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Psalm 78

STROPHE DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
God's Guidance of His People in Spite of Their Unfaithfulness
MT Intro
Maskil of Asaph.
God's Kindness to Rebellious Israel The Story of God's Great Deeds and His People's Faithlessness God and His People The Lessons of Israelite History
78:1-4 78:1-4 78:1-4 78:1-4 78:1-2
        78:3-4b
        78:4c-5b
78:5-8 78:5-8 78:5-8 78:5-8 78:5c-6b
        78:6c-7
        78:8
78:9-16 78:9-11 78:9-16 78:9-16 78:9-10
        78:11-12
  78:12-16      
        78:13-14
        78:15-16
78:17-20 78:17-20 78:17-20 78:17-20 78:17-18
        78:19-20
78:21-33 78:21-25 78:21-31 78:21-31 78:21-22
        78:23-25
  78:26-31     78:26-28
        78:29-31
  78:32-33 78:32-55 78:32-37 78:32-33
78:34-39 78:34-39     78:34-35
        78:36-37
      78:38-39 78:38-39
78:40-53 78:40-55   78:40-51 78:40-42
        78:43-44
        78:45-46
        78:47-48
        78:49-50a
        78:50b-51
      78:52-55 78:52-53
78:54-64       78:54-55
  78:56-64 78:56-66 78:56-64 78:56-60
        78:61-62
        78:63-64
78:65-72 78:65-66   78:65-69 78:65-66
  78:67-72 78:67-72   78:67-69
      78:70-72 78:70-72

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Etc.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

A. This Psalm affirms the need to pass on the faith to the next generation (Ps. 78:1-4, 5-8).

1. God's acts

2. God's revelations

B. This Psalm documents the faithful acts of God and the faithless acts of Israel.

1. the exodus

2. the wilderness wandering

3. the conquest

C. Possibly the best way to see the parallels and allusions is a chart of verses related to other OT texts.

 

Ps. 78: 12b - Num. 13:22 Ps. 78: 42 - Jdgs. 8:24
Ps. 78: 13 - Exod. 14:16,21 Ps. 78: 43 - Exod. 4:21; 7:3
Ps. 78: 14 - Exod. 13:21 Ps. 78: 45 - Exod. 8:6,24
Ps. 78: 15 - Exod. 17:6; Deut. 8:15 Ps. 78: 46 - Exod. 10:14
Ps. 78: 16 - Num. 20:8,10,11 Ps. 78: 47 - Exod. 9:23
Ps. 78: 18 - Num. 11:4 Ps. 78: 48 - Exod. 9:19
Ps. 78: 19 - Exod. 16:3; Num. 11:4; 20:3; 21:5 Ps. 78: 49 - Exod. 15:7
Ps. 78: 20 - Num. 11:18 Ps. 78: 50 - Exod. 12:29,30
Ps. 78: 21 - Num. 11:1 Ps. 78: 52 - Exod. 15:22
Ps. 78: 22 - Deut. 1:32; 9:23 Ps. 78: 53 - Exod. 14:19,20,27,28
Ps. 78: 24 - Exod. 16:4 Ps. 78: 54 - Exod. 15:17
Ps. 78: 25 - Exod. 16:3 Ps. 78: 58 - Exod. 20:4; Lev. 26:1,30; Deut. 4:25; 32:16,21
Ps. 78: 26 - Num. 11:31 Ps. 78: 59 - Lev. 26:30; Deut. 1:34; 9:19; 32:19
Ps. 78: 27 - Exod. 16:13 Ps. 78: 60 - 1 Sam. 4:11
Ps. 78: 29 - Num. 11:19,20 Ps. 78: 61 - 1 Sam. 4:17
Ps. 78: 31 - Num. 11:33,34 Ps. 78: 62 - 1 Sam. 4:10
Ps. 78: 32 - Num. 14:11,16-17 Ps. 78: 63 - Num. 11:1; 21:28
Ps. 78: 33 - Num. 14:29,35 Ps. 78: 64 - 1 Sam. 4:17; 22:18
Ps. 78: 34 - Num. 21:7 Ps. 78: 66 - 1 Sam. 5:6
Ps. 78: 35 - Exod. 15:13; Deut. 9:26; 32:4 Ps. 78: 69 - 1 Kings 6
Ps. 78: 36 - Exod. 24:7,8; 32:7,8 Ps. 78: 70 - 1 Sam. 16:12
Ps. 78: 38 - Exod.34:6; Num. 14:20 Ps. 78: 71 - 1 Sam. 10:1; 2 Sam. 5:2; 7:8
Ps. 78: 41 - Exod. 14:22 Ps. 78: 72 - 1 Kgs. 9:4

