Through the Bible Day by Day
Maschil of Asaph. Give ear, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
LEARNING FROM THE FATHERS
This psalm is said to have arisen, from a strong controversy between Judah and Ephraim as to the location of God’s sanctuary, and its final transfer within the limits of the tribe of Judah. The psalmist enumerates the moral and spiritual considerations that led to the choice. See Psa_78:67-68. The great message of the psalm is the inconstancy of the people, which so often manifested itself. Whose spirit was not stedfast with God, Psa_78:8. They turned back in battle, Psa_78:9. See also Psa_78:17; Psa_78:37; Psa_78:41; Psa_78:57. It may be that the psalmist implies that these failures were for the most part Ephraim’s, and that therefore Judah was chosen. Surely, however, there was not much to choose between them, and whatever favor was shown to either of them was wholly attributable to God’s unchanging mercy.
This hymn was probably intended to be learned by the children in the Hebrew home, that they might set their hearts on God and not forget His works. It is a good practice to store the fresh memories of the young with the words of Scripture, which will often return in afterlife in hours of temptation and distress. The memorizing of the Word of God is a most valuable habit. The wheels of the mind and heart must grind-let them grind wheat.
He divided the sea, and caused them to pass through; and he made the waters to stand as an heap.
“A TABLE IN THE WILDERNESS”
Throughout this wonderful recital there is a perpetual contrast between God’s unswerving goodness and the incessant backsliding of His people; and as we read it, we learn that sin is not simply the violation of the divine law, but a source of pain and trouble to our Heavenly Father’s heart. For us He cleaves the seas, leads us in the daytime, builds His watch-fires around us at night, and brings streams of blessing from the rocks. But we tempt Him by our incessant unbelief. We say, He certainly did thus and thus, but can He, will He, do this or that? “Can God furnish?” “Can God give bread?”
When shall we dare to believe in our Lord’s assurances; first, that “with God all things are possible;” and second, that “all things are possible to him that believeth”? But we must live habitually in fellowship with God before we are able to exercise this faith. As we nourish our souls by feeding on the promises, and studying what He has done in the lives of others, out faith removes all the boundaries with which it had limited the Holy One, and cries, “Thou canst and thou wilt!”
Man did eat angels' food: he sent them meat to the full.
BLESSED YET UNGRATEFUL
God our Father is prepared to do “exceeding abundantly” for His children; but too often we become so engrossed with His gifts as to forget and neglect the Giver. We allow ourselves enjoyment to point of satiety; and then, by an inevitable revulsion, we begin to suffer. Always acknowledge God while enjoying His gifts. Do not separate the gifts of His grace and those of His providence. All good and perfect gifts are from Him, and are to be received with equal thanksgiving. Do not use them in excess, but in moderation; and let not the enjoyment of their sweetness be your main object, but that you may be fitted to play your part and do your work in the world.
It must greatly wound the love of God that we need to be placed on short rations in order to bring us back to Himself. But how true is Psa_78:34 of us all! We sadly require to have the stedfast heart, and to be faithful to our side of the Covenant, for we must all confess to the sin of fickleness and changeableness in our religious life. Our constant prayer should be that of Psa_51:10, Renew a stedfast spirit within me. But how can this be ours, except by the dwelling and uprising within us of the life of God?
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.
“SIGNS IN EGYPT”
God takes into account the frailty and infirmity of our natures. The Spirit… helpeth our infirmities, Rom_8:26. In the words of Hosea, God teaches us “to go;” that is, He puts His hands under our armpits, that we may learn how to walk. In the process there are many failures, but He distinguishes between the willful breach of His commands, and the blunders that are due to the frailty of our natures. Being full of compassion, He forgives; He remembers that we are but flesh.
Let us not limit the Holy One, Psa_78:41. He waits to do marvelous things for us and by us; but how often we confine His power within the narrow channel of our own little faith. We do not like to trouble Him too often. We say in effect that as He has done this, we can hardly expect Him to do the other. We bring a limited number of vessels to be filled with the sacred oil. We strike but three times on the ground, and not until the seventh time of perfection. He cannot do many mighty things for us because our unbelief. Let us quicken our souls to larger thoughts of God, by recounting, as in this paragraph, His wonders of old.
He cast upon them the fierceness of his anger, wrath, and indignation, and trouble, by sending evil angels among them.
SAFELY LED, YET BENT ON WANDERING
This section of the psalm deals largely with the books of Joshua and Judges. The failures that had characterized the Wilderness crossed the Jordan with the Chosen People, and were the reason of their sufferings and captivities in what might otherwise have been a period of uninterrupted blessedness. In fact, the sins of the Land of Promise were even more disastrous. The Israelites were intended to be to Jehovah what the bow is to the huntsman or warrior; but they absolutely failed Him. They were turned aside like a deceitful bow, Psa_78:57.
The lesson for older believers is very searching. Some readers of these words may recall that, at a notable period in the past, they crossed the river of death to sin and life unto God. Jordan stands for consecration. It should be remembered, however, that no matter how rich and lofty have been the experiences of past blessing, we cannot be immune from failures, unless we watch and pray and live in abiding fellowship with Jesus Christ. The soul which has passed the Jordan is attacked by the principalities and powers in the heavenlies, Eph_6:12, and has an even harder time of it. The nearer the Captain, the more perilous the position.
When God heard this, he was wroth, and greatly abhorred Israel:
GOD RAISES UP HIS SHEPHERD DAVID
This paragraph continues the history of the Judges, and tells the story of what befell after the battle in which Eli’s sons were slain. See 1Sa_4:1-22. It is difficult to estimate the despair which that disaster caused, because Israel seemed the light-bearer of the world. What hope was there for mankind, if its lamp of testimony was extinguished!
It inspires great confidence, however, to read in Psa_78:65 of God’s awakening. The language, of course, is highly metaphorical, because He neither slumbers nor sleeps. But there have been many times in the history of the Church when He has seemed to be indifferent. Sin and evil have held undisputed sway. Then a time of revival has suddenly set in. Some David or Daniel, some Athanasius or Augustine, some Wycliffe or Luther, some Spurgeon or Moody, has been brought from an obscure family-“one of the least of the thousands of Judah”-and he has led the host of God with unerring accuracy and success. Even at this hour, amid the sheepfolds or the far-spreading acres of the Western world, God is probably training the ardently looked-for leaders of His Church.