Psalm 78
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
In Psalms 77 the poet recalls God’s wonderful works of old for the encouragement of his faith in the hour of distress. In this Psalm he invites his hearers to draw a lesson of warning for themselves from the past history of the nation. Again and again Israel had forgotten the great works which Jehovah had done for them, and with base ingratitude and short-memoried faithlessness had rebelled against His government, or tempted Him by distrust of His goodness. The Psalmist holds up the picture to his contemporaries, in the hope that they may be taught to avoid repeating the sins of their forefathers.

Though the Psalm refers to the behaviour of the whole nation, Ephraim (if the text of Psalm 78:9 is sound) seems to be singled out at the outset as especially guilty; and the Psalm concludes with the choice of Zion as the seat of the sanctuary and David as the king of Israel, in a way which indicates that the writer had some reason for dwelling upon the position of Jerusalem and the Davidic kingdom as the special objects of Jehovah’s favour. But the rebuke of Ephraim is not the main purpose of the Psalm. Its intention is evidently positive, to draw warnings for the present and the future from the consideration of the past.

It is impossible to fix the date of the Psalm with any certainty. That the history is brought down to the time of David and no further does not prove that it was written then. It presumes the existence of the Temple (Psalm 78:69), and apparently the separation of the kingdoms. It has been said that “the didactic use of past history is in itself decisive against a pre-Exile date,” and that “it would be foolish to separate it from Psalms 105-107.” But the didactic use of past history is to be found in the earliest prophets; and though Psalms 105, 106 belong to the same class of historical Psalms, it does not necessarily follow that they all belong to the same period. There are some remarkable differences, and Psalms 105-107 contain clear allusions to the Captivity, which this Psalm does not. Psalm 78:69 speaks of the Temple in language which makes it difficult to suppose that it had already been destroyed. Moreover it is at least noteworthy, that the Psalmist refers to those plagues only which are described in the Jehovistic narrative in Exodus (J), and according to a very probable reading and explanation of Psalm 78:48, to all of them. He does not refer to the plague of darkness described in the Elohistic narrative (E) only, nor to the plagues of lice and boils described only in the Priestly code (P). Of course the poet was not bound to mention every plague, but it is a not unnatural inference that he was familiar with J only, while it was still in circulation as a separate work. If so, the Psalm must have been written at a relatively early date. On the other hand the use of the title “the Holy One of Israel” (Psalm 78:41) indicates that it is not earlier than the time of Isaiah, who originated this title to express the truth revealed to him in the vision of his Call. It may however belong to that period, and may have been written in view of the hostility of the Northern Kingdom to Judah (Isaiah 7, 8), or more probably in view of the fall of the Northern Kingdom, as a warning to Judah to beware lest, though Zion was the city of God’s choice, and the house of David chosen to rule His people, they too, like Shiloh and Ephraim, might be rejected. At such a time moreover the thought of the divine choice of Jerusalem might naturally be offered as a ground of hope and confidence.

The Psalm falls for the most part into stanzas of eight and sixteen verses. Psalm 78:17-18; Psalms 40, 41; Psalms 56, 57, form a kind of initial refrain, in which the dominant idea of the Psalm,—Israel’s rebellion and temptation of God—is repeated and emphasised. The Psalmist does not follow the historical order of events, but relates first the care of Jehovah for Israel and Israel’s ingratitude towards Jehovah in the wilderness (Psalm 78:12-39), and then the miracles of the Exodus and the settlement in Canaan (Psalm 78:40 ff.).

i. The purpose of the Psalm stated;—to draw warning and instruction for the present from the past history of Israel, by recapitulating its course and enforcing its lessons in accordance with the divine command, that the ingratitude and unfaithfulness of the past might not be repeated (Psalm 78:1-8).

ii Israel’s history had been a strange record of forgetfulness and disloyalty to the God Who had brought them out of Egypt and provided for their wants in the wilderness with loving care (Psalm 78:9-16).

iii. In spite of His care they rebelled against Him and tempted Him by doubting His power and goodness, so that even while He provided for their wants He was forced to punish them for their sin (Psalm 78:17-31).

iv. The chastisements of the wilderness produced only temporary and superficial amendment, and it was due to God’s forbearance that they were not utterly destroyed (Psalm 78:32-39).

v. It was no momentary aberration, but repeated and defiant rebellion, in utter forgetfulness of all that they owed to Jehovah for redeeming them from the bondage of Egypt. The Psalmist relates the wonders which accompanied their deliverance, in order to set Israel’s ingratitude in the strongest light. Jehovah destroyed their enemies, and brought them safely into the land which He had prepared for them (Psalm 78:40-55).

vi. But there again they tempted God and rebelled against Him, till He forsook His dwelling-place in Shiloh, and abandoned them to their enemies (Psalm 78:56-64).

vii. Yet once more He had mercy on them, and when He delivered them from their enemies, He chose Judah instead of Ephraim, Zion in place of Shiloh, and appointed David to be the shepherd of His people (Psalm 78:65-72).