D. The best parallel of this overview of Israel's faithlessness and YHWH's faithfulness is Nehemiah 9 (also note Acts 7).

1. call of Abraham - Ps. 78:6-8

2. exodus - Ps. 78:9-14

3. wilderness wanderings - Ps. 78:15-21

4. conquest - Ps. 78: 22-25

5. judges - Ps. 78: 26-31

Also note Psalms 105-106 are also about God's faithfulness and Israel's unfaithfulness!

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 78:1-4
 1Listen, O my people, to my instruction;
 Incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
 2I will open my mouth in a parable;
 I will utter dark sayings of old,
 3Which we have heard and known,
 And our fathers have told us.
 4We 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.

78:1-4 The psalmist implores the covenant people to hear and respond appropriately to God's revelation (cf. Ps. 78: 4c). He also implores them to pass on the truths to their children and grandchildren and so on to each new generation (cf. Deut. 4:9-10; 6:7,20-25; 11:19; 32:46).

78:1 There are two imperatives.

1. listen (lit. "hear") - BDB 24, KB 27, Hiphil imperative

2. incline your ears (lit. "turn") - BDB 639, KB 692, Hiphil imperative

 

▣ "instruction" This is literally "teaching" (BDB 435). This is parallel to "the words of my mouth." There are several different Hebrew words used in this Psalm for YHWH's revelation.

1. instruction/teaching, Ps. 78:1 - BDB 435

2. testimony, Ps. 78:5 - BDB 730

3. law, Ps. 78:5,10 - BDB 435

4. commandment, Ps. 78:51 - BDB 846

5. testimonies, Ps. 78:56 - BDB 729 I

See SPECIAL TOPIC: TERMS FOR GOD'S REVELATION.

This Psalm is written to the covenant people (usually the Psalms are addressed to God). It seems this historical survey was used (read) in an annual feast or ceremony at the temple to encourage God's people to learn from the past and live appropriately as God's people.

78:2 "parable. . .dark sayings"

1. parable - BDB 605

2. dark saying - BDB 295

The verb and noun forms of both these words are found in Ezek. 17:2. I have included my notes from there below.

Ezek. 17:2 This verse has two parallel imperatives.

1."propound a riddle," BDB 295, KB 295, Qal imperative, cf. Jdgs. 14:12-19

2."speak a parable," BDB 605 II, KB 647, Qal imperative, cf. 12:23; 16:44; 17:2; 18:2; 20:49; 24:3

The term "riddle" (BDB 295, note the relation of the verb, BDB 295, and noun, BDB 295) means a statement that needs to have some information hinted at or supplied to be understood (cf. Pro. 1:6).

The term "parable" (BDB 605 II, note the relation of the verb, BDB 605 II, and noun, BDB 605 II) implies a brief poetic structure, possibly a proverb which uses comparison as a way to illustrate truth.

Ezekiel has been using highly figurative language to convince the exiles of the just and sure judgment of Jerusalem.

YHWH is not trying to hide truth but assert that the key to understanding comes from His speakers/prophets. The past acts of God need to be interpreted fresh for every generation.

