Psalm 78:1
Maschil of Asaph. Give ear, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
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(1) For the formal opening see Psalm 49:1, Note.

My people.—An expression pointing to a position of weight and authority.

My law.—Here, rather instruction, or doctrine.

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.

78:1-8 These are called dark and deep sayings, because they are carefully to be looked into. The law of God was given with a particular charge to teach it diligently to their children, that the church may abide for ever. Also, that the providences of God, both in mercy and in judgment, might encourage them to conform to the will of God. The works of God much strengthen our resolution to keep his commandments. Hypocrisy is the high road to apostacy; those that do not set their hearts right, will not be stedfast with God. Many parents, by negligence and wickedness, become murderers of their children. But young persons, though they are bound to submit in all things lawful, must not obey sinful orders, or copy sinful examples.Give ear, O my people - This is not an address of God, but an address of the king or ruler of the people, calling their attention to an important subject; to wit, his right to rule over them, or showing why the power had been vested in him.

To my law - The word law here seems to mean what he would say, as if what he should choose to say would have the force and authority of law. What follows is not exactly law in the sense that it was a rule to be obeyed; but it is something that is authoritatively said, and should have the force of law.

Incline your ears ... - Be attentive. What is to be said is worthy of your particular regard. Compare the notes at Psalm 5:1.


Ps 78:1-72. This Psalm appears to have been occasioned by the removal of the sanctuary from Shiloh in the tribe of Ephraim to Zion in the tribe of Judah, and the coincident transfer of pre-eminence in Israel from the former to the latter tribe, as clearly evinced by David's settlement as the head of the Church and nation. Though this was the execution of God's purpose, the writer here shows that it also proceeded from the divine judgment on Ephraim, under whose leadership the people had manifested the same sinful and rebellious character which had distinguished their ancestors in Egypt.

1. my people … my law—the language of a religious teacher (Ps 78:2; La 3:14; Ro 2:16, 27; compare Ps 49:4). The history which follows was a "dark saying," or riddle, if left unexplained, and its right apprehension required wisdom and attention.

1 Give ear, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth.

2 I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old:

3 Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us.

4 We will not 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.

5 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.

6 That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children:

7 That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments:

8 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.

Psalm 78:1

"Give ear, O my people, to my law." The inspired bard calls on his countrymen to give heed to his patriotic teaching. We naturally expect God's chosen nation to be first in hearkening to his voice. When God gives his truth a tongue, and sends forth his messengers trained to declare his word with power, it is the least we can do to give them our ears and the earnest obedience of our hearts. Shall God speak, and his children refuse to hear? His teaching has the force of law, let us yield both ear and heart to it. "Incline your ears to the words of my mouth." Give earnest attention, bow your stiff necks, lean forward to catch every syllable. We are at this day, as readers of the sacred records, bound to study them deeply, exploring their meaning, and labouring to practise their teaching. As the officer of an army commences his drill by calling for "Attention," even so every trained soldier of Christ is called upon to give ear to his words. Men lend their ears to music, how much more then should they listen to the harmonies of the gospel; they sit enthralled in the presence of an orator, how much rather should they yield to the eloquence of heaven.

Psalm 78:2

"I will open my mouth in a parable." Analogies are not only to be imagined, but are intended by God to be traced between the story of Israel and the lives of believers. Israel was ordained to be a type; the tribes and their marchings are living allegories traced by the hand of an all-wise providence. Unspiritual persons may sneer about fancies and mysticisms, but Paul spake well when he said "which things are an allegory," and Asaph in the present case spake to the point when he called his narrative "a parable." That such was his meaning is clear from the quotation, "All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world." - Matthew 13:34, Matthew 13:35. "I will utter dark sayings of old;" - enigmas of antiquity, riddles of yore. The mind of the poet-prophet was so full of ancient lore that he poured it forth in a copious stream of song, while beneath the gushing flood lay pearls and gems of spiritual truth, capable of enriching those who could dive into the depths and bring them up. The letter of this song is precious, but the inner sense is beyond all price. Whereas Psalm 78:1 called for attention, the second justifies the demand by hinting that the outer sense conceals an inner and hidden meaning, which only the thoughtful will be able to perceive.

