A Challenge for Fathers (Psalm 78:1-8)Related Media
The role of mom is pretty well recognized by everyone (including the secular world) as vital to the family, but for some reason fathers have been relegated to the position of second class citizen, especially in our day with the active feminist movement. A well known feminist leader has gone so far as to say, “fathers are a biological necessity, but a psychological absurdity.”
From the standpoint of God’s word and the evidence of a great deal of research that has been done recently, such a statement is an absurdity. Dads have a vital role in bringing strength and stability to the home. Actually, both mom and dad bring ingredients into the home that are crucial to the spiritual and emotional stability of the home. Together they bring a blend of femininity and masculinity which in many ways reveal the image of God. These two influences together, especially when they are the product of godly parentage, are vital forces in shaping spiritually and psychologically healthy children.
Today, children who live in single-parent homes have increased 300 percent. But even when both parents are physically present, the father, and sometimes the mother as well are often spiritually and psychologically absent. This coupled with other factors have had devastating results on the family.
- Since 1963, violent crime has increased over 500 percent.
- Illegitimate births have increased 400 percent.
- Divorces have increased 400 percent.
- Children living in single-parent homes have increased 300 percent.
- Teenage suicide has increased 200 percent.
- S.A.T. scores have dropped almost 80 points, despite huge increases in support for education.
Another alarming statistic is that crime among the very young (7-12 year olds) has increased a whopping 60% in just the last few years. Why has this happened? There are many reasons, but one of the major causes is the breakdown in the home, and this includes the failure of fathers to take the responsibility for the spiritual leadership of the family according to the guidelines of the Word--giving, loving, serving, caring and strong leadership.
Scripture and history show us that as goes the home, so goes the society. And generally speaking--as go the fathers, so goes the home. The moral and spiritual condition of the society is always the offspring of the family.
William Wordsworth wrote, “The child is father of the man,” meaning the experiences which occur in the early and formative years of a child’s life, the experiences of home, shape the character and behavior of tomorrow’s adult. And as that is true of the individual, so it becomes true of an entire society including, of course, its leadership. Note the emphasis of this Psalm:
Psalm 127:1-2 Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman keeps awake in vain. 2 It is vain for you to rise up early, To retire late, To eat the bread of painful labors; For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.
You’ve probably heard people say: “My wife and I have agreed that we don’t want to force our religion on the children. We want them to be free to make up their own minds about matters as important as that.” This may sound wise or sophisticated, but it is sheer nonsense! There can be no religious neutrality in a home because neutrality about God is itself a form of religion--an anti-God religion. If neutrality is the attitude of parents it will become the religion of their children. Most thoughtful people see the stupidity of bringing up children with an “open mind” about things like school, but fail to apply the same saneness of thought to knowing God.
Most thoughtful parents, by contrast, want their children to know about God and moral living. But somehow in the hustle and bustle of life, they never get a chance to take stock of where such training will come from. They think if they send them to Sunday School that will do it, but that involves only one hour out of 168 hours in a week. But there is a place that has a great deal more impact than any other in society due to the dynamics involve--if those dynamics are utilized. Where is that place? It’s the home--the place where life makes up its mind.
Psalm 78 addresses the importance of the home and the vital role of parents, especially fathers. This is a psalm of instruction covering Israel’s history from Egypt and the Exodus to the time of David. It records the failure of the people of Israel, but it also records the steadfast faithfulness of the Lord and His wonderful works and mercy. Ironically, one of their greatest failures was their failure as parents.
In Psalm 78, we have the words of Asaph, a contemporary of David, who longs to be heard because he is speaking an important word from God to God’s people, one that is absolutely essential to the preservation of society and the purpose of God’s people in society.
Psalm 78:1-8 Listen, O my people, to my instruction; 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 conceal them from their children, But tell to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, And His strength and His wondrous works that He has done. 5 For He established a testimony in Jacob, And appointed a law in Israel, Which He commanded our fathers, That they should teach them to their children, 6 That the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born, That they may arise and tell them to their children, 7 That they should put their confidence in God, And not forget the works of God, But keep His commandments, 8 And not be like their fathers, A stubborn and rebellious generation, A generation that did not prepare its heart, And whose spirit was not faithful to God.
The Invitation to Hear God’s Revelation (vss. 1-4)
The Mandate and Call of the Psalmist (vs. 1)
This Psalm begins with an invitation to “listen.” “Listen” is the Hebrew azan which means to “hear, listen with understanding,” and then “to be obedient, harken.”
“O my people” demonstrates the Lord’s burden for His people through the Psalmist that they might learn the lessons of this Psalm because they play such an important role to a society.