Jesus quotes this verse in Matt. 13:35. He uses it to explain why the crowds did not understand His teachings. He, too, reinterpreted Israel's past. He asserted that the ultimate focus of Israel's history was Himself! However, this amazing truth was not immediately self evident but had to be revealed! He was the true, ultimate revealer (cf. Matt. 5:17-19,21-48)! As Israel refused to see YHWH's will and purpose in her history, so too, Jesus' generation lived out the prophecies of Isa. 6:9-10; 29:13. They were like the Israelites of Ps. 78:8!

78:4 Each generation must teach their children about God. This is a recurrent emphasis in Deuteronomy. I have included my notes from Deut. 4:9 and 6:7.

4:9 "teach their children" This is a recurrent theme in Deuteronomy (cf. Deut. 4:10; 6:7, 20-25; 11:19; 31:13; 32:46; and note Exod. 10:2; 12:26; 13:8,14). If believers do not teach their children about God, they are failures as parents (biblically speaking)! Faith runs through families (cf. Deut. 5:10; 7:9)!

6:7 "you shall teach them diligently to your sons" The verb (BDB 1041, KB 1606, Piel perfect) means "to sharpen" and in Piel this is the only usage. The term in Ugaritic means "to repeat." That seems to be the basic emphasis of this verse. The rabbis use this verse to assert that the Shema should be "repeated" morning and evening. We are to talk about God's will for our lives during the entire scope of daily activities. It is the responsibility of parents to pass on lifestyle faith (cf. Deut. 4:9; 6:20-25; 11:19; 32:46, see full note at 4:9). It is interesting that the flow of these different times for teaching falls into the same literary pattern as Ps. 139:2-6 and Pro. 6:20-22. This emphasis on parental responsibility is repeated in Pro. 22:6. Our modern day church school cannot take the place of parental training but it surely can supplement it!

▣ "His strength and His wondrous works" This Psalm has several different terms to describe YHWH's acts of revelation and deliverance.

1. Ps. 78:4

a. the glorious deeds (lit. "praises") - BDB 239, #4, cf. Ps. 9:14; 35:28; 79:13; 102:21; 106:2,47; Isa. 43:21; 60:6; 63:7

b. His strength - BDB 739, cf. Ps. 145:6

c. His wondrous works - BDB 810, KB 927, Niphal participle, cf. Micah 7:15, see Special Topic: Wonderful Things

2. Ps. 78:7 - the works of God - BDB 760, cf. Ps. 77:11,12; Micah 2:7

3. Ps. 78:11

a. His deeds - BDB 760, same as #2, and verse 32

b. His miracles - BDB 810, same as #1, c

4. Ps. 78:12 - His wonders - BDB 810, same as #1, c

5. Ps. 78:32 - His wonderful works - BDB 810, same as #1, c and Ps. 78:11

6. Ps. 78:42 - His power (lit. "hand") - BDB 388, cf. SPECIAL TOPIC: HAND

7. Ps. 78:43

a. His signs - BDB 16, #4, cf. Exod. 10:2; Ps. 65:8

b. His marvels - BDB 68, #1, cf. Deut. 4:34; 6:22; 7:19; 26:8; 29:2; 34:11; Neh. 9:10; Ps. 105:27; 135:9; Jer. 32:20-21

8. Ps. 78:54 - His right hand had gained - BDB 411, see SPECIAL TOPIC: HAND

 

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 78:5-8
 5For 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,
 6That the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born,
 That they may arise and tell them to their children,
 7That they should put their confidence in God
 And not forget the works of God,
 But keep His commandments,
 8And 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.

78:5-8 This strophe emphasizes the need for each generation of faithful followers to pass on their faith and understanding of God's will to their families (see notes at Ps. 78:4).

Faithful followers are characterized as

1. putting their confidence (lit. "hope," BDB 492) in God

2. not forgetting His works, cf. Deut. 4:9,23; 31:6:12; 8:11,14,19 (twice); 9:7; 25:19

3. keeping His commandments, cf. Deut. 4:2,6,10; 5:1,10,29,32; 6:2,3,17,25; 7:9,11,12; 27:1; Jos. 22:5

Psalm 78:7 is the positive theme of the entire Psalm and 78:8 is a powerful warning of what not to do!

