Maschil of Asaph. Give ear, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth.Psalm 78:1-2. Give ear, O my people — In these words “the psalmist opens his commission, and speaks as one having authority from above to instruct the world. He demands a large and attentive audience, while, by a series of examples, he sets forth the goodness of God, and the ingratitude of man, for the admonition of succeeding ages to the end of time.” To my law — The doctrine which I am about to deliver to you, concerning your duty, and the danger of neglecting it. I will open my mouth in a parable — I will speak to you with all freedom and plainness, uttering divers grave and weighty sentences, (such being often termed parables in Scripture,) or things of great moment for your instruction and advantage. I will utter dark sayings — So he calls the following passages, not because the words or sentences are in themselves hard to be understood, for they are generally historical and easy, but because the things contained in them, concerning God’s transcendent goodness to an unworthy people, and their unparalleled ingratitude for, and abuse of, such eminent favours, and their stupid ignorance and insensibleness under such excellent and constant teachings of God’s word and works, are indeed prodigious and hard to be believed. Of old — Of things done in ancient times, and in a great measure worn out of men’s minds.
I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old:
Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us.
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.Psalm 78:4-5. Showing the praises of the Lord — His glorious and praiseworthy actions, as the following words explain it. For he established a testimony in Jacob — That is, his law, as it is called in the next clause; which is very often termed a testimony, because it is a witness between God and men, declaring both the duties which God expects from man, and the promises and blessings which man, in the performance of his duty, may expect from God. This is justly put in the first place as the chief of all the following mercies, and the foundation of their temporal and spiritual prosperity. Which he commanded, &c. — Which testimony, or law, God revealed to them, not for their own private use merely or chiefly, but for the benefit of all their posterity, to whom their parents were obliged to teach it, and who were required to hear, read, and study it.
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:
That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children:
That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments:Psalm 78:7-8. That they might set their hope in God — That by the consideration of God’s gracious promises, and his wonderful works wrought for his people, they might be encouraged to adhere to him, and trust in him alone. And might not be as their fathers — Who, though they were the seed of Abraham, the father of the faithful, taken into covenant with God, and, it appears, the only professing people he had then in the world, yet were stubborn and rebellious, walking contrary to God, and in direct opposition to his will. A generation that set not their heart aright — Who, when they outwardly and seemingly complied with the forms of worship which God had prescribed, yet did not direct or prepare their hearts to the obedience and service of God; and whose spirit was not steadfast with God — Who quickly discovered their hypocrisy by their apostacy from God, and from the religion which they professed, falling off from him even to the worship of idols, presently after they came out of Egypt.
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.
The children of Ephraim, being armed, and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle.Psalm 78:9. The children of Ephraim, being armed, turned back in the day of battle — “This defeat of the Ephraimites,” says Dr. Hammond, from Kimchi, “was in the desert: and although the story be not mentioned in the books of Moses, yet it is written in the Chronicles, (see 1 Chronicles 7:21-22,) where, from the circumstances of Ephraim’s mourning, it appears it happened before the Israelites entered into Canaan; and the manner of the relation shows it was a considerable slaughter.” Bishop Patrick, however, supposes it refers to the Ephraimites refusing, with the other tribes, (which they probably discouraged,) to go up and engage the Canaanites, when commanded of God, as is recorded Deuteronomy 1:26. But the most probable opinion seems to be, that it refers to that shameful defeat which the Philistines gave the Israelites in Eli’s time, when they took the ark, as is related 1 Samuel 4:10-11. Shiloh, which was then made desolate, was in the tribe of Ephraim, and perhaps the Ephraimites on that occasion led on the battle, but, by giving away afterward, caused a general defeat. “That Ephraim is here put for all Israel,” says Poole, “seems evident from the following verses, wherein the sins upon which this overthrow is charged are manifestly the sins of all the children of Israel, and they who are here called Ephraim are called Jacob and Israel, Psalm 78:21. And the psalmist, having related this amazing providence and judgment of God upon his own people, falls into a large discourse on the causes of it, to wit, the great, and manifold, and continual sins of that and the former generations; which having prosecuted from hence to Psalm 78:60, he there returns to this history, and relates the sad consequences of that disaster, namely, the captivity of the ark, and God’s forsaking of Shiloh and Ephraim, and removing thence to the tribe of Judah and mount Zion.” Well might that event be fresh in men’s minds in David’s time, which was only about forty years after it; for the ark, which, in that memorable battle, was seized by the Philistines, though it was quickly brought out of captivity, was never brought out of obscurity, till David fetched it from Kirjath-jearim.
