Psalm 78:34
When he slew them, then they sought him: and they returned and inquired early after God.
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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.78:9-39. Sin dispirits men, and takes away the heart. Forgetfulness of God's works is the cause of disobedience to his laws. This narrative relates a struggle between God's goodness and man's badness. The Lord hears all our murmurings and distrusts, and is much displeased. Those that will not believe the power of God's mercy, shall feel the fire of his indignation. Those cannot be said to trust in God's salvation as their happiness at last, who can not trust his providence in the way to it. To all that by faith and prayer, ask, seek, and knock, these doors of heaven shall at any time be opened; and our distrust of God is a great aggravation of our sins. He expressed his resentment of their provocation; not in denying what they sinfully lusted after, but in granting it to them. Lust is contented with nothing. Those that indulge their lust, will never be estranged from it. Those hearts are hard indeed, that will neither be melted by the mercies of the Lord, nor broken by his judgments. Those that sin still, must expect to be in trouble still. And the reason why we live with so little comfort, and to so little purpose, is, because we do not live by faith. Under these rebukes they professed repentance, but they were not sincere, for they were not constant. In Israel's history we have a picture of our own hearts and lives. God's patience, and warnings, and mercies, imbolden them to harden their hearts against his word. And the history of kingdoms is much the same. Judgments and mercies have been little attended to, until the measure of their sins has been full. And higher advantages have not kept churches from declining from the commandments of God. Even true believers recollect, that for many a year they abused the kindness of Providence. When they come to heaven, how will they admire the Lord's patience and mercy in bringing them to his kingdom!When he slew them - When he came forth in his wrath and cut them down by the plague, by fiery serpents, or by their enemies.

Then they sought him - Their calamities had the effect of producing temporary reformation. They became professedly penitent; they manifested a wish to know God, and expressed a purpose to serve him. It was, however, a temporary and hollow, not a deep and real reformation. This often occurs. In times of affliction, in sickness, in bereavement, in the loss of property, people become serious, and express a purpose to repent and turn to God. A deep impression seems to be produced on their minds, to last, alas! only as long as the hand of God rests upon them. Resolutions of repentance are formed only to be forgotten when the affliction is removed, and when the days of prosperity again return.

And they returned and inquired early after God - The word rendered "inquired early" has reference to the first rays of the morning - the aurora - the dawn. Then it comes to denote the beginning of anything; or, the first thing. Thus employed, it may refer to the act of seeking God as the first thing; in youth; in the morning; at the commencement of any enterprise or undertaking. See Proverbs 8:17; Proverbs 1:28. Here it means that, in their affliction, they did not delay to seek God, but expressed an early intention of serving him. They evinced a prompt purpose to break off their sins, and to return to him.

33-39. Though there were partial reformations after chastisement, and God, in pity, withdrew His hand for a time, yet their general conduct was rebellious, and He was thus provoked to waste and destroy them, by long and fruitless wandering in the desert. They sought him; they prayed to him to deliver them from their deadly dangers; which even Pharaoh frequently did.

They returned, to wit, from their idols, unto the outward worship of God; or being moved with fear, they ceased for the present from their grossly wicked courses, which they might easily do without a dram of true repentance or hearty conversion to God.

Inquired early after God; speedily and earnestly sought to God for ease, and safety, and comfort, as wicked men in such cases frequently do. When he slew them,.... Some of them, the spies particularly; or when he threatened to slay them, or was about to do it:

then they sought him; that is, those who either survived the slain, or were threatened with destruction; these sought the Lord by prayer and supplication, that he would not destroy them; the Targum is,

"they repented and sought him;''

see Numbers 14:37,

and they returned; from their evil ways, and by repentance, at least in show and appearance:

and inquired early after God; but not earnestly, and with their whole hearts and spirits; the Targum is,

"they prayed before God;''

which is often done, by carnal professors, in trouble; see Isaiah 26:16, Hosea 5:15.

When he {t} slew them, then they sought him: and they returned and enquired early after God.

(t) Such was their hypocrisy, that they sought God out of fear of punishment, though in their heart they did not love him.

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.Verse 34. - When he slew them, then they sought him (comp. Exodus 32:28, 35; Exodus 33:4, 10; Numbers 11:33; Numbers 16:48, 49, etc.). The repentance is not always noticed in the Mosaic narrative, being, as it was, short-lived, if not even feigned (ver. 36). But, no doubt, after each outpouring of the Divine vengeance, there was at least some show of repentance, as noted in Exodus 33:4. And they returned - i.e. turned back from their evil courses - and inquired early after God; rather, earnestly (Cheyne, Canon Cook). Passing over to the giving of the quails, the poet is thinking chiefly of the first occasion mentioned in Exodus 16, which directly preceded the giving of the manna. But the description follows the second: יסּע (He caused to depart, set out) after Numbers 11:31. "East" and "south" belong together: it was a south-east wind from the Aelanitic Gulf. "To rain down" is a figurative expression for a plentiful giving of dispensing from above. "Its camp, its tents," are those of Israel, Numbers 11:31, cf. Exodus 16:13. The תּעוה, occurring twice, Psalm 78:29-30 (of the object of strong desire, as in Psalm 21:3), points to Kibroth-hattaavah, the scene of this carnal lusting; הביא is the transitive of the בּוא in Proverbs 13:12. In Psalm 78:30-31 even in the construction the poet closely follows Numbers 11:33 (cf. also זרוּ with לזרא, aversion, loathing, Numbers 11:20). The Waw unites what takes place simultaneously; a construction which presents the advantage of being able to give special prominence to the subject. The wrath of God consisted in the breaking out of a sickness which was the result of immoderate indulgence, and to which even the best-nourished and most youthfully vigorous fell a prey. When the poet goes on in Psalm 78:32 to say that in spite of these visitations (בּכל־זאת) they went on sinning, he has chiefly before his mind the outbreak of "fat" rebelliousness after the return of the spies, cf. Psalm 78:32 with Numbers 14:11. And Psalm 78:33 refers to the judgment of death in the wilderness threatened at that time to all who had come out of Egypt from twenty years old and upward (Numbers 14:28-34). Their life devoted to death vanished from that time onwards בּהבל, in breath-like instability, and בּבּהלה, in undurable precipitancy; the mode of expression in Psalm 31:11; Job 36:1 suggests to the poet an expressive play of words. When now a special judgment suddenly and violently thinned the generation that otherwise was dying off, as in Numbers 21:6., then they inquired after Him, they again sought His favour, those who were still preserved in the midst of this dying again remembered the God who had proved Himself to be a "Rock" (Deuteronomy 32:15, Deuteronomy 32:18, Deuteronomy 32:37) and to be a "Redeemer" (Genesis 48:16) to them. And what next? Psalm 78:36-37

(Note: According to the reckoning of the Masora this Psalm 78:36 is the middle verse of the 2527 verses of the Psalter (Buxtorf, Tiberias, 1620, p. 133).)

tell us what effect they gave to this disposition to return to God. They appeased Him with their mouth, is meant to say: they sought to win Him over to themselves by fair speeches, inasmuch as they thus anthropopathically conceived of God, and with their tongue they played the hypocrite to Him; their heart, however, was not sincere towards Him (עם like את in Psalm 78:8), i.e., not directed straight towards Him, and they proved themselves not stedfast (πιστοί, or properly βέβαιοι) in their covenant-relationship to Him.

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