Psalm 78 is a rather lengthy psalm that was penned by Asaph. All of the psalms since Psalm 73 have been from Asaph. So he is a major contributor to the psalms in the scriptures. As we read Psalm 78 we will look for the key themes and main message of the song.
Teach The Generations! (78:1-8)
Asaph begins the psalm by declaring the need to teach. The people, particularly the children, need to be taught about God’s works. Verses 2-4 set the stage for what Asaph is trying to accomplish. The events and teachings from the past that their fathers told them, they are going to tell to their children and to the next generation. This declaration is exactly what the Lord commanded:
“You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as emblems on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:7-9).
What was supposed to be taught? Asaph says that the mighty works of God need to be taught. Too often we think that we will teach our children by assumption. We assume they know our faith, but we never verbalize exactly what we believe in God and why. We simply think that our children know, but we never taught. We fear sitting our children down and explaining to them things about the Bible and explain why we are disciples. Moses said that children must be taught diligently. That means that we must be teaching them verbally on a regular basis. When we are sitting, walking, laying down, and rising up. In every place and at every time we are to be teaching about God’s laws and God’s mighty works.
The second thing Asaph says that we need to teach our children is to trust in God (vs. 7). Here is a place where we have great difficulty. If our lives do not reflect that we have fully put our trust in God, then our faith will look hypocritical and we will not be able to effectively teach our children about trusting God. We must teach our children that trusting in God is not simply a mental affirmative, but a complete life change. We must show our children that trusting in God is putting him first above the things of the world that so often occupy our time.
The third thing Asaph says we need to teach our children is to not be stubborn like their forefathers. This requires the open admission of the parents to the children of what they did wrong and what the previous generations did wrong. For some reason, it seems that parents do not understand how to teach their parents that they did things wrong in life. Parents today may have experimented with drugs and engaged in premarital sex. Yet, because they did it, they think they must allow their children to do the same. But parents need to tell the child that what they did was wrong, the reasons why, and the consequences for those bad actions. Teach the children to not do wrong and be closed in heart toward God.
Recall the Works of the Exodus (78:9-31)
Asaph now proceeds to tell the generations about the mighty acts of God during the exodus. But Asaph does not simply speak about all the miracles of God. Asaph also includes the reaction of the people, including their rebellion. The first problem that led to the people sinning was that they forgot what God had done (vs. 11). The people forgot about the parting of the Red Sea. The people forgot about their miserable, enslaved lives in Egypt. The people forgot about being led by a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire. The people forgot about how God made water come from a rock. Despite all of these miracles, “they continued to sin against Him, rebelling in the desert against the Most High. They willfully put God to the test by demanding the food they craved” (17-18).
Asaph uses this situation to teach the children what happens when we forget what God has done. “When the LORD heard them, he was very angry; his fire broke out against Jacob, and his wrath rose against Israel, for they did not believe in God or trust in his deliverance” (21-22). The wrath of God was kindled for their attitude, which all began because they forgot about what God was doing to provide for them.
The next part we see is God’s mercy. Even though the people rebelled against God and complained, God gave the command and rained manna from heaven (23-24). God did not reject the people, but gave them what they asked.
Continued Rebellion (78:32-39)
Despite God’s continued goodness and mercy, “they kept on sinning; in spite of his wonders, they did not believe” (vs. 32). The only time the people remembered God was when God punished them (vs. 34). Does this sound familiar? How many times do we see people (and ourselves) seek after the Lord only after disaster strikes? God was executing punishments on the people while in the wilderness and they would seek after God only during the time of crisis. A great example was the fiery serpents that God sent because of the rebellion of the people. They cry out to God and God instructs Moses to build a bronze serpent for the people to look upon to receive healing. Even still, the people would not remain loyal to the Lord (vs. 37). The people broke the covenant, but God remained faithful, forgiving them of their sins and did not destroy them. “Time after time he restrained his anger and did not stir up his full wrath” (vs. 38).
God Forgotten (78:40-64)
Asaph spends a lot of time talking about all of the wonders the people forgot, which led them to rebel in the desert. Many of these verses are descriptions of the plagues that struck Egypt. The people forgot God’s great power against Egypt that let the people be free from slavery. The people also forgot how God drove the people out of the land of Canaan and gave them the land as their inheritance (vs. 55).
Asaph makes one other really important point. When the people forgot God, God rejected their worship. We see this point made in verses 59-64. God abandoned the tabernacle in Shiloh. God sent the ark of the covenant into captivity. God gave the people over the sword. The priests were put to the sword. The worship of the people was rejected. The people were rejected. We cannot neglect the Lord and think that there will not be consequences for such a decision. The people continued to sin and they lost their relationship with God because of their unfaithfulness. The tabernacle, the place of worship to God, was abandoned by the Lord. The people could keep coming to worship, but God was not there. The ark of the covenant, a symbol of God’s mercy and forgiveness, was sent away into captivity. The people were killed, showing that the people were no longer found in God’s favor. When we forget God, God rejects us and our worship.
Even though the people had committed these grievous sins against the Lord and the Lord had rejected the people, God still kept his promises. God chose Judah, for Judah would be the tribe through which the Messiah would come. God chose Zion as the place for his presence to dwell in the temple. God chose David to be the leader of the people. Even though the people rejected God, God continued to make a way for the people to return to him. The point is that God made a way to bring the people back if they would come to God.
Teach the people-
- The scriptures.
- God is a jealous God.
- God is a merciful God.