Psalm 78:3

"Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us." Tradition was of the utmost service to the people of God in the olden time, before the more sure word of prophecy had become complete and generally accessible. The receipt of truth from the lips of others laid the instructed believer under solemn obligation to pass on the truth to the next generation. Truth, endeared to us by its fond associations with godly parents and venerable friends, deserves of us our best exertions to preserve and propagate it. Our fathers told us, we heard them, and we know personally what they taught; it remains for us in our turn to hand it on. Blessed be God we have now the less mutable testimony of written revelation, but this by no means lessens our obligation to instruct our children in divine truth by word of mouth: rather, with such a gracious help, we ought to teach them far more fully the things of God. Dr. Doddridge owed much to the Dutch tiles and his mother's explanations of the Bible narratives. The more of parental teaching the better; ministers and Sabbath-school teachers were never meant to be substitutes for mothers' tears and fathers' prayers.

continued...THE ARGUMENT

The scope of this Psalm is plainly expressed Psalm 78:6-8, and is this, that the Israelites might learn to hope and trust in God, and steadfastly to keep his laws and covenant; which great lesson he presseth upon them, from the sad effects of the contrary practices in their forefathers, of which he gives a brief yet full account in a recapitulation of he most remarkable passages in the history of their church and nation.

An exhortation to attend to and instruct others in the word and works of the Lord, Psalm 78:1-8. A rehearsal of God’s love and long-suffering to the unbelieving and obstinate Israelites, Psalm 78:9-11, in their journey out of Egypt to the land of Canaan, Psalm 78:12-65. Rejecting the rest of the tribes, he chooseth Zion for a place of worship, and David to the kingdom, Psalm 78:67-72.

My people: if Asaph was the composer of this Psalm, he might well call the Israelites his people, not only as he was their prophet and teacher, but also because they were of the same country and parentage with him; upon which account this very phrase of my people is used of them, not only by queen Esther, Esther 7:3,4, but also by the Shunammitish woman, 2 Kings 4:13.

My law, i.e. the doctrine which I am about to deliver to you, concerning your duty, and the danger of neglecting it.

Give ear, O my people,.... The Jews were Christ's people, he descending from their fathers according to the flesh; they were his own, to whom he came, though rejected by them; they were his nation and people that delivered him up into the hands of the Romans; see Romans 9:4 thus it is usual with persons to call those, who are of the same nation with them, their people, Esther 7:3 and especially for kings to call their subjects so; see 1 Chronicles 28:2, and such was Christ; he was King of the Jews, though they would not have him reign over them; and therefore he here speaks as one having royal authority, and requires attention to him, and obedience to his word, which he calls his law:

to my law; meaning neither the moral nor the ceremonial law, but the doctrine of the Gospel, or law of faith, called the Messiah's law, Isaiah 2:3. This is the doctrine which he as man received of his Father, and which he taught and delivered to his disciples, and which concerns himself, his person, office, and grace, and is sometimes called the doctrine of Christ, 2 John 1:9,

incline your ears to the words of my mouth; the several doctrines of the everlasting Gospel preached by him, which were words of wisdom and of grace, of righteousness and eternal life, of peace, pardon, and everlasting salvation: these ought to be heard and diligently attended to; the matter contained in them requires attention; the office Christ bears demands it of men; all that have ears to hear should hear; all Christ's sheep do hear his voice, understand it, and act according to it: hear ye him was the instruction of Moses, and the direction of Christ's heavenly Father, Deuteronomy 18:15, and great is the danger such incur who hear him not, but neglect and despise his word, Hebrews 2:2.

(f) , Sept. "ipsi Asaph", Pagninus, Montanus; "tradita Asapho", Piscator.

<<{a} Maschil of Asaph.>> Give ear, O my people, to my {b} law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth.

(a) Read Ps 32:1.

(b) The prophet under the name of a teacher calls the people his, and the doctrine his, as Paul calls the gospel his, of which he was but the preacher, as in Rom 2:16,16:25.

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.

Verses 1-8. - The introduction calls special attention to the teaching that is about to be put forth, which it declares to be traditional (ver. 3), and, further, to be the sort of instruction which God had especially commanded to be given to his people by their teachers (vers. 5, 6) for their edification (vers. 7, 8). Verse 1. - Give ear, O my people, to my law; rather, to my teaching. Hat-torah - torah with the article - is "the Law;" but torah alone is any teaching or instruction. Incline your ears to the words of my mouth. Dr. Kay regards the words of ver. 1 as "God's own words,"

(1) on account of the expression, "O my people;" and

(2) on account of "my Law." But "my people" is not inappropriate in the mouth of a psalmist, and occurs in Psalm 59:11 and Psalms 144:2. It "indicates the love in which the effort of the psalmist originated" (Hengstenberg). And "law," as already observed, is not the proper, or at any rate not the only, meaning of torah. Psalm 78:1The poet begins very similarly to the poet of Psalm 49. He comes forward among the people as a preacher, and demands for his tra a willing, attentive hearing. תּורה is the word for every human doctrine or instruction, especially for the prophetic discourse which sets forth and propagates the substance of the divine teaching. Asaph is a prophet, hence Psalm 78:2 is quoted in Matthew 13:34. as ῥηθὲν διὰ τοῦ προφήτου.