Comp. generally, besides Psalms 105, 106, Deuteronomy 32.

On the title, Maschil of Asaph, see Introd. p. xix.

Maschil of Asaph. Give ear, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
1, 2. Cp. the opening of Psalms 49, noting that while there ‘all peoples’ are addressed, in accordance with the wider scope of the teaching of the ‘Wise Men,’ here Israel is addressed in the spirit of prophecy. It was the function of prophecy to interpret the past, as well as to foretell the future. my law] Rather, my teaching, as in Proverbs 1:8, and often. See note on Psalm 1:2.

1–8. The Psalmist’s solemn invitation to his countrymen to listen to his teaching. He proposes to set forth the lessons to be drawn from Israel’s past history, in obedience to God’s command to hand on the tradition of His mighty works for the encouragement and warning of each successive generation.

I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old:
2. On the words parable and dark sayings or enigmas see note on Psalm 49:4. The Psalmist has no mere narrative of facts to recount, but a history full of significance for those who can penetrate its hidden meaning. It is a ‘parable’ not for Israel only, but for every individual in the Christian Church. dark sayings of old] Lessons drawn from the history of ancient times, from the Exodus, when Israel was ‘born’ as a nation, onward. Cp. Psalm 77:5.

This verse is freely quoted by St Matthew (Matthew 13:34-35), in a form which does not agree exactly either with the Heb. or with the LXX, with reference to our Lord’s teaching in parables. “All these things spake Jesus in parables unto the multitudes; and without a parable spake he nothing unto them: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophet, saying,

I will open my mouth in parables;

I will utter things hidden from the foundation of the world.”

The words of the Psalmist are not a direct prophecy of the Messiah’s method of teaching; but just as Christ as perfect Man summed up in Himself and fulfilled the manifold experiences of the people of God, so as the perfect Teacher He adopted the methods of the teachers of the old dispensation, and ‘fulfilled’ them by carrying them to their highest perfection. As the Psalmist used the facts of Israel’s history to convey the lesson which he desired to teach, so Christ used the phenomena of Nature and the experiences of Life. Cp. Introd. pp. lxxix ff.

Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us.
3, 4. It is best to place a full stop at the end of Psalm 78:2, and connect Psalm 78:3-4 thus:

The things which we have heard and known,

And our fathers have told to us,

We will not hide from their sons,

Telling to another generation the praises of Jehovah,

And his strength and his wondrous works that he hath done.

With line 2 cp. Psalm 44:1; Jdg 6:13.

‘From our sons’ might have been expected rather than ‘from their sons’: but the pronoun their is significant. It implies that the trust was committed to the speakers by their ancestors not for themselves only but for future generations. Excellently Keble:

“The tale our fathers used to tell

We to their children owe.”

The praises of Jehovah are His praiseworthy acts. Cp. Psalm 22:3; Psalm 22:30-31. For wondrous works see note on Psalm 71:17. Cp. Psalm 145:4 ff.

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.
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:
5. a testimony … a law] Not the Mosaic legislation generally, but the express precept which enjoined upon Israelite parents the duty of teaching their children the great facts of Israel’s history, that the remembrance of them might be handed down from generation to generation. See Exodus 10:2; Exodus 12:26-27; Exodus 13:8 ff., Exodus 13:14; Deuteronomy 4:9; Deuteronomy 6:20 ff. Cp. in the N.T. 2 Timothy 2:2.

that they should make them known] Them refers to “the things which we have heard and known” &c., Psalm 78:3-4. Cp. Deuteronomy 4:9.

That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children:
6. The A.V. follows the Massoretic division of the verse; but it is better to connect the clauses thus:

That another generation might know,

That sons which should be born might arise and tell their sons.

That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments:
7. their hope] Or, their confidence, as Proverbs 3:26.

and not forget] “Lest thou forget” is the constantly recurring warning in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 4:9, &c.).

the works of God] Or, as R.V. in Psalm 77:11, the deeds of God.

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.
8. as their fathers] Primarily, the generation of the wandering in the wilderness; but the warning was true for almost every age.

stubborn and rebellious] Epithets applied in Deuteronomy 21:18 to the son, whom no admonition or chastisement would reform, and for whom accordingly nothing remained but the penalty of death. Cp. Jeremiah 5:23; Deuteronomy 9:7 ff; Deuteronomy 31:27; Deuteronomy 32:5; Deuteronomy 32:20.

that set not their heart aright] Failed to direct and prepare it with stedfast purpose to serve God. Cp. Psalm 78:37.

whose spirit was not stedfast] Better, as in Psalm 78:37, was not faithful. Fickleness, instability, untrustworthiness, were the characteristics of Israel’s conduct.

