Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Psalm 78 – Historic Instruction of Israel

“Yet he, being compassionate,

forgave their iniquity,

and did not destroy them;

often he restrained his anger,

and did not stir up all his wrath.”

~Psalm 78:38 (NRSV)

This Psalm, a Maskil of Asaph, is an instruction of parabolic proportions using the history of Israel as its curriculum. We can well imagine that the length of this Psalm, and its historical complexity, would be as the riddle—a “dark saying” (verse 2)—for many ambivalent ones who might read of it.

The Spirit of the Lord is most happy when the wheat is sorted from the chaff; when those really seeking him find him and, equally, those spiritual dreamers are left still wondering. (We are not to panic about unwinnable souls. They won’t be impressed about God until God impresses himself upon them.)

The facts of this matter are plain: some will hear this instruction and take heed; others may hear, but can’t take it to heart—as much of historic Israel did when they tested God (verses 18, 41, 56).

We are not ready to be instructed of God until we are.

Difficult sayings are difficult for good reason; they seek to entice interest.

History – A Graphic Example Of Faith And Faithlessness

The structure of this Psalm is consistent with its instructional purpose. It features a prologue (verses 1-8), an account of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness (verses 9-41), a section detailing the Lord’s goodness despite the covenant people’s disobedience (verses 42-52), a further example of that disobedience (verses 53-66), and it finishes with the blessing of Judah (verses 67-72).

The Psalm summarises the Old Testament by honing in on theologies of faith and faithlessness on the part of the people of God. To the intuitive ear, this Maskil of Asaph’s is a delight of faithful oral tradition—carrying forward the wisdom of yesteryear for the cognisance of the day.

Much of the Bible recounts the Lord’s faithfulness to a repentant people; those who sought to enlist restitution regarding their sin.

The oral tradition was, and still is, vital within present generations as they impart remembrances of wisdom from ancestors of old among the generation coming through. But only the faithful-of-heart will listen. The people of God, though they are not perfect, will still listen.

The people of God are them that listen. They see and hear. They abide.


Parables teach us if we listen in enough to learn. Jesus used parables to sort the true learner from the proud religious. We can and should learn a lot from history; we should carry this history forward as it has been carried forward to us.

We can learn something from any message, any sermon, any lecture. When we drink with an insatiable thirst in our learning, seeking God every way we can, blessing, not just knowledge, is our gain.

© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

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