“To my instruction.” “Instruction” is the Hebrew torah. This, and the phrase, “the words of my mouth,” refer to the author’s instruction which, by inspiration, refers to God’s authoritative Word to His people. The Psalmist is speaking, but he is speaking for the Lord. Ultimately, this is God’s instruction and God’s word to His people.
“Incline” is the Hebrew natah and means “to stretch out, extend, spread out, incline, bend, bow.” The idea is stretch or spread out your ears like a dog or horse which pricks up its ears to intently hear. It is saying, pay earnest attention, bow your stiff necks, lean forward to catch every syllable. As a military sergeant calls a unit to “Attention!” even so every trained soldier of Christ is called upon to give ear to His words. Men lend their ears to music, how much more then should they listen to the harmonies of the gospel; they sit enthralled in the presence of an orator, how much rather should they yield to the eloquence of heaven” (C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Vol. 2, p. 330).
The Method Used by the Psalmist (vs. 2)
A parable: A parable is an illustration by comparison, or explanation by illustrations of comparison. In other words, the author takes a common experience of life or an event of history and brings it along side and uses it to teach a spiritual lesson or truth. God’s past dealings with Israel, as summarized in the rest of this Psalm, form a parable of spiritual instruction full of lessons for God’s people of all ages.
A Dark Saying or Riddle: This refers to an obscure idea, or perplexing questions (difficult) requiring interpretation. It refers to interpreting or disclosing less obvious ideas or truth found in the history of God’s dealings with His people, which, under the Spirit’s ministry, the psalmist unveils. Old Testament history of God’s dealings with Israel is revelatory, full of spiritual truth that needs to be understood and applied to our own lives.
By observing God’s gifts and faithfulness, His mercy, love, power, and grace, and the way Israel failed regardless of their privileges, we can learn much that is essential for our own spiritual edification and warning as Paul warns us in 1 Corinthians 10:1f.
The Motivation and Source for the Instruction (vs. 3)
The motivation and source of this instruction which the Psalmist has to give is the truth he and others like him (note the “we”) had heard and come to know through their own instruction, but it was an instruction that must be fortified by the example of their fathers.
Ultimately, as verse 5 shows us, this tradition of truth had it source in God’s Word, but as the verses below will stress, the most effective way to communicate God’s truth for maximum impact on children is when it comes through the parents.
The more parents teach their children and fortify their instruction by godly and loving lives, the better. Sunday school teachers and pastors were never meant to be “substitutes for a mothers’ tears and fathers’ prayers” (Spurgeon, p. 331). Why? Because parents have the opportunity, as no one else, to be models in living color of both attitude and action of those things they seek to communicate.
The Mission of the Psalmist (vs. 4)
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.
Notice two things in this verse: First, note the determination to communicate God’s truth to the generations to come is seen in the use of a negative statement followed by the positive declaration of what they intend to do. Second, these two statements together warn us that when we fail to tell our children about the truth of God, we are in essence concealing, hiding God’s truth from our children and from the generations to come.
Again, let me repeat the principle: There can be no religious neutrality in a home because neutrality about God is itself a form of religion, an anti-God religion. If neutrality is the attitude of parents it will become the religion of their children.
When we fail to communicate God’s truth to our children, we are guilty of hiding from them the most important information in the world. We are like someone who knows where there is water, but refuses to reveal it to someone who is dying of thirst. That is nothing less that a monstrous crime.
The great mission of the psalmist (as it should be with all believers and parents) is to unveil the truth of God. Here the truth that the psalmist has in view is that which is seen in the history of God’s dealings with the nation, but the goal is for God’s truth to be communicated effectively from generation to generation.
The act of “telling” (mesapperim, pl. participle) “the next generation” (v. 4) is a continuation of the tradition “heard and known” from the fathers (v. 3; cf. 44:1). (The Expositors Bible Commentary, p. 506).
Let’s look at the clause, “We will not conceal them from their children.” “Their children” means “our children” because the children of the psalmist’s generation are really the children of the forefathers who had seen the mighty works of God’s redemption and received God’s Word as the custodians of His truth (Rom. 3:2).
But the psalmist is aware of the ever present problem parents have of communicating the truth of God to the next generation. By our own indifference to the things of God, by our preoccupation with the pressures of life, by our materialism, by our failure to get real in our walk with the Lord, we become guilty of concealing God’s truth because we fail to tell to the generation to come, the truth of God’s Word.
The psalmist teaches that this is one of the greatest missions of God’s people. Indeed, we have in this one of the great commands of the Bible--the command for parents to teach their children and bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Deut. 4:9; 6:6-9; Prov. 22:6; Eph. 6:4).