They kept not the covenant of God, and refused to walk in his law;Psalm 78:10-11. They kept not the covenant of God — Their cowardice was the effect of their unbelief and disobedience; and refused to walk in his law — Their disobedience was accompanied with obstinacy and contempt of God’s laws. And forgat his works — Not historically, but practically. They did not so remember them as to love, and serve, and trust in that God, of whose infinite power and goodness they had had such ample experience.
And forgat his works, and his wonders that he had shewed them.
Marvellous things did he in the sight of their fathers, in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan.Psalm 78:12-15. Marvellous things did he in the field — That is, in the territory or jurisdiction, not excluding the city itself; of Zoan — An ancient and eminent city of Egypt. In the day-time he led them with a cloud — Which afforded them much comfort, both as a shadow from the scorching heat of the climate and season, and as a companion and director in their journey. He clave the rocks — He uses the plural number, because it was twice done, once in Rephidim, Exodus 17:6, and again in Kadesh, Numbers 20:1; Numbers 20:11. And gave them drink as out of the great depths —
In great abundance.
He divided the sea, and caused them to pass through; and he made the waters to stand as an heap.
In the daytime also he led them with a cloud, and all the night with a light of fire.
He clave the rocks in the wilderness, and gave them drink as out of the great depths.
He brought streams also out of the rock, and caused waters to run down like rivers.
And they sinned yet more against him by provoking the most High in the wilderness.Psalm 78:17-20. And they sinned yet more — Hebrew, ויוסיפו עוד לחשׂאלו, They added yet to sin against him. All these miraculous works did not alter their depraved nature; but it broke out into new and greater provocations; in the wilderness — In that very place where they were under such strong and singular obligations to obedience, both for the great things which God had then and there done for them, and from their dependance upon his favour and help for their safety and subsistence; where, indeed, without his singular providence, they had all perished. This was certainly a great aggravation of their sin and folly. And they tempted God — Desired a new trial and proof of his power, as the next verse shows. See Numbers 11:4. By asking meat for their lust — Not for their necessary subsistence, for which they had in manna, but out of an inordinate and luxurious appetite. Yea, they spake against God, &c. — At last they openly declared and manifested that distrust of his power which was in their hearts, saying, Can God furnish a table? — Is he able to provide, not only bare support and sustenance, but variety of nourishing and pleasant food, here in this barren wilderness? Behold, he smote the rock, &c. — It is true he hath brought water out of a rock for us in abundance; but can he give bread also? — Not such light food as this manna is, but more substantial bread, here where no corn grows? Can he provide flesh for his people? — Can he make an ample provision for all this multitude of such flesh as this place does not afford? They should have said, Lord, if thou wilt thou canst. For is any thing too hard for Omnipotence? When once the ordinary powers of nature are exceeded, and God has made bare his arm, and put forth his almighty power, we must conclude nothing is impossible with him.
And they tempted God in their heart by asking meat for their lust.
Yea, they spake against God; they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?
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?
Therefore the LORD heard this, and was wroth: so a fire was kindled against Jacob, and anger also came up against Israel;Psalm 78:21-22. The Lord heard, and was wroth — Such rude and insolent language highly incensed the Divine Majesty. So a fire was kindled against Jacob — He sent lightning from heaven to consume those whom he had before cherished, Numbers 11:1. Or, the expression may be taken figuratively for the fire of God’s anger, as it follows. Observe, reader, God is a witness to all our murmurings and distrusts: he hears them, and is much displeased with them. To unbelievers our God is himself a consuming fire, and those that will not confide in the power of his mercy shall feel the power of his indignation, and be made to confess that it is a fearful thing to fall into his hands. Because they believed not in God — Because, by this their distrust and murmuring, it appeared that they did not give credit to the revelation God had made of himself to them: for they durst not commit themselves to his care, nor venture themselves in his hands; and trusted not in his salvation — That he could and would save them from the famine and destruction which they feared; they trusted not in the salvation he had begun to work for them; for, if they had, they would not thus have questioned its progress. Mark well, reader, those cannot be said to trust in God’s salvation as their felicity at last, who cannot find in their hearts to trust in his providence for food convenient in the way to it.
