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Psalms Lesson 2: 78.1-8, 32-39

SSL 2 - Psalm 78:1-8,32-39

Prayers & Announcements

LAST WEEK: We studied Psalm 1, which forms the introduction to the entire book. While consisting of only six verses, it manages to pack a whole lot of wisdom into a few words. It compares two lifestyles-the righteous man and the wicked man-that are like two parallel lines going in opposite directions. ASK: What was the dominating attribute in the life of the righteous man? ANSWER:
He lives a life firmly rooted in the Word of God, and he can be said to be rooted because he purposely meditates on it "day and night" and strives to match his own thinking, understanding, and discern-ment of life with it. He strives to see the world as God sees it. This is far more than just hearing and casually reading the Bible. ASK: How does the righteous man distinguish between good advice (God approved) and bad advice (contrary to the spirit of God's Word)? ANSWER: Two ways: (1) He has a solid Biblical understanding and discernment of the world around him; and (2) he is also careful to examine himself before making a decision to make sure his own personal motives are god honoring. ASK: When v. 3 of the Psalm says that the righteous man "prospers" in all he does, what does that really mean? ANSWER: It doesn't mean that he's guaranteed material wealth and fame; but means that in his life, God will make something good out of everything he does, even when he's facing trials and hard times.

THIS WEEK: We fast forward today to Psalm 78. It is titled, A Maskil (Contemplation) of Asaph. The author Asaph was the great singer and musician of David and Solomon's era (1 Chronicles 15:17-19, 16:5-7, 16:17, 2 Chronicles 25:6 and 29:13). 1 Chronicles 25:1 and 2 Chronicles 29:30 add that Asaph was a prophet in his musical compositions. Classified as a wisdom Psalm, Psalm 78 is the longest of the historical psalms-72 verses-so we can't cover it a single lesson, but will focus on 16 of the key verses. The principal truth of the lesson is that history must not repeat itself. Here's a very brief snapshot of the entire Psalm:
1. Verses 1-8: Form an introduction to the Psalm. The remaining 64 verses are subdivided into 6 parts, which each tell a piece of the Israelite's history from the time of Moses.
2. Verses 9-16: God's people forgot being delivered from bondage in Egypt the great deeds of the Exodus.
3. Verses 17-31: Are a poetic retelling of God's provision of manna and quail during the Wilderness Wanderings. Yet they sinned still more in the wilderness.
4. Verses 40-55: How often they rebelled. Forgetting the Exodus and the conquest of Canaan (i.e., the 12 spies).
5. Verses 56-64: They tested and rebelled against God in the Promised Land (i.e., Book of Judges).
6. Verses 65-72: God finally answered by choosing the line of David as King (i.e., Book of 1 Sam.).

Read Ps. 78:1-4 - Gaining the attention of the people of God.

1 Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth!
2 I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old,
3 things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us.
4 We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.

Note: vv.1-4 are skipped in the Reader's Guide, but I think it contains some important principles and truths that we should cover anyway.

v. 1a: "Give ear, O My people, to my teaching;" - This is a quaint Hebrew expression that may be translated as "Listen up, people, this is important!" Asaph understood that in order to convey God's wisdom, he must first have their complete and undivided attention.

v. 1b: "incline your ears to the words of My mouth!" - This isn't an ordinary sort of listening; it implies complete submission and focus on the words spoken by the Master. The words, when heard, are to be properly understood and applied. James 1:22 succinctly states it this way, "But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves."

v. 2a: "open My mouth in a parable" - In OT context, this mean making a comparison, using something in real life to make a spiritual point. Mt. 13:35 quotes this verse as a prophecy of the way Jesus would teach.

v. 2b: "dark sayings" - This is an expression that means the same thing as riddles or puzzles. It is a teaching method that requires the use of imagination to unlock the meaning.

v. 3: "have heard and known...fathers have told us" - Here, Asaph informs listeners that this isn't new information but truths that should already be known. Today we are studying information thousands of years old, but as applicable today as it was then.

v. 4: "not hide from their children...tell...coming generation" - This is the whole point of the Psalm and why ministries like preschool, children's, youth, young adults, new members, discipleship, etc. are so important-"to tell the coming generation," as the psalmist says. We must teach, teach, and teach them more. People in the body of Christ cannot be over-taught.