(Note: The reading διὰ Ἠσαΐ́ου τοῦ προφήτου is, although erroneous, nevertheless ancient; since even the Clementine Homilies introduce this passage as the language of Isaiah.)

He here recounts to the people their history מנּי־קדם, from that Egyptaeo-Sinaitic age of yore to which Israel's national independence and specific position in relation to the rest of the world goes back. It is not, however, with the external aspect of the history that he has to do, but with its internal teachings. משׁל is an allegory or parable, παραβολή, more particularly the apophthegm as the characteristic species of poetry belonging to the Chokma, and then in general a discourse of an elevated style, full of figures, thoughtful, pithy, and rounded. חידה is that which is entangled, knotted, involved, perlexe dictum. The poet, however, does not mean to say that he will literally discourse gnomic sentences and propound riddles, but that he will set forth the history of the fathers after the manner of a parable and riddle, so that it may become as a parable, i.e., a didactic history, and its events as marks of interrogation and nota-bene's to the present age. The lxx renders thus: ἀνοίξω ἐν παραβολαῖς τὸ στόμα μου, φθέγξομαι προβλήματα ἀπ ̓ ἀρχῆς. Instead of this the Gospel by Matthew has: ἀνοίξω ἐν παραβολαῖς τὸ στόμα μου, ἐρεύξομαι κεκρυμμένα ἀπὸ καταβολῆς (κόσμου), and recognises in this language of the Psalm a prophecy of Christ; because it is moulded so appropriately for the mouth of Him who is the Fulfiller not only of the Law and of Prophecy, but also of the vocation of the prophet. It is the object-clause to נכחד, and not a relative clause belonging to the "riddles out of the age of yore," that follows in Psalm 78:3 with אשׁר, for that which has been heard only becomes riddles by the appropriation and turn the poet gives to it. Psalm 78:3 begins a new period (cf. Psalm 69:27; Jeremiah 14:1, and frequently): What we have heard, and in consequence thereof known, and what our fathers have told us (word for word, like Psalm 44:1; Judges 6:13), that will we not hide from their children (cf. Job 15:18). The accentuation is perfectly correct. The Rebı̂a by מבניהם has a greater distinctive force than the Rebı̂a by אחרון (לדור); it is therefore to be rendered: telling to the later generation (which is just what is intended by the offspring of the fathers) the glorious deeds of Jahve, etc. The fut. consec. ויּקם joins on to אשׁר עשׂה. Glorious deeds, proofs of power, miracles hath He wrought, and in connection therewith set up an admonition in Jacob, and laid down an order in Israel, which He commanded our fathers, viz., to propagate by tradition the remembrance of those mighty deeds (Exodus 13:8, Exodus 13:14; Deuteronomy 4:9, and other passages). להודיעם has the same object as והודעתּם in Deuteronomy 4:9; Joshua 4:22. The matter in question is not the giving of the Law in general, as the purpose of which, the keeping of the laws, ought then to have been mentioned before anything else, but a precept, the purpose of which was the further proclamation of the magnalia Dei, and indirectly the promotion of trust in god and fidelity to the Law; cf. Psalm 81:5., where the special precept concerning the celebration of the Feast of the Passover is described as a עדוּת laid down in Joseph. The following generation, the children, which shall be born in the course of the ages, were to know concerning His deeds, and also themselves to rise up (יקוּמוּ, not: come into being, like the יבאוּ of the older model-passage Psalm 22:32) and to tell them further to their children, in order that these might place their confidence in god (שׂים כּסל, like שׁית מחסה in Psalm 73:28), and might not forget the mighty deeds of God (Psalm 118:17), and might keep His commandments, being warned by the disobedience of the fathers. The generation of the latter is called סורר וּמרה, just as the degenerate son that is to be stoned is called in Deuteronomy 21:18. הכין לבּו, to direct one's heart, i.e., to give it the right direction or tendency, to put it into the right state, is to be understood after Psalm 78:37, 2 Chronicles 20:33, Sir. 2:17.

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