78:8 Even with all YHWH had done for the descendants of Abraham, they still were faithless (i.e., 2 Chr. 30:7; Ezek. 20:13,18). Psalm 78:8 contrasts the faithless with the faithful.

1. stubborn - BDB 710, KB 770, Qal participle, cf. Deut. 9:6,13; 10:16; 31:27

2. rebellious - BDB 598, KB 632, Qal participle, cf. Deut. 9:34; 31:27

3. did not prepare their hearts - BDB 465, KB 464, Hiphil perfect, cf. Ps. 78:37

4. whose spirit was not faithful to God - BDB 52, KB 63, Niphal perfect

 

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 78:9-16
 9The sons of Ephraim were archers equipped with bows,
 Yet they turned back in the day of battle.
 10They did not keep the covenant of God
 And refused to walk in His law;
 11They forgot His deeds
 And His miracles that He had shown them.
 12He wrought wonders before their fathers
 In the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan.
 13He divided the sea and caused them to pass through,
 And He made the waters stand up like a heap.
 14Then He led them with the cloud by day
 And all the night with a light of fire.
 15He split the rocks in the wilderness
 And gave them abundant drink like the ocean depths.
 16He brought forth streams also from the rock
 And caused waters to run down like rivers.

78:9-16 This strophe alludes to the exodus. Some of the allusions are unclear (i.e., Ps. 78:9), but many are (Contextual Insights, C) very clear.

Ephraim may be a way of referring to the Northern Tribes. Joseph and Joshua were both from the tribe of Ephraim, which numerically was the largest tribe. Ephraim and Manasseh were both sons of Joseph by an Egyptian mother. Jacob blessed Ephraim above the firstborn Manasseh (cf. Gen. 48:14-20).

78:10 Note the verbs "keep" (BDB 1036, KB 1581, Qal perfect, negated) and "walk" (BDB 229, KB 246) are parallel and describe covenant life. Obedience to the Mosaic covenant was crucial (cf. Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 27-30).

78:11 The current generation of the Israelites forgot all that YHWH had done for them during the exodus (cf. Deut. 8:11-20). So in the verses that follow many of YHWH's mighty acts of deliverance are enumerated.

78:12 "Zoan" This term (BDB 858) is from an Egyptian root for "stronghold." This stronghold/fort was located in the Delta region of Egypt, also known as Goshen (eastern Nile Delta), where the Israelites settled in Joseph's day. The city was known by different names in different periods.

1. Zoan (cf. Num. 13:22)

2. Tannis

3. Avaris

4. Rameses (named after Rameses II, cf. Exod. 1:11; 12:37; Num. 33:3)

 

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 78:17-20
 17Yet they still continued to sin against Him,
 To rebel against the Most High in the desert.
 18And in their heart they put God to the test
 By asking food according to their desire.
 19Then they spoke against God;
 They said, "Can God prepare a table in the wilderness?
 20Behold, He struck the rock so that waters gushed out,
 And streams were overflowing;
 Can He give bread also?
 Will He provide meat for His people?"

78:17-20 This strophe continues to describe the acts of the ungrateful, disobedient Israelites of the exodus and wilderness wandering period.

78:18 "they put God to the test" The verb (BDB 650, KB 702, Piel imperfect with waw) is used several times of Israel testing God (cf. Exod. 17:2; Num. 14:22; Deut. 6:16; Ps. 78:18,41,56; 95:9; 106:14).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 78:21-33
 21Therefore the Lord heard and was full of wrath;
 And a fire was kindled against Jacob
 And anger also mounted against Israel,
 22Because they did not believe in God
 And did not trust in His salvation.
 23Yet He commanded the clouds above
 And opened the doors of heaven;
 24He rained down manna upon them to eat
 And gave them food from heaven.
 25Man did eat the bread of angels;
 He sent them food in abundance.
 26He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens
 And by His power He directed the south wind.
 27When He rained meat upon them like the dust,
 Even winged fowl like the sand of the seas,
 28Then He let them fall in the midst of their camp,
 Round about their dwellings.
 29So they ate and were well filled,
 And their desire He gave to them.
 30Before they had satisfied their desire,
 While their food was in their mouths,
 31The anger of God rose against them
 And killed some of their stoutest ones,
 And subdued the choice men of Israel.
 32In spite of all this they still sinned
 And did not believe in His wonderful works.
 33So He brought their days to an end in futility
 And their years in sudden terror.