The children of Ephraim, being armed, and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle.
9. This verse presents serious difficulties. (1) It seems to speak of some well-known act of cowardice on the part of the Ephraimites. But why should cowardice in war be censured, when it is disloyalty to God of which the Psalmist is speaking? It has been suggested that it refers to the slackness of Ephraim in prosecuting the conquest of Canaan (Judges 1), regarded as shewing their distrustfulness of God, in view of all the mighty works that He had done for them in the past. But it seems better to understand it figuratively (cp. Psalm 78:57), to mean that the Ephraimites were like cowards who flee in battle, and failed to fight for the cause of God. (2) Why are the Ephraimites particularly named, when the context refers to all Israel? Possibly to point forward to the rejection of Ephraim and choice of Judah which is the climax of the Psalm (Psalm 78:67). Psalm 78:10-11 must then be taken with Psalm 78:9, as a literal description of the disobedience and unfaithfulness of the Ephraimites.

After all attempts to explain it, the verse remains obscure, and many commentators suppose that it is an interpolation or that the text is in some way corrupt. The absence of parallelism and rhythm casts some suspicion on it independently; and it may possibly have been a gloss suggested by Psalm 78:57, and inserted here as an illustration of Israel’s want of stedfastness (Psalm 78:8). Psalm 78:10 would follow naturally on Psalm 78:8, introducing the description of the rebellious generation, whose conduct is held up to reprobation for the admonition of their descendants.

9–16. Israel’s disobedience and ingratitude, in spite of all God’s mercies to them at the Exodus and in the wilderness.

They kept not the covenant of God, and refused to walk in his law;
10. the covenant of God] See Exodus 19:5; Exodus 24:3; Exodus 24:7-8.

And forgat his works, and his wonders that he had shewed them.
11. And they forgat his doings,

And his wondrous works that he had shewed them (R.V.).

Marvellous things did he in the sight of their fathers, in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan.
12. In the sight of their fathers he did wonders. Cp. Psalm 77:14.

in the field of Zoan] Zoan, known to the Greeks as Tanis, was situated on the E. bank of the Tanitic branch of the Nile. It was famous as the capital of the Hyksos dynasty, and was refounded by Ramses II, the Pharaoh of the oppression. It is described by Mr Petrie, who excavated it in 1883–4, as “a city which was only inferior to the other capitals—Thebes and Memphis—in the splendour of its sculptures.” The phrase “field of Zoan” for the district in which it was situated has been found in an Egyptian inscription.

After this brief allusion to the plagues, of which he intends to speak in detail afterwards (43ff.), the Psalmist passes on at once to the Exodus and the journey through the wilderness.

He divided the sea, and caused them to pass through; and he made the waters to stand as an heap.
13. He divided the sea] Lit. clave, as in Psalm 78:15; the word which is used in Exodus 14:16; Isaiah 63:12; Nehemiah 9:11.

as an heap] Cp. Exodus 15:8; Psalm 33:7.

In the daytime also he led them with a cloud, and all the night with a light of fire.
14. And he led them with the cloud by day (cp. Exodus 13:21), as a shepherd leads his flock (Psalm 78:53; Psalm 77:20).

He clave the rocks in the wilderness, and gave them drink as out of the great depths.
15, 16. He clave rocks in the wilderness,

And gave them drink as out of the depths abundantly:

And he brought forth streams out of a cliff.

Two different words are used, with reference to the two occasions upon which the Israelites were miraculously supplied with water: first in Rephidim at the beginning of their journey when Moses was commanded to smite ‘the rock’ (Exodus 17:6), and secondly, in Kadesh, at the close of their wanderings, when Moses smote ‘the cliff,’ to which he was commanded to speak (Numbers 20:8 ff.). The depths are the reservoirs of water hidden in the earth (Psalm 33:7; Genesis 7:11; Deuteronomy 8:7).

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.
17. Yet went they on still to sin against him,

Rebelling against the Most High in the land of drought.

Both the occasions referred to in Psalm 78:15-16 were connected with murmuring. The names of Massah and Meribah preserved the memory of Israel’s sin in tempting God and striving with Him. And to these sins they added other sins. Note how the words ‘rebel’ and ‘tempt’ recur like a refrain at the beginning of each division of the Psalm (Psalm 78:17-18; Psalms 40, 41; Psalms 56). Cp. Psalm 95:9; Psalm 106:7; Psalm 106:14; Psalm 106:33; Psalm 106:43; Exodus 17:2; Exodus 17:7; Numbers 14:22; Numbers 20:10; Numbers 20:24; Deuteronomy 1:26; Deuteronomy 1:43; Deuteronomy 6:16; Deuteronomy 9:23; Deuteronomy 33:8; &c. The two words sum up Israel’s behaviour: they rebelled against God by constant disobedience to His revealed Will; they tempted Him, by sceptical doubts of His goodness, and insolent demands that He should prove His power.