Because they believed not in God, and trusted not in his salvation:
Though he had commanded the clouds from above, and opened the doors of heaven,Psalm 78:23-24. Though he commanded the clouds, &c. — It was a great aggravation of their unbelief and distrust, that they had had great experience of his power and goodness to them. For he had given them undeniable proofs of both, and those not only from earth beneath, but from the heaven above, having commanded the clouds, as one that had given being to, and created them, to serve him and his people, and supply their wants. Ordinarily by their showers they contribute to the earth’s producing corn; but now, when God so commanded them, they showered down corn themselves, which is therefore called here the corn of heaven. And opened the doors of heaven — In these words he compares heaven to a granary, or store-house, whereof God keeps the key, and either shuts or opens the doors of it, either gives or withholds provisions, as he sees fit.
And had rained down manna upon them to eat, and had given them of the corn of heaven.
Man did eat angels' food: he sent them meat to the full.Psalm 78:25. Man did eat angels’ food — Such as was given by the ministry of angels, and, as the Chaldee reads it, descended from the dwelling of angels. Or, it may be so called because of its excellence, such food as might suit angels, if they needed or could eat food, and such as had some resemblance or relation to the nature of angels, in regard of its heavenly original, its pure and refined substance, its vigour and efficacy in preserving and nourishing those who used it according to God’s appointment. The Hebrew, לחם אבירים, lechem abirim, is literally, the bread of the mighty. So the margin reads it, Every one, even the least child in Israel, did eat the bread of the mighty. The common Israelites fed upon as palatable, wholesome, delicious, nourishing, strengthening, and invigorating food, as the greatest nobles and princes used to do. He sent them meat to the full — Which may refer either, 1st, To the flesh mentioned in the following verses, which God gave them even to satiety or glutting, as he threatened he would do, Numbers 11:18-20. Or rather, 2d, To the manna, of which he is here speaking, which he gave them in such plenty, that their desire of other food could not proceed from their necessity, but merely from wantonness and lust. We must not neglect to observe here, that this manna, which was given to Israel by a miracle from heaven, was typical of that spiritual or living bread, or bread of life, that doctrine and merits of Christ, which, in due time, was to “come down from heaven to give life unto the world:” see John 6:31-58. Hence it is termed by St. Paul spiritual meat, as the water out of the rock, emblematical of the Holy Spirit, is termed spiritual drink. Reader, see that thou apply for and partake of both, for both are necessary to thy salvation; and thus thou wilt be brought to feed on angels’ food, literally and indeed, and shalt be made a happy partaker of everlasting felicity.
He caused an east wind to blow in the heaven: and by his power he brought in the south wind.Psalm 78:26-29. He caused an east wind to blow, &c. — First an eastern, and afterward a southern wind. He rained flesh, &c., and feathered fowls like as the sand — Hebrew, עוŠ כנŠ, gnoph chanap, fowl of wing, or winged fowl; but God took away from them the use of their wings, and made them fall into the hands of the Israelites. And let it fall in the midst of their camp — Hebrew, מחנהו, machanehu, his camp; that is, either Israel’s camp, or God’s camp; for, seeing Israel was God’s people, and he dwelt among them, their camp was his camp. He gave them their own desire — What they desired, both for quality and quantity.
He rained flesh also upon them as dust, and feathered fowls like as the sand of the sea:
And he let it fall in the midst of their camp, round about their habitations.
So they did eat, and were well filled: for he gave them their own desire;
They were not estranged from their lust. But while their meat was yet in their mouths,Psalm 78:30-31. They were not estranged from their lust, &c. — Green translates the verse, But before they were averse to what they had desired, and while their meat was still in their mouths, the wrath of God, &c. The sense is, either, 1st, While their greedy appetite yet continued, and was not fully satisfied; before they began to loathe the meat, as they did afterward, Numbers 11:20. Or, 2d, Before they were deprived of their desired food; while they enjoyed it, and were still feeding upon it, as the next clause explains this, the wrath of God came upon them — His patience did not wait till that food was spent, but he instantly let loose his wrath to punish them; and slew the fattest of them — The Hebrew word is rendered by Green, the wealthiest of them. Or, it may mean, the most healthy and strong, who probably were most desirous of this food, fed most eagerly upon it, and least suspected their own danger. And smote down — By a very great pestilence, the chosen men of Israel — The strongest and goodliest persons that were in Israel.
The wrath of God came upon them, and slew the fattest of them, and smote down the chosen men of Israel.