78:21-33 Israel's continued disobedience causes YHWH to judge them. One example used is YHWH's supernatural provisions of meat (quail). He told them how to receive His blessing but again they disobeyed (cf. Numbers 11). Their actions showed their attitude toward YHWH.

1. they did not believe, Ps. 78:22

2. they did not trust, Ps. 78:22

3. in spite of all this they still sinned, Ps. 78:32

 

78:22 "believe. . .trust" See Special Topic: Believe, Trust, Faith and Faithfulness in the OT.

78:23 "opened the doors of heaven" The "heavens" (see SPECIAL TOPIC: HEAVEN and SPECIAL TOPIC: HEAVEN and the Third Heaven) were thought of as a dome covered with skin, like a drum. This dome separated the waters above from falling to earth. They were imagined to have windows that could be opened or shut, depending on God's will and mankind's actions (cf. Gen. 7:11; Mal. 3:10). God could provide

1. rain (Genesis)

2. food (Psalm)

3. blessings (Malachi)

 

78:24-25 "food from heaven. . .the bread of angels" This is referring to manna (cf. Exodus 16). YHWH was gracious (cf. Ps. 78:38), but they were rebellious.

Manna (BDB 577 I) was a white substance that appeared as dew. The name may come from Exod. 16:4, "What is it?" It was a miraculous provision of food during the wilderness wandering period. It could be gathered for only one day at a time (God's daily provision) or it went bad (cf. Exod. 16:16-21), except for the day before the Sabbath when enough for two days was gathered and did not turn bad (cf. Exod. 16:22-29). It was cooked like flour. It stopped when the Israelites crossed the Jordan (cf. Jos. 5:12).

78:27 "dust. . .sand" These are two of three terms (dust, sand, stars) used to describe something numerous. They are regularly connected to the numerous descendants of the Patriarchs (i.e., God's promise to Abraham, cf. Gen. 12:2).

1. dust - Gen. 13:16; 28:14; Num. 23:10

2. sand - Gen. 22:17; 32:12; 2 Sam. 17:11; 1 Kgs. 4:20

3. stars - Gen. 15:5; 22:17; 26:4; Exod. 32:13; Deut. 1:10; 10:22; 28:62

 

78:29-31 God provided quail but the people again did not trust God's provision and tried to gather a large quantity of birds for future consumption. This displeased God and His judgment fell on them (cf. Num. 11:31-35).

Again and again in the OT, God told His people what to do but they refused and did it their way. Every time this resulted in judgment! The issue was "trust"! And it still is!

78:33

NASB, NKJV"end in futility"
NASB margin"vanity, a mere breath"
NRSV"vanish like a breath"
NJB"vanish in midst"

This term (BDB 210 I) is a key term in Ecclesiastes. See my note below from Ecclesiastes 1.

Eccl. 1:2 "vanity of vanities" This is a Hebrew superlative (cf. 1:2 and 12:8). The word means "vapor," "breath," or "mist" (BDB 210 I, cf. James 4:14). Its emphasis is either (1) nothingness or (2) the transitoriness of human life. The context supports the latter (cf. H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Ecclesiastes, p. 41).

This is a key term and recurrent phrase in this book (cf. Eccl. 1:2,14; 2:1,11,15,17,19,21, 23,26; 3:19; 4:4,7,8,16; 5:7,10; 6:2,4,9,11,12; 7:6,15; 8:10,14; 9:9; 11:8,10; 12:8). The term is used sparingly in other wisdom books: Job, 5 times; Psalms, 9 times; and Proverbs, 3 times.