17–31. In spite of these miracles of mercy they sinned yet more, and tempted God in their unbelief, so that while He supplied their wants He was compelled to punish them for their sin. The order is logical not chronological. The first murmurings for food (Exodus 16) preceded the giving of the water: and the narratives of Exodus 16 and Numbers 11 are fused into one.

And they tempted God in their heart by asking meat for their lust.
18. by asking &c.] By asking food for their appetite: a different word from that rendered lust in Psalm 78:30. The allusion is not to the demand for flesh, but to the doubt whether God could provide food for the people at all (Exodus 16:2 ff.). In the verses which follow, the murmurings which preceded the first sending of manna and quails (Exodus 16) are fused with those which preceded the second sending of quails (Numbers 11).

Yea, they spake against God; they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?
19. Can God furnish] R.V., Can God prepare?

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?
20. can he provide] R.V., Will he provide? The narrative is thrown into a graphic poetical form. Unbelief reaches its climax in the words for his people. If, as He says, we are His people, let Him provide, and provide liberally, for our wants. Bread … flesh, as in Exodus 16:8; Exodus 16:12.

Therefore the LORD heard this, and was wroth: so a fire was kindled against Jacob, and anger also came up against Israel;
21. Therefore when Jehovah heard, he was wroth:

And a fire was kindled against Jacob,

And anger also went up against Israel.

Cp. Psalm 78:59; Psalm 78:62. A fire alludes to the punishment of the murmuring Israelites by the burning at Taberah (Numbers 11:1 ff.), before the second giving of quails.

Went up is a metaphor from smoke. Cp. Psalm 18:8; Psalm 74:1.

Because they believed not in God, and trusted not in his salvation:
22. For a moment they had believed (Exodus 14:31), but they soon fell away. Cp. Numbers 14:11, a verse which might serve as a motto for this Psalm. his salvation] Of which they had had such marvellous proof in the Exodus (Exodus 14:13; Exodus 15:2).

Though he had commanded the clouds from above, and opened the doors of heaven,
23. Yet he commanded the skies above,

And opened the doors of heaven;

And had rained down manna upon them to eat, and had given them of the corn of heaven.
24. And he rained down manna upon them to eat,

And gave them the corn of heaven.

Man did eat angels' food: he sent them meat to the full.
25. Everyone did eat the bread of the mighty,

He sent them provision to the full.

The A.V. rendering of the verbs in Psalm 78:23-24 as pluperfects is contrary to the rules of Hebrew grammar. The connexion of thought is that God was wroth at the unbelief of the Israelites, and yet He provided for their wants. The Psalmist does not follow the order of time in his recital, but combines the different murmurings, and then the different provisions of manna and quails.

The doors of heaven, as of some vast storehouse: cp. ‘the windows (or ‘flood-gates’) of heaven,’ 2 Kings 7:2; 2 Kings 7:19; Malachi 3:10. The Psalmist closely follows the language of Exodus 16:4, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you.” Cp. Psalm 105:40; John 6:31.

Corn of heaven may allude to the granular form of the manna (Exodus 16:31).

Angels’ food (LXX, Vulg., Syr.) is probably a right paraphrase of the words the bread of the mighty, though the term is nowhere applied to the angels. But cp. Psalm 103:20. Wis 16:20, “Thou feddest thine own people with angels’ food,” naturally follows the LXX. It is a question whether we should render ‘Everyone did eat’ &c. cp. Exodus 16:16; Exodus 16:18; Exodus 16:21; or man, as contrasted with angels: cp. the Targ. “The sons of men ate bread which came down from the dwelling of the angels”: but the former is probably right. For to the full cp. Exodus 16:3; Exodus 16:8; Exodus 16:12.

He caused an east wind to blow in the heaven: and by his power he brought in the south wind.
26. He led forth the east wind In the heaven:

And by his power he guided the south wind:

He rained flesh also upon them as dust, and feathered fowls like as the sand of the sea:
27. And he rained flesh upon them as the dust,

And winged fowl as the sand of the seas.

The sending of quails is connected, as in Exodus 16, with the sending of the manna; but the language of the Psalm follows the description of the second sending of quails in Numbers 11.

The verbs in Psalm 78:26 are the same as those in Psalm 78:52. Cp. Exodus 10:13; Numbers 11:31. East and South are separated for the sake of rhythm. A S.E. wind brought up the quails from ‘the sea,’ i.e. the Red Sea. “The period when they were brought to the camp of Israel was in spring, when on their northward migration from Africa. According to their well-known instinct, they would follow up the coast of the Red Sea until they came to its bifurcation by the Sinaitic Peninsula, and then would cross at the narrow part.” Tristram, Nat. Hist. of Bible, p. 231.