For all this they sinned still, and believed not for his wondrous works.
Therefore their days did he consume in vanity, and their years in trouble.Psalm 78:33. Their days did he consume in vanity — In tedious and fruitless marches hither and thither, sometimes forward and sometimes backward, which they knew would never bring them, in their own persons, to their promised and much desired land; and their years in trouble — In manifold diseases, dangers, and perplexities. In such vanity and trouble were they condemned, by an irreversible doom, for their unbelief, distrust of God, their murmurings and rebellions against him, their idolatries and other sins, to wear out thirty-eight tedious years in that wilderness, which indeed were consumed in it: for in all those years there was not one step taken nearer Canaan, nor one stroke struck toward the conquest of it. Observe, reader, those that sin still must expect to be in trouble still; and the reason why we spend our days in so much vanity and trouble, why we live with so little comfort, and to so little purpose, is because we live in sin, or do not live by faith.
When he slew them, then they sought him: and they returned and inquired early after God.Psalm 78:34-35. When he slew them — Or condemned them to be slain; then they sought him — Confessed their sin, begged pardon, and prayed to him to deliver them from the threatened destruction. When some were slain, others, in a fright, cried for mercy, and promised to be obedient in future: And they returned — Namely, from their idols, unto the outward worship of God: or, being moved with fear, they ceased, for the present, from their grossly wicked courses, but stopped short of true repentance, and a thorough conversion to God. And inquired early after God — Speedily and earnestly sought to him for deliverance from their temporal calamities and troubles, and for safety and comfort, as even wicked men, in such cases, frequently do. And they remembered that God was their rock — Their support and defence, and therefore, as they now found they needed him, they would flee for help to him; and the high God their Redeemer — Who had brought them out of Egypt, and wrought out many deliverances for them, and to whom therefore they might still apply for aid in their distresses. They considered that he, and he alone, had preserved them in all their former exigences, and that he only could now help them, and not those idols, nor the creatures which they had preferred before him: and therefore, being driven by absolute necessity, they fled to him for relief.
And they remembered that God was their rock, and the high God their redeemer.
Nevertheless they did flatter him with their mouth, and they lied unto him with their tongues.Psalm 78:36-37. Nevertheless, they did flatter him with their mouth — As if they thought, by mere fair speeches, to prevail on Him who searches the heart, and requires truth in the inward parts, to revoke the sentence gone out against them, or remove the judgment under which they suffered. And they lied unto him with their tongue — They made glorious but false professions and protestations of their sincere resolutions of future obedience. For their heart was not right with him — All their confessions and petitions were but hypocritical and forced, and did not proceed from hearts truly upright and grieved for their former offences, and firmly resolved to turn unto the Lord. Neither were they steadfast in his covenant — They discovered their hypocrisy, by their apostacy from God, as soon as their danger was past.
For their heart was not right with him, neither were they stedfast in his covenant.
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.Psalm 78:38. But he, being full of compassion — Of pity for them amidst their sins and miseries; forgave their iniquity — Not simply and absolutely, for in that sense it is undeniably certain from the Holy Scriptures, God pardons none but true penitents, such as these were not; but respectively, and so far as not to destroy them at that time, (which he had threatened to do,) as the next words limit and explain the expression. He remitted their punishment, for iniquity is often put for the punishment of iniquity. Hebrew, יכפר עון, jechapper gnavon, he expiated their iniquity. He accepted their atonement, or their professed repentance, so far as to compensate it with a removal of this outward and present affliction, as he did also to wicked Ahab upon his humiliation. And this God does for the encouragement of true penitents, who may hence learn how much greater and better recompenses they may expect and shall receive from God. And did not stir up all his wrath — But set bounds to it; and though he chastened them, yet he would not utterly destroy them, as they deserved.
For he remembered that they were but flesh; a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again.Psalm 78:39. For he remembered they were but flesh — He considered the corruption of their nature, which inclined them to evil, and was pleased to make that a reason for his sparing them. See the same argument used to a like purpose, Genesis 8:21. Or, rather, flesh here signifies the frailty and infirmity of their nature, as the next clause seems to interpret this. He considered how weak, and frail, and short-lived they were, and that they could not continue long, but would die of themselves, and moulder into dust; and that if he did not restrain his wrath, but proceeded to destroy any considerable number of them, the whole nation must soon become extinct, and the promises to Abraham and the other patriarchs fail of accomplishment. A wind that passeth away, and cometh not again — That are quickly cut off, and when once they are dead never return to this life.