What exactly would the psalmist tell to the next generation? “The praises of the LORD (glorious deeds, RSV), and His strength and His wondrous works that He has done.” This refers to the great works of God, His glorious deeds, in creation and especially in the redemptive acts of God in history.
We must never miss the fact that the history of creation and redemption provide us with a revelation of God. They reveal his grace, mercy, love, patience, power, holiness, justice, faithfulness, omnipotence, etc. God’s actions with Israel and their responses provide us with revelation of both God and of man. Let’s not miss the fact that, when we communicate the story of creation and redemptive history, or other information of the Bible, we are not only communicating facts but a history that teaches us about both God and man.
But why is all of this needed? The next verses point us to the great need and aim in hearing God’s revelation. It is never to be just an exercise in religious activity, or academics. It has a very special goal.
The Goal in Hearing God’s Revelation (vss. 5-8)
The Provision of God’s Revelation to His People (vs. 5a-b)
There are two things we need to note in this verse. First, God has established a testimony and appointed a law, and second, He did this in Jacob (Israel). He revealed the divine oracles, the Old Testament Scriptures, and entrusted them to the nation of Israel, just as today He has entrusted the Word, the Old and New Testaments, to the church the body of Christ.
This stresses that God has clearly revealed Himself in an inspired, authoritative, and infallible document, God’s Word to Israel through Moses. In other words, they were not following cunningly devised fables or the mere traditions of men. And neither are we. What they had to offer to their children was nothing short of a miraculous Word from God designed to protect them and their children from the many deceptive counterfeits that were being offered by a world system rushing head long into destruction under the dominion and deception of Satan.
Further, this stresses two great needs and responsibilities we have as believing parents:
(1) We must put our trust in God’s Word above the ideas of men for all areas of life, including, the raising and training of our children.
(2) But if we are going to do that, we also need to communicate the character of the Bible as indeed the Word of God, an objective, inerrant, infallible guide and authority that always takes precedence over the ideas of men and the world. We must guard against elevating the ideas of men whether psychological or philosophical above the authority of the Word. The need to be on alert to this has become even more important in our day of secular humanism and human psychology where the ideas of men are raised to the level of the Scripture--or far above it.
The Procedure For Communicating God’s Revelation (vss. 5c-6)
“Which He commanded our fathers” looks forward to the mandatory procedure mentioned in the last clause of verse 5, “that they should teach them to their children.” This is one generation communicating the Word to the next generation via the leadership of the fathers.
(1) These words pinpoint the primary procedure God uses to effectively communicate His Word generation to generation. This is the most effective way for children to truly come to know the Scriptures. Other agencies may help in this process of communication such as a Christian school and the church, but the primary means established by God is the home under the godly influence of a godly father and a godly mother.
(2) Obviously, this includes both parents working together, but God places the responsibility for this directly on the father. Gentlemen, to a certain extent, God holds us responsible for the spiritual condition of our families. Too many men are abdicating or ignoring their responsibilities as Fathers.
1 Timothy 5:8 says, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Providing for your family, however, means much more than simply putting bread on the table. It includes the provision of all the elements of a Christ-like home: teaching and modeling God’s Word in an atmosphere of love, grace, patience, loving discipline, understanding, and encouragement. This would also include modeling biblical values, priorities, and pursuits.
(3) If no father is present, as is the case in many homes today, this responsibility falls in the lap of the mother. In some cases the father must bear this responsibility alone where the mother is absent. Whatever the case, parents are the key agents in communicating the Word of God to their children so that God’s truth and the moral integrity and character that goes with it is communicated generation to generation.
“Teach” is the Hebrew yada’. In this construction (Hiphil) it means “to make known, declare.” It means to know so that with the knowledge there is spiritual understanding and perception. This is not an option. It is an imperative. If we want our children to know and experience God and to experience His blessings on their lives, we must be dedicated to teaching our children to know the Lord and His Word.
We are raising a generation of biblical illiterates. American youth growing up in our scientific age know more about getting to the moon or about computer terminology than they do about getting to heaven or about the Bible.
A survey taken a few years ago revealed “that over half of the teenagers could not name even one of the four gospels. In multiple choice questions, some decided that the epistles were the wives of the apostles, that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife and that Moses was the father of Jesus. Answers like these would be hilarious if they were not pathetic!” (from a message by Haddon Robinson).
