Psalm 78 Lessons from history
Being a true teacher, the psalmist is concerned for the spiritual condition of his people. His present intention is to comment on events in the history of Israel so that people of future generations may take heed (1-4). God gave his law to his people to guide them. The record of his faithfulness will be an encouragement, the record of Israel’s failures a warning (5-8).
The first reminder is of the stubbornness of the tribe of Ephraim in one of Israel’s early battles (9-11.
The psalmist does not name the particular battle). By contrast God was always faithful to Israel. For example, he freed the people from Egypt and provided for their needs miraculously (12-16; see Exod 13:21; 14:21; 17:6). But as soon as the people began to taste the hardships of desert life, they complained bitterly. They challenged God to prove his kindness and power by giving them the food they wanted (17- 22). Again God graciously provided for them (23-28), but their greed became the means of their punishment (29-31; see Exod 16:1-36; 17:1-7; Num 11:1-35).
Israel’s constant lack of faith was well demonstrated in the people’s refusal to believe that God could give them victory over the Canaanites. In punishment they suffered disaster and death over the next forty years (32-37). Yet in his mercy God did not destroy the rebellious nation (38-41; see Num 14:1-35). By his great power he saved the Israelites from the terrible judgments he sent upon Egypt, both its land and its people (42-51; see Exod 7:1-14:31). He cared for his people as they travelled through harsh countryside, from the Red Sea to the borders of Canaan. Finally, he brought them into the land he had promised them (52-55; see Josh 24:12-13).
Soon, however, the people forgot all that God had done for them. They turned away from the true God to follow the false gods of the Canaanites (56-58; see Judg 2:11-15). This led in turn to the destruction of their place of worship at Shiloh and the loss of the ark of the covenant to the Philistines (59-64; see 1 Sam 4:1-11; Jer 7:12,14).
Again God saved his people, this time by using a man from the tribe of Judah to stir them up and lead them triumphantly (65-68). This man, David, established the sanctuary on Mount Zion and placed within it the ark of the covenant, the symbol of God’s presence. In this way David showed his determination that God should be the centre of Israel’s national life. Israel’s history had been one of constant failure, but God in his mercy had not forsaken his people. In the symbol of the ark he dwelt among them and through the rule of his chosen king he cared for them (69-72; see 2 Sam 5:6-10; 6:1-19).