How oft did they provoke him in the wilderness, and grieve him in the desert!
Yea, they turned back and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel.Psalm 78:41-42. And limited the Holy One of Israel — Prescribing to him what proofs he should give of his power and presence with them, and what methods he should take in leading them and providing for them; directing him what to do, and when, and in what manner, to do it, and murmuring if he did not always grant their particular and various desires. They remembered not his hand — How strong it is, and how it had been stretched out for them; or the great and glorious works of his hand on their behalf. Nor the day — That remarkable and never to be forgotten day, that self-same day, as it is called, Exodus 12:41, which God had fixed four hundred years before, Genesis 15:13; when he delivered them from the enemy — Namely, from their greatest enemy, the tyrant Pharaoh, that zealously and unweariedly sought their ruin. There are some days, made remarkable by signal deliverances, which ought never to be forgotten; for the remembrance of them is calculated to encourage us in our greatest straits.
They remembered not his hand, nor the day when he delivered them from the enemy.
How he had wrought his signs in Egypt, and his wonders in the field of Zoan:Psalm 78:43-48. How he had wrought his signs in Egypt — Here the Psalm goes back to the subject of Israelitish ingratitude, (mentioned Psalm 78:11-12,) in order to introduce an account of the miracles wrought in Egypt previous to Israel’s deliverance from thence. “These miracles,” says Dr. Horne, “were intended to evince the superiority of Jehovah over the elements and powers of nature, which at that time were objects of worship among the Egyptians, but plainly appeared to act, at the command of Moses, in subordination to their great Creator, the God of the Hebrews. In the heavens, on the earth, and in the waters, supremacy and independence were demonstrated to belong to him only: fire and air, thunder and lightning, wind, rain, and hail obeyed his words; rivers became blood, and their inhabitants perished; insects and animals left their wonted habitations, to destroy vegetables, or torment man: so that wherever the gods of Egypt were supposed to reside, and to exert their influences in favour of their votaries, in all places, and all circumstances, victory declared for Jehovah. Hence modern as well as ancient idolaters may learn not to put their trust in the world, but in him who made, and who can and will destroy it; whose power can render the most insignificant of his creatures instruments of his vengeance, and in a moment arm all the elements against sinners; and whose mercy will employ that power in the final salvation of the church; when, as the author of the book of Wisdom expresseth it, ‘He shall make the creature his weapon for the revenge of his enemies, and the world shall fight for him against the unwise.’“ Had turned the rivers into blood — The several branches and streams of the river Nile, and those many rivulets which they drew from it. He sent divers sorts of flies, which devoured them — Or, destroyed them, which they were able to do by their numerous stings; for these flies were doubtless extraordinary in their nature, and their poisonous and hurtful qualities, as well as in their number: and the same is to be supposed concerning the frogs here mentioned, which also might destroy the people by corrupting their meats and drinks, and by infecting the air with putrefaction. He gave also their labour unto the locusts — That is, the fruit of their labour, the herbs and corn which had sprung up. He destroyed their vines with hail, and their sycamore-trees — Or, wild fig-trees, which were there in great abundance. Under these and the vines, all other trees are comprehended. And this hail and frost not only destroyed the fruits of the trees, but in many instances the trees themselves. He gave up also their cattle to the hail — Hebrew ויסגר, vajasgeer, he shut up, as in a prison, that they could not escape it; and their flocks to hot thunderbolts — Hebrew, לרשׁפים, lareshapim, prunis ignitis, to burning coals. He alludes to the fire mingled with hail, Exodus 9:23-24.
And had turned their rivers into blood; and their floods, that they could not drink.
He sent divers sorts of flies among them, which devoured them; and frogs, which destroyed them.
He gave also their increase unto the caterpiller, and their labour unto the locust.
He destroyed their vines with hail, and their sycomore trees with frost.
He gave up their cattle also to the hail, and their flocks to hot thunderbolts.