And he let it fall in the midst of their camp, round about their habitations.
28. their camp … their habitations] Cp. Exodus 16:13; Numbers 11:31.

So they did eat, and were well filled: for he gave them their own desire;
29. for he gave them &c.] For he brought them that for which they lusted. Cp. Psalm 106:14; Numbers 11:4; Numbers 11:34.

They were not estranged from their lust. But while their meat was yet in their mouths,
30. They were not estranged from their lust,

Their food was yet in their mouth,

The wrath of God came upon them, and slew the fattest of them, and smote down the chosen men of Israel.
31. When the anger of God went up against them,

And slew of the lustiest of them,

And laid low the young men of Israel.

Even before they had been surfeited with the quails—an allusion to Numbers 11:20—the judgement fell upon them (Numbers 11:33), and the plague broke out. God punishes men by answering their prayers, a truth which even heathen moralists recognised.

For all this they sinned still, and believed not for his wondrous works.
32. The further sin of murmuring and unbelief on the return of the spies, for which they were condemned to wander in the wilderness. See Numbers 14, esp. Psalm 78:22 ff.

for his wondrous works] I.e., because of. Better, as R.V., in.

32–39. These judgements failed to reform them, and further chastisements produced only temporary and superficial amendments. Yet in spite of all, God continued to shew them mercy.

Therefore their days did he consume in vanity, and their years in trouble.
33. in vanity … in trouble] Or, as a breath, unsubstantial and transitory (Psalm 39:5; Psalm 39:11; Psalm 62:9): with sudden terror (Leviticus 26:16).

When he slew them, then they sought him: and they returned and inquired early after God.
34. When he slew them, then they would inquire after him:

And return and seek God earnestly.

The tenses denote the repeated alternations of punishment and repentance. Cp. Jdg 2:11 ff.

And they remembered that God was their rock, and the high God their redeemer.
35. their rock] Cp. Deuteronomy 32:4 ff.

the high God] God Most High, El Elyôn, a combination found elsewhere only in Genesis 14:18 ff. But cp. Psalm 73:11; and Psalm 7:17, Psalm 47:2, Jehovah Elyôn; Psalm 57:2, Elôhîm Elyôn.

Nevertheless they did flatter him with their mouth, and they lied unto him with their tongues.
36. But they flattered him with their mouth,

And lied unto him with their tongue (R.V.).

As though God were a man who could be deceived by hypocrisy. Cp. Isaiah 29:13.

According to the Massoratic reckoning, this is the middle of the 2527 verses of the Psalter, but it must be remembered that the titles of the Psalms are frequently reckoned as verses in the Hebrew text (Introd. p. xvi).

For their heart was not right with him, neither were they stedfast in his covenant.
37. right … stedfast] Or, stedfast … faithful. Cp. Psalm 78:8, where the same words are used. The heart is the organ of thought and will, which determines the moral and religious character, the seat of true repentance and amendment of life (Psalm 51:10; Psalm 57:7).

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.
38. This verse describes the general attributes of God, in virtue of which (Psalm 78:39) He spared Israel in spite of their guilt. Render:

But he, being full of compassion, forgiveth iniquity and destroyeth not,

And offtimes turneth his anger away,

And stirreth not up all his wrath.

Cp. Exodus 34:6-7; Exodus 32:10; Exodus 32:12; Numbers 14:18 ff.; Deuteronomy 4:31.

V. 38 is, according to Kiddushin 30a, the middle of the 5896 lines (στίχοι) of the Psalter. According to Maccoth 22b, Psalm 78:38 and Deuteronomy 28:58-59; Deuteronomy 29:8 were recited, when the forty stripes save one, which Paul five times suffered (2 Corinthians 11:24), were inflicted on the offender.” (Delitzsch).

For he remembered that they were but flesh; a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again.
39. For &c.] And he remembered &c. Flesh denotes the frailty of human nature, including moral as well as physical weakness: a wind &c. symbolises the transitoriness of human life. Cp. Psalm 56:4; Psalm 103:14 ff.; Genesis 6:3; Job 7:7 ff.

How oft did they provoke him in the wilderness, and grieve him in the desert!
40, 41. An emphatic repetition of Psalm 78:17-18.

provoke him] Rather, as in Psalm 78:8; Psalm 78:17; Psalm 78:56, rebel against him. Both words, rebel against and grieve, occur together in Isaiah 63:10.

40–55. But as God multiplied His mercies, Israel multiplied its acts of rebellion: and in order to set the heinousness of their ingratitude in a still stronger light, the Psalmist goes back to recount the miracles which preceded and prepared for the Exodus.

