The Story of God’s People
Father, You inspired Your Word by Your Spirit. By that same Spirit, illuminate it now to my understanding.
Read PSALM 78:1–39
1 My people, hear my teaching;
listen to the words of my mouth.
2 I will open my mouth with a parable;
I will utter hidden things, things from of old—
3 things we have heard and known,
things our ancestors have told us.
4 We will not hide them from their descendants;
we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord,
his power, and the wonders he has done.
5 He decreed statutes for Jacob
and established the law in Israel,
which he commanded our ancestors
to teach their children,
6 so the next generation would know them,
even the children yet to be born,
and they in turn would tell their children.
7 Then they would put their trust in God
and would not forget his deeds
but would keep his commands.
8 They would not be like their ancestors—
a stubborn and rebellious generation,
whose hearts were not loyal to God,
whose spirits were not faithful to him.
9 The men of Ephraim, though armed with bows,
turned back on the day of battle;
10 they did not keep God’s covenant
and refused to live by his law.
11 They forgot what he had done,
the wonders he had shown them.
12 He did miracles in the sight of their ancestors
in the land of Egypt, in the region of Zoan.
13 He divided the sea and led them through;
he made the water stand up like a wall.
14 He guided them with the cloud by day
and with light from the fire all night.
15 He split the rocks in the wilderness
and gave them water as abundant as the seas;
16 he brought streams out of a rocky crag
and made water flow down like rivers.
17 But they continued to sin against him,
rebelling in the wilderness against the Most High.
18 They willfully put God to the test
by demanding the food they craved.
19 They spoke against God;
they said, “Can God really
spread a table in the wilderness?
20 True, he struck the rock,
and water gushed out,
streams flowed abundantly,
but can he also give us bread?
Can he supply meat for his people?”
21 When the Lord heard them, he was furious;
his fire broke out against Jacob,
and his wrath rose against Israel,
22 for they did not believe in God
or trust in his deliverance.
23 Yet he gave a command to the skies above
and opened the doors of the heavens;
24 he rained down manna for the people to eat,
he gave them the grain of heaven.
25 Human beings ate the bread of angels;
he sent them all the food they could eat.
26 He let loose the east wind from the heavens
and by his power made the south wind blow.
27 He rained meat down on them like dust,
birds like sand on the seashore.
28 He made them come down inside their camp,
all around their tents.
29 They ate till they were gorged—
he had given them what they craved.
30 But before they turned from what they craved,
even while the food was still in their mouths,
31 God’s anger rose against them;
he put to death the sturdiest among them,
cutting down the young men of Israel.
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.
38 Yet he was merciful;
he forgave their iniquities
and did not destroy them.
Time after time he restrained his anger
and did not stir up his full wrath.
39 He remembered that they were but flesh,
a passing breeze that does not return.
New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Here is a record of human ingratitude and God’s abounding grace. Lessons for us to learn!
Psalm 78 is unusual. It is the second longest psalm, after Psalm 119. Depending on how it was calculated, Jewish teachers saw either verse 36 or 38 of this psalm as the center of their Bible (i.e., the Old Testament)—a combination of the two
verses would express well the intent of this psalm, as well as that of the Scriptures as a whole. The psalm is unique in its approach. It is generally agreed that it represents history as poetry. This poetic history does not simply tell the story as it happened. Rather, the retelling of the history of God and his people is supposed to have an effect on the reader today.
How often do we allow the Bible to have this kind of impact on us? Do we read it as history, a key to unlocking the past (certainly a valuable aim), or as memoir, a true story in which we are ongoing partakers, as our story? Today’s section of the psalm focuses on the Exodus and its aftermath. God’s faithful action was so often met with unfaithfulness from his people, resulting in judgment—and mercy. This repeated pattern marks the relationship between God and his people and, if we are honest, can be seen in the story of the church and our own lives. As the psalm says, this is a puzzle (a “parable,” 2) that deserves our active attention and meditative reflection.
The psalm emphasizes the importance of passing on this history to children: “Then they would put their trust in God” (7) and learn of God’s goodness from our experience. How seriously in our churches do we take the job of passing on this story and helping children to learn the lessons of God’s people? My suspicion is: not enough.
In what ways could you encourage those who today will be helping children to see the story of God’s people as their story?
Lord, as I read “the old, old story” (A. K. Hankey, 1834–1911), may it never to lose its power to speak to me.