He cast upon them the fierceness of his anger, wrath, and indignation, and trouble, by sending evil angels among them.Psalm 78:49. He cast upon them the fierceness of his anger — Anger in the highest degree, wrath and indignation, the cause, and trouble, (tribulation and anguish, Romans 2:8-9,) the effect. These he cast upon them from on high, and did not spare. By sending evil angels among them — Hebrew, משׁלחת, mishlachath, the sending of evil angels, or, of the angels, or messengers, of evil things; namely, as most commentators understand it, the angels whom God employed in producing these plagues. The reader must observe, that “some of the Egyptian plagues having been specified in the foregoing verses, others of them are here thrown together, and the whole scene is affirmed to have been a full display of wrath and vengeance, executed upon the oppressors of the church by evil angels, agents, or messengers; whether, by this expression, we understand the material instruments of divine displeasure, or angels employed as ministers of vengeance, or the actual appearance and ministration of evil spirits, suffered to torment the wicked in this world, as they certainly will do in the next. Tradition seems to have favoured this last opinion, since the author of the book of Wisdom, above referred to, describes the Egyptian darkness as a kind of temporary hell, in which there appeared to the wicked, whose conscience suggested to them every thing that was horrible, ‘a fire kindled of itself, very dreadful; they were seared with beasts that passed by, and hissing of serpents; and they were vexed with monstrous apparitions, so that they fainted, and died for fear; while over them was spread a heavy night, an image of that darkness which should afterward receive them,’” Wisdom 17.
He made a way to his anger; he spared not their soul from death, but gave their life over to the pestilence;Psalm 78:50-51. He made a way to his anger — By removing every obstacle that mercy had thrown in the path of justice, he made a way for his indignation, which then rushed forth like a fiery stream. Hebrew, יפלס נתיב לאפו, He weighed a path to his anger, that is, he made a most smooth, even, and exact path, as if he had done it by weight and measure, that so his anger might pass swiftly and freely, without interruption. The phrase also may be intended to signify the wisdom and justice of God in weighing out their plagues proportionably to their sins; that is, he did not cast his anger upon them rashly, but by weight: it was weighed with the greatest exactness, in the balances of justice: and though he exercised great severity toward them, it was only such as was answerable to their great and barbarous cruelty toward his people. For in his greatest displeasure he never did, nor ever will do, any wrong to any of his creatures. The path of his anger is always weighed. He spared not their soul from death — But suffered death to ride in triumph among them; and gave their life over to the pestilence — Which cut off the thread of life immediately. And smote all the firstborn in Egypt — “An unlimited commission was given to the destroyer, who, at midnight, passed through the land, and gave the final stroke in every house.” “While all things,” says the author of the book of Wisdom, chap. Psalm 18:14, “were in quiet silence, and that night was in the midst of her swift course, thine almighty word leaped down from heaven out of thy royal throne, as a fierce man of war into the midst of a land of destruction, and brought thine unfeigned commandment as a sharp sword, and, standing up, filled all things with death: and it touched the heaven, but it stood upon the earth.” Pharaoh rose up in the night, he and all his servants, and all the Egyptians, and there was a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt; “and universal consternation reigned, inferior only to that which is to extend its empire over the world, when the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised.” — Horne.
And smote all the firstborn in Egypt; the chief of their strength in the tabernacles of Ham:
But made his own people to go forth like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock.Psalm 78:52-54. But made his own people go out like sheep — Distinguishing between them and the Egyptians, as a shepherd divideth between the sheep and the goats, having set his own mark upon these sheep, by the blood of the Lamb sprinkled on their door-posts. And they went forth as sheep, not knowing whither they went. And guided them in the wilderness — As a shepherd guides his flock, with all possible care and tenderness. And he led them on safely — Though in dangerous paths; so that they feared not — That is, they did not need to fear. They were indeed afraid at first, but after Moses had encouraged them they grew bold and secure, one evidence whereof was, that they confidently went into the middle of the sea, and passed between the vast heaps of water which were on both sides of them. And he brought them to the border of his sanctuary — Or, of his holiness, or holy place; that is, the land of Canaan, which is so called, (Ezra 9:8; Zechariah 2:8,) as being separated by God from all other lands, for his people and service, and sanctified by his presence, and his dwelling in it. Even to this mountain — Either the mountain upon which the tabernacle and temple stood; or rather the mountainous country of Canaan, which is called a land of hills and valleys, Deuteronomy 11:11.
And he led them on safely, so that they feared not: but the sea overwhelmed their enemies.
And he brought them to the border of his sanctuary, even to this mountain, which his right hand had purchased.
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.