Read Ps. 78:5-8 - Teaching one generation to avoid the errors of previous generations.

5 He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children,
6 that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children,
7 so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments;
8 and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.

v. 5a: "testimony in Jacob...appointed a law in Israel" - Asaph stylistically uses poetic repetition: testimony is a synonym for law and Jacob, a synonym for Israel. In our time, people associate the term "law" with a statutory code; however, in ancient Israel, law was perceived more in the sense of "teaching," that is, the Law of God provides instruction for living life in a manner that pleases Him.

v. 5b: "teach to their children" - Then and now, God commands that His Word be transmitted to the generations that follow. Why? In theory at least, the revelation of God's Word could become lost or completely irrelevant if not passed on to the next generation. Think this can never happen? Well, do you remember in 2 Kings 22, when King Josiah of Judah discovered the lost Book of the Law in the Temple and used it to bring about a great revival of faith?

v. 6: "next generation...children yet unborn...tell them to their children" - If you examine vv. 5 and 6 closely, five generations are mentioned: (1) current fathers, (2) their children, (3) the generation to come [unborn], (4) and their children, and (5) and their children. God commanded them to never lose sight of His Word. Today, 70-75% of those graduating from high school are not affiliated with a church or indeed, any type of religious practice. In light of this Psalm, what does this tell us?

v. 7a: "set their hope in God...not forget the works of God;" - The point of this verse tells us that it is not only telling the next generation about God but more importantly, teaching them how to trust God for themselves; so they can depend of God to protect them and bless them with His wonderful works-that God never breaks His promises. They need to know more than head knowledge.

v. 7b-8a: "keep His their fathers" - According to the psalmist, losing trust and reverence for God leads directly to disobedience, but, if the younger generation is well-instructed in the Law of God, they might avoid the error of their fathers. This is a strong argument for a youth outreach in this and other churches. If their parents aren't reaching them, maybe we can.

v. 8b: "a stubborn and rebellious generation...not steadfast...not faithful" - The Hebrew word for stubborn, sarar (saw-rar), can variously mean stiff-necked, fallen-away, or backslidden. But we get the general idea. Given the state of our children and youth today, their parents are like the stubborn and rebellious "fathers" described in this verse. But remember, my generation/your generation are the ones who were supposed to have taught their parents, were we not? Makes you think.

Read Ps. 78:32-37 - Remembering the Past

32 In spite of all this, they kept on sinning; in spite of his wonders, they did not believe.
33 So he ended their days in futility and their years in terror.
34 Whenever God slew them, they would seek him; they eagerly turned to him again.
35 They remembered that God was their Rock, that God Most High was their Redeemer.
36 But then they would flatter him with their mouths, lying to him with their tongues;
37 their hearts were not loyal to him, they were not faithful to his covenant.

v. 32: "in spite of all this...kept on sinning...did not believe" - This may be the most unfortunate verse of the entire psalm. One would think the mighty works of God described in vv.9-31-the parting of the Red Sea, the corrections on Mt. Sinai, their provision during the Wilderness Wanderings-would have been enough. But no, they still sinned, refusing to learn from God's blessings or from His wrath. If their parents aren't reaching them, maybe we can.

v. 33: "ended their days in futility...their years in terror" - God said that the generation of unbelief could not enter the Promised Land, and their generation (except for Joshua and Caleb) would be consumed in the wilderness (Num. 14:22-24). Here the word "futility" expresses that idea that, although they were delivered from bondage in Egypt, they never made to their destination.

