are disposed to say, “Can God?” Can God keep me from yielding to that besetting sin? Can God find me a situation, or provide food for my children? Can God extricate me from this terrible snare in which I am entangled? We look at the difficulties, the many who have succumbed, the surges that are rolling high, the poor devil-possessed child, and we say, If Thou canst do anything, help us!
Nay, nay, there is no If with God; there is no limit to his almightiness but thy unbelief. The words are wrongly placed. Never say again, “Can God?” but God can. Never, If Thou canst; but If I can believe. Never, If Thou canst Thou wilt; but If Thou wilt Thou canst; and Thou wilt, since Thou hast made and redeemed me, and Thou canst not forsake the work of thine own hands. Argue from all the past to the present and future. Fetch arguments for faith from the days that have gone.
“His love in time past forbids me to think
He’ll leave me at last in trouble to sink.” —Our Daily Homily
Psalm 78:25-37 – Blessed Yet Ungrateful
God our Father is prepared to do “exceeding abundantly” for His children (Ephesians 3:20); but too often we become so engrossed with His gifts as to forget and neglect the Giver. We allow ourselves enjoyment to point of satiety; and then, by an inevitable revulsion, we begin to suffer. Always acknowledge God while enjoying His gifts. Do not separate the gifts of His grace and those of His providence. All good and perfect gifts are from Him, and are to be received with equal thanksgiving. Do not use them in excess, but in moderation; and let not the enjoyment of their sweetness be your main object, but that you may be fitted to play your part and do your work in the world.
It must greatly wound the love of God that we need to be placed on short rations in order to bring us back to Himself. But how true is Psalm 78:34 of us all! We sadly require to have the stedfast heart, and to be faithful to our side of the Covenant, for we must all confess to the sin of fickleness and changeableness in our religious life. Our constant prayer should be that of Psalm 51:10, Renew a right spirit within me. But how can this be ours, except by the dwelling and uprising within us of the life of God? —Through the Bible Day by Day
Psalm 78:38-48 – “Signs in Egypt”
God takes into account the frailty and infirmity of our natures. The Spirit… helpeth our infirmities, Romans 8:26. In the words of Hosea, God teaches us “to go” (Hosea 11:3); that is, He puts His hands under our armpits, that we may learn how to walk. In the process there are many failures, but He distinguishes between the willful breach of His commands, and the blunders that are due to the frailty of our natures. Being full of compassion, He forgives; He remembers that we are but flesh.
Let us not limit the Holy One, Psalm 78:41. He waits to do marvelous things for us and by us; but how often we confine His power within the narrow channel of our own little faith. We do not like to trouble Him too often. We say in effect that as He has done this, we can hardly expect Him to do the other. We bring a limited number of vessels to be filled with the sacred oil. We strike but three times on the ground, and not until the seventh time of perfection. He cannot do many mighty things for us because our unbelief. Let us quicken our souls to larger thoughts of God, by recounting, as in this paragraph, His wonders of old. —Through the Bible Day by Day
Psalm 78:49-58 – Safely Led, Yet Bent on Wandering
This section of the psalm deals largely with the books of Joshua and Judges. The failures that had characterized the Wilderness crossed the Jordan with the Chosen People, and were the reason of their sufferings and captivities in what might otherwise have been a period of uninterrupted blessedness. In fact, the sins of the Land of Promise were even more disastrous. The Israelites were intended to be to Jehovah what the bow is to the huntsman or warrior; but they absolutely failed Him. They were turned aside like a deceitful bow, Psalm 78:57.
The lesson for older believers is very searching. Some readers of these words may recall that, at a notable period in the past, they crossed the river of death to sin and life unto God. Jordan stands for consecration. It should be remembered, however, that no matter how rich and lofty have been the experiences of past blessing, we cannot be immune from failures, unless we watch and pray and live in abiding fellowship with Jesus Christ. The soul which has passed the Jordan is attacked by the principalities and powers in the heavenlies, Ephesians 6:12, and has an even harder time of it. The nearer the Captain, the more perilous the position. —Through the Bible Day by Day
Psalm 78:59-72 – God Raises up His Shepherd David
This paragraph continues the history of the Judges, and tells the story of what befell after the battle in which Eli’s sons were slain. See I Samuel 4. It is difficult to estimate the despair which that disaster caused, because Israel seemed the light-bearer of the world. What hope was there for mankind, if its lamp of testimony was extinguished!
It inspires great confidence, however, to read in Psalm 78:65 of God’s awakening. The language, of course, is highly metaphorical, because He neither slumbers nor sleeps. But there have been many times in the history of the Church when He has seemed to be indifferent. Sin and evil have held undisputed sway. Then a time of revival has suddenly set in. Some David or Daniel, some Athanasius or Augustine, some Wycliffe or Luther, some Spurgeon or Moody, has been brought from an obscure family—“thou be little amoung the thousands of Judah” (Micah 5:2) — and he has led the host of God with unerring accuracy and success. Even at this hour, amid the sheepfolds or the far-spreading acres of the Western world, God is probably training the ardently looked-for leaders of His Church. —Through the Bible Day by Day