Yet they tempted and provoked the most high God, and kept not his testimonies:
But turned back, and dealt unfaithfully like their fathers: they were turned aside like a deceitful bow.Psalm 78:57-59. And dealt unfaithfully like their fathers — They imitated their forefathers, both in their frequent apostacies from God, and in their falseness to their promises, when they pretended to repent of them. They were turned aside like a deceitful bow — Which seems likely to send the arrow to the mark, but, when it is drawn, breaks, and drops the arrow at the archer’s foot, or shoots awry, and thereby frustrates his design and expectation: so their depraved hearts made them turn aside into crooked paths, which were not directed according to the will of God. For, when they pretended, and both God and men expected obedience and gratitude to their great benefactor, they behaved themselves undutifully and unfaithfully toward him. When God heard this — That is, perceived and understood it, speaking after the manner of men, or heard the cry of their iniquity which came before him; he was wroth — He took it very heinously, as well he might, and he greatly abhorred Israel, whom he had greatly loved and delighted in. They who had been the people of his choice, became the generation of his wrath. Presumptuous sins, idolatries especially, render even Israelites odious to God’s holiness, and obnoxious to his justice.
For they provoked him to anger with their high places, and moved him to jealousy with their graven images.
When God heard this, he was wroth, and greatly abhorred Israel:
So that he forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent which he placed among men;Psalm 78:60-61. So he forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh — The tabernacle which then was placed in Shiloh, from whence, as the Israelites fetched the ark, so God withdrew himself. This relates to that part of the Jewish history which is recorded 1 Samuel 4. For upon the Israelites sending for the ark of God, from the tabernacle in which it was deposited in Shiloh, God suffered the Philistines to smite them, and to take the ark. And so true it is, that he forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, that he never returned to it again. The tent which he placed among men — Whereby he insinuates both God’s wonderful condescension and favour to such worthless and wretched creatures; and their stupendous folly and wickedness, in despising and sinning away so glorious a privilege. And delivered his strength — Namely, the ark, called God’s strength, (1 Chronicles 16:11,) and the ark of his strength, (Psalm 132:8,) because it was the sign and pledge of his strength and power exerted in behalf of his people; and his glory — So the ark is called, as being the monument and seat of God’s glorious presence, and an instrument of his glorious works; into the enemy’s — Namely, the Philistines’ hand, or power.
And delivered his strength into captivity, and his glory into the enemy's hand.
He gave his people over also unto the sword; and was wroth with his inheritance.Psalm 78:62-64. He gave his people over unto the sword — To the sword of his own justice, and of the enemies’ rage, for he was wroth with his inheritance; and that wrath of his was the fire which consumed their young men in the prime of their time, by the sword or sickness, and made such devastation of them, that their maidens were not given in marriage — Because the young men, who should have married them, were slain, and there were few or none left to whom they could be given, and because the distresses and calamities of Israel were so great, that the joys of marriage solemnities were judged unseasonable; and it was said, Blessed is the womb that beareth not. Hebrew, בתולתיו לא הוללו, their maidens were not praised; namely, with marriage songs, which was usual at marriage solemnities among the Jews: see Jeremiah 7:34; Jeremiah 16:9; Jeremiah 25:10. Their priests fell by the sword — Hophni and Phinehas, and others. And their widows made no lamentation — No funeral solemnities; either because they were prevented by their own death, as the wife of Phinehas was, who, instead of lamenting her husband’s death, died herself, when she had called her son Ichabod; or because they were so overwhelmed with a sense of public calamities, that the resentment of their private losses was swallowed up by it, and all the ceremonies of mourning were lost and buried in substantial grief.
The fire consumed their young men; and their maidens were not given to marriage.
Their priests fell by the sword; and their widows made no lamentation.
Then the Lord awaked as one out of sleep, and like a mighty man that shouteth by reason of wine.Psalm 78:65-66. Then the Lord awaked as one out of sleep, &c. — “While, by his permission, the Philistines were chastising his people for their sins, he held his peace, and seemed unconcerned as one asleep: but when due chastisement had brought the delinquents to themselves, the cries of penitent Israel awakened, as it were, and called forth the zeal of the Lord of hosts, to vindicate his honour, and deliver his servants; and then the vigour of his operations was such, as might be compared to the alacrity and courage of a mighty champion, when, refreshed and inspirited by wine, he attacks his adversaries, and bears all down before him. And he smote his enemies in the hinder parts — With the disease of the emerods, which was both painful and shameful. He put them to a perpetual reproach — He caused them to perpetuate their own reproach, by sending back the ark of God with their golden emerods, the lasting monuments of their shame.