Yea, they turned back and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel.
41. And they turned again and tempted God,

And provoked the Holy One of Israel.

limited (A.V.) would mean “entertained mean and circumscribed notions of His power and goodness and faithfulness” (Kay), or ‘hindered His action by their unbelief’ (Matthew 13:58). But more probably the word means provoked (LXX, Syr., Jer.).

the Holy One of Israel] A title characteristic of the Book of Isaiah, and found in the Psalter only here and in Psalm 71:22, Psalm 89:18. It denotes that it was in His character of a Holy God that Jehovah had become the God of Israel. Though the title is not used in the Pentateuch, the thought is expressed there. In the chastisements of His people Jehovah proved Himself to be a Holy God, Who could not tolerate sin; and it was because Moses and Aaron failed to acknowledge that holiness, that they were punished by exclusion from Canaan (Numbers 20:12-13).

They remembered not his hand, nor the day when he delivered them from the enemy.
42. his hand] His power exerted on their behalf. See Exodus 3:19, and often. nor the day &c.] Nor the day when he redeemed them from the adversary (R.V.).

How he had wrought his signs in Egypt, and his wonders in the field of Zoan:
43. How he set his signs in Egypt (R.V.): words borrowed from Exodus 10:1-2, “my signs which I have set among them.” Cp. Psalm 105:27.

Only six, or, if Psalm 78:48 or Psalm 78:50 refers to the murrain, possibly seven, plagues are mentioned, the plagues of lice, boils, and darkness being omitted. The order is different from that of Exodus, coinciding with it only in the first and last plagues. It is of course possible that the Psalmist, treating the narrative with poetic freedom, only mentions the principal plagues, and intentionally omits the others: but it is noteworthy that the three which he does not mention are just those the accounts of which are judged by critics upon grounds of style to have been derived from different documents: the plague of darkness from the ‘Elohistic document,’ and the plagues of lice and boils from the ‘Priestly Code.’ The accounts of the remaining seven are in the main derived from the ‘Jehovistic document.’ See Driver’s Introd. to the Lit. of the O.T., pp. 22ff. It certainly looks as if the Psalmist used the ‘Jehovistic document,’ while it was in circulation as a separate work.

And had turned their rivers into blood; and their floods, that they could not drink.
44. And turned their rivers into blood,

And their streams, that they could not drink.

See Exodus 7:17 ff. The word for ‘rivers’ (y’ôr) is one specially used of the Nile and its canals.

He sent divers sorts of flies among them, which devoured them; and frogs, which destroyed them.
45. The fourth and second plagues, Exodus 8:20 ff., Exodus 8:1 ff. The word rendered divers sorts of flies, or, swarms of flies (R.V.), is used only with reference to this plague (Exodus 8; Psalm 105:31), and probably means some venomous kind of fly, such as abound in Egypt.

He gave also their increase unto the caterpiller, and their labour unto the locust.
46. The eighth plague, Exodus 10:1 ff.

their increase] The produce of the land (Psalm 67:6). The word rendered ‘caterpillar’ is not used in Exodus, but often occurs elsewhere, and probably denotes the locust in the larva or pupa state.

He destroyed their vines with hail, and their sycomore trees with frost.
47. He killed their vines &c. The seventh plague, Exodus 9:13 ff. Cp. Psalm 105:33. Grapes and figs are among the fruits frequently represented in paintings in Egyptian tombs. The sycomore was and is one of the common trees of Egypt, much valued for its durable wood, of which mummy cases were commonly made.

with frost] This is the rendering of the LXX, Aq., Syr., Jer., but great hailstones (R.V. marg.) or lumps of ice is more probably the meaning.

He gave up their cattle also to the hail, and their flocks to hot thunderbolts.
48. And he gave over their beasts to the hail,

And their cattle to fiery lightnings.

As the text stands, the reference is to the destruction of the Egyptian cattle as well as the crops by the lightning which accompanied the hailstorm (Exodus 9:28). But two Hebrew MSS., with which agrees the version of Symmachus, read Deber, ‘pestilence’ in place of Bârâd, ‘hail.’ Now Deber is the word used in Exodus 9:3 ff. of the murrain which attacked the cattle. Resheph, the word rendered fiery lightnings, is also used of burning fever in Deuteronomy 32:24; Habakkuk 3:5; in the latter passage in parallelism with Deber. It seems possible, therefore, that this verse originally referred to the fifth plague, the murrain on the cattle. The LXX, Syr., Jer., Targ. however support the Massoretic Text.

He cast upon them the fierceness of his anger, wrath, and indignation, and trouble, by sending evil angels among them.
49. He cast upon them the fierceness of his anger] Lit., he sent, as in Psalm 78:45. The same phrase is found in Job 20:23.

by sending evil angels among them] R.V., a band of angels of evil: lit. a mission of evil angels: not wicked angels, but destroying angels, commissioned by God to execute His purposes of punishment. Cp. “the destroyer,” Exodus 12:23; and see 2 Samuel 24:16 f.; 2 Kings 19:35; Job 33:22.