We spend thousands of dollars strengthening and straightening children’s teeth, but we stand by as they develop crooked hearts and twisted lives. We purchase the latest volumes on child care so we can raise children by the book, but we have concentrated on the wrong book! (H. Robinson) Then we act shocked when our children follow the system of the world, or when so few young people have the stamina and discernment to withstand the intense deceptions and temptations of our times. But its because we have too often failed to effectively communicate the eternal truths of the God’s Word in an atmosphere that truly communicates the reality of God along with God’s love and grace.
The Purposes For Communicating God’s Revelation (vss. 6-8)
The First Purpose: To perpetuate God’s truth from generation to generation (vs. 6)
Note that we are told in verse 6 that we need to train our children not only that they may know God’s truth, but that they may, in turn, pass it on to their “children yet unborn, that they may arise and tell them to their children.” Who are these children yet unborn? They are our grandchildren!
God holds us responsible in some ways for our grandchildren. We like to think that if we can just get our kids to age 21 without seeing them destroyed physically, spiritually, and morally, we have it made and can relax. Our responsibility is over. But this passage suggest that is not quite the case.
- This text teaches us that our aim must extend to the succeeding generations in our family.
- It suggest we need to pray for our children as parents and for our grandkids and even great grandkids.
- It suggest when possible, it is good to be around and involved in the lives of these little ones as a further example of love and Christ-like living.
The Second Purpose: That They Should Put Their Confidence in God and Not Forget the Works of God (vs. 7a)
“Confidence” is the Hebrew kesel which means “the loins, the flank.” From this it came to mean “hope, confidence, what a man depends on, just as the loins are the strength and firmness of the body.” This stresses the goal of our instruction. Our goal is faith, personal confidence in the living God. We want obedience in our children. Not the obedience of rigid legalists, but the obedience of personal faith, faith in the reality of God who has worked marvelously in history to reveal Himself to man through the Word and the person and work of Christ.
But please note the connection between confidence and remembering the works of God. Having confidence in the Lord is vitally connected to knowing, remembering, and believing that God has worked in history, first in creation and then in the historic acts of God recorded for us in the Bible. This connection is important because it means that He is still at work carrying out His purposes in history.
We live in a humanistic world that has bought into the hoax of evolution hook, line, and sinker. What is so detrimental about evolution? While there are some theistic evolutionists, evolution is a theory which denies God’s works in creation. Furthermore, many in our society have bought into the pantheistic eastern religions of the world and the new age (a resurgence of the old age) which also believes in evolution and denies the existence of a personal God. The point is this has led our society to deny the historic facts and evidence for the truthfulness of the Bible and its record regarding the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Is it any wonder that we live in an age drugged with substitutes for the fears and tears of a society without hope? If you forget that God has and is still at work in history, you cannot but be disturbed and end up putting your trust in the wrong things. “If you don’t know His works, you have little to hope for and nothing to hope in.” (Robinson)
Here of course is the great goal of teaching our children the Word or of raising them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. This goal is the changing of parents--as parents are able, through the Word, to introduce their children to the Lord and help them to place their faith in a living and personal God who has acted in history as Creator and Redeemer. It means working to help our children develop a personal relationship with the Lord by faith so that the confidence and convictions of the parents become the confidence and convictions of the children.
The Third Purpose: That They Should Keep His Commandments and Not Be Like Their Fathers (vs. 7b- 8)
Note again the combination of the positive followed by a negative warning.
(1) This again reminds us that the purpose of knowing the Word is obedience. But this, as the previous verse shows, is a matter of trust or confidence in the Lord. It is a product of understanding and knowing God.
(2) The truth and instructions of Scripture are not designed for our hurt, but for our blessing. The Bible tells us that the man of faith loves and has his delight in God’s commandments. He is called blessed or happy (Ps. 119:47-48; 112:1). Why? Because he knows they are pure (Ps. 19:8), true (Ps. 119:151), reliable (Ps. 119:86), and righteous (Ps. 119:172).
(3) What then is the ultimate goal of parents? To bring their children to the point where they know the Lord, have confidence in the Lord, obey the Lord from the heart because they understand the nature of the Bible. It is God’s manual for survival and blessing. It is the product of God’s love and desire to bless us.
(4) The warning of verse 8 calls to mind the attitudes and actions of the wilderness generation, which, unfortunately as the following historical summary illustrates, became a negative pattern for the children who followed them. Though the Judges generation knew the Lord, they failed miserably to fulfill the principles of this passage.
This verse teaches us:
(1) If the fathers are not truly godly, the chances are neither will the children be. Children are born with sinful natures and unless they have the godly influence of parents who are themselves faithful, obedient, and walking with the Lord, their children will go the natural way of their sinful natures.
(2) Godly children who know, trust, and are obedient to the Lord do not happen by accident. Godly children are the product of parents who set their hearts aright to know and walk with God.