Observe The psalm begins with a command: Listen! Verses 1-8 are a preamble to a parable (2), a means of instruction, a riddle (‘dark sayings’) to solve. Without careful listening, the meaning is lost. Teaching God’s deeds must be passed on to future generations: What we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us, we will not hide these things from their children. (3,4). Asaph then recounts the history of Israel as a parable.
A riddle. Why did Israel not obey the Lord? How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness and grieved him in the desert! They tested him again and again, and provoked the Holy One of Israel. (40,41)
Another riddle: Why is God so patient with them? Yet he, being compassionate, forgave their iniquity, and did not destroy them; he restrained his anger often, and did not stir up all his wrath.(38) He fed His rebellious children, sheltered them, led them, almost to no avail. Their response was complaint. But he remembered they were only flesh (39) weak and dependent.
The writer, Asaph, recalls the plagues that God sent on the Egyptians but bypassed Israel; they forgot. He drove out the pagan inhabitants as He led them to the border of His Tabernacle; they forgot. When the Ark of the Covenant was captured at Shiloh (58), God’s power broke through the enemy’s blasphemy, and again they forgot. God has had it; He deserts Ephraim in favour of Judah, the small tribe from which David arose by God’s choosing to shepherd and rule His forgetful people.
This is the riddle’s answer: God’s mercy never stops.
Interpret This contemplative ‘Maskil’ is the second longest Psalm (after 119). A ‘history Psalm’ recounts the story of Israel in Egypt up to David’s kingship; and teaches future generations to avoid the mistakes of their forebears. The opening verses stress the need to teach children about God.
‘Hear’ in Hebrew literally means “Stretch your ears …”, really work at listening to absorb God’s Word.
Apply We would do well to review the story of Israel in the Hebrew Bible, as recounted in this Psalm. Things haven’t changed much in human history. God is so gracious and generous, but how easily we forget, lured by lesser things. Yet, He welcomes us back in love and mercy.
Teaching young ones to love the Lord is a communal responsibility (thus very counter cultural):
Phase One: ‘Home schooling’ by example, by reading the Word together and talking about God and His love.
Phase Two: Sunday School and youth group prepare them to know the Lord, follow Jesus and take their place in the congregation. Just because the children are downstairs doesn’t imply segregation. They are learning at their own levels, taught by skilled and caring teachers (who could use some responsible help from us!).
Phase Three: We welcome our grown no-longer-children into the congregation, encouraging them to find and use their gifts, praying for God’s wisdom. We’re not a nuclear family; we’re God’s extension of Himself.
Ask A riddle: How can we get to know our church’s children?
Pray Lord, who welcomed children for whom the Kingdom is prepared, show us how to live in You, teaching the young in years (or in faith) the joy of obedience to You and the delight of serving You, together.
Sing Psalm 78 Pilgrims
Psalm 78 Listen O My People - Karl Kohlhase (he sings all 72 verses, and speaks at the end. Listen patiently…)
In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.