49–51. The culmination of the plagues in the death of the firstborn.

He made a way to his anger; he spared not their soul from death, but gave their life over to the pestilence;
50. He made a way to his anger] Lit., he levelled a path for his anger, i.e. gave it free course.

but gave their life over to the pestilence] This is the natural rendering of the words in this context. The rendering of R.V. marg., gave their beasts over to the murrain, is that of the Ancient Versions. But a reference to the murrain is out of place here, where the Psalmist is clearly describing the culmination of the plagues in the destruction of the firstborn. He emphasises the fact that after minor plagues had failed to touch Pharaoh’s conscience, God finally attacked the very lives of the Egyptians.

And smote all the firstborn in Egypt; the chief of their strength in the tabernacles of Ham:
51. the chief of their strength] The beginning, or, firstlings of strength, a term applied to firstborn sons in Genesis 49:3; Deuteronomy 21:17. So Psalm 105:36.

in the tabernacles of Ham] R.V. tents. Ham was the ancestor of Mizraim, i.e. Egypt, Genesis 10:6. Cp. Psalm 105:23; Psalm 105:27; Psalm 106:22.

But made his own people to go forth like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock.
52. But made &c.] But he led forth his people like sheep. The verb is that which is commonly used of the journeyings of the Israelites from stage to stage through the wilderness (Exodus 15:22 &c.). The figure of Israel as Jehovah’s flock is a favourite one in the Asaphite Psalms (Psalm 74:1 note).

52–55. God’s guidance of Israel through the wilderness into Canaan. Cp. Exodus 15:13-17. The circumstances of the Journey have been already recounted in Psalm 78:13 ff.

And he led them on safely, so that they feared not: but the sea overwhelmed their enemies.
53. feared not] In contrast to their enemies, who were seized with panic (Exodus 14:25), Israel had no cause for fear (Exodus 14:13). Not of course that they never gave way to fear (Exodus 14:10).

overwhelmed] The same word as that rendered covered in Exodus 15:10.

And he brought them to the border of his sanctuary, even to this mountain, which his right hand had purchased.
54. The border of his sanctuary may mean the land of Canaan, as that in which He purposed to place His temple, and this mountain may denote Mount Zion. But it is preferable to render to his holy border, the land separate from all other lauds, to be consecrated by His Presence, and known henceforth as the Holy Land: and in the next line, to the mountain land, which &c. This is the sense in Exodus 15:17, which evidently was in the poet’s mind. Cp. Deuteronomy 3:25; Isaiah 11:9.

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.
55. And he drove out the nations before them,

And allotted them for the portion of their inheritance:

i.e. distributed the land of the Canaanites among the Israelites by lot. Cp. Joshua 23:4; Psalm 105:11.

Yet they tempted and provoked the most high God, and kept not his testimonies:
56. Yet &c.] Yet they tempted and rebelled against God the Most High. In spite of all God’s goodness to them, they persisted in their old unfaithfulness. Cp. Psalm 78:17-18; Psalms 40, 41. God the Most High is not El Elyôn, as in Psalm 78:35; but Elôhîm Elyôn, the equivalent of Jehovah the Most High, Psalm 7:17; Psalm 47:2.

his testimonies] His commandments, regarded as bearing witness to His will. Cp. Psalm 19:7; Psalm 25:10.

56–58. The unfaithfulness of Israel in Canaan during the period of the Judges.

But turned back, and dealt unfaithfully like their fathers: they were turned aside like a deceitful bow.
57. unfaithfully] Or, as R.V., treacherously. Cp. Hosea 5:7; Hosea 6:7. like a deceitful bow] Which misses the mark and disappoints its owner. Cp. Hosea 7:16.

For they provoked him to anger with their high places, and moved him to jealousy with their graven images.
58. They provoked Jehovah, the “jealous God” Who can tolerate no rival (Exodus 20:5), by their adoption of Canaanite idolatries. Cp. Deuteronomy 32:16; Deuteronomy 32:21.

When God heard this, he was wroth, and greatly abhorred Israel:
59. Cp. Psalm 78:21. and greatly abhorred Israel] Better, and utterly rejected Israel. Israel here can hardly mean Ephraim only, as some commentators hold; for neither sin nor punishment was limited to Ephraim, and the sanctuary of Shiloh, though in Ephraimite territory, was the sanctuary of all Israel.

59–64. Once more therefore God punished them for their sins, abandoning them to their enemies and even suffering the Ark to be captured.

So that he forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent which he placed among men;
60. placed] Lit. caused to dwell. The use of this word here and in Joshua 18:1 (A.V. set up) was probably suggested by its frequent use with reference to the dwelling of God among His people. Cp. Jeremiah 7:12.

On the position and history of Shiloh see note on 1 Samuel 1:3.