For different theories about how it views the strong statements in this book, see Introduction, Authorship, H. I prefer option #1. This theological presupposition will be the grid through which I interpret the book.

▣ "all is vanity" Notice the root, "vanity" (BDB 210 I), is used five times in this one verse! The Handbook on Ecclesiastes by UBS, says the term should be understood as

1.incomprehensible

2.enigmatic

3.mysterious

4.impossible to understand

Therefore, it communicates the reality that life is full of unanswerable questions (p. 4). The person knowledgeable in wisdom will know this, but will continue to trust God and keep His commandments.

This refers to the uncertain and unpredictable activities of life. These are a result of fallen humanity trying to live life in their own strength, independent from God. This is the condition left by the Fall (cf. Genesis 3)!

The Hebrew term "all" (BDB 481), often translated "everything," is a common word, but is used often in Ecclesiastes (i.e., 9 times in chapter 1; 17 times in chapter 2; 13 times in chapter 3, etc.). Qoheleth uses this inclusive language to express his theological emphasis on

1. God's control and sovereignty

2. human ineffectiveness and transitoriness

 

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 78:34-39
 34When He killed them, then they sought Him,
 And returned and searched diligently for God;
 35And they remembered that God was their rock, 
 And the Most High God their Redeemer.
 36But they deceived Him with their mouth
 And lied to Him with their tongue.
 37For their heart was not steadfast toward Him,
 Nor were they faithful in His covenant.
 38But He, being compassionate, forgave their iniquity and did not destroy them;
 And often He restrained His anger
 And did not arouse all His wrath.
 39Thus He remembered that they were but flesh,
 A wind that passes and does not return.

78:34-39 This strophe describes the false repentance of the surviving Israelites and YHWH's reaction to it.

1. the seeming repentance, Ps. 78:34-35

a. they sought Him

b. they returned to Him

c. they searched diligently for Him

d. they remembered God was their rock/redeemer

2. their true thoughts/actions (Ps. 78:36-37)

a. they deceived Him by lying (Ps. 78:36 a and b, cf. Isa. 29:13)

b. their hearts were not steadfast toward Him

c. they were not faithful to His covenant

3. YHWH's reactions (Ps. 78:38-39)

a. He is compassionate (cf. Exod. 34:6; Neh. 9:17; Ps. 103:8, see SPECIAL TOPIC: CHARACTERISTICS OF ISRAEL'S GOD)

b. He forgave (lit. "covered over," BDB 497, KB 493, Piel imperfect)

c. He did not destroy them

d. He restrained (lit. "turned away") His anger

e. He did not arouse all His wrath

f. He remembered that they were but flesh (cf. Ps. 103:14) which is here today and gone tomorrow

Psalm 78:38-39 does not mean that they were not judged (cf. Ps. 78:34a), but that YHWH did not completely destroy them.

Psalm 78:38-39 is used in many rabbinical writings. It is a summary of the character of God (cf. Exod. 34:6; Neh. 9:17; Ps. 103:8-14).

78:35 Notice the different names and titles for Deity.

1. Elohim (BDB 43, KB 52)

2. their rock (cf. Ps. 18:2; 19:14)

3. El (BDB 42, KB 48)

4. Elyon (BDB 751, KB 832)

5. their redeemer (cf. Ps. 19:14)

 

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 78:40-53
 40How often they rebelled against Him in the wilderness
 And grieved Him in the desert!
 41Again and again they tempted God,
 And pained the Holy One of Israel.
 42They did not remember His power,
 The day when He redeemed them from the adversary,
 43When He performed His signs in Egypt
 And His marvels in the field of Zoan,
 44And turned their rivers to blood,
 And their streams, they could not drink.
 45He sent among them swarms of flies which devoured them,
 And frogs which destroyed them.
 46He gave also their crops to the grasshopper
 And the product of their labor to the locust.
 47He destroyed their vines with hailstones
 And their sycamore trees with frost.
 48He gave over their cattle also to the hailstones
 And their herds to bolts of lightning.
 49He sent upon them His burning anger,
 Fury and indignation and trouble,
 A band of destroying angels.
 50He leveled a path for His anger;
 He did not spare their soul from death,
 But gave over their life to the plague,
 51And smote all the firstborn in Egypt,
 The first issue of their virility in the tents of Ham.
 52But He led forth His own people like sheep
 And guided them in the wilderness like a flock;
 53He led them safely, so that they did not fear; 
 But the sea engulfed their enemies.