v. 34: "Whenever God slew them, they would seek Him...turned to Him again" - Here, "slew" doesn't mean mass extermination but that some were killed. The tenses of the verbs used in this verse imply a recurring pattern of judgment and repentance over many intervals. The word "seek" indicates they desired fellowship with God and "turned to" means they repented.

v. 35: "remembered that God was their Rock...their Redeemer" - their "Rock" signified a place of security, a refuge, and "redeemer" denoted a next-of-kin who rescued a near relative from difficulties or danger (remember Ruth and Boaz?).

v. 36: "flatter Him with their mouths...lying" - Israel's repentance was insincere, shallow. They uttered flattering words without meaning them...lies. As Spurgeon put it, they were "false on their knees." The paradox we need to recognize here was the fact they repented and believed in response to God's severe judgment but not in response to His compassion or blessings.

v. 37: "hearts...not loyal to Him...not faithful to His covenant" - The term "not loyal" as used here means not fixed, not strongly connected to something. We would call them "wishy-washy." In the ancient world, a covenant was the equivalent of a binding legal contract. The covenant referred to here was the one God made with Israel at Sinai (Ex. 19:1-8). However, their promise to be faithful to the covenant had been wholly without substance, an outright lie. Christian believers today are likewise in a covenant relationship with God and inevitably, we sin, too. But when we confess and repent of our sin, God will forgive us and restore fellowship with Him. And as our relationship with God grows and deepens, our lives will be shaped more and more toward willful obedience to Him.

Read Ps. 78:38-39 - Compassion in the Present

38 Yet he, being compassionate, atoned for their iniquity and did not destroy them; he restrained his anger often and did not stir up all his wrath.
39 He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and comes not again.

v. 38a1: "Yet He, being compassionate" - The Hebrew word for compassion, rāham, is derived from the same root as the word for a woman's womb, where in the expression of love after a long and painful birth experience, a mother lovingly cradles her newborn infant in her arms. God's steadfast compassion in this verse presents a complete contrast to Israel's repeated unfaithfulness. Despite its sin, Israel had survived because of God's nature-His unmerited compassion for His people.

v. 38a2: "atoned for their iniquity" - The Hebrew word for atone, kāpar, mean to "cover over."

v. 38b: "restrained His anger...did not stir up all His wrath" - The people's guilt was undeniable and God's wrath toward their sin was justified; yet, God, out of His steadfast compassion, loved His people, covered over for them, did not give them the full measure of His wrath, and allowed them to survive.

v.39: "remembered that they were but flesh, a wind..." - Yes, God remembered their weak nature. The word "flesh" often appears in the Bible to signify human weakness. Human life is so fragile and short-lived it can be compared to a momentary breeze. But God loves us in spite of it, doesn't He? God's greatest expression of compassion for sinful humanity came in the person and work of Jesus Christ, where God, because of His love and compassion, incarnated Himself in human flesh. His death on the cross for our sin was the perfect expression for both His righteous wrath against sin and His love for sinners. That's the finished work in a nutshell.


1. One of the operative words of this lesson is "teach." As Christian believers, we are responsible for teaching future generations about God, both in terms His love and compassion for humanity and His righteous wrath against the sins of humanity. It is not enough to simply get them into church and save them, we must teach them and equip them to make disciples who in turn, will make disciples.

2. Another operative word is "repentance." The Israelites in this psalm present a conspicuous example of shallow, insincere repentance-untrue repentance in all reality. Then what is true repentance? It involves three basic elements: First, conviction-you must know what is right before you can know what is wrong, and to do this, you must be grounded in the Bible. Second, contrition, which means you're not simply ashamed of your sin (i.e., ashamed of being caught) but are truly sorry for grieving God. You must agree with God-that He is right and you are wrong. Third, change-a change of attitude, character, and behavior. In the Greek, it's called metanoia, which literally pictures a 180-degree turn away from sin and toward God, that is, completely repositioning your life.

3. The last operative word is "atonement." Today, because of the finished work on the cross, God offers forgiveness and eternal life to all through faith in Jesus Christ.