And delivered his strength into captivity, and his glory into the enemy's hand.
61. his strength … his glory] The Ark, the symbol and seat of His majesty (1 Samuel 4:21 f.; Psalm 132:8), was suffered to fall into the hands of the Philistines (1 Samuel 4:11 ff.).

the enemy’s hand] The adversary’s hand. (R.V.)

He gave his people over also unto the sword; and was wroth with his inheritance.
62. See 1 Samuel 4:2; 1 Samuel 4:10; 1 Samuel 4:17.

The fire consumed their young men; and their maidens were not given to marriage.
63. Fire devoured their young men;

And their maidens had no marriage song. (R.V.)

The fire of war (Numbers 21:28) consumed the young men, so that the maidens remained unmarried.

Their priests fell by the sword; and their widows made no lamentation.
64. and their widows &c.] This line recurs word for word in Job 27:15. In the universal distress the customary rites of mourning were not performed, even for a husband (2 Samuel 11:26-27).

Then the Lord awaked as one out of sleep, and like a mighty man that shouteth by reason of wine.
65. While His people were at the mercy of their enemies He seemed to be asleep. Cp. Psalm 44:23, note.

that shouteth &c.] Cp. Isaiah 42:13-14. “The daring figure of God’s awaking as from sleep, and dashing upon Israel’s foes, who are also His, with a shout like that of a hero stimulated by wine, is more accordant with Eastern fervour than with our colder imagination; but it wonderfully expresses the sudden transition from a period, during which God seemed passive and careless of His people’s wretchedness, to one in which His power flashed forth triumphant for their defence.” (Maclaren). Many modern commentators follow the LXX, Targ., and Jer., in rendering like a giant who has been overcome with wine. This gives a good parallelism to the preceding line, but the verb does not occur elsewhere in this sense, and bold as are the similes of the Psalmists, this would be scarcely seemly.

65–66. At length Jehovah took pity on His people, and delivered them from their adversaries.

And he smote his enemies in the hinder parts: he put them to a perpetual reproach.
66. And he smote &c.] Render with R.V., And he smote his adversaries backward, a general allusion to the victories over the Philistines and other enemies of Israel under Samuel, Saul, and David. The A.V. follows Jewish authorities in seeing a reference to 1 Samuel 5:6 ff.

Moreover he refused the tabernacle of Joseph, and chose not the tribe of Ephraim:
67. Moreover &c.] And he rejected the tent of Joseph, i.e. Shiloh in the tribe of Ephraim. The Ark was never brought back there, and if Shiloh was not actually destroyed by the Philistines, it ceased to be the sanctuary of the nation. Jeremiah points to the fall of Shiloh as a warning to his incredulous contemporaries, who refused to believe that Jehovah could possibly desert Jerusalem and allow His Temple to be destroyed (Jeremiah 7:12; Jeremiah 7:14; Jeremiah 26:6; Jeremiah 26:9). Stanley observes that the first division of the history of the Chosen People ended with the overthrow of the first sanctuary, as the second division terminated in the fall of the second sanctuary, and the third by the still vaster destruction of the last Temple of Jerusalem. The Jewish Church, Lect. vii.

67–69. The choice of Zion.

But chose the tribe of Judah, the mount Zion which he loved.
68. which he loved] Cp. Psalm 87:2; Psalm 47:4.

And he built his sanctuary like high palaces, like the earth which he hath established for ever.
69. like high palaces] Rather, like the heights of heaven, which along with the earth are emblems of grandeur and stability.

He chose David also his servant, and took him from the sheepfolds:
70. David his servant] Though any Israelite might profess himself Jehovah’s servant in addressing Him, only a few who were raised up to do special service or who stood in a special relation to Jehovah, such as Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, Job, are distinguished by this title of honour. Cp. 2 Samuel 3:18; 2 Samuel 7:5; 2 Samuel 7:8; 1 Kings 8:24; Psalm 89:3; Psalm 89:20; Psalm 132:10.

70–72. The choice of David as king.

From following the ewes great with young he brought him to feed Jacob his people, and Israel his inheritance.
71. From following the ewes with their young ones he brought him,

To be shepherd of Jacob his people &c.

This natural metaphor for the ruler’s care of his people was especially appropriate in the case of David, who was taken from being the shepherd of Jesse’s flock to be the shepherd of Jehovah’s flock. Cp. 2 Samuel 5:2.

So he fed them according to the integrity of his heart; and guided them by the skilfulness of his hands.
72. the integrity of his heart] Cp. 1 Kings 9:4; Psalm 7:8; Psalm 101:2; and the use of the cognate adjective in Psalm 15:2; Psalm 18:23.

the skilfulness] The regal faculty of discernment which Solomon desired (1 Kings 3:9), and with which he was so richly endowed (1 Kings 4:29).

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bible Hub
Psalm 77
Top of Page
Top of Page