78:40-53 There seems to be a confusion in this strophe between YHWH's judgment on the Israelites (cf. Ps. 78:40-42) and His judgment on Egypt during the exodus. The plagues alluded to in Ps. 78:43-51 were directed at the recalcitrant Egyptian leadership.

Instead of YHWH judging faithless Israel (i.e., wilderness wandering period, cf. Ps. 78:40-43), He was a shepherd to them (cf. Ps. 78:52-53).

Notice how Israel's faithlessness is characterized.

1. they rebelled against Him, Ps. 78:40

2. they grieved Him, Ps. 78:40

3. they tempted Him, Ps. 78:41

4. they pained Him, Ps. 78:41

5. they did not remember His power/signs/marvels, Ps. 78:42

 

78:44-51 These verses describe the plagues on Egypt.

1. water/river to blood - Exod. 7:17-19

2. flies - Exod. 8:16-18

3. frogs - Exod. 8:2-6

4. grasshopper/locusts - Exod. 8:21; 10:4-6

5. hailstones - Exod. 9:18

6. plague/sickness - Exod. 9:8-10

7. death of firstborn - Exodus 11

The order and number are not exact but obviously the ten plagues of Exodus 7-11 are what is being referred to, unless they became idioms of YHWH's judgment.

78:49 This verse uses a litany of terms to describe God's wrath (Ps. 78:38).

1. burning anger - BDB 354 construct BDB 60 I

2. fury - BDB 720

3. indignation - BDB 276

4. trouble - BDB 865

5. a band of destroying angels

Number 5 is an idiom which personifies God's elements of wrath. In the Exodus account of the death of the firstborn in the unmarked homes, it is God who Himself causes the event (cf. Exod. 11:4; 12:12). This later became Judaism's understanding of "the Death Angel" (i.e., Samael or Azrael), but the Bible does not specifically mention him, although 2 Sam. 24:16; 2 Kgs. 19:35; 1 Chr. 21:15; Isa. 37:36, do imply one. The rabbis also assert that Ps. 89:48 refers to him (i.e., Targum, "seeing the angel of death"). The theological point is that God, not Satan or an angel, controls death!

78:50 This is an idiom for the preparation for an action. The next two lines show that in this case it was YHWH's judgment.

78:52 God as shepherd is a recurrent theme in the Psalms of Asaph. See note at Ps. 77:20.

78:53 This verse has two historical allusions.

1. "led them" refers to the Shekinah cloud of glory that guided the Israelites (cf. Exod. 13:21; 14:19,24; 33:9,10)

2. "the sea engulfed their enemies" refers to the splitting of the Red Sea and then its returning water drowning Egypt's elite soldiers and chariots (cf. Exodus 14-15)

 

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 78:54-64
 54So He brought them to His holy land,
 To this hill country which His right hand had gained.
 55He also drove out the nations before them
 And apportioned them for an inheritance by measurement,
 And made the tribes of Israel dwell in their tents.
 56Yet they tempted and rebelled against the Most High God
 And did not keep His testimonies,
 57But turned back and acted treacherously like their fathers;
 They turned aside like a treacherous bow.
 58For they provoked Him with their high places
 And aroused His jealousy with their graven images.
 59When God heard, He was filled with wrath
 And greatly abhorred Israel;
 60So that He abandoned the dwelling place at Shiloh,
 The tent which He had pitched among men,
 61And gave up His strength to captivity
 And His glory into the hand of the adversary.
 62He also delivered His people to the sword,
 And was filled with wrath at His inheritance.
 63Fire devoured His young men,
 And His virgins had no wedding songs.
 64His priests fell by the sword,
 And His widows could not weep.