And he smote his enemies in the hinder parts: he put them to a perpetual reproach.
Moreover he refused the tabernacle of Joseph, and chose not the tribe of Ephraim:Psalm 78:67-68. Moreover — And as he smote his enemies for their sins, so he punished his own people for the same cause. He refused the tabernacle of Joseph — He did not suffer his ark to return to Shiloh, which was in the tribe of Ephraim, the son of Joseph, but to go to Kirjath-jearim, which was in the tribe of Benjamin; from thence to the house of Obed-edom, and so to Zion, in the tribe of Judah, as it follows; but chose the tribe of Judah —
For the seat of the ark, and of God’s worship. For he did not wholly take away the glory from Israel. Shiloh lost the ark, but Israel retained it. God will have a church in the world, and a kingdom among men; though this or that place may have its candlestick removed. Nay, the rejection of Shiloh is the election of Zion; as, long after, the fall of the Jews was the riches of the Gentiles, Romans 11:12. The divine presence, with the ark, its emblem, removed at this time from the tribe of Ephraim, although Joshua, the temporal saviour of Israel, was of that tribe, to the tribe of Judah, because out of this tribe, after the rejection of Saul, was to arise the great representative, as well as progenitor, of King Messiah, the spiritual and eternal Saviour of God’s people of every kindred, and tongue, and nation.
But chose the tribe of Judah, the mount Zion which he loved.
And he built his sanctuary like high palaces, like the earth which he hath established for ever.Psalm 78:69. And he built his sanctuary — The temple of Solomon. David, indeed, erected only a tent for the ark, but a temple was then designed, and preparations were made for building it. Like high palaces — A very stately place, magnificent and glorious. It was built like the palaces of princes, and of the great men of the earth. Nay, it excelled them all in splendour and glory. Like the earth which he hath established for ever — A very stable structure, not to be removed from place to place, as the tabernacle was, but as a fixed mansion for the ark’s perpetual residence, unless the people, by their apostacy, should cause its removal.
He chose David also his servant, and took him from the sheepfolds:Psalm 78:70-71. He chose David also his servant — Out of all the thousands of Israel, and put the sceptre into his hand, out of whose loins Christ was to come, and who was to be a type of him. And took him from the sheepfold — As Moses also was taken. For he delights to put honour on the humble and diligent, and to raise the poor out of the dust, and to set them among princes. And he often finds those most fit for public action that have spent the beginning of their time in solitude and contemplation. From following the ewes great with young — By which employment he was inured to that care, and diligence, and self-denial which are necessary qualifications in a king or governor; and instructed to rule his people with all gentleness and tenderness; to feed Jacob his people, &c. — To be king over God’s peculiar people, who were near and dear to him, which was both a great honour put upon David, and a great trust reposed in him, as he was thus charged with the care and conduct of those that were God’s own inheritance. God, we must observe, advanced him to the throne, that he might feed them, not that he might feed himself; that he might do good, not that he might make his family great. It is the charge given to all under- shepherds, both magistrates and ministers, that they feed the flock of God.
From following the ewes great with young he brought him to feed Jacob his people, and Israel his inheritance.
So he fed them according to the integrity of his heart; and guided them by the skilfulness of his hands.Psalm 78:72. So he fed them — Having so great a trust put into his hands, he obtained mercy of the Lord to be found both skilful and faithful in the discharge of it; he fed them — That is, he ruled and taught them, guided and protected them, 1st, Very honestly; according to the integrity of his heart — Aiming at nothing else but the glory of God, and the good of the people committed to his charge. The principles of religion were the maxims of his government, which he administered, not with carnal policy, but with godly sincerity, by the grace of God. 2d, Very discreetly; he did it by the skilfulness of his hands — He was not only very sincere in what he designed, but very prudent in what he performed, and chose out the most proper means in pursuit of his end; for his God did instruct him to discretion. Happy the people that are under such a government! And with good reason doth the psalmist make this the finishing, crowning instance of God’s favour to Israel; for David was a type of Christ, the great and good Shepherd, who was humbled first and then exalted; and of whom it was foretold, that he should be filled with the spirit of wisdom and understanding, and should judge and reprove with equity, Isaiah 11:3-4. On the integrity of his heart, and the skilfulness of his hands, all his subjects may entirely rely; and of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end.