Psalm 78:38
But he, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not: yes, many a time turned he his anger away, and did not stir up all his wrath.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(38) The verbs in the first clause should be in the present, But he, the compassionate, forgives iniquity, and doth not destroy, and many a time he turned away, &c.

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.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!But he, being full of compassion - literally, "But he, merciful," That is, he was ready to forgive them.

Forgave their iniquity - literally, Atoned for, expiated, covered over their iniquity. There is connected with the word the idea of expiation or atonement, as the ground of pardon.

And destroyed them not - Did not cut them off in their repeated acts of rebellion. He bore with them, and spared them.

Yea, many a time turned he his anger away - literally, He multiplied to turn his anger away. That is, he did it repeatedly. There were frequent occasions on their journey for doing this, and he did it.

And did not stir up all his wrath - literally, Did not excite, or arouse all his anger. His anger was stayed or mitigated, and they were suffered still to live.

Psalm 78:38-39He will not always chide;

Neither will he keep his anger forever.

Like as a father pitieth his children,

continued...

37. heart … not right—or, "firm" (compare Ps 78:8; Ps 51:10). Forgave their iniquity; not simply and absolutely, for so it is undeniably certain from the Holy Scriptures that 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 threatened, and was about to do, as the next words limit and explain it. He remitted their punishment, for

iniquity is oft put for the punishment of it. Heb. he expiated their iniquity. He accepted of their atonement, or of 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 hypocritical humiliation, 1 Kings 21:29. And this God doth for the encouragement of all true penitents, who may hence learn how much greater and better recompences they may expect and shall receive from God.

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. But he, being full of compassion,.... Or merciful; having bowels of mercy, as a tender mother to the son of her womb; a word from the same root as this signifies the womb: the mercies of God are tender and abundant; there is a multitude of them; he is rich and plenteous in mercy, and so ready to forgive; hence it follows,

forgave their iniquity; forgiveness of sin flows from the tender mercy of God; it is according to the multitude of his mercies, and the riches of his grace; yet is through the blood and attoning sacrifice of his Son; and the word (c) that is here used signifies to expiate or atone; God never intended to pardon sinners, but through the propitiation of his Son, whom he set forth in his purpose, and sent forth in the fulness of time to be the propitiatory sacrifice for sin; he forgave the sins of Old Testament saints with a view to that; and it is for Christ's sake he forgives any; for without shedding of blood there is no remission; though perhaps, since these persons were impenitent, unbelievers and hypocrites, no more may be meant here by the forgiveness of their sins than averting a threatened judgment, or a removing of one, and putting a stop to the further execution of it, which is sometimes meant by forgiving sin; see Numbers 14:19, 1 Kings 8:30 which sense the following words incline to:

and destroyed them not; though they deserved it, and he was able to do it, he did not destroy them immediately and at once, nor all of them, at least not their seed and posterity, who were preserved and brought into the land of Canaan:

yea, many a time turned he his anger away; he does not retain it for ever, or always carry on a resentment, or the appearance of it; though he causes grief, he has and shows compassion; he is said to turn away his anger from his own people when he forgives their sins, and comforts their souls, Psalm 85:2, so when he causes the effects of his displeasure to cease, or stays a plague, or stops a judgment, by means of any of his servants; see Numbers 25:8,

and did not stir up all his wrath; which their sins deserved, and was laid up among his treasures: the wrath of a temporal king is as the roaring of a lion, Proverbs 19:12 much more that of the King of kings; and the allusion here seems to be to the arousing of some fierce creature; the wrath of God is intolerable, and, even when it is kindled but a little, it cannot be endured; and much less should it be all stirred up; but here in wrath he remembered mercy.

(c) "propitiabitur", Montanus; "propitiatus est", Pagninus, Museulus; "propitius fuit", Tigurine version; "expiabat", Junius & Tremellius, Piscator, Cocceius, Gejerus, Michaelis.

But he, being full of compassion, {x} forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not: yea, many a time turned he his anger away, and did not stir up all his wrath.

(x) Because he would always have some remnant of a Church to praise his Name in earth, he did not permit their sins to overcome his mercy.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
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).Verse 38. - But he, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity. (On God's compassion, see Exodus 34:6, 7; Numbers 14:18; Psalm 103:8; Psalm 145:8.) And destroyed them not. The allusion is to such occasions as are noted in Exodus 32:10-14; Numbers 14:12-20; Numbers 16:21, 45-50, when God was on the point of destroying the whole people, but relented at the intercession of Moses. Yea, many a time turned he his anger away, and did not stir up all his wrath (comp. Judges 2:11-16; Judges 3:8, 9; Judges 4:2, 15; Judges 6:1-8, etc.). 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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