78:54-64 This strophe recounts the conquest and settlement of the Promised Land (cf. Gen. 15:12-21). The Canaanite tribes (see SPECIAL TOPIC: PRE-ISRAELITE INHABITANTS OF PALESTINE) were defeated and removed by God because of their sin. Tragically the same thing happens to the Israelite tribes.

78:55b The book of Joshua, chapters 12-19, describes the divine allotment of the land to Jacob's children.

78:56-58 These lines of poetry describe Israel's sin and rebellion, which is all the more terrible because of all that God had done for them (cf. Luke 12:48).

1. they tempted God, Ps. 78:56a

2. they rebelled against God, Ps. 78:56a

3. they did not keep His covenant, Ps. 78:56b

4. they turned their backs to Him, Ps. 78:57a

5. they acted treacherously as their fathers did, Ps. 78:57a

6. they turned aside like a treacherous bow, Ps. 78:57b

7. they provoked Him with Canaanite idolatry, Ps. 78:58a

8. they aroused His jealousy with graven images, Ps. 78:58b

 

78:59-64 These verses describe what God did to Israel in light of their actions (Ps. 78:56-58).

1. He was filled with wrath

2. He greatly abhorred Israel

3. He abandoned the dwelling place at Shiloh (cf. 1 Sam. 4:11)

4. He allowed Israel to be defeated

5. He delivered Israel to the sword

6. He was filled with wrath at His inheritance

a. fire devoured the young men

b. the virgins had no wedding

c. the priests were killed

d. the widows wept

Human choices have consequences, both temporal and eternal!

78:62 "His inheritance" This is a parallel to "His people" (cf. Ps. 106:40). The origin of this imagery is Deut. 9:29. It, like so many other images, is family oriented.

78:63 "fire" See SPECIAL TOPIC: FIRE.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 78:65-72
 65Then the Lord awoke as if from sleep,
 Like a warrior overcome by wine.
 66He drove His adversaries backward;
 He put on them an everlasting reproach.
 67He also rejected the tent of Joseph,
 And did not choose the tribe of Ephraim,
 68But chose the tribe of Judah,
 Mount Zion which He loved.
 69And He built His sanctuary like the heights,
 Like the earth which He has founded forever.
 70He also chose David His servant
 And took him from the sheepfolds;
 71From the care of the ewes with suckling lambs He brought him
 To shepherd Jacob His people,
 And Israel His inheritance.
 72So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart,
 And guided them with his skillful hands.

78:65-72 This concluding strophe describes how God turned from wrath to continue His redemptive purposes (see Special Topic: YHWH's Eternal Redemptive Plan).

1. God is described as a person who comes to his senses (see SPECIAL TOPIC: GOD DESCRIBED AS HUMAN (ANTHROPOMORPHISM))

2. He defeats the adversaries of His people

3. He gives them an everlasting reproach

4. He reorients the order of the tribes as to places of leadership

a. rejects Joseph and Ephraim

b. chooses the tribe of Judah (cf. Gen. 49:8-12; Deut. 33:7)

5. He chooses to locate the temple in Judah on Mt. Moriah (called Zion)

6. He chooses David as His special leader (and his descendants, cf. 2 Samuel 7)

a. described as a shepherd

b. has a heart of integrity

c. has skillful hands

With the allusion to God's rejection of the Northern Tribes and choice of Judah, it seems this Psalm's final form was written after the fall of Israel/Ephraim/Samaria in 722 b.c. to Assyria.

This strophe is a good example of how God asserts His sovereignty. The cultural expectation is altered to show God's control.

1. Judah not Ephraim

2. Zion not Shiloh

3. David not other sons of Jesse

This is similar theologically to the Patriarchs all marrying barren women. Their children were supernatural-natural gifts from God. He is in control of time, space, history, election, and salvation!